Nail Gaiman is by far one of the most prolific of modern authors. His writings of the dark, macabre, and wonderfully surreal have made for such legendary novels that have been of endless inspiration for generations of authors, considering the man has his own masterclass in writing. He’s not only dabbled in writing for comic books but has also had a lot of his finer works developed into movies and TV series of remarkable acclaim, some of which he has penned the screenplay for. Gaiman has also made guest appearances as himself in such television series as The Simpsons and Arthur. He’s written so much that it can be hard for someone new to the author to decide just what to read first. So if you’re seeking to start at the top of his acclaimed writings or just want to know what needs to be added to your Gaiman to-read-list, here are some of his best works that are absolute must-reads.
Published in 2001
Shadow Moon is released from prison as an ex-convict and wanders into an America he doesn’t understand, especially after suffering the recent death of his wife. He seeks work from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, a con man who hires Shadow on as a bodyguard. They travel across the country visiting Wednesday’s acquaintances when Shadow starts discovering an entirely new world. A world of hidden magic and gods are unearthed to him like the folk tales of such mythical figures come to life in modern-day America. As Shadow tries to come to terms with such a discovery, Wednesday is aiming to revive the power of the old gods that have laid dormant for too long. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, American Gods has become such a high-profile Gaiman novel that it has been adapted into both a graphic novel series and a television miniseries for Starz starring Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, and Ian McShane. As of this writing, the series is currently in its second season.
Published in 1990
Aziraphale and Crowley couldn’t be a more mismatched duo. Aziraphale is an angel working for heaven while Crowley is a demon serving the dark forces of hell, both of them meeting at the Garden of Eden to fulfill their duties of good and evil. Yet they seem to form a bond over centuries as they become quite comfy with their time spent on Earth. However, that time may be coming to a close as the apocalypse looms when Crowley receives word that the Final Judgment is at hand. With the Antichrist already on the way to sending humanity to its last days, Aziraphale and Crowley decide to join forces, hoping to reform the boy who would be destined to bring about the end times. Good Omens was a legendary team-up novel of both Gaiman and the renowned Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame. The book contains both their styles, with Gaiman’s obsessions of dark fantasy and Pratchett’s penchant for meandering silliness and wicked wit. The novel would eventually be adapted into a miniseries for Amazon Prime (where Gaiman also served as screenwriter) that starred Michael Sheen and David Tennant in the roles of Aziraphale and Crowley respectively. Gaiman and Pratchett had actually been considering adopting their story into a feature film for many years but Gaiman was hesitant to pursue any adaptation after the death of Pratchett. However, Gaiman received a letter from Pratchett before his passing that urged him to continue on the project. Had it not been for Prachett’s letter, Good Omens may not have found new life with a whole new fandom born from the cult success of the miniseries.
Published in 2002
Though much of Gaiman’s work is adult-oriented, he’s not shy to pen some stories better suited for the younger crowd. Coraline is his children’s novella of intriguing dark fantasy, perfectly suited for kids who want to dabble in some horror. The story follows the titular young character as her family moves into a spooky old flat. Snooping around, Coraline stumbles into an alternate universe known as Other World and it’s a stark contrast to her more dreary lifestyle. Though the alternate versions of her parents have haunting button eyes, they are far more exciting and giving attention. But a dark secret lurks under the surface and Coraline will have to find a way to outsmart the evil Other Mother before she sews buttons to her eyelids and traps the girl in the Other World forever. Loaded with eerie writing and quirky characters, Gaiman’s novella won a Hugo and Nebula award. It was eventually adapted into a stop-motion movie directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) in 2009 by Laika Studios and featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Ian McShane. Gaiman actually connected with Selick while finishing his writing of Coraline, given that Gaiman was a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas and was excited for the idea of Selick translating his work to the big screen.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Published in 2013
An old man who grew up in Sussex comes home for a funeral except there’s no home to return to and relive those memories. What remains is the farm he remembers from when was a boy, unearthing memories from 40 years ago. He recalls the uniqueness of the girl Lettie Hempstock, vowing to protect him. He unfortunately also remembers a man who committed suicide, an act that unleashed a flood of dark thoughts too tough for one boy to handle. With an earnest appeal to human nature, Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a darkly horrific yet sincere tale of the power that stories hold in comforting us from the grim aspects of humanity. Voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards, Gaiman drew a bit on his personal childhood to form this haunting story of noting the past.
