Some say we are in a golden age of horror fiction—and with so many horror books available by authors new and old we tend to agree. We asked The Lineup editors and contributors to share their lists of must-read horror authors.
What follows is an extensive (though not exhaustive) list of 32 horror authors who either helped create, define, or further evolve the horror genre. If these incredible weavers of horror tales don't already grace your shelves, Spooky Season is the perfect time to remedy that!
When asked to provide a list of authors every horror fan should be reading, I decided to go with authors who are alive and working today, rather than old classics. Few authors working today feel as much like discovering one of those old classics for the first time as John Langan, though. His novel The Fisherman, winner of a Bram Stoker Award, is the perfect place to start with his unforgettable prose, but he’s also the author of numerous short story and novella collections, to pull you into deeper waters.
Edgar Allan Poe
The Complete Short Stories
While not as explicit in violence and gore as other horror writers, Edgar Allan Poe remains one of the foremost authors to seek out if you love the gothic and the macabre. Although much of Poe's notoriety is as connected to his life—and the mysterious manner of his death—as his writing, we can't deny his legacy. Not only did he influence entire genres like detective fiction, Poe inspired other famous horror authors like H.P. Lovecraft. If you adore darkly romantic stories about lost loves, guilty murderers, madness, and being buried alive, his work will never fail you.
Related: Edgar Allan Poe’s Hair-Raising Classics Come to Life with iPoe
The Seventh Mansion
Maryse Meijer writes like nobody else, in a calm, knowing, completely controlled voice that tells you gorgeous stories of utter chaos. Try The Seventh Mansion, a love story and a death story unlike anything else you’ve ever read.
Related: 14 Psychological Horror Books That Will Mess with Your Head
I don’t know if Kayla Chenault would consider herself a horror writer but she describes herself as a practitioner of Black Girl Magic, and her debut novel These Bones (Lanternfish Press), which came out in September, is billed as folk horror. All I know is that it is an amazing book that combines American history—the real and the imagined—with the beautiful and the horrific in a unique and creative way.
Related: These Bewitching Folk Horror Books Will Haunt Your Dreams
Graham Masterton broke onto the horror scene with The Manitou, a deeply disturbing body horror tale that plays on Native American mythology. Although The Manitou instantly placed him amongst horror greats like Stephen King, it’s his haunted house story, Charnel House, that keeps me coming back for more. Masterton’s ability to weave in the real horrors of our pasts into a truly chilling narrative is evident time and time again.
Elizabeth Hand is an author who isn’t afraid to dip her toe into an array of genres—from science fiction to fantasy to horror, and melding them as she pleases. She has a mastery of dark and Gothic themes, spinning unsettling and heavily atmospheric tales. Her work tends to focus on protagonists involved in some way in artistry and performance, and the novel Wylding Hall, which follows a folk band in an eerie country house, is the perfect snapshot of her talents.
The Rust Maidens
Gwendolyn Kiste’s style is lyrical, haunting, and gripping. She effortlessly blends the grotesque with the beautiful, the fairy tale with the horrific, the mundane with the strange. Her short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe reads like a novel, despite the stories not being connected in any way (other than theme.) Often body horror, her work explores the realm of the monstrous feminine. Or perhaps, the ways women have been silenced, contained, and restrained—and how they fight back. Her debut novel The Rust Maidens explores these themes in particularly heartbreaking fashion.
She may not be a horror author exclusively, like some of the other names on this list, but Silvia Moreno-Garcia has more than earned a spot here. Her recent bestseller, Mexican Gothic, alone would be enough to guarantee that every horror fan worth their salt needs to know her name, and once it’s got you addicted, you should seek out some of her self-published short story collections, where she conjures up everything from Lovecraftian horrors to wax effigies of Jack the Ripper and so much more!
Related: 12 Haunting Horror Books for Fans of Mexican Gothic
Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization
I’m a big fan of what I like to call “fun horror,” and few living authors do it better than Jonathan Raab. He’s a relative newcomer to the scene, but there are big things ahead of him. For those who want an introduction to what he’s capable of, check out Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization. It’s equal-parts Scream-esque deconstruction and paranoid cosmic horror, combining the (fictionalized) novelization of an imaginary late-era slasher sequel with liner notes and behind-the-scenes material that paint and infinitely stranger picture.
The Haunting of Hill House
Thanks to the popular The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series, Shirley Jackson's works have never been more well-known or in the spotlight. Given that The Haunting of Hill House was originally published in the late 1950s, its present-day popularity further cements the timelessness of Jackson's fiction. While casual horror readers are likely more familiar with her novels such as the aforementioned Haunting and We Have Always Live in the Castle, Jackson was a prolific short story writer. And of these, perhaps the most famous is "The Lottery," which reveals a sinister undercurrent running through a small American town.
Related: 13 Terrifying Horror Shows to Watch After You've Finished The Haunting of Bly Manor
I'm From Nowhere
Lindsay Lerman is steeped in chaos and her scope goes out, out, out to take in the terrors of climate disaster and the empty (is it?) universe beyond us, for a cosmic and deeply human thrill ride. Try I’m From Nowhere, and stay tuned for What Are You.
