Obsviously, the title of this post is a lie. It’s impossible to have a definitive list as everyone will have different opinions. However, this is my definitive list.
I’ve mentioned before, in my Favorite Novels of All Time, how important Harry Potter as a series was and is to my life. It sparked my love of reading and, in a very large way, made me want to be writer.
I used to re-read the series every summer, but it has been years since I’ve done that. For the first time in maybe five or six years, I’m re-reading the whole series. So that got me thinking: which one is my favorite?
Now, I don’t think any of them are bad. I love all of them. Even the one in 7th place is good and I enjoy it. I do not skip any of them on re-reads. But I have to like some better than the others. So here is how I would rank them.
Obviously, there are spoilers ahead but I don’t know why you’d care to read this if you haven’t read/watched Harry Potter.
#7 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Even from my first read-through, I’ve always liked this book the least of the series. I still enjoyed it and I think there are some really fun plotlines in this one. We’re also introduced to some important and great characters in it. I love seeing the Quidditch World Cup. I love Mad Eye.
But there’s something about this book that makes it harder for me to enjoy. For a while, I struggled to pinpoint why exactly it was my least favorite. Recently, I’ve started to figure it out. This is the book where the tone of the series takes it’s most massive leap.
Sure, in Prisoner of Azkaban things drift towards the darker and scarier. We’re dealing with heavier topics, the kids are growing up a bit, but it’s still immature. It’s still a world of magic and whimsy. It’s still young. And after Goblet of Fire, we dive headfirst into the grimmer aspects of this world. But Goblet of Fire is the one that changes the tone.
A mark of Harry Potter is how wonderfully the stories grow up with the readers and Goblet of Fire is the first significant step up in maturity. It is much longer than the preceding three books, so already it feels more adult just from the sheer size of the thing. The kids are growing up and starting to be interested in love and stuff. Actions seem to have more consequences. We aren’t in the world of 11 year old Harry Potter anymore, we’re growing up.
The book ends on the darkest note of the series so far. There is no happy ending. Everything doesn’t work out at the end, like the previous three books. The book ends and the world is in a bad spot. Voldy is back. There’s no Harry saved the stone or Harry killed the basilisk or Harry is reunited with Sirius. It’s just bad.
While I appreciate the importance of this tonal shift, it’s jarring. Especially since I read them all back to back for the first time, I did no growing up between books three and four. I was 15 or 16 already, but I wasn’t prepared for such a change. It threw me off and it’s been harder for me to enjoy this book.
Also, for the simple fact that it’s longer, there’s going to be a few parts that are slower paced and more boring, that comes with the territory.
#6 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Time travel. That is almost the sole reason this book ranks so low for me.
This book does introduce two of my favorite characters in Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, but who doesn’t love them? We see enough of them in the later books of the series, and their characters expand so much, that this book isn’t the shining example of either Lupin or Sirius. I enjoy hearing more about James and his time at Hogwarts in this book.
But I can’t stand time travel as a plot device. Which is ironic, since I have written an entire novel that revolves around time travel. I am fine with time travel if that is what the story is about. Like Back to the Future and other stories like that. Stories where time travel is the plot. But that isn’t the case in the Prisoner of Azkaban. PoA introduces time travel as a nice mechanic to resolve the plot and then it’s gone. The story isn’t centered around it, it’s a cop out. It gets the writer out of a tricky situation. Time travel, used like that, usually opens more holes than it solves.
And J.K. Rowling realized that, which is why we don’t see time turners in the rest of the series. Because Rowling understood what a wrench they would be in the rest of the story, she’s forced to forget that they existed and the reader is left wondering what happened to them.
So, basically only because of the time travel element, PoA is in sixth place.
#5 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I’ll admit that these next three are up in the air. I’m still not sure that these three are in the correct order. They are all so close together and don’t have obvious elements that push them over the other. But Chamber of Secrets being in 5th is the most solid of the three.
I like Chamber of Secrets (but I like all of them). I love the intrigue behind the chamber and the heir of Slytherin. Ginny is one of my favorite characters and I don’t think we get enough out of her in this book. Who doesn’t love Dobby? It’s a fun story, it has a great resolve that feels somewhat satisfying and it was intriguing throughout.
I don’t have a lot of concrete reason to rank this one low, it’s more about the feel. It doesn’t feel as important. I know the diary crops up in book 7 and is, actually massively important, but for most of the other books it feels like you could remove CoS and not cost the story much. There aren’t a lot of long-lasting ramifications. I guess that is also true of Philosopher’s Stone, but PS has the benefit of introducing the entire world.
I don’t have anything in particular to complain about in this book. It is just the one I always contemplate skipping on re-reads because it doesn’t feel that important. It is a filler. It allows Harry to grow without advancing the overall plot all that much.
#4 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
I love all of the Dumbledore we get in this book. He is such an interesting character. The wise, old wizard normally doesn’t have such depth. They don’t have the problematic tendency that Dumbledore has. For example, no one is questioning whether or not Gandalf is a good guy, but Dumbledore can split people and that started in this book.
At this point in the ranking, it’s less about things I dislike in the book as opposed to there being things I like better in the top three books. Half Blood Prince is a wonderful book. I like it a lot.