Published in 2005
The African trickster god of Anansi took the form of the human Mr. Nancy and seemed to settle down to have some children. However, his time as a human came to an end in Florida when he dropped dead while performing karaoke. He was survived, however, by his son Fat Charlie. The thing is that Charlie didn’t know that his father was a god. Or, perhaps even more astounding, that Charlie has a twin brother by the name of Spider. When Spider comes to visit Charlie, he unravels an entirely new world of magic and deities, including the abilities of the brothers to alter the fabric of reality itself. Anansi Boys has been regarded by Gaiman as a sequel to American Gods but it does have some overlap in that the character of Mr. Nancy also appeared in American Gods. Gaiman had at one point opted to adapt Anansi Boys into a television miniseries that eventually halted, though some elements of that script were used in the television adaptation of American Gods.
The Graveyard Book
Published in 2008
As a dark fantasy for young adults, The Graveyard Book follows the boy character of Nobody Owens, also known as Bod. Bod lives next to a graveyard and is cared for by a guardian who seems trapped between the land of the living and the dead. All sorts of dark happenings transpire about the graveyard, with ghouls and witches that frequent the place where corpses are laid to rest. The real horrors, however, lie more in reality as the killer of Bod’s family still walks the streets. Armed with alluring visuals from award-winning artist Dave McKean, The Graveyard Book is a unique blend of humor, darkness, and humanity that has won numerous awards including the Hugo Award, British Carnegie Medal, and the American Newbery Medal. It was eventually adapted into a two-volume graphic novel.
Published in 1996
Richard Mayhew is an everyday young businessman who has recently moved to London. He soon meets the mysterious and battered girl Door who asks for his help in evading two assassins after her life. It isn’t long before Richard finds himself thrust into a mind-bending secret world underneath the streets of London, leading to darkly compelling nooks of angels, knights, and monsters. This is one of the more unique Gaiman properties in that the novel was released at the same time as the television miniseries was airing, which Gaiman also wrote. Interestingly enough, the novel enjoyed more success than the TV series. Neverwhere has also been adapted in a comic book, a stage play, and a radio play. Gaiman had also apparently written a sequel but this would only end up as a short story in the 2014 anthology book, Rogues, under the title of How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.
Published in 1997
Gaiman desired to try writing some fantasy that was more retro of early English fantasy writing, drawing from such authors as Lord Dunsany and Hope Mirrlees. The result was Stardust, written by Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess. It tells the fantasy adventure of the half-fairy, half-human boy Tristran Thorn. He resides in the easygoing town of Wall, named for its towering, stone-built border. Though Tristran sought the hand of the elegant Victoria Forester, he was denied this prospect of love. Trying to find a way to prove himself, he sets off on a quest to find a star that has fallen from the sky, hoping to offer it up as a gift in exchange for romance. But the star has fallen outside the walls of the town, leading to Tristran pursuing an adventure into the unknown territory of untold dangers and amazement. Stardust was adapted into a movie in 2007, directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Peter O’Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro.
Smoke and Mirrors
Published in 1998
As Neil Gaiman’s first book of short stories, over 30 present, Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions explores how magic can transform the ordinary world into something that is both fantastical and frightening. An old man sorts through a thrift store to discover the Holy Grail itself. Pest control listed in the local directory may not just be reserved for killing bugs and mice but humans as well. A troll below the railroad tracks will force a young boy to haggle for his life. Gaiman presents these stories with a swirling of emotions, both heartwarming and spine-tingling. This is more of a collection of his works considering some of these stories had previously been published in various magazines, anthologies, and collections. The entry of Murder Mysteries, which previously appeared in the collection Angels and Visitations, told the story of an angel trying to find a killer and was adapted into both a comic book and audio drama. The revisionist Snow White story, Snow, Glass, Apples, was initially released by Gaiman as part of the benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It would also be adapted into a comic book and audio drama.