A ghost story may be any piece of fiction, or drama, or an account of an experience, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters' belief in them. Colloquially, the term can refer to any kind of scary story. In a narrower sense, the ghost story has been developed as a short story format, within genre fiction. It is a form of supernatural fiction and specifically of weird fiction, and is often a horror story. While ghost stories are often explicitly meant to be scary, they have been written to serve all sorts of purposes, from comedy to morality tales. Ghosts often appear in the narrative as sentinels or prophets of things to come. Whatever their uses, the ghost story is in some format present in all cultures around the world, and may be passed down orally or in written form.
Historian of the ghost story Jack Sullivan has noted that many literary critics argue a "Golden Age of the Ghost Story" existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War. Sullivan argues the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Sheridan Le Fanu inaugurated the "Golden Age". 
Around the world
Britain and Ireland
One of the most influential writers of ghost stories was the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu's collections, such as In a Glass Darkly (1872) and The Purcell Papers (1880), helped popularise the short story as a medium for ghost fiction. Charlotte Riddell, who wrote fiction as Mrs. J. H. Riddell, created ghost stories which were noted for adept use of the haunted house theme.
A key British writer of ghost fiction was M. R. James, whom David Langford has described as writing "the 20th century's most influential canon of ghost stories". In "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories" (1929), James identified five key features of the English ghost story, as summarized by Prof. Frank Coffman for a course in popular imaginative literature:
- The pretense of truth
- "A pleasing terror"
- No gratuitous bloodshed or sex
- No "explanation of the machinery"
- Setting: "those of the writer's (and reader's) own day"
In the Edwardian era, Algernon Blackwood (who combined the ghost story with nature mysticism), Oliver Onions (whose ghost stories drew on psychological horror) and William Hope Hodgson (whose ghost tales also contained elements of the sea story and science fiction) helped move the ghost story in new directions.
Influenced by British and German examples, American writers began to produce their own ghost stories. Washington Irving wrote "The Adventure of the German Student" and  Edgar Allan Poe wrote some stories which contain ghosts, such as "The Masque of the Red Death" and "Morella". 
The Arabian Nights contains a number of ghost stories, often involving jinns, ghouls and corpses. Other medieval Arabic literature such as the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity also contain ghost stories.
The "Vikram and Betal" is a collection of ghost stories narrated by the ghost, "Betal".
The Urban Legends are rich and popular. 
- Bailey, Dale. American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction, Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8797-2789-6.
- Barger, Andrew (editor). Phantasmal: The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849, Bottletree Books LLC, 2011. ISBN 978-1-933747-33-0
- Felton, D. (1999). Haunted Greece and Rome: Ghost Stories from Classical Antiquity. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-72508-6..
- Ashley, Mike, Editor. Phantom Perfumes and Other Shades: Memories of GHOST STORIES Magazine, Ash-Tree Press, 2000.
- Joynes, Andrew (editor), Medieval ghost stories: an anthology of miracles, marvels and prodigies Woodbridge: Boydell press, 2003.
- Locke, John, Editor. Ghost Stories: The Magazine and Its Makers: Volumes 1 & 2, Off-Trail Publications, 2010.
- Sullivan, Jack. Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story From Le Fanu To Blackwood, Ohio University Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8214-0569-1.
- Jack Sullivan, "Golden Age of the Ghost Story", in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, Viking Press, 1986, ISBN 0-670-80902-0 (pp. 174-6).
- J. L. Campbell, Sr., "J. S. Le Fanu", in E. F. Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers (New York: Scribner's, 1985). ISBN 0-684-17808-7
- J. L. Campbell, Sr., "Mrs. J. H. Riddell", in Bleiler, ed., Supernatural Fiction Writers.
- David Langford, "James, Montague Rhodes", in David Pringle, ed., St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers (London: St. James Press, 1998). ISBN 1558622063
- Frank Coffman. "Excerpts from 'Some Remarks on Ghost Stories'". Retrieved 20 July 2012.
- S. T. Joshi, Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), pp. 53–63. ISBN 0-85323-765-4
- Andrew Barger, "Introduction:All Ghosts are Grey" in Barger (editor),The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Ghost Anthology Bottletree Books LLC, 2011. ISBN 1933747331, (p. 7-12)
- "Kwaidan", by Brian Stableford, in Frank N. Magill, ed., Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc., 1983, ISBN 0-89356-450-8 (pg. 859-860).
- The Best Ghost Stories at Project Gutenberg - 1919
- PDF of original 1919 The Best Ghost Stories
- A collection of real paranormal experiences
- Audio recording of a traditional ghost story from Labrador, Canada
- Ghost Story Society