The 20 Best Horror Writers of All Time – Ultimate Guide

Lists like this one aren’t easy, with so many writers in the world and so few spaces to list them all. That’s not even factoring in the ranking, with the number of horror writers that have changed the game over the years.

The 20 Best Horror Writers of All Time - Ultimate Guide

That said, these are the twenty horror authors that have had an impact on the genre whether it be through their sheer body of work, influence on the genre, and longevity of their writing. Longevity will be a contentious point with some, as there are going to be a few authors excluded that some would consider major, such as HP Lovecraft.

With those exclusions, it’s not meant to dismiss their impact on the genre, but more how their themes and prose itself hold up today. Of course, my opinion isn’t definitive, but my experience is that some of the classic revolutionary writers like Stoker and Lovecraft are nearly unreadable in a modern context whether due to the more classical prose or overt racism in Lovecraft’s case.

Okay, that was the last disclaimer, promise. The twenty listed here have changed the genre and can still have their influence felt today whether it be through inspiration from other writers or proliferation into other media. Each a master of horror in their way, these authors will thrill, chill, and inspire new stories for years to come.

Richard Matheson

I Am Legend

Matheson was a game changer, not just for horror, but for sci-fi and drama as well. A renowned writer in both literature and screen, he’s responsible for some of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone and his short stories like I Am Legend and Button, Button. When it comes to the realm of horror, he is a legend.

A cool thing with Matheson is that a lot of his writing for both mediums is readily available, with screenplays for episodes like Terror at 20,000 Feet being published along with some of his other famous Twilight Zone scripts.

For recommendations on Matheson, I have two to cover his range. Naturally, I Am Legend is his standout when it comes to horror and his influence on the genre, but there’s also an underrated fantasy with elements of horror called What Dreams May Come. This one will get you deep in your feelings as a man journeys the afterlife to find his wife, going through both fantastical heaven and dreary, terrifying hell.

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Stephen King

Skeleton Crew: Stories

It’s hard to make a list of all-time best horror writers without talking about Stephen King. The author of horror classics like IT and The Shining has spent fifty years at his craft, writing hundreds of stories between his combined works. He’s been parodied, paid homage to, satirized, and copied millions of times in every medium and it’s not going to stop for the foreseeable future.

While he’s got a penchant for long novels with deep characters, King crafts his best scares in short form. Releasing hundreds of novellas and short stories through the decades, he’s amassed a whole section in the bookstore for himself.

With so many choices it gets a little overwhelming, but dip your toe in with the collection Skeleton Crew. All of King’s collections have standouts but Skeleton Crew is just all killer no filler with stories like “The Jaunt”, “Survivor Type” and personal favorite “Word Processor of the Gods”.

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Clive Barker

Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Clive Barker was one of the first authors to bring the horror genre’s innate queerness to the forefront. Combining intimate love stories between LGBT+ characters with the backdrop of horror around them often represents the suppression of Barker’s queerness in his youth. From fantasy like The Thief of Always to the full-blown horror of The Hellbound Heart, Barker has left bloody marks all over the genre.

As with most horror authors, his short-form work is superb. His Books of Blood collections are a fantastic starting point for any horror fan, with enough escalating blood and terror for the most seasoned as well. Recommended stories from Volume One include “The Midnight Meat Train”, “Pig Blood Blues” and “In the Hills, the Cities”.

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Robert McCammon


McCammon often gets overshadowed by Stephen King, with the two both rising to prominence around the same time and steadily putting out work since. While he’s always had a dedicated following, his works just never caught into the mainstream like King’s did.

A shame too, as McCammon’s Swan Song is an apocalyptic epic to rival The Stand, while his other stories branched into everything from southern gothic surrealism to kidnapping thriller to creature feature. He’s got it all, but Stinger is a fun, terrifying ride with a bloodthirsty creature preying on a small town.

