Two full decades past the new millennium, time has gotten…well, wonky. Maybe it’s the pandemic stress causing us to lose track of time, but a lot of Millennials and Gen Xers are coming to terms with the fact that major events like 9/11 and the Y2K scare happened more than 20 years ago. If the 2010s have become a blur, allow me to refresh your memory of the best horror books of the decade.
Popular though it may be, horror isn’t a huge genre. Fans who go looking for reading recommendations may find themselves inundated with calls to read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, or Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer. Don’t get me wrong; those books are fantastic. But if we spend too much time focusing on horror books from 20 years ago or more, we miss out on all the great works that have come out since.
So let’s take a look at the best horror novels of the last decade. They’re bestsellers and fan favorites, trendsetters and movie-makers. I’ve divided the titles into five basic categories — yes, there is some overlap — for your next-read-searching needs.
As an added bonus, you can turn this list into a spooky reading challenge for Halloween. Pick one book from each list, finish them during the month of October — or whenever, really, I’m not the boss of you — and rest easy knowing you’ve knocked five books off your TBR.
Set in New York City during the Roaring Twenties, Libba Bray’s The Diviners centers on Evie, a small town girl who wants nothing more than to keep her psychic powers out of the Big Apple’s bright limelight. But when another girl is murdered, and Evie’s custodial uncle is called to the scene, Bray’s protagonist realizes that she may have what it takes to catch the seemingly supernatural serial killer…as long as he doesn’t catch her first.
If you love onryō movies like The Grudge and The Ring, you’re going to love Rin Chupeco’s spinny take on the Japanese ghost genre. In The Girl from the Well, Okiku, the vengeful spirit of a girl murdered 300 years ago, frees the spirits of her fellow child murder victims by serving their killers up a taste of supernatural justice. However, her mission in the afterlife changes when she meets Tark, a young boy whose full-body tattoo hides a dark — and deadly — secret.
In the mid-1970s, everyone’s favorite acid-folk band, Windhollow Faire, rented out an English country estate to record their next album…a choice for which they would pay dearly. Now, decades later, the band is returning to Wylding Hall, supported by their friends and families, to answer their past’s most pressing question: What really happened to lead singer Julian Blake, who vanished without a trace in the bowels of the old manor?
With popular releases like My Best Friend’s Exorcism, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, and The Final Girl Support Group, Grady Hendrix has made a name for himself as a king of contemporary horror. But it’s his debut novel about a haunted IKEA store that deserves readers’ attention, not only because it’s a fabulous tale of creepy consumerism, but also because it kicked off a bevy of weird IKEA fiction, giving rise to books like Nino Cipri’s Finna and Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman’s The Very Nice Box.
In The Grip of It, author Jac Jemc hearkens back to classic haunted house stories. In this slim horror novel, Julie and James move to the country to get a new lease on life after betrayal cracks the foundation of their marriage. The young couple soon find themselves caught up in the machinations of an ever-shifting floor plan, haunted by moving — breathing? — stains on the walls…stains that soon begin to appear as bruises on Julie’s flesh.
Writing here as T. Kingfisher, Ursula Vernon takes readers into a horrific portal fantasy with The Hollow Places. Recently divorced, Kara moves back home to Hog Chapel, North Carolina and takes a job working at her uncle’s roadside museum: Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy. Left alone inside the cluttered gallery when her uncle is waylaid by surgery, Kara pokes around and discovers a tunnel that connects the shop to a series of parallel universes, which soon begin to take their toll on the hapless explorer.
Respected historian Edmund Stearn, the owner of the Wake’s End estate in Wakenhyrst, was committed to an asylum after one of his servants was murdered. His daughter, Maud, was the only witness to the crime. Now, more than 50 years after her father’s trial, Maud travels down memory lane when two people — a newspaper journalist and a scholar — come to her with questions about what happened in her childhood home on the edge of the fens, all those long years before.
Newlywed and newly widowed, pregnant Elsie travels to her late husband’s ancestral home for his funeral. Accompanied only by her husband’s young cousin, Sarah, she soon discovers that no one in the village wants anything to do with the new mistress of The Bridge. Elsie begins to doubt her own commitment to the estate when she encounters the titular wooden cutouts — painted to look lifelike. Painted to look like her. Rumors of curses and dark magic abound, and the old house’s grim history is about to come rattling into the present.
