The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time
With a panel of leading fantasy authors—N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Sabaa Tahir, Tomi Adeyemi, Diana Gabaldon, George R.R. Martin, Cassandra Clare and Marlon James—TIME presents the most engaging, inventive and influential works of fantasy fiction, in chronological order beginning in the 9th century
N.K. Jemisin on the Timeless Power of Fantasy
The Arabian Nights
Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Hero Born by Jin Yong
The Once & Future King by T.H. White
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Lainez
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Redwall by Brian Jacques
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Angelfall by Susan Ee
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Jade City by Fonda Lee
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Circe by Madeline Miller
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
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36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read
Are you looking for your next fantasy must-read? From wizards and werewolves to weird happenings underground, we've pulled together some of the WIRED team's favourite fantasy series. Some are set in strange and fantastic worlds, while others start a little closer to home. And, if you'd like more reading ideas, try our guide to the best sci-fi books or our picks of the best books on Audible .
It's Prime Day 2023, so we've uncovered the top discounts. Check out the best Prime Day deals in the UK here.
Piranesi is a wondrous, genre-defying book, but if it had to fit somewhere, 'fantasy' would be the label we'd give it. The less you know about Piranesi , the better, but as a taster, it follows the life of a man who lives within the spectacular, statue-filled halls of a vast, labyrinthine house. Waves roll into the halls, birds and sea creatures come and go, but he has no idea why he's there or how he got there. He's more concerned with writing journal entries and documenting things he encounters.
It's a twisting novel that's both beautiful and deeply unsettling. It's one you could read in a single sitting because the narrator seems so unnervingly naive, and the more you discover, the more you itch for what secrets are hiding beneath the surface. Released in 2021, Piranesi was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and won a massive amount of critical acclaim for author Susanna Clarke. If her name rings a bell, it's because she's already well-known for her first novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell , which was published in 2004 and adapted into a TV series.
By Matt Kamen
By Jacopo Prisco
Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial
Described as Game of Thrones meets Ocean’s Eleven , Six of Crows is set in the Grishaverse – like the award-winning Shadow and Bone trilogy, which is now a major Netflix show. In fact, the show might be called Shadow and Bone , but it draws from the cast of characters in Six of Crows , too. Six of Crows begins in Ketterdam, a raucous, busy hub of trade with an underbelly of crime. Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind who’s offered the chance to carry out a risky heist with a considerable reward. He handpicks a team to help, including a convict, excellent sharpshooter, and a spy – six outcasts in total, all trying to pull off the ultimate heist. Bardugo is brilliant at world-building, which is a treat if you’re entering the Grishaverse for the first time and a welcome return for anyone who’s read the Shadow and Bone trilogy or her latest duology set in the same universe, King of Scars . Yes, Six of Crows and the other Grishaverse books are technically YA, but don’t let that put you off.
If anyone deserves to be on this list twice, it’s Neil Gaiman. Stardust is a magical fantasy novel that’s a delight to read at any age. It’s about a young man called Tristran Thorn, who vows to find a star for the woman he loves after they see it fall from the night sky.
What follows is a fairy tale that weaves in stories, characters and settings that are already embedded in our cultural make-up, like pirates, spells, curses, witches, power struggles, falling stars, otherworldly beings and much more. Gaiman said: “I wanted to write a story that would feel, to the reader, like something he or she had always known” – and that’s the enduring appeal of Stardust. The book was adapted into a movie in 2007 with a star-studded cast, including Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes. Once you’ve read the book, you should find it on your go-to streaming service, as it does Neil Gaiman’s original tale justice.
Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial
Another award-winning entry, Jade City bagged The World Fantasy Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for many others, including the Nebula Awards and the Locus Awards. It’s an epic story that many have said is reminiscent of classic Hong Kong gangster movies. However, the twist here is that it’s set in Janloon, a fantastical metropolis that Lee describes incredibly vividly.
The central premise of Jade City is, as you might guess, all about Jade. This is a stone that’s the lifeblood of the city and has magical properties as it can enhance a person’s natural abilities. That’s why it’s so precious and controlled by two warring families. But when a new drug emerges that gives anyone the power to take advantage of the mystical energies of Jade, tension rises, and violence ensues. It’s stylish, full of beautiful, gritty descriptions and, despite being a fantasy book, touches on all kinds of relatable themes, like family honour and tradition.
