- Stephen King is a bestselling author, best known for his terrifying horror novels.
- I used five-star ratings from Goodreads reviewers to compile this list of readers' favorites.
- King's best books include classics like "The Shining," "It," "The Stand," and "Misery."
Stephen King is an American author of more than 60 books and 200 short stories. Establishing himself as a legendary writer since his first book's publication in 1974, King is adored by readers looking for a perfect scare. And while he's best known for his chilling horror novels, he also writes supernatural thrillers, suspenseful crime fiction, and series full of magical realism. Many of his stories have been adapted into television series and films, and his books have sold over 350 million collective copies.
To discover readers' top 20 favorite King novels, I turned to Goodreads reviewers. On the popular reading platform, reviewers have rated Stephen King novels over 15 million times and left over 630,000 reviews. In compiling this ranking, I used the books with the highest numbers of five-star reviews from Goodreads readers.
The top 20 Stephen King books, ranked by Goodreads reviewers:
It should hardly be a surprise that Stephen King's most popular book is also his first-ever bestseller: "The Shining," a classic 1977 horror novel, spurred a cult-favorite movie and a sequel. It's a deeply suspenseful paranormal story about Jack Torrance, who starts a new job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, hoping to spend more time with his family and work on his writing. During the off-season, a chilling winter storm confines Jack to the hotel — and sinister forces begin to emerge. It's a classic haunted house story that has been scaring readers for nearly 50 years.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 589,454#2: An iconic creepy clown horror story
In Derry, Maine, seven teenagers first discovered the horror that they deemed "It" — often taking the form of Pennywise the Clown. Now adults, each with their own successes, one of the self-proclaimed "Losers Club" asks the gang to return and end the evil creature's reign once and for all. Stephen King uses dual timelines from 1958 and 1985 and chilling descriptions to develop unique characters and explore deep themes that extend far beyond the traditional horror genre.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 439,976#3: A post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller
This book begins the day after 99% of the Earth's population is killed from a man-made flu that was accidentally released. The few remaining survivors are plagued with strange dreams and struggle with a society torn between two prevailing allegiances. At over 1,100 pages, this masterpiece combines King's classic supernatural and fantasy elements and combines them with an apocalyptic dystopia that addresses huge topics of survival, religion, and the ultimate compass of morality.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 363,134#4: An intense psychological thriller about an obsessive fan
After celebrating the release of a new novel, Paul Sheldon gets in a car accident in the Rocky Mountains and is rescued by Anne Wilkes, his #1 fan. While nursing Paul back to health after he shattered both his legs, she compels him to write a new novel, furious that he killed off her favorite character. Fueled by obsession, Anne keeps Paul captive in a story of torture, psychological manipulation, and addiction. This is a gory and gruesome horror novel with a multi-dimensional villain, an intense and graphic tale of the struggle between prisoner and captor.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 236,407#5: A historical fiction, time travel thriller about JFK
This is a time travel adventure novel that tells the story of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who is introduced to a portal to 1958 and sets out on a mission to stop the JFK assassination. Jake adopts a new identity, tests the rules of time travel, and discovers what may wait in the present if he's to succeed. With very little (if any) horror in this novel, King fans get to experience a thrilling historical fiction story, one where the fascinating "what ifs" of history are explored through time travel.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 226,920#6: The first of a heroic fantasy series
This is the first installment of King's hugely popular series "The Dark Tower," of which there are eight books and a short story. Roland of Gilead is The Last Gunslinger — the final hero in a knightly order. With a mix of dark fantasy, horror, and Western themes, the story follows Roland as he sets off on his quest for the Dark Tower which holds all of existence together. On his journey, he pursues his arch-nemesis, develops a friendship, and meets a mysterious woman. An added excitement for regular King readers is the tie-ins to other novels: references and Easter eggs that expand and intertwine King's multiverse.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 206,268#7: A supernatural horror story centered on bullying
Stephen King's first published novel focuses on Carrie White, a telekinetic teenager who's able to move objects with her mind. Abused and bullied all her life, one particularly traumatic day unleashes a streak of revenge that cumulates with a famously terrifying prom night scene. This modern horror classic is also a powerful anti-bullying testament, offering the frightening combination of real and supernatural elements that makes it an exceptionally fast read.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 188,558#8: A paranormal novel with building horror
In rural Maine, a picturesque family has moved into a perfect home to live a simple and happy life, just to find the town is haunted by horrors that should have remained dead — all seeming to originate from an evil and ominous nearby pet cemetery. This is a slow-burn horror, one that offers less gore but rather builds and builds on disturbing elements and skin-crawling feelings to scare readers in a way only Stephen King can. The developments in this novel are shocking and nightmarish, with even King admitting that this story scared him more than his others.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 166,564#9: A dramatic and emotional book
"The Green Mile"
"The Green Mile" is a series that was released one volume at a time in 1996, with each installment landing on the "New York Times" Best-Seller List. Now compiled as a single work, it follows Paul Edgecombe, a prison guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary where convicted killers wait to walk "the green mile" to the electric chair. Though Paul has seen nearly everything, his experiences with inmate John Coffey are like no other. John is a strange inmate, convicted of a depraved crime despite appearing to have the mind of a child. This is a thought-provoking and emotional novel, an iconic and believable story that mixes in shocking elements consistent with King's horror style.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 154,291#10: A horrifying vampire story