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Ramsey Campbell

The Hungry Moon (Fiction Without Frontiers)

It’s doubtful if the Cthulhu Mythos started by Lovecraft would be anywhere near as popular today without contributors like Ramsey Campbell. While the author would keep the creatures and terrors created by Lovecraft, he would often relocate to the moors and cliffs of England and combine folk horror elements in the mix.

The best place to start with Campbell is also one of his most popular, The Hungry Moon. An evangelical preacher gets inhabited by an eldritch being and things escalate from there into a story of isolation and reality-blurring terror.

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Algernon Blackwood

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)

A folk horror legend that took inspiration from nature’s terror just as much as the local lore. Blackwood would influence authors after him for over a century with his still-modern prose and terrifying dread built through stories like The Willows and The Wendigo

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Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere: A Novel

Very few authors have made impacts in horror and fantasy equally as Gaiman has. The author of stories like Sandman, American Gods, and Neverwhere, not to mention co-author of Good Omens, he’s made his mark with wit and humor alongside mystical and terrifying horrors. Neverwhere is a shining example of his horrifying, magical surrealism with a deep cast of characters.

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John Langan

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

A master of horror coming to prominence in the 2010s, Langan took the cosmic horror of Lovecraft and molded it into something on a local, centralized level with themes of grief and loss mixed in. The Fisherman is a fantastic novel, but his shining work to me is The Wide Carnivorous Sky, a collection of novellas and shorts including one of the most dread-filled stories I’ve ever read, Mother of Stone.

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Laird Barron

The Croning

Barron is a powerhouse of suspense and Lovecraftian horror, with his detective series about Isaac Coleridge or the terrors of the Children of Old Leech. Barron takes cosmic horror and immerses it in the often freezing wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Check out The Croning, his seminal horror novel involving a terrifying conspiracy beyond reality.

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Paul Tremblay

Head Full of Ghosts, A

Another writer that came to fame in the 10s, Tremblay keeps quiet, dreadful horror at the forefront while focusing on family ties, creeping dread, and grief for loved ones. Tremblay has a way of making even the safest of places feel dangerous while stretching a mysterious and unknown dread throughout.

His debut Head Full of Ghosts is a must-read, with an amazing modern take on The Exorcist with a focus on the family’s breakdown while the parents exploit the opportunity for wealth.

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Josh Malerman

Bird Box: A Novel

Bird Box was a life-changing novel for me, coming around as I was in my prime phase of reading cosmic horror about the unknown. Malerman’s ability to describe the looming chaos and imminent danger of a horror that can’t be seen unless you desire to die. It’s so tense as the audience and characters venture into the world blind, with everything described as the sounds around.

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Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire (Vampire Chronicles)

LGBT+ icon and revolutionary in classical monsters being romanticized (which is a top-selling genre on its own now) Anne Rice changed the world with Interview With The Vampire. The journeys and stories of vampires drifting in and out of love triangles across the ages eventually interwoven with Rice’s other stories as well, with witches, demons, and werewolves making appearances decades before Twilight.

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Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)

An icon of feminism and horror, Jackson’s stories were often more personal and quiet, with true terror being the real nature of humans and our desires/fears. Though most would recommend The Haunting of Hill House, her collection of stories including “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” is a must-read, with many of the stories being classics with messages still relevant today.

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Stephen Graham Jones

Demon Theory

A voice of the Blackfoot Nation, he’s been combining the folklore of his land and people with the horrors of modern life like growing up differently, the effects of guilt, and often horrors beyond comprehension in nature. Check out Demon Theory for a real dive into his early experimental style that carved his place in the genre.

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Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor: A Novel

Grady Hendrix is a horror lover of the most elevated order, with knowledge of films, classic pulp horror, and other classic literature filling every available space in his books. He plays with tropes like a kid on a playground in everything from haunted houses to exorcisms to vampires. His best though is the haunted big-box furniture store in Horrorstor, a great blend of horror and comedy.

