In recent years, there has a boom in series on the web. Whether they are on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Youtube, small production series are taking over the web. Among these web series are those known as literary web series—modern renditions of classic novels and plays. Usually, the length is short (somewhere between four to fifteen minutes per episode), and it is set in a “talk to the camera” setting. I myself have been watching them since 2013. Here are the top ones I have enjoyed, which I placed on this list due to originality, professionalism, and acting. Before I start, let me just mention that there are some moderate spoilers in this list, but I will try to keep them to a minimum. So, let’s get into it.
9. Jules and Monty (Romeo and Juliet)
This one is based on Romeo and Juliet, the doomed tale of two lovers. Since I have never met anyone who does not know the general story of this infamous play, I will skip the plot summary and go straight to the pros and cons of this modern interpretation.
The series is short. It is only eighteen episodes long, which might be a con if you really want it to continue on. But for me, it was the perfect length, getting the basic story in but not adding tons of unnecessary additives to the original plot.
The feud was handled quite well in this modern rendition. It brings the Montague and Capulet drama to a college campus in a realistic and modern way.
The acting is well done. All the characters are true to their original counterparts and, though modernized, keep many of the same quirks.
The language. May I be the first to say I love Shakespeare, but the mashup of modern phrases with random quotes from the play didn’t quite fit. If you want to do Shakespeare fully in the modern age, fine. But many times the characters would be talking normally and randomly start talking—how do I say it—Shakespearian. It did not really fit. Some people might think this is a pro, but I did not.
The ending was strange and uncertain. I will not give any spoilers for this one, but it left a lot of questions in the viewer’s head. In my experience, sometimes that can be a good thing. For this one, though, it felt sudden and forced.
While in the pros I mentioned that the characters were true to their original counterparts, but it was herein this fact that I never really enjoyed this series. None of the characters are relatable. I think most would agree that the original characters Romeo and Juliet were naïve and immature in many ways. However, they were also supposed to be in their early teens—Juliet was only supposed to be thirteen—and very sheltered, so it made sense. But Jules and Monty are in collage in the modern world, so their characters’ naivety make less sense.
Since the series is so well made, I would recommend it, especially since—unlike other entries on this list—it is pretty short. While I wasn’t a huge fan of it, honestly I have never liked Romeo and Juliet so perhaps I am biased. And, considering the content they were working with, the creators and actors did a great job.
8. The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan)
This is based on the story of Peter Pan, with a new twist. The new twist being that all the Darlings and Pan are adults. Peter is merely very immature and childlike, refusing to take on responsibilities and living as a child. However, as the series continues—SPOILER ALERT—Wendy and Peter fall in love and he begins to mature. The first season is completed and I believe there is a second season in the workings—or out already—, but I have not seen it.
It is a well-made, professional production. The sound quality is great, the script is well done, it is superbly acted, and the videos are well-paced.
The plot is interesting, and very different from the original Peter Pan story. It is set in a modern town, and one without pirates and sword fighting. Because of this, the story changes drastically. In fact, this version is less of a rendition of Peter Pan and more inspired by the story. While many of the characters are featured—the Darlings, Pan, Tinkerbell, and some Lost Boys—they are very modernized and older. People looking for a closer story to the original plot will not find it here, but if you enjoy new twists on old fairytales, this one is for you.
Peter’s character does not always seem realistic. I think everyone knows a man in their life that behaves like a child once in a while, but sometimes Peter seems too ridiculous to be a full-grown man. Saying that, most of the time his character is reasonable. There is just that occasional moment where you don’t believe what is happening in front of your eyes.
Themes. This is, again, more about tastes that anything and you may see this as a pro. The original novel features powerful messages of the dangers of not growing up, which is featured a bit in this production. However, what isn’t featured is the themes within Peter Pan himself. His position as “the boy who never grew up” is contradicted in this series as Peter does begin to grow up. The original Pan is darker, an angel of death who is less human and more a sprite. The themes of this darkness in Pan are gotten rid of in this series. But let me say, that does not make this series bad in any way. It just wasn’t to my tastes.
Wendy’s voice is a bit annoying. Let me first say before any fans freak out, I love this actress and she does a great job portraying Wendy. However, her high-pitched voice does grate on my ears once in a while. Not really a con, just a warning.
This is probably my personal least favorite on this list. While it was good, it seems less like a genuine blog and more like a movie production. This is not a bad thing, but it made it less believable to me. But still, it adds a very interesting twist to Peter Pan’s story, so you should definitely check it out.
