Neil Gaiman once said that he was “like sushi, I’m something only a few people like.” Then, “gradually you get to this point where an awful lot of people like sushi, and suddenly, sushi kind of works.” Gaiman’s books definitely work for a global audience, and over the years he has become one of the most prolific and prominent writers of our time.
Apart from novels, he has penned comic books, graphic novels, short fiction, non-fiction, audio theatre pieces, and films. In such a vast opus, it’s difficult to pick several titles that stand out because many of them deserve to be in the spotlight. But if we have to choose, the following Neil Gaiman novels should occupy a place on every fantasy lover’s bookshelf.
Critiqued as “magical realism at its best,” The Ocean at the End of the Lane follows a middle-aged man who returns to his hometown for a funeral. Upon seeing a farm at the end of the road, he starts recalling events that happened 40 years earlier. This dark fantasy novella has it all—wormholes, evil creatures from other worlds, and a witch neighbor. Despite its brevity, it offers tons of excitement and joyful moments. Gaiman explores the themes of identity and disconnection between childhood and adulthood, arguing that we should never forget who we were as kids.
Although published in 2008, Gaiman got the idea for The Graveyard Book in 1985 after seeing his young son ride a tricycle around a graveyard. The comfortable look on his son’s face made him think about writing a novel similar to The Jungle Book, only it would take place in a graveyard. Thus became the story of Nobody Owens, a boy raised in the graveyard by ghosts, vampires, and other supernatural beings after his parents were murdered. Bod, as they call him, lives among the dead, right on the border with the world of the living. And while being raised by ghoulish creatures has its perks, he decides to cross over and find his place among the mortals. However, Bod will soon realize that the world of the living can be much more terrifying than the world of the dead.
3. Good Omens
Gaiman’s collaboration with Terry Pratchett brought about a tremendously funny story about the world approaching its demise, unless someone does something about it. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are getting ready to wipe out Earth, so an angel and a demon decide to team up to save the planet they have come to love. To do so, they must stop the Antichrist, but the only trouble is that they can’t find him. Good Omens is a perfect mixture of Gaiman’s grim and eerie style and Pratchett’s trademark sense of humor, and it was adapted into an Amazon series in 2019.
Possibly Gaiman’s best known novel, American Gods centers on Shadow, a man who’s been in prison for three years and longs to reunite with his wife Laura. However, just days before he is to be released, his wife gets killed in a car accident. Devastated with grief and with no one to turn to, Shadow accepts a job as a bodyguard and personal assistant to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. But he soon realizes that Mr. Wednesday is no ordinary employer as he uncovers the true nature of his business. Gaiman successfully blends old and modern mythology together and gives the reader a different interpretation of American culture and heritage.
This romantic adventure takes the form of a classic fairy tale. Wall is a small and peaceful town on the English countryside bordering Faerie, a magical world. Stardust’s protagonist is Tristan Thorn, a young man desperately in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester. One night, after seeing a star fall beyond the town borders into the magical world, Victoria promises Tristan that she will marry him if he brings her the fallen star. Tristan embarks on a quest he hopes will bring him his true love, but the magical realm turns out to be much more than what meets the eye.
Initially created as a BBC series, Neverwhere is a story about a young businessman named Richard Mayhew who leads an ordinary life in London, until one night he sees a girl bleeding on the street and stops to help her. This act of kindness throws him into a bizarre and astonishing world he never imagined existed and changes his life forever. Many Gaiman fans consider this novel to be one of his most mysterious works, with a plethora of strange and very imaginative characters. Gaiman’s world of London Below is the home of the people who fell between the cracks, and although wild and peculiar, there’s something eerily familiar about it.
7. Anansi Boys
Anansi Boys is a family story about Charles “Fat Charlie” Nancy, a shy and diffident man living in London who is soon to be married. His wedding preparations are brought to a halt when he finds out that Mr. Nancy, his father, has died in Florida. Contrary to Charlie, Mr. Nancy was an ostentatious and vibrant figure, and the two did not get along. But the news of his father’s death uncovers more surprises—Mr. Nancy was actually an incarnation of a West African god, and he had another son, Charlie’s twin brother named Spider who possesses divine powers. Charlie and Spider embark on a journey of self-discovery and unveil their family history. Although this novel isn’t a sequel to American Gods, the character of Mr. Nancy appears in both books.
Gaiman explored Nordic myths in his work on multiple occasions, and this book is heavily inspired by classic Viking tradition. Norse Mythology is a collection of primeval Norse stories about Odin, Thor, and Loki, joined in an engaging narrative that gives the well-known myths a new dimension. Gaiman injects these heroic figures with a dose of humanity and makes them more accessible and relatable as he chronicles the story from the beginning of the nine realms to Ragnarok. This is another instance of a successful blend of the ancient and modern, a skill Gaiman is well known for.
Like the majority of Gaiman’s books, this dark fantasy children’s novella is delightful and utterly terrifying in equal amounts, and it’s a captivating read for teens and adults alike. The story follows 11-year-old Coraline as she discovers a door in her home that leads to a world that’s incredibly similar to her own, only much better. She gets nicer food and toys in the other world, and her parents show her more love and affection. Best of all, they want Coraline to stay there, but she soon discovers that things are not as perfect as they seem.