The Best Stephen King Horror Books (Complete List)

Imagine walking into a bookstore and the horror section is just three dusty copies of Dracula, no extensive shelves with multiple titles emblazoned with that same signature font saying KING in massive letters on the spines. Quite a terrifying alternate dimension to wander into, but could be a very real scenario if the master of horror didn’t pursue writing or even worse, had succumbed to one of his many brushes with the Reaper.

The Best Stephen King Horror Books (Complete List)

Throughout all though, King endured. Now, he has over sixty-one novels to his name including whole series like The Dark Tower and Bill Hodges trilogy. We’re counting them all down, from the best to the still-great, to show readers new and old which Stephen King books are the absolute best.

The 20 Best Stephen King Books

Salem’s Lot

'Salem's Lot

King’s second novel is what I and many others consider to be one of the most terrifying books ever written. While things start out a little slow, setting up the main players and letting the vampires get comfortable in their new arrangements, events soon pick up and the book becomes a long night of bloody terror in the climax.

Not only are the vampires terrifying, but it’s also what King doesn’t show or just hints at that hangs a sense of dread over the town. With small signs littered everywhere of the vampires taking over, we can only watch in terror as the situation soon becomes more than anyone can deal with.

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The Long Walk

The Long Walk

Of the four Bachman books, The Long Walk is the most psychologically terrifying with the use of no supernatural elements at all. Taking place in a near future society where America has undergone a military coup, every year young boys participate in an event called The Long Walk as both a contest and a show of the crushing power of the new leaders.

The book mostly follows one boy, seeing everything in real time as he walks and makes friends in the start before seeing the true horror as everyone around him slowly drops dead one by one from the contest. It’s a short read but King’s prose and suspense make you feel like you’re walking right along with the group for hours. My feet and emotions both hurt by the end.

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Revival: A Novel

Keeping the description of Revival short as this has two things going for it- a relatively short read and a massively unproportional amount of terror to words. While it mainly focuses on a resurrectionist moving from town to town and showing feats of healing by using electricity, the story evolves into probably one of the best cosmic horror stories of all time, and arguably King’s best effort of the 2010s.

Seriously, this book is 10/10. No King knowledge is required to dive in, but it does enhance the experience for longtime readers. If you’re like me though, you’ll read this in one sitting before staring at a wall for an hour wondering what just happened.

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The Shining

The Shining

The Shining is both one of King’s most prolific and timeless works as well as his most personal. Written as a metaphor for King himself and his substance abuse issues around the time of writing, The Shining ends up being a powerful story about overcoming darkness and isolation, as well as the fear of those going through it with you. 

Don’t think the Kubrick film adaptation is enough to go off of, either. There are massive changes the movie made from the book, almost telling a completely different story in parts.

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It: A Novel

King’s most recognizable creation is the dancing clown, Pennywise. Terrifying children for decades both in Derry and real life, Pennywise premiered in this novel as a curse on the town of Derry, an unnamed evil older than the earth itself intent to feed off the fear of kids before eating them himself. 

The Loser’s Club are some of the most endearing characters King has ever written. While the book hasn’t aged well in some regards (that ending is still super awkward) the book brings the scares and character moments that will give even hardcore horror fans a shiver.

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The one that started it all. King’s first published novel was just a taste of the things to come, with Carrie’s telekinetic powers being an early intro to the powers King dubbed “The Shining” as well as giving a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story.

Carrie is just a normal girl with a religious fanatic mother. She’s bullied at school, abused at home, and in general hasn’t had a very great life. When some of the popular kids decide to make her homecoming queen though, their joking intent leads to a massacre that nobody will forget.

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The Running Man

The Running Man: A Novel

Disregard anything you know based on the old film adaptation, which borrowed the name at most. This entry in the Bachman books sees a desperate man taking part in the nation’s foremost television show to secure money for his wife and sick daughter. The game is simple- the longer you survive, the more money you win. The only problem is that anyone and everyone are in on the game, so nowhere is safe.

This blew me away when I first read it, giving a critique on everything from capitalism to America’s obsession with violence and reality television. The entire buildup as the main character matches wits with the game’s creators and eventual decision to turn the tables is a rush, and you’ll be tempted to read it all in one sitting. Give in to the temptation.

