Stephen King is the modern master of horror and an incredibly prolific writer. For almost 50 years, he has produced masterpieces of the macabre and there have been thousands of debates about which Stephen King books are the best. Well, we’re throwing our hat into the ring with a few options of our own.
For our list, we chose from King’s published novels. So no compilations, novels or stories. Also, remember that this list is for the best Stephen King novels, not the darkest. So if you’re already familiar with this job, you can probably guess what made the cut.
TL; DR – Best Stephen King Books:
King struck gold from his first novel, Carrie. The main character is immediately recognizable to most readers, since most of us went to school with someone like her. The themes of ostracism and bullying continue to resonate as much now as when the novel was published in 1974. Unlike some of the other books on this list, Carrie is a quick read and is an excellent introduction to King’s writing style.
If Carrie is one side of the proverbial coin, then Christine is the other. A beat-up 1958 Plymouth Fury catches the eye of high school outcast Arnie Cunningham, and after buying it, he becomes obsessed with restoring it. Unfortunately for him, the car is possessed by evil and he becomes its pawn. The book criticizes car culture, bullying, and male self-image and is another King title that remains incredibly relevant.
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
While the second half of The Dark Tower book series, and the Dark Tower Movie, missed the mark for some fans, no one can deny that it started off with a bang. The first book in the decades-long epic, The Gunslinger, is a western at heart, much more so than the following volumes. Our introduction to Roland Deschain and Mid-World is a short, gritty story full of angst and death, winding its way through King’s other works.
It’s a bit shorter than The Stand, but it’s essentially two books. Like the recent It movies, the first part is about a group of kids trying to deal with an entity preying on the citizens of Derry, Maine. The second half finds them reuniting as adults to take down It (aka Pennywise) for good. The book drives home the horrors the children faced in a way the movies didn’t have time to and is lauded as one of the best horror novels of all time.
They say misery loves company, and Annie Wilkes more than proves it. King was somewhat prescient about toxic fandoms because when Wilkes finds his favorite novelist, Paul Sheldon, “after a car accident and nurses him back to health, she begins demanding that he start writing the books to her liking.” Unfortunately for him, she uses a hammer instead of cruel tweets The movie is an absolute classic, but the source material is definitely worth reading too.
As with It, The Shining takes readers deeper than The Shining movie ever could. It’s evident that Jack Torrance is something of a King insert if you know his addiction history. As a result, the novel sympathizes with him a little more, which makes the end result that much more tragic. It also drives home Jack’s isolation and growing madness, making his inevitable rampage that much more terrifying.
A plague devastates the world on The Stand, and two societies form in the post-apocalyptic aftermath. This 1,000-page tome traces the fate of humanity from the outbreak of the virus to the conclusion of a struggle between good and evil. The Stand is an excellent read, but like many books of this size, there are some pacing issues. The few winding sections are well worth going through though, as it has a very satisfying ending.
Pet Sematary follows the Creed family as they move from Boston to Maine. As they settle into their new home, they stumble upon a mysterious graveyard in the woods. When they discover it has the power to bring dead animals back to life, they become entangled with an unspeakable evil they wish they had never crossed. It’s a tough read for animal lovers, but an extraordinary slow-moving thriller that will keep you equal parts terrified and engaged until the very end.
A large group of people find themselves trapped together inside a busy grocery store when a thick fog rolls in. Attempts to leave are met with terrifying fits and confused disappearances. What is inside the mysterious mist and how will anyone get out alive? This novel is a quick but exciting read that will make you think twice about what might be lurking in the mist, lest there be no dangerous predators looking to devour humans.
The green Mile
The Green Mile is widely considered one of King’s masterpieces, though it’s less of a horror story than the rest of the books on this list. He follows death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe as he interacts with an inmate named John Coffey. Coffey has been placed on death row for a crime it is not clear he committed, and displays powerful otherworldly healing abilities. This thriller is a tearjerker movie that will leave you contemplating the meaning of life far beyond its complex and shocking conclusion.
Brittany Vincent is a freelance entertainment and video game writer for IGN, covering anime, thrillers, and more.