Best Apocalypse Books: Top 5 Novels Most Recommended By Experts

Apocalypse novels mix elements of other genres to create bleak tales of civilization’s end and what comes after. Apocalypse fiction borrows generously from horror, science fiction, satire, and social commentary genres to craft stories about what could happen. These titles frame cataclysmic events through the lens of the human condition. Our list of the top five best apocalypse books contains well-received and thought-provoking bestsellers that peer into a society stricken with impending doom.

The horror genre explores dread and apprehension over the unknown. Science Fiction explores the impact of technology on society. Satire and social commentary highlight the absurdity of civilization. Apocalypse fiction often blends elements from these genres and more to create a scenario of societal collapse on a global scale. This catastrophic level of civil failure is typically triggered by a catalyst like emergent artificial intelligence, alien invasion, or a zombie uprising. Other great apocalypse novels utilize more realistic and somehow scarier reasons including disease, war, and political upheaval.

Interestingly, sometimes the reason for the apocalypse doesn’t matter in the context of the story. In these cases, the end of the world is merely a plot device so the author can focus on the action and events that come after the world ends. Why is it that so many readers find this grim genre irresistible? Recreational fear can be an effective outlet for stress and to achieve catharsis over pent-up frustrations. Processing the world around us can be harrowing, and reading stories that take our fears to extreme lengths can be a way to face and process those concerns.

Apocalypse fiction can also be a metaphor for drastic change. In creating a world that differs only slightly from our own, authors craft compelling narratives that pose the question “What If?” Sometimes the focus of these books is the actual planetary disaster and others it is simply a distant memory. Readers can experience recreational fear, then put the book down, walk away, and go about their day. Our trusted sources were indispensable in helping us rank the best apocalypse books of all time. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

Remains of a city overgrown by plants after the apocalypse
Remains of a city overgrown by plants after the apocalypse. (© aigarsr –

The List: Best Apocalypse Books, According to Readers


1. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

This character-driven story is fully focused on the struggle of a man and his son as they try to survive. The apocalypse is merely an afterthought as the heart of this narrative lies in the relationship between father and son. Refinery29 raves, “In ‘The Road,’ the world… has been wiped away by some unnamed catastrophe… Within this, an unnamed father and son begin their trek to outrun the incoming Appalachian winter. ‘The Road’ is a Pulitzer Prize-winning survival novel, with a chilling background of disaster.”

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

Den of Geek praises, “An unnamed man and his young son travel across a devastated America, ‘carrying the fire’ of human resilience, hope, and the brutal force of love above all. The man is… protecting his unnamed boy from all manner of raiders, cannibals, and worse on their journey.”

Nerd Much? exclaims, “There is no distinct beginning, climax, or conclusion — it is just a father and son wandering toward the coast, with no clear idea of what they will do when they reach it. It is implied that there was some sort of nuclear warfare, but no further explanation than that. Readers who can get past that will find McCarthy’s writing style both poetic and hauntingly beautiful.”

2. “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

“Station Eleven” is a richly-detailed narrative that focuses on interpersonal relationships. It is an examination of human nature with an ensemble cast. Happy says, “Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ describes a world ravaged by a fictional swine flu pandemic. It details the chaotic dissolution of society, charting the lives of five strangers who become inextricably intertwined after the death of a Hollywood star on stage.”

“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

“Much of the novel takes place in the post-apocalyptic world, but there are jumps in time and flashbacks which give you some of the classic ‘early apocalypse thriller’ vibes. There’s also plenty of danger in the new world without larger societal structures. But what I love is that it’s a novel that keeps humans … well, human,” describes The Mary Sue.

“Follow Kirsten Raymonde, a member of The Traveling Symphony – a small troupe of actors and musicians dedicated to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive… With a unique timeline that jumps between life before and after the pandemic, uncover the twist of fate that connects them all in this National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist,” elaborates Read This Twice.

3. “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood (2003)

“Oryx and Crake” is a riveting narrative that follows its protagonist through the events of the apocalypse. It is an exploration of hubris and the destruction it can cause. The Booker Prizes comments, “Atwood’s narrative oscillates between pre and post-apocalypse to slowly reveal the catastrophic set of events that brought society to its knees. A world which is, at times sordid, consumed by big pharma and devastated by greed. Atwood is a master of the parable and her 2003 shortlisted novel deftly illustrates the vices of humankind.”