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Octavia Butler


Butler was a voice for BIPOC authors in the horror scene when it was desperately needed, and offered that in a scathing critique of the horror coming straight from humans in Kindred. The story of a woman transported back in time to the pre-Civil War US who must then contend with being sold into slavery. The book is chilling and showcases the cruelty senselessly inflicted as the true horror of the story.

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Joe Hill

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels

While Joe Hill is just the pen name he uses to differentiate his works from that of his fathers, it wasn’t until a while after he made his debut that anyone found that out. It is really weird if anyone looks at Joe Hill because he’s like a carbon copy of his father in the 80s (minus a lot of substances). Hill’s literary voice is all his own though, and he’s become a leader of the macabre and weird.

Strange Weather is a fantastic showcase of his talents, with four novellas focused around, of course, strange weather. These can be rough, with one focusing on rain coming down like solid needles among other things.

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Brian Keene

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Keene is a personal favorite among modern horror, and just an all-around cool dude willing to answer most questions about his works on Twitter. While The Rising is a fantastic take on the zombie genre, Keene’s novellas end up taking the cake for weird horror. Darkness on the Edge of Town is a perfect example, showcasing a town suddenly engulfed in dark surroundings that prove incredibly dangerous to anyone that enters.

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Billy Martin (Published as Poppy Z Brite)

Riddim: Claves of African Origin

Another LGBT icon in horror on the level of Barker and Rice, Martin originally published under Poppy Z Brite and still has most books listed under that name, though he has transitioned since. The author’s work often featured gay and bisexual characters that mirrored his sexuality and gender identity in the context of the bloody horror around them. Lost Souls is a fantastic love story set against the backdrop of a haunted house.

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Thomas Ligotti

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Ligotti takes cosmic horror in the most nihilistic direction possible, with stories of malevolent beings just beyond our veil of reality toying with humanity for their fun. While he doesn’t have an extensive output, his short stories have been collected in Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimmscribe, with each being some terrifying meditation on morality and life.

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These twenty deserve places in the hall of horror history, making marks with terrifying, dread-inducing locations, evils beyond our imagination, and characters that everyone hopes will survive to the end. While of course it can’t be a definitive list, just these authors will be enough to fill up a small library or at least a page of your reading list.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do horror authors write nothing but horror?

Not necessarily. While a lot of the above authors write horror primarily, they have also written other works in genres like adventure, drama, and some romance here and there. Horror makes for a surprisingly versatile playbook.

Who is the best horror writer of all time?

That’s a loaded question and will get you a lot of different answers depending on who you ask. The best horror writer may not even be a writer of books or literature, in my opinion overall it would be Rod Serling, creator and head writer of The Twilight Zone. When it comes to literature, most will answer Stephen King.

Are there any horror authors that are on the less scary side?

Dean Koontz would be right up your alley, with his horror being more of a fantastical element as a background to the stories. He does have some taut thrillers that go down, but for the most part, they’re fun adventures like with Odd Thomas. Otherwise, check out Anne Rice and Neil Gaiman as well.

What if I’m not sure what I want and can’t figure out who to read?

There are dozens of great horror anthologies out there that combine the best stories by multiple authors famous and just starting. Check out any of the various anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow, who curates and publishes yearly compilations by genre and other factors.

What is the scariest book ever written?

This is going to be divisive no matter how you slice it. A lot of critics will say The Exorcist, but personally it didn’t get me nearly as much as other stories. The story that scared me the most was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. The slow takeover by vampires mixed with the horror of the townspeople who don’t know what’s going on. Plus, creepy kids. Can’t stand creepy kids.

Bonus: Great Authors We Ran Out of Space For

1. Victor LaValle
2. Richard Laymon
3. Dean Koontz
4. Alma Katsu
5. Jeff VanderMeer
6. Dan Simmons
7. Silvia Moreno-Garcia
8. Yoko Ogawa
9. Christopher Buehlman
10. Lauren Beukes

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Ross Tyson