Stranger Things: The Ultimate Guide To The Expanded Universe

Stranger Things Expanded Universe

Netflix's Stranger Things has become such a cultural phenomenon, with novels and comic books and all sorts of other media tie-ins, that most audience members will need something to help guide them through it all – the perfect viewing/reading order, to make sense of the television series’s ever-expanding narrative.

This so-called Stranger Things Expanded Universe started life all the way back in October 2017, when the first video game dropped just before the season 2, and then laid fallow for nearly a year. Then, in September 2018, Netflix and its publishing partners hit the gas pedal, releasing new titles at an almost breakneck speed – now, there are three novels, two comic-book miniseries, and a veritable slew of behind-the-scenes materials to accompany that first single mobile game, and there’s more already on the horizon (Stranger Things 3: The Game, for instance, comes out the same day as the third season).

Related: Is Stranger Things Set in the Same Universe as Stephen King’s It?

There’s a lot to untangle here – and a lot to unpack, narratively and thematically. The more that the writers behind the Stranger Things EU excavate the show’s past, digging into its characters and conjuring up new adventures before the Upside Down invaded Hawkins, Indiana, the more story possibilities unfold, meaning that fans of the TV show will be hard-pressed to run out of retro material, no matter how long of a gap there may be between batches of episodes.

Here is the perfect way to experience everything that is Stranger Things.

1. Stranger Things Season 1

Stranger Things Season 1 Winona Ryder

  • Format: TV series
  • Release date: July 15, 2016

The story that started it all is also, unsurprisingly, the place to start working one’s way through Stranger Things' overarching storyline.

The first eight episodes of Stranger Things introduce viewers to the property’s premise, characters, tone, themes, and – perhaps most importantly for our Expanded Universe purposes – the backstory, presenting the best way to get acquainted with the source material before taking a whole series of deep dives into its various facets. Once the first season has been completed and audiences have their first tastes of the Upside Down, the Hawkins National Laboratory, and Police Chief Jim Hopper all taken care of, then the real fun can begin.

2. Stranger Things: The Other Side

  • Format: Four-issue comic book miniseries
  • Release date: September 2018 to January 2019

Stranger Things' four-issue comic-book miniseries – collected in trade paperback form as Stranger Things: The Other Side – tells the story of the first season but from the perspective of Will Byers as he’s lost in the Upside Down.

Read More: Stranger Things Comic Answers Season 1 Questions

The series' first foray into the printed page both impresses and falters. On the one hand, this comic is just as much a loving throwback to the ‘80s as is its television progenitor, replete with faux-retro art and thought balloons to express Will’s inner monologue (the trend in comics scriptwriting long ago switched to using captions instead of the cheesy, fluffy balloons). The story is filled to the brim with loving references to season 1 – and, in the end, just possibly a piece of foreshadowing or two for the second and third seasons, including a sly reference to the Mind Flayer.

On the other hand, there is no real story to speak of, with the plot feeling more like a list of references to be checked off than a living, breathing entity. While it is neat to see how Will is able to psychologically survive in the Upside Down, one can’t help but feel like the finished product was some two or three issues too long, at the least.

3. Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds

  • Format: Novel
  • Release date: February 2019

Now that Dr. Martin Brenner, Project MKUltra, and Terry Ives have all been firmly introduced to viewers, it’s time to jump back 13 years into the past and see how they all came to be.

Suspicious Minds covers the most formidable period in Stranger Things' entire history, starting in June 1969 and ending in November 1970, with baby Jane Ives already some five months old. With the Hawkins National Laboratory having just been completed, and with Brenner having just arrived with test subject Eight in tow, the stage is set for the recruitment of Terry Ives, Eleven’s mother, and a haphazard crew of other test subjects – the individuals who will first discover the Void (the telepathic area that exists between our world and the Mind Flayer’s) and get glimpses of the Upside Down and the Demogorgons that reside there.

Related: Netflix Has Changed Stranger Things' Mythology (& Created Plot Holes)

Along the way, Terry forms a bond with her fellow subjects that’s not unlike Mike Wheeler’s fellowship with his three middle-school pals and comes to be pregnant with the future Eleven. She succeeds in freeing at least one of her newfound friends from the icy clutches of Brenner, but she fails in busting Eight out of her new prison – or from preventing the mad doctor from snatching her newborn baby away from her.

4. Stranger Things: SIX

Stranger Things: Six comic book miniseries

Format: Gour-issue comic book miniseriesRelease date: May 2019 - Present

Taking place in 1978, the next comic miniseries, Stranger Things: SIX, switches the focus to test subject Six, a character never before seen (or, even, heard of) on-screen. Whereas Eleven has telekinesis and Eight can project illusions into individuals’ minds, the teenager formerly known as Francine is able to see brief snippets of the future and, at times, act upon them – the perfect weapon for Dr. Brenner to brandish against the Soviets.

