Zombie-mania was really ‘hording’ mainstream media a few years ago. This is in part due to the runaway success of The Walking Dead and World War Z. Since then, things have quietened down a fair bit, maybe due to genre overkill. However, true zombie fans like you and I won’t ever sour on the undead. So, just for you wonderful people, I present some of the best zombie apocalypse books written in the last few years.
One thing to note: I’ll focus on listing lesser-known zombie books. I’ve thus left out TWD and WWZ (and Warm Bodies too), since most of you have already heard of them. I’m also excluding older classics in favor of slightly more recent releases.
Also, this list is based on my personal taste. If you’d like specific books about zombies to be added, feel free to drop me an email. I’ll be happy to add them!
Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Here’s a quick video overview. Read on for more in-depth reviews.
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My Favorite Zombie Apocalypse Books
1. Patient Zero
I thought the movie kinda sucked. However, Patient Zero as a book had me glued from start to finish, thanks to a strong cast of characters and well-written action scenes.
I think fans of military-themed zombie apocalypse books will fully enjoy author Jonathan Maberry’s release. The plot centers on the legendary Joe Ledger, a hardened Baltimore detective, who joins a secret response team to stop terrorists. The mission: prevent the baddies from infecting people with a terrible bio-weapon that, essentially, turns them into zombies.
I’ll be honest. The initial setup sounds a little generic. And there are quite a few eye-rolling, wannabe-alpha male moments of dialogue. However, I encourage you to stick with it. You’ll be rewarded with tons of incredibly intense cliffhangers — and, of course, a generous splattering of zombie-killin’ action.
Overall, I find Patient Zero to be one of best zombie books in recent years, told in a fast-moving military style.
2. Aftertime (Zombie book series)
As an anthropologist, I really appreciate author Sophie Littlefield’s attention to underlying cultural themes, explored amid the bleak setting of a zombie apocalypse. Via its protagonists, Aftertime tackles issues on self-worth, love, personal sacrifice, and more — without letting go of the brain-thirsty gore that us zombie fans love.
This series’ main character, Cass, pops out of the pages as a very relatable character. She’s a mother who awakens to find herself as a zombie that’s mysteriously turned back human. Cass then embarks on a dangerous search for her daughter, seeking help in a world filled with flesh-hungry Beaters (i.e. zombies).
In the version I read, I did find a few editorial mistakes here and there. There’s also some inconsistency in scene descriptions. However, on the whole, Littlefield’s releases are among the best zombie apocalypse books in recent years. A definite survival thrill-ride built on a solid premise.
3. As The World Dies (Zombie Book Trilogy)
Interestingly, I first met author Rhiannon Frater online many years ago on an obscure forum for horror fans. She was a fresh-faced writer back then; a self-published and passionate lover of vampire and zombie fiction.
Fast forward a decade later and Rhiannon is now an accomplished author being published by Tor Books. Many of her horror titles have also earned critical acclaim. Among her most celebrated releases is the As The World Dies zombie apocalypse trilogy, beginning with The First Days.
This survival series starts off with Katie – a woman getting ready for her day in court – and Jenni, a housewife taking care of her family. However, hours later, both these women are flung together by a harrowing circumstance — namely, the apocalyptic rise of the undead. The two of them soon become a powerful zombie-slaying duo, journeying out to rescue Jenni’s stepson.
Admittedly, the first book is a little oddly paced in some spots. There are also moments where political views seem to be oddly thrown into the dialogue.
Regardless, for the majority, Rhiannon succeeds at crafting a highly accessible and exhilarating series that’s bound to please anyone looking for the best zombie books released. This was a very enjoyable read for me.
4. Newsflesh (series)
Newsflesh is a very unique zombie book series. On one hand, it offers speculative commentary on the potential power of online bloggers — hence, the wordplay title. On the other, it doesn’t hold back in fleshing out the gruesome impact of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.
The thematic pairing of bloggers / zombies may initially put off some genre purists. And, yes, there are sections in the book where author Mira Grant veers too deep into the technical aspects of online journalism.
However, zombie fans in search of something new amid a saturated sub-genre will be well-pleased. The Newsflesh series offers plenty of character and emotional depth, wrapped up by a largely satisfying ending. There’s also lots of descriptive gore — save for a few middle sections where things do meander just a little.
Overall, I enjoyed this zombie series much more than I thought I would. Give it a chance and you’ll likely feel the same!
