Before this article begins, it’s important to note that this ranking is entirely dependent on opinion. Some people may love the books that others hate, so before you take the ranking as gospel, be sure to read the descriptions provided and see which ones suit your style and preferences.
If you’re after some light-hearted, magical fantasy, the earlier books (1-3) will be the best suited for you. Whereas if you prefer darker, grittier stories, you’ll probably enjoy the later books (5-7) more.
It should be noted that the Harry Potter series should be read in order so that the reader can gain a full picture of the plot line and can appreciate the character development to the fullest extent. For maximum understanding, be sure to read the books in order, starting with The Sorcerer’s Stone and ending with The Deathly Hallows.
Best Harry Potter Books Overview
Here’s some background information on the Harry Potter books so you can understand the writing process and appreciate the complexity of the characters and the extent of detail used.
The Harry Potter series is a fantastic blend of genres, incorporating fantasy, action, mystery, and romance. It’s a multifaceted series that has a huge amount to offer.
The series is one of the most well-read stories of all time and the books have sold over 500 million copies, with the U.S. claiming 180 million of those total sales. To illustrate the sheer amount of Harry Potter books that have been sold here’s a fun fact for you – if all the Harry Potter copies that have ever been sold were lined up next to each other, they would go around the equator over 16 times.
J.K. Rowling first thought of the story’s concept on a train from Manchester to London King’s Cross in 1990. Until 1995, she would map out the storyline, and write long (sometimes over 10 pages) extracts about each character to make sure she understood each person and could almost enter their mindset when making decisions about their dialogue or actions.
She published the first book of the series in 1997 and didn’t finish writing until 2007 when her final book was released. Rowling’s reputation has wavered since the release of her final book as she has made some questionable, arguably transphobic, comments regarding womanhood. As a result, she has lost the support of many fans but her stories continue to be read by people of all ages and her story still captivates the hearts of millions of new readers worldwide.
The story was lapped up by filmmaker and producer David Heyman in 1997, who was searching for a children’s book to adapt for the screens. In 1999, J.K. Rowling sold the rights to the first four Harry Potter books for approximately £1 million ($1.65 million). The first Harry Potter film began production in 2000 and was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2001.
The films were an immediate success and continued to earn millions in revenue until the final film’s release in 2010. It’s thought that the film series made $7.7 billion in total, placing the story as the 4th-highest-grossing film series of all time.
The films starred some iconic British actors and actresses such as Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson, and Kenneth Branaugh. Its success made child actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Tom Felton immediate stars, and the series has undoubtedly propelled them into fame.
Although the film series is brilliant, the books contain heaps more detail and even if you’ve watched the films hundreds of times, you’re guaranteed to have missed major plot lines that are only included in the books.
Extra characters, intriguing relationships, additional teachers, and important subplots are all missed out in the films and so, even the biggest film fans won’t know core parts of the storyline.
This is why reading the books is so important. You’ll pick up on integral details, understand the characters better, and even meet new people. While the films are visual, the books are immersive and will tell a completely different story.
That being said, here is a ranking of the Harry Potter books from best to worst.
Best Harry Potter Books Ranked
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the 4th book in this iconic series. The reason why it secures the number 1 spot is that there’s so much going on and there’s a huge amount of character development in this book.
This book follows as Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard tournament, a dangerous event that welcomes 2 other international wizarding schools. One student is selected from each school and must participate in a series of perilous tasks that include dragons, peculiar underwater creatures, and intense mind games.
Harry’s friendships are put to the test in this book and once again he comes face-to-face with his arch-enemy. The interpolation of two different wizarding schools brings a new load of characters to the table generating new relationships and friendships and allowing additional insight into the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the protagonists.
The plot centers around the Triwizard tournament which brings a truckload of danger and action to the storyline but also makes way for more fun. The Yule Ball, for example, brings new romantic themes to the story but also allows the reader to see their favorite characters in a more laid-back setting, instead of the constant danger they always find themselves in.
This one is jam-packed with new, interesting characters, will strengthen your understanding of your favorites, and contains some innovative, extreme events that are guaranteed to keep your heart racing.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a brilliant in-between novel that blends elements of the innocent fantasy seen in the first two novels, with darker themes and greater danger. Along with this, it dives into Harry’s parents’ time at school, providing both Harry and the reader with a greater understanding of his family history. It is this multidimensional nature that places the Prisoner of Azkaban at number 2.
This book feels very different from the two that came before it and introduces readers to some key characters that remain favorites for many fans. Some say it feels like a standalone book but it’s not recommended to read this without the context provided by the previous two.
