Best Horror Books of 2023

A reading list of the absolute best horror books (and magazines and comics) that came out in 2023.

Best Horror Books of 2023
Just a few of the amazing horror books that came out in 2023.

2023 was a great year in the expansion of the horror genre, which is reaching for the same recognition that both science fiction and fantasy have achieved over the past few years. There has been an effort to bring genre fiction into the literary world, particularly as we raise up underrepresented voices in genre publishing. Small presses have returned to the fold (as have horror magazines) and a new place of “respectability” has been achieved without sacrificing the blood. 

As my genre of choice, I wanted to piece together a “best of” list separate from my general Best Books of 2023 list to specifically look at the best horror of the year. In doing so I included novels, novellas, short fiction collections, graphic novels, and comics that were serialized, but also who were released in their entirety by the time we hit New Years. 

While there are a lot of stand-out titles on here, it’s interesting to consider what’s not here. There were a couple of disappointments or books that never made it to this list for various reasons. First, Ellen Datlow’s annual Best Horror of the Year, which is always featured on my “best of” lists for being such a dependably great generalized horror anthology, was pushed into mid-January instead of its usual publishing window near Christmas (and sometimes the e-book coming much earlier). Luckily we have one Datlow title on the list. 

Secondly, two books by Stephen Graham Jones, one of the most important authors of both the indigenous horror revival and modern literary horror fiction (particularly short fiction) were not featured on this list. His follow up to My Heart is a Chainsaw, Don’t Fear the Reaper, did not strike with the same hot iron the first in the series did, ending up as a somewhat meandering and overly written (and long) novel that did not live up to the promise of the first. His first dalliance into comics with IDW’s Earthdivers likewise missed the mark a bit, with dialogue too dense for such a visual medium and his stream-of-consciousness style not quite matching the literal nature of the comics model. This series is continuing so hopefully it will grow over time, particularly since seeing someone like Jones move into comics was more than welcome. Jones will continue to be an essential author despite these books not meeting expectations, and I am curious to finish his slasher series when the next book is released.

In the literary world, several independent presses are represented on this list and of key importance. Both Undertow Publications and Tenebrous Press have hit this list, and you can expect forthcoming features about each of these groundbreaking efforts. With horror acting as a more stable economic venture than many other types of lite rary endeavors, we are seeing that small presses can sustain themselves by cultivating an audience mostly of die-hards for the genre. This gives them an opportunity to keep small and alternative voices alive.

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In the comics world, there were several overly hyped titles that did not match their promise. The most obvious of these is the long-awaited Swamp Thing: Green Hell, which had every element you could ask for: environmental apocalypse, self-conscious horror framing, and the esteemed writer Jeff Lemire at the helm. Instead of building a cosmic horror world, the kind of thing that DC Black Label should be perfectly suited for, the book fell flat by retreading tired superhero tropes with lackluster pacing and characterization. Hopefully we can get another chance for a Black Label Swamp Thing book, perhaps following the lead of last year’s Aquaman: Andromeda. Black Label is the place where a novel reimagination of the superhero story could happen, just as it was in the early years of Vertigo, and we need to push for it to reach that potential rather than simply being a place for violent team-ups. 

Below are my horror favorites for this year, and see the concluding paragraph for a few Honorable Mentions to expand the list and some horror magazines to watch. This list is also mirrored on Goodreads, where you can follow for more recommendations, reviews, and condemnations. 

How to Sell a Haunted House - Grady Hendrix (Berkley)

Grady Hendrix has become a dependably enjoyable voice in American horror because of his mix of enthusiastic prose, immensely relatable characters, and fast-paced, captivating plots. Each of his books tends to act as his own take on a particular sub-genre, and with How to Sell a Huanted House Hendrix returns to the “haunted house” archetype and interjects it with the “frightening-as-fuck doll” motif as well. An engrossing story about the broken sibling relationships that come into the fore when a parent dies, this remains the most “page turning” books on this list. (Also recommended is the 2023 adaptation of Hendrix’ My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which captures much of his frightful fun.)

