neil gaiman is one of the most visible, successful and celebrated living authors in the world today. Nearly all of Neil Gaiman’s best books have been adapted for film, stage, or one of those fancy audiobooks with a famous cast.
neil gaiman is also a jack of all trades type of writer, he trained as a journalist and then first broke into the comics industry.
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After comics, he went on to write adult novels and children’s novels as well as short story collections, even running a successful blog and writing doctor who episodes.
As a lifelong reader of Neil Gaiman’s works, I have read nearly every book and comic he has ever published, including books written for young children. as a budding reader, i enjoyed her endless imagination, inspiring me over and over again.
neil gaiman’s best books, ranked worst to best
what you will find here is my ranking of the best neil gaiman books. not his comics or his non-fiction. These are Neil Gaiman’s fictional books. here you will not find sandman or any of his works for marvel and dc.
This list of Neil Gaiman’s best books includes his children’s novels, his adult novels, and his collections of short stories, all ranked from worst to best. if it’s good prose by neil gaiman, it’s on this list.
so if you’re wondering where to start reading neil gaiman, or just looking for the best neil gaiman books, here’s my own ranking. we are starting with the worst and working towards the best.
15. Fortunately, the milk…
feels a little mean to put this last, but honestly, neil gaiman has never written a completely bad book. I also read this book at the age of 23, knowing that the target demographic is very young children.
this is still a lovely book by neil gaiman, in part because chris riddell’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. this is a true flexing of the imagination muscles of this pair of writers and artists.
It’s also charming because it shows how well Neil Gaiman is able to adapt his ideas to an audience of children rather than adults. for him, readers are readers and he caters to both perfectly.
Fortunately, Milk… is a children’s book, abundantly and beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, that tells the whimsical story of a father’s journey around the world.
He tells this story to his son after returning home from an adventure that really should have been a quick trip to the store for milk.
is a sweet story with a charming premise and a stegosaurus scientist in a hot air balloon. And no book with a scientific stegosaurus in a hot air balloon can really be a bad book, right?
14. activation warning
neil gaiman is often at his strongest when writing short stories (as many writers do), but unfortunately the trigger warning isn’t a great example of this.
While his first two short story collections featured dark, twisted, and monstrous tales that dig like spikes into the reader’s mind, the triggering warning is the worst of books: a forgettable one.
like i said, gaiman has never written a bad book, but this is far from one of neil gaiman’s best books, which is all the more embarrassing considering his other short story collections rank among the top. of his works more on that below.
13. anansi guys
anansi boys is one of the most curious novels by neil gaiman. it overlaps with the world and the characters of the American gods, but not in a significant way. it’s also an impressively bloated novel. however, unlike the American gods, he doesn’t have a good excuse for that.
anansi boys tells the story of fat charlie, a sad and angry Floridian whose trashy father dies while doing karaoke. it turns out that his father was anansi the spider god.
From here, the book becomes a kind of rivalry between Charlie (a totally unpleasant protagonist) and his sinister spider brother.
anansi boys is a fairly flat novel, especially compared to other adult books by neil gaiman. in fact, within that group of the best neil gaiman books for adults, anansi boys is without a doubt the weakest.
read more: 11 best fantasy audiobooks
12. odd and the frost giants
here is a lesser known neil gaiman book. Written for children and charmingly illustrated (once again by the wonderful Chris Riddell), Odd and the Frost Giants is a skinny book set in the world of Norse mythology (Neil Gaiman’s biggest influence).
set in a nordic world, frozen thanks to the ice giants that have invaded asgard, strange is a young man who enlists to help an eagle, a bear and a fox (who, if I remember correctly, are odin, thor and loki) retrieve thor’s hammer and free asgard from the frost giants.
This is a very charming tale; a story from Norse mythology told by the writer who has proven to be an expert in that field. Unlike, thankfully, milk… this is one of Neil Gaiman’s best children’s books that adults can enjoy just as well.
Putting stardust so low on this list may or may not be a divisive move. Honestly, I have no idea. But this is not, in my opinion, one of Neil Gaiman’s best books. in fact, every creative move the beloved film adaptation makes is an improvement over the original book, in my opinion.
stardust is a kind of fairy tale set in an English town known as wall (it has a wall).
