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The Evolving Tides of Modern Horror Fiction's Resurgence

Explore horror's most exciting new developments. 


At the height of the pandemic, I wrote a piece for Goodreads about the modern resurgence of horror. I was lucky enough to speak with everyone from Joe Monti of Saga Press to Ellen Datlow, esteemed editor of all things horror, from Stephen Graham Jones to Jeremy Robert Johnson. I asked them all kinds of questions but overall, the big one was: is horror having a resurgence?

Each of the experts and industry professionals replied with a resounding yes. It has a lot to do with our current sociopolitical climate; horror tends to become more popular when the horrors of the world itself are even worse than anything we might encounter on the page. And yet, horror has always thrived, even if underground after the mainstream horror market crash in the late 90s and early 2000s. Horror fiction never went anywhere, but an increasing number of readers are finding their way to the dark and the delectable tales of monsters that—unlike our often-terrible reality itself—only exist between the covers of a book.

Though horror subgenres act as commercial anchors for those looking to sell products, there are some horror subgenres that have had a lot of innovation and unique subversion in the last couple of years—particularly as a result of the recent resurgence.

We followed the emerging tides and looked at the many waves of horror fiction's recent resurgence.

Related: 52 Best Horror Books from the Past 200 Years

The Slasher

One of horror’s most recognizable and well-used tropes, the slasher is at its best when there’s a menacing killer on the loose—the grislier the better—and a cast of innocent (yet often cunning) characters in the killer’s sights. The genre has evolved greatly in recent years, often toying with the typical plotline, making the characters more complex, and the events in a narrative more metaphysical and self-referential.


My Heart is a Chainsaw

By Stephen Graham Jones

Perhaps the quintessential slasher novel, Stephen Graham Jones followed up his breakout hit, The Only Good Indians, with the first in a trilogy of novels featuring one Jade Daniels, an angsty teenager with an obsession for horror. Real-life is a real drag, full of horrors like her abusive dad and his creeper friends. Jade finds solace in slasher films and deeply wishes a real-life slasher would happen in her hometown of Proofrock, Idaho. When it does, Jones spins the complex story around awesome essays written by Jade that explore the lore of slashers while also managing to give readers a new and original entry into the genre at the same time. With Don’t Fear the Reaper out early next year, the “Lake Witch Trilogy” will keep readers poised for the next era of the subgenre.

Read a free excerpt of My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Criminal Horror

Crime and horror go hand-in-hand. They’ve always entertained the blurring of the lines between a cold case and a chilling tale of menace. We’ve seen this area grow and evolve, with writers no longer paying as much attention to whether their work is “crime,” “mystery,” or “horror”—opting instead for their stories to be all of the above, complete with their own unique trademarks. 

The Devil Takes You Home

The Devil Takes You Home

By Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias has been carving his own blend of horror and crime, originally something he called “barrio noir,” for years. After Zero Saints and Coyote Songs, both equally intense depictions of the nightmares near the Mexican border, Iglesias is forging new narrative territory with his novel, The Devil Takes You Home. Readers meet Mario as he is in a dark place, financially strapped and at wit’s end, Mario just wants to save his family and his marriage. Deciding to become a hitman due to the promise of quite a payday, things end up much worse. Does he get out of that line of work or go for one more potentially lucrative ($200,000!) job? Iglesias takes us into dark, pulse-pounding territory.

Related: 13 Must-Read Horror Books by Diverse Authors

Social Horror

One of the newer subgenres on this list, at least in terms of fiction being categorized as such, social horror focuses on societal oppression. Be it the fallacies and failures of social stratification or the sociopathic entities that seek power in a work environment or society, social horror turns its attention to these societal problems and amplifies them for sheer terror. We have seen it at play famously in films like Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite and Jordan Peele's Get Out, and in long-form fiction, it continues to be a playground for all kinds of interesting ideas.

Cherish Farrah

Cherish Farrah

By Bethany C. Morrow

Bethany C. Morrow’s memorable take on the sociopathic Farrah Turner, who obsesses over every single aspect of her existence. Her best friend is Cherish Whitman, for who Farrah holds a blistering love/hate connotation. After Farrah’s family gets into some financial trouble, she goes and stays with the Whitman family, who happens to be quite wealthy. Of course, Farrah needs to be the one with the power, in control of even a situation that does not put her in the best of light, and so she begins to weed her way into keeping Cherish in check. Of course, it wouldn’t be a haunting slice of social horror if the dynamic between the two friends didn’t bend and blur to the point of madness. Morrow does a wonderful job of keeping readers ensconced in this increasingly horrifying power dynamic. It’s also an immaculate example of how social horror is being used to explore a diverse range of themes including identity, social class, and race.

Body Horror

The body can be a foreign and frightening thing. Body horror famously turns the attention to one of the most personal things we have—our own skin—and often involves grotesque depictures of invasions of the physical sanctuary. Recently, the subgenre has enjoyed a fleshy, let’s say cannibalistic take, exploring the hunger of the body.

best horror books of 2020

Tender Is the Flesh

By Agustina Bazterrica

Tender is the Flesh tells the tale of Marcos Tejo, who has inherited the work of running a meat processing plant. Thing is, in the world he lives in, all animal meat is rendered inedible and poisonous to humans. This has resulted in a new source of meat, humans. To help forget that who’s being raised only to be killed off and sold as meat are humans, the government undersells the facts. Marcos might not feel right about it, but he adapts and gets used to things until he comes across a special meat, a source that looks increasingly like, you know, a human being. Bazterrica has done a wondrous job of spinning a provocative morality tale around body horror and cannibalism.

