When it comes to adapting speculative fiction aimed at teens, it’s mostly dystopian novels in movie theaters and superhero shows on the CW. Sure, teens are watching Game of Thrones and Outlander, but there’s still a gap for sci-fi and fantasy series written especially for adolescent audiences.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of imaginative, sharp, and entertaining source material just waiting to be adapted! These eight book series—about generation ships and doomed luxury space liners, caste systems and knighthood, moon colonies and courtly intrigues—all deserve their own movies or television shows.
The Glasswrights Series
Mindy L. Klasky’s underrated series deserves more eyes on it, whether that be in book, television, or movie form. As if her worldbuilding isn’t superb enough, she populates her strange yet familiar society with real people and a simple but devastating plot: in trying to stop an assassination, young apprentice Ranita Glasswright accidentally leads to the prince’s death and sets layers of conspiracy crashing down around her.
It’s the kind of intrigue that captivates Game of Thrones fans, but each book builds on its predecessor: there’s the caste system of the first book, dictated by number of syllables in one’s name as well as their social class; then the sequel has Rani encountering child soldiers whose stations are tattooed on their faces; later books introduce silkwrights who share several sneaky qualities with the spiders from which they harvest silk. You’ve also got a compelling heroine who is nowhere near perfect, and whose travels land her in all sorts of dangerous mysteries.
Across the Universe
Generation ships have long been a trope in sci-fi, but recent series like Syfy’s Ascension and the forthcoming The Expanse have been drumming up interest in this rich well of storytelling. Similarly, Beth Revis’ Across the Universe Trilogy taps into common coming-of-age beats—struggling to adjust to a world you have no place in, accepting adult responsibilities, overcoming racial and societal biases, exploring your own sexuality and issues of parenting, and discovering that your mentors are fallible—but does so on a massive spaceship heading to colonize its future home.
When Amy is awakened from her cryogenic sleep decades before she is supposed to, she and ruler-to-be Elder must contend with the strange society that has sprung up on Godspeed, including its dark secrets and take-no-prisoners attitude for finding a new home. The best part is that each book in Revis’ trilogy is a unique story unto itself.
As Bookshelves of Doom points out: murder mystery, political thriller, and frontier adventure.
The Song of the Lioness
Tamora Pierce has created two very different, equally rich worlds in which TV networks could find seasons of stories. I’m going to focus on the Tortall universe because it’s nearer to my heart; I grew up writing fanfiction for the Tortall book series. The Song of the Lioness kicks off with 10-year-old Alanna of Trebond impersonating her twin brother so she can train as a knight. On the path to knighthood, she makes friends with princes and thieves alike, makes an enemy of a powerful duke, and—most importantly—learns to overcome her dual fears of her magical Gift and her blossoming womanhood.
The best part is that Pierce follows her characters through the decades, even as she writes new stories set in Tortall: Alanna and her cohorts become young adults during the Immortals War brought about by young Daine, gifted with wild magic. And then after Alanna is a respected lady knight of the realm, another young woman attempts to train once the ban has been lifted but deals with her own set of problems as a woman openly vying for knighthood. It’s the perfect mix of sword and sorcery, and it’s more balanced than what we’ve seen on Game of Thrones.
Vivian Vande Velde’s early-00s virtual reality cautionary tale masked in a D&D-esque campaign would fit perfectly in today’s context. Imagine combining the quotable fun of South Park‘s World of Warcraft episode with contemporary technologies like what Oculus Rift that are developing with hyper-immersive VR. The plot is once again simple: a group of kids hook themselves up to VR tech to play the most realistic fantasy quest possible. Velde’s band of travelers, like the stock characters they play, themselves embody archetypes that would make sense on the big or small screen.
Arvin tries to make up for his scrappiness in real life by playing as an elf archer; his mother, who insists on coming along as a chaperone, winds up having just as much fun; there’s also the feisty Giannine, who never seems to be on Arvin’s side; and then there’s the couple who game together (as Robin Hood and Maid Marian) and get jointly caught up in the virtual world’s traps.
