The vampire has had an enormous legacy in literature, one that began with Carmilla and Dracula, and has gone through dozens of changes since.
The popularity of vampire books peaks every few years, with the vampire itself being redefined and reimagined.
We’re going to look here at generations of vampire books, which includes both vampire novels and vampire comics and manga.
If you’re looking for classics, contemporary vampire books, vampire romance, literary novels, graphic novels, or proper vampire horror, you’ll find it all here!
These are you best vampire books for you to read, from across the history of vampire fiction.
Must-Read Vampire Novels
Here are your essential vampire novels. Some are gothic classics that moulded and established the genre. Others are modern romances.
Not all of these vampire books are of equal quality, but they have all left their mark on the vampire mythology or the public view of the vampire.
From Dracula to Twilight and beyond, these are your must-read vampire novels.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
While Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t the original vampire novel, it was certainly the one to define and popularise vampire literature for the rest of time.
An epistolary gothic novel dripping with brooding atmosphere and dread, Dracula is a supernatural gothic novel through and through.
This is the novel that lay down the rules surrounding vampire lore in popular culture, even down to their aesthetics and behaviour.
It’s not often that a single literary work has such a profound impact, and not only on the genres of gothic fiction, horror, and vampire stories, but also on contemporary fiction and epistolary novels in general.
Beyond all of that, Dracula remains an excellent novel. Meaty, dynamic, packed with lust and fear and rage. It’s an exciting read from beginning to end.
As for its themes, Dracula explores the concept of “othering”: fear of the outsider, of the stranger, of those who are different.
It presents a commentary on modernity vs tradition, and the religious versus the blasphemous and the unnatural.
These are powerful and universal themes that remain as relevant today as they always have been.
Side note: If you’d like to learn more about the origins of Dracula (Vlad the Impaler), I took a trip to Transylvania, including the legendary Bran Castle, and you can read all about it here.
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
While vampire mythology can be traced back centuries, Carmilla remains one of the earliest works of vampire fiction in literature.
This gothic novella by Irish author J. Sheridan Le Fanu even predates Dracula by a quarter century.
While we can only speculate as to why this vampire novel’s popularity didn’t reach the heights of Dracula, the fact that it’s a queer-coded lesbian novel might have something to do with it.
The vampire is an inherently queer-coded thing, as are so many other aspects of gothic fiction, but Carmilla is far more confidently explicit in this regard.
This novella also originated the concept of the “occult detective” (think John Constantine) in the character of Dr. Hesselius.
Any fan of vampire lore and mythology, and vampire books in general, owes it to themself to read Carmilla, arguably the original vampire novel.
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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Put all thoughts of the 2007 film adaptation out of your mind. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is a powerful and important novel in the canon of vampire books.
Here’s a 1954 novel that defined the concepts of global plague and apocalypse within fiction, and in I Am Legend that plague has wiped out untold numbers and turned the rest into vampires.
One man survives, locked away in his LA home. And over the course of the novel he, the last human in a society of vampires, becomes the titular legend.
This is a clever inversion of vampire mythology. In a world where every surviving person is now a vampire, the one human is, himself, the vampire; the legend; the other.
Of all the vampire books here, I Am Legend is one of the most wholly unique, but it also wonderfully adheres to the traditions of vampire lore: blood-sucking, garlic, and crucifixes.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Written by British journalist Kim Newman — contributing editor to Empire magazine — Anno Dracula is a fascinating piece of vampire fiction.
Ingeniously political, Anno Dracula takes place in a world where the titular Count Dracula defeated the cast of Stoker’s original novel, before turning and marrying Queen Victoria.
The London of 1888 is being transformed into a vampire haven by the country’s new Prince Dracula, and Jack the Ripper is slaying vampire prostitutes.
Anno Dracula is a work of fan fiction which features real-world figures like Oscar Wilde, as well as fictional characters such as the Holmes brothers and Dr Jekyll.
Even Bram Stoker himself has been sent to a “reeducation camp” for writing the original Dracula.
Anno Dracula is a fun and bloody exercise in imagining what a fascistic vampire takeover of Victorian England would have looked like, all while we follow human and vampire protagonists on a hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Few (if any) vampire books are as ambitious and exciting as Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula.
Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
Empire of the Vampire is every emo teen’s dream novel: an epic fantasy set in a world of perpetual darkness, in which halfbreed vampire hunters wage war against a horde of “coldbloods”.
Our protagonist, Gabriel de León, was born in a nothing place, raised by an abusive father, and encounters his first vampires as a preteen, five years after the world went dark.
Shortly after this event, Gabe learns that he is, in fact, a halfbreed human/vampire, and not his father’s son at all; from here, he is whisked away to be trained as part of an order of vampire hunters.
The novel is framed by a conversation between Gabriel and is gaoler, a vampire scribe who wishes to know how the hunter rose from nothing to something great: a legend in the eyes of men.
Written with awkwardly pretentious language that can only be described as “edgy” (matched by equally edgy illustrations), Empire of the Vampire is not for everyone.
It is, however, a wonderfully silly, camp, hilariously bleak and theatrical epic vampire fantasy, soaked in blood and other bodily fluids.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Taking its name from the German 1922 film Nosferatu (which is itself an unofficial adaptation of Dracula), Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is a fun and original take on vampire mythology.
While there is very little in this novel that is explicitly vampiric in the traditional sense, Joe Hill (son of American horror legend Stephen King) has provided us with a fun new twist on vampire lore.
NOS4A2 is set in rural New England, and begins in the 1980s with a girl who figures out how to find lost things by riding her bike across a covered bridge.
One of her journeys takes her to a library where she meets a woman with the power to predict future events using Scrabble tiles.
She warns our protagonist about the book’s villain: a kidnapper of children called Charlie Manx, who takes stolen children to a place called Christmasland.
Manx himself is a modern-day twist on the vampire: a solitary and supernatural being that preys on others, hunting and feeding and frightening.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The inclusion of Twilight on this list is going to irritate some and please others.
Wherever you come down on Twilight, its impact on pop culture and the modern popularity of vampire books (and vampire fiction in general) can’t be understated.
Twilight is a vampire romance novel about a sombre young girl who moves to an overcast town and falls in love with a dangerously abusive century-old vampire.
It’s certainly not a healthy indictment of love, romance, and good relationships, but plenty has been said about that by smarter people than this writer.
And while unlikeable characters are our bread and butter, the characters in Twilight are not written to be unlikeable, and that’s where the toxic problem lies.
On the flip side, Twilight turned a generation of young people into voracious and impassioned readers, which is absolutely worth celebrating.
And it can’t be denied that Twilight had a lot of fun with the rules of vampirism and the vampire mythology. It changed up the formula in fun and creative ways.
Arguably the second most famous novel on this list of vampire books (after Dracula), Meyer’s Twilight is a literary triumph, love it or hate it.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
‘Salem’s Lot came into existence when King wondered what would happen if Dracula came to 20th Century USA.
After his wife joked that the vampire would swiftly get hit by a New York City cab, King decided to set the book in a rural town. It was tentatively titled Second Coming.
As for its events, the story of ‘Salem’s Lot is fairy straightforward and bare-bones, in a good way.
A writer named Ben Mears returns to his hometown to finish his new book in peace. However, a mysterious stranger named Kurt Barlow has moved into town and never seems to appear in the daylight.
‘Salem’s (short for “Jerusalem”) Lot was one of King’s earliest novels, and it is languorously written, echoing the stalking menace of Barlow as he begins to corrupt the townspeople.
Both an homage to, and an Americanisation of, the Dracula mythology, ‘Salem’s Lot is one of the essential vampire books of the 20th Century.
Vampire Comics and Manga
Now for a taste of some of the best vampire comics and vampire manga on the shelves right now. These stories take the vampire in very new and exciting directions.
Each of these vampire comics and manga does something new and unique with the vampire mythology. Enjoy these essential vampire books.
American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque
If you’re unfamiliar with comics writer Scott Snyder, the man is a prolific talent, having penned some of the best Batman comics ever written.
American Vampire is his own original creation, and he even managed to get Stephen King to help him with the first few issues.
This is a true American epic that introduces an instantly iconic new legend to vampire canon: Skinner Sweet.
We begin in the American West of the late 19th Century, but American Vampire eventually moves through all the great moments of 20th Century American history.
