In many ways, scary short stories are superior to full-length novels. Not only do authors have less time to ratchet up the terror, but there are also fewer opportunities for scares. A novel might have any number of scares, but short horror stories must limit themselves to a handful of really good frights — giving readers more bang for their terrified buck. With that in mind, I’ve picked out 25 must-read horror collections and anthologies that will have you sleeping with the lights on for weeks.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pandemic has destroyed our attention spans. We may not see peer-reviewed research confirming those suspicions for many years, but if the thought of watching the next three-hour-long Marvel movie is overwhelming, it’s safe to say you’re not alone.
And don’t worry. It’s not all bad news for brain-addled book lovers. Short-story collections and anthologies are perfect for readers who don’t feel like they can commit to finishing a full-length novel, and recent years have seen some truly great bundles of short fiction landing in stores. Call it a silver lining.
You’ll find something to love below, no matter what kind of horror you’re in the mood for. From classic horror collections to illustrated stories and horror manga, this list has what your Halloween TBR needs.
25 Must-Read Horror Collections and Anthologies
How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
In 2001, Linda Addison became the first African American to win the Bram Stoker Award with Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes, a collection of horror poetry. Addison has since won the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and published four more Stoker winners, including this 2011 collection. Focusing on “demons in the most unlikely people…and places,” How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend is perfect for horror readers looking for short, snappy scares.
The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron
Perhaps best known for his 2012 novel, The Croning, Laird Barron is one of the most famous authors working in Lovecraftian horror today. The title story of his 2007 collection, The Imago Sequence, takes on “Pickman’s Model” — a 1927 Lovecraft story about an artist whose fearsome paintings may not be the product of his own imagination — and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.
Diet Riot: A Fatterpunk Anthology edited by Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor
Literature has a problem with fat people, from Jane Austen’s digs at the Musgroves in Persuasion to the pervasive fatphobia layered into all of J.K. Rowling’s bestsellers. Horror is no different; as Meg Elison points out in a 2021 Fantasy Magazine essay: “Stephen King hates fat people.” Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor’s 2022 anthology of fat-positive horror tales flips the script on the problems fat characters often face in fiction, making them the heroes.
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer
This World Fantasy Award-winning anthology contains 40 beloved fairy tales, twisted and retold by such celebrated writers as Francesca Lia Block, Brian Evenson, Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Hiromi Ito, Ilya Kaminsky, Kelly Link, and Gregory Maguire.
Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke
Sometimes bleak, sometimes gruesome, sometimes shocking, the 11 stories in Chesya Burke’s 2011 collection revolve around knowledge — specifically, how well we know ourselves and others. The stories here move between the past and present, and focus largely on Black characters, from an entrepreneurial woman living in Depression-era Harlem to a holdout determined to resist the zombie apocalypse that has taken over the rest of town. This is creeping, unsettling-to-the-bone horror at its finest.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
The fairy tale-esque stories in Through the Woods have definitely come back to haunt me in the years since I first read Emily Carroll’s collection of graphic short fiction. From the viral popularity of “His Face All Red” to the don’t-look-over-your-shoulder chills of “The Nesting Place,” these horror stories pull back the skin of your house’s creaky walls and crawl among the maggots within.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Angela Carter’s prize-winning classic turns a feminist eye toward your favorite fairy tales. These aren’t the shining, singing, Disney-fied versions you know and love, however. (I mean, it’s called The Bloody Chamber for a reason.) Here, Carter remixes “Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” and more. Best of all for horror aficionados, these fables are gruesome enough to make the Brothers Grimm proud.
Mestiza Blood by V. Castro
From the author of The Queen of the Cicadas and Goddess of Filth comes this “short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desires, and visions of the Chicana experience.” V. Castro writes from the place where abject horror meets unbridled lust, making Mestiza Blood a must-read short-story collection for erotic-horror fans.
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
No list of must-read horror collections and anthologies could possibly be complete without The King in Yellow. Robert W. Chambers was one of Lovecraft’s primary influences, and nowhere does his weird fiction shine more brightly than in this novel-in-stories about a mysterious stageplay that drives readers to insanity and suicide.