Price: £8 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial
Considered one of the best fantasy books ever written, The Last Unicorn is a magical story about a unicorn living in a forest. One day, hunters arrive in the forest and believe it must contain a unicorn because of the magic protecting the creatures there. One of the hunters shouts a warning to the unicorn that she might be the last of her kind, which urges her to embark on a quest to find more unicorns – or learn what’s happened to them.
What comes next is full of sadness, adventure and wonder, with talking animals, witches, a harpy, spells, a magician, and much, much more. It’s another book that’s a trip back into the world of magic and fairy tales for adults, but a firm favourite for children of all ages, too. The Last Unicorn has since been adapted for the screen. In 1982, it was made into a movie featuring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee.
Price: £16 | Amazon | Waterstones
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor (2018)
Written by award-winning science-fiction and fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death is set in Sudan in a far off, nuclear holocaust-ravaged future. There’s genocide and suffering between two warring tribes and, amidst this immense pain and violence, Onyesonwu is born – her name means “who fears death?” in an ancient language. Onyesonwu is special, displaying all manner of magical powers from an early age. This book is a mesmerising blend of magic, folk tradition, love and spirituality. But read it soon before it hits your TV screen if you’re a book-before-adaptation kind of person. Who Fears Death is being made into a TV series for HBO and George R. R. Martin is set to be an executive producer.
Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible
A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas (2020)
Imagine Beauty and the Beast but ramp up the romance and fantasy even more, transform Beauty into a huntress and Beast into some kind of fantastical faerie lord and that’s A Court of Thorns and Roses . Sara J. Maas might have used the classic fairytale as a starting pont for this epic fantasical romance, but it’s a brilliant story in its own right. So much so that it’s the first in a best-selling series of the same name. A Court of Thorns and Roses begins with Feyre, a huntress who kills a wolf to feed her family. But this was no ordinary wolf. In fact, it wasn’t a wolf at all and Feyre has to face the consequences of her violent actions. This is, technically, a YA (young adult) novel, but don’t let that put you off, it has a huge adult fanbase.
Price: £7 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible
The Power, by Naomi Alderman (2017)
The Power could also be classed as science-fiction, but we’re including it in our fantasy recommendations because what’s more fantastical than every woman in the land suddenly being able to electrocute men Palpatine-style with their fingertips? That’s the searingly smart and brilliantly-explored premise of The Power , which allows us to imagine what would happen if the present balance in the world – or, more rightly so, imbalance, – was reversed in favour of women. Would we be living in a calm utopia within a fortnight? Would we face the same problems we always have? Or would there be a whole host of new challenges to contend with?
The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin (2016)
It doesn’t feel like there’s a right way to begin explaining the truly monumental premise and proportions of The Fifth Season , so let’s just dive in. This book takes place on a planet with one massive supercontinent called Stillness. Every few hundred years the ‘fifth season’ occurs – a period of catastrophic climate change. The world-building prowess of Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is epic, there are different ethnicities, species, areas and castes with all kinds of powers and conflicts, and plenty of other details that won’t make sense until you read the book – be prepared to be a little overwhelmed when you’re first introduced to this new universe. This award-winning tome is the first in the Broken Earth series, with later books also scooping up prestigious Hugo Awards in their own right.
Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi (2020)
Set in the near future, Riot Baby might be a story with fantastical elements weaved throughout it, but it explores very real, pertinent and important issues of race and bias algorithms. The riot baby in this book is Kev, a young Black man who’s in prison. His sister, Ella, has a number of special powers – like being able to see into the future. Riot Baby is novella length (perfect for anyone whose concentration span isn’t what it used to be) and written in a fast-paced style that makes us, as readers, feel as if we’re witnessing flashes of memories in a manner that’s wedded to some of the central themes of anger and injustice.
