Blog – Posted on Monday, Jun 10
All of the Best Stephen King Books, Ranked
To say Stephen King is prolific is to understate his publishing career. He's published over 130 short stories and 51 novels (including a 52nd book coming out this September!). If you decide which TV series you want to watch based on how many seasons are available to binge on Netflix, then reading Stephen King might just be the best literary equivalent for you: you won't run out of material any time soon!
Of course, when it comes to King, the question is: where do I start? You could read through his bibliography chronologically. Or you can go through this list of the best Stephen Kings books, ranked from most popular to least popular based on each novel's Amazon reviews. If you think a certain book deserves to be higher or lower on the list, you know what to do: head to Amazon and leave your own review.
Happy — and spooky — reading!
1. The Talisman and Black House series (1984) - 4.95 stars ⭐
The Talisman series, which begins with The Talisman, is the story of Jack Sawyer: a twelve-year-old boy who’s on a desperate mission to save his mother from certain death. To do so, he’ll need to cross into another realm entirely — and all might be irrevocably changed when he comes back out on the other side, as Black House amply demonstrates.
Both books tie directly into the Dark Tower series, but each offers a slightly different flavor. The Talisman is an epic staple in fantasy, and Black House is its gritty follow-up. If you prefer horror with only a side of fantasy, go for Black House. But if you’d like the supernatural to be more prominent, The Talisman might be right up your alley.
2. The Green Mile series - 4.8 stars ⭐
Much like King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” this is a period piece set in a New England that was adapted to film by director Frank Darabont. In The Green Mile, King plunges readers straight into the murky horrors of death row. Death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe John Coffey is on duty when he meets John Coffey: a gentle giant who has been sentenced to the death for raping and murdering twin girls. As events at the prison go on to spiral out of control, Paul realizes that Coffey ("Yes sir boss, like the drink, only not spelled the same way”) might not be all that he appears to be. With memorable characters and suspense that ratchets up with a flip of every page, the Green Mile became — and remains — an instant classic.
3. The Shining - 4.7 stars ⭐
Acclaimed as King’s best book of all time, The Shining has been discussed, debated, and parodied so often that it is a cornerstone today in popular culture. But let’s do a quick recap in case you’re new here: Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, is the new caretaker at an old hotel. To no-one but Jack’s surprise, the hotel has a dark past, which soon comes out to play… and the key to it all might lie in Danny Torrance, a young boy who possesses “the shining”: a psychic ability to mind-read and see things that others cannot.
This was the book that vaulted King to superstardom, and for good reason. One of King’s strengths is the way that he approaches the supernatural in his writing, integrating it seamlessly into the fabric of everyday life and making it seem as though it is, terrifyingly, just another dimension of reality. This is the case in The Shining, which is peak Stephen King from first page to last — and that is the highest praise that we can give it.
4. Misery (1987) - 4.6 stars ⭐
Warning: aspiring authors, stay away from this book. Once you read it, you may never want to become a famous novelist. Everyone else — come on in, because this is an A+ tale of psychopathy, insanity, and blood. It tells the story of author Paul Sheldon, who has met his biggest fan, the morbidly delusional Annie Wilkes. Holding Sheldon hostage after he’s involved in a car wreck, her goal is to get him to write another novel in which his protagonist is brought back to life. Her method? Torture, torture, and more torture.
5. Pet Sematary (1983) - 4.6 stars ⭐
Many call it Stephen King’s scariest book. Stephen King has confirmed that he thought it was too dark to publish, and only did so to settle a book contract. And if you’d like the Sparknotes for all of the gruesome things that go down in Pet Sematary, go right here.
Needless to say, Pet Sematary is a grisly Whopper in the land of horror novels — consider that our warning to you before you open this book! If you’re up for it, get ready for a rollercoaster of suspense and gore. The story opens innocently enough, as Louis Creed and his family move to a town in Maine. Near their house is a cemetery for children’s pet… and a bit further down in the woods lies an ancient Native burial ground, which will be the cause of all of the chilling causes in this banging novel.