“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood (2003)
“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood (2003)

Lit Hub adds, “You may argue that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is just as much of an apocalypse novel as ‘Oryx and Crake,’ and in some ways I’d agree with you… ‘Oryx and Crake,’ while somewhat less celebrated, is just as good, a frighteningly plausible world destroyed by our relentless pursuit for happiness in a bottle. Oh, and trusting corporations. Of course.”

CrimeReads details, “Queen Atwood does doomsday, and it’s because of humankind’s overreach and petty pride? I read the damn thing twice. What I love most about this book is not just Atwood’s brilliantly clever neologisms and biotechnologies, but the fact that so much of humanity’s fate is decided by some pretty boneheaded and emotionally charged decisions.”

4. “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban (1980)

“Riddley Walker” can be a difficult read. This is because author Russell Hoban wrote this book in a highly stylized dialect of English, and it is much easier to comprehend as an audiobook. The Best Sci Fi Books claims, “When I first started ‘Riddley Walker,’ I thought, ‘Oh god, I don’t want to deal with this.’ But someone whose opinion I respect… recommended it, so I kept going. It was totally worth it. Yes, you have to read it slowly, and yes, it’s more work than reading a typical book. But it’s also a lot better than a typical book. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

“Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban (1980)
“Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban (1980)

“Post-apocalyptic England serves as the backdrop for ‘Riddley Walker,’ following a twelve-year-old boy on his journey through the wasteland left behind by civilization. After the death of his father, Riddley must become a man and soon discovers a relic from the past, triggering a series of events that may bring about the end of the world,” relates Read This Twice.

Lit Hub reviews, “This classic, highly influential for its use of invented dialect, is set in England, some two thousand years after the end of civilization as we know it—when what society is left is uncomfortably reliant on ‘Punch & Pooty’ [puppet] shows. A layered, Joycean masterpiece that is as much about the power of story and myth as it is about the end of the world and everything after.”

5. “Severance” by Ling Ma (2018)

“Severance” is a satirical dark comedy about a slow and encroaching apocalypse. The protagonist is a survivor who watches society collapse around her. Lit Hub explains, “The plague that ends the world in Ma’s excellent debut is extra scary because we’re all halfway there: when you catch Shen Fever, you continue going about your routine, doing your rote tasks, not that much more of a zombie than you were in life, until eventually you rot away.”

“Severance” by Ling Ma (2018)
“Severance” by Ling Ma (2018)

“In Ling Ma’s offbeat and wryly funny novel, ‘Severance,’ Candace Chen, a first-generation American and millennial drone, is navigating adulthood in a routine-driven life. However, when a plague sweeps New York… Candace joins a group of survivors led by a power-hungry IT tech and must navigate her way through a new society. This apocalyptic satire is a moving family story, a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale, and a hilarious, deadpan tribute to human connections that drive us to do more than just survive,” offers Read This Twice.

“Basically, once infected, people just start doing a task over and over again, like patrolling a hallway or setting the dinner table. And they keep doing it until they (presumably) perish. The afflicted become a symbol of the monotonous daily lives the characters inhabited in the before times. It’s gloomy and sad and a brilliant metaphor for the complacency in a capitalistic society,” states The Mary Sue.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.


  1. Who are these ‘experts’? And what about ‘The Stand’, ‘On The Beach’, or ‘A Canticle for Leibovitz’? These are classics that have stood the test of time.

    1. I would add: Drowned World, Day of the Triffids, Earth Abides to the list that others have mentioned. I did not like Swansong, Lucifers Hammer or Dies the Fire at all. Too many characters to remember.

  2. How could you omit The Stand by Stephen King, or I Am Legend by Richard Matheson? Both are seminal works in the apocalyptic genre, and provided the blueprint for almost all that came after. At least you included The Road, so this list isn’t total garbage.

  3. You left out a good number of books.

    Like Damnation Alley…

    Logan’s Run

    To name 2…

  4. What a crap list. Where’s Stephen King’s The Stand or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song? How about Lucifer’s Hammer or A Canticle For Liebowitz?

  5. where is “swan song”? by robert r mccammon? one of the best books i have ever read. read it 3 times in a row.

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