Price: £14 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible
Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler (2018)
Some might say Octavia E. Butler’s fantastic Kindred is a work of science-fiction or speculative fiction, but it’s in our list because Butler herself called it “a kind of grim fantasy”. This is a time travel narrative, but we’d bet it’s quite unlike any you’ve read before. Kindred follows the story of a woman called Dana who’s transported from 1976 Los Angeles to a Maryland plantation in 1815, where she’s assumed to be a slave. Like all good fantasy and science-fiction, the magical, surreal, time-travelling elements act as a way into a raw exploration of race, power and gender that’s as relevant and urgent now as it was when Butler first published it in 1979.
Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible
The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch (2006)
Renaissance Venice meets fantasy meets the twists and turns of a well crafted crime novel. Scott Lynch builds a fascinating fantasy city with real detail and real grit. No shining heroes and wistful princesses here. Instead criminal gangs, corrupt officials and the high likelihood of being mugged in a back alley. There is almost a sense of Oceans 11 meets venetian masquerade, blink and you’ll miss the sleight of hand! Fantasy is almost an afterthought in this novel and it is really about the character building and storytelling. Sure there are shark matadors and alchemical alcoholic fruits, not to mention the mysterious Elderglass, but these are more a backdrop rather than plot driving and all combine to make, subtle and intriguing read. There are plenty of twists and turns as Locke navigates the underworld of Camorr, but it’s unlikely you’ll see all of them coming!? This is the first book of a trilogy and although it stands alone you’ll want to read the other two to see what happens next in Red Seas Under Red Skies and A Republic of Thieves .
Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata (2020)
Not one for the faint hearted, this dark fantasy comedy from the author of Convenience Store Woman is tricky to pin down into any one category and the final pages will probably leave you gobsmacked. Natsuki and Yuu are cousins who have long prepared to be abducted back to their home planet. So far, so childhood but then they grow up and the plan persists. In the meantime they have to try to function in regular society, securing partners and jobs and not drawing attention to themselves. No taboo is left unturned with Earthlings encouraging minor acts of rebellion from what 'society' tells us we have to do.
Price: £10.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
Circe, by Madeline Miller (2018)
Circe, daughter of Titan sun god Helios, finds herself overshadowed in the halls of the gods until she discovers her own, different power: witchcraft. Banished to a deserted island for abusing her magic, and repeatedly let down by the men she puts her trust in, Circe must forge her own path: as a goddess, a witch, and a woman. Miller’s novel offers a new perspective on tales of Greek myth, with Circe’s centuries-long story seeing her appear at the birth of the Minotaur, face off with goddess of war Athena, and host hero Odysseus on his long return from Troy. An accessible read with larger-than-life characters and an adventurous plot, Circe is mythology as you’ve never known it before.
Price: £7 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams (1988 to 1993)
The three books in this trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair , Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower , are beautifully crafted fantasies that deftly interweave almost comically simple tropes with a rewarding complexity and depth. Game of Thrones fans will find much to enjoy – George R. R. Martin readily admits they were a big inspiration for him – as Williams takes a similarly methodical approach to creating the fictional continent Osten Ard and the races that inhabit it. His tales of the humble kitchen scullion who has great things ahead of him are full of joyful and sorrowful moments that will have you laughing and crying, making them a delightful diversion from life's ups and downs.
Price: £6 | Amazon | Abe Books | 30-day Audible trial
Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Steven Erikson (1999 to 2011)
Spanning 10 books and over 9,000 pages of brutal, beautiful and complex fantasy writing, Steven Erikson's series delivers world building on a larger scale than Tolkien and Jordan put together. Erikson will have you laughing and crying as you follow the lives of disparate heroes and anti-heroes across a sweeping vista of worlds peopled by a unique set of races and animals. You will fall in love with his characters and you will hate them, either way you will want to know what happens next. Beginning with the Gardens of the Moon , Erikson’s ability to write epic convergence is unparalleled and will leave you unable to stand the tension leading up to the major events he depicts.
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie (2006 to 2008)
Joe Abercrombie writes brilliant characters. Be it the story of an ageing berserker, a crippled torturer or a pompous noble, his The First Law Trilogy immerses you in a bloody mire of violent, visceral and gritty adventures. You will see the glory of battle in all its bowel spilling ineptitude and hopelessness, but there is always someone to root for even if it is not the god blessed heroes and heroines you might usually expect. As an added bonus there are also three standalone books and a collection of short stories that revisit some of the First Law characters and world, something you will be eager to devour once you’ve read the first trilogy.