6. The Stand (1978) - 4.6 stars ⭐
One of King’s most accomplished books ever published, The Stand is a multi-genre work that sets up a plague story within a cautionary tale about technology. Throw in the supernatural, religion, and an apocalyptic battle between good and evil and you’ve got the makings of a masterpiece. It all begins when a mistake at a government lab releases a super-flu upon the continent. Don’t get sick while reading this book, kids!
7. Doctor Sleep (The Shining Book 2) (2013) - 4.6 stars ⭐
Warning: As this is the sequel to The Shining, this synopsis contains spoilers of who makes it out of the Overlook Hotel in the first installment. So if you haven’t read it yet, skip to the next book on our list of the best Stephen King books.
“Here’s Johnny… again!” No, just kidding, Johnny doesn’t appear in Doctor Sleep — however we do rejoin Danny Torrance. He’s now all grown up but is still haunted by the events that took place during that one horrific year of his childhood spent at the Overlook Hotel. Having inherited his father's alcoholism and tendency for despair and violence, he tries hard to shake off those old memories. And it looks like he might be able to do just that when he settles down in New Hampshire, joins an AA group, and gets a job at a nursing home where he’s known as “Doctor Sleep.” But his past isn’t ready to let go of him yet, because Dan is about to meet Abra Stone — who has the gift of “the shining,” just like Dan. And a group called the True Knot (quasi-immortal travelers who live off the steam produced by the torture and murder of children with the shining) who once tried to kill Dan are now on the hunt for Abra.
8. 11/22/63 (2011) - 4.6 stars ⭐
What would if someone asked you to go back in time and rewrite history? This is exactly the situation that high school teacher Jake Epping finds himself in when his friend Al asks him to go through a portal and prevent JFK’s assassination. In Jake’s case, he complies, and finds himself surrounded by sock hops, big cars, Elvis tunes, and cigarette smoke in Jodie, Texas. But this is a King novel, after all, so you can bet the Southern charm and Stetsons soon take a backseat to suspense as Jake seeks out a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.
9. Dolores Claiborne (1993) - 4.5 stars ⭐
Vera Donovan, Dolores Clairborne’s wealthy employer, has just been murdered. Dolores is now a suspect, and tells the police a long and winding story about her relationship to Vera. The story starts way back with her crumbling marriage and husbands suspicious death almost thirty years ago. It also details Vera’s physical and mental decline, and the emotional toll she put on those around her. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s almost impossible to look away — both for the listening policemen within the narrative, and for readers who flips through King’s disturbing pages.
10. Carrie (1974) - 4.5 stars ⭐
Certainly one of the best-received debut novels ever published, Carrie is the story of a struggling and unhappy high school girl with telekinetic powers and an abusive mother. Her name is Carrie White, and she’s about to go on a violent rampage of revenge against the peers who have bullied her for the past few years. Put down your bucket of pig’s blood, and pick up this book (stat!) to better acquaint yourself with a groundbreaking addition to the horror genre.
11. Duma Key (2008) - 4.5 stars ⭐
Edgar Freemantle has fallen on very tough times. An accident at a construction site has resulted in the loss of his right arm, and some serious memory and rage issues. His marriage has suddenly ended, and Edgar is beginning to wish his workplace accident had taken his life, instead of jus this arm. So his psychologist suggests a change of scenery — a fresh start somewhere new. He also suggests Edgar take up a hobby that brings him peace. So Edgar moves to the coastal Florida town of Duma Key, where he starts sketching. But there’s more to Edgar’s art than just etchings on a notepad… something powerful seems to lurk in the images he creates, a power that’s longing to break free.
12. ‘Salem’s Lot (1975) - 4.5 stars ⭐
An old mansion in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot is steeped in local lore. Author Ben Mears hopes that this creaky building will prove to be something of a tonic for his writer’s block. But distraction from his new novel arrives quickly in the form of two young boys who have ventured into the woods - only for one to come back out alive. What happens when lore mingles with reality… and turns deadly?
13. End of Watch (Billy Hodges Trilogy Book 3) (2016) - 4.5 stars ⭐
Warning: contains spoilers about Book 1 and 2 in the Bill Hodges trilogy.