This book will introduce you to a plethora of new people who will shine a light on the history of pre-existing characters and propel the plot in a new, darker direction. This is a pivotal book in terms of character maturity, too. Many fans have applauded Rowling’s ability to develop each character in their own innovative way. The reader feels like they’re growing with their favorite characters and their actions, dialogue, and inner thoughts run parallel to the development of the overarching storyline.
If you love the idea of the Harry Potter books but you don’t like immature, child leads, this book is a good place to start. It marks the beginning of a complex story, driven by mature characters with interesting relationships and friendships. The Prisoner of Azkaban will make you realize that the series isn’t just for kids.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This book is rated so highly because of its intensity and the way it beautifully ties up loose ends. After a tense end to The Half-Blood Prince, Harry ventures out of Hogwarts to begin the wide search for Horcruxes, the only way to defeat Lord Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows transports the reader across numerous landscapes and dives deep into the history of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and Harry’s family and friends. The story is so multifaceted and has so much going on that it needed two films to cover the contents of one book. This is why the Harry Potter series is split into 7 books and 8 films.
The Deathly Hallows is filled to the brim with action and adventure but still manages to feel like a concluding book. A war within Hogwarts ends the book and virtually all characters are forced to fight, some of which fight to the death. With unpredictable deaths, dangerous battles, complex character arcs, and romantic climaxes, this book definitely lives up to what the previous books have been working towards.
Many have criticized Rowling’s writing technique in this one, claiming that the ending feels rushed and/or predictable. Other fans have scrutinized her choice to take the characters outside of her standard Hogwarts setting and claim that her writing style cannot manage the change in setting or the character developments that take place outside of the iconic school.
On the other hand, other fans believe that Rowling did the story justice and perfectly brought everything together, leaving readers satisfied with the endings of their favorite characters. Whatever you think of Rowling’s final book, there’s no doubt that it includes some of the most jaw-dropping revelations and incorporates some of the most dramatic battle scenes.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince often takes the number 1 spot for many fans because of its funny streaks. Although many of the books feature comedy elements this book really brings out the funny side of a lot of the characters.
We see Harry’s sarcastic comments increase in number, Ron’s awkward and humorous relationship with Lavender Brown, and his hilarious quidditch tryouts.
But aside from the funny moments, The Half Blood Prince also gives us a huge amount of detail about Severus Snape, a professor that Harry has always had a turbulent relationship with. This novel takes us back in time, showing us the friendship between Snape and Harry’s mother, Lily, but also his tense relationship with Harry’s father, James.
In addition to the interesting developments in Snape’s character, the reader is also exposed to the history of Lord Voldemort and through the lens of Dumbledore’s memories, we are granted an insight into what the powerful dark Lord was like as a young boy.
J.K. Rowling hit the nail on the head with the mixture of tones in this book. She flicks between past and present, light-hearted and intense, and funny and emotional, allowing the reader to experience all the emotions.
Not only are characters developed, but snippets from the history of the whole wizarding world are also revealed. This is a fun, dark, and informative read, that perfectly sets the tone for an intense, action-packed finale. Make sure to have a box of tissues nearby at the end – you may need them.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a great book. It acts as another transitional work, alongside books 3 and 4, and brilliantly documents the maturation of Harry and his close friends.
The aim of this book is to merge the insular world at Hogwarts with the larger wizarding population. Therefore, more emphasis is placed on Death Eaters and the older characters such as the Weasley parents, Sirus Black, and Remus Lupin who are all integral members of the Order.
This book is polarizing – it creates a definitive separation between good and evil and positions the primary Hogwarts students within the bigger wizarding scene.
The Order of the Phoenix delves deeper into Harry’s psyche as he deals with his own demons. His dreams, desires, and relationships are all placed under the microscope and the reader will learn a lot about the three protagonists from this one.
If you’re after a more character-driven book, this one is perfect. Although it features some pretty intense and emotive action at the end, the overall book is not action-packed, unlike some of the books that follow. Instead, Rowling uses her 5th book to develop her characters in more detail and hone in on the progression of their relationships as the characters get older.
The Order of the Phoenix is lower on the list because of its excessive description and lack of balance. Rowling’s other books strike a fantastic balance between action and characters, whereas this one could really do with a few more action scenes.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
While Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is by far the best-selling book in the series, it’s fairly boring in comparison with the ones that follow. This is particularly evident if you re-read the series, so that’s why it’s positioned so low on the list.
Having said that, this book still boasts a huge amount of positives. It’s an excellent starter book and really immerses the reader in the wizarding world. As an introductory book, it’s perfect. It balances character introduction, with setting descriptions and plot foundations, so all in all, it’s a great one to kick-start the series.
