September 6, 2023
WRITTEN BY: AMARÚ
When I was a child, I found reading to be an extremely boring experience. That is until I was grounded for a month because I did something unmistakably stupid, and my mother walked into my room, plopped the first four Harry Potter books in my lap, and said, “read…now.” The look she gave told me that I best do what she said, so I begrudgingly began reading. Four weeks, four books, and more than 1,400 combined pages later (TWICE), I was hooked. Not because I suddenly had a grand appreciation for reading, but because I saw the amazing movies that could be made while plowing through those stories.
Ever since, the books I enjoy the most, even as an adult, are usually of the Young Adult (YA) fantasy variety because I can easily see them being adapted into adventurous, mysterious, and entertaining visual spectacles. There was a point in Hollywood history, after the successful adaptation of my first literary fandom, where the rights to every single YA novel on the planet were being picked up. Many of these great book franchises ultimately became haphazard cash grabs instead of the dense, character-driven stories they actually are. While studios today would rather go back to the wells that worked (e.g., Max remaking Harry Potter into a new television series), I have been thinking about mostly untouched series that I’d love to see get adapted in some way, shape, or form.
So, with that in mind, here are five YA book series (some of which are already in production) that I think are prime to become the next great YA franchises, assuming they are authentically adapted, on either the small or silver screen.
THRONE OF GLASS SERIES Author: Sarah J. Maas
Sub-Genre: High-Fantasy Action Thriller
Suggested Medium: TV Series
Comparisons: Game of Thrones and The Witcher
After seeing my comparisons, you might be thinking, “I thought you said YOUNG adult franchises,” but you’d be surprised just how much violence and sensuality are in some of these novels. This series follows the story of a young slave turned king’s assassin, Caelena Sardothian, who is thrust into a competition against the world’s deadliest warriors to earn her freedom from the king’s service. As competitors start turning up dead in the king’s castle, she finds herself embroiled in a treacherous mystery that not only endangers her life, but also unravels secrets from her past. The first book is led by a badass female protagonist (you’ll start to see a trend soon), has multiple intense action sequences, and a roller-coaster mystery that would keep audiences coming back week after week for the next episode. Subsequent entries dive into a much grander fantasy world, featuring deep lore, intriguing characters, and an engaging story teeming with frightening antagonists and exhilarating cliffhangers that could easily fill out multiple seasons. In 2016, it was announced that Throne of Glass, the first of seven novels, was being optioned for a Hulu television series, but the rights have since reverted to Maas with no further production currently in the works.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES SERIES Author: Sarah J. Mass
Sub-Genre: Fantasy Romance
Suggested Medium: Anime TV Series
Comparisons: Beauty and the Beast, Outlander, and Battlestar Galactica
While the previous series from Sarah J. Maas had an adaptation that fell through, her romantic fantasy series, A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR), is currently in the works (also at Hulu) with Outlander and Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald Moore at the helm. Although current plans are to make a live-action television show, I think this very adult-themed romantic thriller would be interesting as an anime. Similar to Throne of Glass, ACOTAR is led by a female protagonist, Feyre, who, after killing a wolf in the woods, is confronted by a beast-like creature demanding retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre learns that her captor is one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world. When the icy hostility she holds for her captor begins to turn into fiery passion, the lies and warnings she had been told of the dangerous faerie lands begin to burn away. ACOTAR is packed with ardent love stories, vibrant settings, and eccentric characters. With a message of self-discovery enveloped in these fervent and passionate tones, an anime style is a perfect fit for some of ACOTAR’s over-the-top story elements.
LORIEN LEGACIES SERIES Author: Pittacus Lore
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Thriller
Suggested Medium: Movie Franchise
Comparisons: Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner
I Am Number Four is one of the many YA books whose movie adaptation was sorely underdeveloped, falling vastly short of its source material. The 2011 film was a cheap, trope-filled high school drama with paper-thin characters and flashy action sequences, but the book’s story is filled with so much more heart and heartbreak. It follows John, one of nine child refugees from the planet Lorien, who, along with their nine guardians, are among the last of their race. They are on the run from an evil group trying to kill them before the Lorien children develop their “Legacies,” superpowers that are the only weapons they have to protect their people. Before leaving Lorien, a charm was placed upon them so they can only be killed in a particular order, and it notifies the others when one of them is dead. Three have been killed; John is number four. The story has great fish-out-of-water, coming-of age themes, exciting cat-and-mouse survival motifs, a beautiful father-son dynamic between John and his guardian, and numerous kinetic action sequences. Its subsequent entries delve into the spy-thriller, action-adventure, and political war drama genres to very captivating results. What they did to the first adaptation was shameful, and it deserves another shot to showcase its true strengths.
THE GRACELING REALM SERIES Author: Kristin Cashore
Sub-Genre: High-Fantasy Political Thriller
Suggested Medium: Movie Franchise
Comparisons: The Tolkienverse and Shadow and Bone
Katsa has been able to kill with her bare hands since she was eight years old because she is a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill, skills that can range from archery to baking. As the king’s niece, she should live a life of privilege, but instead, she is forced to kill on her uncle’s behalf, deposing other realms and elevating his power. Author Kristin Cashore’s opening novel in this series is a fairly straightforward fantasy story with a conflicted female protagonist who doesn’t want to be seen just as the king’s dangerous puppet. It features many elements similar to those seen in other female-led series on this list, but the main reason I have it here is because, while the first book’s characters and world-building are just unique enough to be a better-than-decent starting point, the second and third books are a surprising departure from the original. It’s a series that gets better with each entry, addressing themes of depression, abuse, and mental health by its much more methodical and introspective third book, Bitterblue.
RICK RIORDAN’S MYTHOLOGY UNIVERSE Authors: Rick Riordan, et al.
Sub-Genre: Coming-of-Age Adventure
Suggested Medium: Multi-platformed Connected Universe
Comparisons: Wizarding World and The MCU
Honestly, this entry is the whole reason I wrote this article. The absolute hatred I have for the Percy Jackson movie adaptations goes down to the depths of my soul. I loathe, despise, and utterly HATE those bastardizations of one of the most relatable, hilarious, exciting, and culturally competent literary series of my time. To really understand the gravity of my revulsion, go read this absolutely hysterical demolition of the studio by author/creator Rick Riordan HERE, where he explains why he ended up wanting no part of the film adaptations. Not only did 20th Century Fox kill a potential five-movie franchise based on Riordan’s original series, but it also stopped any possibility of creating a massive cinematic universe. Luckily, Disney+ has obtained Riordan’s blessing and, more importantly, his collaborative efforts to move forward with a rebooted television series, with Season One covering the first book, The Lightning Thief (arriving December 2023!). If that is done well, it can lead to so much more than four more seasons of Percy’s story. Riordan’s series was so thoughtful and entertaining that he was able to write multiple demigod stories, including a Roman mythology series that culminates in an Endgame-level crossover with Percy Jackson’s Greek mythology series, an Egyptian mythology trilogy (with a Netflix movie already in the works), a Norse mythology trilogy, a book series centered around the Greek God Apollo, and several singular spin-offs and novellas, all of which are interconnected to some degree but can stand on their own as well. This universe is so beloved that he now has a publishing company that allows other authors to create demigod stories highlighting their own cultural histories, including Indian, African, Native American, and Chinese mythologies. For years, I never thought that anything could surpass my love for Harry Potter, but this one does it in spades. I am crossing every appendage in hopes that the upcoming series grows to the same heights as its source material.