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52 Best Horror Books from the Past 200 Years

We know you love a good scare.

best horror books exorcist

From the truly terrifying to the horrifically gruesome, the best horror comes in all shapes and sizes. We've scoured the shelves—from the classics to modern masterpieces—to bring you 52 of the best horror books of all time. Beware ... and settle in for a night of frighteningly good tales.




By Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein isn't just a great horror story—it's also arguably the earliest true science fiction novel. Shelley's mad scientist/horror monster mash-up laid the groundwork for everything from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Alien.




By J. Le Fanu

One of the earliest works of vampire fiction, this Gothic horror novel was originally serialized in the magazine The Dark Blue and tells the story of Laura, her father, and the mysterious young visitor—Carmilla—who comes to stay with them.


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Gothic horror is known as the good stuff for a reason. This late 1800s effort from one of the founding fathers of genre fiction is a great early example of how insightful and personal horror can be. Is there a monster in all of us? Well, there’s one in Dr. Jekyll, at any rate.

Related: 17 Award-Winning Horror Books You Need to Read Now 


The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow

By Robert Chambers

This collection of supernatural horror stories gets its name from a forbidden play that causes madness upon anyone who reads it. Chambers’ book contains 10 stories, spanning from ghost tales to sinister evil.




By Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker's Dracula drew on folklore to create its titular monster, but it also established the tropes that would define vampire fiction for hundreds of years to come. As an epistolary novel (that is, told in letters), Dracula is also arguably a forerunner of the found-document horror trope.


The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James

Horrifying enough to scare you out of ever wanting to be a governess, this classic novella follows a young woman who cares for two children at their summer home … and begins to see strange people in the yard.

Related: The Scariest Books You’ve Ever Read 


The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera

By Gaston Leroux

The tortured Phantom that stalks the Palais Garnier opera house in Leroux's novel is one of the great characters in horror fiction. The inspiration for multiple adaptations, including the famous musical, this novel still holds up more than a hundred years after it was first published.


Best Horror Books

The Call of Cthulhu

By H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft’s horrifying story is about an underwater monster that comes to life and threatens the human race. One of the author’s most terrifying short stories, it was originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.

Related: 11 Books for Fans of H.P. Lovecraft 


The Werewolf of Paris

The Werewolf of Paris

By Guy Endore

Endore's classic werewolf story is a horror novel that doubles as historical fiction. Endore sets his story in the early 1870s, during the Franco-Prussian War—an event that was pretty distant history even in Endore's time.


I Am Legend

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson

A classic work of speculative fiction, Matheson's novel I Am Legend is also one of the greatest vampire novels ever written. Set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires, I Am Legend is clever and unforgettable.


best horror books

The October Country

By Ray Bradbury

While Bradbury may be best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, he’s also a fantastic horror writer. This macabre short story collection will give you plenty of sleepless nights.


books for fans of scary stories to tell in the dark

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of the greatest horror novelists of all time. In The Haunting of Hill House, she starts with a classic haunted-house setting and a Gothic horror mood and builds a compelling narrative full of delightfully terrifying set pieces.

Related: 13 Female Horror Writers You Should Be Reading 


holy horror books

Rosemary's Baby

By Ira Levin

A bestseller in its day, Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby is a disturbing horror tale that turns the excitement and fears of pregnancy into truly dark horrors. This was the inspiration for the film of the same name, which is also a classic.


The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

By Harlan Ellison

This collection of short stories from horror master Harlan Ellison includes his most famous work, "A Boy and His Dog," which you might remember from the film adaptation of the same name. Ellison's work blends science fiction and horror.


holy horror books

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

Sometimes overshadowed by the all-time classic film adaptation, William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is a classic in its own right. Blatty drew the inspiration for his novel from Roland Doe, a terrifying real-life case of alleged satanic possession.

Related: 13 Witchcraft and Occult Books to Get You in the Spirit of the Season 


The Sentinel

The Sentinel

By Jeffrey Konvitz

The book that inspired the 1977 film of the same name centers on Alison Parker, a young woman with a troubling reclusive Catholic priest for a neighbor in her New York City brownstone. When she hears strange, loud noises coming from upstairs, she’s horrified to find that no one lives there besides the creepy priest.

Related: Satan at the Door: The Sinister Events Surrounding Jeffrey Konvitz's 1974 Cult Horror Novel The Sentinel 


First Love, Last Rites

First Love, Last Rites

By Ian McEwan

In this early effort from literary giant Ian McEwan, the author is still finding his voice—and is experimenting quite a bit with genre fiction in general and horror fiction in particular. This short story collection is worth a read for McEwan fans and horror fans alike.

