Into A Whimsical World: Best Books Of Neil Gaiman For Fantasy Lovers

“Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” 

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline. 

The first time I picked up Neil Gaiman’s most famous book, “Coraline”, I was only 16 years old. Horror was never my cup of tea back then, so I couldn’t recall what made me choose it or what was going on in my life at the time. I still remember, however, the creepy-crawly feeling down my spine as I went through the story. This terrifying children’s tale is what introduced me to Gaiman’s kaleidoscopic world and made me one of his worshipers. 

Neil Gaiman is a true magician, I’d say. The British author doesn’t make objects fly around, pull rabbits out of a hat, and shoot lightning bolts in the snap of a finger – even though he might make you believe he could do it all. Instead, Gaiman is a master of words. He breathes life into letters, shaping his own reality with moving cities, gods flying across your room, and endless journeys. On one page, you’re in the playground, and on the next one, you’ve discovered a doorway to the Land of the Unknowns. Just like the Bible said, “the world is created through the words”. That’s exactly what Neil Gaiman has been doing all these years.

Since he is capable of creating almost everything, it leads to a great question: Where do you start with Gaiman, whose works diverge so greatly in style and approach, yet remain so very true to their author’s essence? As a lifelong reader, I will list out the best books of Neil Gaiman here. The fantasy author has only ever written good books, which makes choosing among his works harder. But here we go, nonetheless!

For Goth Kids And Parents With Buttons For Eyes…

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Coraline 

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I have to put this on top of the list because, as mentioned, this is the very book that makes me fall in love with Gaiman’s style. And I’m sure some of you can relate to this. I mean, for many people my age, “Coraline” has been a part of their childhood – though a very dark one. 

For those who don’t know, this children’s book follows Coraline – a girl who just moves to a new house with her parents. Quickly, we come to realize that she’s not a nice little girl: Coraline is unpleasant, complains, has an attitude, and makes friends reluctantly. To make things worse, her parents are also not that great: They are always busy and hardly have time for their daughter. 

That said, Coraline is lured into a parallel universe where seemingly kinder versions of her mom and dad are greeting her. But all is not what it seems. Other Parents want to trap her in their reality, and she will have to pay a horrible price. 

“Coraline” Animation – Official Trailer

Arguably Neil Gaiman’s most famous book, “Coraline” was adapted into an incredible stop-motion animated movie by Laika in 2009. To this day, it is still known as the “cartoon for the bravest children”, according to The Guardian. While the movie might be more renowned, trust me when I say that this spooky tale is even more horrifying as a book. Since Neil Gaiman’s brainchild was “too dark, too scary, too weird”, director Henry Selick had to cut out most of the book’s horrifying moments and details. 

To many readers, though, those are what make “Caroline” amazing. The animation might be both whimsical and magical, but if you want to explore a much, much darker world and fully understand the coming-of-age struggle, go for the novel. Just like Quora user Victoria Coxworthy wrote, “Neil Gaiman has told a fascinating story that’s both weird and wonderful at the same time, one that will stick with the kids and leave the adults speechless because of its depth and meaning.” 

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, The Milk… 

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So button eyes are definitely not your cup of tea, and you prefer a brighter adventure story? While “Coraline” made him one of the most famous writers out there, Gaiman doesn’t always “dabble” in children’s fiction. Once he does, though, we have some wildly inventive and exciting pieces. “Unfortunately, The Milk…” is one of them. 

The plot is simple: Mom’s gone on a business trip, leaving Dad in charge. She gives him a long list of what to do, but the most important is DON’T FORGET THE MILK. Dad does forget, of course, and the next morning he rushes to the store to get some. Everything goes smoothly until he’s kidnapped by an alien, faces some dinosaurs, and a whole host of completely unexpected creatures. 

Children's Books By Neil Gaiman
“Fortunately, The Milk…” By Neil Gaiman – Source: Tumblr

I love how the book is absolutely unpredictable: It starts with alien abduction, moving swiftly onto a space-time journey to the ship of a vicious pirate queen and a near-death plank-walking, a daring rescue by a time-traveling dinosaur scientist in a hot-air-balloon time machine, and thence through interference with a pre-Colombian human sacrifice, and many, many other astounding events, including several involving temporal paradoxes. 

Chris Riddel’s incredible artworks add depth and excitement to the book, and at times “Fortunately, The Milk…” feels like a bet between the author and the illustrator: “But can you draw this?”. Both Gaiman and Riddel get to flex their imagination to the fullest, but for a children’s book, you might sometimes wish that they would stop throwing things. Still, it’s lovely to see how Neil Gaiman can adapt his ideas to young audiences. 

Despite being one of the children’s books by Neil Gaiman, “Fortunately, The Milk…” is well-loved by all ages. “My kids appreciate the plenty of silliness, the neat time travel elements, and quirky characters like Professor Seg. Meanwhile, you can find references to well-known literature woven into the story, which are appealing to adults”, said Goodreads user Mischenko. That’s why the book receives a rating of 4.05 out of 5, and at the end of the day, everyone is eager to know if the milk survives this crazy journey or not! 