Murder and mayhem haunts Idlewild Hall, rumored to be the stomping ground for one mournful, vengeful ghost. In 1950, a student disappeared forever from the school for incorrigible girls. More than 30 years later, another was found dead on school grounds, seemingly murdered by her boyfriend. Now, it’s 2014, and one woman with family ties to Idlewild’s tragedies is about to go inside its hallowed halls to find out what really happened to her sister.
Paul Tremblay’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle–inspired breakout novel is a no-brainer here. A picture perfect New England family of four is torn apart when firstborn daughter Marjorie begins acting erratically. Is the 14-year-old showing the first symptoms of mental illness, or is something far more evil afoot? Fifteen years after her family appeared on a controversial reality TV series, Marjorie’s kid sister, 23-year-old Merry, opens up for the first time about what went on behind the scenes.
Adapted into the Netflix Original Series of the same name, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is one of the best horror comics in recent memory. At age 16, Sabrina Spellman must make a life-altering decision: embrace her heritage and become a full witch, or remain mortal — like her mother — and live out a normal, magic-free life with boyfriend Harvey. She’s going to have a hard time keeping a level head as she chooses her path, however, because her father’s ex-girlfriend just showed up in town, and she’s about to raise a little hell.
Judith wasn’t always a nun. Once upon a time, she had a family and a life outside the convent walls. That all ended one awful night, when a gang of men with shining eyes killed her husband and son. They left Judith for dead. They shouldn’t have. Now, she’s one of the Bereaved — hunted turned hunters — determined to make sure that no one else ever loses their life to the muscle car–driving vampires of the Suicide Motor Club.
Eleven months after her husband disappeared, Joan stumbles upon his double preaching to the Métis in a revival tent outside an Ontario Walmart. Except this man isn’t Victor. According to him, he’s Reverend Eugene Wolff, and he has no idea who Joan is. Hurt, angry, and scared, she turns to a couple of unlikely allies — her 12-year-old nephew and a tribal elder — to aid in her quest to force the preacher to remember his life as Victor. But all the evidence suggests Joan’s husband may be under the influence of a bogeyman pulled directly from local legend: the Rogarou.
It wasn’t supposed to be a fact-finding mission. The Atargatis‘s mission was to record self-proclaimed eyewitnesses’ testimony on the existence of mermaids, get a few blurry shots for the B-roll, and call it a day. But none of the 200 people aboard the ship ever returned to shore. All that’s left now is the Atargatis itself, the raw footage left onboard, and whatever saltwater secrets lie deep down in the briny depths of the Mariana Trench.
Alexis Henderson’s lauded debut introduces readers to Bethel: a wooded nation overseen by a fearsome Prophet with a bigoted gospel. To the minds of all who know her, Immanuelle’s mixed-race heritage makes her the embodiment of sin — a constant reminder of how far her late mother’s family has fallen. It doesn’t help that her mother called her a “curse” on her deathbed. Immanuelle has spent her entire life trying to prove everyone wrong, but when she encounters the witchy spirits of some of Bethel’s most infamous dead, and discovers her mother’s connection to them, her life changes overnight.
To rebel against their town’s strict rules and heavy surveillance, a group of teens start a viral campaign to spread the word of the Black Rock Witch: the vengeful spirit who haunts their tiny New York town. Everyone in Black Spring knows she’s real, but with their long and carefully guarded protection threatened by the local kids, the town begins to regress, until it becomes likely that someone else will share the Black Rock Witch’s fate.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw and The Only Good Indians may be all anyone can talk about these days, but back in 2016, Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels was the toast of the horror-comedy town. The story here centers on a young boy coming of age in the midst of uncertainty. Will he be a nomadic outcast, like the aunt and uncle who raised him? Or will he be forced to move into proper society, unable to remain with the only family he’s ever known?
