- J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter franchise is the best-selling book series of all time with 500 million copies sold
- The series accomplished this feat over only seven total novels
- Other series on this list, all of which include dozens more installments than the Harry Potter books, have sold at least 250 million copies each
Popular book series have long been a worthwhile and productive commercial endeavor for publishers and authors alike. Nevertheless, while many novels may have topped the bestseller lists at one time or another, few have reached the heights of the book series on this list. These are the five highest-selling book series of all time.
The Harry Potter series is far and away the highest-selling series of novels ever. Written by British author J.K. Rowling, the series has sold at least 500 million copies, 150 million more than the next-highest selling series. The highest-selling book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, sold 120 million copies alone. Even more impressive than the series’ sales dominance is the relatively few number of novels in the series—there are only seven Harry Potter books. The Goosebumps series, in comparison, includes 62 main installments.
While originally a book series, the Harry Potter franchise has grown into a worldwide brand, with movies, theme parks, video games, plays, and toys all based on Rowling’s Wizarding World. The Harry Potter movies are some of the highest-grossing of all-time, and the play set in the universe was a relative financial success on Broadway.
Before Harry Potter became the best-selling book series of all time, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series held the title. After the first Goosebumps book was published in 1992, the series was an immediate hit and became a financial powerhouse for much of the 1990s. According to Stine, Goosebumps books sold 4 million copies during some months of the decade . Although the series does not have the modern cultural following of Harry Potter, Goosebumps is still incredibly popular around the world. To date, the series has sold at least 350 million copies total.
Just like its successor as the highest-selling book series, Goosebumps eventually became a major motion picture. The 2015 film, which starred Jack Black in the lead role of Stine himself, grossed $158 million worldwide and was followed by a sequel in 2018.
First published in 1933, the Perry Mason books by Erle Stanley Gardner were a cultural sensation that later inspired a hit television show. In total, the series has sold around 300 million copies of the series’ 82 novels. Gardner, who was a practicing attorney before becoming a writer, was known for frenetic yet intricate plots that allowed his star lawyer to entertain audiences. Mason was surely entertaining enough—when Gardner died in 1970, he was the best-selling American author of the 20th century. In the 1960s, Gardner’s publisher reported that they sold two thousand books an hour and twenty thousand a day outside of the United States.
The wildly successful books found an equal in the television series bearing its name. Perry Mason, which aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966, won over viewers with Richard Burr in the title role. The television show remains popular and highly-rated today.
A children’s classic, the Berenstain Bears series began in 1962 with The Big Honey Hunt. In the years since, over 200 Berenstain Bears books have been published and over 250 million copies have been sold. Written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain, the series has been a mainstay of children’s bookshelves for decades. After the two original creators passed away in 2005 and 2012, their son, Mike Berenstain, kept the family tradition alive. The younger Berenstain continues to write and illustrate Berenstain Bears books today.
Choose Your Own Adventure
First published in 1979, the Choose Your Own Adventure series became a bestseller in the 1980s when its popularity exploded among children. The series, originally created by R.A. Montgomery, features 184 books written by 30 authors. Before going out of print in 1999, 250 million copies of books in the series were sold.
The Choose Your Own Adventure books were known for their innovative structure that allowed readers to make decisions for the characters in the book. Depending on the path the reader chose, the plot and ending of the book would change accordingly. Sometimes, the reader’s choice would benefit the main character. Other times, the reader could doom the character to an unenviable fate.