At this point, who hasn’t reread the seven books in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series so many times, it seems like you can just jump in and read any one of the novels out of order. They are all masterpieces, but we do have our favorites we usually turn to first. Here, I’ve attempted the impossible: ranked all seven Harry Potter books. And don’t you just love the new cover art! How would you rank the Harry Potter books? Leave a comment below!
There’s nothing outright wrong with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Released 1997 in the UK; 1998 in the US), the first in the series. After all, if the series did not start with a satisfying beginning, the books would never have gotten off the ground. The debut sets up crucial themes for the story going forward and sneaks little hints of what’s to come (like this nugget of foreshadowing: “Harry….sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds” (p. 221)). It’s just that the books only got better from here!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (published in the UK 1998; US 1999) continued the magical world while introducing new themes. With Chamber of Secrets, the danger of Voldemort becomes all too real with his sinister plot to corrupt young Ginny Weasley and kill Muggle borns. Voldemort is growing in power and will do anything to do so. The innocence remains, but Rowling steers the series into a more solemn mood. This isn’t just trading minor spells anymore. Lives are at stake. The mystery is definitely ominous, but when Harry and his friends survive the final conflict, it seemed like Harry could still escape anything, that he was untouchable. Rowling quickly dispelled that myth in the next few books.
When Order of the Phoenix was released in 2003 after a gap of nearly three years, the hype was so thick you could cut it with a knife (or maybe a Diffindo severing charm). The Order of the Phoenix felt disappointing to some. It was very long (870 pages in the US version), but a slow burn through Harry’s frustrations, grief, and anger following Cedric’s death in Goblet of Fire. This novel is a true turning point in the series as Harry and his friends must become grown-ups. Watching Harry work through this process, with the help of Dumbledore, showed the risks of loving someone (Sirius), the cruelty of bureaucracy (Umbridge), and the power of friendship. Plus, it welcomed Luna Lovegood and the coordinated resistance to authority with Dumbledore’s Army.
Half-Blood Prince takes readers down a road from which they can never return. The safety of Hogwarts is gone. Voldemort is unleashing chaos, terror, and murder. Half-Blood Prince sees the passing of Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor. Harry has learned more about the prophesy that ties him to Voldemort. There’s no going back. Harry’s character arc has kicked into the final round. You end the novel shocked that Dumbledore, and with him, his era of stability and safety, is really mortal, that they all are. I also love the quest into Voldemort’s past, tracing how he could turn into a monster. With its stunning conclusion, Half-Blood Prince sets the stage for the epic final showdown in Deathly Hallows.
The final book in the series could have let its readers down, or it could have been awesome. It was awesome. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows breaks the formula in that it doesn’t take place at Hogwarts. Those first few chapters, I, like many of you, mourned Hogwarts. Instead, Rowling gives us a well-paced and utterly epic conclusion, the final showdown with Voldemort a riveting and gratifying finale. Taking Harry, Ron, and Hermione out of their Hogwarts setting was a bold move by Rowling, but it pushed the stakes up even higher. The novel wraps up mysteries while leaving tantalizing hints and questions that will keep the series alive forever.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (pub. 2000) ushers Harry, Ron, and Hermione into a more serious but still fun part of their journey. For many readers, Goblet of Fire is Rowling at her best. Hogwarts feels as familiar as your favorite sweatshirt, yet Rowling brings in new elements, like the Hogwarts Ball and Triwizard Tournament. Rowling also does a fantastic job plotting the story till its heartbreaking climax with Voldemort’s ascension. Rowling leaves readers with one last satisfying and dazzling dive into the standard Hogwarts plot.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book Three) (pub. 1999) will always be my number one. Two of my favorite characters, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, are introduced. Harry starts to learn more about his family’s past and comes to know a kindness from Lupin that he will soon know (in a grittier way) from Sirius, though the answers Harry gets about his past are difficult. Harry also realizes his father was not necessarily the golden boy hero he imagined. Still, there are lighter moments, like Harry’s first trip to Hogsmeade and the Marauders. This novel is the perfect balance of melancholy and suspense. It established that the series would not be just fluff but would tackle darker themes. This is Harry closing the door on his childhood and entering a new era demanding courage and kindness—and an undying belief in good over evil.
For more Harry Potter fun, check out my blog post YA Book Recommendations Based on Hogwarts House.