Ranking Every Book in The Harry Potter Series


As Potterheads, we love every novel in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. But if you had to rank them, which novel is the most superior?

Is it possible to rank the novels of the Harry Potter series?

This is the question I found myself confronted with recently, especially in light of the question we asked recently concerning if the Harry Potter series should include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or no. For some, to suggest that one novel is somehow superior to the others is tantamount to heresy. And yet…

And yet, it is hard to ignore the fact that some of the Harry Potter novels are better than others. Some of them have higher stakes, some of them have bigger plot twists, some of them have bigger deaths, some of them have larger implications of what’s too come. And there’s also the incontrovertible fact that some are far more frustrating in terms of plot development and character progression than others.

So which Harry Potter novel is the best of the batch? We run down all seven novels and rank them from worst to best.

Next: Number 7: Order of the Phoenix

7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

It’s hard to rank any of the Harry Potter series as “last on the list.” But as we sat here and ordered and re-ordered, two of the seven novels kept finding themselves at the back of the pack. Even with the many pros of this novel taken into consideration–and there are many–every time we started ranking, Order of the Phoenix kept falling behind.

And there are many pros to be had in this one. This is the year Harry finally finds a home to stay in that’s not with Vernon and Petuna. For the first time, the adult characters take on major roles as they reestablish the titular Order that once fought Voldemort, while at Hogwarts, Harry and friends form Dumbledore’s Army. We get a moment of Harry’s “There but for the grace of god go I” with Neville at St. Mungos. The Ministry of Magic’s politics become a major factor. Dolores Umbridge arrives! The Weasley twins take their leave! Harry and his friends take their O.W.L. exams! How can this novel be last?

But the problem with the Order of the Phoenix is that of the seven novels, it is the hardest to read. Harry is in a very bad head space for nearly all of the book, a traumatized, angry, sullen and hormonal head space. After several years of being allowed to play Wizard Kid Detectives around Hogwarts, to various successes in which the found-out party all but shakes their fist and says “I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids,” the stakes have been raised, but Harry’s game hasn’t. He’s still focused on Snape and Draco, when the world has moved beyond these petty rivalries. And worst of all, his teenage schemes not only put everyone in danger, they get his only adopted family, Sirius Black, killed. It’s a hard depressing time. Dumbledore apologizes at the end, admitting he’s handled this badly. But in terms of the series, it’s the lowest things get, and the lowest on the list.

Next: Number 6: Chamber of Secrets

6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Our other “back of the pack” novel is the middle installment of what Potterheads think of as “the thin books” of the opening trilogy. Much like Order of the Phoenix, there are many arguments to be made for Chamber of Secrets. This is, after all, the novel where we first meet the Boy Who Would Grown Up To Be Voldemort, Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Chamber of Secrets is also where Rowling sews in many details that will be important later. The problem is that, because the novel is written at a younger reading level, most of them upon first introduction don’t register with their true value. Take Polyjuice potion. By the time we reach the Deathly Hallows, it will be a means to break into the Ministry. But here it is a toy to spy on Slytherins. (And be careful, or you’ll wind up a cat!) That tree Harry and Ron crash their flying car into? Just a angry willow. Godric’s Sword? Just a fun prop that disappears for several novels. Tom’s Diary? An oddly evil object, easily defeated by a handy fang. That this is actually the first horcrux, and that defeating them so easily will never happen again does not become clear until several installments on.

In between, we get Dobby at his most obnoxious, Lockhart the Worst Teacher Ever, and too much Moaning from Bathroom Bound Myrtle. Only the lack of depressing high profile deaths keeps this from being dead last.

Next: Number 5: Half Blood Prince

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix both suffer from not being able to function as stand-alone novels, which need the series closing novel, The Deathly Hallows, to feel like a whole. This made reading both of them when they came out something of an exercise in frustration, since it sucks to read a novel and not feel like you’ve been satisfied until the next installment comes out two years later. But Half-Blood Prince still ranks superior to both Chamber of Secrets and Order of the Phoenix.

First, Dumbledore and Harry are finally communicating. Harry still doesn’t know half of what’s going on, but he’s getting a clue through some of my favorite scenes ever in the entire series: the Pensieve. If there was ever something that made me want a “First Age of Voldemort” prequel trilogy, it’s those scenes from the bygone age, as Harry sees the rise of Tom Riddle and the aftermath of his first attempt at taking over the Wizarding World. The  there’s the introduction of Slughorn, and the class based system of the UK Muggle world reflected in Wizarding World terms. Finally, for the first time, we start to see the lives of those who have graduated Hogwarts, and the grown up Wizarding World that Harry will be entering in only a few short years. We also get a move on in our character’s love lives as Harry and Ginny get together, while Ron densely gets a clue about Hermione.

And then there’s the climax, in which, as was so ruthlessly spoiled online in those first few hours of the book’s release “Snape Kills Dumbledore.” It is a powerful moment, made even more so by the realization of readers (though not by Harry) that Snape may have killed Dumbledore, not because he was working for Voldemort, but because “Severus… please” was not a plea to spare his life, but an order to do the deed.

