If there is one horror author that stands above the rest when it comes to success and popularity, it is Stephen King — the Master of Horror.
King got his start writing short stories for magazines and tried to make a living through those and a teacher’s salary until he finally sold his first novel, Carrie, and it was an instant hit when released in 1974.
Since that time, King has published 61 novels, countless short stories, several novellas, and watched many of his books turned into movies and TV shows.
It is clear why he is The Master of Horror, as his books have sold upward of 350 million copies.
With such an extensive library of books, here are 15 of his best novels for fans wanting to start reading Stephen King for the first time, ranked.
15. End of Watch
Fans have had a chance to catch up with some of the Bill Hodges’ stories in the series Mr. Mercedes on the now-dead AT&T Audience network.
The books in the series included Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. The book listed here is the third book in the series, which is the best.
However, don’t just read this one. You need to read all three books to make sense of it, but they are worth your time.
Bill Hodges is a former cop who had a case he never cracked concerning a man who murdered several people by running them down in a Mercedes. The first book sees the killer return to torment Hodges years after the officer’s retirement.
End of Watch brings in some of King’s supernatural storytelling, while the first book was more of a detective novel.
14. Night Shift
Stephen King got his start writing short stories, and the best selection of his stories is in the book Night Shift.
This is his first short story collection, published in 1978, and featuring some very famous stories thanks to the movies that came later.
These stories include The Mangler (the movie starred Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund), Trucks (which became the movie Maximum Overdrive), Sometimes They Come Back, The Lawnmower Man (which is miles better than the movie adaptation), and Children of the Corn.
This book also contains several stories that were made into Dollar Baby Films, including the first two major adaptations for the program, The Boogeyman and The Woman in the Room. Frank Darabont directed the latter film before he went on to make the big-screen movie The Shawshank Redemption.
13. The Talisman
In 1984, Stephen King teamed up with another horror/fantasy author in Peter Straub to write the novel The Talisman.
The story is about a boy named Jack Sawyer, who wants to save his mother, who is dying from cancer. He learns he can do this if he finds a crystal known as the Talisman.
This leads him to an alternate Earth, known as the Territories, where everyone has a “twinner,” or another version of themself. For fans of the Dark Tower, this ties in as he meets the twinner of a Gunslinger. There are also werewolves in the Territories.
There was a sequel published 17 years later by King and Straub called Black House. King also said they have plans for a third novel in the series.
12. Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King’s most disturbing, bleak, and nihilistic works of fiction.
Anyone who has seen the movies knows how this story goes, as a family moves to a remote house only to see their young son, Gage, walk into the street and end up struck dead by a passing semi-truck.
However, Louis Creed learns of a pet cemetery in the woods that brings creatures back to life and, in his time of grief, buries his son in the cemetery. However, when Gage comes back, he is different, and Louis realizes he made a dire mistake.
11. Different Seasons
While Stephen King has several collections of his short fiction, Different Seasons is a different beast.
This is not a collection of short stories, but four novellas, each based on one of the four seasons. Three of these stories became movies, including one that might be the best King adaptation of all-time.
The first novella is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. This tells the story of a man found guilty of killing his wife and her lover when he catches them cheating. Although innocent, he is sentenced to the Shawshank Redemption prison.
The second is Apt Pupil, which tells the story of a boy who learns that an elderly man in his neighborhood is a Nazi war criminal in hiding. Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro star in the movie based on the story.
The third story is The Body, which was turned into the brilliant coming-of-age movie Stand by Me.
The book wraps up with the horror tale, The Breathing Method.
10. The Green Mile
The Green Mile was Stephen King’s most interesting release when it came out as a story.
Instead of releasing it as a novel, King had the idea to release it like the old days when serial novels hit stores at a low price, each ending with a cliffhanger, leading to the next book in the series.
There were six of the serial books released, one month apart from each other, leaving fans waiting for the next installment. It is now available as one book.
The story is of a man found guilty of a murder he never committed and sentenced to death, where he changes the prison guards’ lives as he awaits his fate in the Green Mile on death row.
In 2011, Stephen King released the novel 11/22/63, which was unlike anything he had written before.
This was a time-travel novel that featured a man named Jake Epping, a divorced high school teacher, who learns that a local restaurant owner has a door that takes a person back in time to September 9, 1958.
