Best Post-apocalyptic Book Series

If the world’s going to end in a big, messy apocalypse, surely we need more than one measly book to battle through the ruins of our civilization.

(All the descriptions below are for the first books in the series.)


The Silo Saga
by Hugh Howey – 2011

Book 1: Wool
Book 2: Shift
Book 3: Dust

The world outside has grown toxic, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. The remnants of humanity live underground in a single silo. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they want: they are allowed to go outside.

After the previous sheriff leaves the silo in a terrifying ritual, Juliette, a mechanic from the down deep, is suddenly and inexplicably promoted to the head of law enforcement. With newfound power and with little regard for the customs she is supposed to abide, Juliette uncovers hints of a sinister conspiracy. Tugging this thread may uncover the truth… or it could kill every last human alive.

“Claustrophobic and, at times, genuinely terrifying.”
—Washington Post

The Warm Bodies
by Isaac Marion – 2010

Book 1: Warm Bodies
Book 2: The Burning World
Book 3: The Living
Book 4: The New Hunger

“R” is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization.

And then he meets a girl.

First as his captive, then his reluctant house guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

“Dark and funny.”

St. Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr. – 1959

Book 1: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Book 2: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman

Written in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the first real literary science fiction books, and an enduring, if not exceptionally well-known, classic.

The story takes places several hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, and civilization barely exists. It’s a leisurely read that thoughtfully deals with the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic world through the lens of the denizens of a monastery in the Utah desert.

In this monastery are bits of scientific knowledge that the monks do not understand, and keep to themselves amid their trials and squabbling.

As the story occasionally skips forward in time hundreds of years, you don’t get to really settle in a consistent group of characters, but you do experience their civilization advancing.

Interestingly, during World War II, author Miller was a tail gunner in a bomber crew that participated in the destruction of the 6th-century Christian monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, founded by St. Benedict, and recognized as the oldest surviving Christian church in the Western world. It’s generally assumed that this experience heavily influenced his writing this story.

The Origin Mystery
by A.G. Riddle – 2013

Book 1: The Atlantis Gene
Book 2: The Atlantis Plague
Book 3: The Atlantis World

The first book of this trilogy isn’t technically post-apocalyptic, but the other books get there, so feel free to start with this one.

Off the coast of Antarctica, a research vessel discovers a mysterious structure buried deep within an iceberg. It has been there for thousands of years, and something is guarding it. Could it be the fabled city of Atlantis? Or is it something more dangerous?

At the same moment, in Jakarta, Indonesia, a brilliant geneticist named Kate Warner has just discovered a breakthrough treatment for autism. Or so she thinks. What she has found is far more deadly—for her and for the entire human race. Her work could unleash the next stage of human evolution. It might also hold the key to unlocking the mysterious structure off the coast of Antarctica.

On the other side of Jakarta, Agent David Vale is racing to uncover a conspiracy with far-reaching implications. But he’s out of time. His informant inside the conspiracy is dead. His own organization has been infiltrated, and his enemy has turned the hunt on him. Now he’s on the run. But when he receives a coded message related to an imminent attack, he risks everything to save the one person that can help him stop it: Dr. Kate Warner.

Together, Kate and David race to unravel a global conspiracy and learn the truth about the Atlantis Gene… and human origins. Their journey takes them to the far corners of the globe and into the secrets of their pasts. Their enemy is close on their heels and will stop at nothing to obtain Kate’s research and force the next stage of human evolution—even if it means killing 99.9% of the world’s population. David and Kate can stop them… if they can trust each other. And stay alive.

The Three Californias Trilogy
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 1984

Book 1: The Wild Shore
Book 2: The Gold Coast
Book 3: Pacific Edge

2047: For the small Pacific Coast community of San Onofre, life in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear attack is a matter of survival, a day-to-day struggle to stay alive. But young Hank Fletcher dreams of the world that might have been, and might yet be—and dreams of playing a crucial role in America’s rebirth.

“Beautifully written… with a vivid depth rarely encountered in science fiction.”
—The Washington Post

Newsflesh Series
by Mira Grant – 2010

Book 1: Feed
Book 2: Deadline
Book 3: Blackout
Book 4: Feedback

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives—the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

“Gripping, thrilling, and brutal… McGuire [Mira Grant is a pen name] has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters who conduct a soul-shredding examination of what’s true and what’s reported.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

Giver Quartet
by Lois Lowry – 1993

Book 1: The Giver
Book 2: Gathering Blue
Book 3: Messenger
Book 4: Son

The Giver, winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, is set in a society which is at first presented as utopian, but gradually appears more and more dystopian. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Twelve-year-old Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.

The Giver is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of the 1990s.

“Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel.”
—Kirkus, starred review

The Book of the New Sun
by Gene Wolfe – 1980

Book 1: The Shadow of the Torturer
Book 2: The Claw of the Conciliator
Book 3: The Sword of the Lictor
Book 4: The Citadel of the Autarch

Severian is a torturer, born to the guild and with an exceptionally promising career ahead of him, until he falls in love with one of his victims, a beautiful young noblewoman. Her excruciations are delayed for some months and, out of love, Severian commits an act unacceptable for a torturer.

As punishment, he is exiled from the guild and his home city to the distant metropolis of Thrax with little more than Terminus Est, a fabled sword, to his name. Along the way he has to learn to survive in a wider world without the guild, a world in which he has already made both allies and enemies. And a strange gem is about to fall into his possession, which will only make his enemies pursue him with ever-more determination…

(This sounds like fantasy, but it is technically science fiction.)

