back to top

17 Groundbreaking Sci-Fi And Fantasy Books Everyone Should Read

There's always more to read.

Posted on

1. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

Scholastic / Via

Why you should read it: Set in a series of parallel universes, this series follows Lyra and, later, Will as they journey in search of their own families. The series touches upon themes of coming of age, death, religion, and the necessity of challenging conventions. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Recommended if you like: Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings but a lot, lot, darker.

2. The Giver Quartet, Lois Lowry

Houghton Mifflin / Via

Why you should read it: Most people have read The Giver as assigned reading in middle or high school. What most people don't realize is that this was just the first book in a series of novels set in the same dystopian future. Each book features a unique protagonist, although some characters, themes, and events recur throughout.

Recommended if you like: The Giver or the idea of a dystopian future ruled through ignorance.

3. The Sandman, Neil Gaiman

Vertigo / Via

Why you should read it: The Sandman started out as a reinvention of a old DC Comics superhero. Over it's 12 installment run, The Sandman drew in some of the best artists in the business, as well as creating a mythos drawing equally from ancient mythologies, contemporary religions, horror classics, and the peaks of fantasy.

Recommended if you like: Anything else by Neil Gaiman, mythology, or just beautiful graphic novels.

4. The Abhorsen Trilogy, Garth Nix

Why you should read it: Set in a dual world of two kingdoms, one magical and one not, Garth Nix's trilogy follows the exploits of the titular Abhorsen. The Abhorsen is an anti-necromancer, who must banish the growing threat of the undead from the land. The stories are highly inventive and super engrossing. Although written for young adults, the story is still entertaining enough that adults may like it too, despite its simple style.

Recommended if you like: The Hunger Game's strong female lead.


5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick


Why you should read it: Besides being the basis for the classic Blade Runner, this book is one of Dick's absolute classics. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the story follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he hunts six escaped androids. The book explores the themes of empathy, and what it truly means to be human.

Recommended if you like: The movie Blade Runner, the TV show Battlestar Galactica, or any Sci-Fi that blends questions of humanity and technology.

6. The Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson

Bantam Spectra

Why you should read it: Set in a future in which the concept of a nation-state has fallen apart, the novel follows a multitude of interlocking characters in a kingdom in China. The book predicts what a future based around 3D printers and nanotechnology would look like, while focuses on the human aspects of such a future.

Recommended if you like: Visionary Sci-Fi that focuses more on humans living in the world than the technology itself.

7. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, Douglas Adams

Pan Books

Why you should read it: The 'trilogy,' actually five books, follows earthling Arthur Dent and his collection of extraterrestrial friends' adventures through space and time after the Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route. The entire series features British tongue-in-cheek humor, and absurdist tendencies.

Recommended if you like: Terry Pratchett, Dr. Who, and completely absurd Sci-Fi that doesn't care too much about the science.

8. The Discworld Series, Terry Pratchett

Why you should read it: Set in a fantasy world that takes place on a giant disk, balanced on top of four elephants riding atop a turtle through space, this series is unique. At over 20 books, each story can function as a standalone with unique characters. The series is also amazingly intelligent, varying from murder mysteries to political intrigue to pure fantasy. Pratchett imbues the entire series with satirical British wit, along with sharp criticism of the contemporary world

Recommended if you like: Anything produced by Monty Python, satire, and quirky facts-of-life humor.


9. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Gold Medal

Why you should read it: Aside from vampire like zombies, this book bears no resemblance to the movie it inspired. Instead, it explores the question of how long an ordinary man can survive alone in a hostile world, along with the deeper themes of normalcy and being a minority.

Recommended if you like: H.P. Lovecraft, brainy zombie novels, or the zombie apocalypse.

10. The Once and Future King, T. H. White


Why you should read it: The book is a retelling of the King Arthur legend, with a significant amount of influence from the events surrounding World War Two. Although it starts as a light children's book following Arthur as a child learning from Merlin, it becomes progressively darker as Arthur grows and must learn how to govern a kingdom.

Recommended if you like: The King Arthur legends, dark fantasy, and political commentary.

11. Neuromancer, William Gibson


Why you should read it: This novel legitimized cyberpunk as a branch of science fiction. It also appeared on Times list of 100 best novels since 1923. Gibson is also credited with coining the term cyberspace in this novel, as well as imagining how the internet would look today, way back in 1983.

Recommended if you like: The series Ghost in the Shell, the novel Snow Crash, or the idea of hackers and a dystopian future.

12. The Earthsea Cycle Series, Ursula K. Le Guin


Why you should read it: Le Guin's Earthsea Series, composed of six full length books, is regarded as one of the best works in fantasy. It follows the central protagonist, Ged, through his entire life. The saga is special in fantasy given it's truly unique setting, disregard of any sort of Medieval influence, and the diversity of its cast.

Recommended if you like: The Lord of the Rings, the works of Tolstoy, mythology, and Taoist mysticism.


13. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell


Why you should read it: Cloud Atlas, recently made even more famous by the movie adaptation, tells six nested stories that range from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future. The stories span a number of different genres, are all intricately connected, and deserves a number of rereads.

Recommended if you like: Narratives that contain a number of sub-stories, The Book of One Thousand And One Nights.

14. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Chatto & Windus

Why you should read it: Huxley bucks the trend of other dystopian writers by instead imagining a future in which everyone is genetically modified to the task at hand. Pleasure is used to control the population via the euphoria inducing drug soma and government sponsored sex parties. The book is haunting both for how quickly society seems to be heading in this direction, as well as the difficult to answer question of why this future is necessarily bad.

Recommended if you like: Dystopian futures with a unique twist, The Giver, and 1984.

15. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams

William Heinemann

Why you should read it: The story follows Dirk Gently, a 'holistic detective,' as he engages in a murder investigation. A humorous fantasy mystery, the book is full of off-the-wall British humor and, strangely enough, Norse gods.

Recommended if you like: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the works of Neil Gaiman, or innovative mystery series.

16. American Gods, Neil Gaiman


Why you should read it: The book follows an ex-con, Shadow, who becomes embroiled in a feud between old and forgotten gods. The book is an amazing mix of Americana, fantasy, mythology and cultural commentary. There are also rumors it may be adapted into an HBO series.

Recommended if you like: The Sandman, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, dark fantasy books, and mythology.

17. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

Grand Central Publishing

Why you should read it: Although set in a post-apocalyptic world, Butler manages to create a world that is hopeful, yet still emotionally harrowing. The story follows Lauren, a young woman with hyperempathy syndrome, as she tries to build a new society from the ashes of the old.

Recommended if you like: Hopeful post-apocalyptic stories, and books with a strong female lead.