The Best Fantasy Books of All Time
It is never an easy task to define the best fantasy books of all time, but as true fantasy book geeks, we at Rank-it.ca have accepted the challenge and tried our best to provide you with a list of the best fantasy books ever published (so far) according to each type of reader.
From the sumptuous scenarios in the Lord of the Rings universe to the wizardly corners of Hogwarts, there is a wide array of fantasy books for you to explore in 2021. Some readers prefer medieval settings whereas others like to go full futuristic or even dystopian with their readings.
Taking all these narrative possibilities into consideration, it wouldn’t be fair to pick and judge all these books as if they were the same thing. Can you find any similarities between Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and American Gods by Neil Gaiman? Exactly, neither do we, even though both are under the same literary genre.
To organize all of these fantasy must-reads, we had to go through all the essential fantasy books and the greatest fantasy authors of all time. The more we researched it, the more we realized that we would have to select the best fantasy novels according to specific categories, genre and standards, as many of these top fantasy books couldn’t be compared together.
We have an epic journey ahead, so no more talking. Read on to find our complete guide on the best fantasy books ever written (as of 2021, of course).
Our top picks
How to find good fantasy books
People are different, and defining the fantasy books everyone should read will never be easy, but we are up for the challenge. That’s why we decided to set clear guidelines in case you want to search for it yourself.
- Cultural impact: Some may consider “cultural impact” too subjective. For us at Rank-it.ca, fantasy books with a strong cultural impact are the ones often mentioned in pop culture, such as TV shows, movies and even other books. When people make a Hermione or Frodo reference anywhere in the world, there’s always someone who is going to get that. Fantasy books with a notable cultural impact tend to have a mythical aura around them and strong iconography. From Funko POP toys to film adaptations, it’s easy to see which fantasy books made a huge cultural impact outside bookstores.
- Timelessness: Timeless stories are told for generations and generations, but they never get old. Some books stand the test of time whereas others don’t. Why do some novels published in the 50s are still more relevant (and read) than some books published in the 2000s? The reasons for that are complex and may include things such as originality, compelling storytelling, topic relevance, cultural impact, unique characters and much more.
- Goodreads reviews: In the digital age, anyone can be a critic. From Yelp to Google reviews, we can share our opinions anywhere, so it wouldn’t be fair not to consider Goodreads reviews. Goodreads is probably the world’s largest website for readers and book recommendations, and it’s possible to find millions of fantasy book reviews by users across the world.
- Critical reception: When it comes to books, what the critics say often matters. Although we just said anyone can be a critic, we want to make it clear that there’s a difference between online reviewers and professional critics. These professionals have dedicated years and years of their careers studying on how to analyze literature properly. This is not about putting art on a pedestal but recognizing the critics’ work.
- Sales numbers and popularity: Although commercial success and popularity could be under cultural impact, these can be totally different things. Money makes the world go round but it doesn’t work exactly like that for fantasy novels. How many #1 New York Times or Amazon Best Sellers you’ve come across in the past ten years that made little to no cultural impact? Popular fantasy novels are not necessarily cultural phenomena.
Why trust us
There’s a huge selection of fantasy books to read before you die. We’ve spent over 30 hours reviewing multiple novels and carefully researching the greatest fantasy authors of all time. We took into consideration trusted reviews from websites such as NPR and the New York Times, as well as reviews from top users on social networks and forums for book lovers.
Our review process is unbiased and data-backed but also includes our own personal views. Many of us here at Rank-it.ca love to read fantasy books, so our reading experience may sometimes affect how we rank and compare these novels.
How we picked the top fantasy books
Instead of choosing the best fantasy book overall, we thought it would be fairer to choose the top fantasy novels according to their genre, each type of reader, editorial niche, publication date and any other criteria that we saw fit.
We kept specific standards in mind when making these picks, including Goodreads reviews (we only selected fantasy books with more than 3-star reviews on average), critically acclaimed books (the critical reception from major media outlets, including The New Yorker, CBC, Washington Post and others), and the level of commercial success.
Best fantasy book for kids
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
When it comes to children’s literature, it is easy to see why The Jungle Book is a fan-favourite.
This collection of stories written by Rudyard Kipling is often pointed out as one of the best fantasy books for beginners due to its simple language and compelling storytelling. Both parents and teachers love how Mowgli’s adventures help kids to build confidence and learn the importance of friendship.
First published in 1894, the Jungle Book averages 4.4 stars out of five on Google Reviews, and most readers highlight how it is easy to understand, as well as how relatable the main characters are.
Best must-read fantasy book
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Only a few authors across history have managed to conquer what J. R. R. Tolkien has done with the Lord of the Rings novels. By creating a completely new, fantastic universe (the Middle-earth), Tolkien has set a new standard for writers and readers on how fantasy books should be.
Originally published in 1954, this epic fantasy novel redefined the fantasy literary genre and still influences many fantasy authors. It’s no wonder it collects an almost perfect score on many book review platforms, including Google and Goodreads.
