Warhammer may have started out as a tabletop military strategy game, but by imbuing their small, war-faring figurines with such deep lore, Games Workshop inadvertently created a rich world ripe for fictionalization, and that’s exactly what happened!
40k books are the most sought-after, but with so many on the shelves at this point, it can be tricky knowing which to go for.
What makes it even more confusing is that there isn’t really a chronology to follow, as each subseries contains a discrete story that can be read and understood without much context.
Ultimately, you can jump straight to whichever subseries pertains to your favorite factions or characters, but if you’re new to the Warhammer universe, it pays to read specific 40k books in order, which is what I’ll be guiding you through here today.
About Warhammer 40K Series
Okay, so figurines on the table… there are far too many Warhammer 40k series titles (well over 300) to list here in this one place in any valuable format, which is something I’m determined to do.
As such, I’ll be directing your attention to a more exclusive list in order of accessibility for newcomers to the lore. While all 12 books below are set in the 40k universe, each subseries deals with a different character or characters on a unique journey or mission.
For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40k is set in a far-distant future in which humanity is in a constant state of conflict with a number of different aliens, monsters, and supernatural creatures. With that said, let’s get into the best 40k reading order!
Warhammer 40k Books In Order
Eisenhorn: The Omnibus — Dan Abnett (2022)
In this collection of part detective, part fantasy, and part interplanetary epic stories, inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his associate Gideon Ravenor are on the hunt for demons and heretics, all while resisting the influence of Archenemy, Chaos.
Who is Chaos? Oh, only a metaphysical, psychic force that embodies physical entities and suffuses them with malevolence, that’s all. This Omnibus contains four primary novels: “Xenos”, “Malleus”, “Hereticus”, and “The Magos”, and four bonus short stories.
- The best introduction to the 40K universe
- Awesome blend of genres
- Lots of plot tangents, leading to a slightly rushed dénouement
Ciaphas Cain: For The Emperor — Sandy Mitchell (2003)
For The Emperor is the first novel in the Ciaphas Cain series, in which the eponymous Ciaphas Cain, a Commissar of the Imperial Guard (and wholly unreliable narrator) is on a mission to uncover a conspiracy contrived to pit the Imperium against the Tau, a hostile race of expansionist aliens.
There is mystery and carnage abounds in this tale of interplanetary conflict, parasitic brainwashing, suicide missions, and… friends — Aww.
- A great mix of plot twists, fun, and exposition
- Excellent character development (something lacking in a lot of other Warhammer 40k novels)
- Excessive foreshadowing can be irritating
The Founding: A Gaunt’s Ghosts Omnibus — Dan Abnett (2017)
This action-packed, high-stakes collection of stories details the efforts of a displaced regiment of the Imperium, known as “the Ghosts”, as they struggle to gain the upper hand against heretical forces and rival regiments.
Ghosts are scouting specialists that can operate with unrivaled stealth, but in these stories, they’re forced into the middle of a brutal war where they can no longer hide.
You’ll find the novels “First and Only”, “Ghostmaker”, and “Necropolis” in this thrilling omnibus.
- Gritty, dark, and brutal
- Eases you into the 40k lore
- The main characters have lots of plot armor, lowering the tension for the reader
The Ultramarines Omnibus — Graham McNeill (2008)
Synonymous with loyalty, courage, and military ferocity, the Ultramarines are the most influential chapter of the Space Marines, and in Graham McNeill’s omnibus, under the command of Captain Uriel Ventris, they must defend humanity from a wealth of enemies.
This omnibus contains the novels “Nightbringer”, “Warriors of Ultramar”, “Dead Sky, Black Sun”, and “Storm of Iron”.
- McNeill is widely considered one of the best writers in the 40k roster
- Tons of incendiary action and horrific villains
- Each story is worse than the last
I Am Slaughter — Dan Abnett (2016)
Still set way, way in the future, but not quite as far as the previously discussed books, I Am Slaughter – the first story in the The Beast Arises series – sees the Imperium in a rare state of relative peace.
Sure, alien forces are still a thorn in humanity’s side, but Space Marines are holding them comfortably in check — which is great and all, but how can there be a 40k book without some form of savage conflict?
Well, let’s just say that this subseries isn’t called The Beast Arises for no reason — Something wicked this way comes!
- Establishes a satisfying sense of foreboding from the get-go
- Human characters are fully realized
- Abnett deviates from subtle aspects of established 40k lore
Blood Angels: The Omnibus — James Swallow (2015)
Rafen and Arkio aren’t just brothers in arms, but genetic brothers, which is a rarity in the ranks of the Blood Angels, one of the First Founding Chapters of the Space Marines.
