Nearly 50 years into his career, Stephen King has proven to be just as relevant as ever. While he wrote many of his most famous novels early in his career, he’s maintained a prolific presence for decades. The most extended gaps in his career are at most two years, and many years see multiple Stephen King novels come out.
Part of what’s sustained his success are film adaptations. It’s something King himself famously has a thorny relationship with — he’s praised some adaptation of his books, but his ire for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” adaptation is no secret.
The last few years alone have seen a slew of Stephen King adaptations. There was “The Dark Tower,” which bombed and was received poorly. 2017’s “IT” was a critical and commercial success. Still, it was followed by the disappointing sequel “IT Chapter 2“. Just this year, King himself worked on the TV adaptation of “Lisey’s Story” for Apple TV+, which received mediocre reviews. Suffice it to say, adapting a Stephen King novel is not easy. That’s why sometimes it’s best to go to the source. So we did, and now you are too. These are some of Stephen King’s all-time best novels.
The story begins with a familiar horror set up: a group of preteen friends who have to face a monster, but then, “It” adds the complexities of adulthood, framing the action as a return to the site of childhood trauma some 28-years later. Like “Stranger Things,” “It” locates the essence of horror as a function of the way we construct childhood and innocence.
2. The Stand
This eerie post-apocalyptic thriller from 1978 remains shockingly relevant today. It presents a haunting vision of a world changed utterly by the most seemingly casual of errors. “The Stand” centers on a world shaped by a pandemic that wipes out much of humanity.
The Stand Paperback
3. The Shining
“The Shining” may be one of Stephen King’s most famous novels, thanks to the classic film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. The tale of a mentally unraveling writer who takes his family to a remote chateau gives us chills to this day.
The Shining Paperback
In “11.22.63,” King takes us on a time-traveling thrill ride that stands out for the way it makes the grand shifts of its plot hinge on mundane details. Aa s dense yet fast read, it’s both an examination of American culture at the peak of its power and a meditation on hubris and loss. The title refers to the date JFK was assassinated.
5. The Green Mile
This story of a man gifted with incredible empathic and healing powers locked on death row is one of King’s most nuanced books of the supernatural. Here we see King’s mastery of the form, using science fiction elements to explore very real aspects of human society.
The Green Mile Paperback
6. Salem’s Lot
“Salem’s Lot,” Stephen King’s second novel, is a classic of small-town horror. One of the most iconic books in its genre, it practically invented the tropes of what would become the horror genre in film.
Salem's Lot Paperback
7. The Mist
“The Mist” is one of Stephen King’s most renowned masterworks of horror. Elemental and claustrophobic, “The Mist” is a portrait of fear itself.
The Mist Mass Market Paperback
8. The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set
If you’re willing to delve deep into the world of Stephen King, this box set contains the entire “Dark Tower” series as an eight-book collection. The series centers on a western-inspired gunslinger, primarily inspired by Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name.” The series infuses its western-inspired story with sci-fi and fantasy.
The Dark Tower
9. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
What could be scarier for a writer than the blank page? In On Writing, Stephen King blends experiences from his own life with practical advice for aspiring writers. It’s one of the most widely read books on writing. It’s not a novel, but it’s a worthwhile read for a Stephen King fan or just anyone interested in writing.
10. Billy Summers
It’s no secret that Stephen King is a master of horror, but it’s far from the only genre he writes in. Billy Summers is his latest work, and it’s a gripping crime novel about a hitman on one last job.
11. Different Seasons: Four Novellas
“Different Seasons” is a collection of four novellas King wrote at different points in his career. Novellas and short stories tend to get overlooked, but these are some of King’s most famous stories. Two of the stories include “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” which was adapted into “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Body,” which was adapted into “Stand By Me.”
Some monsters choose to be that way. But some monsters become that way through no fault of their own. “Cujo” is the latter. He’s a beloved family dog who gets bitten by a bat and goes on a rabies-fueled killing spree as a result. On its surface, it’s a book about a dog that kills people. But read deeper, and it’s rich with metaphor, with some reading it as an allegory for King’s own bout with alcoholism. Famously, Stephen King doesn’t remember writing “Cujo.”
13. Bag of Bones
“Bag of Bones” is a haunting thriller set in an isolated lake house. Like many of King’s most iconic novels, it uses the framing of a lonely, struggling writer as the starting point of an eerie, supernatural journey.
14. Lisey’s Story
Hailed as a breathtaking mixture of romance and horror, “Lisey’s Story” is inspired by the real-life trauma that befell King when a speeding van hit him in 1999.
Lisey's Story Paperback
“Misery,” adapted into an acclaimed film in 1990, is an excellent example of all the things Stephen King’s work is known for. In it, the recurrent themes of isolation, claustrophobia and escalating insanity appear in their most sharpened forms.
16. Pet Sematary
“Pet Sematary,” a No. 1 bestseller, shows Stephen King as a master of the unconscious. Like no other contemporary author, here King takes childhood symbols of the unknown and forges something as terrifying as the discovery of death itself.
Made into the iconic 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek, “Carrie” was the first of Stephen King’s novels to be published and adapted for the big screen. A 2013 remake stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.
18. Mr. Mercedes
“Mr. Mercedes” was initially planned to be a small short story but has since evolved into the genesis of a new trilogy. The first book in the Bill Hodges Trilogy showcases King’s versatility, deftly adding elements of Hardboiled Detective fiction and recalling the aesthetic of film noir.