As a storyteller and a lover of familiar narratives, I’m always on the lookout for a fresh approach to a classic tale. With the rise of YouTube as a platform for creators to distribute their own work, well-loved stories have found new life in bite-sized form—the literary web series.
Whether it’s told in a traditional narrative or it takes the form of a video diary, the webseries gives us a twist on the characters and adventures we’ve long adored. Better, because many (if not most) are written by teens and young adults, they’re able to connect to today’s youth on a level television or movie adaptations just miss.
Here are a few personal favorites:
1) The Lizzie Bennet Diaries — Most webseries connoisseurs have seen the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (affectionately known to fans as “LBD”) by now. It’s an incredibly well done example of the genre, with characters who keep even those intimately familiar with the storyline coming back for more. Austenites who haven’t seen this yet — if any of those exist — should put this on their list. If you have seen it, I recommend a rewatch. It holds up.
2) Green Gables Fables — A modern retelling of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, Green Gables Fables is a charming vlog-style webseries told mostly, but not entirely, from the point of view of Anne Shirley. The series really hits its stride in season 2, particularly in terms of inclusivity (several non-white, non-straight characters join the cast) and pacing. Anne seems a bit over-the-top at first, until you realize that’s exactly what Anne Shirley would be like if she lived in today’s world. Once Gilbert Blythe makes his appearance, prepare to be hooked. Actors Mandy Harmon Shepherd and Tanner Gillman bring the beloved duo to life in a believable and engaging way that will ring true to today’s teens.
3) The March Family Letters — Another Pemberly Digital-backed production, like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Cherrydale Productions’ The March Family Letters is an epistolary take on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Framed as video letters to their beloved Marmee, these delightful video diaries are an intimate look at the lives of the March sisters, featuring witty banter, surprising takes on familiar characters, and of course, the delightful March sisters we all know and love. Unfortunately, The March Family Letters ends before it can tell the whole story as contained in Little Women, but the series as it exists is worth your time nonetheless.
4) Jules and Monty — This retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, produced by Tufts University Television, is a darker and more intense than the other webseries on this list — due in no small part to the source material, of course. Set at the fictional University of Verona, the series follows Jules Caine and Romeo Montgomery as they follow the path of their Shakespearean counterparts. With exquisite pacing and a magnificent take on the Nurse character, herein portrayed as Jules’s roommate Nancy Mills, Jules and Monty is one of the first webseries I ever watched, and to this day remains one of the best.
5) Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party — I’ve saved the best for last. Shipwrecked Comedy outdid themselves with this hilarious take on the “murder mystery dinner party goes south” trope. Bringing together many of your favorite authors — Hemingway, Bronte, and Wilde, just to name a few — this comedic webseries keeps you guessing until the very end. With a sassy ghost named Lenore acting as a kind of Greek chorus and a cast chock-full of incredible comedic timing, there’s really no reason for you not to watch.
The webseries is a genre that doesn’t seem to be dying out anytime soon, likely due to its accessible format and global reach. I personally can’t wait to see what literary adaptations the future holds. I’d love to see a well-done Les Miserables take centering around a modern-day Les Amis, an Arthurian webseries focused on the Once and Future King returning to Britain, or even a stab at Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club updated for the iPhone and Instagram generation.
What would you like to see made into a literary webseries?