It might be early, but since book cover designs are done for the year, it’s actually the perfect time to talk about the best book covers of 2020. This is a list I dig putting together annually, as it’s neat to see trends that have emerged, trends that didn’t linger long, as well as design that really makes a book sing.
As always, I asked fellow Rioters to weigh in on the decisions this year about the best book covers of 2020. You’ll find included a wide range of genres and age groups, including covers you’ll know immediately, as well as many that may be new to you.
I’ve done my best to find information about the designers and artists for each of the covers. But finding that information is not always easy, so that information may be lacking in some of the covers. I’d love to hear who to credit those designs to—were it not for the hard work of artists and designers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to highlight great covers.
Don’t lie: you judge a book by its cover. Let’s celebrate that with a look at the best book covers of 2020.
The Best Book Covers of 2020
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
This cover is so cozy and brings so much joy to my heart—which is much needed right now. It nails the book’s content perfectly: a romance that makes you feel happier and more hopeful after reading it. The vibrant colors and adorable illustrations of the main characters just drew me to it and gave me the impression that I was in for a sweet, hilarious read before I’d even read it. I had an ebook ARC but got a print version specifically for the cover.
Cover design and illustration by Elizabeth Turner Stokes.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
What a stunning cover! I mean, just look at it! But even better, I love how much of the story fits into this one image. Clap When You Land tells the story of half-sisters who didn’t know each other existed until their father died in a plane crash. The cover shows both, mirrored in each other, along with backdrops to represent their very different lives in New York City and the Dominican Republic. It’s a brilliant representation of the two characters, and so eye-catching.
Cover art by Bijou Karman and cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
How can anyone not love this cover? The all-black background and dramatically angled text hearken back to mid-century cinema posters, but the little hedgehog plushie pulls Sayaka Murata’s new cover into the 21st century. It’s good stuff.
Cover design by Luke Bird.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Tor.com’s novella line often has beautiful covers, but the cover of The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of my favorites. I want to hang it up on my wall. Book cover posters really should be a thing! The cover art represents some of the characters and themes in the novella, and it’s just so elegant and gorgeous.
Cover art by Alyssa Winans and cover design by Christine Foltzer.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
A gorgeous portrait of a beautiful brown skinned trans artist complete with a flowered crown and surgery scars peeking out of their olive green tank is the perfect complement to the coming of age story about a teen struggling with their identity. An orange background and a riot of flowers bursting out from behind bare shoulders complete the picture. I read this book on Kindle but then bought the hardcover just to have this beautiful piece of art on my desk.
—Carole V. Bell
Cover art by Alex Cabal and cover design by Chris Kwon.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
I fell in love with this cover immediately! There is a Black woman with deep brown skin, brows on fleek, a cropped fade, and gold door knocker earrings emblazoned with the word “Grown,” giving me smizing side eye, neck for days, and all of the Black Girl Magic! Just like the main character, this book cover is enchanted.
Cover art by Rachelle Baker and cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons.
Hysteria by Jessica Gross
The cover for this short novel is arresting, especially the woman’s eyes. I instantly have so many questions. What is she thinking? Why is she upside down? The whole aesthetic sets the tone for an enthralling and strange story of a woman’s self destructive journey to a psychological breakthrough (or perhaps breakdown). The decision to invert the painting by Xiao Wang was utterly perfect.
Cover art by Xiao Wang and design by Jaya Nicely.
It Is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham
I love every single thing about this cover. The weird, artsy vibe; the entwining vines, the women on the front who simultaneously seem like people I want to be friends with and also am a little bit scared of. The simple typography of the cover perfectly complements the intricate details in the art.
Cover design by Caroline Cunningham.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
The illustrated cover for the best-selling YA fantasy Legendborn is the literal embodiment of Black Girl Magic. That’s fitting since the story centers a 16-year-old African American girl exploring her own supernatural powers and uncovering the truth about her family’s past. The image created by artist Hillary D. Wilson communicates the essence of who Bree is in spectacular fashion. The fiercely determined girl in the center staring straight at you commands the viewer’s attention. Though she appears calm, there’s also something filmy and ethereal there, an energy swirling around her. This creates a sense of mystery—there’s clearly something brewing. The cover is also just beautiful on a purely aesthetic level. The colors she uses are rich—the deepest blues, brilliant reds, and Bree’s own brown skin, which absolutely glows. It’s all gorgeous.
—Carole V. Bell
Cover design by Laura Eckes and cover art by Hillary Wilson.
Lobizona by Romina Garber
Lobizona’s cover evokes power. In this tale, Manuela (Manu) searches to find her true origins. The artwork draws attention to Manu’s most authentic trait: her eyes. The wildflowers that surround Manu also plays a significant role in her story. Wrapping up this stunning cover is the title’s orange and yellow coordination, splitting the Z into dual 7s. Everything about this book cover speaks to Manu’s powerful journey!
—Cathleen Perez Brenycz
Cover design by Kerri Resnick and cover art by Daria Hlazatova.
Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron
This cover is simply stunning—I love how it looks like watercolors with sunset oranges—yet the mirrored city underneath our bold heroine is the real clincher. As a middle grade cover, it’s perfect for bringing readers into a gorgeous new world.
Cover design by Sharismar Rodriguez and cover art by Geneva Bowers.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This gorgeous cover literally is the perfect face to this Gothic horror tale. Even before I started reading the book the cover gave my mind plenty to imagine—the dress is stunning and clearly must have been worn for festivities, but she doesn’t look like things are right…
Cover design and illustration by Faceout Studios/Tim Green.
Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest
I’ve never thought of a New York City subway as cheerful. But the bright orange cover, featuring Evie and Milo (exactly as they are described in the book) is definitely a happy cover. From the soft background and characters’ body language to the white doodles on the cover flaps, the illustration perfectly portrays the light-hearted vibe of this YA romcom.
Cover and jacket design by Cassie Gonzales (including white doodles) and cover art by Kat Goodloe.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
I love all the iconography on this cover that offer hints of what’s inside. The book takes place during the late 19th century women’s suffrage movement, signified by the roses on the cover, as the final battle for women’s right to vote in Tennessee became known as the war of the roses. The scissors, needle, black bird, snake, greenery, and roots also hint at the mix of feminism and folklore in the novel. It’s a truly beautiful book and cover.
Cover design by by Lisa Marie Pompilio.
Officer Clemmons: A Memoir by François S. Clemmons
This cover shows Fred Rogers and Clemmons in his police officer costume on the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood set. Seeing this made me realize something silly: for years I thought that Clemmons really was an officer who just happened to visit Mister Rogers’s television show all the time. That’s kid logic for you. After reading Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor on audio, I was very pleased to see that Clemmons’s memoir was being published this year. Clemmons also reads the audio version of his memoir and that is one more good thing in 2020, a year that could clearly use more good.
Cover design by Nicole Caputo.
The Operator by Gretchen Berg
The cover is what drew me to reading this book description initially, and there’s good reason: it’s a book about a nosy midwestern switchboard operator in the 1950s who discovers a secret about her own family. This is a book about “nice” small towns in a fictionalized midwestern past with a nice mystery to it. I love the phone dial set against the soft and homely pattern that alludes to the time and setting of the book.
Cover design by Ploy Siripant.
A Phoenix First Must Burn Edited by Patrice Caldwell
An anthology on Black girl magic with a beautiful illustration of a Black feminine figure on the cover that gives off all the magic vibes! I love how vibrant the colors of this cover are and the expression on the face of the girl and her body language show the strength, beauty, and bravery of the stories within. Above all, this cover gives off one primary emotion: Hope. Designer Samira Iravani and artist Ashe Samuels created pure magic!
Cover design by Samira Iravani and cover art by Ashe Samuels.
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Do I really need to say anything about this cover? Truly, it is a work of art that speaks for itself. That ‘90s airbrush T-shirt that you bought at the mall vibe? Incredible. And if you’re looking at this cover and thinking, “Huh, that’s a weird cover design,” just wait until you read it. The weirdness is only just beginning.
Cover design by by Emily Mahon and cover art by Tallboy/Night Watch Studios.
Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch
Cute dog and a bold font…What more could you want in a cover? Answer: Cute dog in a sweater and a bold font. The combination of photo, font, and colors used in this cover are honestly something I wouldn’t mind hanging on my wall.
Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran
Tran’s baby face is adorably goofy, above his enormous collared shirt and orange sweater. Underneath, the cover promises great books and punk. It has that and much, much more. Tran’s memoir is about assimilating into American life, standing out (in both good and bad ways), and of course how books changed his life.
Cover design by Henry Sene Yee.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Along with being one of my favorite romances of the year, Spoiler Alert has my favorite cover. This fandom-inspired contemporary romance features Marcus, the actor who portrays a character on the biggest high-budget fantasy drama on television (inspired by the Aeneid!). On the cover he’s kissing April, a fat woman who writes fan fiction about the show. The background, a view from the top of one of San Francisco’s impossibly steep streets, gives that dizzying sense of falling in love. Leni Kauffman brought the already joyous book to life with her stunning illustration.
Cover art by Leni Kauffman.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Something about this cover hearkens back to the days of puffy paint EVERYTHING. There’s an aching nostalgia here that mirrors the story beneath that bright blend of color and glitz—the story of Glennon Doyle’s divorce and the making of a new family. All in all, I want to drown in it.
Cover design by Lynn Buckley.
We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu
This is a book about a mysterious lake and drowning on dry land, and the cover is so perfectly eerie and intriguing. The image is so crisp that I can feel this cover in my throat. Juxtaposing the orange flowers against the dark green/almost black waters really sings.
Cover art by Sasha Vinogradova.
White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton
This year I’ve been drawn to covers that embrace the wild and wonderful, and this cover is one of the best examples of that. It is unapologetically chaotic, with bold beautiful colors and bits of the story woven into every element.
Cover design by Sean Thomas.
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
This book cover was what drew me in first to this nonfiction book. Nezhukumatathil is a poet who spent her childhood moving often, but she found lessons in the wild, strange, beautiful creatures in nature, from the axolotl to the narwhal. The illustrated cover is fun, vivid, and colorful, and I fell in love with it immediately.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker and cover art by Fumi Mini Nakamura.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
I want to befriend the beautiful woman on the cover and also run and hide! The black and white photography is so eerie while also beautiful and the gold accent is just *chef’s kiss. Everything about this cover makes me feel opposite emotions, which I feel plays in perfectly with horror. Make it poster size!
Cover art by Larry Rostant and cover design by Katie Anderson.
Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling
For any number of reasons, gothic stories have felt right to me this year. And this cover nails the aesthetic, with an illustration both morbid and defiant. Evelyn Perdanu, the main character of Yellow Jessamine, may look the part of grieving survivor, but she’s as potentially poisonous as the flowers she clutches.
Cover by Robin Ha.
So many incredible books were eligible for the best book covers of 2020, so consider this but the tip of the iceberg.