20 Must-Read Cosmic Horror Books (Top Lovecraftian Horror)

As appreciative as I and other writers are for Lovecraft’s writing and creations, there’s a large consensus in the horror community that the author wouldn’t necessarily vibe by today’s standards. 

20 Must-Read Cosmic Horror Books (Top Lovecraftian Horror)

Mostly because of racism, but his fear of air conditioning would probably get in the way too. Good thing there are plenty of modern, more accepting authors in the cosmic horror field today.

These authors will take you dimension hopping and break your mind, following in the mythos and traditions set up by Lovecraft, but expanding and adding their twists or original takes on the classic stories. 

So, curl up with one of these books and try not to think about what’s waiting for you just beyond the edge of your sanity while you read.

The Fisherman by John Langan

The Fisherman

Two men bond over mutual grief, one losing his wife to cancer while the other lost his wife and two sons to a car accident. They bond over a love of fishing when something happens that could bring everything back to them, just kicking off The Fisherman.

As a warning, a fair amount of the middle of the book takes a jump back in time, focusing on different characters in the same area whose actions echo across time, affecting the main characters of the story. While the change is a bit jarring at first, it sets the stage for a beautiful tale of grief and the unknown.

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The Deep by Nick Cutter

The Deep: A Novel

Lovecraft made the seas a terrifying place, with a lot of his most popular horror being based around the unknown abyss of open water. Nick Cutter sets a terrifying backdrop here, with the world plagued by a plague resembling Alzheimer’s that advances at a rapid pace. 

That’s just the backdrop for The Deep as it leads the main character to a research base eight miles under the ocean surface, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench where a new “miracle cure” has been found. Without spoilers: the cure wasn’t worth the cost as hellish terrors emerge from the deepest reaches of the ocean.

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box: A Novel

Josh Malerman took the concept of mind-breaking terrors beyond our reality and ran faster than an Olympic dasher on performance enhancers. The end of the world is brought about by creatures that cause anyone who sees them to immediately commit suicide, with those that don’t become extremely violent. 

The brilliance is that the audience is left just as blind to the creatures as the characters. Darting between the past and future of Mallory, the book shows a terrifying breakdown of society where one of our greatest senses could easily be our death. There’s danger around every corner and you won’t want to look.

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Occultation by Laird Barron

Occultation and Other Stories

Laird Barron repeatedly proves to be a modern master of cosmic horror in his short-form writing. This collection’s heavy-hitter “Mysterious Tremendum” follows four men as they take direction from a dark and seemingly occult guidebook throughout the state of Washington. What it leads them to could break what they consider reality to be.

There are nine stories in all, and I can recommend every single one. This collection isn’t nearly as hardboiled as The Imago Sequence either, giving it a more accessible POV.

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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Ballad of Black Tom

An adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hooks” but with the racism of the classical author subverted and condemned. The story follows Black Tom, a street performer hired by a rich man who plans to summon cosmic terrors in a bid to do his dirty work.

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Earthworm Gods by Brian Keene

Earthworm Gods

Here’s my Brian Keene recommendation for this list, as should be expected by now. Keene takes another crack at the apocalypse, this time using a worldwide flood caused by 40 days of rain. Just the rain would be manageable though, as it brings along giant worms, terrifying mold, sea monsters, and a massive terror that goes beyond comprehension.

There are two books in the main series, with the second following a different set of survivors making their final stand. Keene also released a short collection in the same universe, giving different perspectives of the apocalypse as it escalates.

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Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy, 1)

Annihilation is the first in Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and the most horror filled. Focusing on an area in the Florida Everglades that’s surrounded by a “shimmer”, with things inside the area undergoing strange, often horrifying changes. The terror created is beyond any human understanding, and Vandermeer’s descriptive writing will keep you on the edge.

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14 by Peter Clines


The question of “how much will you put up with for low rent?” is a central unintentional theme of 14, but the horror and sci-fi mix takes the cliche of a haunted apartment building and makes it the epicenter for something so much worse.

The characters are likable, and the story goes in some unexpected directions that keep things fresh. The pacing keeps things going and makes for a quick, exciting read.

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House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves: The Remastered Full-Color Edition

House of Leaves can be a chore, don’t get me wrong. I had to try it maybe three times before finally making it all the way, but when I did it was one of the most haunting and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had with a book.

I’m recommending the physical copy for the formatting, as the book makes use of colored fonts, strange formatting, annotations, and various footnotes throughout that just don’t convey the same way in a digital format. The story of an ever-changing house with unknowable boundaries will stick with you.

Bonus: Pair with the album Haunted by Poe. The artist is Danielewski’s sister and the album is a somewhat companion to House of Leaves as they were each a product of their respective grief when their father passed away.

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There is No Antimemetics Division by Sam Hughes

There Is No Antimemetics Division

An anti-meme is something that, in simplest terms, doesn’t exist. It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat sort of thing where something both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. This story was born out of the concept of the SCP (Secure. Contain. Protect.) Foundation mythology, an internet mythos concerning a shadow organization containing strange, cosmic threats.

This is terror, humor, and one of the best stories to come from an internet subculture in years. The book deals with a special division trying to contain things that can’t be remembered or perceived as we normally would. It’s a mind-bending trip.

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Gyo by Junji Ito

Gyo (2-in-1 Deluxe Edition) (Junji Ito)

Gyo is one of the most-the-wall, smell-the-horror rides of a story that I’ve ever seen in any medium to ever exist. I mean this in no way to be hyperbolic, I promise, it’s just that wild (and smelly) of a story. The manga follows a young couple that decides to get away at an island cabin, only for the smell of rotting fish to pervade the area. The smell is just the harbinger of something much worse, though.