Rising to notoriety in the American horror literature boom of the 1970s, Robert McCammon became one of the most influential writers in the game by 1991, with three New York Times bestsellers. McCammon has a consistent mastery of world building, and his stories unfold on paper with visceral immersion. His most well-known and beloved novel, Boy’s Life, is a can’t-miss read that follows a 12-year-old boy through a twisted coming of age after a murder in the 1960s South.
Related: 12 Creepy Robert McCammon Books That Will Keep You Awake At Night
Queen of Teeth
I haven’t read a Hailey Piper piece (short story, novella, or novel) I could easily put down. Piper burst onto the horror scene in 2018 with The Possession of Natalie Glasglow, which subverts several canonical possession tropes—and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Her cosmic horror novella The Worm and His Kings topped “best-of” lists and her gruesome debut novel Queen of Teeth is receiving rave reviews. Her work is riveting, transgressive, challenging, entertaining—and, in Piper’s own words, continues her personal mission to “make horror gay AF.”
Related: 7 LGBTQ+ Horror Authors to Read During Pride Month and Beyond
Stephen Graham Jones
My Heart is a Chainsaw
Stephen Graham Jones is another author who specializes in deconstructing the slasher genre that was the dominant form of American horror film for much of the 1980s. But to say that Jones specializes in anything is to sell the prolific author short – unless that “anything” is creating intensely human characters who thrum with inner life, even while the world around them closes in. His output is staggering, so there are countless places to start, but one of his latest releases is a slasher deconstruction called My Heart is a Chainsaw that is one of the most intense, heartfelt, and transportive reads of recent years.
A Head Full of Ghosts
Paul Tremblay’s greatest skill may be his ability to take a single trope or cliché and spin it out into an utterly chilling, original tale. Whether he starts with possession, disappearances, home invasion, or raging disease, each of his horror books have left me with as many questions as I have chills. Although I have yet to be able to read Survivor Song while we’re still living amidst a pandemic, I’d recommend A Head Full of Ghosts as a starting point for any reader.
Related: Paul Tremblay: Where to Begin with the Stoker Award-Winning Horror Author of A Head Full of Ghosts
The Worm in Every Heart
First making her entry into the writing scene with short stories that appeared across various freelance periodicals, the majority of Gemma Files’s work has one foot in fantasy and one foot in horror. Her novels span the subjects of witches to demons to goddesses. While every one of her works is great, I can’t recommend enough her short story collection The Worm in Every Heart—short fiction is where she shines.
Max Booth III
We Need to Do Something
Max Booth III came to my attention when I wrote the foreword for Miscreations, an anthology of short stories about literal and figurative monsters. His story, “You Are My Neighbor”, was one of the best of the bunch and I’ve been following him ever since. He wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of his novella We Need to Do Something, which was produced by bestselling author Josh Malerman’s Spin a Black Yarn film production company, and the resulting movie is available to stream for rent from Amazon Prime and other platforms, and has also been screened at various film festivals and theaters across the country.
Related: 10 Disturbing Small Press Horror Books to Read this Fall and Winter
Matthew M. Bartlett
Proof positive there’s no right or wrong way to carve out a place for yourself in the world of writing, Matthew M. Bartlett got started self-publishing his bizarre, incantatory, hallucinatory pieces. Once the rest of the world caught on, though, his star rose, and Bartlett recently found himself the subject of a tribute anthology called Hymns of Abomination. While his books are chiefly short story collections, they actually read more like strange mosaic novels, made up of seemingly unrelated vignettes that somehow coalesce into something that grips you like a bad dream and won’t let go. One of my favorites from among his works is Creeping Waves, and he also has a Patreon, where subscribers can receive a steady injection (infection?) of his creepy tales.
Carmen Maria Machado
Her Body and Other Parties
A writer whose works run across multiple genres, Carmen Maria Machado is an author to check out if you like re-examining the horrors of every day through a speculative lens. Her work thus far mostly exists in the form of short fiction—an ideal format for horror stories, to be sure—and her short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, contains an excellent sampling of her bibliography. Standouts include "The Husband Stitch," which riffs on the classic scary story, "The Girl with the Green Ribbon," through the perspective of a coercive heterosexual relationship and "Especially Heinous," which takes a hard look at our love of a certain type of crime story through the longevity of television series like Law and Order.
Related: Gripping Horror Books for Fans of Carmen Maria Machado
Adam Nevill is the king of folk horror, in my opinion. His novel The Ritual—also adapted into a film for Netflix—is the terrifying tale of four friends who wander off the beaten path into the dark woods only to discover that chilling old rites still take place there. Nevill revisits the realm of folktale, legend, and ancient rituals in his novel The Reddening—but really, all his novels and short stories are well worth your time.
Children of Chicago
Cina Pelayo is an author and poet of truly unique and gripping works. Nominated for a Bram Stoker award on two separate occasions, Pelayo has also been nominated for multiple International Latino Book Awards. Her works are driven by a strong sense of identity, and like her amazing collection of short stories—Loteria—centered around Latin American myth and superstition, her latest novel, Children of Chicago, taps into the folklore of the Pied Piper set in modern-day Humboldt Park.
