Vampires have been a fixture of anglophone literature for about two centuries now. As outlined in this essay, they have been part of the human imagination in the form of myths and folklore since time immemorial. Mysterious, dangerous, and invoking feelings of a very sensuous horror, the vampire myth lends itself to a multitude of interpretations, moods, and settings. From fun, pulpy romps to thoughtful treatises that use the vampire as a metaphor to explore concepts of otherness and discrimination — vampire fiction has done it all. And if the continued popularity of cult classics like Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, the more polarizing Twilight books, or the uninterrupted stream of new books across genres that provide a fresh take on vampires are anything to go by, we are not done with literary vampires just yet. With a plethora of choices available, picking the best vampire books for your personal reading preferences can be a difficult task.
Here I have for you a list of some of the best vampire books of all time, across genre and mood, for your reading pleasure. Whether you are a seasoned vampire fan, or just dipping your toes into their bloody world, I hope you will find something that you will enjoy.
Early Vampire Stories
The Vampyre by John William Polidori
Initially attributed to Lord Byron, but actually written by John William Polidori, The Vampyre is one of the earliest vampire stories to be published in English. Polidori based the tale on a ghost story idea that Byron came up with on the same unusually dark June evening at the same house near Lake Geneva in response to the same ghost story writing challenge that resulted in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The titular vampire of Polidori’s story is based partially on Lord Byron himself, and it is the first book to deploy the much-emulated trope of the mysterious, beautiful, depraved aristocratic vampire.
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
I picked up Carmilla knowing only that it was a vampire story that predated and inspired Dracula. I was not expecting a tale of the deep love between two women. While still racist, sexist, and told in a very heteronormative voice, it offers a fascinating lens into the classic vampire novel. I highly recommend the edition introduced and edited by Carmen Maria Machado, which seeks to reclaim the narrative for its queer protagonists.
Dracula by Bram Stocker
This iconic book of course had to make the list. For all its problematic aspects, it is a pulpy entertainer that has been subject to unending interpretations, reinterpretations, and deep dives; has spawned numerous adaptations; and has inspired writers for more than a century.
Best Vampire Books With Historical Settings
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This Lambda award winning classic of vampire and queer fiction is about a young black girl who escapes from slavery in the 1850s. She finds sanctuary in a brothel in Louisiana and is turned by a benevolent, older vampire. The rest of the book follows her two centuries-long adventures across time and space, in beautiful, meticulous prose, and explores themes of queerness, racism, and found family.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
This brilliant novel reimagines a 19th century Britain where Dracula defeats Van Helsing and company, marries Queen Victoria, and makes some dramatic changes to British society. It is an entertaining mashup of historical characters, literary references, and delicious gothic horror — featuring, among others, Jack the Ripper, Oscar Wilde, Beatrice Potter, and Dracula’s literary predecessors like Lord Ruthven from Polidori’s The Vampyre.
The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
Set in 1872 New Orleans, this book follows a 17-year-old girl named Celine who arrives in the city after having to abandon her life as a seamstress in Paris. She is drawn to the dazzlingly dark underworld of the city and falls for the mysterious Sébastien Saint Germain. With the discovery of a murder that soon starts to look like the work of a serial killer, Celine finds herself embroiled in an ancient feud involving dangerous supernatural beings. Richly atmospheric, immersive, thrilling, and angsty, this book is a great YA read.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
This entertaining, pulpy novel reimagines Abraham Lincoln’s life as a secret vampire hunter. Told in the form of Lincoln’s secret journals generously annotated with footnotes and photoshopped pictures, the ridiculous premise is bolstered by real historical research.
Urban Fantasy Vampire Books
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
In Fledgling, a young girl wakes up in a cave with no memory of her past, to discover that she is, in fact, a 53-year-old genetically modified vampire. As she learns to navigate the world that she finds herself in, she tries to piece together her past and find out who tried to kill her and hurt her loved ones. This is a fascinating, original interpretation of vampire lore that does not shy away from difficult, uncomfortable questions.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This book is set in an alternate Mexico City in a world that is overrun by warring vampire clans. Dominigo, a 17-year-old street urchin, and Atl, a vampire descended from Aztec bloodsuckers, band together in the quest to save Atl from a rival vampire clan and provide two of the main points of view. Gritty, dark, action-packed, and drawing from vampire myths outside the usual European fare, this book is a must read for any vampire lover looking to diversify their TBR.
Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda
This well-written, slice-of-life vampire novel is as contemporary as it can get. Lydia, a lonely young mixed-race vampire, lives in London, interns at an art gallery, longs to eat human food, navigates workplace harassment, worries about her vampire mother who is unwell, and marathon-watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Woman, Eating is an unmissable, delightful vampire spin on millennial angst and the pangs of early adulthood.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
In Robin McKinley’s urban fantasy take on the vampire novel, the main character Sunshine is abducted by a gang of vampires. In captivity, she forms an unlikely alliance with Constantine, another vampire who is being held captive by the same gang. Sunshine has to reach into her past to rediscover the magic within her in order to escape and survive.
My Soul To Keep by Tananarive Due
Being married to someone who you think is keeping a secret from you is bad enough. In Jessica’s case, she also has the misfortune of finding out that her husband David’s secret is that he is part of an immortal Ethiopian sect and is several hundred years old. When other members of the sect find out about David’s wife and child and try to threaten him into abandoning them, David makes a vow that is morally dubious and fraught with danger. This book is skillfully written, with emotional depth, while featuring richly layered characters and dark themes.
Funny Vampire Books
Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is probably my favorite fantasy series of all time. With more than 40 titles to choose from, these smartly funny books make the perfect literary pick-me-ups. In Carpe Jugulum, the fan-favorite disc world witches are at war with the fancy waistcoat-wielding vampires, and the rather feckless priest called Mightily Oats is unfortunately caught in the middle of it.
Do only hot, brooding hunks get turned into vampires? Drew Hayes answers this question with Fred, who is a boring, nerdy, socially awkward accountant…and also a vampire. When he reconnects with an old friend from high school, he is unwillingly thrust headfirst into the drama of the supernatural world. What follows are episodic accounts of his trysts with a host of creatures, including wereponies, zombies, and dragons.
Vampire Crush by A. M. Robinson
This is a YA novel about an ordinary teenage girl trying to figure out the new students in her school who have some really unusual habits (spoiler alert: they may be vampires!). A parody of every angsty teenage vampire story ever, this book is a hoot from start to finish. It will make you laugh if you like vampires. It will make you laugh if you think they are silly and overdone.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
First book in a steampunk Victorian fantasy series set in a world where supernatural beings coexist with run-of-the-mill, garden-variety humans. The main character Alexia is a soulless human who can take away the supernatural powers of others with her touch. Vampires form an important part of the supernatural world, especially in the first book, and the character of Alexia’s vampire friend Lord Akeldama is endearingly funny. Full of dirigibles, parasols, corsets, and weird blood-sucking contraptions, Soulless brims with humor and wit.
Vampire Romance Books
Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts
The first book in the Circle trilogy, Morrigan’s Cross is romance in fantasy land. It pits Lilith, a powerful, thousand years old vampire against Hoyt, a human endowed with magical abilities by the goddess Morrigan, who sets out to avenge his brother’s death. With detailed worldbuilding and steamy romance, this book is the best of both worlds.
Soul To Keep by Rebekah Weatherspoon
This is the third book in the Vampire Sorority sisters series by Weatherspoon, but like most romance series, it can be read out of order. An erotic romance featuring an interracial couple, sorority drama, dirty fun, dark dangers, and a sweet love story at the heart of it — this book is quite the sexy romp.
Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh
The first book in the Guild Hunter series, Angels’ Blood introduces readers to a world where vampires are everywhere, and angels have taken it upon themselves to keep them in check. Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux is hired by the archangel Raphael for a mission that turns out to be dangerous beyond all her expectations. As Elena embarks on a quest to finish the task that she has been assigned, Raphael’s dangerous allure becomes more and more difficult to resist.
Fangs by Sarah Andersen
While I have not yet had the chance to delve into the world of vampire comics and manga (you can find some recommendations here), I could not resist recommending this sweet little graphic novel by Sarah Andersen, whose comic strips are wildly popular on the internet. Fangs is a slice-of-life story of the everyday struggles of a vampire and a werewolf in love with each other. This is a perfect short read that you will find yourself returning to — cute, funny, and weirdly relatable.
Now excuse me as I go and rewatch the old Dracula movie to stave the cravings that writing this post evoked. For more vampire fiction reading inspiration, check out our vampire archives.