The Donner Party will never not be fascinating, and Alma Katsu’s The Hunger somehow makes the man-eating story all the more enticing. The few dozen men, women, and children heading west to California know their wagon train is in trouble. But is that the fault of Tamsen, the party leader’s Renaissance woman of a wife? Or is something far more deadly than an educated woman lurking in the hills of the Sierra Nevada, waiting for the right moment to attack?
Before today, no one would have suspected that Terry Maitland could kill anyone, let alone a child. When eyewitnesses put the beloved Little League coach at the scene of a young boy’s brutal murder, he maintains his innocence, only to learn that even his airtight alibi and a DNA sample can’t exonerate him. But something much worse than a mundane child killer is stalking the streets of Flint City, Oklahoma, and it’s up to a trio of skeptics to figure out who — or what — killed Frankie Peterson, before it strikes again.
Is there anything Silvia Moreno-Garcia can’t do? Long before she wrote Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night, Moreno-Garcia penned this gritty novel about vampiric drug cartels. In Certain Dark Things, a 17-year-old street urchin named Domingo is pulled into the city’s bloody, political underbelly when he meets Atl, a 23-year-old vampire running from the rival narco gang that killed her family, and agrees to be her food source, for a price.
As his 60th wedding anniversary approaches, Don Miller has begun the long walk toward senility. At least, that’s what his friends and family seem to think, whenever Don’s memory fails him. But Don’s been forgetting things for pretty much his entire marriage — things about his wife, about their two children, about himself. Now, one man’s hole-y memories are about to take center stage. Don’s wife has just gone missing, and trying to cobble together what he remembers of her will lead him down a dark path of fairytales…and nightmares.
For fans of horror master Jordan Peele, there’s P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout. Set in the midst of the Jim Crow South, this 2020 novella recasts D.W. Griffith as a powerful magician whose hit film, The Birth of a Nation, was a spell that entranced America. Now, the cultists who make up the Ku Klux Klan are preparing to summon foul demons to return life in the United States to the antebellum status quo, and it’s up to three women — swordswoman and medium Maryse, sniper Sadie, and Black Rattler Cordelia — to stop them before the country is overrun by hell itself.
The year is 1980, and the Jonestown Massacre still looms large in the public’s mind. When mercenary Micah Shughrue’s daughter is kidnapped, all evidence suggests that he may find her in Little Heaven: an isolated commune in the New Mexico backcountry, and the last place Micah ever wanted to see again. Fifteen years ago, he and two other hired guns trekked out to Little Heaven to rescue a client’s nephew. Now, he’ll need his old comrades’ help if he wants to get his daughter back, but can they stand to face the evil that lives there once more?
The first of Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain novellas, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion follows nomadic punk rocker Danielle on a grief-stricken journey to Freedom, Iowa, where she hopes to get some much-needed peace regarding her BFF’s recent suicide. Once she arrives in Freedom, however, Danielle discovers that the three-antlered deer spirit summoned to watch over the town has gone rogue. The woman who has spent her life on the road must make a hasty exit, but how many of Freedom’s citizens can she manage to save?
Nobody wants to be the only girl not dancing…except, maybe, this time. One Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood is rocked in the summer of 1980, when the teen girls of Denton Street begin to corrode before the watchful eyes of their friends and neighbors. Soon, people are traveling from miles around to come see the rail-thin girls making their way up and down the sidewalk with their jagged fingernails and fleshless bones. To Phoebe, the secret behind the girls’ changing bodies is a mystery…but it won’t remain so for long.
There are plenty of fish stories out there, but few are as bone chilling as John Langan’s The Fisherman. This 2016 novel follows a pair of widowed co-workers who take the Catskills fishing trip of a lifetime. Before they cast their lines in the — thankfully fictional — Dutchman’s Creek, however, a local attempts to dissuade them with the tale of Der Fischer, the eponymous eldritch creature. If you’re looking for a horror novel that has wrapped long tentacles around H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy, while managing to explore the — grieving — human condition, you can’t go wrong here.
Speaking of Lovecraft’s legacy, let’s talk about The Ballad of Black Tom. This slim volume is one link in a long chain of neo-Lovecraftian stories that center on people the bigoted Cthulhu creator would have hated. A retelling of “The Horror at Red Hook” — and one that leans further into the Cthulhu mythos than the original story — The Ballad of Black Tom sets its focus on a street musician who accepts a courier gig to deliver an ancient grimoire to a Queens cultist.