Price: £17 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker (2013)
Helene Wecker's debut novel is an eerie tale of two magical creatures set loose in 19th century New York. A golem – a mythical creature of Jewish lore – awakens during a sea voyage, and is taught to pass as human among the diverse groups of people living in the city. At the same time, a tinsmith in New York accidentally frees a genie from a flask after centuries of imprisonment, but he's trapped in human form seeking a way to return to his full power. The pair meet and become friends, and must team up to counter an evil sorcerer who wants to enslave them both.
Price: £10 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)
Welcome to a desert planet where water is more precious than gold, everyone wears moisture-preserving jumpsuits and giant worm creatures can come out of the earth's floor that can kill you at any moment. This is Dune, a stark wasteland where warring houses scheme against each other in bloody battles that can alter the course of human history. Although it's science-fiction on the surface, Frank Herbert's epic tome features the fantasy tropes of betrayal, redemption and freedom in spades, and is rightly considered one of the most important of the genre. Herbert's masterpiece not only helped to inspire Star Wars – it still resonates today, tackling environmental concerns, the rise of superpowers and rebellion of people exploited on their own land.
The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King (1998)
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." This iconic line kicks off Stephen King's iconic The Dark Tower, which mashes together fantasy, westerns and elements of science fiction. The first of seven books follows gunslinger Roland as he pursues a mysterious, malevolent presence across a strange world that's linked to our own. From there, it sprawls into a rambling epic that highlight's King's imagination as well as his touch for horror.
Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin (1996)
Fans of the television series have been distancing themselves from Game of Thrones in droves since that disastrous final season, but George R.R. Martin's books remain relatively untainted. A Game of Thrones , the first in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series, sets the tone – with violence and adult themes rarely seen in a lot of mainstream fantasy up to that point. Each chapter follows an individual character's point of view, and although the series does becomes slightly bogged down in later entries, it is gripping – and the ending is still to come.
Price: £8.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)
Both Pratchett and Gaiman feature in their own right on this list and Good Omens , composed in part over answerphone messages three decades ago, delivers on the promise of a fantasy literature titan team up. It's the extremely silly story of an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley, played with glee by Michael Sheen and David Tennant in this year's Amazon Prime Video series, trying to stop Armageddon. Most fantasy books ask for a serious commitment but Good Omens is a fully formed, read-in-an-afternoon treat.
Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch (2011)
Set in a lovingly described version of present-day London, the Rivers of London series charts the adventures of Detective Constable Peter Grant, one of two wizards in the Metropolitan Police. It grounds its fantastical elements in the scientific method, and the mixture of flying spells and police jargon gives the ongoing series a unique and enjoyable tone. The first book, Rivers of London describes an encounter with a malevolent spirit that draws Grant into the capital's magical underworld.
Price: £8 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan (1990-2007)
An epic fourteen novel saga, (as well as a prequel novel and two companion books), the author James Oliver Rigney Jr. (pen name Robert Jordan), published the first entry in 1990 and was still writing on his death in 2007. Too vast to summarise, the fantasy world – actually a distant version of Earth – is epic and magical, with a gigantic cast of characters. The series has spawned a video game, a roleplaying game, a soundtrack album and a forthcoming TV series, and the books have sold more than 80 million copies, making it one of the bestselling fantasy series since Lord of the Rings .
Price: £20 | Amazon | Blackwells | 30-day Audible trial
The Gormenghast series, by Mervyn Peake (1946-56)
The first instalment of Mervyn Peake’s epic fantasy series, which features three books and a novella, was published in 1946. It follows the residents of Castle Gormenghast – a giant, gothic castle. In the first book, we meet title character Titus Groan, who stands to inherit the castle and its kingdom. Populated with a host of fantastical creatures, Gormenghast is like a Lord of the Rings that didn’t blow up. Unlike much of the fantasy genre gets high praise in literary circles too: Harold Bloom called the series best fantasy novels of the twentieth century.
Price: £20 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman (1995)
Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights is a children’s book with a depth and complexity that can satisfy adults. We follow Lyra Belacqua and Pantalaimon, her daemon – her inner self given animal form – as she investigates rumours of children being separated from their own spiritual companions. Over the three-book series, this transitions into a battle between humanity and heaven. It functions in part as a retelling and inversion of John Milton's epic Paradise Lost . The second entry of a three-part sequel trilogy was published in late 2019.
