We have once again come to the end of another great year for horror fiction. It seems like every year has been great for the genre lately, but even by those standards 2023 launched like a rocket and just never let up with thrilling, terrifying new releases. We got much-anticipated follow-ups, gripping debuts, unexpected triumphs, and even some of the best horror novels of the 21st century so far this year, and they came from a very wide array of authors.
All of which is to say that it’s extremely hard to narrow things down to a list of just 15 “Best” books of the year in the horror genre, but we’re going to do our best. Here are our picks for the best horror books of 2023.
Here are our picks for the best horror books of 2023
What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman
A struggling fortune teller reconnects with an old flame and finds a daunting and terrifying journey into the heart of grief waiting for her in the latest book from the author of Ghost Eaters and Whisper Down the Lane.
As usual, Chapman blends the profound with the pragmatic, delivering a story about very real, raw people just trying to figure out life, and coming up with some truly horrific ways for them to reckon with their own traumas in the process. It’s another gem from one of the best in the genre right now.
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due has long been one of horror’s most important voices, both as an author and as a scholar of the genre, and The Reformatory feels like the culmination of all that work. Set in 1950s Florida, the book follows a young Black boy who’s sent to a reformatory for a small trespass against a white boy, and the terror that follows him there.
It’s a terror that grows out of the present and the past, and the result is a haunting, invigorating, powerful combination of haunted house story and historical fiction. The Reformatory feels like the book Tananarive Due was born to write, and should not be missed.
A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand
The much-hyped official follow-up to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Elizabeth Hand’s latest novel, A Haunting on the Hill, somehow simultaneously fills some big shoes and walks a path all its own.
The story of a group of artists who rent out Hill House to rehearse an upcoming play, Hand’s book maps new corners of Jackson’s legendary haunted mansion, while never letting us forget that the old ones are still there, hungry and waiting, drawing us all back in.
Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison
With her last novel, Such Sharp Teeth, Rachel Harrison gave us messy family dynamics all wrapped up in a thrilling horror package. With Black Sheep, she does it again on an even grander scale, giving us the story of a young woman who heads home for a family wedding, only to find that her domineering mother and cult-ish family are not just unchanged, but eager for her to rejoin their traditions…however dark and strange those traditions might be.
To say more would be to ruin some of the book’s finest twists, so just dig into Harrison’s latest, and be reminded why she’s one of the best in the game.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Grady Hendrix is a master when it comes to Trojan horsing raw, deeply emotional human narratives into high-concept horror yarns, and with How To Sell a Haunted House, he may have outdone himself.
The story of two siblings reeling in the wake of their parents’ death, it starts as a family squabble over a now-empty home, then morphs into something altogether darker, stranger, and as moving as it is nightmarish. No one does it quite like Grady Hendrix, and this is still more proof.
Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
The hotly anticipated sequel to My Heart is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones’ latest novel picks up a few years after the first book in his Indian Lake trilogy, and follows reluctant final girl Jade Daniels as she faces another killer, another trail of bodies, and another fight for her life.
In fitting sequel fashion, the canvas of the story expands in Reaper, giving us deeper insights into some of Chainsaw‘s best characters, burying Proofrock, Idaho under a blizzard, and dialing up the gore until you’re turning pages so fast you almost rip them off the book’s spine. We can’t wait for book three.
Whalefall by Daniel Kraus
A scuba diver heads out into treacherous waters off the California coast to retrieve his father’s remains from the sea floor, and instead finds himself in a fight for his life inside the belly of a beast.
Daniel Kraus’ Whalefall is a towering, muscular, undeniably effective piece of survival horror that doubles as a kind of treatise on life itself, and marks what might be the crowning achievement in Kraus’ long, illustrious genre career. It’ll pull you in with that high-concept hook, but what will stay with you forever is how deep Whalefall is willing to go, and how worth it the journey is.
Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
It’s not the only cursed movie horror novel that came out in 2023, but for my money, Silver Nitrate is the best book of its kind since Gemma Files’ Experimental Film.
The story of an actor and a sound editor in 1990s Mexico City who get roped into a scheme to finish a long-lost film from a legendary horror director, it’s a book that slowly creeps under your skin like a silvery needle. Once it’s in there, though, it’s not coming out, and it’s yet more proof that Moreno-Garcia is one of the best genre authors, in any genre, working right now.
