Written by

Chris Gonzales


Maxime De Ruyck

Over the past few years, the curious trend of complex coloring books for adults has become something of a phenomenon. Beyond merely exploding in popularity, they’ve become a movement all their own, centered around ideals of mindfulness, stress reduction, creativity, and self-expression.

Whether or not you believe a coloring book can help you in all those areas, we have to admit they are rather relaxing to fill in. We’ve also found they can give idle hands something to do during other activities, whether it’s watching TV, listening to podcasts, attending a talk, or whatever else. It’s better than constantly staring at a phone, anyway.

Here are a few of the better and/or more interesting adult coloring books we’ve encountered. Happy coloring!

(If you’re not personally into coloring, you probably know someone who is, and these make great gifts for them.)

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Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford. ($10)

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt by Johanna Basford. ($10)

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford »

By most accounts, illustrator Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden is the book that kicked off the adult coloring craze. It’s full of trees, flowers, animals, bugs, and garden-related structures you can color to your heart’s content. As the “Inky Treasure Hunt” in its name implies, there’s an interactive element to this book:

Inside this book you’ll find a magical black and white wonderland of fantastical flowers and curious plants.

There are pictures to color in, mazes to solve, patterns to complete and lots of space for you to add your own inky drawings.

Peppered throughout the pages you’ll spot half hidden creepy crawlies and curious little creatures. Search between the blossoms to find the bumble bees, butterflies and birds that are hidden within.

Be sure to check out Basford’s follow-up books, Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and the more recent Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure.

Fantastic Cities by Steve McDonald. ($11)

Fantastic Cities by Steve McDonald. ($11)

Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald »

This 60-page book contains highly intricate, aerial-view illustrations of various cities around the world — both real and imagined. One Amazon reviewer summed it up nicely: “The list is simply too long but includes cities in Germany, Canada, Greenland, France, Yemen, New York, Italy, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Rio de Janerio, Turkey, India, Mexico, England, Australia, and Greece.”

Here are examples of what you’ll find within:

Lunenburg (left) & Lunenburg mandala (right):

View full size here.

Singapore (left) & Amsterdam (right):

View full size here.

Needless to say, you’ll have plenty of time to sit and relax as you fill in all the minute architectural details.

Doodle Invasion by Zifflin and Kerby Rosanes. ($10)

Doodle Invasion by Zifflin and Kerby Rosanes. ($10)

Doodle Invasion: Zifflin’s Coloring Book by Zifflin and Kerby Rosanes »

Doodle Invasion seems like what you’d get if you asked David Lanham and Pendleton Ward to produce a coloring book together. That is to say, it’s chock full of surreal imagery, whimsically zany characters, bizarre places, and then some.:

If you like Doodle Invasion, be sure to pick up Volume 2 in this series, Doodle Fusion.

Animorphia by Kerby Rosanes. (~$17 USD)

Animorphia by Kerby Rosanes. (~$17 USD)

Animorphia: An Extreme Coloring and Search Challenge by Kerby Rosanes »

Kerby Rosanes, illustrator of the Doodle Invasion book listed above, also has a coloring book called Animorphia. You’ll find much of the same whimsical surrealism here, but with a twist: The silly doodles blend seamlessly with photorealistic sketches of animals, typically across two-page spreads. And as the name suggests, there are hidden items scattered throughout for you to find, with an answer key at the back of the book in case you’re struggling to find them.

I’ve linked to the UK version here because, by most accounts I’ve read, the printer over there produced a much higher-quality version of this book than the American edition. If you’re here in the US and choose to order from the UK, be prepared to pay ~$17 USD including shipping and VAT.

Another thing to keep in mind: Some pages ask you to fill in your own doodlings, which we know for some defeats the purpose of a coloring book. YMMV.

The Mindfulness Coloring Book by Emma Farrarons. ($10)

The Mindfulness Coloring Book by Emma Farrarons. ($10)

The Mindfulness Coloring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People by Emma Farrarons »

What sets The Mindfulness Coloring Book apart isn’t the “mindfulness” in the title, nor is it the illustrations — which are pretty standard fare if I’m being honest — but in its smaller 5″ x 7″ stature, which is great for coloring on the go. Keep it in your bag, glovebox, or wherever else you may suddenly feel the urge to color away while from home.

Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Animal Designs by Blue Star Coloring »

Don’t let the somewhat-uninspired title fool you; Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Animal Designs is a worthy entry on this list. It’s not an Amazon best-seller — with 4.5 stars / 1,140 reviews — for nothing. The concept is simple: One intricately designed animal per page, each one centered. There are no grand vistas, no wacky characters, no surrealism, just a bunch of unique-looking (and in some cases fantastical) animals to fill in.

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If you’re just getting started with adult coloring books, pick up Sargent’s 50-count pack of colored pencils ($9), and if you really want to up your coloring game, check out Prismacolor’s 132-count pack ($110). We recommend avoiding markers or gel pens, because the pages within these coloring books tend to bleed through to illustrations on the other side.

And if you want to take your coloring habit digital, check out the excellent Pigment app for iOS. It’s free to try and offers additional illustrations as in-app purchases.