For Adults Who Can’t Get Enough Of Fantasy…

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere: Author’s Preferred Text

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Before 1996, the British author had already established himself as a renowned figure in the comics industry thanks to “The Sandman”. Nonetheless, “Neverwhere” marked Neil Gaiman’s very first step into the world of the novel, and what an entrance. 

In the story, we follow Richard Mayhew – a Scottish boy who resides in London and finds himself stuck in a rut of life. He has a fiancée, Jessica, a job that he is content in (as much as one can be content in an office job), and friends. However, his ordinary life is turned upside down after he meets and saves the life of a mysterious girl. Little does he know that this choice will send him into London Below: A place of forgetting and magical people. 

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Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” – Source: Olde World Publications LLC

There is a reason “Neverwhere”, despite being published many years ago, still serves as a huge inspiration to countless authors and still remains one of the best books of Neil Gaiman. His dialogue sparks across the page, his characters are deeply complex and believable at the same time, and the world of London Below is a fascinating take on the world we know. 

In his first novel, Gaiman showcased an astounding research ability, which was combined with his unique writing style to create a tale unlike any other. Readers are blown away by a mass of underground railway stations and a group of people that, unbeknownst to London Above, are living rather content lives beneath their feet. 

In short, this funny, at times sad, and always quirky story is a great starting point Neil Gaiman’s fans often point to. A true classic and an absolute gem, that’s it. 

For Those Who Like Short Stories…

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning: Short Fictions And Disturbances

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“Many of these stories end badly for at least one of the people in them. Consider yourself warned.” 

That’s Neil Gaiman, talking directly to his readers. Talking directly to you, in the introduction to a book named for the customary warning now plastered across all potentially disturbing materials. He warns you that 24 stories in here will mess up your mind and stick with you long after you’ve turned, torn out, dog-eared, or even forgotten. 

Like the old hag in “Down to a Sunless Sea”, who makes a necklace using her dead son’s bones while keeping a horrible secret, or the mother in “Adventure Story”, whose children believe that her greatest journey is to find a new parking lot…until she begins to recall the oddities of her deceased husband’s former employment, with its airships, Aztecs, and pterodactyls. And there are many, many eerie yet enchanting tales about ghosts, monsters, and the other world waiting for you to discover. 

Trigger Warning
Consider Yourself Warned Before Reading This Book – Source: North Country Public Radio

Short stories are often Neil Gaiman’s strongest field, and “Trigger Warning” is proof of this. Almost all of them are cleverly written, with subtle homages to Arthur Conan Doyle, Ray Bradbury, and, guess who, Harlan Ellison. These will surely be a pleasant surprise for die-hard fans of the mystery genre. 

On the other hand, I’d have to agree with Redditor “topazdude17” on one thing: Some of the tales fall flat and are down-right forgettable. Though the book is still enjoyable overall, that’s still a shame considering how Gaiman has put out some flawless short-stories collections. More on that below. 

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Smoke And Mirrors 

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I’ll say it again: Neil Gaiman’s creativity is best seen through the lens of his short stories. “Smoke And Mirrors” represents the very best of them. 

This collection of 30 tales is said to be one of the best Neil Gaiman’s books, according to many Goodreads users, simply because it has everything to offer. “Smoke And Mirrors” runs the gamut from sci-fi to very short parables to fantasy and magical realism. No matter who you are and what kind of fantasy you are looking for, there is something for you in the book. 

Smoke And Mirror
“Smoke And Mirror” By Neil Gaiman – Source: Amazon

“Smoke And Mirror” also proves Gaiman’s ability to switch seamlessly between realism and imagination. “One moment the story feels like an honest recollection of his past, and the next we’re interacting with angels, trolls, and werewolves. He so deft with his word choice that these transitions happen with ease”, user Kevin Kuhn wrote. A good example of this is “The Price”, where Gaiman’s story about stray cats turns from reality to supernatural in an instant.

What’s more, in this book, Gaiman took a bold step by addressing explicit sex, politic, pornography, and even sex change. Of course, this book was originally published in 1998, when navigating these waters was a little less turbulent than today. That makes it a genius collection of short stories that’s still relevant today, and so many of the pieces have stuck in my head. This includes the iconic “Don’t Ask Jack”, “Troll Bridge”, and of course, the less-than-100-word-long “Nicholas Was”. 

If you still need convincing of the power of these Neil Gaiman shorts, give “Nicholas Was…” a quick Google search. This haunting and beautiful story has never left me. 

For Lit Freaks Who Also Love Art…

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book 

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“Is this a homage to The Jungle Book?” – you might be wondering after looking at the title. And yes, even the content is a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece but told in Gaiman’s signature dark tone. 

The night a mystical killer murders his family, a child toddles off into a graveyard, where he’s adopted by a loving, even-keeled ghost couple. Despite having a brutal opening, Gaiman once again uses his magic to make otherworldly creatures charming – even lovable, and the plot is far from the grave: Little Bod is not alone since there are 300 ghosts to watch over him. In the British author’s fantasy, it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, but a graveyard instead.