The man has been trying for years to prevent the assassination of John Kennedy. He passes the task on to Jake, as he is dying of cancer and has aged every time he spends time in the past.
Jake starts to make the trips back and has to decide if he wants to risk stopping the assassination and changing history as we know it.
8. ‘Salem’s Lot
‘Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second novel, published in 1975.
This is a vampire story that follows Ben Mears, an author who arrives in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, to write his next book. However, he slowly learns something is going wrong in the town when a new man arrives named Richard Striker, and his employer, the never seen Kurt Barlow.
Of course, Barlow is a vampire, and soon he starts to infect the town and Mears has to figure out how to save those he has grown close to before it is too late.
7. The Dead Zone
Stephen King released The Dead Zone in 1979, his seventh novel.
The book follows Johnny Smith, a young man who has the power to touch someone and see something from the past or future following an accident where he suffered brain damage.
The book then shows him helping a local sheriff catch a serial killer using his gift. The problems arise when he touches a local politician and learns that he will one day become President of the United States and lead the world to a nuclear apocalypse.
The book was adapted into a movie by David Cronenberg and later into a successful television show.
Stephen King’s first novel made him an instant success.
However, it almost didn’t happen. King threw his manuscript in the trash can when he thought it was no good, and his wife pulled it out, read it, and made him push on.
That book was Carrie.
Carrie tells the story of a teenage girl named Carrie White, who lives with her religious fanatic mother and is an outcast at school due to her mom’s crazed teachings.
However, Carrie develops telekinesis, and as her abuse worsens, she decides one day to lash out at the world to a tragic conclusion.
In 1987, Stephen King published the horror novel Misery, partially in response to the crazed fan reactions to his stories and demands on his writing.
The book has a successful author named Paul Sheldon on a road trip when he is involved in a car accident.
When he comes to, he is in the house of a nurse named Anne Wilkes, who is nursing him back to health. However, she is also a crazed fan and has no intention of letting him leave until he writes the next book in his series the way that she wants.
The lengths she goes to in order to get this novel written is horrifying.
4. The Gunslinger
The Gunslinger might not be the best of the Dark Tower series, but it is where fans have to start at if they want to follow Roland’s journey in search of the Dark Tower itself.
Roland is the last of the Gunslingers, searching for the Man in Black while on a quest for the Dark Tower. This takes place in a parallel universe to the real world – an Old West-style land where the world never moved on to the technologically advanced Earth we all know.
As the story moves on through the books, he finds companions that journey with him, as the stories tie in with many of King’s other novels, bringing everything together in one giant world until the final book in the series, simply titled The Dark Tower.
3. The Shining
Stephen King wrote The Shining in 1977, the third novel of his career.
This book, unlike Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation, was a haunted house story. Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, took his family to the Overlook Hotel to work as the caretaker over the long winter months, where it was closed down.
However, the longer the family is there, the more the Overlook gets its hooks into Jack, eventually taking over the man and turning him against his family.
There was also a sequel by King, written decades later called Doctor Sleep, based on Jack’s now-grown son Danny.
In 1986, Stephen King wrote one of his most beloved novels, It.
The book took place in two time periods — the first in 1957-58, where a group of high school friends faced a terrifying serial killer — dealing with a clown named Pennywise who killed the children of the town of Derry.
The second time was 1984-85, where the kids were not adults and know that Pennywise is not a clown, but a demon that returns every 27 years to kill children in Derry. They all return to end the demon’s existence once and for all.
A movie was made for TV in 1990 with Tim Curry as Pennywise. In 2017 and 2019, a two-part It movie series was released, this time in theaters.
1. The Stand
The best Stephen King novel of all-time is scarier today than it was when it was first released in 1978.
The Stand was King’s fourth novel and told the story of a world that was destroyed by a flu-like disease that killed almost every human on the planet when the government failed to get control of the disease early.
This led to two groups forming in the United States — a group of survivors searching for Mother Abigail in Nebraska, a force representing good, and a group of survivors moving on to Las Vegas — and the cult-like figure of Randall Flagg, offering debauchery and evil.
The Stand ends up as good vs. evil as the two groups go to war for the survival of the planet.