In the last few years, the world of books has found an unexpected home on YouTube.
Since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries premiered back in 2012, the cannon of literary YouTube videos has exploded. A production started by Hank Green of the vlogbrothers (writer John Green is the other brother), the series took Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and adapted its heroine as a vlogger named Lizzie. The story didn't just limit itself to YouTube, either — characters had their own Twitters, Tumblrs and more, thanks to clever writing and in-character fan interactions from production team Pemberley Digital. This method of spreading the story out over a bunch of different platforms is called transmedia, and in our digital, interconnected age, it's on the rise.
Ever since the series' unprecedented success (it won an Emmy), transmedia storytelling experiences have taken over the web. Last Thursday, Emma Approved finished its 72-episode arc, last Wednesday, Frankenstein, M.D. premiered, and those are only a few of the series out there.
So, what are the best series in this golden age of literary YouTube? Here's a look at 14 literary-inspired series that have been developed so far. They might not all be must-sees, but they are all part of a literary conversation that's happening in a very unlikely place.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is where this whole literary adaptation movement began. While it took a few episodes for the actors to get comfortable with their characters and the filming style, the series is fantastic as a whole. The new modern twists on the relationships between Lizzie, a grad student, and her sisters (especially Lydia) and best friend Charlotte are done brilliantly, and you fall in love with the whole cast — most of all Darcy.
Emma Approved takes on another Austen classic, Emma. The show just finished on Monday, and while at times the modern situations feel a little off the mark, it's a must-watch for any Austen lover. Warning though, it does take getting through those first few awkward episodes to get to the good stuff.
The newest adaptation from Pemberley Digital, now partnered with PBS, Frankenstein, M.D. re-envisions Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Victoria Frankenstein is a student nearly finished with her degree (so close that she already calls herself an M.D.) who likes to run experiments in her lab that aren't the most ethical. It's a little too early to tell which direction this adaptation will take, but with Pemberley Digital behind it, it's sure to be good.
This delightful re-imagining of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan finds Peter and Wendy as adults living in Neverland, surrounded by a motley crew of family and friends. The story involves some suspension of disbelief — Tinkerbell is an off-camera fairy who acts as Peter's camera — but once you move past the technicalities, the series and the actors are charming. They just finished Season One and are running an IndieGoGo campaign right now for Season Two.
This remake of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre does a great job of adapting a Gothic setting to the present day. Run by a small crew of actors and writers, its low budget makes the series feel authentically like a vlog from a new YouTuber. While the ending is a little disappointing, the series as a whole does a great job of bringing even the smallest characters to life.
A contemporary version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, this series is perhaps the only one that managed to skip over its awkward beginning phase. It comes out of New Zealand, so in addition to great acting, you can also enjoy great accents.
Classic Alice riffs on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which may not seem like the most natural choice for a vlog series, but has managed impressively well. It's more meta than a direct adaptation, focusing on an English student who gets a bad grade on a paper and decides to act like characters in classic literature to make her life decisions. While only nine episodes in, so far the acting is great and the story compelling.
I Didn't Write This isn't quite like the other series on this list. The YouTube channel takes quotes from famous literature and brings them to life with clever, inspirational short films. The scenery is always beautiful, and each episode is only a minute or two long.
This vlog takes on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. College students Jules and Monty get a class assignment to start vlogging, and (surprise!) they fall in love. The houses are fraternity houses, so a lot of the drama feels a little over the top and stereotypical. It's also very far from PG, with alcohol poisoning and lots of swear words.
Imagine Anne of Green Gables starring a 17-year-old version of Anne Shirley. Another homemade series, with a low budget, but the actress does a great job of embodying a classic character. It takes a few episodes to hit its stride, but the creators are learning fast.
Another small crew with authentic low-budget charm, Kate the Cursed updates Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Kate and her friend Megan start the vlog to capture Kate's rants about her little sister, Brittany. The script and the plot are spot-on, even while the acting at times feels a little forced. A must-watch for anyone who loved 10 Things I Hate About You.
This short series isn't so much focused on a piece of literature as it is on the author, Edgar Allen Poe, who attempts to record a vlog about writing while the ghost Lenore haunts his office. The channel also has another adorable literary series called Kissing in the Rain, perfect for anyone who likes skipping to the kissing part of romance novels.
This modern The Great Gatsby will probably only appeal to lovers of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book. Nick Carroway might be one of the most annoying literary narrators there is, so it's no surprise that the series may get on some nerves as well. The acting often feels awkward, but it's hard to tell how much of this is purposeful, as all the characters in the novel are acting constantly as well.
The first few episodes of this present-day Little Women have been promising. Unfortunately, this is another small crew with limited budget, and they've only managed to produce three episodes over several months. Still, fans of the novel will enjoy the existing episodes, and there's still hope that they'll finish their run.