Among comics and graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, “The Sandman” should rank first – that’s a thing many would say, and I understand why. This comic book is a rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy, but while “The Sandman” is undoubtedly a masterpiece, it might be too much for those who are new to Gaiman to bear. Many of the illustrations throughout the series are overwhelmingly horrific or grotesque. 

The Graveyard Book
“The Graveyard Book” Is A Good Read For Both Adults And Children Alike – Source: NPR

“The Graveyard Book”, on the other hand, offers a sense of peace that you will rarely find in Gaiman’s works. There are many beautiful moments in the story, but the real fun lies in watching Bod’s extended, disincarnate family come to terms with a living child, teaching him to read from gravestones and puzzling over foodstuffs like bananas. According to Gaiman, he took inspiration from his own son while writing this book. Perhaps that’s why he creates such a gentle and heart-warming story, one that can get the children mixed up in excitement and adults to crack a knowing smile.

And For Myth Lovers…

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology 

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If you are a fan of mythology, folktales, and legends, you are at the right place. Given the timeless fairytale quality of Gaiman’s writing, it seems to follow that he would be the perfect author for a book based on mythology. “Norse Mythology” – the work that received a rating of 4.09 out of 5 on Goodreads, proves that he is. 

Truth be told, the Norse myth had always been my blind spot. I’ve read a lot about Greek, Roman, and Egyptian, but all I know about Norse is Odin, Loki, Thors, and Thors’ hammer (most of that knowledge was picked up from Marvel’s movies). And for a newbie like me, “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman is a very informative and compelling pageturner. 

The book consists of 16 short stories. Some of the chapters are very short, only take a page or two, and others are slightly longer. Compared to other works (like “The Gospel Of Loki”, for example), Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology” might feel rather lazy, but those who are unfamiliar with the mythology can dip in and out of each tale at ease. 

Of course, the author doesn’t get to flex his creative muscles as much here. Still, he finds a way to retell myths in his own unique style, adding a dash of comedy, a slew of complex characters, and a big serving of charm. Just like Redditor “Bradley524” said, “Neil Gaiman will surprise you with how he makes the stories feel both modern and timeless at the same time.” You will feel like you’re reading about millennia-old gods, but it’s very relatable to today’s reader.

What shines through most of all is how these stories relate to key areas of the actual world – as stories about gods often do. This is a fascinating portrait of a time and a people who truly believed in Odin and Loki and their many escapades. It’s funny, it’s eye-opening, and it’s very enjoyable.

Best Books Of Neil Gaiman – American Gods

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Here’s it, Neil Gaiman’s most celebrated work! The book is not flawless, to be honest: It might be excessively long and the protagonist is a bit boring compared to the rest of the characters. Putting those aside, though, “American Gods” still stands out thanks to its bold concept and setting. 

The book tells the story of Shadow – a guy who just comes out of the prison, only to know that his wife and best friend have been killed in an accident. As all plans for his life come up in smoke, Shadow is recruited by a man calling himself “Wednesday” and embarks on an unusual journey throughout the United States, seeing all the stranger sights along the way.

Where are the “myths” here, you ask? As it turns out, Mr. Wednesday is actually Odin – the Norse god of creation. (His nickname comes from the fact that the day of the week is named after him). Shadow soon finds himself involved in a war that no one saw coming — a war between the old gods and the new.

Let’s admit, a road trip across America is a clever and interesting setting for a novel. Gaiman uses his incredible storytelling to create a rich and detailed atmosphere, one that completely engrosses the readers. Once you pick up the book, you will be fully immersed in Shadow’s adventure, and what a rollercoaster ride it is! 

But that’s not the only one: The brilliant central concept is where “American Gods” truly shines. It is human beings who create, worship, and devote their lives to Gods. Without people, Gods wouldn’t exist. In the modern days, there are more things for us to worship, such as the internet, and even microwaves. There is a war brewing between the old gods and the new, and Shadow is caught in the middle.

I’d class American Gods as Neil Gaiman’s ‘best’ book. A lot of award-givers agree. It won the Locus, the Hugo, and the Nebula awards all in the same year. However, while I’d say ‘best’, it isn’t an easy read. If you want something that’s sprawling, thought-provoking, and more than a little weird, then start here. But, if you want to approach Neil Gaiman from an easier path, go for the short stories.

“A Book Is A Dream That You Hold In Your Hands” 

That’s what the British author said in an interview with CNN, and if you look at these best books of Neil Gaiman, you will see what he means: All of his stories leap on the border between dream and reality. While there are far too many amazing writers in the genre of fantasy out there, I would still point to Gaiman, for his boundless creativity and the dare to take on new challenges. 

No matter which Gaiman you are looking for – children’s author, fantasy author, comic writer, or myth teller – you are in for a treat! 

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One thought on “Into A Whimsical World: Best Books Of Neil Gaiman For Fantasy Lovers

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