This is the final novel of King’s hard-boiled detective “Bill Hodges” trilogy. It revisits Brady Hartsfield, the psychopath behind the deadly “Mercedes Massacre,” who now resides in a vegetative state in Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. But… how comatic is he really? While Brady might look vacant, his mind — having been pumped full of experimental drugs — is still very much whirring, biding its time until Brady is powerful enough to commit new schemes of violence and terror without his body ever having to leave Room 217. But before that, he has two other priorities on his list: revenge and retired police detective Bill Hodges.
14. IT (1986) - 4.5 stars ⭐
It should be no surprise that IT is this high up in our list, controversial as it is. Arguably his best book with child protagonists, IT is also one of his most complex and lengthiest novels to date — coming in at an epic 700 pages. It follows two parallel narratives: one set in 1958, when a group of seven children meet and battle a monster in the sewer; and the other in 1985, when the survivors return to their childhood town to face old demons.
Outside of a divisive scene between the children that was (rightly, in our opinion) removed from its Hollywood adaptation, IT is a brilliant example of an author writing at his peak. Once and for all, King proves that there’s no living horror author who better understands the nature of fear. And, once you reach the last page, you can safely say that you, too, survived IT.
15. Finders Keepers (2015) - 4.5 stars ⭐
Warning: contains spoilers about Book 1 in the Bill Hodges trilogy.
John Rothstein is the author and creator of the famous Jimmy Gold series. However, he hasn’t written in years and many view his beloved character Jimmy Gold as becoming a sell-out. Or, at least, deranged fan Morris Bellamy sure does. In retaliation for this perceived betrayal, Morris kills John and empties his safe of cash. He also takes John’s collection of notebooks, which includes one final, unpublished Jimmy Gold novel. Before Morris has the time to do anything with it, he is locked away in prison for 35 years — long enough for the notebooks to fall into the hands of teenager Pete Saubers. Now, the only thing in the way of Morris getting his hands on Pete, those notebooks, and his long-awaited vengeance is — you guessed it — police detective Bill Hodges.
16. The Eyes of the Dragon (1987) - 4.4 stars ⭐
King takes a step into traditional epic fantasy with The Eyes of the Dragon, drawing clear influences from European fairy tales. It’s a story about the Kingdom of Delain, where King Roland has just been murdered and his son and heir, Peter, has been framed for the crime. Now, Peter has been imprisoned in a tower. And if he wants even a chance at freedom and reclaiming his throne, he must come up with a plan for taking down Flagg, the wicked sorcerer who planned Peter’s downfall, and Thomas, his ursuper brother.
17. Christine (1983) - 4.4 stars ⭐
Perhaps someone once told King that a novel about a car could never be terrifying and King responded with, “Want a bet?” And while a car seems like an unlikely villain, the titular "Christine" — a red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury — is no doubt a vehicle of terror. And she currently has a nerdy teenager called Arnold under her spell. Can Arnold’s friends save him before he completely loses his mind to this eight-cylinder succubus? Put the pedal to the metal and read this book to find out.
18. The Dead Zone (1979) - 4.4 stars ⭐
Falling into a five-year coma after a car accident is a tragic event. Waking up from said coma with the ability to see people’s past and future is a gift, right? Well, Johnny Smith does not see it that way. When he shakes the hand of a corrupt politician, Johnny sees what awaits the US if the man continues to rise in power. Is it Johnny’s responsibility to change the future — and if so, how?
19. The Dark Tower Series - 4.4 stars ⭐
The Dark Tower series is made up of eight books, all of which feature a “gunslinger” and his supernatural journey towards a tower — a quest which is both physical and metaphorical. The series spans multiple genres, incorporating elements of horror, science fantasy, dark fantasy, and Western (hence the gunslinger). King cites Arthurian Legend, the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and The Lord of the Rings books as inspiration for the novels. (However the series was primarily inspired by a poem called "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning). The Dark Tower series is a great place to start for readers who really want to dig into King’s bibliography, as it links to many of his other novels — which, in turn, also relate back to this series.