McSweeney's Issue 71 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern): The Monstrous and the Terrible

Not exactly a book, but not a magazine either: McSweeney’s is a literary review that puts out genre themed volumes where the design of the book itself is a part of the artistic mission. 2023’s offering, edited by cosmic horror favorite Brian Evenson, is a leather-bound unthemed horror anthology (wrapped in a monster-autopsy casing) that stands out as a fantastic introduction to the modern world of literary horror. With especially strong entries by Lincoln Michel, M.T. Anderson, Mick Antosca, Kristine Ong Muslim, Attila Veres, and Gabino Iglesias, this really does have something for almost every reader. This is a volume that really exists only as a physical book, an art object whose presentation is part of its charm, and incredibly affordable given what you actually receive. 

The Black Lord - Colin Hinkley

This debut novella released by the amazing small horror publisher Tenebrous Press was marked at Powell’s Books Cosmic Horror shelf as for “fans of John Langan,” and that’s a perfect summary. The book tells of a child kidnapped by a horrific Lovecraftian beast and dragged into the woods, waking up a deep familial trauma that was never spoken of and yet is still projecting its consequences on the children. The book is told from the perspective of every member of the family as you move through the text, and the slim volume breathlessly brings the audience through its escalating emotional crisis, all while presenting a wrenching and haunting monster story. It’s also worth noting that, like a lot of small press horror, the Kindle version (linked above) is actually substantially less expensive and a great option for picking up multiple books on a budget.

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Everything the Darkness Eats - Eric LaRocca

This was a big couple years for Eric LaRocca. This debut cosmic horror novel is one of six books he released since the beginning of 2021, featured across many of this year’s “horror round-ups,” and Everything the Darkness Eats packs the same devastating and nauseating punch as the rest. This brief novel focuses on the intersecting narratives of a gay police officer new to a petite country town, a local man dabbling in forces beyond his control, the violent homophobia of small-town mafiosos, and the impending nihilism of a questionable God. The book is short yet engrossing and complete, highlighting LaRocca’s direct prose and an economy of language that lacks even one inessential word. This stands out as one of the best cosmic horror novels not just of this year, but of the decade, setting a bold standard for New Queer Lovecraftian. 

grotesquerie - Richard Gavin (Undertow Publications)

Standing out as another one of Undertow’s fantastic collections. Richard Gavin’s collected works are a milestone in the world of explicit genre publishing. Gavin’s work stands out not only because of the iconoclastic edge he mobilizes to deconstruct our understanding of categorical horror fiction, but because he refuses to walk away from genre conventions and, instead, firmly commits to classical horror tropes: his literary inventions are first, and for most, really fucking scary. grotesquerie features stories largely from the last decade and exhibits some of the finest short fiction I read all year, including stand outs such as “Banishments,” “The Patter of Tiny Feet,” “Scold’s Bridle: A Cruelty,” “The Sullied Pane,” “Cast Lots, and “Notes on the Aztec Death Whistle.” Gavin’s book does something few collections of short horror fiction does, it has more significant stories than meddling ones. While the concluding three tales of the book take on more of a fable or fairy tale model, which is not my preferred perspective, they remain just as striking as the rest and the range presented here is not only admirable, but stunning. 

Phantom Road Vol. 1 - Jeff Lemire (Image Comics)

Phantom Road already felt like a Jeff Lemire title by the second panel, particularly his use of  a terrifying parallel dimension remarkably similar to what was on display in his groundbreaking Gideon Falls series. Following a truck driver and someone his life accidentally collides with, we move in and out of an other-wordly space alongside them, just a quarter inch away from our own universe. The book is a combination effort: road horror, apocalyptic fantasy, supernatural detective story, and all of which keeps just enough hidden to make this a book you must read in one sitting. This is an ongoing series and will likely continue well into 2024, where it promises to be one to watch.