This was Stephen King's second published novel, the story of writer Ben Mears who returns to his childhood town of Jerusalem's Lot (nicknamed 'Salem's Lot) to confront the evil he once escaped. This unique vampire story is packed with more horror than most of King's other works and is inspired by classic vampire tales and films. King writes incredible small-town horrors and this one is no different, featuring a wonderful, quaint town with secrets of abuse, violence, and murder not far beneath the surface. This story is suspenseful and foreboding, a vampire horror for any reader who's ready to be scared.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 130,253#11: An autobiographical self-help book about writing
"On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft"
In a book that is part-memoir and part-advice, Stephen King uses his personal anecdotes to inspire budding and aspiring writers. While his guidance is not always sparkling with encouragement, it's always realistic: imploring that those who wish to be writers must be constantly learning, reading, and writing every day. King is honest about his own struggles and setbacks and offers insight into his methods and inspirations which culminate in a master class from one of the most successful writers of this generation.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 124,089#12: The second installment of a beloved series
"The Drawing of the Three"
This is the second book of "The Dark Tower" series, which follows Roland, The Last Gunslinger, on his quest to reach the Dark Tower, the nexus of all universes that his world desperately needs to survive. In this sequel, Roland navigates a world that is a nightmarish mirror of our own to encounter a beach with three doors. Each is a gateway to a person living in New York with whom Roland must collaborate to fight evil forces. This book is a plot-driven horror story mixed with magical realism, a page-turning novel that demonstrates some of the best of King's cross-genre writing.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 101,581#13: A collection of four horror novellas
"Different Seasons" is a collection of four horror novellas, one for each season. Three of them have thus far been adapted to the screen, the most notable being "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" adapted to the film "The Shawshank Redemption." These novellas were early writings of King's, held until their 1982 publication because King's editors didn't want him to be characterized as solely a horror writer too early in his career. The four stories are magical, paranormal, and horrifying, each one a standalone example of the underlying meaning in all of King's horror stories.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 94,588#14: A psychological sci-fi novel
"Under the Dome"
On an otherwise normal day, the residents in Chester's Mill, Maine find themselves trapped under an invisible dome, a forcefield separating them from the rest of the world. Told through multiple perspectives, a group of citizens comes together to fight their new enemies in this strange and unprecedented dystopia. There is a large cast of characters in this story, but King writes each one as a prominent individual so readers can easily follow each story. "Under the Dome" is definitely a violent science-fiction thriller, but also comes peppered with dark humor and strong characters, making it a rich read with profound messages about contemporary society.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 88,866#15: The third novel in a thrilling series
"The Waste Lands"
In "The Dark Tower" series, readers follow Roland, the last in a knightly order, on his quest to reach the Dark Tower — the only hope for his world. This is the third book, where Roland experiences double memories as a result of saving a boy who had already died in a parallel universe. Roland and his new gang of fellow gunslingers must draw the boy into their world in order to reach the Dark Tower. This novel is full of important character development and genuine entertainment from the plot, one that solidifies readers' necessity to continue the series.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 87,870#16: A suspenseful true crime mystery thriller
The opening of this book is emotional but quickly turns gruesome, as a man driving a Mercedes plows into a line of innocent people waiting at a job fair. After killing eight and injuring 15, the man gets away and retired detective Bill Hodges is left haunted by the crime. On the verge of suicide, Bill receives a message from the murderer, spurring a mission to catch the killer before he strikes again. The juxtaposition between the conniving and manipulative Mr. Mercedes and the tired but determined Hodges is what makes this King novel such an invigorating read. It continues on to create the "Bill Hodges" trilogy, a fast-paced supernatural series featuring this detective-turned-hero.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 86,846#17: The fourth book in a sci-fi, horror series
"Wizard and Glass"
This is the fourth installment of "The Dark Tower" series, which mixes horror, science fiction, and fantasy while following Roland, the last of a knightly order as he attempts to reach the Dark Tower. In this epic addition, Roland and his friends find themselves in a virus-ridden parallel version of Topeka, Kansas, where Roland tells the gang his origin story. In this nearly novel-long flashback, readers gain a far greater understanding of Roland's motivation, garnering a deeper connection between the reader and King's characters.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 85,030#18: An anticipated sequel to a modern classic
In this sequel, readers reunite with Dan Torrance, once the young boy from "The Shining," but now a middle-aged man drifting through life. When Dan settles into a job at a nursing home in New Hampshire, he's coined "Doctor Sleep," using his paranormal abilities to help and comfort the dying. But there is a group of traveling, murderous paranormals who are deriving their energy from the "steam" given off by paranormal children as they're tortured and killed. When Dan meets 12-year-old Abra with the same gift he has, he knows he must try to save her. This is a psychological and gory sequel, hugely satisfying to readers who adored "The Shining."
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 83,287#19: The final book in an epic adventure series
"The Dark Tower"
In this seventh and final book of "The Dark Tower" series, readers join beloved Roland — the final gunslinger — in the last leg of his 20-year journey to reach the Dark Tower and save his world. Roland and his team must close out their business on Earth to return to their world before the forces of evil destroy the final beams that hold reality in place. Roland is a hero of epic proportions, and this series is a testament to King's masterful characterization, world-building, and cross-genre writing.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 80,051#20: A thrilling fantasy tale of a mysterious store
In his shop, Needful Things, Leland Gaunt knows that every customer will find the object of their heart's deepest desire. In exchange, Leland asks for a small prank to be carried out on his behalf, generating a novel of chaos in a small town. This story is fascinating as the characters are tempted and lured into complete obsession over possessions, blinded by greed and willing to do anything for the object they want — even murder. It's an intense novel, a thriller and fantasy that swirls with mayhem while still being the small-town horror that King writes so well.
Number of 5-star reviews on Goodreads: 73,327