I’ve never been super invested in the hunt for horcruxes. I get how important it is and some of the scenes related to it are phenomenal and gripping, but on the whole it didn’t pack the punch I wanted it to. The storyline fell a bit flat for me. And that is the main point of this book. Also, I’m not a fan of Snape. I can appreciate the intricacies of his character and appreciate the work that went into developing him. But his fans have ruined him for me. He’s such a jerk and not even a lovable one. He’s the worst teacher in the world. He’s elitist, shows favoritism to 11 year olds, and is hung up on a high school crush. It’s…not endearing. But people are obsessed with him. I guess that’s a sign of a well-written character but it makes this book harder for me to read.
Also, who wants to read Dumbledore dying?
#3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The OG. I know in America its the Sorcerer’s Stone and I’m not trying to be elitist, Philosopher’s Stone is always the way I remember it in my mind.
The beauty of this story is in the fact that it is the introduction. This is when we all saw/read the world for the first time. The first glimpse of Hogwarts, the first step into Diagon Alley, the first battle, the first grasp of the snitch, the first friendships. It is the beginning of this wonderful journey. And for that it elicits nothing but warm feelings and nostalgia. Those first few words are so exhilarating because you know what you’re about to be drawn into. It stands on the strength of the nostalgia factor that it didn’t necessarily earn all on its own. A lot of the feelings associated with this book come from the later books, come from knowing what it is to come.
But, even on a first read through, this book leaves you clamoring for more. You’re not done with the world or the characters after this – you don’t want to be. You want more!
It can’t be top, though. It is one, rather short book. The characters haven’t deepened, the plots haven’t had major stakes. All of that comes and is hinted at in this book, but on its own it is a delightful story and not much more. In later books, the characters arc and change and grow. This is the root that the wonderful series blossoms into, but no one goes to a garden to stare at roots.
So, for what it did and what it was meant to do, the book is wonderful. It isn’t the top, though.
#2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This book gets a bad wrap. I think a lot of people dislike it – for good reason. Dislike is a strong word. They like it less than the rest of the series. I’m not saying they are wrong; there are reasons to not like this book as much.
For one thing, they aren’t at Hogwarts. And that is a bummer. A lot of the joy for this story is in seeing them in a school setting and they’ve grown beyond that in this book. Also, the character cast is necessarily limited for much of the story. We don’t get to see as much of the other Weasley’s or the teachers or the wonderful cast of supporting characters. If you don’t like Harry, Ron, or Hermione, you’re screwed.
But I enjoyed this book so much. I love that it took a lot of the familiar places we know and love and twisted them in a new way. Like the Burrow – we saw it attacked. Gringotts – we view it from the perspective of robbers. Hogwarts – it’s a battleground instead of a school. Privet Drive – a danger and not a refuge. Even one off places like the Quidditch World Cup grounds and the Hog’s Head take on a new life in this book.
The same can be said for the characters. We get to see them in a brand new light; we watch them react and adapt to new, stressful, otherwordly circumstances. Molly Weasley is a warrior. Lee Jordan is a renegade newscaster. Umbridge has more power than she has ever had. McGonagall is an underdog, forced to battle for her students. Dumbledore is a bad person who people revile. Lupin is a husband and father in a world at war. These are such interesting changes to see the characters we love grow into.
Deathly Hallows kept me engaged and entertained through the whole story. It’s a fitting end to the series and I was more than pleased with it.
#1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Which means the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book of the Harry Potter series. And I know that’s an uncommon opinion.
People hate the angsty Harry we see in OotP, but who wouldn’t be angsty? He’s hated worldwide, publicly called a liar, all while knowing the danger the world is in. He’s frustrated that he can’t do more and isn’t allowed to do more. The angst is more than justified.
I love this book because I love underdog stories. For really the first time in the series, we see Harry as a true underdog. Instead of being famous and loved as the Boy Who Lived, Harry is hated and called a liar. He’s known as the Boy who lied and people do not like him. He’s up against it. Hogwarts has turned hostile, Dumbledore won’t talk to him, the Order won’t allow him in, Umbridge is wreaking havoc everywhere. It’s a down-and-out Harry. And it’s way easier to root for an underdog. And that’s a major key. Harry is normally easy to root for, but the stakes are so high in this book and the downs so low that you yearn for him to be successful.
Also, Umbridge is such an amazing villian. Everyone despises her. As easy as it is to root for Harry in this one, its almost easier to root against Umbridge. Wanting Harry to win so badly and Umbridge to lose even more makes for such a good read.
We get to see Dumbledore’s Army in this one. And that might be my favorite story line in this series. I’m a sucker for the renegade group of underdogs fighting against all odds for what they know is right. I love those stories and we have it here.
Order of the Phoenix combines so much of what I love about stories I love in general with what I love about Harry Potter into one delicious soup.
What did you think about my list? What would you change?
4 thoughts on “The Definitive Ranking of Harry Potter Books”
On mine, the Deathly Hallows would be the first. I agree with most of your list, though, except the Order of the Phoenix, which is actually one of my least favorite. Thanks for a fun to read post!
I think OotP being near the bottom is a fairly common opinion, but I can’t help it! I love that one.
Might read it again soon… I may be forgetting things! 😄