Filled with hobbits, elves, wizards and goblins, the novel follows the story of Frodo Baggins, a young Hobbit who becomes the bearer for a centuries-old powerful ring. Frodo and his friends then need to face multiple obstacles (and when we say multiple that’s a euphemism) in order to destroy the ring once and for all and save their world from its destructive potential.
No quick summary will ever do justice to this marvellous fantasy book, and that’s why we picked this one as our must-read fantasy book — instead of sharing too much and giving you spoilers. Everyone should get a chance to explore the magnificent universe created by J. R. R. Tolkien.
Fun fact: The book got a major film adaptation in the early 2000s directed by Peter Jackson.
Best YA fantasy book
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Dark Is Rising book series by Susan Cooper was first published between 1965 and 1977. Since then, this five-book fantasy sequence has mesmerized millions of young readers across the globe for its brilliant characters and imaginative plot. At first, it all may seem simple: Three kids find an ancient map in a house and end up unlocking a fantastic, mysterious world.
When it comes to the critical reception, the Dark is Rising books are also considered some of the most relevant older children and young adult books of all time, even outside of the fantasy novel genre. The series has won many awards, including the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor.
The idea behind the novels is pretty straightforward: A battle between good (the Light) and evil (the Dark). However, the genius of Cooper lies in turning something so simple in a rich, five-book long series that mixes British folklore, Celtic stories, Arthurian legends and other mythologies.
Best romance YA fantasy book
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
The features that make a great YA fantasy book are quite different from what makes a great romance YA fantasy book. First of all, romance is obviously a key element here. Then there are the fantasy levels, the world in which the story is set, how romance plays a role in creating a conceivable plot, and how romantic love adds to the storytelling.
We could spend days picking the best romance YA fantasy book for each type of person, so we decided to stick to our favourite book under that subgenre published in the last 20 years or so: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.
Hush Hush is the first novel from the Hush, Hush quartet, which includes Crescendo (volume 2), Silence (volume 3) and Finale (volume 4). These books made waves in the early 2010s, and followed the story of Nora Grey, a teenager who lives in Maine and falls in love with a fallen angel called Patch.
These novels work almost like a coming-of-age series and cover many relevant topics for young adults, including depression, self-doubt, love, heritage and forgiveness.
Hush Hush was picked as one of the top 10 novels for teens by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) in 2010.
Best romance fantasy book
Little, Big: Or, The Fairies’ Parliament by John Crowley
Many wouldn’t consider Little, Big by John Crowley a romance fantasy book. Some would even call it a magical realism book. And that’s the main reason why we picked it as our favourite romance fantasy book. Nothing about John Crowley’s narrative is obvious. You can find anything here, from love to mystery, from realism to folklore.
Although set in a universe of fairies and other magical creatures, the characters from Little, Big are extremely human and complex just like everyone else. They love, fear, hate and express their feelings in unexpected ways.
Little, Big: Or, The Fairies’ Parliament won the World Fantasy Award in 1982, one year after being originally published. It didn’t take long until the book entered the Western canon as one of the most essential fantasy books ever written.
After its original publishing date around 40 years ago, the book keeps being published with multiple editions across the globe.
Best teen fantasy book
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The Artemis Fowl book series was a literary classic way before the Disney film adaptation in 2020.
Described by its author as “Die Hard with fairies”, this series of eight fantasy novels starts with Artemis Fowl, a 12-year-old genius who decides to kidnap a fairy in order to recover his father’s fortune.
His battle against fairies and the underground world starts after his father disappears without a trace, but he is not exactly the classic victim. During the early novels, Artemis Fowl is an antihero, if not a villain, but as things change and the character evolves, we start to learn that he isn’t that bad.
The Artemis Fowl novels have sold millions of copies since 2001 and collect multiple prizes and awards, which is no surprise – these books are remarkable and fun to read while including many crucial themes for our society, such as greed, power and ethics.
Picking this book as our favourite title for teenagers wasn’t an easy choice. We think this series would be ideal for older children and younger teenagers, as it may sound too mature for young kids and too childish for older teenagers or young adults at times.
Best Fantasy Book Series
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
A group of children in rural England discover a wardrobe that leads to a magical world with a talking Lion and an evil witch. You’ve heard that before, right? That’s because the Chronicles of Narnia book series is one of the best-selling, most-awarded and talked-about fantasy book series of all time.
The first novel, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, was first published in 1950 with tremendous worldwide success. The Chronicles of Narnia has been adapted to multiple platforms since then, including film, plays and radio.
The Chronicles of Narnia turned C. S. Lewis into one of the greatest authors of all time. Critics often highlight the novels’ deeper meanings and their connection to older mythologies and even belief systems, including Christianity, Irish folklore, Dante’s Divine Comedy and cosmology.
Although we consider the Lord of the Rings the best must-read fantasy book, we think no other fantasy book series has enchanted readers as much as the Chronicle of Narnia books.
