1. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
It’s not an understatement to say that this is the very best fantasy series currently underway. It’s only two books in at the moment (well, two and a half), so it’s a perfect time to jump in and get started. A rich and compelling story of a brilliant young man’s rise to become a legendary magician, framed by a present where he is middle-aged and seemingly powerless.
2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
Another series that only has two books so far, so now’s the time to get involved. The one issue is that they’re BIG books, so the two Stormlight Archives feel more like four books. Luckily, they’re incredible, so you’ll tear through them. RIYL: really big swords, sorcery, and massive battle sequences.
3. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
5. The Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks
Solid fantasy books with an intricate and fascinating system of magic. A little bit like how the power rings work in the Green Lantern comic books, except set in a fantasy world.
6. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Classic storybook fantasy full of witches, magic animal companions, and badass polar bears covered in armor. These books skew a little younger, but are still fun to read for adults as well.
7. Discworld by Terry Pratchett
8. The First Law by Joe Abercrombie
9. The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks
Elves, Dark Lords, and quests to retrieve mythical swords in order to vanquish said Dark Lords. These are classic, epic fantasy books that feel an awful lot like the Lord of the Rings series at times, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Lord of the Rings books are, after all, very, very good indeed.
10. Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett
A “hero’s journey” told through several protagonists and settings. As its name implies, the Demon Cycle exists in a complex and fascinating world where humans and demons are forced to live at constant odds with one another, and explores what happens when humans finally take a stand.
11. The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
Set in a world akin to northwestern Europe, and with royalty disguised as commoners, talkative ghosts, and star-crossed lovers, The Riddle Master Trilogy feels a bit like a contemporary fantasy equivalent to some of Shakespeare’s stories. (But with shape-shifting monsters, magic, and, yes, lots of riddles.)
12. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
13. Gentlemen Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch
14. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
A vividly imagined world where gods are slaves and nothing is as it seems. Author N.K. Jemisin deftly subverts all the old fantasy tropes in the course of creating a beautiful, rich world full of intriguing characters and dazzling moments that will leave you wanting more.
15. Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Epic tales of the sea and pirate stories...except all the ships are magical and sentient and sort of have minds of their own at times. The thinking “liveships” carry with them generations of collected wisdom and often have as much rich characterization as the human characters aboard them.
16. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
You’ve probably never heard of these little-known books from British author J.K. Rowling. But this well-kept secret is actually a wonderful series of books that deserves much more recognition than it gets. OK, let’s be real: If you are the one person who hasn’t read these yet, just do yourself a favor. Read them now. Right now. No more excuses.
17. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind
18. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Like reading the Bible, if the Bible was set in a fantasy universe. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but the books are pretty heavy on the Christian allegory. The seven novels (the reading order of which is a little controversial) are shorter than standard fantasy books, and written for younger readers, so they’re incredibly fun, easy to get through, and definitely worth picking up if you had the extreme misfortune of not reading these as a child.
19. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin
A classic of the genre from one of its all-time masters, Ursula K. LeGuin. The Earthsea saga confronts the great themes of life and death with its wonderful cast of magicians, priestesses, and dragons. Elegiac in tone and epic in scope, the books in this series will make you think and grow as you delight in the adventures of its characters.
20. The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay
21. Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan
22. The Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence
A little more adult than many of the selections on this list, the Broken Empire series is aimed at the cynical fantasy fan. The world in which these books take place is violent and brutal, and their protagonist is not particularly sympathetic. This series feels a bit like a fantasy story told from the perspective of the vile and power-hungry evil king who would usually play the part of the villain.
23. A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan
An exuberant twist on some standard dark fantasy tropes, A Land Fit For Heroes is almost gleeful in its violence, sexual themes, and cynical outlook. Author Richard K. Morgan brings some of his science fiction chops (see in particular the brilliant Takeshi Kovacs novels) to add color to a fantasy world full of magic, destiny, and so, so, so much violence. Also, the hero is gay, which is a refreshing change.
24. Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
Part romance novel, part historical fiction, part fantasy, the Outlander series takes the best parts of each genre and makes its own unique narrative, which begins with a 20th-century nurse who’s mysteriously time-warped to 18th-century Scotland. These books are full of intrigue and romance and are extremely readable, and also feature a female protagonist, which is rarer than it should be for fantasy novels.
25. The Wheel Of Time by Robert Jordan
26. Malazan Book Of The Fallen by Steven Erikson
“Epic” doesn’t even really begin to describe this 10-volume series, with its sweeping plot, its multiple storylines, and its intricate, ambitious world-building. This is the War and Peace of high fantasy literature, but obviously way better, because it has assassins, magic, and dragons – three things Tolstoy never thought to include in his magnum opus, to his great detriment and (presumably) lasting regret.
