10 Best Stephen King Novels

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Stephen King is arguably one of the most prolific authors of all time. From horror to supernatural to science fiction to fantasy to suspense, there are few corners of the literary world in which King’s presence can’t be felt, and many of his books have since gone on to be adapted for both the big and small screen.

With 50 plus novels and nearly 200 short stories under his belt, ranking the work of Stephen King in its entirety would be nearly impossible. However, we here at Epicstream have managed to put together what we believe is a pretty solid ranking, based solely on King’s top standalone books. With that in mind, here are our picks for the 10 best Stephen King novels:

  1. The Dead Zone

    Published in 1979, The Dead Zone is a science fiction thriller that follows a protagonist named Johnny Smith, who spends nearly five years in a coma after a horrific accident. However, when he awakens, Smith discovers that he’s become clairvoyant. The story, while not action packed, takes the reader completely into the world of Johnny Smith, who is perhaps one of King’s most well-developed characters, and it also explores 1970s politics in a way that manages to stay interesting throughout. In fact, some might say that The Dead Zone is very reminiscent of the current political climate, which – for better or worse – makes this story all the more topical. 

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  2. 11/22/63

    Few events in American history have had more of a cultural impact than the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and in 2011, Stephen King decided to use this tragedy as the foundation for the intriguing sci-fi novel, 11/22/63. The plot involves a high school English teacher named Jake Epping, who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination, and as we follow Jake on his journey to the titular date, we’re forced to ponder the cost of changing the past, even if the change is potentially for the better. And despite the fact that 11/22/63 is a quite sizable read (849 pages), King’s writing style makes it nearly effortless to get from one cover to the other, with a tearjerker ending that’s sure to have you reaching for a tissue or two.

  3. Pet Sematary

    If you’re looking for classic Stephen King horror, Pet Sematary is a surefire way to scratch that particular itch. It begins with the picturesque Creed family moving into a beautiful home in rural Maine, but not far outside of their idyllic surroundings lies a bone-chilling secret in the form of a cemetery that reanimates the deceased who are buried there. In a sense, Pet Sematary isn’t a traditional horror story but rather an exploration of human behavior and grief. However, as King has proved on countless occasions, human behavior can often be terrifying in its own right, and that’s absolutely the case in this book. In fact, King himself considers Pet Sematary to be his most frightening novel, so if you’re a fan of horror, you owe it to yourself to read the master of the genre’s personal pick for his most chilling tale.

  4. Salem’s Lot

    In 1975, Stephen King published his second novel, Salem’s Lot, in which Ben Mears returns to his titular hometown only to discover that the residents are somehow becoming vampires. It’s one of the most successful early attempts at taking the classic vampire lore and placing it in a contemporary setting, never mind a small, secluded town. In fact, the small-town setting is actually one of the highlights of the story, with the unsettling element of the awfulness hiding behind smiling faces and familiarity conjuring up just as many scares as the vampires, themselves. In terms of characterization, this is far from King's best work, but if you haven't yet made yourself familiar with Bram Stoker's masterpiece and wish to make the acquaintance of vampires who give rise to pure spine-tingling, bone-chilling terror, this book is definitely for you.

  5. The Green Mile

    Unlike the previous entries on this list, The Green Mile is a serialized novel that was originally released in six separate installments before eventually being collected in a single, bound volume. It tells the story of a death row supervisor named Paul Edgecombe and his encounter with John Coffey, a simple-minded inmate who displays inexplicable healing and empathetic abilities. As opposed to many of King’s stories, The Green Mile dabbles only slightly in supernatural themes, and certainly not for the sake of scaring the reader but rather to emphasize the beauty of the narrative. As John waits to be executed, we see him touch many lives, and King keeps you guessing as to whether or not this convicted killer can do enough to earn his own redemption. It’s a poignant tale, blending macabre, fantasy, and mystery; the air of a fable laced with magical realism.

  6. Misery

    Misery is a psychological horror thriller that focuses on a celebrated-but-jaded author, Paul Sheldon, who loses control of his car on his way through a treacherous mountain pass. When he awakens, he discovers that he’s been rescued by a nurse who also happens to be his number one fan, but tending to Paul’s wounds isn’t her only priority; she also holds him hostage and forces him to write a sequel to her favorite series, torturing him in the process whenever he tries to fight back. It’s a chilling story of obsession, celebrity culture, and the human will to survive, and it’s made all the more terrifying when you consider how absolutely plausible the premise is. One human imprisoned in a house by another. No jump-scares, no monsters, no aliens; just pure, simple horror.

  7. Carrie

    Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, revolves around the eponymous Carrie White, a misfit high school girl who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. King brilliantly pieces together Carrie's story through a series of reports and articles concerning a devastating catastrophe in Maine, teasing just how excruciating the ending will be while all you can do is watch the dominoes fall one after the other with the turn of every page. And as much as Carrie is a horror story, it’s also an incredibly tragic tale of a girl who’s constantly oppressed at home by her overly-religious mother and bullied at school by all of her classmates. It might not be the kind of story that gives you nightmares, but it will certainly take a toll on your emotions.

  8. The Shining

    While Carrie and Salem’s Lot were some of Stephen King’s seminal stories, it was his third novel, The Shining, that cemented him as one of the most preeminent authors in the horror genre. It’s the story of Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy, and his son Danny, who move into the unsettling Overlook Hotel when Jack becomes the new caretaker. However, the family’s respite from the outside world soon becomes a nightmare when the hotel begins to come to life and Jack begins to slowly lose his mind. The fact that King takes his time building the horror makes the scary scenes that much scarier. This isn’t a horror novel full of jump-scares and monsters. It's effective by drawing us deep into the minds of the characters, overhearing their innermost thoughts, and freaking out right along with them. 

  9. It

    One of Stephen King’s most frightening tales is It, which follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by the eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. Naturally, with a preferred target of young children, “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown. And not only does King build on the vulnerability of a handful of kids trying to defeat a terrible monster, but he also makes them come back to face the evil as adults, with the story spanning across three full decades of the lives of the characters. At over 1,100 pages, It is one of King's longest books, but with his crisp, clear prose, it’s a story you can easily finish in a matter of days.

  10. The Stand

    The Stand is a post-apocalyptic tale of a super virus called Captain Trips that wipes out about 99 percent of the planet, with the survivors coming together in two camps to wage the ultimate war of good versus evil. If King had simply written a book about a world destroyed by plague and a small number of people struggling in the aftermath, it probably would have been a compelling tale. What sets The Stand apart, though, is the supernatural element, with Flagg giving the wrong people the push needed for them to make things worse for everyone, using the plague as his chance to fulfill his own destiny as a wrecker of humanity. Then, on the other side, we have a vengeful God, who demands obedience and worship while usually rewarding his most faithful servants with gruesome deaths. Stories don’t get much more epic than this, and with The Stand, King does a superb job depicting the meltdown of the world through the stories of a variety of fascinating and relatable characters.

    What about you? Do you agree with our ranking? Let us know in the comments section!