When our protagonist, Tristan, fails to win the hand of his beloved, he sets off to retrieve a fallen star for her, only to discover that the star is a woman whom he eagerly ties up in handcuffs and drags along. the earth.
While it may be something of a fairy tale, stardust is not for children. it has an explicit sex scene and has a very unpleasant male lead. neil gaiman is pretty good at writing that.
It’s certainly an original story and not his worst book but, as I said, it’s far from one of Neil Gaiman’s best books of all time.
10. the sleeper and the spindle
from here on, everything is good. we’re really getting into the best neil gaiman books now. the last five are good books, but flawed or without the spark of his best books. consider this one of the top ten neil gaiman books and start with the sleeper and the spindle.
the sleeper and spindle is a very different beast. As a Neil Gaiman fan, I was very surprised when I first picked it up. Storybook format, the gorgeous fairy tale cover made it clear from the start that this was a different kind of Neil Gaiman book: an illustrated fairy tale for adults.
This is exactly what a reimagining of a fairy tale should be. turns the helpless damsel and plucky hero dynamic into something fresh, modern, and very exciting. is an exciting story that feels both fantastical and contemporary.
Without a doubt, this is one of Neil Gaiman’s best books for its beauty and originality. all that’s holding it back is that it’s a bit short. I was left hungry for more.
9. the graveyard book
Both in its name and its content, this is a nod to the jungle book, but narrated in the purest dark gaiman style. opening with a murder that leaves the deceased family’s son alone, the graveyard book then opens to an eccentric tale of a lonely boy growing up in a graveyard.
Just as the animals of the jungle raise Mowgli, the ghosts and demons of the graveyard raise Bod. It’s a Burton-esque tale (in fact, I’m surprised he never adapted it for the screen) and it’s a children’s book.
In fact, this is one of the best Neil Gaiman books to share between adults and children. kids can mix in the strangeness and excitement, projecting themselves into the body and its journey, while adults can appreciate the character writing, sinister tone, and wonderful world-building.
8. the ocean at the end of the lane
tells the story that neil gaiman wrote this book while his wife (singer/songwriter amanda palmer) was away for several months. he wrote it for her and he wrote it about himself. first, it was a story, then it became a novel. finally, it became a novella.
The Ocean at the End of the Road is a surreal and terrifying novel inspired by Neil Gaiman’s own youth. our protagonist is, in a way, him as a child.
gaiman is often praised for his boundless and bizarre imagination and this book, more than any other, feels like a window into his mind. he takes the real world from him and plunges that world into surreal waters.
fear, danger, magic, and the impossible take over and you feel like you’re drowning in the unknown.
the ocean at the end of the road is a strange novel and a very good place to start reading neil gaiman. it’s like a gateway between the world and the mind of this amazing writer.
7. fragile things
Fragile Things is the second collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. While it doesn’t live up to the magical, lyrical quality of Smoke and Mirrors (below), it’s still a phenomenal collection of short stories that demonstrates his strength as a writer.
For new readers, this is one of the best Neil Gaiman books to get an idea of his style and imagination. one of her most famous stories, how to talk to girls at parties, is found here. it was made into both a comic and a feature film.
Fragile Things also ends with a sequel to his novel American Gods, set in Scotland and titled Monarch of the Glen. If you’ve read and loved American Gods, this story is worth the price of the collection alone.
6. norse mythology
I’m happy to admit that when this book was first published, I was a bit disappointed. Shortly before, I read Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki, a delightful novel that took all of these stories from Norse mythology and stitched them together into one narrative.
after reading the gospel of loki, neil gaiman’s norse mythology almost felt lazy by comparison. but the truth is that this is a very accessible collection of incredible Norse myths.
I found myself coming back to this collection again and again, randomly popping in and out for a fun story of loki, thor and the other asgardians.
This is, if you don’t already know, a retelling of the best Norse myths, told by a writer with a passion and obsession with the tales of Norse mythology. it could not have been written by a better author.
if you want to get a sense of gaiman’s writing style, somewhat removed from his own imagination, this is one of the best neil gaiman books for a new reader.