In case you want to start with the Chronicles of Narnia books but don’t know where to start, here’s the reading order for these novels.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Silver Chair
- The Horse and His Boy
- The Magician’s Nephew
- The Last Battle
Fun fact: C. S. Lewis and Tolkien had a complicated relationship. Although they were friends and Catholics, they often had conflicting views on their literature, Christian faith and lifestyles.
Best Fantasy Book Series for Adults
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
This 205-pages book was originally advertised as a children’s fantasy book, but as people started reading and talking about it, A Wizard of Earthsea became one of the most important works of literature for adults ever created.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s work is most notable for avoiding the clichés we are used to finding on fantasy books for adults. Although there are magical duels, fantastic creatures and dragons here, this is an introspective fantasy novel. You won’t find a lot of action and fights. This is about the journey and the richness of the fantastic world created by the author.
In A Wizard of Earthsea, we get to know Ged, a strong young sorcerer who faces multiple challenges in order to bring peace back to his world. And when we say multiple challenges, we mean a shadow creature, a powerful dragon and other scary beasts.
The Wizard of Earthsea is often picked as one of the best coming-of-age novels of the 20th century and will appease to young adult readers looking for a good Bildungsroman.
Best Fantasy Book with Fights
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire series)
The Game of Thrones book series doesn’t necessarily require a full introduction. If you were anywhere on Planet Earth from 2011 to 2019, you’ve probably heard about it, thanks to the HBO TV show adaptation, which was one of the most colossal cultural happenings of the past decade, if not ever.
Even if you’ve never watched it or read the A Song of Ice and Fire books, you’ve probably heard about Jon Snow, the Targaryen or the Stark family.
The recipe behind this book series’ success is George R. R. Martin’s compelling writing and storytelling. At first, the plot seems quite simple: Nine powerful families declare war against each other in order to fight for the throne of Westeros. But things get each time more complicated as ancient creatures return to destroy everything they can.
No one is safe in A Game of Thrones. In a world of dragons, kings, knights, centuries-old ice creatures and families that would perplex even Freud, these characters can’t trust even their own shadow.
If you like a good fight, the Game of Thrones books contain more punches and kicks than any UFC championship. Of course, there’s a lot of magic, romance, adventures and mystery as well — we don’t want to reduce this great book series to simply novels with punches and sword fights. Still, believe us, you will find many, many fights here.
Best Weird Fantasy Book
Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Starting with its name, it’s not that hard to understand why we picked Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein as our top weird fantasy book.
This strange yet marvellous novel was first published back in 1961, eight years before humankind first landed on the Moon. At that time, we were at the height of our obsession with rocket ships, spatial exploration and extraterrestrial life.
Such a scenario made Robert A. Heinlein’s book even more special. While everyone was paying attention to outer space, the author created a work that looked back at Earth and its strangeness with a magnifying glass.
Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human born and raised on Mars. His life changes completely when he lands on Earth as an adult and needs to learn and adapt to life on Earth. The author uses the main character’s cultural shock to make us reflect on our ways of living and the often unnoticed absurd in our day-to-day life.
In 2012, the United States’ Library of Congress added Stranger in a Strange Land to their list of Books that Shaped America.
Best Gothic Fantasy Book
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Does Dracula need any introduction at this point? First published in 1897, this is one of the most popular Gothic books of all time, and has turned its main character into one of the most famous characters in literary history.
Bram Stoker’s novel established plenty of what we call vampire fantasy or vampire books; needless to mention its influence on many other literary genres and subgenres, including horror, gothic and fantasy literature.
Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula, a vampire and noble from Transylvania who is secretly looking for new victims. When Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer, goes to his castle to seal a commercial deal with the Count, Dracula sees the picture of Mina, Harker’s fiancée and the spitting image of Dracula’s dead wife. That’s when the mysterious Count becomes obsessed about Mina and decides to keep Jonathan Harker as a prisoner in his castle.
Although we could expand much more on the plot, Dracula’s uniqueness comes from its epistolary format, which uses letters, newspaper articles and fictional documents to reveal the story. These clippings help both the narrator and the reader to fit the pieces together and see the bigger picture: Bram Stoker’s astonishing storytelling.
Best Sci-Fi Fantasy Book
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune by Frank Herbert was a thing way before Timothée Chalamet and Denis Villeneuve.
This science-fiction novel was originally published in 1965 and it became one of the most awarded fantasy books ever.
But this is not only about the critics. Readers also love this book. Dune has an average of 4.8 stars on Google Reviews and 4.2 stars on Goodreads (and more than 700,000 ratings). Most readers and reviewers highlight how timeless Herbert’s narrative is. People also like how this book is political without being too obvious or naive.
Dune starts with Paul Atreides, a young royal with the mission of commanding a world where the most valuable commodity is a drug capable of extending life and other scientific miracles.