The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
And for classic and dire disturbance, get to know the short stories of M.R. James. There’s a reason his work is still being read after all these years, and it’s waiting, quiet, patient, remorseless, just for you.
My Soul to Keep
Many people may be more familiar with Tananarive Due because of her educational work regarding Black horror and afrofuturism, but she has penned many novels and short stories. The horror genre has a reputation for being very white, and Due's work has been pushing back against that for decades. Black culture and history pervade her fiction, reminding us that horror is both universal and unique to the backgrounds that inform it.
Related: 25 Female Horror Writers That Will Haunt Your Bookshelves Forevermore
The Ballad of Black Tom
Victor LaValle seamlessly blends lyrical prose with compelling plots and philosophical ponderings with heart-pounding horror. His powerful novella The Ballad of Black Tom tackles the complicated work of paying homage to the grandfather of cosmic horror (H.P. Lovecraft) while simultaneously confronting Lovecraft’s racist ideologies. LaValle’s novel The Changeling blurs the lines between fairy tale and horror, revealing the inseparable link between the two. LaValle is an author to read when you want to be both challenged and awestruck.
Ronald Malfi is perhaps the current king of literary horror—if you’re into A24 films, you may find your way into horror fiction through his work. His work is the type that settles into your bones and chills you long after you finish a tale, whether it features a seemingly-magical lake, a hallucination-causing disease, or a Floating Staircase.
Related: Ronald Malfi: Where to Begin with the Bestselling Horror Author
Kathe Koja is in a league all her own. I recently read The Cipher for the first time and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. With its stream-of-consciousness style, it’s dark, it’s nasty, it’s bizarre, it’s unsettling—once you’ve taken a trip down the funhole, you won’t forget it anytime soon. And that’s just the starting point. Koja’s work is strange, eerie, and philosophical. You’ll be entertained while also invited to go a little bit farther—a little deeper down the funhole, let’s say—than what you think is possible, every time.
Horror is one of the most popular manga genres and when it comes to horror manga, no one is more famous than Junji Ito. The creator of countless horror series, his manga spans the gamut from the otherworldly terror of Uzumaki to the devastation wrought by relentless feminine rage in Tomie. And many an internet denizen has probably seen panels taken from the now-infamous "The Enigma of Amigara Fault" in which people are drawn to mysterious people-shaped holes carved into a mountainside. There's no better time to check out Junji Ito's work because thanks to the current manga boom in North America, so much of his catalog is now available in English.
The House at the Bottom of a Lake
Like many readers, my first encounter with Josh Malerman’s work was with Bird Box. I read it in the middle of a snowstorm, but as the snow piled up outside I was inhaling pages beneath my blankets. My relationship with Malerman’s work has been like that ever since—just a constant, incessant devouring of anything and everything he puts out. As a writer he’s hard to classify, because all his books tackle varying subjects and forms. One thing is for sure—his writing can turn your blood cold, and his imagination is unparalleled (the underwater haunted house in A House at the Bottom of a Lake? I mean?)
Related: Josh Malerman: Must-Read Horror Books by the Stoker Award-Nominated Author, Including the Blinding Terror of Bird Box
Rachel Harrison written two wildly different novels: The Return, which is a New Adult horror-thriller, and most recently, Cackle, a charmingly sweet tale of female empowerment through magic. What both novels have in common is an uncanny understanding of Gen Y, what the current crop of 20- to 30-year olds lust and long for. Having her finger on the public’s pulse is Rachel’s superpower.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke
Eric LaRocca is a prime example of modern horror. With the way that his work is creating buzz all across TikTok, readers at large certainly seem to think so, too. While LaRocca’s work is extremely dark, as a queer writer he uses writing as a safe place to explore the ins and outs of identity. Be it poetry, short stories, or full-length novels, LaRocca gets to the heart of human fear. His latest novel, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, is a deeply psychological terror centered on two young women filled with horrific desires.
2018’s The Hunger may have been the first you heard of Katsu, but the author had long been honing her craft through a variety of short stories and a trilogy of supernatural thrillers. The Hunger, her first true horror novel, explores the idea that something beyond bad luck may have been dogging the Donner Party. Equal parts historically enthralling and chillingly spooky, Katsu’s horror tales are the perfect treat for those of us who grew up with the strange combination of Dear America books and classic horror movies.
Father of Lies
Brian Evenson’s minimalist style makes his stories a pleasure to read, despite the challenging topics he tackles. Known for stepping outside the box, his work is difficult to categorize because it often blends, mashes, and transcends genre. That said, he makes frequent appearances in the anthologies curated by Ellen Datlow. His first book Altmann’s Tongue was considered so gruesome, he was asked to step down from his teaching position at BYU. His 2016 psychological thriller Father of Lies explores power, madness, and the hypocrisy of religious leaders—a morally unsettling tale that illustrates Evenson’s depth and range.
Related: Brian Evenson: 8 Tales of Psychological Terror by the Modern Horror Author