12 Book Cover Illustrations that Capture the Magic of Fiction

From cute children’s books to modern cover design, illustrations can be a wonderful way to make a unique book cover.

September 29, 2023

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If you’re an art director or graphic designer looking for inspiration for your next illustrated book cover, you’ve come to the right place!

Sure, reading a book on Kindle is handy, but it’s never quite as exciting as picking up a new book at your local bookstore. Book cover design is a true art form since it requires immense graphic design talent to create something that’s beautiful, appealing to a certain audience and fitting to the theme or story of the book.

With the expansion of digital art, illustrations on book covers have gotten more intricate and impressive. A quick Google search will give you tons of awe-inspiring examples, but our selection of some of the best book covers also includes categories that can help you choose the right art direction for your next project.

Children’s book illustrations

You never forget your favorite childhood book, but if it also featured a fun cover illustration that’s a mental image that lasts (looking at you, handsome musketeer on my copy of the Alexandre Dumas novel).

In fact, children’s book illustrations often feature characters we love, or book cover art that’s bright and playful, and therefore appropriate for young audiences. Here are some great examples to consider.

1. Collection of children’s stories

Speaking of loveable characters, fairy tales seem like a good place to start. This gorgeous cover illustration with Little Red Riding Hood is something you’d immediately notice on the bookshelf. The elegant darker background gives the scene a more dramatic, mysterious look.

It’s incredibly intricate but what makes it a great book cover is that the design still isn’t too noisy. With just the two main characters (protagonist and antagonist) even if you’ve somehow never heard of the story, you can guess what it’s about. And this simplicity and universality are precisely what we love about fairy tales!

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

We can debate whether Harry Potter falls into the category of children’s or young adult books (or just plain awesome), but either way, it’s a work of fiction that has made reading more appealing to several generations.

Olly Moss, the talented graphic designer behind this cover art has a unique vintage style, and this gorgeous book cover design is a project commissioned by Pottermore.

All the covers for the Harry Potter series have the same vintage, minimal look featuring just one key element from the story. They’re all pretty amazing so I encourage all Potterheads to check them out.

This front cover features the magical school and the silver deer (yes, I know it’s Harry’s patronus) that makes a beautiful contrast to the dark background. It makes a perfect fantasy book cover because it’s magical, mysterious, but also very pretty.

3. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Yet another classic, this example provides a stunning front and back cover. It features the main characters and the book title is written on a signpost which is perfectly fitting for this story that includes many travels and adventures.

The ornaments and framing give the book cover art a more vintage feel, but the illustrations look pretty great and contemporary. And of course, you immediately recognize the three unusual characters that make this book so special.

Decorative book covers

If you prefer to get your books in a bookshop rather than Amazon, surely you can appreciate the draw of beautiful book covers you immediately notice on a bookshelf.

The following book cover designs have an artistic quality to them, making any new book you get a treasure you’d like to keep.

4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Coralie Bickford-Smith is a celebrated book cover designer, best known for her versions of Random House Penguin classics. It’s pretty hard to single out one cover from her rich portfolio, but since I grew up with two sisters, this classic is one of my favorites.

Each of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s book cover designs matches the theme or setting of the book in some way. For example, while the cover art for The Great Gatsby is gold, art-deco style pattern, while this one has a romantic color scheme and a floral pattern made up of small bunches of three flowers (perhaps symbolizing the three Dashwood sisters).

coralie bickford smith book cover illustration

5. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

This bestselling young adult novel was only published in 2018, but has since gained popularity and has even been adapted for the screen in 2019. This fiction book was inspired by Claire Winelad, a young author with cystic fibrosis. The book tells the story of two young patients who develop a romantic relationship despite being forced to stay 6ft away from each other at all times.

This beautiful front cover was done by Lisa Perrin and outlines the shape of lungs (the organ affected by cystic fibrosis) using tree branches and flowers. It’s romantic, yet slightly dark, perfectly fitting to the theme of the story.

five feet apart book cover illustration

6. Tales of Kathasaritasagara by Jayshree Bhat

Minimalism is often considered a staple of good graphic design, but sometimes rules are made to be broken.