Although this is a science-fiction book, many of the topics we’ve been discussing more broadly as a society for the past few years were already part of Dune’s universe, including climate change, religion, the politics of power and colonialism.
Best Fantasy Book for a Book Club
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
There are some checkboxes we need to mark in order to have the perfect book for a book club:
- Trying to keep books under a certain length.
- Books that will generate good discussions.
- Books with multiple layers.
- Engaging books — if people are going to read something they didn’t choose, let’s make it enjoyable.
- Avoid books that demand too much attention from the reader.
- It’s not a good idea to pick fan-favourites.
With that being said, we think The Magicians by Lev Grossman is one of the best fantasy books for a book club. Although this is already a fan-favourite for many, The Magicians was originally published in 2009. So, it still doesn’t have a huge following such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, meaning you have higher chances of organizing a peaceful book club.
Speaking of Harry Potter, it’s impossible to ignore some of the similarities between The Magicians and J.K. Rowling’s novel series. Lev Grossman’s book starts with Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior in New York who discovers and attends a secret college of magic.
Comparisons aside, one of The Magicians’ main attributes is its originality. Although you may initially feel like you’ve heard it all before, the more you get into the story, the more you notice how Lev Grossman found creative ways of telling a unique story.
Best Fun Fantasy Book
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
The comic relief is an important part of many fantasy books. It usually removes a bit of the heaviness of some passages and adds more emotional layers to the novel as a work of art.
When it comes to comedy, no one has made it like Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book series. It’s safe to affirm that this is the most popular comedy fantasy book of all time, and it does keep up to the hype.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio show broadcast on BBC in 1978. Since then, it has been adapted into multiple formats, including plays, novels, movies and even a video game. All of them with the perfect proportion of cheesiness and geniality.
The books follow the adventures of Arthur Dent, the last human on Earth. After being rescued by a human-like alien, Dent learns more about Earth’s destruction and how to explore the Galaxy by hitchhiking onto a passing spacecraft.
Top science fiction book
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Film adaptations can make books much more popular, but they can also harm their reputation when filmgoers, in general, don’t like the movie.
Just because I, Robot, the movie, is a rotten tomato on Rotten Tomatoes, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give I, Robot by Isaac Asimov a try. That’s actually the opposite: if you have any plans of exploring the I, Robot universe, please go with the book. You won’t regret it.
I, Robot is a classic science fiction masterpiece that makes us question the meaning of existence and the limits of what we consider life.
In terms of a literary voice, I, Robot is as revolutionary as its plot. The book is a combination of multiple short stories that present a much bigger picture when read altogether.
Each of these short stories, which can be read as separate texts, are usually interviews with the fictional character Dr. Susan Calvin on humans, robots and high technology in the 21st century.
Best Dark Fantasy Book
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
There’s not a better description for Coraline than a dark fantasy book. This Neil Gaiman novella contains the perfect proportion of darkness and fantasy. Finding dark fantasy books — and picking one of them as the best one — was probably one of the hardest choices in this entire list.
There’s a thin line between horror and dark books, but these two genres are quite different. We wanted to make sure we would find something that is dark, but not too scary or too explicit.
The more we researched, the more we noticed that successful dark fantasy books are the ones that include obscure themes and have a share of tenebrosity without embracing full horror.
Published in 2002, Coraline is a critically acclaimed dark fantasy novella by Neil Gaiman. Since its publication, this book has been awarded multiple times, including the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers.
Although this is officially categorized as a children’s book, it is creepy, thrilling and brilliantly awkward enough for anyone to love it.
Best horror fantasy book
Horns by Joe Hill
When it comes to horror, we think no other book compares to The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. This is not only one of the most haunting and unsettling books ever published, but also one of the best literary works ever created.
Still, it wouldn’t be fair to pick The Exorcist as our favourite horror fantasy book. This is horror at its best, but not fantasy.
For our best horror fantasy book pick, we wanted to make sure we were within the fantasy book genre in the first place. So, we had strict standards in mind, including: (1) a scary book, (2) a story with strong fantasy elements, and (3) dark and/or supernatural themes.
After hours of researching and revisiting our bookshelves, we picked Horns by Joel Hill as the best horror fantasy book. This 2010 novel includes many elements of fantasy, horror fiction, crime fiction and supernatural fiction.
This horror book tells the story of Ig Perrish, a twenty-six-year-old who, after his girlfriend’s death, wakes up one day and notices horns growing from his head, as well as discovers he now has diabolical powers.
The book is separated into five parts called Hell, Cherry, The Fire Sermon, The Fixer and The Gospel According to Mick and Keith. These titles are quite a good summary of the book’s devilish, salty and shocking plot.
Best fantasy book for 7th graders
Animal Farm by George Orwell
In many aspects, 7th grade represents an awakening. We don’t feel like kids anymore but also don’t feel like teenagers. This is not elementary school, but this isn’t high school either. There is a constant feeling of in–betweenness that follows 7th graders everywhere, which can make a single school day feel like an emotional rollercoaster.