7. Green Gables Fables (Anne of Green Gables)
This is based on the famous series by L. M. Montgomary, starting with Anne of Green Gables. It tells the story of the overdramatic redhead Anne (with an E), an orphan who comes to live with a brother and sister in an old town. There she makes friends, finds romance, and shapes her dreams and future. This is by far one of the best interpretations on this list, following the spirit of the books to the fullest. So far there are two seasons of this series out, though I would assume there are more to come.
Mandy Harmon, who plays Anne, is absolutely amazing, as are the actors who play Gilbert and Diana. Some of the background actors aren’t as believable, but luckily they aren’t noticeable because they are, well, in the background.
The pacing is very believable. One of the criticisms I get of this series is that it does seem to move slowly. But, considering the slow pace of the books it is based on, I quite like the pacing. If feels as if this is the real life of a real girl, instead of simply a production of a fictional one. Many of the videos are pointless to the overall plot, but it makes it feel like a real vlog.
This I am listing as a pro and a con. That is, pacing, which I just talked about. This, to me, was a blessing and a curse. It seemed realistic to have a slower pacing, but for someone like me who likes quicker paced things, it does get a little boring. Especially when you are anticipating with excitement for a new episode to come out, only to have it be pointless. So, like I said, it fits for the story, but for me it grew a bit boring at times.
Say for the slow pacing, there is little I can think of this web series that I do not like. It has lighthearted moments and darker moments—as in real life. It doesn’t follow the original extremely closely, but it does follow many of the themes of the original.
6. Marguerite’s Memoirs (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
This is probably the most recent one I have discovered out of this list. In fact, the last episode only aired about a month ago (as of this post). It is the modern adaption of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baronness Orczy. The original is about a French actress who marries an English lord during the French Revolution. He plays the part of a fool, which disgusts her. She soon finds out that it is all a disguise, however, and he is actually the illusive Scarlet Pimpernel, an unknown man who sneaks people out of France away from the guillotine.
In this version, it is set on a fictional college campus where “different” people are being beaten and shunned, and the mysterious man Pimpernel who defends them turns out to be inspiring actress Marguerite’s ex-boyfriend, Blake.
Marguerite is so dramatic that she is hilarious. Half the time you can’t take her seriously. At first I simply considered the actress to be not that good, but there are some moments where she seems so ridiculous you have to laugh out loud.
The best feature of this series is how these creators brought a very specific plot into the modern world. After all, the French Revolution isn’t happening again. However, there does seem to be a movement in America to get rid of people who are different or disagree with certain people. So, this plot is actually very well done in bringing this story to the modern age.
The acting is not that great. Like I mentioned, Marguerite is not always believable and Blake is often very awkward. Saying that, there is still something incredibly likeable about these characters. But still, not great acting.
Production quality is low. Now, I do not really care about this as it did not detract from my enjoyment of the series. However, it is clear it was made by a group of friends for fun. The sound isn’t the best and the settings could have been better.
This is probably the least professional production mentioned on this list, but I still adored it. There is something incredibly likeable about how the series was adapted, from Blake randomly showing up in the scene to Marguerite’s over-dramatic behavior. This may not be one of the best made web series, but I highly recommend it!
5. From Mansfield With Love (Mansfield Park)
This is one of three Jane Austen literary web series on this list. This one is based on Mansfield Park, a tale about a young, quiet woman who lives with her uncle and in love with her cousin (weird, but that was normal back then). Luckily, this adaptation is just about a maid in a wealthy house where she grew up who is in love with the son of the household.
The acting is great and the friendships and romance is believable. The plot is interesting and sticks mostly to the original. Also, while the production isn’t the best, it is well done for the equipment used.
Some may consider this a con, but I consider it a pro. That is, the actors chosen. I frankly am so sick of Hollywood only picking pretty actors who may or may not be able to act. What I like about this adaptation is that the actors are not ridiculously pretty. They are real people. But, like I said, for those looking for incredibly hot guys and gorgeous girls, maybe this isn’t for you.
It is a bit slow moving at certain points. I don’t necessarily hate this about it, but certain episodes do feel pointless.
Being that the production isn’t always the best, sometimes the lighting is a bit weird. You have trouble seeing things in the background. The outdoor scenes are sometimes difficult to hear the characters in. While I like this for how real it seems, it also makes it a bit difficult to watch.
I loved this web series. It is one of the few I watched that I truly enjoyed. It was also difficult to find any cons. It was really, really good. And this is only number five on my list!
4. Emma Approved (Emma)
This is the second Jane Austen literary web series on my list. This one is based on Emma, a story of a wealthy young woman with ambitions to match people together. This is also my second favorite production by Pemberley Digital (my favorite I will mention later on this list), though I highly recommend others in these series, including Frankenstein MD (based on Frankenstein) and The March Family Letters (Little Women, though this one is unfinished…maybe).