This collection of adapted 11th-century legends, folktales and fairy tales features a colorful book cover design by Chaaya Prabhat. Although it can be considered a children’s book illustration, this stunning design celebrates cultural heritage and verbal tradition, and is therefore appealing to adults as well.

tales of the kathasaritasagara book cover illustration

Modern book cover designs

Sometimes a book’s theme simply doesn’t go well with romantic graphic design or dainty hand lettering. On the other hand, it’s pretty great to find a classic “wearing” a modern book jacket with sleek, minimal illustrations that appeal to the modern audience.

Either way, if you want to take a contemporary art direction, you can consider the styles of the following example

7. Paradise Regained by John Milton

This literary masterpiece is a continuation of Paradise Lost, and shares its biblical themes and motifs. Since temptation is one of the main themes this ominous snake makes a terrific front cover for this bilingual, Hungarian-English edition.

The illustrations included in the book are also terrific, following the same theme of light and dark contrasts, ambiguity, chaos and beauty. And it’s a great example to show that a book cover doesn’t need to be colorful to stand out!

8. The Poison of Love by K.R. Meera

If you’re designing a children’s book, watercolors or pencil illustration might be a great choice. But digital art is certainly something to consider for contemporary publications.

This (anti)romantic novel tells the story of one woman’s slow demise, caused by her love for her husband. This fiction book also tackles some elements from mythology so this mysterious, dark cover is perfect. The glimmer of the snake in the water, wrapping around the woman juxtaposes the hands of prayer (perfectly sums up a toxic relationship, right?).

The choice of typography also works well as the lettering is fluid, but also bold which fits this straightforward title that leaves little doubt whether things work out in the end.

the poison of love book cover illustration

9. Ararat by Frank Westerman

You’d easily think this dramatic cover illustration belongs to a thriller, so I’m excused from sneaking this one non-fiction book on the list. The novel describes the writer’s journey to the reputed resting place of Noah’s Ark, and now a cultural, geographical and political landmark.

The book is described as “a pilgrimage of a non-believer”, as he travels from the domain of knowledge to that of faith. The human figure seemingly leaping off a cliff perfectly captures that “leap of faith” the author searches for, while the simplicity of the art puts timeless ponderings in a more modern context.

The story as design inspiration

A person with some graphic design knowledge could probably pull off creating a decent book cover in software like Canva or Adobe Photoshop if you’re more advanced.

However, it takes a true master of graphic design to marry the theme of the book with different design elements like color or typography in the best book cover you could imagine for your favorite reads.

10. Make Way for Her by Katie Cortese

This collection of short stories covers narratives about women aged five to forty-five, exploring different walks of life, love, knowledge and desire. It’s perhaps more difficult to create a great book cover for an anthology rather than a novel, since it’s hard to rely on one storyline for inspiration.

And yet, this wonderful book cover does a great job of luring readers in and giving a “taste” of what to expect. It shows a woman with her head literally “in the clouds” standing on a small stepladder, either admiring the view or about to fall. Although it’s bright and playful, there’s something reflective about the illustration. It’s definitely “feminine” in a more traditional sense, but also suggests a vast emotional, psychological and philosophical scope.

make way for her book cover illustration

11. Educated by Tara Westover

The New York Times bestseller memoir tells the story of a young Mormon girl trying to navigate her way out of the constraints of religion, tradition and survivalist family through education—with all the emotional complexity that comes with.

The watercolor pencil dominates the cover, however you can still see a small figure of a girl standing on what resembles the top of the mountain. This image is fitting in both the literal sense (Tara grew up on a mountain called Buck’s Peak in rural Idaho), as well as metaphorically, to designate her trying journey of conquering education and growing up.

educated book cover illustration

12. Silence by Shusaku Endo

This is another very minimal cover art that’s both modern and timeless. This great book is a novel about the prosecution of Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan.

Although set in a specific historical context, the book itself is a timeless exploration of religion, faith, betrayal, suffering and forgiveness.

This eye-catching front cover elegantly juxtaposes the two contrasting influences in the book: Western Christianity and Japan. The red sun has a twofold meaning, as the symbol found on the Japanese flag, but also hints at the devastating bloodshed found in the book.

silence book cover illustration

More illustration inspiration

From social media to web design, here at ManyPixels, we know that a great custom illustration can do wonders to attract the right audience. That’s why we regularly update our free illustration gallery with great designs everyone can use.

If you’re still looking for more book cover illustration ideas, be sure to check out our article with cookbook illustration ideas and our tips on how to find a freelance illustrator.

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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