When picking the ideal fantasy book for 7th graders, our main concern was finding that one book that would represent this ambivalence. That’s why we chose Animal Farm by George Orwell for this category.
Some would consider this an obvious choice as many of us actually read Animal Farm during 7th grade, but this 1945 novella perfectly captures that ambivalent feeling. It couldn’t be more simultaneously fantastic and real.
This allegorical book tells the story of a group of farm animals, including horses, goats and pigs, who start a revolution against farmers. They advocate for equality, quality of life and free will.
Animal Farm has been categorized as many genres and subgenres, including fantasy, allegory, political fiction, magical realism and Dystopian fantasy.
Best short fantasy book
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
At some point, all fantasy book lovers face this issue: Fantasy books are usually huge!
If you’ve been busy and can’t find the time to read a long book, finding a short fantasy book can be quite a challenge.
When we decided to create this list of books, one of the first categories that came to mind was short fantasy books. Yes, I know, that’s not even a proper category, but we do know the feeling of wanting to read a book and not having enough time for that.
If you’ve been busy but still want to keep yourself connected to literature, we think you will have a great time reading The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.
This 200-pages book is fun to read, engaging and it is considered one of the best fantasy books of all time. If you’re a fast reader, you will finish reading this book in no longer than a couple of weeks.
The Last Unicorn tells the story of a unicorn in a magical land who believes she is the last of her kind. Most of the book is about her journey trying to figure out what happened to the other unicorns, and the quest for belonging in a lonely world.
This is a beautifully written, imaginative novel that will keep you interested and will definitely be a light read.
Best fantasy book in the last 30 years
The Harry Potter Novels by J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter book series doesn’t need any introductions. If you like fantasy books and were anywhere in the world for the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard about it.
This is one of the best-selling book series of all time. It resulted in a multi-billion–dollar empire that includes theme parks, plays, toys, books, Halloween costumes, movies, film parodies, RPG games, video games, and, yes, even cigarette cases.
The story of the eleven-year-old orphan who discovers that he is a wizard and enters a world of magic is more than well known. However, if you haven’t read the Harry Potter books yet, one of the most compelling things about this series lies in its sense of humour, the cinematic narrative and how readers get attached to characters.
Reading Harry Potter as a kid or in the early teenage years is an enchanting experience (no pun intended!). It makes you feel like you’re growing with Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville, and it may teach you many lessons, including the power of loyalty and friendship.
We do think no other fantasy book series published in the last 30 years has created such a rich, fantastic world as Harry Potter.
Extra tip: If you are arriving at the party now, here’s the reading order from book one to seven:
- 1) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you’re in the UK)
- 2) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- 3) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- 4) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- 5) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- 6) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- 7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Best fantasy book with magic and romance
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Practical Magic is the perfect book for anyone looking for the right proportion of magic and romance.
This book was a hit in the 90s, especially because of the film adaptation with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Since then, Practical Magic has turned into a cult classic. This is not the most popular fantasy book with magic and romance, but it’s definitely one of the best.
The book tells the story of the Owens sisters, Gillian and Sally, who come from a family of witches in a small town in Massachusetts. As they grow, the two sisters try to distance themselves away from their heritage and live a normal life.
After years of trying to avoid their fate as part of a family of witches, they learn that some bonds are stronger than they imagined, and that “normal” doesn’t always mean a good thing.
This is a quick read with plenty of meaning, and it won’t disappoint readers looking for magic and romance.
Best fantasy book with books
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
If you’re looking to go full meta, you can find many fantasy books about books. But only a few of those work as well as Inkheart, which is the first book of the Inkheart trilogy created by Cornelia Funke.
First published in 2003, Inkheart is one of those special fantasy books that will appeal to all ages. Both children and adults will love this book, even though for different reasons.
Considered a literary Jumanji by many readers, these books go way beyond the monster book plot. Inkheart follows the story of Mo, a man who is able to bring literary characters to life. Ten years after letting Capricorn, an evil character, come to life in the real world, Mo, his daughter and one of her friends, go in a quest to send the villain back to the pages of a book only.
Filled with magic, literary references, plot twists and action, we definitely recommend Inkheart for those of you who want to read books about books.
Fantasy adventure books for 12-year-olds
Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson & the Olympians was probably the most successful children’s fantasy novel series in the 2000s after Harry Potter. The series has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and has even survived that questionable 2010 film adaptation, which even Rick Riordan has complained about on his official blog.
Contrary to its film adaptation, Percy Jackson & the Olympians was well received by the critics for its accurate Greek mythology references and a captivating plot.
The first book of the series, The Lightning Thief, follows the story of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year-old in New York who discovers he is a demigod and son of Poseidon. Such a discovery leads Percy to a whole new world filled with Greek gods, titans and mythical creatures.
