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- Fantasy books have huge cult followings, with readers devouring 800-page journeys through mythical worlds.
- There are a ton of sub-genres so any reader can find something that interests them.
- This list has epic classics like “The Lord of the Rings” and new favorites breaking the genre’s norms.
If you’re anything like me, fantasy books like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” were a gateway into a lifetime of reading. We fell in love with magical beings and worlds we’d never see but ones we knew existed between the pages of a book. Fantasy remains a perfect escape from our world and into one filled with witches, mermaids, and dragons.
Great fantasy novels rely on expert world-building, imaginary creatures, and (of course) magic. My personal favorites are based in our world, where regular people go about their lives unaware of the secret magic around them. Other readers love high fantasy, where the world we enter is one we don’t recognize, filled with its own rules that we discover as we read.
No matter what niche of fantasy interests you – fairytale retellings, urban fantasy, or dark romance – we hope you find a new favorite from our recommendations.
43 great classic and contemporary fantasy books:
An introduction to the mystical world of “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” is one of the most charming adventure fantasies in history. It’s the timeless story of Bilbo Baggins meeting Gandalf as they set out to raid the treasure guarded by a dragon — indisputably a classic fantasy novel, and a must-read for any fantasy lover.
Read if: you want to experience the magic of “The Lord of the Rings” all over again.
A book that begins with “It was a dark and stormy night”
This is one of the few books from my childhood that has stood the test of time and remained on my bookshelf to this day. Meg Murry — along with her mother and brother — rushes downstairs in the middle of the night to find a strange visitor in the kitchen, launching an adventure through space and time to save Meg’s father and the world. I was whisked away with the magic in this story, along with so many other readers.
Read if: you enjoy fantasy with a touch of sci-fi.
A historical fantasy that you won’t soon forget
In 1714, Addie LaRue accidentally prays to the gods that answer after dark and curses herself to a life in which she cannot be remembered. This book spans 300 years as Addie lives without a trace until one day, she meets a boy who remembers her name. Contrary to the premise, Addie’s story is one that stays with you long after you finish this book. This was my favorite book of 2020 and remains in my top five of all time.
Read if: you love multiple genres. This one is fantasy, romance, and historical fiction all in one.
A story that will take you to a new world
Though chronologically second, this was the first “Chronicles of Narnia” book to be published and therefore should be read first. It tells the story of three siblings who step through the door of a wardrobe and find themselves in the magical land of Narnia, enchanted by the evil White Witch. They team up with a lion and join the battle to save Narnia. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again,” and that resonates with so many readers who pick this book up and hold it close to their hearts forever.
Read if: you want to reconnect with your old love of fairy tales.
A steamy retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”
In this wildly popular series, Feyre is brought to a magical kingdom on the crime of killing a faerie where both she and the secrets of her captor are closely guarded. This series is known for its careful pacing, beautiful romance, and nightmarish fantasy creatures. The final book was just released, so now you can binge-read straight to the end.
Read if: you love swoon-worthy men and warrior women.
A powerful and diverse fantasy with contemporary issues
“Legendborn” has quickly become a favorite amongst fantasy readers since it was published in September 2020. It weaves issues of grief, racism, and oppression with Arthurian-inspired magic. Bree enrolls in a college program for gifted high schoolers after an accident that left her mother dead. When an attempt to wipe Bree’s memory after she witnesses a magical attack fails, her own magic and memories begin to return to her and leave her wondering if her mother’s death was truly an accident.
Read if: you’ve been missing Black, queer, and non-binary representation in fantasy novels.
A feminist fairy tale classic
Whether or not you’ve seen the hilarious Anne Hathaway movie, this is one to pick up. It’s the story of Ella, enchanted as an infant with the “gift” of obedience. It quickly turns into a curse as Ella can’t help but do what she’s told no matter who orders her or how silly (or dangerous) the order may be. When Ella finds she might be in danger, she sets out to undo the curse and ends up on an adventure with ogres, elves, even the classic pumpkin carriage. I thought this book was just as amusing as the movie and I probably read it a dozen times as a teen.
Read if: you love a princess who is her own hero.
A deadly tale of three royal sisters
In every royal generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born. They are each equal heirs to the throne and possess one of three magics: control of the elements, affinity to nature and animals, or immunity to poison. When the girls turn sixteen, the fight for the crown begins and will only end once only one queen remains. In this dark series about strong women, the tension and twists build with each novel until the action-packed and intensely satisfying ending. The magic in these books is easy to understand and really entertaining to read. I loved seeing this sisterhood grow and change over the four books.
Read if: you’re fascinated by magical politics and deadly rivalry.
A series that’s quickly become a modern classic
The “Game of Thrones” series is one hailed as an undeniable classic even though it was just published in 2005. The entire series is iconic. It’s about families caught in a never-ending war over who rules over the seven kingdoms. In these books, the good guys don’t always win and the heroes don’t always live. There are highly complicated characters, tons of subplot, and every kind of conflict imaginable.
Read if: you love high fantasy but are tired of formulaic plotlines.
A bloody tale of warrior women
Deka is already different from the rest of her village, but when she bleeds gold — the mark of a demon girl — during a ceremony, she faces consequences worse than death. She is soon offered a choice: to stay and face her fate or leave and fight in an army of girls like her. This story moves swiftly with a mix of dystopian fantasy, horror, and a touch of romance. It can be quite violent at times, as demon girls suffer death after gruesome death. If you’ve ever been hesitant about picking up YA fantasy, this is one that won’t disappoint.
Read if: graphic action has you turning pages to see what happens next.
A classic that uses magic to explore true nature
When Ged was young, he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. Now he’s grown into the most powerful sorcerer in Earthsea, but he must face the consequences of the power-hungry actions of his younger self. This book (and the entire six-book series) continues to enchant fantasy readers 50 years after its first publication. Through graceful writing and impeccable character development, Le Guin challenges us to know and embrace our true selves.
Read if: you want to follow a single character’s journey.
A series where light and dark magic exist in parallel worlds
Kell is a smuggler and one of the last magicians able to travel between parallel Londons: red, white, grey, and (long ago) black. After being robbed and then saved by Delilah Bard, the two set out on an adventure to save themselves and the worlds through which they travel. Schwab is a masterful world-builder and you will absolutely travel right along with this pair. Because of this series, I have become a sucker for a parallel universe trope.
Read if: you can’t resist parallel universes and kickass (but perfectly flawed) characters.
A high seas pirate adventure story
Fable is a trader, a fighter, and a survivor. Four years ago, she watched her mother drown in a ruthless storm and her father abandon her on an island of thieves. Relying on the skills her mother taught her, Fable enlists West to help her confront her father and demand a place on his crew. When she finally makes it off the island, Fable learns how much more dangerous her father’s work has become and finds that the island may have been the safest place for her after all. This is a gritty story with a strong feminist lead and (thankfully) a sequel that was just released.
Read if: you loved “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
An adventure story full of dragons
When Eragon, a poor farmer boy, finds a stone in the forest, he believes it to be good fortune. That is, until a dragon hatchling brings Eragon into an empire of magic and destiny, ruled by an evil king. There’s so much to love in this book, from the prophecies to the endearing characters. The author was only fifteen when he wrote it and it still holds so much magical YA innocence.
Read if: you love a story about finding your purpose.
A dark fantasy that’s perfect for a rainy day
While you are probably more familiar with “Coraline,” “Neverwhere” is a Neil Gaiman book that just can’t be passed over. On the streets of London, Richard Mayhew stops to help a bleeding girl and ends up in Neverwhere — a dark version of London where monsters lurk in the shadows. After finishing this, you’ll ask yourself why you haven’t read more of his novels. Gaiman also has a series on MasterClass that deconstructs his storytelling yet somehow adds more magic to every book.
Read if: you’d like an introduction to urban fantasy.
The story of a forced marriage between a witch and a witch hunter
In Belterra, witches are feared and burned at the stake by ruthless witch hunters. For two years, Louise hid her magic to stay alive until one mistake set in motion a story of impossible choices, an enemies-to-lover romance, and a tangled battle between right and wrong. With how compelling the writing is, you’d never guess it is a debut novel. I bought this one just for the gorgeous cover and had no idea how extraordinary it would be.
Read if: you can’t resist a magical enemies-to-lovers trope.
The tale of a magical unicorn
This is a beautiful fairy tale with poems and songs set throughout the pages. In this book, a unicorn who lives alone in a forest protected from death decides to find what happened to the others. Helped by a magician and a spinster, the unicorn sets out on a journey of love and destiny, faced with an evil king who aims to rid the world of the final unicorn. The life lessons woven throughout this book are bittersweet, but also real and honest.
Read if: you want to escape into a truly magical classic.
A cherished chronicle of magical children and guarded secrets
This is one of the few books I refer to as “beautiful.” Linus Baker is a quiet caseworker for the Department of Magical Youth — and has just been charged with investigating a highly secretive case that requires him to travel to an island where six dangerous magical orphans (including the actual son of Satan) live under the care of Arthur Parnassus. This book is all about family, filled with comforting magic as you come to care for fictional characters. Plus, reading about a child who is trying to be a good kid while also being the literal Anti-Christ is absolutely hysterical and was the highlight of this book for me.
Read if: you love fun fantasy and are dying for a queer romance.
A dark, horror-fantasy about occult magic
Alex Stern is recovering in the hospital after surviving an unsolved multiple homicide when she’s mysteriously offered a full ride at Yale University. The only catch: she has to monitor the activities of the school’s secret societies that practice dark magic. Alex, a high school dropout from LA, has no idea why she’s been chosen but by the time she finds out, she’ll be in too deep. This book won the Goodreads Choice Awards “Best Fantasy” category in 2019 and it absolutely lives up to the hype. It’s intense, bloody, and powerful as dangerous magic weaves itself into an everyday school setting.
Read if: you love when mysteries and dark magic intertwine.
A truly fun Greek mythology story
Deeply loved, the Percy Jackson books are just as regarded as “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent.” Percy has no idea that he is a demigod, son of Poseidon, but he’s having trouble in school, unable to focus or control his temper. Percy is sure that his teacher tried to kill him and when his mom finds out, she knows she needs to tell him the truth about where he came from. He goes to a summer camp for demigods and teams up with two friends to reach the Underworld in order to prevent a war between the gods. Percy makes a great hero and it’s so easy to root for him as he pushes through his journey, the pages filled with Grade-A characters, action scenes, and monsters.
Read if: you want to feel like a demigod yourself.
A West-African inspired world of danger and magic
After a ruthless king left the world without magic and her mother dead, Zélie finds she has only one chance to save her people. On a dangerous journey to restore magic to the land before it is lost forever, Zélie’s greatest danger may be herself. Readers agree that the best parts of this book are the characters, who all go on a transformative journey as they fight for peace. This is in TIME‘s Top 100 Fantasy Books of All Time, which is a huge deal.
Read if: you want to experience an epic YA fantasy.
A captivating vampire novel
It’s easy to draw a comparison between “Crave” and “Twilight,” especially since the moment “brooding vampires” is mentioned, everyone’s first thought is Edward Cullen. Plus, the cover looks like it’s part of Stephanie Meyer’s famous saga. But the “Crave” series is more sophisticated and literary while embracing the inherent cringe that now seems to accompany any vampire story. This is an engaging read because it blends nostalgia with something fresh and new. Open this book when you’re ready to have fun with reading — the cheesy moody vampire moments are absolutely present amongst turf wars, a gothic academy, and dragons.
Read if: “Twilight” still holds a special place in your heart.
A dark urban fantasy where people hunt the gods
Greek mythology meets “The Hunger Games” in this world where every seven years, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by those eager to steal divine power and immortality for themselves. Lore wants to leave this brutality behind when her help is sought out by two opposing participants: a childhood friend she thought long dead and a gravely wounded Athena. The world created in this standalone is thorough and complex. But if you love crazy twists and that “just one more chapter” feeling, you should give this a shot.
Read if: you love the dark side of Greek mythology.
A 200-years-later sequel to “Cinderella”
200 years after Cinderella found her prince, girls are required to appear at the annual ball where men select their wives. If a girl is not selected, she is never heard from again. Sophia would much rather marry her love, Erin, so she flees the ball where she runs into Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella. Together, they decide to bring down the king once and for all. This book gathered attention for its Black and queer lead characters that have no intention of waiting for a night in shining armor to save them. It’s a story of bravery, anger, and fighting for love.
Read if: you love reading about women dismantling the patriarchy.
A fantasy that’s all about books
Meggie’s father is reading to her from a book called “Inkheart” one night when an evil stranger from her father’s past knocks on their door. When Meggie’s dad is kidnapped, she has to learn to control the magic to change the story that’s taken over her life, creating a world that she’s only read about in books. It’s a story about magic, for sure, but also about the unwavering bond between Meggie and her father — a truly heartwarming love that you’ll feel as a reader.
Read if: you’ve ever wished you could disappear into the pages of your favorite book.
A darker collection of fairy tales
The German brothers who wrote this book aimed to collect stories exactly how they were told. This led to a collection of fairy tales that we all know and love, minus the obligatory “happily ever afters.” It has all the classics like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” that haven’t been softened or brightly colored for younger audiences. This is great for anyone who loves the feeling of discovering all the secrets behind the stories or movies we loved when we were young.
Read if: you’ve never cared for happy endings.
A fantasy novel hailed for its romance
While this absolutely falls into the fantasy genre, it actually won the Goodreads Choice Awards for “Best Romance” in 2020. Poppy is the Maiden, chosen to fulfill a destiny that has never been fully explained to her, living the life of a recluse and awaiting to ascend to prove she is worthy to the gods and can protect her land from the curse. When she can’t stand it anymore, she sneaks away from the kingdom and meets Hawke, spurring a desperate secret romance. The beginning of the first book is slow, but the momentum builds quickly. It ends on a huge cliffhanger but the second one has already been released and the third is out on April 20, 2021.
Read if: you love a steamy and dramatic romance.
A classic Arthurian tale
Before the famous King Arthur, there was a boy named Wart, a wizard named Merlin, and a sword stuck in a stone. In this story, Merlin helps Wart learn valuable coming-of-age lessons as he grows up. It feels both medieval and modern, with an emotional ending as Wart finally faces the sword. If you loved the Disney movie, you should still read this, since they’re very different.
Read if: you have a soft spot for medieval fantasy.
A story of fairies that fight back
Highly entertaining, “Artemis Fowl” is full of magic and fairies like you haven’t seen before. Artemis is only twelve but he’s a millionaire and a criminal mastermind. He discovers an underground world of high-tech and heavily armed fairies, one of whom he kidnaps one to hold for ransom, spurring a dangerous war he never expected. With a touch of sci-fi, the beginning of the story spans a couple of months and the rest is over an action-packed eight hours.
Read if: you love anti-heroes.
A fantasy that checks every box
“The Princess Bride” is a modern classic that has something for everyone: action, beasts, true love, and a whole lot of fighting. A beautiful girl, Buttercup, and her farm boy, Westley, have fallen madly in love. Westley sets off to claim his fortune so he can marry her before he’s ambushed by pirates. Thinking him dead, Buttercup marries an evil prince as Westley plans to return to her. It’s riddled with narration from the author that really adds to the passion and humor of this book.
Read if: you can’t resist a good revenge story.
The witchy prequel to “Practical Magic”
Franny, Bridget, and Vincent are growing up in the 1950s, aware that they are different but held under strict parental rules to keep them safe and away from magic. When they visit their Aunt Isabelle in Massachusetts where their family name holds great history, the Owens siblings learn to embrace their magical sides. You don’t need to have read “Practical Magic” to love this story of sibling love and finding your identity. The book is simply delightful and the whole thing feels like a cool autumn in Salem.
Read if: you watch “Hocus Pocus” every October.
A series that you’ll hold close long after the final book
This entire eight-book series has insanely high reviews, with a ton of fantasy readers picking up anything Sarah J. Maas writes. It follows Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who is offered a chance to serve as the King’s Champion and earn her freedom after serving in a camp for her crimes. Celaena is drawn into a series of battles and a deeply woven conspiracy, discovering secrets about the kingdom and herself. This is an epic, powerful, and brilliant journey that might just become your new favorite series.
Read if: you’re ready for a new fandom to forever have a place in your heart.
The first in a new “Shadowhunter” series
Cordelia is a Shadowhunter, a warrior who has trained all her life to battle demons. On a mission to prove her father’s innocence, she travels to London where she meets James, a childhood friend. She’s whisked into his secret and dazzling life when a series of demon attacks hit London. These new monsters seem impossible to kill as they hide in plain sight and close off the city. The characters are what drives this book and if you’ve read other “Shadowhunter” novels by Cassandra Clare, you’ll love getting to know family members you’ve heard about before. If you’re new to Clare’s writing, you’ll love all the drama leading up to a cliffhanger that will break your heart.
Read if: you love complex family and relationship dynamics.
A criminal account of a steampunk band of anti-heroes
Kaz is a professional criminal, offered an alluring heist that he can’t pass up, but he can’t pull off alone. This story is completely brilliant, gritty, and a little messy. With six main characters, “Six of Crows” is a fast-paced heist, a story that leaves you constantly surprised as you’ll never fully know any one character’s intentions due to its third-person point of view.
Read if: you can’t resist a fantastical group of thieves and misfits.