(To add to the confusion, the first two books are often combined in a volume called Shadow & Claw.)

“A major work of twentieth-century American literature… Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within… once into it, there is no stopping.”
­―The New York Times

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
by Carrie Ryan – 2009

Book 1: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Book 2: The Dead-Tossed Waves
Book 3: The Dark and Hollow Places

In Mary’s world there are simple truths.

The Sisterhood always knows best.

The Guardians will protect and serve.

The Unconsecrated will never relent.

And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

Now, she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

“A bleak but gripping story…Poignant and powerful.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins – 2008

Book 1: The Hunger Games
Book 2: Catching Fire
Book 3: Mockingjay

In this wildly popular YA story, the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change, but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

“A violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.”
—Stephen King

by Margaret Atwood – 2003

Book 1: Oryx and Crake
Book 2: The Year of the Flood
Book 3: MaddAddam

Oryx and Crake is an excellent book, interesting and strange, that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. It manages to be more about character than plot but still moves quickly.

The story is narrated by Jimmy, who calls himself Snowman, along two parts of his life: before the plague, and after. He grows up in a dystopian world ruled by corporations and rife with genetic engineering experiments. But after the plague, things are even stranger, as Snowman deals with feral hybrid animals and the kind, green-eyed, mostly-human Children of Crake.

“Truly remarkable… As fun as it is dark… A feast of realism, science fiction, satire, elegy and then some… Atwood has concocted here an all-too-possible vision… [She is] a master.”
—The News & Observer

The Passage Trilogy
by Justin Cronin – 2010

Book 1: The Passage
Book 2: The Twelve
Book 3: The City of Mirrors

Amy was abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued, and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.

As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

“The type of big, engrossing read that will have you leaving the lights on late into the night.”
—The Dallas Morning News

The Parable Series
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993

Book 1: Parable of the Sower
Book 2: Parable of the Talents

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.

While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a group of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

“A real gut-wrencher… What makes Butler’s fiction compelling is that it is as crisply detailed as journalism… Often the smallest details are the most revelatory.”
―Washington Post

12 thoughts on “Best Post-apocalyptic Book Series

  1. Great list, thank you.
    I have The Passage trilogy in my shelf. I will add Wanderers (2019) and Wayward (2022) by Chuck Wendig, these 2 are great.

  2. Land O’ Goshen by Charles McNair seems to rarely make any list. Wonderfully original. The story of Buddy and his companion “Sack.” Set in the deep rural south, in the near future, and the Christian Nationalists have taken over. It can be difficult to read, certainly not a book to skim. Just lean into it, enjoy the words, the characters, the adventure and the message. Or if messages scare/annoy you, then just enjoy the adventure. (Try reading it aloud. Great fun.) I am still surprised this has never been made into a film. I kindly suggest you add to your recommendation list, if not already. Regards, DSG

  3. I recommend the Borne novels by Jeff VanderMeer. They are difficult to describe; Borne: A Novel and The Strange Bird are very accessible – albeit grim, but Dead Astronauts is almost impossible to read because it’s a world where life has so absolutely collapsed and transformed that there is no longer any frame of reference for understanding anything. Really amazing view of biological experimentation gone very very very awry.

  4. I have read The Silo Saga series, book one of “Warm Bodies” is my SBR and I have seen the movie, “A Canticle For Leibovitz”, the Newsflesh Series, “The Giver” and seen the movie, “The Shadow of the Torturer” (and no more), the MaddAdam series, and “The Passage”.

    The all time best post apocalyptic series that I have read is the Black Tide Rising series by John Ringo. The first book, “Under A Graveyard Sky”, is one of my six star books. The science is mostly hard and the results of the man made virus with the bacteria payload is absolutely chilling. The series is nine books now with more coming.

  5. I would also like to add the “Emergence Series” by David R. Palmer. Sadly it is out of print again with passing of Eric Flint. “Emergence” by David R. Palmer
    (1984 MMPB)
    (2018 trade paperback)

    Book number one of a two book apocalyptic science fiction young adult series. I reread the POD (print on demand) trade paperback published by Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press in 2018. I also have the MMPB published by Ballantine in 1984 that I purchased in 1985, one of my few books that survived The Great Flood of 1989. It may be yellowed and the back broken in three places but it is still very readable. The book was first serialized in Analog magazine in 1981 and nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. I am rereading the second book in the series, “Tracking”, now. Spider Robinson claims that there is a third book in the series but I have seen nothing of it.

    Somewhere in the very late 1800s or early 1900s, the human race forked. The new race, Homo Post Hominem, was immune to all human diseases, faster, stronger, smarter, etc. And, the new race traits were dominant in breeding. The Russian Homo Sapiens realized this and started a bionuclear war in 1988 to cleanse the Earth of the Homo Post Hominems. They did succeed in killing 99.999% of the Homo Sapiens on the planet but virtually none of the Homo Post Hominems.

    Candidia (Candy) Foster-Smith is a precocious 11 year old girl who was adopted by Dr. and Mrs. Foster after her parents were killed in a car wreck. She is one of the few survivors of the planet wide bionuclear war in the late 1900s. The book is her diary of surviving the war. And, she is one of the several thousand Homo Post Hominems on the Earth. She spent the first three months of the war in her father’s bomb shelter in Wisconsin then took off in a 4WD van looking for other survivors.

    Candy does have a retarded, adoptive twin brother, Terry D. Foster, who also survived the bionuclear war. D is for Dactyll. Terry is a 36 inch tall Hyacinthine Macaw who adores Candy and follows her everywhere.

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