27. The Black Company by Glen Cook
You won’t read a review of The Black Company without seeing the word “gritty,” and that’s because Glen Cook basically singlehandedly brought the idea into the world of fantasy. Follow the adventures of this morally questionable group of mercenaries as they hack their way through a dark, war-torn world full of death, misery, and, occasionally, a chance at redemption.
28. Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks
29. The Chronicles Of Amber by Roger Zelazny
A man wakes up in a hospital with no idea of how he got there. His attempts to find out lead him through a series of other worlds and into a tumultuous confrontation with the members of his family who rule over the one true world.
30. The Avalon Series by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Mists of Avalon and its decades-spanning series of sequels and prequels all tell the familiar tale of the Arthurian legend, but with characters such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table playing secondary roles. Instead, the series follows the lives of the women in Arthur’s court, and explores the Matter of Britain from a more feminist perspective.
31. The Merlin Quintet by Mary Stewart
32. The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore
33. The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
Elric VIII, the 428th Sorcerer Emperor of Melniboné, is a weak and frail introvert. But his sword, Stormbringer, is anything but. It brings Elric the strength he needs to survive, at a cost: It feeds on the souls of its prey. Michael Moorcock’s subversion of what he saw as the tired tropes of fantasy established by Tolkien and others make for a powerful read that is, to this day, a seminal influence on the genre.
34. Redwall by Brian Jacques
Redwall is a fantasy series for older children set in a world full of talking animals. The 22 books span centuries within the world, with some familiar characters from earlier books returning only as legends in later books. Despite being a childrens’ series, the world of Redwall is rich and complex, and it manages to be engaging despite the expansive nature of the books.
35. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
For anyone who ever felt that the Napoleonic wars were all well and good but didn’t have nearly enough dragons, this fun and compulsively readable series will permanently fix that problem. This is basically Hornblower meets Dragonriders of Pern, and it’s a perfect combination. Naomi Novik is a true delight to read, and you should also check out her excellent new novel, Uprooted.
36. Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
37. The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan
38. Prince Of Nothing by R. Scott Bakker
On the surface, the Prince Of Nothing novels are everything you’d expect from well-written fantasy novels: a good magic system, a full and complex world, and well-rounded characters. But anyone who took a Philosophy 101 class will recognize some key principles of academic philosophy and human psychology at play, which makes for a challenging yet interesting read.
39. Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
40. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson
41. The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
42. The Once And Future King by T.H. White
Published in the ‘50s by T.H. White, The Once And Future King has gone on to be an enduring classic, and it still stands out as the very best reimagining of the Arthurian legend for a modern audience. Psychologically complex and at times devastating, this five-book series is rightly considered one of the very best fantasies ever written.
43. The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
44. The Gormenghast Series by Mervyn Peake
A gothic fantasy that looms imposingly in its influence on some of the later masters of the genre, Mervyn Peake’s deeply weird but masterfully written Gormenghast series is often described more as a “fantasy of manners” than a heroic fantasy in the style of Tolkien. These are books of castle intrigue, romance, madness, and grotesque, brilliant imagination. You’d want Guillermo del Toro to direct the movies rather than Peter Jackson.
45. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
46. The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
Susan Cooper’s classic series is for a younger audience, but it stands up as one of the very best of its kind. Based on Arthurian legends and Norse mythology but set in the 20th century, these five books follow the story of 11-year-old Will Stanton, who discovers that he is the youngest of the Old Ones, and that the fate of the world rests on his shoulders.
47. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
48. The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
The Red Knight and its sequels read like historical fiction, if medieval Europe had been full of monsters and magic. The series follows a band of mercenaries and their captain, known only as The Red Knight, as he and his merry men hack and slash their way across the kingdom of Alba. The books are prohibitively thick, but don’t let that turn you off, because they are immensely rewarding.
49. Dreamblood by N.K. Jemisin
50. The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist
Based on a role-playing world originally created to compete with Dungeons & Dragons, this is classic epic fantasy. An orphan boy discovers magical abilities within himself and becomes a hero in the world of Midkemia. Rifts open up between worlds and a huge battle between order and chaos erupts, spanning 10 novels.
51. The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman’s brilliant trilogy is always referred to as “Harry Potter for grownups,” but a better description would be “Narnia for the permanently disillusioned.” The evil forces arrayed against Grossman’s hero, Quentin Coldwater, are not so much the wizards, monsters, and demons he has to face as he comes to terms with his considerable powers, but the even more terrifying horrors of finding a place in the world and learning how not to be an asshole while you’re at it. This series may break you a little bit emotionally, but there’s so much fun to be had along the way.
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