The Ghost Sequences - A.C. Wise (Undertow Publications)

Similar to grotesquerie, The Ghost Sequences is a collection of A.C. Wise’ best short fiction from the last fifteen years. Her book is framed around the broadest incarnation of the ghost story, bringing its conceptual elements up to date by refashioning both what a ghost is and the diverse, and competing, experience we can call a “haunting.” What we end up with is a genre defying synthesis of traditional horror storytelling and spectral frights whose impact is belied by her profound understatement. 

Christmas and Other Horrors: An Anthology of Solstice - Ed. Ellen Datlow (Titan Books)

Perhaps the most predictable title on the list, Christmas and Other Horrors is a themed anthology from Ellen Datlow that does everything you would expect from a Datlow anthology. It collects together some of the best (and most well known) writers in the literary horror space and gives them a broad theme before setting them loose. Part of what elevates this particular book, however, is that it moves far past Christmas. A great number of the stories deal with Yule, the pagan solstice celebration, as well as including explicitly Jewish horror, which is an incredibly underrepresented perspective in the field. The book includes standouts by people such as Alma Katsu, Nick Mamatas, Nadia Bulkin, Josh Malerman, and, the best story of the anthology, “After Words” by John Langan. 

Blue Book Volume 1: 1961 - James Tynion IV and Michael Avon Oeming(Image Comics)

Tynion continues his streak of successful mixed genre comics, many of which break new ground in both topic and visual style. In Blue Book, which is the first of what will be a sequence of miniseries, he cracks open the files of Project Blue Book, an effort by the government to track reports of extraterrestrial encounters. He then retells the story of two particular abductees, how they “recovered” their memories (a controversial idea, to be sure), and how this experience changed the course of their lives. The end of each issue includes an unrelated bizarre, but allegedly true, tale, such as the widely reported story of a flying man in the skies above the World’s Fair or the legend that green-tinted children showed up at an Irish farm before losing their pigment and memories as they integrated into the community. A creepy narrative, but also a deeply human one with added visual flair by Oeming.

No One Will Come Back for Us and Other Stories - Premeed Mohamed

An incredible expansion of cosmic horror, bringing a distinctly international and cross-cultural view on the mythology of human frailty, Mohamed shows that the quiet terror of our lives can only be enhanced by the truly monstrous. This career-spanning collection refuses to be confined to the boundaries of the horror genre and picks up on the weirdness that underskirts the world of New Lovecraftian, as well as veering into open fantasy. Mohamed is establishing herself as one of the premiere authors of New Weird, which is part of why this collection felt so at home at Undertow Publications.

All of the Fabulous Beasts - Priya Sharma

While I had been a fan of several of Priya Sharma's stories, this sweeping collection has only established her as a premiere short-fiction author whose cross-genre work will have appeal beyond the horror world. There is more of an explicitly Lovecraftian perspective here, particularly with the post-humanity of many of our title characters and the frightening secrets families hold. Perfect for readers of Laird Barron and John Langan, but who also want to reach past this American-centric perspective and to tap into a global terrorscape.

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Nightfall: Double Feature - David Andry, Tim Daniel, and Daniel Kraus

This release from Vault Comics seemed almost totally ignored in the comics world, perhaps because it did something so novel that it hardly fits within the categories most readers expect. It was two stories told over a four-issue miniseries arc, one about a desert trailer park embedded with an ancient evil, and another about what happens when the bones of our ancestors begin re-appearing around the world. Both stories were inventive, page-turning short fiction that did what is so often difficult in a visual medium like comics: they were scary. Hopefully this comic received enough acclaim (and high enough sales) that Vault can return with another cinema-inspired “double feature.” These will now be released in 2024 as collected editions apart from one another.

