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25 Best Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

best fiction books

I know what you’re thinking. No, I’m not psychic, but I am a writer and reader, just like you. The question you want to ask is, “Do I really need to add 25 new books to my already ballooning TBR pile?”

When you see Fictionary’s list of the 25 best fiction books everyone should read, you’ll know there’s only one answer.


Together, we’re going to explore the 25 must-read novels everyone should devour, and there’s something for everybody. We’ve got classics, 19th, 20th, and 21st century novels, plus the top five novels of all time.

Let’s get into it, starting with the classics.

Best Classic Novels

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin (1813)

Genre: Romance/Satire

It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone should read this book. It’s no surprise this book is number one on the list. 

Austin paints a wonderfully vivid picture of 19th century England, all satirized through the eyes of Lizzie Bennet. Pride and Prejudice is the original enemies to lovers rom-com, and one you should add to your bookshelf. This is no romantic fluff piece, it’s a sparkling piece of social commentary that stands the test of time. 

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Genre: Gothic Horror

When you hear the word vampire, you immediately think of the infamous and immortal Count Dracula, a character so iconic he inspires vampire fiction to this day. 

If you’re looking for an atmospheric read that expertly blends classic horror elements with a gothic setting, then look no further. And, if I haven’t twisted your arm already, Stoker’s rich character development will completely entrance you (much like the Count himself).

3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Paying a visit to 221B Baker Street and adding these classic crime capers to your must-read list is elementary, my dear Watson. Before there was James Bond, there was Sherlock Holmes. 

I read these stories in secondary school, and I can still remember the thrill. If you’re in the mood for intricate plots and twisty puzzles, look no further.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844-1846)

Genre: Action/Adventure

Betrayal and revenge. Two words that perfectly sum up The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. 

This is a classic adventure novel filled with intriguing twists. Join Edmond Dantès as he pulls off daring escapes, embarks on dangerous treasure hunts, and employs deception and disguise to become the enigmatic Count of Monte Cristo. 

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Genre: Science Fiction

Forget The Minority Report, Dune, and Foundation, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the OG sci-fi novel every reader worth their salt should add to their book lists. 

When you’re looking for a novel that explores dark themes, all wrapped up in a creepy, gothic horror setting, this is where you go, my friend. 

Frankenstein tells an interesting tale of ambition gone wrong and reinforces the adage that pride comes before a long, long fall.

best classic novels

Famous Books from the 19th Century

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

Genre: Romantic Suspense

You might see romantic suspense paired with Jane Eyre, and say, “Wait, what?!” But think about it. This 19th century classic is the perfect blend of romance, mystery, and a story that keeps you turning pages. Plus, Jane’s development throughout the novel, from troubled girl to independent woman, is a masterclass in character arcs.

7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

Genre: Adventure

Never has there been a literary pairing like Ishmael and Captain Ahab, and you should read this book for these two characters alone. But if you want to know the secret sauce behind the success of this novel, then it’s Melville’s absolute mastery of symbolism. 

The titular character, Moby Dick, represents the novel’s key theme of human existence. The Pequod represents a microcosm of society, with diverse crew members highlighting the theme of connectedness. And Captain Ahab personifies the novel’s central theme of obsession. It’s no wonder Moby Dick is one of the great American novels.

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)

Genre: Gothic Tragedy

First came Romeo and Juliet, then came Heathcliff and Cathy. What do you get if you take a dark and passionate tale of love and revenge and set it against the eerie, desolate backdrop of the Yorkshire moors? You get Wuthering Heights

The word that springs to mind when I think of Wuthering Heights is unsettling. I mentioned love and revenge earlier, and this classic tragedy shows us what happens when people take both these things to the bitter end, with devastating consequences.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

Genre: Gothic Literature


The Picture of Dorian Gray made this list for the witty prose and sharp dialogue alone. People often say Wilde was ahead of his time with his writing style, and I agree. 

But, you shouldn’t just read this novel for the laughs. It also explores themes of vanity and human obsession with personal appearance, which can lead to corrupt morals. In our filtered-image, social media age, and the associated societal pressures for people to look perfect, Wilde’s work seems more poignant than ever.

10. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Genre: Gothic Horror

Characters with a dark side are proving more and more popular in recent years. Think of iconic protagonists in recent movies. We’re resonating with characters like Cruella, Harley Quinn, and Deadpool. Well, nothing says, “A character with a dark side,” like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, so let’s wind the clock all the way back to 1886. This classic gothic horror novella will take you on a psychologically twisted wild ride that explores the duality of human nature and the concept of inner darkness.

20th century fiction books

Good Fiction Books from the 20th Century

11. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Dragons, wizards, dwarves, and treasure. If The Hobbit fell short of any list boasting the best books people must read, it would surprise me. 

Tolkien was the pioneer of fantasy as we know it today, and he’s rightly praised for his immersive world-building and rich storytelling. If you want to be swept up on a magical adventure that still reads as fresh as the day Tolkien wrote it, grab a copy of The Hobbit.

12. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Genre: Historical Romance

If you’re a fan of historical romance and want a novel that paints a vivid picture of a war-torn era, while being steeped in historical accuracy, then you’ll love Gone With The Wind

The thing that really sets Mitchell’s work apart is her expertly drawn characters. Critics often laud Scarlett O’Hara as one of the most complex literary heroes, and her romance with Rhett Butler as one of the most enduring love stories. Mitchell is also a master of subtext, with Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship characterized by conflict, passion, and deep emotion. 

13. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Genre: Dystopian

Despite all the gothic horror on this list, George Orwell’s 1984 is the most chilling novel you’ll find here. 

The strangest thing about this novel and its discourse on state surveillance and societal control is that, in some ways, it feels less like a dystopian tale, and more like a work of nonfiction. While bleak, 1984 is one of the most interesting novels you’ll ever pick up, and Orwell’s stripped back writing style makes it a fast-paced read that will keep you flipping pages into the early hours.

14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Genre: Legal Drama

Harper Lee must have been high in empathy, because the turbulent emotional journey you go on when you read To Kill a Mockingbird is profound. 

Through the protagonist eyes, Lee presents us with a story of injustice and moral outrage. As the story progresses, Lee’s warm and inviting writing style teaches us a thing or two about compassion and human nature. 

Like I said, this novel is profound, and it’s no wonder this book remains a modern classic.

15. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)

Genre: Coming of Age

D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is one of the original young adult (YA) novels. It’s full of teenage angst, and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, provides a poignant insight into the trials and tribulations of growing up.

This novel resonates across time because we’ve all experienced what it’s like to struggle through adolescence. Caufield’s journey is both relatable and moving, which makes it one you’ll want to read again and again.

Best New Books from the 21st Century

16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

Genre: YA Dystopian

May the odds be ever in your favor. This is the immortal line uttered by Effie Trinket just before Katniss Everdeen volunteers as a tribute in The Hunger Games to save her little sister’s life. And the odds certainly aren’t in Katniss’s favor. Never have life and death stakes been as high as in the arena. 

Suzanne Collins was among the first authors to catapult the YA genre into the mainstream, and, because of that, Hollywood made it into a series of blockbuster movies. I had to include it on this list.

17. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)

Genre: Action Thriller

This was the book that ignited my love of reading. From the very first page, when the ill-fated museum curator Jaques Suaniere stumbles into the Louvre to meet a grizzly end, Brown hooked me in and didn’t let go until the last page. And talk about twists and turns. The moment Langdon unmasks the mastermind behind the entire crime, I vividly remember my mouth dropping open. For real. If a book can do that, it’s earned its place here.

18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005, translated into English in 2008)

Genre: Scandi-Thriller

Have you ever met a more interesting character than Lisbeth Salander? Haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet? Read it and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you. 

This novel is deliciously dark and gripping, and explores twisted themes that will leave your head spinning long after you’ve turned the last page. With Larsson’s stellar plotting, break-neck twists, and deeply flawed characters, it’s no wonder this modern masterpiece has sold over 100 million copies.

19. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

Genre: Fantasy

Who doesn’t love a magical competition between two young illusionists and a creepy circus that only opens at night? Celia and Marco have been training for this competition since childhood, and the stakes are high. 

The things that set The Night Circus apart are Morgenstern’s beautiful prose and intricate world-building. It’s a knockout where contemporary fantasy fiction is concerned.

20. You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood (2017)

Genre: Courtroom Thriller

A protagonist with no name. A man accused of murder. A complex web of lies. Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me delves into complex themes of identity, societal prejudice, and the subjective nature of the truth. 

Mahmood set the entire novel against the backdrop of a courtroom where a young man accused of murder tells his story directly to the jury. Mahmood’s colloquial writing style makes this story come to life. It feels gritty, real, and intense. If this stunning novel doesn’t become a modern classic, I’ll eat my hat.

best books of all time

Best Books of All Time

21. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

Genre: Science Fiction

Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel sees its young protagonist, Ender Wiggin, training and fighting to save the world from an alien invasion. 

This novel has some of the best training montages you’ll ever experience and so many complex moral dilemmas. I challenge you not to love it. And don’t let the age of the protagonist fool you. Scott Card deals with intense themes of human nature, identity, and the perils of war.

22. The Shining by Stephen King (1977)

Genre: Horror

The Shining is Stephen King at his best, and people don’t call him the master of horror for nothing. You’ll want to read this one with the light on because watching Jack Torrence’s slow slide into insanity is brutally chilling. And then there’s the setting. 

The Overlook Hotel is genuinely the most atmospheric and emotionally resonant setting I’ve ever encountered in fiction. I felt like I was there, and the experience was unsettling to say the least. This list wouldn’t be complete without a Stephen King novel.

23. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)

Genre: Historical Drama

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has touched millions of readers worldwide, and it’s easy to see why. Set against the culturally rich backdrop of a changing Afghanistan, Hosseini does a wonderful job of bringing his characters and their struggles to life. 

This is a story all about betrayal, redemption, and the enduring power of friendship. This one cuts deep and has definitely earned its place.

24. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Genre: Historical Magical Realism

This is by far the most haunting novel on the list, but the book’s almost musical prose and Morrison’s expertly crafted characters make it a must-read. The protagonist is a runaway slave haunted by the ghost of her deceased child, so the content is heavy, but it’s a thought-provoking journey into trauma, redemption, identity, and freedom.

25. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

Genre: Historical Fiction

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany who loves books and isn’t above stealing them to read. This book is all about how words have the power to change the world, something which, as a writer, I resonate with. Couple all this with the fact Death narrates the novel, and I couldn’t leave it off this list.

And there you have it.

Fictionary’s list of the 25 best fiction books everyone should read.

Whether you’re searching for an 18th century classic, or scouring your shelves for a modern masterpiece, this brilliant book list has something for everyone, and, trust me when I tell you, every single one will have a lasting impact on you.

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