Just like many enjoy a murder mystery, a violent thriller, or a psychological drama, post-apocalyptic books are equally as popular and offer some of the same factors. These genres all encompass fast-paced narratives, action-packed plots, suspense, and complex characters. However, post-apocalyptic novels add an extra layer, one that incorporates sci-fi, fantasy, and perhaps even comedy.
Post-apocalyptic books are perfect for readers who seek enthralling action and are open-minded about the interpolation of fantasy elements. These novels often include figures like zombies or vampires that frequently act as the ‘enemy’ and are always based on the few remaining characters after a devastating event that has wiped out the rest of humanity.
The plot lines of post-apocalyptic narratives usually follow the remaining humans who are tasked with fighting off the enemy before they die and the Earth gets taken over by whatever enemy species roam.
Readers that prefer realism may be reading this thinking ‘I won’t like this genre, it’s far too unrealistic’ and yes, the chances of the Earth getting taken over by a zombie or vampire species are small. But these books are often constructed using a scientific backstory, one that explains how zombies or vampires came to roam the Earth and why they’ve gained control.
Having said all this, there are post-apocalyptic books that are entirely detached from fantasy and instead follow a realistic plot line that has wiped out humanity through a pandemic or a meteor, both of which are very much plausible, if not a little close to home!
World War Z is a mixture of the two. It follows the outbreak of a virus that originated in China (sound familiar?), a virus that turns people into zombies. As you can imagine, the plot quickly descends into chaos, as members of the public are frantically trying to escape densely populated areas and decrease their risk of catching the virus.
This novel follows a group of people, all from different backgrounds, occupations, and families, on their journey of survival. It incorporates battles, violence, graphic depictions of the virus, and consequent transformations, and reads nothing like a fantasy novel despite its subject matter.
If World War Z sounds like something you’d enjoy, we highly recommend reading it. But if you’ve already read and loved it and are looking for another post-apocalyptic book to sink your teeth into, here are 20 book recommendations that will immerse you in chaos, violence, and trauma.
The Stand by Stephen King
After society has been destroyed by a computer error, 99% of the population has been terminated and institutions have collapsed. As the few remaining survivors fight for their lives, evil, powers, and a 108-year-old woman are all that linger.
The Stand is a powerful, suspenseful, and fantastically-written work bursting with interesting characters, eerie settings, and moral complexity. A brilliant book for any thriller, sci-fi, or horror lover.
Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon
After a nuclear attack, America becomes a wasteland, emptied of its population and wiped of its historical and cultural facets. The few that survive struggle, roaming their deserted hometowns in search of purpose and driven by rage.
This handful of people must decide the fate of humanity’s future and as the story delves deeper into each different character, the plot intensifies. Swan Song is an excellent choice if you enjoyed World War Z, just don’t expect zombies from this one!
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
This is the original book that inspired the popular film adaptation of the same name starring Sandra Bullock. Bird Box is a brilliant premise – something invisible lurks with a desire for violence. One glimpse of this ‘thing’ and the person is driven to extreme violence, ending in inevitable and involuntary suicide.
As society descends into chaos and few remain, Malorie and her two children seek to escape. They are all blindfolded, relying only on their hearing and trust in each other. But can they outrun whatever is out there?
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
As a nuclear holocaust destroys what we know as America, millions of people die instantaneously and the landscapes, architecture, and culture of the country are wiped out in one fell swoop.
Alas, Babylon follows one small town in Florida that has managed to avoid the turmoil. The people within this town must group together, regardless of how much they dislike each other and how different they are, to confront the enemy and try to save what’s left of one of the most powerful countries the world has ever seen.
I Am Legend by Richard Matherson
As a deadly plague ravages throughout the world, millions die and those that survive become dangerous creatures, unpredictable and vicious – vampires.
But somehow Neville has stayed human. And now he must face a destroyed society filled with vampires, thirsty for his blood
I Am Legend is a brilliant story of survival – violent, thrilling, and jam-packed with intrigue.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks
This one has a slightly different flavor, but can be paired excellently with World War Z. Written by the same author, this book is a comprehensive and funny guide to protecting yourself from a potential zombie invasion.
Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk
From the author that wrote some of the most gripping and twisted novels of all time including Fight Club and Choke, comes this brilliant, yet overlooked work.
Rant follows the life of the fictional Buster Casey through the eyes of others that knew him. This is much more character-driven, unlike some of the action-packed thrillers on this list but it is still post-apocalyptic and one of the most interesting choices on this list because of its focus on perspective.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
After a deadly strain of flu that killed the majority of the population, pilot Hig is learning to cope with grief and must navigate this new world alone. He takes himself to the mountains to distance himself from reality and live as if nothing happened.
But when a transmission comes through holding a glimmer of hope, he risks everything and flies somewhere, knowing he hasn’t got enough fuel to return.
The Dog Stars is a fantastic and emotive take on post-apocalyptic life. It delves into the realistic impacts of mass loss and is a beautiful story of identity and belonging that still maintains a gripping plot line.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
It’s 2021, men are sterile, and the human race is dying out. The last generation is growing older and many are giving up, committing suicide, or isolating themselves.