They care deeply for one another and are always on the same page until that is, Arkio comes into possession of an ancient weapon and believes himself to be the Primarch Sanquinius reincarnated.
The entire Blood Angels chapter quickly falls in line under Arkio’s new-found power and past life, all but his noble brother Rafen, who must make a decision — Stay loyal to his brother, or stay loyal to the Blood Angels.
- The brother characters are fantastic, and the familial aspect grounds the fantastical interplanetary elements of the stories
- Swallow bends a lot of rules established in the 40k canon
Path Of The Eldar Omnibus — Gav Thorpe (2014)
Three friends – Aradryan, Korlandril, and Thirianna – part ways to follow their own paths, unaware of how their actions are still fundamentally tied to one another, for better… or for worse!
When the choices of Aradryan bring a war to Alaitoc, Korlandril and Thirianna are forced to act to protect their home.
This omnibus contains the novels “Path of the Warrior”, “Path of the Seer”, “Path of the Outcast”, “The Curse of Shaa-dom”, and a short entitled “The Rewards of Tolerance”.
- The confluence of storylines is perfectly executed
- Lots of repetition in books 2 and 3
Iron Warriors Omnibus — Graham McNeill (2019)
Much like the Blood Angels, the Iron Warriors are one of the founding chapters of the Space Marines, but unlike the Blood Angels, the Iron Warriors defected and became agents of Chaos.
Now, Iron Warrior Warsmith Honsou, champion of Chaos, plans to utilize his chapter’s unparalleled siege skills to cut a bloody path through the galaxy with the ultimate goal of toppling the Imperium of Man.
- A wealth of siege action makes for an exciting read
- Honsou is hemmed in by McNeill’s story, ruining the chances he can be utilized again in other contexts
The Talon Of Horus — Aaron Dembski-Bowden
In the wake of Horus’s demise, the Luna Wolves have parted ways and wander the horrific realm of the Eye of Terror, and Horus’s champion, the esteemed Abaddon, has been absent for years.
It seems as if the primarch’s following is no more, but a confederation of legionaries hopes to seek out Abaddon and encourage him to take his old warmaster’s position and continue his legacy. Can he be found? And if so, will he accept his destiny?
- An intriguing glimpse into the world of the traitor legions
- Not quite as exciting or well written as the Horus Heresy books
Night Lords Omnibus — Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2014)
After the demise of their primarch, the Night Lords are fueled by spite and driven by revenge, but their desire to bring doom to their enemies must wait, as conflict with other renegade chapters and an Eldar of Craftworld threatens to bring them to their knees.
- Protagonists are masterfully fleshed out
- Lacks a grand narrative that ties everything together neatly
Storm Of Iron — Graham McNeill (2008)
As home to a mighty Imperial citadel, Hydra Cordatus has long been the target of the Imperium’s many enemies, but in Storm of Iron, the only combatants capable of making a dent in its defenses, the Iron Warriors, have arrived to wreak havoc and raise hell.
The question is not if the defenders can hold out, but how long they can hold out… and, what prize do the attackers believe is worth all this carnage and bloodshed?
- All characters are well drawn, which deepens the intensity of the conflicts between them
- Some far-fetched passages, even within a space-fantasy context
Word Bearers: The Omnibus — Anthony Reynolds (2015)
In this triple story omnibus, we follow First Acolyte Marduk and his brutal warband as they lay waste to worlds and civilizations in service of the Dark Gods, all for a chance to demolish the Imperium of Man.
You’ll find the “Dark Apostle”, “Dark Creed”, and “Dark Disciple” novels in this omnibus, as well as two intriguing shorts.
- Gives the reader an insight into the nature of Chaos and how it fits into the 40k universe
- Lots of gore and not much strict plotting
There are enough Warhammer 40k books to keep you going for three or more lifetimes, so it’s important to be discerning with your selections, especially at the beginning of your galactic journey.
The order I’ve suggested here today is generally considered the ultimate route into the literary 40k universe, and I happen to agree, so dig in, and get ready to wander the stars!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Warhammer 40k Differ From Warhammer 30k?
In terms of Warhammer literature, the events of 30k occur long before those of 40k, so you could consider any works in this series to be loose prequels of the books listed here today.
When it comes to the game, 30k offers a pricier buy-in but a more immersive, in-depth experience.
What Are Traitor Legions In Warhammer?
Traitor legions are those humanoid chapters that have defected from the Imperium of Man in order to serve Chaos and the Dark Gods.