Fish begin emerging from the ocean, walking with the use of spider-like robotic legs. No variety of sea creature is safe as Ito shows their invasion onto land, massacring those they come across as one young woman tries desperately to find out what’s causing the nightmare.

Mega Bonus: Contains Ito’s short story The Enigma At Amigara Fault, about an earthquake revealing multiple human-shaped holes in the side of a mountain. Things get strange as people are mysteriously drawn to enter them. This story is short but the last panel will freak you out, guaranteed.

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Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Chainsaw Man, Vol. 1 (1)

I’ll scream the gospel of Chainsaw Man wherever I go. The manga is more than the Shonen-battle stereotype on the cover and even more than just the unhinged carnage throughout the pages. At its center, Chainsaw Man becomes a cosmic horror about free will, existence, and how our choices shape us set in a world where human fears manifest as living devils.

There’s so much behind this manga in terms of commentary as well, from the commentary on gun violence as well as the line between hero and villain. The first arc is complete and satisfies more than enough with a full story in 98 chapters, but the second arc is outpacing it quickly as it releases weekly.

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The Elementals by Michael McDowell

The Elementals

Lovecraft, but make it Southern Gothic. The Elementals is the story of a house so haunted it affects the surrounding area, housing a terrifying entity that doesn’t take kindly to intruders. Any more will spoil most of the fun since part of what makes The Elementals special is the short length of 230 pages.

It feels like a breakneck pace while also steadily building a tense dread like the slow burns of Poe or Blatty. This is the guy that wrote The Nightmare Before Christmas, too. Talk about range.

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At the Mountains of Madness by Gou Tanabe

H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness Volume 1 (Manga)

A manga adaptation by Japanese writer and artist Gou Tanabe, At the Mountains of Madness, takes the frozen wastes and eldritch horrors of Lovecraft’s original classic and translates it lovingly to the page. 

There’s nothing new with the story- explorers discovering ancient gods sleeping inside arctic glaciers- but the art adds a whole new layer to the terror of these “indescribable” beings, with Tanabe’s art giving them a dreamlike, surreal quality.

Tanabe has done loads of Lovecraft adaptations if this hits that sweet spot for you, with some of his better ones being The Hound and The Colour Out of Space.

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Berserk by Kentaro Miura

Berserk Deluxe Volume 1

Berserk will catch you off guard when it switches from a swords and magic creatures story to full-blown Lovecraftian terrors ravaging the earth by the end of the Golden Age arc. It’s a classic fantasy manga in its own right, but Berserk doesn’t get the credit for just how much it influenced horror.

The story is still in progress, with late creator Kentaro Miura’s editorial team taking up the task of finishing it out in his memory. The artist left his mark though, giving characters, writing, and art that will take your breath away from both beauty and terror, sometimes both.

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The Doom That Came To Gotham by Mike Mignola

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham (New Edition)

Batman takes on Lovecraftian horrors in a 1920s Gotham courtesy of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If that’s not enticing for you, I don’t know what else could be. It’s one of the better Elseworlds Batman stories, and certainly one of the better horror takes on a popular character in recent years.

The art keeps Batman’s dark tones but underscores them with bright, off-kilter colors when dealing with Lovecraftian themes, making for an art style that pops.

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Black Stars Above by Lonnie Nadler and Jenna Cha

Black Stars Above

A girl takes her chance to leave her small village by delivering an important package. This is the last graphic novel suggestion, and it packs a finishing punch. Cha’s art shines when it comes to the night-time scenes (almost all of them) and Nadler’s writing comes together with it for a cosmic/folk horror unlike any other.

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That Which Should Not Be by Brett J Talley

That Which Should Not Be

Talley has outdone Lovecraft himself with this expansion on the Cthulhu mythos. While continuing with the idea of Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University, he brings four separate tales together in a framing story that leads to deadly, apocalyptic consequences.

I don’t want to spoil anything because this is just such a delightful read. There’s that incredible dread of the unknown while Talley throws his own amazing twist on several classic cosmic horror tales, but takes his own time to establish his space in the universe.

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A Lush and Seething Hell by John Horner Jacobs

A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror

Not a novel, but two novellas in one. The first, The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, follows a woman watching after an old poet’s home in South America, discovering there’s more to it than can be seen. Meanwhile, My Heart Struck Sorrow, the second novella, takes a spin on the old Devil Went Down to Georgia tale with a more analog flavor to it.

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 The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stoss

The Atrocity Archives: Book 1 in The Laundry Files

Stross throws every horror convention imaginable at this series about a hapless tech support worker being enlisted into a world of interdimensional spies, waging wars against eldritch gods and parallel dimensions.

These books are just fun taking an approach that can best be described as The Office but with a healthy dose of cosmic horror. There’s tons of wry humor and satire littered around, with great characters anchoring the entire series.

Buy it on Amazon

Feeling small yet? Cosmic horror relies on that, making humans seem like insignificant ants in a universe full of gods. Try not to think about the possibilities of these chaotic eldritch beings though, or you just might break your brain. Enjoy the madness!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cosmic horror?

Cosmic horror can refer to anything beyond human comprehension. Things that people try to comprehend but end up broken, an empty mind and a blank stare into the endless void, left in fragments by the horror they can’t even begin to understand.

Is there a difference between cosmic and Lovecraftian horror?

Nope! Lovecraftian horror is just cosmic horror by another name, specifically that of one of the genre’s most influential authors.

So does everything have to come from space to be cosmic horror?

Not necessarily. While cosmic horror does usually refer to something beyond our world, it’s not always in the sense of space and the universe. Sometimes it’s just an anomaly on our earth, like some of Thomas Ligotti’s work, or even one single home, like House of Leaves. Cosmic horror can lurk anywhere.

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Ross Tyson