Nietzsche's works did not reach a wide readership during his active writing career. However, in 1888 the influential Danish critic Georg Brandes aroused considerable excitement about Nietzsche through a series of lectures he gave at the University of Copenhagen. In the years after Nietzsche's death in 1900, his works became better known, and readers have responded to them in complex and sometimes controversial ways. Many Germans eventually discovered his appeals for greater individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to them divergently. He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–1895 German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. During the late 19th century Nietzsche's ideas were commonly associated with anarchist movements and appear to have had influence within them, particularly in France and the United States. H. L. Mencken produced the first book on Nietzsche in English in 1907, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and in 1910, a book of translated paragraphs from Nietzsche, increasing knowledge of his philosophy in the United States. Nietzsche is known today as a precursor to expressionism, existentialism, and postmodernism.
W. B. Yeats and Arthur Symons described Nietzsche as the intellectual heir to William Blake. Symons went on to compare the ideas of the two thinkers in The Symbolist Movement in Literature while Yeats tried to raise awareness of Nietzsche in Ireland. A similar notion was espoused by W. H. Auden who wrote of Nietzsche in his New Year Letter (released in 1941 in The Double Man): "O masterly debunker of our liberal fallacies [...] all your life you stormed, like your English forerunner Blake". Nietzsche made an impact on composers during the 1890s. Writer on music Donald Mitchell notes that Gustav Mahler was "attracted to the poetic fire of Zarathustra, but repelled by the intellectual core of its writings." He also quotes Gustav himself, and adds that he was influenced by Nietzsche's conception and affirmative approach to nature, which Mahler presented in Third Symphony using Zarathustra's roundelay. Frederick Delius has produced a piece of choral music A Mass of Life based on a text of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, while Richard Strauss (who also based his Also sprach Zarathustra on the same book), was only interested in finishing "another chapter of symphonic autobiography". Famous writers and poets influenced by Nietzsche include André Gide, August Strindberg, Robinson Jeffers, Pío Baroja, D. H. Lawrence, Edith Södergran and Yukio Mishima.
Nietzsche was an early influence on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Knut Hamsun counted Nietzsche, along with Strindberg and Dostoyevsky as one of his primary influences. Author Jack London wrote that he was more stimulated by Nietzsche than by any other writer. Critics have suggested that the character of David Grief in A Son of the Sun was based on Nietzsche. Nietzsche's influence on Muhammad Iqbal is most evidenced in Asrar-i-Khudi (The Secrets of the Self). Wallace Stevens was another reader of Nietzsche and elements of Nietzsche's philosophy were found throughout Harmonium. Olaf Stapledon was influenced by the idea of Übermensch and it is central theme in his books Odd John and Sirius. In Russia, Nietzsche has influenced Russian symbolism and figures such as Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Andrei Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov and Alexander Scriabin have all incorporated or discussed parts of Nietzsche philosophy in their works. Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice shows a use of Apollonian and Dionysian, and in Doctor Faustus Nietzsche was a central source for the character of Adrian Leverkühn. Hermann Hesse, similarly, in his Narcissus and Goldmund presents two main characters in the sense of Apollonian and Dionysian as the two opposite yet intertwined spirits. Painter Giovanni Segantini was fascinated by Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and he drew an illustration for the first Italian translation of the book. The Russian painter Lena Hades created the oil painting cycle "Also Sprach Zarathustra" dedicated to the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
By World War I, Nietzsche had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for both right-wing German militarism and leftist politics. German soldiers received copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as gifts during World War I. The Dreyfus Affair provides a contrasting example of his reception: the French antisemitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as "Nietzscheans". Nietzsche had a distinct appeal for many Zionist thinkers around the start of the 20th century most notable being Ahad Ha'am, Hillel Zeitlin, Micha Josef Berdyczewski, A. D. Gordon and Martin Buber who went so far as to extoll Nietzsche as a "creator" and "emissary of life". Chaim Weizmann was a great admirer of Nietzsche; the first president of Israel sent Nietzsche's books to his wife, adding a comment in a letter that "This was the best and finest thing I can send to you". Israel Eldad, the ideological chief of the Stern Group that fought the British in Palestine in the 1940s, wrote about Nietzsche in his underground newspaper and later translated most of Nietzsche's books into Hebrew. Eugene O'Neill remarked that Zarathustra influenced him more than any other book he ever read. He also shared Nietzsche's view of tragedy. Plays The Great God Brown and Lazarus Laughed are an example of Nietzsche's influence on O'Neill. Nietzsche's influence on the works of Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno can be seen in the popular Dialectic of Enlightenment. Adorno summed up Nietzsche's philosophy as expressing the "humane in a world in which humanity has become a sham".