The Children of Men follows this society as they simultaneously grieve and look for an answer but hones in on Theodore and Julian, a couple that has found light in the darkness. They become revolutionaries and discover a potential way to save humanity.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Set in a post-apocalyptic America, covered in ash and emptied of any life, The Road focuses on a father and son that make the journey towards the coast, unaware of what they will find once they get there or what they will experience along the way.
This is an excellent novel, maintaining a great balance between compelling action and suspense and the heart-warming relationship that blooms between the two protagonists.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Set in the near future, Robopocalypse follows the development of artificial intelligence (AI) as it gradually takes over every corner of society, leaving humans with little control over their society or the robots they’ve created.
As a robot war looms and humanity is predicted to become extinct, humans must learn to fight back before it’s too late.
This novel is expertly written by a Ph.D. holder in robotics and divulges the terrifying reality of what our real technological future may look like.
Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
This is the first of a 4-book series that follows humanity’s fight for survival as a dangerous unknown evil spreads violence and horror throughout the U.S.
The dead emerge and pose a new danger, they seek human flesh and convert their prey into one of their own. Day by Day Armageddon is remarkably similar to World War Z and follows one particular man as he struggles to outrun and outwit the new enemy.
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
The Blast wiped out humanity and left Earth a desiccated wasteland. 200 years on, the remaining humans now live mutated or as half-breeds.
The Slynx is a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy with so much to offer. Tolstaya brilliantly merges genres to create the ultimate gripping thriller which incorporates new creatures, complex characters, and hints of real Russian history.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Blending personal, public, and governmental scandals, The Passage is a multidimensional novel that incorporates dystopia, horror, and thrill. It primarily follows Amy, who has experienced a turbulent childhood, being abandoned by her mother at the age of 6, imprisoned by the government, and used as an experiment.
Amy has a long journey ahead of her, filled with new obstacles and emotional strains but she knows she is the only one that can save the world from total despair.
Wool by Hugh Howey
In a world scathed by moral corruption and governed by unkindness, there are a select few that cling to optimism. These people are a danger to the rest of the population, who live in fear of being infected by their optimism. When caught, these people must face the outside. An unknown abyss.
Wool is a terrifically engaging novel, filled with moral questions and providing a different perspective to post-apocalyptic fiction which typically relies on physical danger and destruction.
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
It’s 2033. The world has been completely destroyed, and those who remain, survive in the debris. Encapsulated by fear, mankind has given Earth to other life forms and now lives in a nightmare, forced to shelter in the Moscow Metro, the largest air-raid shelter around.
Metro 2033 is a story of destruction, loss, and fear. It details the human progression as survivors journey from fear to hope and collectively attempt to get their world back.
Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt
This fantastic novel blends fantasy, adventure, and post-apocalyptic settings. Set in the aftermath of the Roadmakers, Chaka is forced on a journey, inspired by her brother’s failed search for Haven.
She will embark on the most dangerous journey, on which she will encounter pirates, machines, and ghosts, who each provide insight into their histories, providing Chaka with the information she needs to find the source of her civilization. Eternity Road is a fantasy-driven novel that will appeal to any World War Z lover.
Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
This is a collection of stories that each have a dark center and concentrate on something different. These stories are harrowing, twisted, and cover plague, survival, and humanitarian turmoil.
Things We Didn’t See Coming is slightly different stylistically but many of the same post-apocalyptic themes are featured, making it a brilliant read for anyone who wants to explore this genre.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
From the master of dystopia herself, comes this intriguing and fantastically written novel. Oryx and Crake is an enthralling survival story that takes place in a destroyed and transformed world, adapted by genetic engineering.
Mankind has suffered a great plague and Snowman (previously known as Jimmy) is struggling to survive, thinking he may be the last human.
He suffers the loss of his best friend but must make the journey through the wild jungle that was once a buzzing metropolis. However, he will never make it without the help of the Children of Crake.
Blindness by José Saramago
During an epidemic that forces blindness on its victims, those in power sent the blind to an institution. Somewhere where they are controlled and cannot escape. But inside is chaos and filled with danger. Food is stolen, people are hurt, and women are raped.
Blindness is the journey of one person who guides 7 infected people through the destroyed landscape, searching for a way out.
Regardless of your preferences, we hope there’s something on this list for everyone to enjoy. Whether you prefer the realistic, scientific, and technological disasters that lead to world catastrophe, or you want to dive headfirst into fantastical apocalyptic stories, there’s something here for every reader.
What’s the difference between post-apocalyptic books and dystopian books?
Dystopian and post-apocalyptic genres both feature suffering and potentially death but dystopian societies are usually more stable and functioning, whereas post-apocalyptic settings are typically chaotic and volatile.
What overarching genre does post-apocalypse belong to?
Post-apocalypse is often considered a subgenre of science fiction.
What are the best post-apocalyptic novels?
World War Z by Max Brooks and The Road by Cormac McCarthy have received some of the highest ratings and have been read the most times in comparison with other books in this genre.
What is the difference between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic?
Apocalyptic novels often tell the story of the event that caused the apocalypse, whereas post-apocalyptic stories detail stories that happen afterward.
How many books has Max Brooks written?
As of now, he has written 21 and his best-selling novel is World War Z.