However, many people who claim to dislike the series will blame this book. It was originally written for children and YA readers, so adult audiences may find it a little immature and as a result, the series has missed out on a plethora of potential adult fans because they ‘couldn’t get into’ the book.
But for those who persevered, the book beautifully sets up what follows and can almost be considered ‘essential reading’ that contextualizes the story.
We wouldn’t recommend this book as a standalone but many children still love it. Its lovable characters, simple plotlines, and beautifully constructed fantasy setting create a magical atmosphere that has proven to be particularly appealing to kids. It’s easy to read and easy to understand, which is why it has been a favorite with the little ones.
For adult readers, however, many dislike the lack of detail, depth, and action. The series is jam-packed with interesting subplots and compelling character arcs, you just have to wait for the later books for that.
All in all, the first book is an integral part of the series that perfectly sets the scene for the rest of the story, but it’s certainly tailored more to younger readers and so an immature, innocent narrative shines through above anything else.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is often placed at the bottom of any rankings you find and it’s because this story doesn’t really go anywhere. It continues on from the first scene-setter with a similar innocent and childish narrative but the plotline is minimal.
It delves a little deeper into the series’ antagonist, Lord Voldemort, and even sheds light on his experiences at Hogwarts. The novel is interesting in that respect but feels very similar to the introductory tone in the first book. Harry is still making friends and meeting new people, he’s getting to grips with quidditch and has a lot of things to improve on in his academic life, so really, he’s still settling in.
This book introduces Ginny Weasley properly, who will of course become a major character in the series, so that’s one big plus for this book. However, there is an overwhelming feeling of unimportance in this novel. This book does have overall importance in the series, but it is only notable once you’ve reached the 6th book, so it can feel very unimportant while you’re reading it. There are also a few interesting details about Lord Voldemort (or Tom Riddle) that readers should be aware of, but other than that it feels like this book could be skipped over.
The plot centers around the three protagonists trying to identify why ‘mudbloods’ are being ‘petrified’ across the school and the story primarily follows this investigative process. However, Hermione soon becomes a victim of one of these ‘mudblood’ attacks, meaning a chunk of the book is written without Hermione present – and everyone knows she’s a key part of what makes these books so good.
Don’t be put off by this review, the book is still gripping and magical, it just doesn’t contain as many integral parts and doesn’t develop the characters in the same interesting way as some of the others.
Harry Potter Books In Order
Another way to read the Harry Potter book series is in order of publication. Here you go:
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in the U.S) (UK release: 26 June, 1997; US release 9 January, 1998)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (UK release: 2 July, 1998; US release 6 February, 1999)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (UK release: 8 July, 1999; US release 9 August, 1999)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (UK & US releases: 8 July, 2000)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (UK & US releases: 21 June, 2003)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (UK & US releases: 16 July, 2005)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (UK & US releases: 21 July, 2007)
Complementary Harry Potter Books
The following are complementary books to the Harry Potter book series:
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
- Quidditch Through the Ages (2001)
- The Harry Potter Prequel (11 June, 2008)
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard (6 December, 2008)
- Pottermore Presents
- Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (6 September, 2016)
- Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists (6 September, 2016)
- Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies (6 September, 2016)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay (19 November, 2016)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – The Original Screenplay (16 November, 2018)
The Harry Potter series is one of the most adored series ever written. With endearing and complex characters, thorough and intersecting plot lines, and a fantastic magical world to delve into, there’s no wonder why it’s so popular.
While the films are excellent and do a great job of bringing Harry’s magical world to life, the books contain so much intricate detail and can shed light on subplots and relationships film fans would never even know existed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where does Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fit in?
This book was written as an add-on and follows the lives of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s children as they experience Hogwarts for themselves. This book is also highly recommended and acts as the unofficial 8th book.
Which book is the longest in the series?
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest novel with 766 pages in total. This story is one of the most intricate and contains a huge amount of character development and plot twists, so although it’s long, it’s worth the read.
What are the main moral messages in the Harry Potter series?
The complex characters illustrate that people are complicated, it sheds light on the realities of grief, it highlights the importance of real friendship, and puts emphasis on the strength of love.
Are the Harry Potter books suitable for children?
The first 4 books are certainly appropriate for children, however, the themes get darker in the last few books, so be sure to read ahead before giving them to your child in order to avoid nightmares or exposure to mature concepts.
What is the best-selling Harry Potter book?
Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone has sold over 120 million copies, making it the best-selling book in the series and one of the best-selling novels of all time.