Coraline, arguably Neil Gaiman’s most famous book, was adapted into an incredible stop-motion animated film by Laika in 2009 (who went on to do the equally stellar ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings).
Coraline is a children’s book that adults can enjoy just as well. This is because Gaiman understood that stories are universal and that what scares children also tends to scare adults.
so yes, coraline is scary. tells the story of the titular coraline, a girl who moves into a new house with her parents and arrives to lash out and rebel a bit. She is drawn into a mirror world where seemingly kinder versions of her parents exist to welcome her, but all is not as it seems.
another mother and father have buttons for eyes and hope to catch coraline in her reality. the story escalates quickly, with an eccentric cast of supporting characters helping to color the pages beautifully.
Coraline absolutely remains one of Neil Gaiman’s best books, for adults or children, and the film adaptation remains a complete masterpiece as well.
4. good omens
Written as a joint effort by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens is the book on this list with the largest cult following. people who like this book really love it (myself included, of course).
Good Omens is a supernatural comedy novel that begins with a parody of the Omen’s story and tropes, but actually goes much, much further than that.
Our protagonists are a pair of angels and demons who have been friends from the literal beginning, watching the earth grow and change from the sidelines.
At the beginning of the novel there is a funny and awkward baby swapping that causes a frenzied panic in heaven and hell and it’s up to the angel and demon Aziraphale and Crowley to see how it plays out but also maybe help sort it out.
Good Omens is often considered one of the funniest novels ever written and it really is laugh-out-loud fun. It’s also been adapted into a miniseries with Gaiman himself in the lead and a star-studded cast in the lead (yes, Michael Sheen).
Good Omens is essential reading and, without a doubt, one of Neil Gaiman’s best books. it will be difficult to find someone who disagrees.
3. smoke and mirrors
I’ve mentioned more than once that Neil Gaiman’s imagination is best seen through the lens of his short stories, and Smoke and Mirrors represents the best of them.
In fact, Smoke and Mirrors is one of Neil Gaiman’s best books, full stop, comics included. It’s a great collection of stories. so many of these have stuck in my head for a full decade, including the iconic don’t ask jack, troll bridge, and nicholas was…
if you need convincing of the power of these neil gaiman stories, give nicholas was… a quick google search. That story has never left me. it’s haunting and beautiful and it’s less than 100 words.
2. never anywhere
neverwhere was Neil Gaiman’s first novel. He had already made a huge name for himself in the American comics industry thanks to the sandman, but now he was entering the world of the novel, and what an entrance.
neverwhere has been a great inspiration to countless authors and remains one of Neil Gaiman’s best books. a near-perfect masterpiece of urban fantasy fiction.
Follows the story of Richard Mayhew, an unassuming Scotsman who, after moving to London, ends up meeting and saving the life of a girl named Door. Richard’s actions send him spiraling down into London: a place of oblivion and magical people.
neverwhere is a hunt, with richard and door as the prey. Inspired by TFL’s iconic phrase “mind the gap”, Neverwhere asks us to ponder where things go if they don’t care about the gap. The answer is, of course, Down London. and what place is it.
1. american gods
this is all. Of all Neil Gaiman’s best books, American Gods stands out. however, this does come with some caveats. American Gods is not a perfect novel; it’s too long and its protagonist is frustratingly bland compared to the rest of the book’s cast.
however, flaws aside, american gods still stands out thanks to its great ideas and setting.
american gods follows shadow, a man recently released from prison at the same time his wife is murdered. Shadow, recruited by a man known as Wednesday, goes on a strange road trip across the USA. uu. and she sees all the strange places along the way.
It is this American road trip setting that first sells the novel. Brimming with rich and detailed atmosphere, it is a journey that completely absorbs the reader. you live the journey of the shadow totally and completely, and how exciting it is.
american gods also has a truly masterful central concept. the gods need people who invent them, worship them and dedicate their lives to them. without people, the gods disappear.
so what happened when the Europeans moved to the new world? some brought their gods with them while others were abandoned.
there are also new gods; new things to love: tv and internet and microwave. A war is brewing between the old gods and the new, and the shadow is caught in the middle.
This is a fascinating and gripping premise that makes for a perfect novel. American Gods is Neil Gaiman’s best novel. a true masterpiece.