I have been enamored by the creepy and macabre ever since I can remember. If it goes bump in the night, I tend to be a big fan. But a good horror story doesn’t just stem from its ability to send chills down your spine. Really good horror serves a deeper purpose. It should peel back layers of the world—and ourselves—to reveal what's underneath.
Luckily for us, there’s an infinite number of writers out there who are interested in these ideas, who are curious about how to bend the form, explore the darkness, and reinvent the same stories we’ve been whispering over campfires since the dawn of time. Out of all these many, many stories, I’ve decided to share 10 from the last 30 years that I think every fan of horror should know.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
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Published in 1989 and written in the style of a traditional Gothic novel, this story exemplifies what it is to be a haunted house in a small, rural town. (It's also the only one on this list published before I was born!) Most of you might know the story from the hit 2012 horror film by the same name starring Daniel Radcliffe. However, there's nothing like the original material, and it's a story you're not likely to forget!
The Between by Tananarive Due
If you're a fan of mystery and suspense, this is definitely the pick for you. The story is focused on an African-American couple who begin receiving mysterious death threats. The novel's biggest strength is that it plays with genre; it's been described as part horror, part detective, and part speculative fiction as it continually asks the characters to try and comprehend what is real. This 1995 publication was nominated for a 1996 Bram Stoker Award.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
As a fairly rabid Stephen King fan, this is still my all-time favorite of his works. Another wonderful example of psychological horror, we follow nine-year-old Trisha as she finds herself lost in the vast wilderness of the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail. As she struggles to find her way back to civilization, she comes to realize that she's not the only creature wandering around in the woods...
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
These days, I feel like more people than not will roll their eyes when you say, "It's about vampires." But even if you're experiencing some subject fatigue, Octavia E. Butler's 2005 publication delivers an unusual and complex story about race, sexuality, agency, and otherness that has reinvigorated horror and science fiction readers.
The Croning by Laird Barron
Known for his short stories, this 2012 publication is the first of Laird Barron's full-length novels. Mixing traditional horror and Lovecraft-esque science fiction, this work explores the worlds of black magic, weird cults, and worse things that loom in the shadows. Even if you're not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, this is a novel that will send chills down your spine and make you wonder: Are the Children of Old Leech really out there?
The Fisherman by John Langan
Published in 2016, this novel centers on two widowers who find comfort in each other's company and their shared love of fishing. However, they're soon drawn into rumors about the Creek and the mysterious figure known as Der Fisher who promises them the remedy to both of their losses. A story about friendship and grief, this novel draws readers into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Fans of HBO might recognize this as the new hit series by the same name. This 2016 publication explores the intersection between the work of H. P. Lovecraft and racism in the United States during the era of Jim Crow laws, as experienced by black science-fiction fan Atticus Turner and his family. A series of interconnected stories, Matt Ruff does a wonderful job of exploring what otherness means to the individual as well as a group and takes readers on a terrifying and fantastic ride.
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
This 2017 publication follows the life of Apollo Kagwa and his wife Emma as they fall in love, start a family, and then are faced with Emma's disturbing insistence that their son Brian is not actually their son... or a baby at all. But at its core, it's a love story. No, really! Beyond being awarded the American Book Award, it's been nominated for the PEN/Jen Stein Book Award and the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror.
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Drawing themes and structure from Charles Maturin's 1820 gothic masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer, Sarah Perry brings the story of Melmoth, a woman cursed to eternally walk unseen and bear witness to people's most horrific moments, into the setting of contemporary Prague. A masterful blend of folklore and reality, you won't be able to help the way this story gets under your skin.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This novel caused a big splash in 2020, putting a fresh take on the Gothic style and traditional haunted house story. Set in 1950s Mexico, the story centers on a young woman investigating her cousin's claims that her husband is trying to murder her. An exploration of wealth and colonialism, this novel uncovers the violence and madness that comes with power and will leave you straining your ears for every creak in the floorboards at night.