Related: 9 Extreme Horror Books with Heart

To Be Devoured by Sara Tantlinger

To Be Devoured

By Sara Tantlinger

The aptly titled blistering novella from Sara Tantlinger doesn’t hold back and reading it feels like being sucked into a vortex of dismemberment. Andi is at the center of To Be Devoured, a woman that’s seen a lot, and is dealing with a lot. At the start, it’s more like the only thing she’s got going is her relationship with Luna, her light in all this darkness. Actually, perhaps there’s something else. You see, Andi has become a bit obsessed with the vultures that fly around from above, picking apart their carrion, eating the old flesh right off the carcass and bone. This curiosity eventually culminates into a sincere desire to try consuming raw meat. No matter what Luna or even her therapist does to help, Andi cannot shake free this desire to eat, to taste, to know the texture of carrion. Tantlinger goes there, and in turn achieves new heights in the genre.

Horror Satire

Comedy, especially in horror, can often be the most difficult thing to pull off correctly. The jokes either work or they fall flat. Satire is a perennial staple in every genre, and horror is no exception. We’ve seen Grady Hendrix forge his own enjoyable and addictive corner of horror satire where no concept or trope is ever out of the question. The beauty here is if the author can make it funny, anything’s possible.

Man, Fuck This House

Man, Fuck This House

By Brian Asman

The title alone ought to have you adding the book to your shopping carts but behind the clever title and cover, Brian Asman has managed to tackle the whole haunted house trope with a refreshingly fun and addictive angle. Sabrina Haskins moves with her family to the one, the house of her absolute dreams. Perhaps it comes at a time when Sabrina is looking for something new, because except for the find, she is more than a little bored with her husband, Hal, and two kids, living as homemaker while Hal hustles as a salesman. The dream house being the only thing really going for her at the moment, it proves to be too good to be true and soon the odd occurrences add up. Asman clearly had fun writing this one. A perfect example of how humor and clever plotting can infinitely refresh even the most familiar of horror stories.

Metaphysical Horror

When it comes to metaphysical horror, it’s all about the possibility of nothing; we confront the very idea that our reality is both bigger and more unknown than we’ll ever be able to comprehend. Things can get cosmic, and ideas can get, well, “meta”: complexly layered narratives that pose quandaries to the reader. Metaphysical horror has since evolved to mix and match with nearly every other subgenre of horror.  



By Naben Ruthnum

Naben Ruthnum’s slim novella, Helpmeet, creeps up on you and by the time you’re done with it, or rather it is done with you, it’s left a mark that won’t rub off anytime soon. Helpmeet is about Louise Wilk and her sick husband, who she takes and shelters with in a family orchard where he grew up, while see, hence the title, helps him through the sickness. His condition continues to unravel, literally, the body rotting away. A truly sinister premise, and one that continues to take on deeper tones page after page. Ruthnum demonstrates poise as they take their time building up what’s going on, and like the best stories, it’s never one thing that gets you. It’s everything as it stacks up for the final, unforgettable ending.

The Mythical

Myth and legend are a touchstone of storytelling. Authors often turn to the cautionary lessons not only for inspiration but also to source them as part of their own intricate web of worldbuilding. Where the mythical begins to carve out its own place in horror is through its adoption by authors of speculative fiction, or stories that involve the imagined world, no matter how identical it might be to reality. 

Book cover of horror novel Children of Chicago by Cina Pelayo

Children of Chicago

By Cynthia Pelayo

A novel that manages to blend together the vivid detail of a crime thriller with the horrors of a dark, mythical tale, Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago is a demonstrable force. The star of the brutal tale is detective Lauren Medina, a tenacious and complex character that doesn’t turn away from the horrors that await. When a teenager is found brutally murdered in Humboldt Park, detective Medina quickly notices the similarities to the murder of her own sister years ago. Believing it to be the work of the Pied Piper, an eerie legend surrounding the countless deaths of children as they are lured by the Piper, Medina sets off on a blistering pace through the streets of Chicago to find and stop the menace.

The Surreal

Like myth, surrealism in modern horror is at its best when it captures a cross-section between the dream and the nightmare. To say it’s “dreamlike” is not enough. Surreal horror elevates with imagery and texture, often scaring by enchanting the reader with suggestions. Surreal horror has blossomed in the last decade due to its dexterity across storytelling forms. It works in both long and short-form; in fact, surreal horror could achieve its intended effect in as little as one sentence.

Dismal Dreams

Dismal Dreams

By Red Lagoe

The stories in Red Lagoe’s latest collection, Dismal Dreams, are full of the intoxicating glimpses of the horrors one may very well experience for having a human, and vulnerable heart. Lagoe primes her stories to focus on the everyday with its forests and its swamps, basements and deserts, to reveal the hidden and the surreal that exist between the blink of an eye. What’s so extraordinary about the collection is how Lagoe resists the common choice to keep the stories in the collection similar, at least thematically; instead, she goes from a tale about a kidnapping gone awry to a story that imagines the untold story of Adam, who as the first man God created, with his perilous choices that just might upend the story of Eve. Lagoe’s work demonstrates how the term “surreal” need not be a synonym for odd; it can also be synonymous with beautiful and bittersweet.