A portal fantasy that all begins with a girl finding the magic in a book
While serving as the ward to a wealthy man, January finds a strange book that tells a story of secret doors, adventure, and danger. As she reads, January is taken on an imaginative journey of discovery as a book she thought was fiction elaborately bends her reality. It’s a portal story of love and enchanting adventure, a book about a book that will mercilessly break your heart but gracefully put it back together.
Read if: you’ve missed the childlike magic of imagination.
A wintery fairytale story, loosely based on “Rumpelstiltskin”
Miryem quickly earns a reputation for being able to spin silver to gold after setting out to save her family from poverty, capturing the attention of the Ice King. This is a woven story of three women, three mothers, and three marriages. Naomi Novik does an incredible job of helping you follow each story, creating some amazingly strong female protagonists. This is not your typical fairytale, but it’s still full of whimsical writing, familial bonds, and tons of charm.
Read if: you’re intrigued by European folklore.
A re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet,” set in 1920s Shanghai
In 1926, a blood feud has left the city starkly divided, Juliette the heir to the Scarlet Gang and Roma the heir to the White Flowers. They were each other’s first love, separated by their families and long ago (but not forgotten) betrayal. Now, as a mysterious illness is causing the people to claw their own throats out, Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to save their city. This one features a river monster, a serious amount of blood and gore, and nods to the original “Romeo and Juliet” throughout.
Read if: you love the drama of a deep-seated rivalry.
A deep sea journey with seven kinds of magic
In a kingdom where you can choose your magic, Amora knows that to be queen, she must master the dangerous but fickle soul magic. When her demonstration fails, Amora flees and strikes a deal with a pirate: she will help him reclaim his magic if he can help her prove that she’s fit to rule. “All the Stars and Teeth” is an epic adventure-driven fantasy featuring mermaids, sea monsters, and a kingdom in danger.
Read if: you love cinematic descriptions and all things nautical.
A retelling that will pull you in from the first line
Set in the parallel land of Emberfall, a cursed Prince Rhen has become a destructive, murderous monster. Harper, a regular girl with cerebral palsy, was mistakenly kidnapped and is now the prince’s only hope. Yes, this is the second “Beauty and the Beast” retelling in this roundup but they are both so different and so loved. Readers come for the complexity of Rhen and Harper and stay for the snarky, hysterical bickering between the two.
Read if: you’re looking to read a 500-page book in one sitting (you very well might end up reading it in one sitting).
A story of a darkly magical school where you graduate or die
At Scholomance, magically gifted students must survive to graduate — and failure means death. There are no teachers, no breaks, and only two rules: don’t walk the halls alone, and beware of the monsters that lurk everywhere. El has no allies, just incredibly strong dark magic that could save her — but might kill all the other students. El’s evolution and hilarity during this story plus Novik’s thoughtful world-building and extremely diverse cast of characters are what make this a favorite.
Read if: you secretly identify as a Slytherin.
A fae-centered high fantasy
Ten years ago, Jude and her sisters were kidnapped after their parents’ murder and taken to the land of Faerie, where they are mortal humans amongst fantastical but cruel creatures. In order to belong, Jude must win a place in the high court which will require her to defy the youngest prince. The relationship dynamics here are intriguing, both between the sisters and between Jude and the prince. The world through which they navigate is dark, ruthless, and, yes, undeniably cruel. Holly Black (crowned the supreme Faerie-world writer) creates a world so real, you’ll forget its magic.
Read if: you’re intrigued by the idea of a life-threatening prank war.
A new duology of a world of enchanted injustice
There are two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those born with the ability to break them. Elise was born a spellbreaker but her gift is a crime. While on a mission to break the enchantments of aristocrats, Elise is discovered and must strike a bargain with an elite wizard to protect herself. The magic system in this isn’t overwhelming, as you dive directly into a plot where the world is revealed slowly. It’s a fun fantasy-mystery with plenty of twists and danger that’s sure to keep you intrigued.
Read if: you love Robin Hood-like vigilantes.
A tapestry of legends and rivalries
Told from four points of view, Queen Sabran IX must conceive a daughter, for the legends say that as long as a queen rules, the monster beneath the sea will sleep. But as the assassins close in, the eastern and western kingdoms of Virtudom refuse to unite, even against an ancient and monumental threat that could kill them all. This is 800 pages of high fantasy, charged by dragons, queer representation, and a large cast of characters — but don’t worry, you can find a glossary and character list in the back to help you keep it all straight. It’s been hailed as “A feminist successor to ‘The Lord of the Rings'” and decidedly embraces that praise.
Read if: you’re engrossed by high fantasy but wish the genre featured more strong women.