As Percy explores this new life in Camp Half-Blood, where all the demigods go to learn about their heritage, we as readers get more attached to each character and their journeys.
Best fantasy book of the 20th century
The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
Yes, it certainly was tempting to add The Lord of the Rings here, but we are committed to not repeating the novels under each category.
With Tolkien out of the game for this category, there were only a few viable options for this noble category, and one of them is The King of Elfland’s Daughter, which is one of the most influential fantasy novels of all time.
Fantasy writers across the globe, including Neil Gaiman and horror master H.P. Lovecraft, have pointed out Lord Dunsany’s work as a milestone in fantasy literature.
For us, the interesting thing about The King of Elfland’s Daughter is that it catches the attention of different types of readers at the same time.
If you like plot-oriented narratives with fairies, elves, and magic, this novel will be a feast. But if you simply are on a quest for the most important literary works of the 20th century, you will also find several reasons why you should read this book.
Best fantasy book for 6th graders
Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams was first published in 2005 as The Highfield Mole but got re-published two years later by Chicken House. More than 15 years later, Tunnels has become a cult classic, with thousands of dedicated followers across the globe and many internet theories surrounding the novel.
We chose the Tunnels series (a total of six books) as our fantasy book pick for 6th graders because it combines two of the most important things in a fantasy novel for readers in this stage of life: fantastic fun and charismatic characters.
For parents and teachers, this may sound like a simple pick. And yes, there’s nothing mind-blowing with the story of a 14-year-old who discovers a fantastic, subterranean society. However, the book’s main treasure for a 6th grader lies in its interesting character construction. Although there are clear villains and heroes, we learn with Tunnels that there’s no such thing as pure evil or pure good. People are way more complex than that, be it real life or in literature.
Tunnels book series reading order:
Best fantasy books about witchcraft
Lives of the Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice
Anne Rice is the mastermind behind some of literature’s most brilliant horror fantasy books.
Way before deciding that we were going to have a category dedicated to books about witchcraft, we knew that the Lives of the Mayfair Witches series was going to be part of this article at some point.
This Gothic trilogy, which includes The Witching Hour (1990), Lasher (1993) and Taltos (1994), is heavy, complex, lengthy, and it covers many sensitive themes, including incest, corruption and mortality.
This book saga follows the story of a family of witches that has been guided for centuries by a strong spirit called Lasher. These novels are intriguing, awkward, and memorable. They talk about how being a witch can be a blessing and a curse at the same time, as well as how family ties can define part of who you are.
If you like stories about witches not only for the glamour often attached to these magical characters but also for their duality, this is probably the best book about witchcraft ever published.
NOTE: This trilogy may not be ideal for readers under 18, as it contains explicit violence and sensitive, adult content.
Best fantasy book in the last 5 years
The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
The Changeling by Victor Lavalle is a breath of fresh air for fantastic literature. It is modern, magical, political, and genre-defying without sounding fabricated.
As an author, Lavalle has excelled where many others fell short: creating a good fantasy book that also works as a social critique. In the age of “woke” works of art, it was amazing to read a novel that doesn’t try too hard to teach you a lesson. Yes, as a reader, you will learn many lessons on racism, class, immigration, parenthood, and masculinity. However, The Changeling gives the reader room to read, digest, and come up with their own conclusions through empathy and great storytelling.
The book follows the story of Apollo Kagawa, a man who embarks on a journey in an enchanted world to find his wife who has vanished into thin air some days after giving birth to their first child.
As Apollo explores the magical streets of New York, we dive into a world of fairies, urban life, horror, and even romance. At times, it feels familiar, and at other times it seems scary and otherworldly.
Best fantasy book in the last 10 years
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim has been advertised based on a curious premise. All literature blogs and booksellers would say the same thing: This is Project Runaway meets Mulan!
If you can’t imagine how this combination could be possible, here’s a summary: the book follows the story of Maia, a talented female tailor who pretends to be a boy in order to join a competition for the role of imperial tailor.
Like Victor Lavalle’s work, Lim is part of this new generation of authors who are redefining the fantasy novel genre by bringing unexpected themes together in the fantastic literature universe, such as fashion, sexism, and race.
Spin the Dawn is an amazing book with the right amount of adventure and fun. Although it is 418 pages long, it won’t take you longer than a few days to devour this novel, especially if you’re an avid reader.
It is also worth mentioning Elizabeth Lim’s superb research on fashion, tapestry, imperial clothing and the craft of a tailor.
Best classic fantasy book
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It would be impossible to come up with a list of the best fantasy books of all time without mentioning Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This 1818 novel is a literary staple not only within the fantasy genre but also for most authors and readers.
This is one of those must-read books that most of us come across at some point in life, whether at school or anywhere else. Frankenstein is such an iconic character and has achieved icon status over time. Even if you have never read Mary Shelley’s stories, you have probably seen or heard a Frankenstein reference somewhere.