Lone Women by Victor LaValle
A single black woman flees her California home and lights out for Montana, lugging a massive and mysterious trunk with her everywhere she goes. What she hopes to find on the frontier is a new opportunity for a life of her own, but as her trunk proves, some things aren’t so easy to let go of.
Beautifully realized, elegantly rendered, and truly chilling, Victor LaValle’s latest is one of the best books of the year in any genre, and a reminder that LaValle is one of genre fiction’s most consistently powerful practitioners.
Maeve Fly by CJ Leede
One of the best horror debuts of the year, Maeve Fly announces CJ Leede as a gripping, darkly witty new voice in the genre through a book that hits you like a blood-soaked orgasm. The story of the title character’s descent into violence and indulgence, it’s a decadent, surprising, endlessly brutal little book that will keep you hooked through page after page of misanthropic adventures in Maeve Fly’s personal version of Los Angeles.
This is, trust me, one of those horror books that has to be read to be believed.
A Light Most Hateful by Hailey Piper
One of the most imaginative horror authors in the game right now, Hailey Piper outdid even herself with A Light Most Hateful, the story of a small Northeastern town transformed into a nightmarish dreamscape over the course of one fateful night.
The horror starts in the opening pages and never lets up, as Piper spools out fascinating image after fascinating image, weaving them all into an unforgettable tapestry of fear, beauty, and humanity.
Fever House by Keith Rosson
Sometimes a horror book comes along that’s so unclassifiably clever in its execution that you have no choice but to shove it into people’s hands and say “Just read this.”
This year that honor goes to Fever House, Keith Rosson’s wild story about a severed hand with strange powers, its connection to a mysterious precognitive being, and how its grip tightens around small-time crooks, has-been musicians, and government agents alike. It’s a book so gripping (pun intended) that you’ll be up well into the night, squeezing the book in your hands until the cover creaks.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Allison Rumfitt
Another of the year’s best genre debuts, Allison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless is nominally a haunted house story. But before she gets to the haunted house, Rumfitt delves headlong into the haunted people who will walk its halls, delivering a trans horror story that’s as timely as it is terrifying.
The ambitious themes and visceral horror devices of the book will draw you in, but what will keep Tell Me I’m Worthless in your head for days is the incisive character study Rumfitt pulls off in between the scares.
Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
Leave it to Chuck Tingle to take the Buckaroo battle cry of “Love Is Real” and make it come to life not just in a horror novel, but a horror novel about a deeply disturbing gay conversion camp and the monsters, both human and otherwise, who lurk within. Yes, Camp Damascus proves that Tingle is a deeply effective horror writer, but it’s the focus on love that shines through most in this book, and that love somehow makes the fear not just more real, but more powerful.
Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig
A desperate farmer risks it all to turn around his family’s fortunes in Chuck Wendig’s latest horror novel, and in the process unleashes a deal with a very particular devil that’s both distinctly American and endlessly fascinating.
Black River Orchard is another beautifully realized hit from the author of The Book of Accidents, and like that book, it’s so rich with detail that you’ll want to go back time and time again just to absorb it all.
Like I said, there are way too many great horror books released this year to be contained to a list of just 15 titles. So, if you’re looking for even more great reads (including some that aren’t quite horror but verge into the right territory), here’s where to go:
- Abnormal Statistics by Max Booth III
- Nestlings by Nat Cassidy
- The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro
- The Spite House by Johnny Compton
- All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby
- The Handyman Method by Nick Cutter and Andrew Sullivan
- The Paleontologist by Luke Dumas
- Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez
- Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi
- All Hallows by Christopher Golden
- Pinata by Leopoldo Gout
- Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.
- Dead Eleven by Jimmy Juliano
- The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
- Holly by Stephen King
- Spin a Black Yarn by Josh Malerman
- They Lurk by Ronald Malfi
- The Militia House by John Milas
- The September House by Carissa Orlando
- Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror edited by Jordan Peele
- The Shoemaker’s Magician by Cynthia Pelayo
- The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan
- The Beast Your Are: Stories by Paul Tremblay
- Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward
- Gone to the Wolves by John Wray
Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.