As a child of the 80s (into the 90s), I was obsessed with getting my hands on the best Choose Your Own Adventure books I could find. Back then, these simple yet innovative gamebooks were such an imaginative thrill!
In short, Choose Your Own Adventure books play out like readable video games (even before the latter became mainstream). You – the reader – are usually a protagonist about to embark on an epic new quest or mission. After a few paragraphs, you’re presented with a number of possible choices. Your decisions create branching plots that lead to more options as you try to achieve a ‘good’ ending over a ‘bad’ one.
Led by authors Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery, this alluring choice-and-consequence premise was a huge hit among kids of the 80s/90s. To date, Choose Your Own Adventure books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide – with many popular titles being reissued.
Feeling nostalgic? Me too! Watch the video below to walk further down memory lane.
In this post, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best Choose Your Own Adventure books I’ve ever read. This personal list contains my early and later-day favorites from the series.
My favorite Choose Your Own Adventure books (Early Installments)
1. The Cave of Time
Ah, the one that started it all!
As the very first Choose Your Own Adventure book, I feel Edward Packard‘s The Cave of Time really helped to set the right tone for many great adventures to come.
You assume the role of a kid who, while hiking, accidentally discovers a strange cave. However, this isn’t any ordinary cave. Instead, it’s actually a time-portal with the power to transport you to any point in history. Of course, where you end up is entirely up to the choices you make.
In one read-through, I found myself in the Ice Age, where I hung out with some friendly cave-people. My next time-travel journey brought me to an apocalyptic Earth being scorched by the Sun. I also had the chance to meet Abraham Lincoln on yet another attempt.
I wouldn’t consider The Cave of Time to be the absolute best Choose Your Own Adventure book available (there are far better ones). A few of the choices I was given felt a bit arbitrary. For example, I often had to decide on whether to “go right” or “left” down a cave corridor. Not exactly exciting stuff.
However, the The Cave of Time was the very first book that opened my eyes to the entire Choose Your Own Adventure series. As such, it remains a big sentimental favorite of mine.
In addition. I loved the wild idea of a time-portal cave that could bring me on unexpected journeys. The book also has around 40+ different endings which gave me many hours of fun trial-and-error.
Edward Packard later built upon his original concept of a cavernous time-portal in The Forbidden Castle – another favorite of mine. Here, readers are transported to a dangerous medieval world filled with evil kings, dragons, and other enchanted threats.
Since we’re on the topic, you might also want to check out our list of 20+ Incredible Time-Travel Books by various authors.
2. Space and Beyond
As a kid, I was hooked on sci-fi – and R.A. Montgomery’s Space and Beyond really scratched my itch. Space adventure operas are still my thing, even today!
Born on a spaceship, you are immediately asked to choose your home planet, which you must try and return to. The decision you make here greatly affects how your cosmic adventure unfolds.
In one of my initial read-throughs, I ended up as a researcher who travels back 62 million years to help resolve a major conflict on Mars. Another attempt saw me become a rebel space pirate. I also got to mingle with dinosaurs (yup, dinosaurs!). In addition, I somehow wound up getting sucked into a black hole, never to be seen again. Yikes!
Space and Time isn’t the most coherent of Choose Your Own Adventure books. The plot is extremely random, and there are a few endings that come abruptly out of nowhere.
However, as a child, I really loved this book for its many underlying themes. Now a grown-up, I can better appreciate how R.A. Montgomery smartly found a way to squeeze in many ‘adult’ topics (e.g. cultural diversity, environmentalism, etc.) into a kid-friendly novel. Moreover, Space and Beyond teaches us that nothing good ever comes from waging war. That’s a message I can still get behind.
In short, yes, there are other best Choose Your Own Adventure books that offer better writing and stories. Nonetheless, both The Cave of Time and Space and Beyond hold a very special place in my heart for kick-starting my addiction to this beloved franchise.
Keen on collecting Choose Your Own Adventure books?
If you’re nostalgic like me, you might want to check out the impressive bundle below. It has all of the first 40 Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve never seen such an extensive collection anywhere else. Sweet!
3. Your Code Name is Jonah
By Your Code Name is Jonah (Book 6), the Choose Your Own Adventure series had started to find its early footing. Readers like me were given more morally grey choices with better quality endings. I thus found the books increasingly engaging and challenging.
You’re an American spy on a mission to Deception Island. Along the way, you discover a secret that could possibly affect the entire world!
I remember being utterly absorbed by Your Code Name is Jonah‘s unique plot. Yes, it’s incredibly cheesy – but in that awesomely weird 70s / 80s spy story kinda way.
Basically, ocean whales have started singing a different kind of song. This sends scientists into a frenzy as they scramble to figure out what it all means. Meanwhile, the Russian KGB is on your tail – and they’ll stop at nothing to terminate you.
Personally, I think this is easily one of the best Choose Your Own Adventure books from the series’ early days. A few endings still occur way too abruptly. However, the overall story is thrilling and fun to follow. I especially liked trying to crack the whale song code – which took quite a few tries.
