For a generation, the Harry Potter series was a formative phenomenon. These books paved the way for other fantasy series, and they inspired students who had little interest in reading to pick up a book and give this one a shot. And, as for the addicted reader, they have something in common with those who usually don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to literature. That common passion led to a slew of odd friendships. All of that eagerness to read contributed to the success of this series. As a result, we must examine the books themselves to determine which are truly greater, whether in style, shape, narrative, or any other aspect. And what could be more fundamental than ranking the novels that launched a worldwide frenzy (we’re not including Cursed Child because J.K. Rowling isn’t the author of that book, which is actually a stage play rather than a novel)?
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not only the essential narrative in the series for the Harry/Voldemort relationship, but it also signals a turning point for nearly every character. This is the book in which Harry meets individuals who want Voldemort to return to his wicked ways, and the entire world is turned upside down. Prior to Goblet of Fire, Harry was mainly aware that Voldemort was evil, that he had murdered his parents, and that he was attempting to return to the world of the living. He was aware that Professor Quirrell and possibly a few others wanted Voldemort to return, but he was unaware that there was a powerful and determined group of people who not only want Voldemort to return to power but have been working behind the scenes to keep his cause alive.
Harry must encounter the hardships of growing up across the pages of Goblet of Fire. Not only does he have to compete against the other Triwizard champions, all of whom have at least three years of magical schooling ahead of him, but he also invites Cho Chang to the Yule Ball, has a very spectacular battle with his very best buddy, and mourns the loss of a new, but no less true, friend. This book marks a significant shift from Harry and his pals making havoc in the castle while attempting to right wrongs and protect loved ones to witnessing what problems the magical world outside of Hogwarts has in store for Harry, and thus Ron and Hermione.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
We were all really immersed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by the time we got to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The burden this story had to bear was heavy, carrying us from the end of Half-Blood Prince with Dumbledore’s death and Snape’s desertion to an ending that felt justified, satisfying, and justified reading the preceding 6 volumes in this series. Yes, we knew Harry would have to face Voldemort one-on-one, but there is still a long way to go before that last confrontation can and will take place.
This book faced a big assignment in completing the Harry Potter narrative, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows accomplishes it with incredible flair and in remarkably rewarding ways. Not only do we get the ultimate showdown in a place that means so much to both of these great men, but we also get to see equals battle it out for not just their own survival, but the fate of the wizarding world.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The only task more difficult than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is introducing us to the magical world itself, which Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone accomplishes admirably. At the first opportunity, Harry rushes into the unknown, leaving behind every horror he’s ever known under the Dursleys’ roof and entering a world of magic he didn’t know existed. And he did it beside the tallest man he’d ever seen.
It was a massive challenge to open not only Harry’s eyes, but all of ours, to the magic that surrounded us, but Sorcerer’s Stone does it, and it does it pretty spectacularly well. We visit Platform 9 and 3/4, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, and Hogwarts for the first time, and each new location outdoes the last. We meet new characters, taste new foods, and experience new mundane things (such as your meal magically appearing on the table in front of you or repairing broken glasses with the wave of a wand) as we go on an adventure that will change not only Harry’s world but ours as well.
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix belongs exactly at the halfway mark because it seemed difficult to carry on following the huge shift in Harry’s universe at the end of Goblet of Fire. While we were all waiting for the next stage in Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s adventure, the magical world was discussing whether our hero was a traumatized young fool who should be disregarded and ridiculed.
The journey that Harry takes throughout this book, from learning to distinguish between his own emotions and those of his adversary, to the magical world acknowledging he’s not a nut, is quite probably the most ridiculous journey that any book in this series has managed. The first read of Order of the Phoenix stands out in the minds of almost every Potter fan because the angsty, angry bitterness that Harry is trying to survive at the beginning of this book is so different from the boy we’ve been hanging out with within the previous four. The amazing tone shift near the end, when our hero realizes exactly how far his friends will go to protect him, regardless of who else believes any of them, is one of the series’ most incredible moments.
5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The series’ penultimate novel received mixed reviews. We all knew what was ahead for Harry after the events of Order of the Phoenix, but we didn’t expect Harry’s personal life to play such a vital role. Book Six is significant because we discover more than we ever wanted to know about how far Voldemort has wandered from the path of a regular wizard. We follow Harry and Dumbledore as they journey into Voldemort’s thoughts in search of proof that he has indeed sunk into the depths of dark magic.
And this is exactly what we discover. Voldemort’s post-Hogwarts days are littered with Horcruxes and death, and studying that history prepares us to enjoy The Deathly Hallows in all its splendor. We would have no hope of enjoying the final story without Half-Blood Prince, yet it suffers from the penultimate syndrome in that it is partly fulfilling, but leaves you with more questions than answers as you enter the final chapter of this drama. Yes, it’s fun to watch Harry express his affections for Ginny, but knowing that a clash between Harry and Voldemort is on the horizon dampens the heartwarming impact of their adolescent love story.
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
While many people have grown to appreciate the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the book just does not score as highly. This is the book with the time turner, where we first meet Sirius Black, where the Malfoys use their influence to get Buckbeak sentenced to death, and, most significantly, where we learn about the Marauders. While its significance to the series is undeniable, it comes second to last since the other five volumes have so much more to offer.
The other five stories on this list are just better stories, whether they’re introducing us to the magical world, pushing this big tale to its next great pinnacle, or offering a more-than-satisfactory finale. The events of Prisoner of Azkaban are significant and life-changing for Harry at the moment, yet they are merely foreshadowings of the next four volumes’ worth of transformation, heartache, and joy to come.
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Despite its relevance in one of the series’ key narrative twists, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is unquestionably the worst of the books. And it’s still a good novel, which is saying a lot. But, even with all of the secret-chamber-in-a-giant-magical-castle intensity going on, Chamber of Secrets just doesn’t quite match up to all of the other tremendously crucial narrative twists and character developments in the other six books in this series once you’ve read them all.
Along the way, though, Chamber of Secrets is a thoroughly enjoyable narrative. There’s a whole world of madness emerging in the next five novels, and this book has no chance of matching that excitement after the fact. After reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it was exciting to go back through the novel and look for details we might have missed. Finally, it’s a good story, but it’s just another step into the unknown that was the Harry Potter series until it blossomed into worldwide fame a few years later.