It is unknown what fate Six will have in the Stranger Things Expanded Universe (the title is only halfway through its four-month run), but the comic miniseries does already deliver on some interesting backstory tidbits, such as briefly introducing Three and Nine and further exploring the manipulative character of Martin Brenner.

5. Stranger Things: The Game

  • Format: Mobile game
  • Release date: October 4, 2017

Designed as a loving homage to the 8-bit classics that reigned supreme in the ‘80s, most specifically The Legend of Zelda, the free-to-play Stranger Things: The Game does fit into the property’s overarching mythology, but it plays a bit fast and loose with its contents – again, not unlike the Nintendo Entertainment System adaptations of the big movies of the day. Players start off controlling Police Chief Jim Hopper and eventually accrue nearly all of the cast’s underage characters, starting with Lucas Sinclair and ending with Eleven (a secret unlockable character).

Related: Everything We Know about the Stranger Things Mobile Game Coming in 2020

Most of the kids have suddenly gone missing, and Hopper quickly deduces that the Hawkins National Lab is at the heart of the misery yet again, as a number of small portals between the everyday world and the Upside Down have begun to emanate from there once more. By the game’s end, not only has everyone been recovered, but there are even a few pieces of Stranger Things season 2 foreshadowing introduced, such as the emergence of Bob Newby and Billy Hargrove on the scene. There was even an update after season 2 arrived, adding in an extra dungeon and allowing Max Mayfield to be a playable character – somewhat breaking the continuity of the show but nonetheless proving to be a fun gameplay addition.

6. Stranger Things season 2

Stranger Things Season 2 Review Chapter 1 Will Cant Escape the Upside Down

  • Format: TV series
  • Release date: October 27, 2017

With all of the Expanded Universe materials now firmly in hand, Stranger Things season 2's contents are rendered all the more dramatic: the revelation of how Terry Ives ends up in a catatonic state is more heartbreakingly climactic as opposed to being purely expository; Eight is less part of a perceived dead-end storyline and becomes more of an emotionally-engaged figure; and the Hawkins National Laboratory’s demise lands all the more heavily, given just how much more time readers have spent in its halls and seeing how its various residents have been treated.

BONUS: Beyond Stranger Things

  • Format: TV series
  • Release date: October 27, 2017

Before we can get to even more expanded adventures set within Hawkins, Indiana, there’s a slight detour to be had first.

Beyond Stranger Things is yet another after-show – Netflix’s first (and, so far, only one) – though it’s slightly different than its brethren in that it’s designed to be watched only after the entirety of its companion season has been completed (that is to say, watch all of Stranger Things season 2, then binge Beyond straight through). These seven short episodes, hosted by actor Jim Rash, trot out the creators-showrunners the Duffer brothers along with a number of the cast and crew to discuss key developments from the second season of the source material, all in a set that is exceptionally pitch-perfect (and with an intro that is also satisfactorily ‘80s).

Related: 10 Things You Need to Know about the Stranger Things Cast

7. Stranger Things: Runaway Max

  • Format: Novel
  • Release date: June 4, 2019

Just as the Stranger Things comic miniseries retold the story of the first season from a different perspective, Stranger Things: Runaway Max does the same exact thing for the second.

This young-adult novel does things a bit differently from its two book compatriots – its target audience is younger, its page count is way shorter, its narrative scope is more limited, and its usage of the first person is, thus far, unique. It starts only a few days before Stranger Things season 2 and ends concurrently with it, delivering its brand-new material – Max Mayfield’s home life, her relationships with her deadbeat father and crazed step-brother (including what made them pack up and move to Indiana), and her continued efforts to run away from Hawkins for the greener pastures of LA – almost exclusively in the form of flashbacks.

In short, if ever this was an entry in the Stranger Things Expanded Universe to skip, this would almost certainly be it.

8. Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town

Format: Novel

Release date: 28 May, 2019

It is December 26, 1984 – just a few weeks after Stranger Things season 2 – and as Jim Hopper and Eleven wait out a bad snowstorm, El decides to pull out a box from Hop’s days as a New York City homicide detective and make her newly-legally-minted father tell her the story about the time that he chased down a bizarre serial killer.

Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is, for all intents and purposes, a standalone story, set in July 1977, at a place and with characters that have very little bearing upon the originating television series – if any bearing at all, that is. However, even with that said, the novel is well-written and paced, and it so perfectly captures Hopper’s voice and character, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. When combined with the emotional nature of the story – it ends on Christmas ’77, the last holiday that Hopper and his family would ever spend together, as just one for-instance – it’s hard not to regard Darkness on the Edge of Town as anything other than a sheer, unadulterated homerun and some of the best time that one can spend in the Stranger Things world.