In addition, the choices you get are also much less black-and-white compared to previous titles. You’ll need to make some tough decisions that aren’t clearly ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’. This keeps you on your toes, trying to guess the final outcome.
Similar to most Choose Your Own Adventure books, you can expect many over-the-top things to happen. For example, I once ended up becoming friends with a humpback whale. That was fun – although another read-through led to my unfortunate demise at the hands of the KGB.
In short, I think Your Code Name is Jonah is an exciting journey that’ll entertain lovers of spy-fiction with a hefty dosage of epic randomness.
4. The Abominable Snowman
The Abominable Snowman is a popular favorite among long-time Choose Your Own Adventure fans. Fun fact: it was the first in the series to feature an illustrated map (of the Himalayan mountains). Being an imaginative kid, this new addition spurred my full immersion into yet another crazy R.A. Montgomery adventure.
You’re a mountaineer on the hunt to find the elusive Yeti – while also trying to locate your lost buddy. Along the way, you’ll need to make many life-and death decisions. This includes finding ways to survive deadly avalanches, freezing temperatures, and – of course – a very angry Abominable Snowman.
As you’d expect, this book has the usual amount of zany branching stories. I myself got to meet a bunch of weird aliens, and also went on a totally random Buddhist rite of passage. None of it makes much sense – but, hey, that’s part of the whole series’ wacky appeal!
Compared to earlier books, The Abominable Snowman offers fewer possible endings (28 in total). However, I also think this reduced number means Montgomery had room to write better and more sensible conclusions. Of course, there’s the usual “you walk and suddenly fall off a cliff for no apparent reason” moments – but to a noticeably lesser degree.
Even with its many twists and turns, I really loved how the book stuck to your central goal of finding and documenting the mighty Yeti. This gave young readers like me a driving sense of purpose, which a few previous Choose Your Own Adventure books seem to lack.
In short, The Abominable Snowman was a much loved addition to my childhood bookshelf. It’s one of the reasons why I’m still drawn to creature-feature fiction up till today.
- R. A. Montgomery (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Other best Choose Your Own Adventure books (later releases)
5. House of Danger
I adore a good ol’ fashioned detective mystery story. That’s why this book remains one of my favorites from R.A. Montgomery.
You’re an experienced detective who’s cracked many hard cases. However, one day you receive a chilling phone call. An anonymous voice desperately pleads for your help before the line goes dead – but not before you trace it to an unknown address.
What do you do from here? You choose!
House of Danger brims with wondrous lunacy, a la Choose Your Own Adventure bonkers-dom. Holographic monkeys, maniacal ghosts, outer-space aliens, and other oddities await you.
Fun fact: This classic fan-favorite was also adapted into a successful mini card and board game of the same name.
6. Vampire Express
Real vampires are meant to be scary – not sparkling romantics (*cough* Twilight)
In Vampire Express, you take on the role of a vampire hunter. Together with your uncle Andrew and friend Nina, you roam the far-flung lands of Romania in search of fanged fiends.
Suddenly, a thick fog rolls in as wolves start to surround you. Nina gets thrown off her horse as your uncle rides on ahead, oblivious. Do you try to save her or chase after him? Choices, choices, choices!
Thanks to its strong premise, I think Vampire Express easily holds its own among the best Choose Your Own Adventure books. It’s a delightful nod to classic vampire tales like Dracula, complete with nasty bats and creepy castles. In addition, you get to ride on a train filled with hungry vampires. Cool!
Also check out our list of 15+ paranormal romance books about vampires!
Hyperspace is brilliantly bizarre. You’re basically sent into starkly different space-time dimensions, thanks to Professor Zinka’s loopy invention.
What makes this Choose Your Own Adventure book really special is its many 4th-wall breaking moments. For example, I got to meet Edward Packard – yes, the author – inside the very book he wrote.
In another instance, I came across Dr. Nera Vivaldi, who’s actually a recurring character in previous Choose Your Own Adventure books. I then told her all about the series she starred in. Of course, the Hyperspace instance of her thought I was completely off the rails!
In short, Hyperspace is a curious case of postmodernist metafiction, which totally won me over as a kid.
8. Treasure Diver
As the series developed, newer authors started to join the Choose Your Own Adventure lineup. Julius Goodman’s Treasure Diver was one of my later favorites that wasn’t written by either Edward Packard or R.A. Montgomery.
The story sets you up as a deep-sea diver looking for long lost treasure. Your quest for sunken riches quickly expands into crazy and unexpected adventures.
My first read-through brought me face to face with an angry octopus, which mercilessly sent me to a watery grave. A second attempt saw me dying on a pirate ship. After many more tries, I finally managed to score the big treasure win. It was actually quite challenging.
Treasure Diver also features some surprisingly detailed scuba-diving terminology and great retro artwork. Overall, it’s one of the best Choose Your Own Adventure books from later years that I still recall fondly.
9. Zombie Panpal
Zombie Penpal is yet another memorable entry. The book has only 14 endings – but, again, this lesser number meant overall better endings (for the most part).
