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Best gaming books 2020: novels, retro compendiums and other page-turners

Best gaming books
(Image credit: Future)

Gaming books, I think, represent the epitome of quality, physical gaming merch and media. They are some of the best companion material going in the vast world of game merchandise. Offering a fine, and refined, means to add to one's gear and merch collection, they also provide a way into loads more information and background content to our favorite games too. And what better time of the year to celebrate them, given this month contains World Book Day!

So, when it comes to physical game merch, video game books combine a few wonderful things to make them really attractive acquisitions: by merging behind the scenes insight with artwork and inspiration, or great stories and filling in narrative gaps seamlessly with great imagination, or taking us back to our early days of gaming with wonderfully retrospective looks at the retro gaming scene. Gaming books, in all their forms, are something to be cherished and valued highly among the wealth of plastic and flammable tat that usually comes to the fore when looking at game merch.

The best gaming books

We hold many gaming books in the highest regards, (we also have a dedicated guide to the best video game art books). And you'll see some of our favorites here as we take a broader look at the best gaming books: from novelizations and supporting fiction, through to gorgeous art and lore books, and books specifically celebrating the retro games from our pasts - there's a glorious selection to choose from. (Just as a word of warning, book covers and artworks may look different depending on where you are in the world but as long you as you use the links below and stick to the book titles you won't go wrong.)

Gaming novels

(Image credit: Future)

Novels are a great way to continue enjoying the stories of our favorite games - or to enjoy them again but in a slightly different but equally absorbing way. Admittedly, some are more successful than others, but generally, there are some great books that go alongside some of the biggest and best game series we know and love.

It's important to note that even the most seemingly straightforward novelization of games' plots - like the Assassin's Creed books - are still very much worth a read as the writers and authors often provide lots of extra background story and narrative or plot sequences that support and fill 'gaps' that the games may have had. For example, you'll get some extra bonus Kenway Saga backstory and information with the novel Forsaken, rather than just a retelling of Assassin's Creed III. You'll also find that some games that are chock full of lore and history, and different lands and peoples give birth to really rich novel series with unique, standalone stories that are really gripping, like the Dragon Age books.

Anyway, there are many, many series of novels based on games that it'd be rather uninspiring to just list all of them out, but there are several standout series of novels to go to in the first instance, and you'll find some of them below, starting with one that's become very popular again recently...

World of Warcraft books | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Chock full of stories and information, these books are great for fans looking for more from the Warcraft universe. The last two words are key here as some World of Warcraft books take place before the events of World of Warcraft itself. There are, however, 16 WoW books to get your teeth into. We recommend starting with the handily-titled Volume 1 book.

Witcher book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Riding off the back of the recent Netflix series, the Witcher books are enjoying a big resurgence. Go for The Last Wish for the very start or Blood of Elves to jump in at the beginning of Ciri's 'Saga' to enjoy some awesome stories and tales from The Continent.

Assassin's Creed book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Oliver Bowden et al do a great job of joining the dots and adding narrative flourishes to the Templar v Assassin conflict through the ages. You can start with Renaissance as it was the first book to be published, with The Secret Crusade that follows Altair as per the first game, or with whichever one goes alongside your favorite game.

Metro book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Combine the recent and final DLC release of Metro Exodus with these moody and gripping subterranean tales set in Moscow during post-nuclear apocalypse. Luckily they are easily navigated due to the year number that features on each, and so Metro 2033 is the one you want to go for first.

Dishonored book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
An underrated series of books, the three of these novels keep alive the rich world of Dishonored's Empire of the Isles and its history and locations to great effect. The Corroded Man is the first book.

Dragon Age book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
One of the most rich, interesting and brilliant game worlds in Thedas comes to life in these novels. There's so much lore and history already established by the games to build on. To get going with the books you'll want to start with The Stolen Throne.

Halo book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
An iconic game series, with a well-established and deep universe to draw from; it's a great set up for a book series. You'll want to start with Halo: The Fall of Reach to get the ball rolling.

Mass Effect book series | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Much like the Dragon Age series, there's a rich mine of lore and history to mine with Mass Effect's futuristic sci-fi setting. Start with the one called Mass Effect: Revelation.

Gaming Art books

(Image credit: Future)

Video game art books are some of my favorite things to collect and I've got dozens of them that I love dipping in and out of frequently. Gone are the days of guide and strategy books that happened to include some art, and even the purely behind the scenes books ('how the developers made the game') are not seen as frequently. Now, they cover inspirations and concept artwork, further game-universe lore and information, place histories and character backgrounds - enhancing almost everything about a game and what you thought you knew about it. They really are some of the best video game books you can get. There are hundreds of these art books, and each year we are treated to more, so we've simultaneously pointed you in the right direction, generally, as well as a little more specifically, below. (You'll have to forgive us for not including everyone's favorites *sadface*.)