The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman (2018)
Philip Pullman has returned with a follow-up to the His Dark Materials trilogy. The Book of Dust is a second trilogy set in the world of Lyra Belacqua and her inner self in animal form, Pantalaimon. At the point of writing two of the trilogy have been released: La Belle Sauvage (2018) and The Secret Commonwealth (2019). The first of these is set before the tumultuous events of His Dark Materials. But the second fast forwards to a decade after their conclusion. There's espionage, spies and frantic attempts to stop the world from vanishing into darkness.
Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher (2000)
Harry Dresden is a professional wizard in a version of modern-day Chicago where fantastical creatures lurk just underneath the surface. He makes his living as a private detective, solving cases that bridge the worlds of the real and the uncanny. In Storm Front , the first book in long-running series The Dresden Files, he finds himself duelling with vampires, werewolves, and the mob.
Price: £40 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville (2000)
China Miéville's work falls more accurately under the banner of Weird Fiction, an amalgamation of fantasy and horror pioneered by HP Lovecraft. This work, one in a series of books set in the world of Bas-Lag, lies closer to the fantasy genre. As Mieville describes it "it's basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian-era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it's an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind”.
Price: £11 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (2001)
The Amazon Prime series failed to spark, but Neil Gaiman's richly described novel is well worth a read. American Gods pits the abandoned folk deities of the old world against the modern idols we worship now. It follows Shadow Moon, a convict who finds out – days before his release – that his wife has died in a car accident, and falls into the surreal orbit of Mr Wednesday (Odin) and a looming showdown between the old gods and the new.
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin (1968)
Ursula Le Guin is one of the titans of fantasy and sci-fi – her books explore political and feminist themes in fantastical settings. The Left Hand of Darkness focuses on an androgynous civilisation, and The Dispossessed is set in anarchist Utopia. The Earthsea series is more traditional but still brilliant – we follow Ged, a teenager at magic school, who causes a disaster dabbling in the dark arts. Readers have pointed to the similarities between Ged’s school and Hogwarts.
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobbs (1995-1997)
Robin Hobbs' epic fantasy series hero follows FitzChivalry Farseer, or Fitz for short, the bastard son of the crown prince. Raised in a stable and trained as an assassin, the story charts his adventures through the kingdom of The Six Duchies: magic, murder, and political intrigue abound, as well as a zombie curse. Sound familiar? Definitely a good choice for those suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms.
Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | start a 30-day Audible trial
The Accursed Kings, by Maurice Druon (1955-77)
A curveball: not fantasy (the books cover the French monarchy in the 14th century), but a book for fans of fantasy. Its author Maurice Druon is the hero of George RR Martin, who penned the series that became Game of Thrones . As Martin wrote in the Guardian: “ The Accursed Kings has it all: iron kings and strangled queens, battles and betrayals, lies and lust, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin and swords, the doom of a great dynasty and all of it (or most of it) straight from the pages of history."
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004)
One of the more recent publications on this list, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in 19th-century England around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The book’s premise is that magic has returned: two men, Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, wield it. Written in a comedy of manners, Jane Austen style, it took its author British writer Susanna Clarke (see Piranesi above) ten years to write and was widely acclaimed on its release in 2004.
Price: £11 | Amazon | Waterstones | start a 30-day Audible trial
Mort, by Terry Pratchett (1987)
One of the best entries in Terry Pratchett’s inimitable Discworld series, Mort focuses on a teenager who is taken under the apprenticeship of Death. Appearing in nearly every one of the Discworld books, Pratchett’s Death is one of the author’s greatest creations, and the source of some of the series’ most famous quotes ("Don’t think of it as dying, just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.”) It’s in Mort that Death grows into a sympathetic and likeable character, who loves cats and curry and is continuously baffled by the irrationally of humans.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (2019)
Marlon James, who won the Booker prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings , is not traditionally a fantasy writer, but he dubbed his latest book the African Game of Thrones . (Although he later revealed the comparison was a joke). This book focuses on the political tensions between warring states, in a world populated by a host of magical creatures: cannibals, vampires, witches, ghosts and sorcerers.