Throw a rock in a bookstore, and you’re sure to hit a story about a group of old friends who reunited for one last trip, only to have it go horribly wrong. It’s the horror/thriller setup that keeps on giving, and it works spectacularly here. Four men head to the Arctic Circle for a hiking trip that will, they hope, rekindle their old kinship. One series of unfortunate events later, however, the men find themselves in a gripping fight for their lives. They’ve stumbled into a corner of the world in which the old gods are still worshipped…and some altars are in need of a sacrifice.
One of the most criminally underrated horror novels of the last decade, Amatka takes The Stuff and sets it in a quasi-Soviet otherworld. A citydweller working on marketing for her nation’s outlying communities, Vanja travels to the cold and desolate title settlement to study the citizens’ wants, needs, and tastes. She’s used to telling things what they are, because that’s how things work in her world. Sometimes you have to remind a chair that it’s a chair. But forgetfulness is next to deadliness in Amatka, and Vanja’s about to find out exactly what all her subservient belongings are made of.
We can’t talk about weird fiction without talking about Jeff VanderMeer. The first book in his Southern Reach trilogy follows four women on an expedition into the mysterious Area X. Eleven other groups have tried and failed to make any headway in this strange, altered landscape. In fact, the 11th crew died horrible deaths upon their return. All the women of the 12th expedition have to do is record what they can and make it out alive. It would be easy, if only their secrets didn’t creep out when they least expected them.
A horror novel unlike most of the entries on this list, Ania Ahlborn’s Brother centers on the only non-homicidal member of a murderous family. The Morrows live in an isolated corner of Appalachia. It’s the kind of place where people vanish and never turn up, mostly because no one’s ever dug up this family’s property. But one of the Morrow clan, 19-year-old Michael, doesn’t want to be a killer. He doesn’t want to hail from a family of killers, either. It’s really too bad that you can’t pick your birth family.
If you’ve watched the 2020 Netflix adaptation of this one, you know just what a wild trip it is. I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young couple — the unnamed narrator and her boyfriend, Jake — as they travel to visit his parents. It’s early in their relationship, but Jake’s girlfriend is already “thinking of ending things,” an issue that plagues her more and more as tensions mount throughout the trip. There’s not much more that can be said without spoiling this one, but trust me: you won’t walk away disappointed.
From Argentinian author Agustina Bazterrica comes Tender Is the Flesh: a near-future horror novel in which humanity has had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Although the novel’s post-pandemic atmosphere may hit a little too close to home in the 2020s, the story of a man torn between two halves of humanity — those who eat and those who are eaten — is unputdownable in the most devilishly delicious ways.
After her grandmother’s death reveals the whole of her family’s misfortune, a young Black woman named Lena takes a highly secretive job in the titular Michigan town in Megan Giddings critically acclaimed novel of suspense. She’s a human guinea pig, a highly paid medical test subject, and she cannot tell anyone what goes on in her new town. It’s important work, and even morally good work, but Lena soon finds that not all that glitters in Lakewood is gold.
The basis for the hit Lifetime/Netflix series, Caroline Kepnes’s You is a delightfully creepy tale of obsession, stalking, and murder. After an attractive young woman with a unique name visits the bookstore where he works, Joe Goldberg takes a deep dive into her online persona. He finagles his way into becoming her boyfriend, without her suspecting a thing. But something is deeply wrong with Joe, and the more he tries to control his new love interest, the further she slips away. Soon, she’ll be gone for good, and Joe can’t stand to let that happen.
Another Netflix inspiration, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box plays heavily on the horror of the unseen. Literally. Something has appeared all over Earth, and anyone who sees it becomes violent and suicidal. Whatever it is, it’ll try its damnedest to get you to look at it. Rumors abound of a place where no one needs to fear seeing anymore, and one woman is determined to make it there, come hell or high water, with her two small children in tow.