Next: Number 4: The Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone

It was the novel that changes Jo Rowling’s life. One part parody of the British Children’s Literature genre of the “suffering child,” one part magical fantasy, one part hero’s journey aimed for the 8-12 set, in 1997, Rowling published her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (It was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the US audience because we should never underestimate the UK’s capability for underestimating our intelligence.)

But though the opening novel of the series is a delight–I remember distinctly laughing outright and clapping my hands at the dead on parody of those terrible novels I had been subjected to at that age, including The Little Match Girl and Water Babies–it is also just that: A Children’s Novel. It is wish fulfillment on a pre-teen scale, which includes gorging on candy, kindly but firm adults, flying on broom sticks and making lifelong friends. We do see some hints of the more serious times ahead, including the Mirror of Erised and Voldemort’s face on the back of a timid and useless teacher appropriated named Quirrel. But those are easily defeated, the same way the gang would on Scooby Doo. 50 points to Gyrffendor!

Next: Number 3: Goblet of Fire

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The only novel in the entire series that stands alone, Goblet of Fire is my personal favorite. Where the three “thin” books are their own trilogy and the three fat books that follow also work as a unit, the fourth book in the series is an island unto itself.

And what a jammed packed island it is. Rowling stuffs this book chock full of adventure. After a very quick visit to Number 4 Privet Drive, we launch straight into a trip to the Quidditch World Cup, one that suffers a terrorist attack by dark wizards working towards Voldemort’s return. Once back at school, we learn that our regularly scheduled plot rhythms of the school have been preempted for the TriWizard Tournament. In place of Gyrffendor vs Slytherin, it’s now Durmstrang versus Beauxbatons versus Hogwarts versus…Harry. (And yet they never rename it the Quad-Wizards Tournament.)

This is our first taste of Wizarding world propaganda and politics, as Rita Skeeter is introduced and Cornelius Fudge is given an expanded role. Harry and Ron have their first failed stab at dating at the Yule Ball (while Hermione has her big Cinderella moment.) And after three amazing tests, which include Merpeople, Dragons and a Hedge Maze, Harry finds himself in a tie with his Hogwarts rival Cedric Diggory, who is so big-hearted he offers to share the win with Harry…. Only to lose his life to Voldemort, when it turns out the entire thing was orchestrated to bring about his return. It’s a roller coaster ride of a story, with a tragic ending, which is only compounded when those in power refuse to believe Harry when he returns.

Next: Number 2: Prisoner of Azkaban

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I reversed and re-reversed the order of our next two books several times while putting this list together. Prisoner of Azkaban is perhaps one of the most important Harry Potter novels. There is a reason that, before it was published, Harry Potter was “a big hit with the kids, sure to become a movie,” and that after it was released that changed to “Harry Potter: Global Phenomenon.”

Now, we can sit here and list off the good points of the novels: Hagrid as the Bumbling Professor, the introduction of Lupin, Harry receiving his Firebolt, and the Marauder’s Map. The dementors make their first appearance, and we get our first real taste of some of the less pleasant aspects of the Wizarding World government.

But all that pales in comparison to the scene inside the Shrieking Shack. It is the moment where Rowling draws back the curtain and makes her first great reveal that these Harry Potter novels are no mere children’s stories. (There is a reason it was the last of the “thin” books.) There is depth and layers, and generations and backstories that have been right under our noses the entire time. (Or in the case of Ron, hanging out in his room, pretending to be a bizarrely long lived pet.) As Harry discovers the adults around him have long and complicated lives before he came along, we also discover that the simplistic view of the series we have had only scratched the surface.

Next: Number 1: The Deathly Hallows

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I wound up putting Deathly Hallows ahead of Prisoner of Azkaban because, though it too holds a “draw back the curtain” moment, there are so many other things it held as well.

As the final novel in the series, The Deathly Hallows is where so many of the seeds that Rowling has planted along the route and have been slowly growing along side the story she’s been telling suddenly start paying off dividends. The games of youth become the tools of war, as Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run as the Ministry falls. Lee Jordan, who announced so many Quidditch games, now helms Radio Free Wizarding World. The Weasley joke shop pranks turn into weapons against the enemy. Spells which were theoretical, or used for small time gains in Hogwarts are now the only defense between life and death.

And then there’s that reveal. Like in Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling shows us that once again, we’ve had all the clues this whole time, but couldn’t see the bigger picture. The Invisibility Cloak is so much more than a child’s toy. Voldemort, like Grindelwald before him, is searching for the Deathly Hallows, a mythical set of items that should make him all powerful. The quest Harry thinks he’s on is the wrong one. We’re now going to make a hard right and chase this new story.

Except no. In the most unexpected turn of events, Harry chooses NOT to chase the Hallows. He stubbornly turns left, and continues on his quest to destroy the Horcruxes that give Voldemort his power. And in refusing to fall for the false promise of this “all powerful” trio of items, Harry finds them all anyway, because he is not afraid to face death. The Resurrection Stone is inside the Snitch Harry was given by Dumbledore. The Elder Wand is his, once again because of a throwaway moment where he defeated Draco in a duel. The cloak has always been his.

Oh and he defeats Voldemort. That’s also a pretty big moment. And, as of our last check in, all is still well.

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