20. Joyland (2013) - 4.4 stars ⭐
The first thing to know about Joyland is that it’s not exactly one of King’s scariest books. That said, you’ll still get a sampling of King’s staples: strong characterization, intense psychological studies, nail-biting suspense, and a tantalizing glimpse of the supernatural.
Joyland is a mix between a mystery and a ghost story, following student Devin Jones who has a summer job at a North Carolina amusement park in 1973. It is there that he learns of a girl who had been murdered years ago, the killer who’s still at large — and the ghost that may or may not be haunting the premises.
21. The Outsider (2018) - 4.4 stars ⭐
When an 11-year-old boy’s mangled corpse is found in the park, all signs point to Terry Maitland. As the local Little League coach, he’s the squeakiest-clean person in town. Yet for every iron-clad alibi that Maitland has, the police uncover an inexcusable piece of DNA evidence that incriminates him. How can somebody be in two places at once? Let it be known: this is not your regular crime thriller, though the first third of the book might convince you otherwise. After all… there’s a figure with mysterious red eyes on the cover of the book.
22. Mr. Mercedes (2014) - 4.4 stars ⭐
One of King’s more recent offerings, this thriller is about a detective on the trail of a stone-cold killer who goes by the name Mr. Mercedes — a reference to the horrifying act of murder that he committed years ago. That said, this game of cat and mouse isn’t quite original, and we’ve seen it done with a better villain before. If you’re short on time, we’d say that this is one of the easier ones to skip. Not King’s worst, but not quite his best, either.
23. Rose Madder (1995) - 4.3 stars ⭐
Rosie Daniels is on the run from the most lunatic person in the world right now: her husband. Norman Daniels will stop at nothing to get her back. This is the set-up for Rose Madder, a book that falls smack dab in the middle of Stephen King’s oeuvre. It might not be the very best of what King has to offer, but it’s definitely worth the read for its taut writing and strong characterization, particularly of Rosie. Ultimately, King takes an age-old reality — that of an abused woman fleeing her dangerous husband — and churns out a home run.
24. Needful Things (1991) - 4.3 stars ⭐
Needful Things opens on the town of Castle Rock, which is a peaceful community until a mysterious man named Leland Gaunt comes into the picture. He opens a shop where he sells customers the object of their heart’s desire — hence the shop’s name, Needful Things. But, in exchange, he requires something extra as payment… something that threatens to plunge the entire town into mass hysteria and sin. Due in part to its wonderfully insane villain, Needful Things is a winning combination of suspense, blood, and action that keeps readers on their toes right up until the explosive and entirely unexpected ending.
25. Desperation (1996) - 4.3 stars ⭐
Stepping out of Maine for a hot minute, we find ourselves in the remote town of Desperation, located off a desolate stretch of Interstate 50 in Nevada. Other than its foreboding name, what’s so special about it? Well, it’s home to maniacal police officer Collie Entragian, who has been abducting passing travelers, to start. But Collie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the evil that lies in Desperation. And young David Carver, one of the abductees, is about to learn that the devil he knows might be a lot less scary than what else is coming…
26. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999) - 4.3 stars ⭐
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is best categorized as a psychological thriller — but one that’s unusually told from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl. The story follows our young heroine as she becomes hopelessly lost in a forest where she begins to see supernatural signs that may or may not be hallucinations. But nothing is just a walk in the woods whenever King is involved, because something powerful is stalking her. King is often at his best when he’s writing about one character, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon raises that bar higher yet. Remember to stick to the trail, kids!
27. Bag of Bones (1998) - 4.3 stars ⭐
How many of King’s novels feature a middle-aged male novelist in Maine? A lot, including this one. This time, the Mainer in question is Mike Noonan, an author dealing with intense grief after the sudden death of his wife — a grief that has rendered him incapable of facing a blank screen or piece of paper. But his writing abilities aren’t gone for good, because a series of strange and terrifying events are about to take place that will reunite him with the muse, including: unrelenting nightmares, a family in the midst of serious conflict, and supernatural forces plaguing his old summerhouse.