Video game art books at Amazon US
This link will take you to a raft of lovely video game art books. The listings often start with some big hitters or recent releases but you'll find everything you want there.

Video game art books at Amazon UK
Same in the UK: this link will take you to the enormous selection of artwork-based gaming books that you can get from Amazon.

Some real crowd favorites are out there and remain ever-popular, so I've taken the liberty of listing some below for inspiration, as well as including some of the nailed-on excellent gaming books that are yet to grace our bookshelves and that are up for pre-order.

The World of the Witcher | Amazon US | Amazon UK
This compendium is a perfect book to go alongside the novels, games and now the Witcher Netflix TV series. Written from Jaskier's/Dandelion's perspective it covers the lore of The Continent, and its monsters, peoples and places beautifully.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Creating a Champion | Amazon US | Amazon UK
As we wait for Breath of the Wild 2, this art book is the perfect acquisition in the meantime and to complement that Xth playthrough, in order to see how Nintendo made its favorite champion.

The World of Cyberpunk 2077 | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Second only to your actual Cyberpunk 2077 pre-order, in terms of enjoying Night City, this artbook is a nailed-on must-have. There's also a Deluxe Edition which looks incredible.

The Art of the Last of Us Part II | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Got your The Last of Us 2 pre-order reserved? Well, why not get the accompanying art book pre-ordered too? Like I have. Or maybe pre-order the Deluxe Edition, like I have too, and get the most out of Naughty Dog's beautiful post-apocalyptic world and story.

The Art of Death Stranding | Amazon US | Amazon UK
One of the most intriguing games of the past year or so, Death Stranding sure did have a unique style of art and aesthetic, but also a wonderful world to explore. Go further than Sam's in-game journey and get the book.

The Skyrim Library | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Hands down the best written-word companion to all Elder Scrolls games - not just Skyrim. This is a brilliant video game art book collection (there are three volumes to get your teeth into, either individually or in a lovely box set) and offers a mass of lore, maps, history and information that covers all things Tamriel.

Retro gaming books

(Image credit: Future)

One of the most exciting and excellent things to come out of the recent (ish) wave of retro gaming enthusiasm we're enjoying is the parallel surge in the media through which we're enjoying reminiscing about past games and tech. As well as the resurgence in the best retro games consoles, gaming cabinets and arcades and accessories, retro gaming books are also enjoying popularity - and with good reason. The standard of publication of retro game books is better than its ever been, and from enormous encyclopedias of a console's library, to insights into a retro classic's development, through to tracking the technology's history and all the trends and twists in culture that were enjoyed along the way, retro gaming books are a wealth of information and enjoyment.

Below you'll find some picks from the bunch that our friends at Retro Gamer magazine have picked out for us - thanks to them for helping us out with this bit - but if you'd like to browse more specialist books and tomes that are not found at usual retailers then check out Read-Only Memory and Bitmap Books. Both of these websites have awesome collections of really nice retro books that are classy, documented in a detailed fashion and bring to life the joy of retro gaming, that we all remember fondly, but also areas that are more niche, but no less interesting.

Retro Gaming: A Byte-Sized History Of Video Games | Amazon US | Amazon UK
This is a terrific, well-structured, accessible little read. It offers a brief snapshot into some of the biggest games and systems from across the decades. All the usual suspects are present and covered, from the release of Pong right up to the appearance of the sixth generation of consoles.

The CRPG Book | Amazon US | Amazon UK
The ‘Computer Role-Playing Games’ book is rather special. Published by Bitmap Books, the quality of this title is absolutely superb with lots of sumptuous photography, revealing and interesting interviews and delightful screenshots to pore over. Highly recommended.

The NES Encyclopedia | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Chris Scullion’s first book is a very enjoyable read about one of the best-loved consoles of the 80s. It’s a little light on in-depth interviews but that’s easily forgivable given that all 714 officially licensed games have been included in this thorough tome.

Sega Master System: A Visual Compendium | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Another brilliant publication from Bitmap Books, this is a ridiculously lavish tome, with gorgeous photography, beautiful pixel art and detailed insight into swathes of the System's games. It's so good, some entries on games will leave you wanting more.

The Nostalgia Nerd's Retro Tech | Amazon US | Amazon UK
This book provides an introduction to just about every significant console and home computer format from the Magnavox Odyssey to the Xbox. It doesn't cover handhelds, but each system present gets multiple pages of coverage, featuring a solid history, some nice photography and a range of games to see, play and avoid.

I'm one of the UK Staff Writers for the Central Hardware Team, and I take care of a whole host of buying guides, gaming tech reviews, news and deals content that pops up across GamesRadar+. I'm also a qualified landscape and garden designer so do that in my spare time, and lean on it to write about games' landscapes and environments too.