Seven TV Shows Based on Video Games
Check out these small-screen-to-small-screen adaptations.
TV series based on video games may not get as much love as their big-screen counterparts, but plenty have earned high ratings and positive reviews. From Pac-Man to The Last of Us, let’s take a look at seven shows that were successfully adapted from video games.
1. Pac-Man (1982)
The original Pac-Man hit arcades in 1980 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Animation powerhouse Hanna-Barbera seized the moment, developing a series in time to join ABC’s 1982 Saturday morning lineup.
The TV adaptation was a hit unto itself. Pac-Man was No. 1 in the Saturday morning ratings in its first season, when it aired as part of a 90-minute package with animated adaptations of Little Rascals and Richie Rich. The title character was joined by wife Pepper (better known as Ms. Pac-Man), little Baby-Pac and dog Chomp-Chomp in alternately fleeing and pursuing the Ghost Monsters who haunted the arcade game’s mazes.
Pac-Man aired for two seasons and 52 episodes. Thirty years after the final episode aired, Disney XD debuted the computer-animated Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, which added another 52 episodes to the Pac-Man TV library. Find out where to watch both series here.
2. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1991)
Based on the mystery exploration computer games that launched in 1985, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? was a children’s game show that aired on PBS for five seasons starting in 1991. Three middle school-aged “gumshoes” answered trivia questions posed by “The Chief” (played by Lynne Thigpen in a hybrid character/host/announcer role), revealing clues to help track down the titular master thief.
Critics and educators praised the series for faithfully adapting the PC games’ dual pursuits of learning and adventure. World won seven Daytime Emmy Awards® and was followed by two additional ’90s TV shows. Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? was an animated series that aired as part of the Fox Kids Network block from 1994 to 1999 and recast Sandiego as a misunderstood protagonist. In the midst of Earth’s 40-episode run, PBS and Thigpen revived the game show as Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? (1996-1997).
The franchise returned to the small screen in Carmen Sandiego (2019), an animated Netflix® series starring Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez in the title role. It ran for four seasons and earned praise from critics and viewers. Find out where to watch Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? and Carmen Sandiego here.
3. Pokémon (1997)
The multibillion-dollar Pokémon franchise debuted in Japan in 1996 with Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, a pair of video games for the original Nintendo Game Boy®, followed by the Pokémon trading card game, the Pokémon Adventures manga, more video games and, in 1997, an animated TV series that remains in production today.
The show was initially adapted directly from key installments in the video game series, starring human trainer Ash Ketchum, his faithful Pokémon companion, Pikachu, and their friends and enemies. It reached North American shores in September 1998, timed with the release of Red and Green (renamed Pokémon Red and Blue for markets outside Japan).
Pokémon is widely credited with injecting anime into mainstream Western culture. The games and show quickly grew in popularity and would inspire 23 animated films (and counting) and one live-action adaptation, 2019’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Find out where to watch them here.
4. Castlevania (2017)
Castlevania is an adult-targeted animated TV show that briefly became America’s most popular original streaming series shortly after its debut in July 2017. It was also Rotten Tomatoes’ first-ever “Fresh”-rated video game adaptation, scoring an 83% in its first season and 100% in its second and fourth seasons.
The series was initially based on two entries in Konami’s 30 title-strong video game lineup: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989) and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005). Critics and audiences lauded Castlevania’s anime-inspired artwork and (often gory) action as well as its writing and voice talent. Richard Armitage starred as Dracula hunter Trevor Belmont, who was joined by magician Sypha Belnades (played by Alejandra Reynoso) and Dracula’s half-human son, Alucard (James Callis), in combat against the legendary vampire’s evil forces.
The Netflix original series ended its four-season, 32-episode run in 2021. A follow-up series, Castlevania: Nocturne, is currently in development. Find out where to stream it here.
5. The Witcher (2019)
The Witcher franchise started with a series of novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski and continued with three role-playing video games released by Poland’s own CD Projekt: The Witcher (2007), The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (2009) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015). The main character is supernaturally enhanced monster hunter Geralt of Rivia, who explores and fights his way through the fantasy world known as the Continent.
Among The Witcher fans is British actor Henry Cavill, who played Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel, among other DC Extended Universe films, and won the role of Geralt when Netflix went into production on a live-action TV series. The Witcher debuted to largely positive reviews in December 2019; a second season fared even better.
Season 3 of The Witcher is expected to be released in the summer of 2023 and will be followed by a fourth season — absent Cavill, who left the show among rumors of creative differences with writers and producers who strayed too far from the source material for their lead actor’s taste. Find out where to stream it here.
6. Arcane: League of Legends (2021)
Netflix scored yet another hit with Arcane, an animated series set in Riot Games’ League of Legends universe. First released for Windows and Macintosh platforms in 2009, LoL had built a massive fanbase when, at a 10th anniversary celebration, Riot announced a TV series was in the works.
Arcane debuted in November 2021 and quickly earned a reputation as an edgy, deeply affecting animated masterpiece. The show’s three-act, nine-episode first season follows orphaned sisters Vi (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (Ella Purnell) as they navigate a steampunk fantasy world filled with complex characters and marked by sociopolitical unrest.
The show won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, the first streaming series to do so. Netflix has already renewed Arcane for a second season, expected to be released sometime in 2023. Find out where to stream it here.
7. The Last of Us (2023)
By the time The Last of Us reached PlayStation 3® consoles in 2013, the third-person action-adventure and online multiplayer game had already generated significant buzz. At the heart of the story are hardened smuggler Joel and teenaged Ellie. Joel escorts Ellie across a sparsely populated United States after a mutant fungus runs rampant, turning “the infected” into mindless, ravenous zombies who threaten all of humanity — except, it seems, Ellie, who may hold the key to a cure.
The game was an instant hit, selling more than a million units in the week following its release. A live-action adaptation was inevitable, and creators opted for a big-budget TV series starring late-blooming superstar Pedro Pascal as Joel and fellow Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey as Ellie. The first episode aired in January of 2023 and, like the game, debuted to near-universal acclaim among critics and audiences.
The series hews so closely to the source that one character, Marlene, is played by Merle Dandridge, the same actress who portrayed her in the video game. Critics often cite strong female characters among the TV show’s main attributes. Find out where to stream it here.