5. The Extinction Cycle (series)
If you’re looking for mindless, brainy zombie books (not an oxymoron), look no further than The Extinction Cycle. From Extinction Horizon and beyond, author Nicholas Smith feeds you an exquisite serving of zombie guts, gore, and frenzied action.
This military story follows Master Sergeant Reed Beckham who, as leader of his Delta Force Team, has lived through his fair share of nightmarish missions. However, his worst hell begins when his team is sent in to investigate a super-secret research facility that’s gone dark. An epic catastrophe soon unfolds when they discover that infected zombies have started to spread across cities, threatening human extinction.
While coming across as a back-to-basics thriller, you’ll be surprised to find a host of intriguing characters woven into an addictive narrative fabric. The plot brims with solid dialogue, coupled with attention to military & scientific detail. The series even offers a plausible explanation for the zombie apocalypse, which is always a welcomed perk.
Overall, The Extinction Cycle is one of my favourite zombie series on this list — and one you should definitely check out!
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6. The End Games
In his debut book, Michael Martin tells the story of brothers Michael and Patrick who struggle to survive in a world ravaged by Bellows — vicious zombie-like creatures. Like The Extinction Cycle, The End Games delivers on its gruesome thrills. Yet, it also takes time to nurture the human bonds between characters. There’s even a little bit of romance thrown in, although this thread never becomes too overbearing.
What I really loved about this book was its sensitive handling of certain topics. The deep relationship between Patrick – who lives with a learning disability – and his older brother is very well-handled. Michael making the entire zombie apocalypse an imaginative ‘game’ for Patrick is both endearing and smartly used as a plot device for creating real tension.
All in all, you can’t go wrong with The End Games — a strong entry into the zombie fiction genre that’s been sorely overlooked by many.
7. Arisen (series)
Want to invest your time into a long-haul zombie series? Then Arisen will fit your bill. Filled with tense military action, these zombie apocalypse books see Fortress Britain as the last standing hope for 50 million survivors trapped in a world of 7 billion undead. Humanity’s sole chance of survival lies with the Alpha Team — a band of skilled commandos who set out to find an elusive cure.
The most compelling quality of this series is its intricate balance of fast-paced action with deep characterizations. Main characters maintain their core identities, yet also evolve in their relations with others. In addition, the authors are masters at nail-biting story build-ups. You’ll find yourself fully immersed in this addictive zombie plot, thanks to steady narrative groundwork laid out by each book.
8. The Girl With All The Gifts
Recently adapted into a movie, The Girl With All The Gifts revolves around Melanie – a young student with an incredible aptitude for learning.
However, things are not as they seem, for this young girl is in fact entrapped within a military compound. Every day she lives in a tiny cell, strapped to a wheelchair whenever she’s allowed out.
The guards are afraid to get near her — but Melanie doesn’t quite understand why. That is, until a wave of zombies suddenly overrun the compound. This opens her eyes to the outside world for the first time; an existence plagued by a zombie apocalypse within which, unbeknownst to her, she has a role to play.
I think what I loved most about the book is M. R. Carey’s artistry of the slow-reveal. At the start, you aren’t fully informed of what Melanie’s ‘gifts’ really are, leaving you guessing. In addition, most characters are multi-faceted with well-written dialogue between people. The book also pivots between a sense of hope and hopelessness, engendering tension throughout.
In short, The Girl With All The Gifts is a must-read for anyone keen on books about zombies!
A few other good zombie books worth reading:
Rot & Ruin (series)
Some of the best zombie books are by Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero). Great cast of characters, excellent world-building, and tons of action-filled fun! Highly recommended.
The Reapers Are The Angels
A zombie book less about in-your-face action and more focused on fostering a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Very well-loved among fans. The omission of quotation marks for dialogue is also an interesting stylistic choice.
Older than most books on this list, The Rising treks a father’s journey through a zombie apocalypse in an effort to rescue his son. Both emotionally heavy and brilliantly graphic. The Rising is credited for partially helping to jump-start the new wave of zombie survival fiction.
This Is Not A Test
As hard-hitting as it is heartfelt, This Is Not A Test explores themes of depression and identity. The plot centers on a group of students who find themselves trapped in school, with a zombie horde pounding to get in. A great setup that delivers for the most part.
Cell (zombie-like maniacs)
I don’t think this is Stephen King’s best work. However, I still greatly enjoyed his alternative take on the zombie genre. In Cell, a zombie-like virus known as The Pulse is able to spread via cellphone reception, turning people into hungry, angry freaks. The book is worth a read – but skip the movie, please. It’s terrible.
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