As a horror writer, it’s only natural for me to read the works of other horror writers. It’s not only that though, I’m also a huge fan of anything that’s disturbing, scary or downright weird. That’s why I put together a list of the best horror books I’ve read.
Over the years, I came to enjoy the works of many horror writers. I’m especially fond of the weird fiction of such writers as H. P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, the convention breaking works of Mark. Z. Danielewski or the graphical horrors conjured by Japanese mangaka Junji Ito.
This list, however, doesn’t just focus on their works. Horror is a vast genre, and there are many books out there.
I consider all the books on this list amongst the best horror books ever written and recommend them to any fan of horror literature.
Table of Contents
- The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft
- House of Leaves
- The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
- The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories
- The Three Imposters
- God’s Demon
- Skeleton Crew
Let’s start this list with my favorite horror writers of all time, H. P. Lovecraft. This collection includes every single story Lovecraft has written in his life, and this alone makes it one of the best horror books of all time.
Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror writers of all time and the father of cosmic horror.
Ever since I first discovered Lovecraft, I’ve been a huge fan of his body of work and the genre of cosmic horror.
Lovecraft’s body of work consists of three major phases. The first are stories akin to his literary predecessors and major influences such as Lord Dunsany and Edgar Allan Poe. These stories can be best described as short scares or twisted tales and are all around enjoyable.
The second phase comprises his Dream Cycle writings. Most of them are merely brief glimpses into a dream world instead of fleshed out stories. The longest of these works ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ is one of Lovecraft’s most colorful and creative works, but also one of his most confusing and ultimately his blandest.
My favorites amongst Lovecraft’s works are his latest tales, his cosmic horror works related to the Cthulhu Mythos. These stories aren’t merely about creatures stalking mankind or revengeful ghosts. No, they featured a sort of terror and fear that was entirely new at the time.
It’s here that Lovecraft’s mastery of the horror shines as he presents us with all-powerful cosmic entities, alien races and Earth’s disturbing prehuman history.
If you want to learn more about Lovecraft’s stories in detail, I urge you to check out my article about the best Lovecraft stories.
One thing that has to be said about Lovecraft is that his writing style is not for everyone. His prose is flowery, at times pretentious and old-fashioned. It takes some time to get used to, but it’s worthwhile.
Lovecraft, like almost no other writer, has influenced and changed the horror genre. That’s the reason I consider The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft essential reading for any horror fan and one of the best horror books of all time.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a horror book that almost everyone talked about when it was first released. It’s by many considered one of the best horror books of the early 21th century and I can’t help but agree.
The book is so popular because of how weird it is. It’s not only the plot or the idea behind it, but the entire structure and even the unconventional formatting of the book.
House of Leaves is set up as a non-fiction book written by an old man named Zampanó. The topic of this non-fiction narrative is the so-called Navidson Record, a fake documentary.
The Navidson Record details the events that took place in a house that was bigger on the inside than the outside.
Accompanying this already weird narrative are the notes of a man named Johnny Truant who found Zampanó’s manuscript. Over the course of the book, Johnny’s notes become more and more confusing.
I think it’s this structure that sets House of Leaves apart, and it would already be enough to make it one of the best horror books of all time.
Yet, what makes this book even more interesting is the unconventional formatting. The longer the book goes on and the weirder things get the stranger the formatting becomes. At times you’ll find only a few words on a page, on other occasions, the text can be upside down or mirrored. It’s an incredible experience and one that adds so much to the already uncanny effect of the book.
I loved House of Leaves. Reading this book was an experience like no other. It’s a book I can’t recommend enough to anyone interested in horror. It’s a hallmark of modern, unconventional horror and clearly one of the best horror books out there.
If there’s one writer more influential on the horror genre than H. P. Lovecraft and more influential on literature in general, it’s Edgar Allan Poe. He’s hailed as the father of the modern detective story, the psychological horror, but was also highly influential on such genres as science-fiction and adventure.
It’s no understatement to say that horror literature wouldn’t be the same without Edgar Allan Poe.
When I first read Poe, I thought he’d be a writer of ghost stories and gothic horrors. Instead, his tales were of unreliable narrators and mentally ill characters suffering from fears, phobias and addictions.
Poe seldom features ghastly creatures. Instead, he gives us tales of gripping psychological horror, of sick minds and the terrible deeds they commit.
Edgar Allan Poe is an amazing writer. The Tell Tale Heart and the Masque of Red Death are amongst my all-time favorite horror stories and would make an excellent addition to this list of the best horror books all on their own. It’s not simply the plot though, it’s Poe’s writing, his style. Poe is a master of the craft and his works are filled with rhythm, power, suspense and emotions.
The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe edited by Benjamin F. Fisher is one of the best, most complete collections of his work out there. It contains Poe’s most famous poems, but also a wide variety of his stories. There’s horror classics such as The Fall of House Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, but it also includes his tales of early science-fiction, adventure and his detective fiction. Even more, it also includes Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Even today, many of Poe’s psychological stories still hold up and I wholeheartedly recommend his works to any horror fans. If you’re interested to learn more about Poe’s stories, I urge you to check out my article on the most terrifying tales by Edgar Allan Poe.
I urge you to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and I consider this collection one of the best horror books of all time.
The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories by Robert W. Chambers was one of the first attempts to write stories about a nameless, unimaginable horror.
It’s one of the first books of its kind and should inspire other writers such as H. P. Lovecraft.
The book is a short story collection featuring the titular, ominous entity, the so-called King in Yellow. While the later stories in this collection aren’t horror stories, I still recommend it to anyone interested in weird fiction and the works of H. P. Lovecraft.
While the book is short, it’s an interesting and enjoyable read. The stories featuring or related to the King in Yellow were fantastic. I wholeheartedly recommend this books to fans of early weird fiction and think it’s amongst the best horror books of all times.
The Three Imposters by Arthur Machen is another example of early horror, similar to that of H. P. Lovecraft. It’s no coincidence that writer’s such as H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King consider Machen one of their prime inspiration. He’s a master of the early weird tale and has written some of the best horror books out there.
Many of the tales in this collection can be considered early examples of weird fiction and cosmic horror. While they aren’t as pompous as the works of H. P. Lovecraft, for example, they still hold up extremely well on their own.
The Three Imposters is a fantastic little collection of weird tales and in my opinion well worth reading for any fan of horror and weird fiction.
While the book might be a quick read, I still consider it one of Machen’s best books and one of the best horror books of all time.
Wayne Barlowe is a name I will always remember. I first got to know him because of his stunning and beautiful depictions of hell. You can find most of his art on his personal website. To say they are amazing would be an understatement.
It was years later that I learned that Wayne Barlowe had written a novel set in this vision of hell.
The book stood out to me because of the astounding world building and the sheer creativity that went into it. The depiction of the demons, their appearance, their conduct and how they wage war is fantastically done.
What I also love was Barlowe’s depiction of hell as a pseudo-organic, volcanic wasteland and its various natural inhabitants.
The story of the book revolves around Sargatanas, one of the major demons of hell. He comes to despise his current existence in hell and rebels against Hell’s ruler, Beelzebub, to that he’s worthy of going back to Heaven.
The book kept me engaged till the end, and I think it stands up as one of the best horror books I read in recent years. This, however, isn’t so much because of the characters or the story, but because of the phenomenal world building.
If you’re a fan of such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Divine Comedy, I urge you to give the works of Wayne Barlow a try.
Japanese mangaka Junji Ito is one of my favorite horror artists and writers of all time. The first of his works I read was Tomie, more than a decade ago. This, however, was enough to make me fall in love with his gruesome and weird blend of horror.
If you want to learn more about Junji Ito and his work, I urge you to check out my list of the best Junji Ito stories.
Uzumaki is the most popular of his many works and also one of his best.
It centers on the small, coastal town of Kurouzo-Cho, which is infested by spirals. Spiral shapes appear all over town, things take on the form of spirals, and soon enough the townsfolk grow obsessed with them. This obsession has always dire results as people are distorted, warped and changed into grotesque spiral-like shapes.
What makes Uzumaki stand out amongst a plethora of other horror works is the lack of any feasible antagonist. There’s no monster to fight, no killer to run from. No, there’s only the spiral, a concept that lingers of the town of Kurouzo-Cho as an omnipresent curse.
Junji Ito brings all this forth with his horrifying art, and in Uzumaki he’s at his absolute best. His simple black-and-white style and his precise craftsmanship bring forth the twisted cosmic horror of Uzumaki in all of its glorious detail.
Uzumaki is at the pinnacle of Japanese horror manga and Japanese horror. It’s without a doubt a hallmark in horror and one of the best horror books out there. If you’re a fan of gruesome, twisted and weird horror, I urge you to read Uzumaki.
I recently read all of Stephen King’s short story collections. While enjoyed all of them, I think Skeleton Crew is by far the best out of his six collections.
If you’re interested in learning more about King’s short story collections, you can check out my ranking of them here. Should you be interested in learning more about my thoughts on individual stories, you can check out my list of the best Stephen King short stories.
Skeleton Crew is a short story collection that has it all. It includes a fantastic array of horror stories, but also several more fantastic entries of King’s vast body of work.
The collection starts off with one of King’s most popular novellas, The Mist. However, the stories that follow are all great in their own right. The Monkey, The Raft and especially the suspenseful Gramma are all fantastic horror stories.
There’s however more to this collection. With Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut and The Jaunt, it features two of King’s more fantastical stories, but both are amongst his best work.
While there are some stories in this collection I didn’t care too much about, they were easily brushed aside by the many great entries.
Skeleton Crew is full of horror, but it’s never too broad like some of King’s other collections. It’s the best of King’s short story collections, a great entry point to King’s work and one of the best horror books of all time.