Related: 51 SCARIEST Books of the Last 200 Years 


best stephen king books

The Shining

By Stephen King

Stephen King's reign as the king of horror began in earnest with his third novel. The Shining is weighty and powerful, and it showcases King's ability to tie his stories' horrors to his characters and their flaws in a way that gets readers thinking about more than just the scares.

Related: Master of Horror: 10 Best Stephen King Books 


best Peter Straub books

Ghost Story

By Peter Straub

Straub is one of horror's greats, and Ghost Story was the turning point in his career. In Ghost Story, a group of aging men find themselves haunted—literally—by a terrible crime that they committed when they were still young boys.


best horror books


By Peter Straub

We can't stop at just one! The line between magic and horror is blurred in Peter Straub’s novel. When two young boys begin to learn magic from one of the boy’s uncle, they realize that this terrifying evil is more than just a trick.

Related: Shadowland: 9 Best Peter Straub Books for a Night of Horror 



The Elementals

By Michael McDowell

In The Elementals, two vacationing families are plagued by a horror in a third nearby house. The Elementals is arguably the best work from an author beloved by horror fans and writers alike—no less a talent than Stephen King, among others, has sung McDowell's praises.


Creepy kid's books

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Alvin Schwartz

This now-infamous collection of short stories was intended for children, but between its terrifying illustrations and bone-chilling tales based on urban legends and folklore, it’s sure to terrify readers of any age.

Related: 14 Horror Books for Fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 


Best Horror Books

Dark Companions

By Ramsey Campbell

Featuring what Stephen King called “one of the three finest horror stories I have ever read,” this collection of horrifying tales brings readers face to face with their worst nightmares—in the form of sinister “companions.”


best horror books

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill

When solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to settle the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, things take a horrifying turn for the worse as he is haunted by mysterious occurrences in her home.




By Octavia E. Butler

Printed alongside other stories, this novella (which was first published in 1984) stands as one of Butler's greatest works. It's an unsettling piece of speculative fiction set in a universe where humans are bound to and abused by alien overlords.


best horror books

The Damnation Game

By Clive Barker

This cautionary Faustian tale involves a man who made a pact with a devilish man, and the horrific events that ensue as he’s pressured to complete his end of the bargain.

Related: Hellbound Heart: The Best Clive Barker Books 


Song of Kali

Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons

Journalist Robert Luczak travels to Calcutta to locate poetry of the allegedly deceased M. Das. There he finds a terrifying cult devoted to Kali, the goddess of death.


best horror books light at the end

The Light at the End

By John Skipp and Craig Spector

Skipp and Spector team up to deliver a vampire novel with a twist: this story is set within the punk community of New York City. The weird and wild world of 1980s New York makes the perfect backdrop for this strange and spooky tale.


Best Horror Books


By Stephen King

While most of Stephen King’s works could be included in this list, we’re highlighting Misery for its sheer, realistic terror. When fictional writer Paul Sheldon is in a car crash, he’s rescued by his biggest, psychotic fan … who proceeds to imprison and torture him.

Related: 11 Nightmare-Inducing Authors to Check Out After You've Read Everything by Stephen King 


Swan Song

Swan Song

By Robert R. Mccammon

A young psychic, Swan, is at the center of a nuclear wasteland. This post-apocalyptic novel is a terrifying look at the destruction of war.




By Neal Stephenson

Zodiac is a thriller with a touch of horror and an environmentalist bent. Stephenson's novel sees its environmentalist protagonist uncover a disturbing truth about pollution in Boston Harbor.

Related: 13 Best Horror Podcasts to Give You the Chills This Halloween 


Best Horror Books

The Girl Next Door

By Jack Ketchum

Ketchum’s novel is loosely inspired by real events. The story tells of two sisters, Meg and Susan, who are put into the custody of their horrifyingly abusive aunt after their parents are killed.


best horror books

Songs of a Dead Dreamer

By Thomas Ligotti

This collection of horror stories has been compared to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, this anthology is a must-read.


Dracula Unbound

Dracula Unbound

By Brian W. Aldiss

Aldiss' take on the vampire novel is creative and daring. In Dracula Unbound, a time-traveling man tries to save mankind from the undead by heading to the 1800s to find Bram Stoker, author of the original Dracula.


Boy's Life

Boy's Life

By Robert R. McCammon

Robert McCammon is a titan of genre-bending fiction, and Boy's Life is considered by some fans and critics to be his very finest work. Broad in scope and character-oriented, this novel is every bit as good as Swan Song.