But eventually, the introduction of several creepy glitches causes the world of Rasmussen to start breaking down around them, adding the ticking clock that would keep this movie going up until the final big boss fight. Plus with Rasmussen being an endless digital world, there’s room to adapt other books in the series, including Heir Apparent.
The Lunar Chronicles
There have been plenty of fairy tale retellings in YA and fantasy, but Marissa Meyer’s sci-fi reimaginings of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel are truly inventive. Aside from drawing cleverly on each classic story’s scaffolding, you quickly forget you’re reading about these fairy tale archetypes! In this future, the countries of the world have rearranged themselves into various ruling powers; Cinder takes place in futuristic Beijing, part of the Eastern Commonwealth. The moon has also been colonized with simmering tensions between the lunar people and the Earthlings.
Linh Cinder is a cyborg mechanic who, through a series of events, begins delving into the accident that made her part machine. Then there’s Emperor Kai, the young heir to the throne who seeks to escape a political marriage to Queen Levana, ruler of the Moon.
While Cinder and Kai’s arcs span the entire series, their dissension and rebellion also includes Scarlet Benoit, a young fighter pilot from France, Wolf, a genetically engineered human, and Cress, a young hacker imprisoned in a satellite between the Earth and the Moon. Meyer’s worldbuilding is superb, and would make for an engrossing series of movies.
The Squire’s Tale
Medieval television shows, and especially Arthurian legends, could use the tongue-in-cheek retellings of Gerald Morris’ The Squire’s Tales series. Morris uses real tales such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Tristan and Iseult as the foundations, he then builds on them through his original character of Terence, Sir Gawain’s squire. Each installment is laugh-out-loud funny, revealing the more fallible and human sides of the legendary Knights of the Round Table, damsels in distress, enchantresses, and other larger-than-life historical figures.
Later books pull other protagonists from the threads of history, such as blacksmith’s son Piers, who dreams of the glory of being a knight. But when he becomes the unwitting page to the very unknightly Parsifal, he discovers that there’s more to being a knight than jousting for ladies’ favors. And lest you think these books are only about the men, the female characters rise above mere stereotype, like the plucky Lady Eileen and the young “Lioness” Luneta.
These Broken Stars
Audiences will never stop swooning over star-crossed lovers, especially when that descriptor is literal: on a luxury space liner that may as well be the Titanicsailing among the stars, lowly (i.e., doesn’t come from money) Tarver Merendsen meets Lilac LaRoux, daughter of the richest man in the universe. Where Rose and Jack carried on a forbidden romance, Lilac knows that she cannot encourage Tarver and rebuffs him. But what if Jack and Rose had actually survived the Titanic’s sinking?
When their ship the Icarus (yes, they’re well aware of the irony) goes down, Lilac and Tarver wind up in a life pod together before crash landing on an alien planet as the sole survivors. When no one is left to tell them their love is forbidden, can they grow something together on a foreign world? And that’s only the beginning of the trilogy!
Just as a good fantasy novel has sword and sorcery in equal measure, other memorable fantasies ensure that their action spans both the battlefield and the royal court. In Sherwood Smith’s classic novel, Countless Meliara Astiar must first fight to defend the Tlanth lands on which she has been raised from a king who seeks to break the people’s covenant with the Hill Folk and harvest “colorwoods” for power.
But victory for Mel and her brother Bran is only the first stage—now they must go to the royal city and learn the courtly intrigues necessary to stay afloat. After years living in the country, they must pick up the complicated fan language, knowledge of dress and other fashion trends, and—most importantly—ascertain who wants to keep them from the throne. Mel is a strong character who is believably flawed by her own distrust and arrogance; her verbal sparring matches with sometimes-ally, sometimes-rival the Marquis of Shevraeth would make them the kind of pairing that fans would post all over Tumblr about.
So there are eight Young Adult adaptations that need to happen. Agree? Disagree? Want more? Let us know in the comment section below!