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
The title novella in this collection is part of the Gracetown cycle: one of four groupings that range from two to five stories each. All three Gracetown stories take place in a tiny Florida town of the same name, the kind of place where folks retire and welcome grandchildren to visit each year. But all is not as it seems in Gracetown, and the Florida sunshine belies the horror that lurks around every bright corner.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
I recommend the title story in this collection every chance I get. Harlan Ellison’s sci-fi horror story about a small group of human “survivors” trapped in a hellscape following the techno-apocalypse is the exact kind of pulpy, visceral horror that sticks in your craw long after you’ve closed the cover.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez
The recent past is full of bitter memories for those living in contemporary Argentina. The specter of unthinkable violence shadows many imaginations. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the characters in Mariana Enríquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire choose to inflict pain upon themselves rather than suffer another person’s cruelty. If you’re a fan of magical realism, make this your next horror read.
Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson
Brian Evenson’s 2019 collection contains more than 20 horror stories, many of them incredibly brief. Come for the faceless babies, stay for the spaceship interface that refuses to explain what you’re seeing between yourself and the bulkhead, and don’t leave until you know the all the secrets your favorite cult film is hiding.
Human Monsters edited by Sadie Hartmann and Ashley Sawyers
You can’t attribute any of the scares in this anthology from Dark Matter Magazine to the supernatural or paranormal. The stories here are all about the real-life monsters — the kind of people you know well enough to know you never want to be left alone with.
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias
Today, Gabino Iglesias is best known for his 2022 novel, The Devil Takes You Home, but please don’t overlook his 2018 novel-in-stories. Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, Coyote Songs revolves around a cast of people living in the American Southwest, where old gods still dwell, and legends are very much alive.
After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
After the success of The Only Good Indians and My Heart Is a Chainsaw, horror fans are stoked to see Stephen Graham Jones get the wider appreciation he deserves. Nominated for both the Stoker and the Shirley Jackson Award, After the People Lights Have Gone Off contains 15 short stories from the 21st-century horror master.
First published in 2021, the title novella in Erica LaRocca’s brand-new collection — about a pair of teens and their grisly internet romance — took home the 2022 Splatterpunk Award for Best Novella. It joins two new stories — “The Enchantment” and “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over” — in this collection.
Death in the Mouth: Original Horror from People of Color edited by Sloane Leong and Cassie Hart
Edited by the authors of A Map to the Sun and Butcherbird, and billed as “an incredible range of stories and illustrations that celebrate the voices of those overlooked to show you the terrifying and exquisite scope of what horror can be,” Death in the Mouth collects the work of BIPOC artists and writers who are too often overlooked in the horror space.
Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Ann Dávila Cardinal
What does it mean to fear “the other”? That’s the question at the heart of this anthology, which pulls together work from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors. Many of the writers featured on this list reappear here, including Linda D. Addison, Tananarive Due, Gabino Iglesias, and Stephen Graham Jones.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
If “The Girl with the Green Ribbon” really freaked you out as a kid, you’re going to love the opening story of this National Book Award finalist. For fans of Law and Order: SVU, there’s “Especially Heinous”: a reimagining of Benson and Stabler as investigators working 12 gritty seasons’ worth of supernatural cases.
Bødy by Asa Nonami
What kind of horror comes from the body? What kind can we inflict upon it? In each of the five stories that make up Asa Nonami’s Bødy, the central character fixates on their dissatisfaction with a particular body part, only to find themselves facing a monkey’s paw dilemma when their wish is granted.
The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
In the title story in this gekiga collection, a subway worker whose job is to forcefully pack commuters into subway cars gets a taste of his own medicine when he’s mistaken for a rider. “The Push Man” is tame compared to many other tales in this collection, but perhaps the most horrifying is “Bedridden”: the story of a sexually abused woman and the men who force themselves on her.
Dark Matter: Reading the Bones edited by Sheree R. Thomas
With stories from some of the most famous Black writers working today, Sheree Renée Thomas’ Dark Matter: Reading the Bones anthology is a must-read for anyone looking for an introduction to Black speculative fiction. Its predecessor, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, is also well worth checking out.
The New Weird edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
Plenty of authors are still writing weird fiction today, but the VanderMeers have been instrumental in introducing the sub-genre to a whole new generation of readers. This 2008 anthology provides an excellent overview of contemporary weird fiction — from what it is to where it’s going. Although there are too many writers of the weird to fit into any single anthology, readers looking to dive into the sub-genre would do well to start here.