By Nelson C.J.
By Marah Eakin
25 Of The Top Fantasy Books On Goodreads
Vernieda Vergara is a freelance writer who loves anime, manga, and all things creepy. Her work has appeared on Den of Geek, Women Write About Comics, The Comics MNT, and other venues scattered across the internet. She lives in the Washington DC suburbs where she takes care of far too many plants and drinks even more tea. Twitter: incitata
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If you’re a new—or old—fantasy reader, you might be wondering what the top fantasy books are. It’s a reasonable question. It makes sense to begin with what’s popular if you’re starting out in the genre. Or maybe you’re just curious to see how mainstream your preferences are.
But in trying to answer this question, you’ll immediately run into problems. How do we determine what makes a top fantasy book? Sales? Let’s be honest. Some bestselling books may not be that good. We can use ratings but as Rioter Tasha discovered when she looked at the highest rated books on Goodreads , reader-generated rankings and lists lead to other problems. The actual number of ratings might be too low. A book with more ratings may garner more lower ratings simply because of the increased reader pool. Many excellent series populate the fantasy genre , and the longer the series, the more readers the first book is likely to have. There’s also no denying that certain authors dominate the genre. And if those authors happen to be prolific, their books are going to be highly rated due to their exuberant fanbase.
How I Put Together a List of Top Fantasy Books
In putting together this list, I used Goodreads and looked at a variety of metrics. It’s not scientific. There’s no math involved. I considered the number of ratings, the spread of ratings, and the year of publication. Fantasy is such an established genre, and one of the most popular on Goodreads, so older books have a distinct advantage over newer books.
I focused on single books, not boxsets. I only included one book per series (usually the first book because I know my fantasy readers and I know how hard it is for us to read out of order), and I picked only one book per author.
Did I overlook some novels? Probably. You might think a specific title absolutely belongs on a list of top fantasy books. Or, remembering that I limited this list to only one book per author and only one book per series, you might think another selection from that author or series is a better choice. That’s okay. In the end, this list is just a starting point.
The Top Epic Fantasy Books
When we think of the fantasy genre, we usually think of epic fantasy. Important quests to save the world. Royal families fighting for control of the kingdom. Spectacular magic battles. The aesthetic established by J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , let’s just say.
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
(4.45 avg rating; 2,000,614 ratings)
This novel launched the Song of Ice and Fire series and upended the established tropes of 1990s-era epic fantasy. Let’s not forget that shocking death at the end! I know it’s hard to believe now, but back then, that was something of a fantasy no-no.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
(4.53 avg rating; 720,012 ratings)
While good writing certainly permeates the fantasy genre, it’s not necessarily a requirement. Above all, we want a good story and as long as the prose is readable, that’s fine. Rothfuss’s debut novel showed us that an epic fantasy novel could feature not only good writing, it could showcase beautiful prose. But what’s most interesting about The Name of the Wind is its structure. We first meet Kvothe when he’s a broken man, after the battle has been fought. The mystery of how he got to that end point from his beginnings as an audacious prodigy is part of the series’s charm.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
(4.63 avg rating; 305,994 ratings)
Sanderson is arguably one of the most prolific fantasy writers working in the genre today. In a genre where readers are used to waiting years between series installments, that’s very refreshing. I can’t overstate this fact. It’s one of the reasons he’s gathered a very large, dedicated fanbase. If you’re not familiar with Sanderson’s work, he’s best known for his clearly delineated, almost scientifically laid out magic systems.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin
(3.99 avg rating; 242,314 ratings)
Confession time: I first discovered LeGuin through her science fiction. I didn’t learn she’d also written fantasy until I was well into adulthood. Unfortunately, the Earthsea series is probably better known for the whitewashed adaptation that aired on the SyFy channel. A true tragedy because as anyone who’s read her books knows, LeGuin was a master of world-building and depicting culture.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
(4.15 avg rating; 236,411 ratings)
Royal bastards figure prominently in the fantasy genre. So do assassins. They’re usually two different people, though. The main character in the first book of Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, however, is both.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
(4.27 avg rating; 224,608 ratings)
In addition to royal bastards and assassins, thieves also run wild through the fantasy genre. Who’s surprised? There are a lot of important mystical artifacts to steal. And let’s face it, a fantasy setting is the perfect background for a heist caper.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
(4.01 avg rating; 72,095 ratings)
Courtesans are another staple of the epic fantasy genre. While they’re usually supporting characters—either in the form of allies or enemies—Carey’s debut novel introduces us to Phedre, a courtesan marked by a god to feel pleasure and pain as one. In other words, she’s a masochist. But alongside her courtesan-related talents, she’s also a spy. This unlikely combination in a protagonist explains why it’s one of the top fantasy books on Goodreads, even though it doesn’t necessarily resemble the traditional quest-style epic fantasy tome.
