The days get darker and colder, and Halloween is already here. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book in your perfectly cozy home – especially if it’s one of the best horror bestsellers!
If you crave immersion in this beautifully spooky season, horror fiction is the only answer. Within a wide selection of psychological, supernatural, erotic, or gothic subgenres for adults, everyone can find something for themselves to enjoy newly-favorite storylines.
Are you an enthusiast of the best story-driven horror video games like Alan Wake or Resident Evil? You’ll love the recommendations on this list, as they’re all packed with surprising plot twists, realistic characters, and spine-chilling events that feel incredibly real. Without further ado, let’s continue to your ready-made list of the best horror books of all time!
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker (1897)
If you liked Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie, this book may be your best choice. See what inspired this cinematic masterpiece starring the phenomenal Gary Oldman!
Dracula is a gothic horror classic, telling the story of unexplained events through notes, letters, and journals. This form makes it even scarier and successfully introduces readers to the dark world of unpredictable vampires. The plot follows the risky adventures of daredevils wanting to discover the source of all evil to destroy it once and for all.
But the truth is even more terrifying than they imagined, and the chances of their plan succeeding are extremely low. Find out what happened to these brave men, enjoy the old-fashioned language, and discover the plot that shaped vampire lore in pop culture.
“The Shining” by Stephen King (1977)
Stephen King is a guarantee of chills, regardless of which book by this author you choose. But The Shining is one of the most terrifying due to the psychological heaviness absent in any other story.
When Jack Torrance becomes the winter guard at the remote Overlook Hotel, he and his family gradually discover that the place is starting to mess with their minds. Is it because of ghosts and monsters? Or maybe the greatest evil is closer than you think?
The Shining perfectly combines themes of suffocating isolation, despair, anxiety, and primal fear of the unknown to provide an unforgettable scary story in the legendary writing style of Stephen King himself. If you want to know what shaped modern horror, choose this legendary recommendation.
“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson (1959)
The lone mansion conceals mysteries that should remain hidden. What happens when overly curious people enter it to investigate long-forgotten secrets?
The Haunting of Hill House lacks brutal murders, terrifying encounters, or fights for survival. This story revolves around a spooky atmosphere and psychological unrest involving ordinary people and their secrets.
Shirley Jackson’s work defined the haunted house trope and showed how supernatural elements enhance thrilling sensations. It is an absolute must-have for all fans of eerie ghost stories!
“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Johnny Truant finds strange notes describing the disturbing story of the Navidson family navigating their life in an old house possessed by evil.
The House of Leaves terrifies, as even the text layout makes an uneasy impression. It is a particularly gloomy story about a house larger on the inside than the outside, where nothing is as it seems.
But this is just one of many plot levels that make it so spooky. You will encounter various Bible, Dante, and physics references, keeping you stuck between these pages with your mind twisted and concerned about the outcome of this story. Don’t read if horror fiction keeps you up at night!
“The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty (1971)
When young Regan finds an Ouija board and makes contact with an entity calling itself Captain Howdy, it is the beginning of terrible events to come. Only exorcism can help the girl and her desperate mother, but are two priests able to banish such a demonically evil power?
Touching on extremely controversial religious practices, The Exorcist inspired future generations of creators who found their place in the horror genre.
The book is known as one of the most evocative scary tales, and witnessing these terrifying events can make you believe that a similar situation could happen to you at any time. If you are looking for a mortifying read involving realistic characters and a hideous demon – choose this book.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (1818)
Victor Frankenstein cannot cope with the concept of death. Using all his knowledge, the man builds his greatest creation – an intelligent creature that, ultimately, does not meet his expectations. A rejected monster decides to destroy his ungrateful creator.
Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel, marking the birth of the mad scientist trope. This brilliant story unfolds around complex themes of death, morality, man as God, and what exactly creates monsters. It is tragic and sad but also incredibly terrifying. Read it if you want to know the true story of Frankenstein’s monster untainted by pop culture influences.
“Bird Box” by Josh Malerman (2014)
It is a fresh approach to the vision of a post-apocalyptic world dominated by unseen horrors. At its center is Malorie and her two children, trying to find a better place when something follows her. Something that would turn her into a psychopathic monster if she looked in its direction.
Bird Box is entirely different from any other post-apocalyptic novel. No one knows what the mysterious enemies look like, but one thing is sure – glancing at them brings brutal death. It is a fantastic story about exploring the fear of the unknown and overcoming primal anxieties.
Plus, the narrative perfectly balances the never-ending sense of unease with the characters’ risky decisions. Moreover, the movie adaptation featuring Sandra Bullock is particularly close to the book’s atmosphere, so we highly recommend checking out both.
“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
Patrick Bateman works on Wall Street. As a typical yuppie (Young Urban Professional), he focuses solely on his career and sophisticated goods. But the man seems fun to be around, so no one suspects him of being a mass murderer.
American Psycho reveals a satirical take on the yuppie culture of the 1980s, focusing almost exclusively on consumerism, extreme hedonism, narcissism, sexism, and the search for easy solutions. The main character lives in a reality where human values do not matter.
He proves it by committing the most terrifying acts and slowly falling into madness. The book became incredibly famous for its controversial and brutal content, so much so that its author received letters criticizing his idea of the world.
“The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris (1988)
Clarice Starling begins an investigation to find and neutralize a ruthless murderer skinning young women. But to enter the mind of a psychopath, she will need the help of the most terrifying man on this Earth – Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The Silence of the Lambs tells the story of a fearless FBI agent developing a unique bond with a serial killer. Combining crime and horror, Harris created an unforgettable work that will keep you tense until the very last page.
And unlike the movie of the same name, the paper version gives more time to Dr. Lecter, allowing us to get to know him better and see the story from his perspective.
“The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill (1983)
A young lawyer travels to distant Crythin Gifford to take care of all the formalities connected with Alice Darblow’s death. But entering her house reveals the presence of entities that shouldn’t even exist. Is all this real, or is it just his imagination?
The Woman in Black is a classic ghost story set in foggy England. Featuring the unique atmosphere of forgotten swamps and hidden secrets, it immediately engages with a creepy storyline touching on challenging themes of loss and grief.
This book is simple, elegant, and absolutely terrifying at the same time. And if you have yet to see the movie, consider watching it for the petrified Daniel Radcliffe in the leading role.
Dipping your toe into the horror genre is dangerous, as each new book leaves you wanting more. Have you already read all the recommendations on this list? Or are you still looking for something different? For more religious themes with some rather suggestive and disgusting descriptions, check out The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. Want something scarier?
The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft is a collection of terrifying tales that inspired generations of creators. And don’t forget the fantastic Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin – it’s a blood-curdling story about a pregnant woman suspecting her loved ones of collaborating with the devil himself.
Horror is one of the most enjoyable genres to read and one of the most challenging to write. Gathering masses of fans, it undoubtedly influences other creations in art, writing, gaming, movies, and music.
Feel free to explore the genre beyond our list, as the diversity of the horror titles guarantees a satisfying experience for everyone, regardless of preferences. Sure, engaging in spooky stories may sound masochistic, but the thrill can change your life. After all, the enduring appeal of horror stories is a fact for a reason!