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Christine was a self-driving car way before Tesla came on the scene, with the possessed automobile going on a murderous road rage in King’s novel. While it seems like a goofy idea for a horror story at first, Christine stands as one of King’s classics and a terrifying story of angry, restless spirits.

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The Stand

The Stand

How much even needs to be said about The Stand? King’s magnum opus of an apocalyptic novel is widely regarded as one of the best books ever written, and he’s even re-released it a few times with edits to bring it up to date with the times (seems he’s decided to forego that since the 90s though).

An ensemble cast of survivors try to pick up the pieces after a deadly plague kills most life on earth. While the first half of the book follows the spread of the pandemic and the various characters as society deteriorates, the second half becomes a battle between good and evil as the survivors take on one of King’s most prominent villains, Randall Flagg, the Man in Black.

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Needful Things

Needful Things: A Novel

If you’ve never heard the name Needful Things or have no idea what the story is, it’s guaranteed you’ve seen some parody or homage somewhere. King’s story of a strange antique shop owner that has just what everyone needs is a classic, and King takes it in terrifying directions by showing what the shop takes in return for these items, with varied horrors befalling all the customers.

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The Outsider

The Outsider: A Novel

The Outsider is like a two-for-one from King, giving both a taut, gripping mystery alongside an evolving tale of cosmic evil that pervades everything King writes. Fantastic pacing and a standout among King’s recent works.

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11/22/63: A Novel

This might be one of my more re-read books on this list, giving some of everything that the author has come to be known for throughout the years in one big tome. While the story seems basic- Jake discovers a portal back to the late 1950s in his local diner, quickly being roped in by the diner’s owner to help prevent the assassination of JFK. 

What isn’t included in the basic overview is the love story at the center and the depth of the characters. King goes to great lengths to make sure everything is historically accurate and develops everyone incredibly well, especially in seeing how Jake interacts with those from over fifty years in the past. There’s even a short appearance by two of Derry’s favorite Losers.

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: A Novel

The best way I can think to describe this novella is as heartfelt sincerity in a haunted forest. The story follows one nine-year-old girl as she gets lost and separated from her family while hiking, ending up lost and confused as she faces the horrors of the forest that may be supernatural or just a product of her degrading sanity.

Seeing everything through the eyes of such a young character just makes the horror more real while her reasoning is both logical and marred by a nine-year-old child’s sense of wonder and fear.

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The Green Mile

The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel

Hope you’re ready because this is about to hurt. I picked this up at thirteen without knowing much other than seeing Tom Hanks on the cover. What I ended up getting were enough tears to flood a small town and some of the greatest emotional gut punches I’ve ever felt.

The giant John Coffey is arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of two young girls. While Coffey is slowly revealed to be gifted supernaturally with the ability to heal, and most likely innocent of the accusations he’s sentenced for, the cruelty of the prison is highlighted in contrast. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Bonus: The movie is just fantastic as well, with Michael Clarke Duncan giving a performance to bring Coffey off the page in manner and appearance. 

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Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne is more of a psychological thriller, but the way King imparts the story with the entire book being presented as a statement by Dolores herself to local police.

Throughout it becomes a biography of her troubled life, with a sordid relationship with her employer and the subsequent mystery of the murder of his wife.

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Gerald’s Game

Gerald's Game

One of the most intense psychological horrors ever written, with one of the most gruesome scenes that made me put the book down for a few minutes because… ugh. It still gives me shivers to think about it. 

Focusing on Jessie after her husband handcuffs her to their bed in a twisted game before promptly collapsing dead of a heart attack, leaving her chained to their ornate bed frame with no way out. What follows is a game of guessing what’s real and what’s not as Jessie confronts her own ghosts and possibly others.

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Cujo: A Novel

The not-so-fun fact that King was so deep into his addiction he doesn’t even remember writing Cujo is definitely an idea of the depraved nature of the story. While striking horror, it’s also a horrifying real possibility as a woman and her son are trapped in a car by a rabid dog. The title’s saint bernard became a significant recurring piece of King lore, frequently being mentioned around Castle Rock where other stories take place.

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Misery: A Novel

Another of King’s horrifyingly realistic tales, along with a fantastic film adaptation with the always amazing Kathy Bates playing Annie Wilkes to a chillingly perfect performance. The story of one writer who breaks down in the mountains, and is taken in and given shelter during a snowstorm by his self-described biggest fan. Things go south when she finds out he’ll be killing her favorite character, leading to a tense, psychological hostage situation.

