I’ve always had a soft spot for werewolves. While vampires can be a bit too detached and aristocratic, or alternatively hammer you over the head with sex allegories, werewolves are just fun. They can be scary and bloodthirsty, cute and fuzzy, or roguishly wild, but there’s always an edge of puppyish playfulness to every werewolf story. Some of the best werewolves in books stay close to the behaviour and pack dynamics of real-life wolves, while others lean more to the hairy humanoid monster model that we see in classic horror films — but either way, the character of the werewolf has been almost as popular in literature as their undead, blood-drinking pals (or, more often, enemies).
Werewolves have been used as a literary device to explore a huge number of topics — body changes as a result of puberty, family connections, the pain of being an outcast, and much more. They can be comedy characters, loyal and heroic friends, or push the boundaries of body horror. Werewolves are versatile characters, and it’s unsurprising that generations of writers have brought them into their supernatural fiction. There are several packs’ worth of fictional werewolves to choose from, but some, in particular, stand out. Here are some of the best werewolves in books, from classic tales and newer stories.
Wagner the Werewolf by George W. M. Reynolds; Fernand Wagner
Like vampires, werewolves have been folkloric figures for centuries, but the first literary werewolf is probably Fernand Wagner from Wagner the Werewolf. Wagner makes a Faustian pact — literally — and, in exchange for riches, beauty, and success, must live his life as a werewolf. Wagner’s adventures with his murderer girlfriend Nisida were published as a serialised story in the 19th century, and are a fun, melodramatic entry to the gothic fiction canon.
Bored Gay Werewolf by Tony Santorella; Brian
From one of the earliest literary werewolves to one of the most recent, Brian from Bored Gay Werewolf is a *mood*. A late Millennial/Gen-Zer who isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life (and really, what’s the point of making a plan under late-stage capitalism?), Brian gets caught up in the schemes of Tyler, a slick werewolf and startup bro who proves that toxic masculinity isn’t limited to humans.
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith; Kieran
I’ve long had a love for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s supernatural novels, and this is in large part because of the relationship between Quincey, a human-turned-vampire, and her childhood friend and long-term love Kieran, a boy from a family of werewolves who has trouble managing his changing body. Kieran struggles to shift safely into wolf form and has to grapple with his wish to stay by Quincey’s side, and his need to spend time with other weres to stop his were powers becoming dangerous to him and those he loves.
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Lisa Sterle; The squad
If you like your werewolves sharp, strong, and ready to take down creepy men, you’ll love the teen girl pack who are the focus of Squad. When Becca starts at her new school, she’s surprised that the most popular girls in school are interested in being her new best friends. She soon finds out that they’re werewolves who feast on predatory boys, and leaps at the chance to join them — although it soon turns out that the squad’s way of life isn’t as morally simple as Becca had believed.
Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones; The narrator
Like vampires, werewolves have often been used as a way to explore marginalisation through the lens of Gothic and supernatural literature. The narrator of Mongrels lives with his aunt and uncle, an impoverished werewolf family who live a life of constantly moving from place to place to avoid persecution. Pulling no punches, this story uses its werewolf cast to look at social injustice against people who society is set up to ostracise rather than protect.
Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac; Luke
Luke has had an unusual upbringing — trained in survival and fighting by his former black ops dad, he’s not someone to be crossed. But when his dad vanishes, and a sinister group of strangers infiltrates his school, Luke discovers his werewolf heritage. I loved Luke’s relationship with his family, his pack-bonding with his friends, and the fun take on werewolves and vampires in Bruchac’s story.
Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens; Artie
Perhaps it’s the strong family bonds you see in wolf packs, but werewolves are often used as ways to explore family relationships, as we’ve seen in many other entries on this list. Artie and the Wolf Moon is a sweet spin on the werewolf family story, following Artie’s discovery that her mother is a werewolf — as, indeed, are the rest of her family. As Artie begins her journey into the werewolf world, she gains a greater sense of who she is and deepens her understanding of her family’s heritage.
Young Werewolf by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by David Roberts; Matt
While there are plenty of (very) adult werewolf books out there, these furry characters can be enjoyed by younger readers too. Matt from Cornelia Funke’s Young Werewolf is a regular kid who is just walking home from the cinema one night, when, in classic werewolf story fashion, he’s attacked by a mysterious monster and bitten (not too scarily). Matt’s body soon starts to change, American Werewolf in London style, and he has to draw on the help of his best friend to try to shake the curse before he becomes a werewolf forever.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu; Tam
In this cute romance graphic novel, we’re introduced to young witch Nova and her long-lost, recently-rediscovered friend and crush Tam, who is a werewolf. Tam is on the run from malevolent magic-users, and needs Nova’s help — and, of course, the two soon develop feelings for each other. While Mooncakes explores the theme of werewolf as outcast, it’s an uplifting story of friendship, love, and family.
Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett; Angua
Angua von Uberwald is probably my favourite werewolf character of all time. Born into an elitist (bordering on supremacist) noble werewolf family in the Discworld’s answer to a Hammer Horror version of Transylvania, she turns her back on her past, travels to the big city, and joins the City Watch. Angua’s sarcasm, quick wit, and loyalty to her chosen family make her an endearing character — although she’s never afraid to show her teeth.
Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; Special mention: Leah Clearwater
Leah Clearwater, who appears in the later Twilight books, is one of those characters that I feel was robbed in her original series. The only female werewolf in the pack, forced to share her telepathic abilities with her former boyfriend who is now supernaturally in love with her cousin, and so justice-minded and loyal that she repeatedly stands up for Jacob despite him being nothing but awful to her, makes her a fascinating figure — and then she disappears from the narrative as soon as it returns to Bella and her vampire baby. She’s a great character who ended up in a series that didn’t deserve her, and I would love to see a Native American author’s take on Leah’s story.
Find out more about our favourite wolfish heroes with A Brief History of Vampires and Werewolves in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In search of more monstrous reads? Check out Marvelous New Monster Novels for Your Bookshelf.