BONUS: Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down

  • Format: Book
  • Release date: 30 October, 2018

Part behind-the-scenes tell-all and part coffee-table book, Worlds Turned Upside Down doesn’t do either perfectly – and yet, in this interesting intermix, it still manages to be a compelling page-turner, alternatively offering up interesting tidbits about Stranger Things’s very earliest conceptualizations by the Duffer brothers and providing beautiful double-page photographic spreads of the actors, their costumes, and the sets they inhabit.

Read More: Stranger Things Was Almost Completely Different Before Netflix

Just as the comics play up the retro shtick by featuring dated artwork and worn-looking covers, this companion book goes the extra mile, including a dog-eared appearance and, even, a sticker from Melvald’s General Store (where Joyce Beyers works and where audiences can explore in Stranger Things: The Game). Beyond that, it includes a map of Hawkins and a Morse code decoder, which readers could use to decipher a rather cryptic clue as to what the upcoming Stranger Things season 3 holds – just the first in many such tidbits in this regard (including some that come straight from the mouths of Matt and Ross Duffer).

9. Stranger Things Season 3

Stranger Things 3 Soundtrack Cover Excerpt

Format: TV series

Release date: July 4, 2019

Since the soon-to-release Stranger Things season 3 has yet to actually arrive, describing its narrative contents – and explaining how its various episodes tie into the published novels, comics, and video games, and how they potentially tee up future ones – would, of course, be classified as spoilers. As such, all that can be said about Stranger Things 3 is that it looks to be the biggest and most expansive production yet, with new monsters and a storyline that seems primed to lose the innocence of youth (yes, even in the screwed-up Hawkins, Indiana, young teenagers can still hold on to their pre-trans-dimensional innocence).

Read More: Stranger Things Cast Recaps Seasons 1 & 2 ahead of Season 3 Premiere

10. Stranger Things 3: The Game

Stranger Things 3 Game

  • Format: Video game
  • Release date: July 4, 2019

Stranger Things 3: The Game looks to take everything that was crafted for the inaugural video game outing, Stranger Things: The Game, and expand upon it to the nth degree: it’s being developed for consoles and the PC alongside mobile; it has a more sophisticated, 16-bit graphics engine and gameplay model; it utilizes local and online co-op; and it features 12 playable characters, including the new additions of Joyce Byers, Steve Harrington, and Billy Hargrove. The story will even be longer, taking approximately 15 hours to complete and being based on all eight episodes of the third season, replete with new, exclusive side quests that branch off from the TV show’s narrative.

Yes, that’s right – the Stranger Things tradition of retelling the small screen’s events from a different angle will be preserved for the third time running.

Stranger Things Expanded Universe: Release Order

It’s one thing to follow the exploits of the burgeoning Stranger Things Expanded Universe in narrative order, arranging the various chapters for maximum storytelling dramatics; it’s quite another to follow the ever-unfolding mythology in release order, allowing one to track each new storytelling wrinkle in real-time.

  1. Stranger Things season 1 (TV series; 07.15.16)
  2. Stranger Things: The Game (video game; 10.04.17)
  3. Stranger Things season 2 (TV series; 10.27.17)
  4. Beyond Stranger Things (TV after-series; 10.27.17)
  5. Stranger Things: The Other Side (comic miniseries; 09.26.18-01.02.19)
  6. Worlds Turned Upside Down (book; 10.30.18)
  7. Suspicious Minds (novel; 02.05.19)
  8. Darkness on the Edge of Town (novel; 05.28.19)
  9. Six (comic miniseries; 05.29.19-present)
  10. Runaway Max (novel; 06.04.19)
  11. Stranger Things season 3 (TV series; 07.04.19)
  12. Stranger Things 3: The Game (video game; 07.04.19)

Stranger Things Expanded Universe: Chronological Order

Finally, here's the Stranger Things Expanded Universe in chronological order, taking in the full 16-year timespan thus far:

  1. Suspicious Minds (novel; 02.05.19)
  2. Darkness on the Edge of Town (novel; 05.28.19) (going by the flashback nature of the main story and not its framing device)
  3. Six (comic miniseries; 05.29.19-present)
  4. Stranger Things Season 1 (TV series; 07.15.16)
  5. Stranger Things: The Other Side (comic miniseries; 09.26.18-01.02.19)
  6. Stranger Things: The Game (video game; 10.04.17)
  7. Stranger Things season 2 (TV series; 10.27.17)
  8. Beyond Stranger Things (TV after-series; 10.27.17)
  9. Runaway Max (novel; 06.04.19)
  10. Worlds Turned Upside Down (book; 10.30.18)
  11. Stranger Things season 3 (TV series; 07.04.19)
  12. Stranger Things 3: The Game (video game; 07.04.19)

Next: Predicting Who Dies in Stranger Things 3

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