The Beast You Are - Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay’s new book was a tough decision, not because it didn’t have some of the most astounding stories of the year, but because the final third of it is a novella-as-epic-poem that did not exactly strike my match. But, nonetheless, what’s in this book is so pitch perfect that it had to make it on this list, particularly several stories that can best be described as “post-COVID horror.” Tremblay’s work stays with you long after the final page is turned, not just because of the horrifying realities outlined in the text, but because of the emotional devastation each genre trope is building towards.

Honorable Mentions

There were so many fantastic books released this year that it is hard to limit the list to just the few listed above. One particularly important book that was not added to this list because its release was in December of last year was A Different Darkness and Other Abominations by Italian writer Luigi Musolino. This book was translated from Italian and introduced by Brian Evenson, and was a bold cosmic horror effort that proves that Valancourt is willing to take chances. Philip Francassini, who is in the middle of a roll, published the interesting novel Gothic, a dependable demonic haunting story that was only a few (somewhat important) missteps from being amongst the best. Eric LaRocca’s other book from 2023, They Were Here Before Us: A Novella in Pieces, may very well have also made it on the list in a year that had less competing titles. That book felt more like a short collection of short fiction, some straying into the world of bizzaro fables, and other feeling closer to other efforts by LaRocca. Another novella that was amongst the best was Agony’s Lodestone by Laura Keating and published by Tenebrous Press, a “forest horror” story that takes the reader on a remarkable journey in such a compact volume. 

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Because short horror fiction is such a center of the genre’s modern literary fandom, we are seeing a return to genre magazines, both those that live online and who are using a small-distribution, ”craft print” model. Here is a list of magazines that stood out in 2023 and to watch in 2024.

5. Cemetery Dance - An established publisher of horror fiction and special editions of horror classics, thos print magazine remains one of the most relevant legacy publications printing horror fiction. What you often get is stories of some length, a rarity for magazine publishing, as well as features by and about horror writers and filmmakers. A great, well-rounded publication for the horror fanatic.

4. Thank You for Joining the Algorithm - This is billed as a “special edition” dark speculative fiction magazine that begins with an anti-AI manifesto, and then offers series of stories that fantasize about the horrors artificial intelligence could have in store for us. The writers are all paid, no AI-generated art is used, and it acts as a definitive manifesto for the publisher, Tenebrous Press. It’s unclear if this magazine will continue into a new edition, but it certainly stood out for a year who’s frights were tied to the algorithmic world of faux-creative automation.

3. Nightmare Magazine - Nightmare Magazine remains one of the strongest publications in the world, publishing some of the best short horror fiction that then makes it into anthologies and collections. The e-book only magazine can be found for a mere dollar an issue, and you can listen to them read by professionals at the Nightmare Magazine Podcast feed. This is a genre-defining literary horror magazine and a high water mark for any writer who wants to make it in the industry. More than this, their notoriously high standards ensure that their approval is a stamp of quality.

2. Black Static - Similar to Nightmare Magazine, Black Static’s long-standing run is a testament to its importance to the literary horror world. Black Static’s pages feature not only some of the most important short fiction, which it often publishes first, but also because it  is a place where massive experimentation happens for the genre as a whole.

1. Weird Horror Magazine - A rather new magazine, which publishes two issues a year and you can buy right at Amazon, Weird Horror is helping to revive the concept of “New Weird” by publishing short fiction (often ultra-short) that fits partially in the cosmic realm and, mostly, into the genre-bending direction of bizarre. This is a great place to locate both established and emerging writers and where you can stay abreast of trends, new ideas, and what direction publishing will be heading in (as well as interesting reviews and columns). The magazine is published by Undertow Publications, who is well represented on this list and is perhaps the most important publisher of literary cosmic horror, which gives you a sense of both the angle and quality of each issue.

We should also recommend both Ellen Datlow’s yearly Best Horror of the Year series and Tenebrous Press’ Brave New Weird, which it promises to be an infrequently published showcase of “New Weird” fiction.

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