Nietzsche's growing prominence suffered a severe setback when his works became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the German Reich. Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche's ideas, although it is not always possible to determine whether they actually read his work. Hitler, for example, probably never read Nietzsche and, if he did, his reading was not extensive, although he was a frequent visitor to the Nietzsche museum in Weimar and did use expressions of Nietzsche's, such as "lords of the earth" in Mein Kampf. The Nazis made selective use of Nietzsche's philosophy. Mussolini, Charles de Gaulle and Huey P. Newton read Nietzsche. Richard Nixon read Nietzsche with "curious interest," and his book Beyond Peace might have taken its title from Nietzsche's book Beyond Good and Evil which Nixon read beforehand. Bertrand Russell wrote that Nietzsche had exerted great influence on philosophers and on people of literary and artistic culture, but warned that the attempt to put Nietzsche's philosophy of aristocracy into practice could only be done by an organization similar to the Fascist or the Nazi party.
A decade after World War II, there was a revival of Nietzsche's philosophical writings thanks to exhaustive translations and analyses by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Others, well known philosophers in their own right, wrote commentaries on Nietzsche's philosophy, including Martin Heidegger, who produced a four-volume study and Lev Shestov who wrote a book called Dostoyevski, Tolstoy and Nietzsche where he portrays Nietzsche and Dostoyevski as the "thinkers of tragedy". Georg Simmel compares Nietzsche's importance to ethics to that of Copernicus for cosmology. Sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies read Nietzsche avidly from his early life, and later frequently discussed many of his concepts in his own works. Nietzsche has influenced philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Oswald Spengler, George Grant, Emil Cioran, Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Jacques Derrida, Leo Strauss, Max Scheler, Michel Foucault and Bernard Williams. Camus described Nietzsche as "the only artist to have derived the extreme consequences of an aesthetics of the absurd". Paul Ricœur called Nietzsche one of the masters of the "school of suspicion", alongside Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Carl Jung was also influenced by Nietzsche. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a biography transcribed by his secretary, he cites Nietzsche as a large influence.
Aspects of Nietzsche's philosophy, especially his ideas of the self and his relation to society, also run through much of late-twentieth and early twenty-first century thought. His deepening of the romantic-heroic tradition of the nineteenth century, for example, as expressed in the ideal of the "grand striver" appears in the work of thinkers from Cornelius Castoriadis to Roberto Mangabeira Unger. For Nietzsche this grand striver overcomes obstacles, engages in epic struggles, pursues new goals, embraces recurrent novelty, and transcends existing structures and contexts. No social or cultural construct can contain this idealized individual. Inspired by this ideal, Unger elevates it to a philosophy of human nature, removing Nietzsche's formulations from the application to only a few higher beings and re-grounding them in the fundamental characteristics of our humanity so that each individual is embodied with this striving and context overcoming aspirations. Rather than identifying a few exemplary individuals, Unger makes it central to human personality and the basis of our moral and political action. From here, Unger goes on to articulate a social vision of institutions of a social, political, and economic structure that will not entrap us or hold us back, but rather are open to transformation and will become an expression of our will. Political and social arrangements, for Unger, should be open to constant revision rather than the concrete givens expressed by the thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.