This particular series is amazing, both because of the actors picked to portray Emma and Knightly, as well as the perfectly written lines. There is a reason this is such an amazing series. In fact, it was so good it even won an Emmy Award in Creative Arts.
There is a highly inventive, but simple set. While it is mostly set in one small room, the little touches of Emma’s changing costumes, changing angles, Alex constantly going in and out, all make the simple set interesting.
This is the first mention on this list so far where all the actors are good. It is not just the main ones, but the background characters are just as unique and interesting.
The plot follows the original, despite being in a very different setting and era. This is rare, as many of the literary web series I have watched deviate due to necessity of setting from the original.
It is a bit confined. I just mentioned how inventive the makers were for making a single room setting interesting. But still, it is set in mostly only one room, making it a little repetitive. Still, considering the plot and how Emma’s business is filming herself, it makes sense. Saying that, I would have liked the occasional set change besides Alex’s or Harriot’s office.
I have so few cons because it is such a tightly written, interesting drama. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, if you are a fan of Jane Austen as much as I am, you will like this series.
3. The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre)
Based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, this tells of the story of a young woman who goes to a large, old house as a tutor to a young girl. She is pulled into the mystery of the dark house and its brooding owner. This is by far the darkest vlog series on my list and with the most serious protagonist.
It feels very poignant. Unlike the others, this one is very meaningful. It talks of insanity, loss, depression, and true happiness. The themes are just as powerful as the dialogue.
Jane is amazing. As such a huge fan of the original, I can say with some certainty that few actresses have ever captured the depth and intricacy in Jane Eyre. And, if any did, it would be this one, played by Alysson Hill. She is quiet, calm, but still strong and independent. It is a perfect portrayal of the heart of the original character.
The ending isn’t perfect. What I mean by this is, from what I understand, the main actor left the project before the end, and thus there was no true reunion on camera. While it did not come across as completely satisfying, it made sense considering Rochester probably would not want to be on camera after what happened.
There are little complaints I have about this drama. It was amazing, serious, and poignant. A truly great adaptation of one of my favorite classics. I highly recommend it.
2. Nothing Much to Do (Much Ado About Nothing)
From a dark drama to a light-hearted comedy, this one is based on Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing. It tells the tale of a group of young men who return to Messina (in this case, a town in Australia) and fall in love (or for some argue their way into love). However, lies threaten to ruin love. If you do watch this and enjoy it, there is a sequel series starring many of the same people, called “Lovely Little Losers,” based on Shakespeare’s play Loves Labours Lost. It is not as good as the first season, but it is still interesting.
This one is great because it incorporates several different viewpoints and several different channels (mostly featured around Beatrice’s and Benedick’s channels). It gives a wider view of the story, unlike having only one main perspective.
Also, this is the only production that is set outside of Great Britain or the USA. In this case, it is set in Australia. And, boy, do I love Australian accents.
The actors are incredible. Beatrice and Benedick certainly steal the show, but it is the background characters who add interest and contrast to the main couple’s madness.
Yep, I’ve got nothing.
Though, if you are not fond of swearing (if my mom is reading this, that would be you), be warned. This is the one series on the list which employs moderate language. Though, for me, it fits for the characters. But some might not enjoy it.
This is a hilarious, amazing web series. If you have read my blog for a while, you will know I love Shakespeare and this particular play is my favorite. Thus, I highly recommend you check it out if you like wordplay and interesting, humorous characters.
1. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (Price and Prejudice)
We are finally here, to the end. This is the series that started it all. It is because of this series that literary web series even became a thing. Starting way back in 2012, this story is based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, telling of the family drama and romance between Elizabeth Bennett and William Darcy. It is also my favorite production by Pemberley Digital (I warned you I would be mentioning them again). In fact, because it is so good, I am skipping the cons and just mentioning the pros (because I cannot think of one con).
The acting is stupendous, especially the Bennett girls. Lizzie is just as witty, Jane just as sweet, and Lydia just as crazy as the original. Darcy is incredible, and there is such a build-up to his entrance. Even background characters like Mr. Collins, Charlotte, and Mary are amazing.
Usually, for the long length (it is just over a hundred episodes), I would say there would be slower, boring episodes. But there are not. The writing is tightly written and the pacing is consistent, making each episode build on the previous one.
I quite liked in the ending—SPOILER ALERT—how Lydia did not end up with Wickham and in fact gets to become a better person. This Lydia is much deeper than the original, and, while usually I do not like character changes from the original, I think this one made it better. Lydia learned her lesson, and matured as a result.
Watch this web series! That is my conclusion. Simple and sweet.
If I missed any of your favorite literary web series, let me know down in the comments. I know there were so many more I could have put on this list, but I had to narrow it down to nine. And, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventures,