People never seem to tire reading books about the apocalypse. Even when times in real life seem to be heading in that direction there’s just nothing like a book about the end of the world. Perhaps because there are so many directions it could go. Will it be zombies, a virus, nuclear war, aliens, robots? Any of those seem possible at this point and a whole lot more!
Here are a ton of different books that touch on how life as we know it will end. This list includes novels, graphic novels, comic books, and manga to hit every audience. You will also find some great indie gems that you may have never heard of before. The reading list is arranged alphabetically and will be added to as more are found and read.
Akira is both a classic manga and animated film. It’s considered a must read for manga, science fiction, and dystopia fans alike. Follow Tetsuo and Kaneda as they navigate post World War 3 Neo-Tokyo against a supernatural power known as Akira. This series is rather long, 6 volumes of about 400 pages each, but will keep you enthralled with its action and body horror. It’s a great introduction to those who haven’t read a lot of manga, this one may just get you hooked.
What happens when you’re the only one who knows the apocalypse is coming? If you were certain the world was about to end how would that change your behavior? Many of us may want to spend the time with loved ones but there are those who would use that time with more recklessness. The main character of this story chooses to set his ethics aside and go all out for his final hours with everything he’s never felt allowed to do before. Will he get off with no consequences or will the world continue on?
Some books about the apocalypse end the world a little slower than others. Blindness gives society time to fall apart which also gives the reader time to really get to know the characters. A plague of spontaneous blindness hits a large portion of the population. The affected are quarantined in squalor and taken advantage of while the world outside starts to crumble without them. This is an emotionally challenging book that is well worth the heartache.
This post-apocalyptic novel follows a lot of the classic beats of an end of the world book but adds quite a bit more fun and ingenuity. Lewis is so isolated that he doesn’t notice that an illness has wiped out humanity until his internet goes out and he runs out of snacks. He must fend for himself and learn how to survive by gardening, foraging, and learning many new skills he never thought he’d have. He also must learn who he can trust and who is an enemy among the survivors who can’t just let him live in peace.
Extinction Level Event
When you think apocalyptic it’s very likely that zombies come to mind. There have been many iterations of zombies over the years in both literature and film. In the case of Extinction Level Event, Zombie is a street drug that changes its user for the worst. Inspired by the “bath salts zombies” who are known to eat people’s faces when high out of their minds this novel follows a competent group of ex-military and police who are more prepared than most to fight off the biters.
This ultra-violent graphic novel is one of a few gender based apocalypse stories on this list. A group of naked and sex crazed women appear one day in a small town. The men of the town are unable to resist their seductions and the women are rightfully suspicious and angry. Once the girls start killing it’s officially an end of the world level event. Who are these women and where did they come from? What are their goals? You’ll have to read this extremely polarizing book to find out.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Any list of dystopian books about the apocalypse is required to feature Margaret Atwood in some way. If you are not familiar with this book or the hit streaming show already I’d be very surprised. Essentially, the population is in decline and fertile women are kept as breeding stock. They are forbidden from education or life enhancements of any kind. They are solely alive for forced insemination by a male, not even an impersonal machine. The protagonist still has memories of the before times, will she ever get back there?
Heart of Swine
This satirical novel takes place after the great avocado war in a world where only one pig remains alive and everyone wants bacon. This apocalypse is rooted in capitalism, consumerism, environmental catastrophes, and the sort of billionaire hero worship that would make Ayn Rand blush. Although it is very silly it also rings true on a ton of issues that we’re facing in our own slow dystopian decline. Just remember that capitalism does not have your best interests in mind, at all, and not even a hero pig can save us.
I am Legend
This classic horror novella remains to be a masterpiece of the vampire genre. Probably because it doesn’t focus on or glamorize the vampires but follows what’s left of humanity. Namely, one very lonely man trying to figure out what happened to everyone else. I am Legend is one of the original last man standing stories and is unlikely to be dethroned at any point. For any reason that you like to read about the apocalypse this book has you covered. Plus it’s also way better than the movies.
In the back of our minds we all know how awful the meat industry is. We all are aware of the poor conditions for animals and the likelihood of rot and disease. Most of us push those feelings aside but the truth is that it is a risk for all of us. This horror novel shows what can happen when a factory farm becomes infected and cannot be contained. The characters are realistic and the reader roots for them as they attempt to escape the hell of their own making. And don’t worry, Meat is not preachy about veganism but it might make you rethink your lunch.
Parable of the Sower
Octavia E Butler
It’s insane to think that we’ve surpassed the date that a lot of books about the apocalypse take place. We’re creeping in on the 2025 setting of Parable of the Sower in which the world has been ravaged by disease, drugs, and a lack of water. (Sound familiar?) The heroine is blessed and cursed with the power of hyperempathy and must navigate this dystopia while experiencing the added pain of everyone around her. Is there any way to survive this or is it best to just end the suffering?
Rage: A Story of Survival
Another zombie entry on this reading list focuses on the rage part of the affliction. Those who contract the disease become unbelievably hungry and angry but those who remain healthy are becoming both as well. If we learned anything from the COVID pandemic it’s that people can be extremely selfish, uncaring, unempathetic, and angry about absolutely anything at all. This thriller includes those awful traits in its survivors which paints an unfortunately realistic vision of how a zombie apocalypse would go down.
The Road is another classic must read in the post-apocalyptic genre. McCarthy focuses on the humanity of what it means to be alive when everything has fallen apart. He focuses on a father and son and their relationship being the only thing that sustains them. Without each other they’d be left with absolutely nothing and they will do everything in their power to keep each other alive. They are mostly left alone but threats do come along that they must face together.
The Stand is huge. It clocks in at over 1,000 pages which makes it a recommendation for an ereader and not the very heavy hardcover version. King takes the reader on a Revelations style journey through the end times against an all powerful evil. It’s the ultimate good vs evil showdown in the aftermath of a plague. I’m starting to think these books are just too close to home in these post-pandemic days of ours. If you like Stephen King, The Stand is considered to be one of his horror masterpieces.
Emily St John Mandel
If you’re looking for an apocalypse novel that isn’t horror or completely hopeless then Station Eleven should be your top pick. Even at the end of the world people will want entertainment. This book follows a traveling acting troupe as they attempt to bring a little levity to the nomadic herds of what’s left of humanity. Of course they must face their own conflicts with the hazards of the end times but it’s largely a character driven novel about those who take their original talents with them to the collapse of society.
Swan Song is another epically long dystopian novel at 956 pages and it is another good vs evil showdown. This book takes place after the earth is destroyed by nuclear war and the people who are left worship an ancient evil. There is a small faction of people who defy this deity and focus on their sole purpose of keeping a young girl named Swan safe from his clutches. Fans of fantasy over horror or thrillers will enjoy this staple of dystopian literature.
Not all books about the apocalypse are clones of each other and the graphic novel Sweet Tooth really stands out from the crowd. Gus is a human/animal hybrid who has lived in isolation his entire life. He’s only ever known his human father and has no concept of the outside world. His naivety does not suit him well when his father dies and he is forced to leave the cabin the the woods that has been his very small world for years. Gus’ journey is an emotional trip through a mad scientist driven dystopia that pulls no punches.
V for Vendetta
Alan Moore and David Lloyd
V for Vendetta is best known for its movie adaptation that still stands as one of the few critically acclaimed comic book adaptations. But before Natalie Portman it was a graphic novel series written by Alan Moore. This world is not exactly at the end but it is far from ideal. Everyone is living under the rule of a tyrant and only anarchy will save humanity now. V guides the revolution and shows how drastic the measures must be to take down corruption of the highest order.
The Walking Dead
Another extremely popular comic book adaptation is The Walking Dead. Most everyone I know has watched at least a season of this show if not too many more. I finally gave up on it once Neegan came on the scene but a lot of folks stuck it out to the very end. The graphic novel series has its differences from the show but at heart they are both about navigating the zombie (ahem, walker) apocalypse. It’s a character driven story that takes every chance it gets to manipulate the reader into their own personal breakdown of having to lose loved ones over and over again.
World War Z
Seems that many of these books about the apocalypse have been adapted into hit TV shows or movies. You may know this one starring Brad Pitt but first it was a novel written in the style of uncovering real time documents and transcripts from the events as they occurred. This narrative style brings an urgency and a humanity to the downfall of human society that isn’t always present with these books. Find yourself immersed in this world like the movie failed to do.
Y, The Last Man
Last in the alphabet is the acclaimed Y: The Last Man. Another gender based apocalypse story that follows the last remaining human male on earth. He doesn’t know why he’s the only one who didn’t die but he sure does feel a lot of pressure around his new title. He’ll be required to help sustain the human race one way or another but all he wants to do is find out if his old girlfriend is still alive and interested in him.
Please share this list with that friend of yours who is oddly prepared for a zombie uprising, you know the one.