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Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary: A Novel

I’ve read Pet Sematary once, and most likely may never read it again. That’s not because it’s bad or anything negative, but because it was so profoundly terrifying to me in the time of life when I read it. The story of a family losing their young child and doing anything to get them back, even turning to an ancient power they know nothing of.

King agrees with me, saying it’s his one novel that genuinely scares him. It’s chilling to the bone while switching between the meditations on grief seen through Louis’s eyes as well as the horror around the burial grounds’ history to make a combination of absolute terror that will affect readers for life.

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Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep: A Novel (The Shining Book 2)

Writing a sequel to one of your most well-acclaimed books nearly forty years after it was made is a bold move, even more bold when that book’s mainstream appeal is from the classic film that took a vast amount of liberties with the story.

Doctor Sleep continues the story of Danny Torrance, picking up after the events in the Overlook Hotel and following him into adulthood, repeating the mistakes of his father. The book does a great job of handling Danny’s trauma while also introducing new threats based on King’s wider universe. Rose the Hat flew to the top with Pennywise and Randall Flag as one of King’s most terrifying villains almost immediately.

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Bonus: The Remaining Stephen King’s Books Ranked

  • The Dead Zone
  • Firestarter
  • The Dark Tower Series
  • The Bill Hodges Trilogy
  • Joyland
  • Duma Key
  • Under the Dome
  • The Dark Half
  • Rose Madder
  • Desperation/The Regulators
  • The Tommyknockers
  • Thinner
  • Cycle of the Werewolf
  • Cell
  • The Eyes of the Dragon
  • Insomnia
  • The Talisman
  • Black House
  • Finders Keepers
  • Elevation
  • Gwendy’s Button Box
  • Later
  • Fairy Tale
  • Blaze
  • Lisey’s Story
  • The Colorado Kid
  • From A Buick 8
  • Dreamcatcher
  • Bag of Bones
  • Gwendy’s Final Task

While that’s a general overview of the best books by Stephen King, it’s only scratching the surface of the writer’s dense bibliography. With hundreds of short stories, various other non-fiction writing, and even a few screenplays out there, there’s plenty more to find from the King of horror. It doesn’t hurt that he writes like a machine, putting out a few books every year still, but he definitely won’t lose pace with releases even after his death, saying he’s built quite a back catalog to publish over the years.

Frequently Asked Question

Which Stephen King book is the scariest?

That’s tough since what scares everyone is different. Personally for me, the most chilling was Pet Semetary, but I also lent IT to a friend who couldn’t get past the first chapter because it was too terrifying for them. These two are pretty often near the top along with Salem’s Lot and Revival.

What is the Dark Tower?

The Dark Tower is one landmark around which all of King’s stories take place, with most of his books taking their own spot in his connected multiverse. While the Dark Tower series itself focuses on the quest of Roland, one of the last Gunslingers, and his attempt to stop the nefarious Man in Black, making his way through the vast multiverse.

Should King’s books be read in any particular order?

No particular order is necessary, but reading more of the writer enhances his other works. For instance, The Man in Black of the Dark Tower is the very same Randall Flagg of The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon. The psychic abilities of The Shining is shared among various characters, most notably Danny Torrance and The Green Mile’s John Coffey, among others.
There are hundreds of tangled threads throughout King’s entire career, with some details coming back later to inspire other books.

Does Stephen King write anything other than horror?

While he sticks to horror for the majority of the time, King has dabbled in everything from sci-fi, to fantasy, to even romance and plain murder mysteries. Wherever he finds a story idea, he grabs it and runs, usually finishing a novel based on the idea by the end of the hour. Not really, but he writes so fast it seems like it.

Has Stephen King told stories in other mediums?

So glad I asked because King’s experiments in other mediums have been fantastic at best and head-scratching at their worst (which King admits himself). While he’s taken quite a few shots at screenwriting, rewriting some of his shorts for the Creepshow films, he also went all out with the film adaptation of his story Trucks, directing and writing the film adaptation Maximum Overdrive
Maximum Overdrive is camp cinema at its best, even if King wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing. While that was his only directing credit, he did have a hand in creating quite a few miniseries for television like Silver Bullet and Storm of the Century that aged fairly well for their budget.

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Ross Tyson