Stephen King is the modern master of horror and an incredibly prolific writer. For almost 50 years, he’s been producing masterpieces of the macabre, and there have been thousands of debates over which Stephen King books are the best. Well, we’re throwing our hat into the ring with a few choices of our own.
For our list, we thing from among King’s published novels. So, no compilations, novellas, or short stories. Also, remember that this list is for the best Stephen King novels, not the most obscure. So, if you’re already familiar with this work, you can probably guess what made the cut.
TL;DR – The Best Stephen King Books:
King struck gold starting with his very first novel, Carrie. The titular character is immediately recognizable to most readers as most of us went to school with someone like her. The themes of ostracism and bullying continue to resonate as much now as they did when the novel was published in 1974. Unlike some of the other books on this list, Carrie is a brisk read and makes a great introduction to King’s writing style.
If Carrie is one side of the proverbial coin, then Christine is the other. A beat-up 1958 Plymouth Fury catches the eye of high school outcast Arnie Cunningham, and after purchasing it, he becomes obsessed with restoring it. Unfortunately for him, the car is possessed by evil, and he becomes his pawn. The book critiques car culture, bullying, and masculine self-image and is another title from King that remains incredibly relevant.
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
While the latter half of The Dark Tower book series – and the Dark Tower Movie – missed the mark for some fans, no one can deny it started with a bang. The first book in the multi-decade epic, The Gunslinger, is a western at heart, much more so than the following volumes. Our introduction to Roland Deschain and Mid-World is a short gritty tale full of heartache and death, which snakes its tendrils throughout King’s other works.
It is just a bit shorter than The Stand, but it’s essentially two books. Just like the recent It movies, part one deals with a group of children as they try to deal with an entity preying on the citizens of Derry, Maine. The second half finds them reuniting as adults to take It (otherwise known as Pennywise) down for good. The book drives home the horrors the kids faced in a way the films didn’t quite have time to and is lauded as one of the best horror novels of all time.
They say misery loves company, and Annie Wilkes proves that in spades. King was somehow prescient about toxic fandoms because when Wilkes finds her favorite novelist, Paul Sheldon,” after a car accident and nurses him back to health, she begins to demand that he start writing the books to her liking. Unfortunately for him, she uses a hammer instead of mean tweets. The movie is an absolute classic, but the source material is definitely worth a read as well.
As with It, The Shining takes readers deeper than The Shining film ever could. It’s obvious that Jack Torrance is somewhat of a King self-insert if you know his history of addiction. As a result, the novel is a bit more sympathetic to him, making the end result much more tragic. It also drives home the isolation and the growing madness Jack feels, which makes his inevitable rampage that much scarier.
A plague devastates the world in The Stand, and two societies form in the post-apocalyptic aftermath. This 1,000-page tome traces humanity’s fate from the virus outbreak to the conclusion of a fight between good and evil. The Stand is an excellent read, but like many books this size, there are some pacing issues. However, it’s worth slogging through the few meandering sections as it has a very satisfying ending.
Pet Sematary follows the Creed family, who relocate from Boston to Maine. While settling into their new home, they stumble on a mysterious burial ground in the woods. When they discover it has the power to bring dead animals back to life, they become entangled with an unspeakable evil they’ll wish they had never crossed. It’s a difficult read for animal lovers, but an outstanding slow burn of a thriller that’ll keep you equal parts terrified and engaged to the end.
A large group of people finds themselves trapped together inside a busy grocery store when a thick fog rolls in. Attempts to leave are met with terrifying attacks and confusing disappearances. What lies within the mysterious mist, and how will anyone ever make it out alive? This novella is a quick but exciting read that’ll have you thinking twice about what could lie in wait in the fog – lest there be dangerous predators looking to snack on human beings.
The Green Mile
The Green Mile is widely considered one of King’s masterpieces, though it’s less of a horror tale than the rest of the books on this list. It follows death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe as he interacts with an inmate named John Coffey. Coffey has been placed on death row for a crime it isn’t clear he committed, and he displays powerful, otherworldly healing abilities. This thriller is a tearjerker that’ll leave you contemplating the meaning of life far beyond you reach its complex, shocking conclusion.
Brittany Vincent is a freelance video game and entertainment writer for IGN, covering anime, thrillers, and more.