We follow vampiric outlaw and anti-hero Skinner Sweet across the decades, through the Hollywood Golden Age, World War II, into the rock ‘n’ roll era and beyond.
For fans of American history, American pop culture, vampire books, vampire mythology, and generally excellent American stories, American Vampire is absolutely essential reading.
And the accompanying art by legendary artist Rafael Albuquerque defines the look of Skinner Sweet and the beautiful world he prowls within.
Call of the Night by Kotoyama
Similarly to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Call of the Night is a vampire romance manga. It begins with Ko, a boy suffering with insomnia.
On the first night that Ko tries leaving the house and going for a walk in the quiet night as an attempt to battle his insomnia, Ko meets Nazuna.
Nazuna is a vampire, but Ko doesn’t know that yet. She takes him back to her place, promises that she can soothe him to sleep, and then drinks his blood.
To her astonishment, Ko’s blood is particularly tasty. She is then forced to explain what she is and how vampirism is spread in their world: by falling in love.
Ko wishes to become a vampire, bored and frustrated as he is by normal life. But Nazuna has no interest in turning him; and they would have to fall in love for that to happen anyway.
Call of the Night is a fun and funny shonen manga and one of the more wholesome vampire books around right now.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood by Hirohiko Araki
The first arc of JoJo, Phantom Blood, is a wonderfully camp, eccentric, and pseudo-gothic piece of historical vampire fiction.
We begin with the original JoJo: Jonathan Joestar, a rich boy with an adopted brother: the series’ antagonist Dio Brando.
Using a magical and ancient stone mask, Dio transforms himself into a murderous vampire bent on world domination.
It’s up to Jonathan Joestar and friends (with names that reference 70s and 80s rock bands) to take Dio down using mystical martial arts.
JoJo is a wild and wonderful story, and the initial Phantom Blood arc is a must-read for fans of vampire books and vampire fiction in general.
I, Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino
DC Comics’ I, Vampire has a long legacy and, like so many DC characters, has seen multiple iterations.
Originally conceived by J. M. DeMatteis and Tom Sutton in the early 1980s, I, Vampire has been both a side and a lead character in DC stories since.
However, it’s the New 52 arc by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino from 2012 that really turned this writer into a fan of the character and his mythology.
In this series, the vampire Andrew Bennett is over 600 years old and he must stop his former lover, Mary, Queen of Blood, from amassing a vampire army to take over the world.
I, Vampire is a wonderful example of what DC Comics does best: campy, eccentric stories about campy, eccentric characters fighting absurdly large battles.
The vampires and events of this particular vampire story have wonderful Anne Rice energy, while fitting so well with the eclectic tone and aesthetics that define DC Comics.
MoMo The Blood Taker by Akira Sugito
Mikogami Keiko is a police detective in his late thirties. Ten years ago, the woman he loved was killed and her head stolen.
For a decade, he has followed the trail of bloody murders across Japan in the hope of finding the one who did it, and eventually that trail leads to a man with two faces: a deadly and powerful vampire.
Consumed by wrath, blinded by revenge, and with little care left for his own life, Mikogami faces the vampire, only to learn that he has been toyed with all this time. Everything was by the vampire’s design.
In the fight, Mikogami loses both of his arms and then his life, only to be saved and revived by a two-hundred-year-old vampire girl named MoMo Persephone Draculia.
In saving the detective, however, MoMo has also turne him into a demi-vampire, and she declares that he must now live and serve as her underling.
MoMo the Blood Taker leans on some very tiresome manga tropes when it comes to the male gaze and its depiction of female characters, but its monster designs and horror elements are jarringly impactful, making for a fun vampire manga romp.
Batman & Dracula: Red Rain by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones
Red Rain is the first of a trilogy of Batman & Dracula comics, which continues in Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist.
Originally published in 1991, Red Rain was a hugely popular story within DC Comics’ Elseworlds line of alternative, parallel world, “what if” stories.
The Elseworlds was a fun chance for creative writers and artists to stretch their imaginations and put iconic heroes in situations that would never work within their established canons.
In the case of Red Rain, we have the world’s greatest detective investigating a series of strange murders in Gotham City.
It soon transpires that these murders were being committed by a family of vampires led by Count Dracula himself.