Find even more of our epic fantasy recommendations here.
Contemporary Fantasy Books
While the fantasy genre often conjures images of dragons and wizards, fantasy need not take place in alternate worlds. They can take place in our world.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
(4.11 avg rating; 761,532 ratings)
While Gaiman’s short stories are my personal favorites of his writings, most fiction readers meet him through his novels. American Gods reimagines myths and gods in the modern age, mashes them up with Americana, and takes you on a road trip. I can see why this is one of his most famous works.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(4.03 avg rating; 688,655 ratings)
A standalone novel in the fantasy genre is a rare feat, but The Night Circus succeeds—much to the dismay of its fans who wish it had a sequel or two. Revolving around a competition between two magicians who fall in love, the lush prose has won the heart of many readers across the world. It’s collected over half a million ratings on Goodreads! That is a big accomplishment for an author who didn’t publish her follow-up, The Starless Sea , until eight years later.
Find more contemporary (or low) fantasy novels here.
Urban Fantasy Books
The sister sub-genre to contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy experienced a boom in the 2000s and early 2010s. It’s since contracted and stabilized—although I’d argue we’re seeing a revival featuring more diverse casts and authors—but here are a couple stand-out top fantasy books from that prior era.
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
(4.15 avg rating; 176,892 ratings)
In a sub-genre populated by investigators and mercenaries, coyote shifter Mercy Thompson stands out because she’s a mechanic. How refreshing. The staples of the genre—gremlins, werewolves, vampires, and more—can be found in Mercy’s world and her relationships with them are what often get her into trouble.
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
(4.12 avg rating; 511,242 ratings)
As someone who read a lot of vampire novels, both adult and YA, in the late 2000s, I admit I’m a little surprised to see how many ratings this book had on Goodreads. And I was a big fan of this series! I don’t know how I missed its popularity. About a dhampir who’s dedicated her life to protecting her best friend, a vampire princess, what I appreciated most about these books was the female friendship that ran throughout. Over a decade later, I still love seeing that fierce dedication between girls—especially in YA.
Find more of our urban fantasy recommendations here .
Top Fantasy Books for Young Readers
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
(4.33 avg rating; 628,065 ratings)
One of the most beloved middle grade authors out there, picking one Riordan book to recommend is impossible. Thankfully, I had my previously mentioned restrictions to make things easier. Set in the world of the Percy Jackson books, The Lost Hero once again features Riordan’s take on Greek mythology but with a whole new cast of characters.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
(4.27 avg rating; 37,280 ratings)
Given the nature of Goodreads, it can be difficult to find the highly rated fantasy books for younger readers. It seems like there’s a gap between middle grade novels and picture books. I’m sure they exist, but they’re not easiest to find. Based on Chinese mythology, Lin’s book pulls together the pieces of many different stories and weaves them into something new. Featuring a determined heroine who never gives up, this story about her quest to improve her family’s fortune delights children and parents alike.
Do your children love fantasy? We got 50 of our top fantasy books for kids here.
Young Adult Fantasy Books
You knew it was coming. Young adult books are booming, and the fantasy genre makes up a huge chunk. More to the point, it has an enormous presence on Goodreads. But given those things, I can see why a primer of the top fantasy books for this age category might be necessary.
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
(4.32 avg rating; 670,055 ratings)
The first book in the prequel trilogy to the hugely popular The Mortal Instruments series, Clockwork Angel takes place in Victorian London. It delivers everything Clare’s fans want and expect from her books.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
(4.20 avg rating; 601,767 ratings)
If you’re a regular voter in the annual Goodreads book awards, you’ll recognize Maas’s name. She and her novels are a mainstay in the competition. This is the debut novel, about an assassin, that started it all.