Bag of Bones has been praised as “hands down, Stephen King’s most narratively subversive fiction” (Entertainment Weekly) and his “most ambitious novel” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
28. Cycle of the Werewolf (1985) - 4.2 stars ⭐
This short novel comes with illustrations by Bernie Writghtson — co-creator of the “Swamp Thing” — to really help fuel your nightmares. As the title would suggest, Cycle of the Werewolf tells the story of Tarker’s Mills, a small town that is terrorized at each full moon by a werewolf who can talk like a human, but whose footprints are decidedly beastly…
29. Firestarter (1980) - 4.2 stars ⭐
Young Charlie has pyrokinetic powers — the ability to create fire with her mind. They are hereditary powers, so to speak: during college, her broke parents earned cash by volunteering as test subjects for top-secret experiments conducted by a government organization known as The Shop. These experiments left the students with psychic talents, which have now been passed down to Charlie — and now The Shop are onto her. Not only do they know about her powers, they want to use her as a weapon. But Charlie isn’t about to go down without a fight: she knows The Shop intends to capture her by any means necessary, and she intends to stop them by those same means.
30. Cujo (1981) - 4.2 stars ⭐
The title character is a 200-pound Saint Bernard, a true best friend to his owner, Brett Chamber. But when Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave and is bitten by a sick bat, he turns into man’s worst nightmare, terrorizing a once-peaceful town in central Maine.
31. Insomnia (1994) - 4.2 stars ⭐
In this book, Stephen King achieves the impossible. He takes one of the worst things ever — insomnia — and makes it even worse. Our protagonist — or, should we say, victim — is Ralph Roberts, an “Everyman” who has just lost his wife. Expectedly, he has trouble sleeping. Unexpectedly, he begins to see strange things during this “waking insomnia.” But are they hallucinations born out of sleep deprivation, or something else entirely? Beyond the gripping premise, the winks to Dark Tower will keep fans intrigued — and have their hearts racing to the last chapter.
32. Under the Dome (2009) - 4.2 stars ⭐
Under the Dome was a long time coming. Initially started in 1976, King didn’t pick the draft back up until the 1980s. Even then, Under the Dome wasn’t published until 2009 — at a whopping 1,072 pages.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that that’s a bit too much for a book, but King makes every single page count. Based on another high-concept premise, Under the Dome tells the story of a town that suddenly finds itself encased in a mysterious dome that appeared out of nowhere, cutting its inhabitants out from the rest of the world. Which begs the question: how would people react when they discover that they’re stuck together for possibly eternity?
33. The Tommyknockers (1987) - 4.1 stars ⭐
About a subtle alien invasion in a small town in Maine, The Tommyknockers is unnecessarily long and the weak ending doesn’t redeem it. According to Stephen King himself: “I mean, The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act.” If you’re wondering which ones of King’s books you can afford to skip, this is a good candidate.
34. The Dark Half (1989) - 4 stars ⭐
What’s in a pen name? Well, in the case of bestselling horror author George Stark (real name: Thad Beaumont), a lot. But now, Thad is leaving the horrifying and twisted narratives of his old novels behind to write under his own name and start a new life. The thing is, George doesn’t want to seem to go down without a fight — a violent fight. And Thad is finding it harder and harder to deny the connections between a string of local homicides with the fictional murders dreamed up by George Stark. Fans of Fight Club will likely enjoy this Tyler Durden-esque plot with a literary twist.
35. Dreamcatcher (2001) - 4 stars ⭐
When they were children, four friends in the town of Derry (where It and Insomnia took place — why do people continue to live here?!) saved a young boy with Downs syndrome from a group of sadistic bullies. This heroic act changed them in many ways — including leaving them with unusual powers. Now, 25 years later, the boys live separate lives but continue to reunite for an annual hunting trip in the woods of Maine. It’s on one of these trips that they encounter a strange and incoherent man ranting about lights in the sky and a fight for survival against a being from another world begins. But to survive, they need to take a dark walk down memory lane...
36. Lisey's Story (2006) - 4,0 stars ⭐
In the 90s, King was hit by a car. The collision nearly killed him — and he returned home to find boxes crammed with his personal items that his wife packed in preparation for his death.