If you like your horror wrapped up in webs of intrigue, you’re going to love Night Film. Marisha Pessl’s 2013 novel follows Scott, a journalist, as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind a young woman’s untimely demise. Ashley’s death has been ruled a suicide, but Scott fears that someone may have gotten away with murder. It’s not his first rodeo with Ashley’s family; he once tried to research her missing father, filmmaker Stanislaus, with disastrous results. Will this time be different, or is Scott doomed to repeat history for what may be the last time?
Hye-young Pyun’s City of Ash and Red follows a nameless exterminator as he travels to a rat-riddled foreign country, known only as C. Arrested and quarantined upon arrival, Pyun’s protagonist soon receives devastating news: his ex-wife has been murdered, and authorities believe he’s the perpetrator. On the lam in C, the exterminator tries to solve the murder mystery himself, only to find that he may not like — or even believe — the truth.
Two motherless women become each other’s anchors in Caitlin Starling’s lauded debut. Em will pay well for an experienced caver to make a life-threatening series of climbs and dives, and Gyre’s in need of money. So much in need, in fact, that she’s lied about her skills to get this job. Now, she’s trapped deep beneath the surface of a strange planet, with only a video feed from Em to keep her company. When bodies begin to turn up, however, Gyre quickly realizes that her lifeline and boss may not be telling the whole truth about her caving mission.
Danish author Søren Sveistrup wowed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with this one. Someone is murdering Danish women accused of abusing their children, leaving behind handmade dolls crafted from matchsticks and chestnuts at every scene. When police discover an unexpected connection between the Copenhagen killings and the murder of a politician’s daughter, two rival investigators must work together to track down the psychopath responsible for the grisly scenes before he strikes again.
Leonora Carrington is best known for her surreal art and fiction, but the English Mexican creator had one of the broadest ranges of any 20th century writer. Check out all her short fiction, from the creepy to the bizarre, in The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington.
If you generally prefer horror movies to horror novels, allow me to introduce you to Emily Carroll. In Through the Woods, writer and illustrator Carroll spins a number of malicious and macabre tales, including one that will force you to rethink your opinion of teeth.
Drug cartels, dictators, and the disappeared take center stage in Mariana Enríquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire. These grim — and sometimes gothic — stories are so brutal and raw that you won’t be able to pull yourself away from them. The Book Riot Community on Goodreads compared Enríquez’s storytelling with that of Shirley Jackson and Kelly Link. If that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.
Brian Evenson, who also writes as B.K. Evenson, has a way of crafting chills and thrills you don’t dare look away from. That’s hardly more evident that in his circuitous 2016 collection, A Collapse of Horses. You may close the cover of this one with more questions than answers, but that’s okay. Just take some time to revel in the haunting confusion.
Another book with pandemic nods, Emma J. Gibbon’s Dark Blood Comes from the Feet is an underrated gem of a short-fiction collection. Published in 2020 to little fanfare outside the horror world, these stories from veteran author Gibbon are the kind that linger like the forbidden tingle of a battery on your tongue.
OK, so most of the stories in Falling in Love with Hominids don’t technically count as horror. There, I said it. But the first story here alone — “The Easthound” — would earn Nalo Hopkinson a place here. It’s the tale of a group of teenagers who live their lives in the constant, unfortunately founded fear of turning into man-eating monsters, and it’s too damn good to leave off this list.
From the author of Texts from Jane Eyre and Something That Will Shock and Discredit You comes this collection of fairytales — some retold, some original — that perfectly balance the laughter, violence, and chills. Tackling everything from The Velveteen Rabbit to “The Six Swans,” Daniel M. Lavery’s got a masterful collection of unsettlingly funny short stories for you here.
A finalist for the National Book Award, Her Body and Other Parties brings Angela Carter’s legacy into the new millennium. In “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado retells the story of “The Girl with the Green Ribbon,” and in “Especially Heinous,” she puts Law & Order: SVU‘s Benson and Stabler through hell and back. Pitch-perfect in every possible way.
That’s it for the best horror books of the decade! Looking for more horror book recommendations? Check out these horror novels featuring cults. And, if you’re planning a movie marathon this Halloween, be sure to add these horror adaptations to your list!