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
(4.04 avg rating; 569,501 ratings)
If you ever wondered what X-Men would look like in a fantasy setting, this book might provide an answer for you. In a world where people with silver blood have superpowers and people with red blood are the people they subjugate, a girl with red blood discovers she has special abilities of her own.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
(4.07 avg rating; 386,770 ratings)
Published in 2008, Graceling was one of the earliest fantasy novels in the current young adult renaissance. Set in a world where people known as Gracelings are born with an extreme skill, Kaisa has the ability to kill. Unfortunately, the nature of her gift traps her into serving as her uncle’s enforcer. By the way, her uncle is the king, and not the most benevolent one.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
(4.43 avg rating; 320,906 ratings)
Bardugo’s Grishaverse books have inspired a huge legion of fans since Shadow and Bone was first published in 2012. A quick glance at bookstagram will show you just how much these books are beloved by the reading community. Six of Crows introduces us to a crew of thieves out to pull off an impossible heist. If you’re a fan of The Lies of Locke Lamora , this is the book for you. Even if you think you don’t like young adult novels, I still think you should give this one a try, and given the number of Goodreads ratings, so do a lot of other people.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
(4.01 avg rating; 301,954 ratings)
If I had to describe this book, I’d say it was about angels and demons, and that answer is both accurate and inaccurate. If you’ve never read a Laini Taylor novel, be prepared for fascinating characters, unique settings, and creepy imagery that catch you off-guard because they always come when you least expect!
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
(4.12 avg rating; 220,434 ratings)
Holly Black has established herself as the Queen of Faerie Novels. The Cruel Prince takes us back to the world first featured in her debut novel, Tithe , and introduces us to Jude, a mortal heroine whose rage and determination cuts through a courtly politics and a quest to find a place she can call home.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
(4.27 avg rating; 183,882 ratings)
Inspired by ancient Rome, An Ember in the Ashes explores oppression and tyranny via the story of Laia, who hopes to save her brother by spying on the Empire for the rebellion. This mission leads her to Elias, who is set to become the best soldier the Empire has ever seen.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
(4.11 avg rating; 154,906 ratings)
Originally published in 2018, Adeyemi’s debut has shot up through the Goodreads rankings at an astonishing pace. It almost reached 50,000 ratings in its first year alone, which is no small feat for a new author. No doubt, the book’s fast pace and action-filled adventure contributed to its popularity. Interested in reading more novels like Children of Blood and Bone ? Find even more African-inspired fantasy novels here .
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
(4.11 avg rating; 114,603 ratings)
Of all the potential retellings out there, I never expected to see a YA retelling of 1001 Nights . It’s not a strict retelling, so if you’re a fan of the nested story within a story structure, this is not the book for you. But if you want to see a different take on the original, Ahdieh’s debut might be worth checking out.
Find even more YA fantasy picks here !
I must make a confession. I have a weakness for fantasy takes on the end of the world. A lot of apocalyptic stories approach the concept from a science fiction angle or even a horror one. Fantasy ones are a rarer but always worth looking at. Find 20 more recommendations in this subgenre here .
Angelfall by Susan Ee
(4.13 avg rating; 165,949 ratings)
Originally a self-published title, I remember when this book made a huge splash. An apocalypse caused by angels! Given the nature of the Bible, perhaps this shouldn’t have been so astonishing. While the portrayal of mental illness isn’t what I consider to be the best (at all), the protagonist’s quest to save her younger sister—which leads her to joining forces with the enemy—is a gripping one.
The Award-Winning Top Fantasy Novel
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
(4.28 avg; 150,656 ratings)
The Fifth Season may not have the most ratings on Goodreads, but the trilogy it begins (The Broken Earth trilogy) has made history. Each of the three books has won the Hugo, making Jemisin the first author to win the award in consecutive years. If that doesn’t mark a top fantasy novel, I don’t know what does.
To find even more fantasy recommendations (we’ve got loooots), check out our sci-fi and fantasy podcast, SFF Yeah or subscribe to Swords & Spaceships , our email newsletter about all things in the world of science fiction and fantasy.