The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, an ambitious scientist who creates a human-like creature by trying quite unconventional scientific methods. However, don’t let this simple summary fool you. Frankenstein is much more than just its storyline.
This is a truly beautiful work of art that touches on life, death and the limitations of our mortal nature.
Best military science fiction book
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Every time we update this list with new books, we receive avid comments asking why the hell The Forever Was isn’t on our list yet. Although we already had plans to mention it here, we thought it was time to listen to the voice of reason and finally comment why we think Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel is our favourite military science fiction book.
First of all, although this is quite a popular subgenre, we are not 100% sure of how we feel about military science fiction novels. Many of these novels do not always use the fantasy genre characteristics the best way and they often lack the charm we all love about fantasy books. It’s simply not enough to have sword fights and gunshots every five minutes to keep readers interested.
That’s why we love The Forever War so much. Although this is an action-packed book, it gives room for the characters, and the story itself, to develop. Readers get to know each character so well that they actually care when the protagonists are going to war.
As readers, we need room to breathe and reflect on the story while reading it, even when it comes to fantasy books. That’s why The Forever War is probably the best fantasy book with soldiers that you will ever read.
Best inspirational fantasy book
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Is there anything still left to say on the Little Prince?
This little novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of the most translated books of all time. It has inspired both children and adults, and it keeps being republished and adapted into other platforms, such as TV, film and even theatre.
In case you haven’t read The Little Prince before, we don’t want to spoil it too much for you, as the storyline and the message behind it are quite intertwined.
However, we can definitely say this could be a touching experience if you’re looking for an inspirational book that will teach you many lessons on cherishing what we have, how our relationships shape us, and the internal battle we all face to become who we are.
Best fantasy books for 5th graders
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
With so many linear and traditionally structured children’s books out there, it is always good to remember that Lewis Caroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.
This book is the true example of how kids can be challenged as readers and don’t need to stick to easy, watered-down children’s books only.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is probably the most critically acclaimed children’s book of all time, so it doesn’t require any more praise from anyone, including us. Still, we feel like it’s our duty to remind you again of how fascinating, nonsense and thrilling this book is.
5th graders will love the story of a girl who falls into a rabbit hole and finds an underworld of fantastic creatures. And we wouldn’t be surprised if teachers and parents reading along would get equally fascinated all over again.
Best fantasy book in the last 20 years
The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch
Although we love the good old fantasy classics, we also love when a book is compelling enough to become an instant classic. That’s exactly why we think The Lies of Lock Lamora is the best fantasy book of the last 20 years. And we even dare to say one of our top 20 fantasy novels of all time.
First published in 2006, this Scott Lynch book was the first volume of the Gentleman Bastard series, and it left critics in awe for its combination of traditional fantasy elements and innovative writing.
Enigmatic and ambiguous protagonists have always been some of fantasy literature’s favourites, but Locke Lamora really pushes that to a whole new level of uncertainty. This is probably the most unreliable protagonist since Bentinho from Machado de Assis’ Dom Casmurro. There’s no room here for simple dichotomies such as good vs bad. Locke Lamora and the Gentleman Bastards are robbers, heroes, gangsters and honourable characters all at the same time.
Gentleman Bastard book sequence reading order:
Best urban fantasy book
The Dark Tower books by Stephen King
Stephen King is one of the most well-known masters of horror, but that didn’t stop him from writing classics under other genres such as dark and urban fantasy. The Dark Tower book series is a great reminder in that sense.
With eight volumes, this book sequence is genre-defying while being linked to many of King’s other works. It contains elements of the Old American Western but in a feudal organization. It has an urban, futuristic feeling while being in a world analogue of King Arthur.
From gunslingers to vampires, from deserts to New York City, you won’t be bored with this one, especially if you’re looking for an urban fantasy book with a vibrant pace. Although these are huge books (and there are eight of them plus a short story!), you can complete the entire series in a few months, depending on how quickly you read and how much time you have.
Extra tip: If you don’t have the time to read the entire book sequence for now but are still interested in the Dark Tower universe, you could maybe start watching the film adaptation released in 2017. As of early 2021, the movie has a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but some fans really like it (at least that’s what people say on Reddit!).
Best epic fantasy book
The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
The Kingkiller Chronicle, or KKC if you prefer, is one of the most popular fantasy books in decades. This book series is already considered an epic fantasy masterpiece and has inspired readers across the globe. The two released books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide so far.
Fans have been reading the first two books back-to-back for some years now as they wait for the third chapter of the trilogy, The Doors of Stone, which hasn’t been published yet.
For Kingkiller Chronicle, author Patrick Rothfuss tried a risky yet brilliant approach for a fantasy book. The entire series is a summary of a three-day-long conversation in which Kvothe, the protagonist, tells his story to Chronicler. In a metafictional structure, Kvothe invites readers to get to know his biography and learn about his adventures as a musician, sword fighter and an intellectual in a magical world of supernatural creatures and wizards.