Related: 12 Creepy Robert McCammon Books That Will Keep You Awake At Night 


best horror books

Naomi’s Room

By Jonathan Aycliffe

This gripping tale follows parents Charles and Laura after the disappearance and death of their four-year-old daughter Naomi. But Naomi doesn’t rest in peace—haunting her parents as other murders follow.


best horror books

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

This infamous work gives readers a peek inside the mind of a psychopath. The story is narrated by Patrick Bateman—a man who spends his days earning his fortune on Wall Street, and his nights torturing victims as a serial killer.


best horror books

Summer of Night

By Dan Simmons

This thrilling novel is the first in a series written by acclaimed author Dan Simmons, winner of the Hugo Award for his book Hyperion. Set in small town Illinois, five boys must band together to fight the evil that threatens to destroy everyone they know.

Related: 14 Underrated Paranormal Books That Will Get Under Your Skin 


 Underrated Paranormal Books

The Bell Witch

By Brent Monahan

Based on a true story, The Bell Witch follows the Bell family, who come to be haunted by a relentless spirit living in their Tennessee home.

Related: 20 Ghost Books to Haunt Your Days (and Nights) 


best horror books

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielweski

In a mysterious house, doors and passageways appear with no apparent destination, and measurements that don’t match that of the house’s exterior. The family that moves in must contend with the mysterious evil festering inside their new home.


best horror books


By Chuck Palahniuk

This winner of the 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award follows a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When he uncovers the source of the deaths, he gains the power to kill, and sets out to prevent others from using it.

Related: 46 Gripping True Crime Books from the Last 54 Years 


books for fans of it

Let the Right One In

By John Ajvide Lindqvist

This Swedish horror novel follows the story of a young boy and his friendship with an enchanting but strange little girl. It's a creepy and thrilling read about friendship, trust, and secrets.


best horror books world war z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks

If your favorite part of speculative fiction is the speculation, then you should check out this sweeping look at a fictional war against zombies. In contrast to the fun but dumb movie adaptation, there are no quick fixes and simple plot arcs here: the book really reads like a historical document.


best horror books the terror

The Terror

By Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons' The Terror mashes up the horror and historical fiction genres. Using Captain Sir John Franklin's lost expedition through the Northwest Passage as a jumping-off point, Simmons creates a creepy story set in the Arctic.


Last Days

Last Days

By Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson is a dark prince of modern horror, and this award-winning tale stands as one of his most visceral nightmares. To apprehend a cult leader's killer, a former detective must sacrifice everything: his mind, his sanity, and his body one part at a time. 


Underrated Paranormal Books

The Ritual

By Adam Nevill

Winner of the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel, this story follows four old college friends whose efforts to reconnect get them lost in the Scandinavian wilderness. When they stumble upon what appears to be the remains of a sacrificial ritual, they discover they are not alone.

Related: 21 Underrated Horror Books That Have Been Waiting to Fuel Your Nightmares 


best horror books


By Dathan Auerbach

A kindergarten class ties letters to balloons and lets them go in hopes of getting a penpal in return. When one falls into the hands of an obsessive stalker, every mother’s worst nightmare ensues.


best horror books


By Joe Hill

Spanning several decades, Vic is tormented by her past—and the child abductor, Manx, who tried to take her years ago. But Manx is on the loose again, and is determined to get even by taking Vic’s own son.

Related: From 20th Century Ghosts to NOS4A2: Where to Start with Award-Winning Horror Author Joe Hill 


best horror books

Bird Box

By Josh Malerman

When you see it, you’re driven to deadly violence … but the only problem is no one knows what ‘it’ is. Five years after the madness begins, Malorie and her two young children flee, blindfolded, to a place that might be safe—setting out on a terrifying journey.


Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall

By Elizabeth Hand

Presented as an oral history, Hand's 2015 novel tells the story of a British psychedelic folk group that holes up in an old country house to work on their next album. Things get weird fast, and not just because of the acid.


The Doll-Master

The Doll-Master

By Joyce Carol Oates

Genre-hopping literary master Joyce Carol Oates has written more than her fair share of genre fiction, and she shows her skills in the horror space with this excellent collection of six imaginative and scary short stories.


best horror books the fisherman

The Fisherman

By John Langan

A modern marvel from John Langan, this novel is about desperation and dark dealings. Set in Upstate New York, Langan's novel introduces a rural creek that is rumored to hold some impossible secret. His characters set out to find it.

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