Lisey’s Story is startlingly similar: Lisey Landon has been in a state of denial since her husband, the famous novelist Scott Landon, died two years ago. When a mysterious stranger approaches demanding Scott’s old manuscripts and notes, Lisey is forced to sort through her husband’s papers. But that’s a task that may reveal a living nightmare, for Scott went to dark and secretive corners of the world for inspiration. Horrifically readable, Lisey’s Story is about bonds of marriage and the nature of love at its heart. It may be King’s most personal and powerful book yet — and he has gone on the record stating that it is his favorite.
37. Sleeping Beauties (2017) - 4.0 stars ⭐
Welcome to the suffocating world of Sleeping Beauties, in which a supernatural “sleeping sickness” has come to exist — for a filmy gauze wraps around all of the women in the population when they fall asleep, like a cocoon. Worse still, it’s impossible to tear them from it, as they wake up with violence in their eyes if anyone touches the gauze.
With such a high-concept premise, Sleeping Beauties is a solid offering as a standalone book. But King’s set the standard so high with past books such as Under the Dome and The Stand that Sleeping Beauties might pale in comparison.
38. Revival (2014) - 4.0 stars ⭐
What happens when a beloved minister loses his faith and renounces God? This is the hypothetical that King examines in Revival, a story about the afterlife and the price of knowledge. Chock-full of sly tributes to masters of the genre such as Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft, the first two-thirds of the book is a slow build, but it erupts in an ending that will raise the hairs on your neck (and leave you bleakly contemplating reality). Easily one of his scariest recent works, this is a triumphant return to “old-school” King.
39. Gerald's Game (1992) - 3.9 stars ⭐
Intended as a companion novel to Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game follows a basic plot: Jessie, our protagonist, is handcuffed to a bed after a sexual tryst gone wrong. Her partner is lying dead on the floor and Jessie can go nowhere — literally.
King delves expertly into the psychological effects of such a predicament, making what is essentially a one-woman book terrifying. Be aware that there are graphic descriptions of domestic battery and molestation, as King directly confronts sexual abuse and victim humiliation. Yet the characterization is strong and the story compelling. (There’s a reason that Gerald’s Game was adapted as one of Netflix's best-received films.) You may need to suspend disbelief at some parts, but the spellbinding ending of the novel makes the ride well worth it.
40. From a Buick 8 (2002) - 3.9 stars ⭐
Thought Christine was the deadliest car in the Stephen King multiverse? Think again! Meet the abandoned Buick Roadmaster of From a Buick 8. Since 1979, the car has been hidden away in Shed B, behind a barracks in rural Pennsylvania by trooper Curtis Wilcox. Curtis and his fellow troopers have been investigating the car in secret for decades. After Curtis is killed in a gruesome auto accident, his teenage son Ned begins to tend to the barracks, as a way of holding onto his father’s memory. One day, of course, he discovers Shed B. And so the investigation into the powers of the Buick Roadmaster begin again, as Ned carries on his father’s fascination with deadly objects and the hunt for impossible answers.
41. Cell (2006) - 3.9 stars ⭐
Clayton Riddell is having a good day. He’s an artist from — where else — Maine, and has just landed a dream comic book deal. On his way home from landing this big break, Clayton’s elation turns to devastation as America is thrown into utter chaos. The culprit: “The Pulse” — a phenomenon wherein people are transformed into murderous maniacs through their cell phone.
Clayton is one of the few survivors that have escaped The Pulse’s homicidal effects, and he’s heading home (to Maine) in search of refuge and answers.
42. The Colorado Kid (2005) - 3.6 stars ⭐
The scariest thing about fear is the fear itself, right? Well, the most unsettling thing about mysteries is the element of mystery itself. And the nature of mystery is exactly what this noir crime installment in the list of best Stephen King books explores.
A man has been found dead off the coast of a certain state in New England, and the only people who have any hint to the cause of death are a forensics student and a staunch local journalist. But as more clues begin to reveal themselves, the less this case seems to make sense. All signs point to something strange… and definitely sinister.
Can't get enough Stephen King? Check out this review of every short story collection he's published!
Or if you've had enough King but can't get enough of the dark or scary, here are some lists that will help you find your next read!