The Kingkiller Chronicle books have everything you look for in an epic fantasy book while sounding completely fresh. Most of the fantasy elements and creatures we all love are there, but these never appear in a cliché or conventional way.
Both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear do a great job mixing settings and time periods in order to create a unique universe. You will find elements from the Middle Ages but also Gothic architecture, relatively modern technology, and alchemy from different time periods.
Books in the series:
FULL LIST COMING SOON!
Frequent fantasy book questions
What is a fantasy book?
Fantasy fiction is a literary genre set in a fictional world with elements of fantasy. A fictional universe is not necessarily a fantasy one. Some of the most realistic sounding stories, such as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or Alice Munro’s short stories, are fiction. Fantasy books have a common structure, often called the elements of fantasy, which include but are not limited to:
- A magic, extraterrestrial or supernatural system and happenings.
- Fantastic or mythological creatures.
- A unique or fictional universe.
- Complex main characters.
- An epic journey full of obstacles.
- Good vs evil plots.
- Coming of age, forbidden love and the unlikely hero are often present.
High fantasy vs low fantasy: What’s the difference?
High fantasy and low fantasy are two sub-genres of fantasy literature. Although these two share many of the basic elements of fantasy, they have clear differences. High fantasy and low fantasy are not about quality, they just specify the levels of fantasy in a book.
Low-fantasy books are usually set in the real world. These books also include magical creatures and systems, but they are placed in the world as we know. Think of Harry Potter’s adventures in London (not Hogwarts!) or Percy Jackson’s battle with a harpy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York.
High fantasy books are set in a fictional, fantastic world. High fantasy novels can contain more or fewer elements of fantasy, but they will never be placed in a world exactly like the one we see on day-to-day life. The most well-known high fantasy novel ever written is probably J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Another very popular high fantasy book is Sabriel by Garth Nix, which is set in two fictional countries: Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom.
Where to start with fantasy books? The Best Fantasy Books for Beginners
When it comes to fantasy books, the beginner reader is quite a broad idea. Are we talking about kids, young adults, experienced readers, new readers? For our beginner’s guide, we considered the average reader a young adult with some reading experience.
In this scenario, there are two main things to take into consideration: The classics of the fantasy genre (the staples of this literary genre) and the complexity of these books — we assume beginners will prefer to start with more simple narratives and fantastic worlds. So, here’s our list of the best fantasy novels for beginners:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
- The His Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman
- Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
What is the best-selling fantasy book of all time?
While Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered the best-selling book of all time, there’s no consensus on the best-selling fantasy books, as each country has its own metrics and ranking criteria. However, it is safe to affirm that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are the best-selling fantasy books of all time.
What’s the importance of fantasy literature?
To anyone who thinks fantasy books are less important than other literary genres or a waste of time in such a practical world, here’s a quote from one of the greatest genius the world has ever produced, Albert Einstein:
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
Fantasy can be a major creativity booster. Fantastic worlds and narratives stimulate our imagination and make us more adaptable, inventive and clever. In a world that requires each time more out-of-the-box thinking, fantasy books can help us to see things from a different perspective.
There’s also a more subjective (yet not out of touch) aspect of fantasy literature, which is learning how to face obstacles. Although magical and otherworldly, these stories hold a lot of connection with daily life in general. Fantasy book heroes and their epic journeys often teach us many lessons on difficulty, loss, resilience, friendship, bravery and loyalty.
In an article for Wired magazine called “Why Fantasy Matters”, American author R. L. Lafevers also mentions the power of fantasy in helping young readers to face issues and ideas that would normally be too overwhelming or shocking in the real world.
What fantasy books should I read?
There are no rights or wrongs. Fantasy books can be completely different in format, topics, moods and sub-genres. Our two cents would be finding a fantasy book that is somewhat similar to your usual taste for books. If you don’t like medieval stories, maybe you should start with a fantasy novel set in a more contemporary universe.
Another suggestion would be to start with the classics and most popular ones, as they are usually less complex and thus friendlier with beginners. You will also find more resources and comments available on these, in case you want to learn more about them. For more information on how to start with fantasy books or how to pick the right one, scroll up for specific tips.
Why fantasy books are so popular?
People will have different answers to that. Some will say it’s because of film adaptations, others will point out the electrifying, engaging narratives. We like to believe fantasy books are so popular because people are imaginative, creative explorers. We like to read about other experiences and imagine different possibilities. Day-to-day life is not enough for our imagination, so fantasy books work as a good source of escapism. At the same time, these novels often use magical stories to highlight things from our own world that we’ve never thought about before.
How to write fantasy books?
Authors may have completely contrasting views on how to become a fantasy writer, but the vast majority agree about one thing: read, read and read more. The more you read, the better writer you are.
From the oldest classics to the latest releases, from the best-selling authors to the hidden gems, reading a wide range of fantasy books will provide you with a rich background and the essential techniques, ideas and resources you probably wouldn’t be able to come across by yourself.
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