Love ‘Stranger Things’? You’ll Also Love These Terrifying Books

With the third season of Stranger Things premiering on July 4 on Netflix,  we could point to a list of movies that reflect the 80s nostalgia of the show, which has often been likened to a fusion of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.

We’ll sort of do that here, but we want to take a somewhat different approach. Based on a couple of Barnes & Noble lists, we’ve selected seven books that make ideal companion pieces to the show. Most of these have been adapted into movies, and some of them are streaming too. Many of them also share a theme of a young teen/pre-teen grappling with their supernatural powers. 

Stranger Things
(L-R) Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo of Netflix’s Stranger Things | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Barnes & Noble has two lists: one for season 1, and one for season 2. In alphabetical order.

‘Akira’ by Katsuhiro Otomo

Yes, anime and comics absolutely do count, especially because this one prompted what is generally considered one of the best sci-fi anime movies ever made. This is the first of many stories on this list about the young losing control of their gifts, and that may or may not be a metaphor for puberty. Generally speaking, when government officials mess with a telekinetic kid, nothing good can come of it except a good book and/or movie. 

‘Carrie’ by Stephen King

Speaking of “bad things happen when telekinetic kids cut loose,” here is exhibit A of that genre, the book that became King’s initial claim to fame. It’s been adapted into a fair number of movies and TV shows, but the first and best is still the 1976 Brian De Palma classic with Sissy Spacek, which is also on Netflix.  It keeps the general thrust of King’s story while also smartly jettisoning the flashbacks that would have stalled momentum in the movie. 

‘Firestarter’ by Stephen King

This wasn’t considered one of the better King movies or books, as this one mainly sparks memories of a post-ET Drew Barrymore glowering at the camera and demanding “back off!” Still, that sight does conjure up images of 11. The 1984 movie is streaming on Starz. 

‘It’ by Stephen King

If we organized this list by importance to Stranger Things, this one would be at the very top. It also centers around a group of kids battling a demonic force, and we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that Finn Wolfhard (Mike) stars in this movie. King’s book was such a massive doorstopper it had to be adapted into two parts. The sequel to the theatrical film covers what happens to the characters as adults, with Jessica Chastain as the older Beverly and Bill Hader as the older Richie. It’s in theaters Sept. 6, no pun intended.

‘The Lost Sister’ by Joyce Carol Oates

One of the most controversial parts of season 2 of Stranger Things was the subplot where Eleven went to Chicago and found a group of other young kids who had powers like her. Some people loved it, other people thought it felt like a pilot for a spinoff no one asked for. Either way, this book has a story similar to that, about a group of teenage outcasts who join together to escape from a world of male oppression and sexual violence.

‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

How can we not include that story literally combines Spielberg with King? Spielberg’s movie adaptation is a very mixed bag, but many agreed the highlight was his astonishing recreation of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It even mimics the cinematography of the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie, which King hated. The book and the movie don’t bear many similarities to Stranger Things story-wise, but both very much capitalize on 80s nostalgia.

‘X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga’ by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Mike Collins, and Terry Austin

This is one of the most highly regarded comic book stories. So much so that the movies tried to adapt it twice — and failed twice. It was one of two major plot strands in X-Men: The Last Stand, which many people hated, and it was the main story in Dark Phoenix, which flopped hard last month. Don’t blame the story, which may be the most powerful example of a story about a woman trying to contain her powers. Read the book to get the full effect.