You’re a 7th grade student. Back in 2nd grade, you had a penpal from New Orleans – who one day mysteriously stopped writing. However, a new girl soon arrives at your school. Your friends think she’s really a zombie! However, you have other ideas. Is she secretly your long-lost penpal?
I’m not ashamed to admit this: I actually read Zombie Penpal as an adult! Even so, I had lots of fun with it. The book’s atmosphere is splendidly spooky by children’s book standards. In addition, there’s also quite a bit of character development. Pretty refreshing for a Choose Your Own Adventure book!
Overall, Zombie Penpal is a must-read if you’re a long-time fan of the franchise – or just generally love zombies.
Don’t forget to also check out our original list of must-read undead fiction!
10. The Magic of the Unicorn
Seriously, I wasn’t much of a unicorn fan growing up. However, The Magic of the Unicorn surprised me with its whimsical storyline and many interesting choices.
In this medieval world, your village is dying from drinking toxic water. Time is running out. You thus set off on an urgent journey in search of an elusive unicorn. Why? Because only its magical horn can cleanse the waters!
From my various readings, I met a powerful sorceress – who swiftly killed me. I also fought a fiery dragon and, in another instance, somehow found a way to turn myself into a unicorn. It’s the usual Choose Your Own Adventure absurdity that makes it all fun!
In short, diehard fans of unicorns will most surely take to The Magic of the Unicorn. It’s an often overlooked classic of the series not to be missed.
- Deborah Lerme Goodman (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 576 Pages - 09/01/2018 (Publication Date) - Chooseco (Publisher)
11. Secret of the Ninja
Out of everything from my childhood, ninjas were by far my favorite thing.
As far as I know, there are four Choose Your Own Adventure books specifically about ninjas – all of them part of the same series. However, the one I liked most from the lot was Secret of the Ninja.
Weird things are happening at your ninja friend’s dojo. Thunderstorms burst out of nowhere, objects move themselves, and scary noises seem to come from empty rooms.
You soon trace these odd events to the arrival of an ancient sword – which appear to hold a mysterious and dark power.
Secret of the Ninja is extremely action-packed. I fought tons of enemy ninjas, and even managed to get burnt alive by a magical fireball. One especially memorable moment saw me having to choose between saving my friend’s life or joining an evil clan of villains.
Overall, I’ve really fond memories of Secret of the Ninja – and the mini-series as a whole. Seriously, I’ll never tire of ninjas!
- R. A. Montgomery (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 576 Pages - 10/01/2019 (Publication Date) - Chooseco Llc (Publisher)
Even more awesome Choose Your Own Adventure books!
Here are a few more amazing entries of the franchise! Some of these I read as a kid; others I collected just a few years ago.
You live in a dystopian future, fighting for democracy against a brute-force totalitarian regime known as Dorado. Can you lead your resistance force to victory?
13. You Are A Superstar!
After a freaky genetic event, your doctor tells you the good news: you’ve developed an unnatural amount of superstar potential! For what exactly? That’s up to you!
Not your typical Choose Your Own Adventure book – but a great way to live out your childhood dreams!
14. Invaders from Within
An outstanding Choose Your Own Adventure alien invasion tale. From the very first page, you’re pitted against a menacing glowing dome that looks like it’s from outer space. What will you decide to do – with all of humanity possibly at stake?
15. The Horror of High Ridge
Uncover the spooky secrets of an old haunted town with your two friends. I think this is a great traditional supernatural story with lots of fun ghostly encounters.
16. War With the Evil Power Master
War With the Evil Power Master is a wild space opera of galactic proportions. You’re a veteran commander of an elite ship fleet tasked with protecting planets from utter destruction.
17. Your Very Own Robot
I feel this is one of the most charming Choose Your Own Adventure books ever released. You basically try to build a robot from a pile of trash. The choices you make shape the kind of metallic friend you make – if you’re even able to construct one, that is!
18. Fright Night
A later Edward Packard classic, not based on the 1985 film of the same name. Here, you and your friends visit a carnival of horrors filled with scary rides. Only problem is these rides aren’t just scary – they’re death traps! Can you survive the terrors of this theme park gone wrong?
19. By Balloon to the Sahara
I bet that author D. Terman was heavily inspired by Around the World in 80 Days. This book takes you on an epic worldwide adventure in a hot air balloon. Endure fierce storms, deadly tribes, enemy submarines, killer aliens, and much more. It’s choice-driven chaos done right.
20. Survival at Sea
As its name suggests, Survival at Sea puts you through the grinder as you fight against massive tidal waves, ancient ocean dinosaurs, and other dangerous encounters. If you’re a survival story junkie like me, this one’s for you.
21. Return to Atlantis
Nobody believed you’d actually found the lost city of Atlantis. You had no documented evidence. Will you find a way to return to Atlantis again, proving its existence once and for all? It won’t be easy – since an evil underwater king, warring factions, and other nasties are all waiting to turn your expedition into a nightmare.