10 Fantasy Novels That Will Keep You Glued Till You Finish
Fantasy is the oldest genre of literature, predating the invention of bound books by thousands of years due to mythology and folklore. Even now, readers and critics disagree on what fantasy is and isn't. Ancient poetry such as Beowulf, The Odyssey, and The Epic of Gilgamesh is fair game for some.
For others, the modern adult genre began in 1858 with George MacDonald's Phantastes, the story of a thirsty 22-year-old who wakes up in Fairy Land and falls in love with a marble statue sculpted by Pygmalion.
Aside from the origins, most scholars agree on a basic definition: fantasy is when something supernatural occurs that cannot be explained by technology (as in science fiction) or macabre (as in horror).
Are you looking for your next must-read fantasy? From wizards and werewolves to strange underground happenings, we've compiled a list of some of the fan-favorite fantasy series. Some take place in strange and fantastic worlds, while others begin closer to home. So keep reading to find the best to add to your collection.
Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant
Never Let Me Go's the author has only written one fantasy novel, but he knocked it out of the park. After King Arthur's death, a mysterious "mist" prevents Britons from storing long-term memories. So an elderly couple convinced that a son they barely remember had gone missing travels across the country searching for him, encountering ogres, a dragon, and Sir Gawain.
Susanna Clarke, Piranesi (2021)
Piranesi is a wondrous, genre-defying novel, but if we had to categorize it, we'd say 'fantasy.' The less you know about Piranesi, the better, but as a teaser, it follows the life of a man who lives within the magnificent, statue-filled halls of a vast, labyrinthine mansion.
The halls are filled with waves, birds, and sea creatures, but he has no idea why or how he got there. He's more concerned with keeping a journal and documenting his experiences. It's a twisted novel that's both beautiful and disturbing.
It's a book you could read in a single sitting because the narrator appears unnervingly naive, and the more you learn, the more you want to know what secrets lie beneath the surface. Piranesi, released in 2021, was nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction and received widespread critical acclaim for author Susanna Clarke. If her name sounds familiar, it's because her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, was published in 2004 and adapted into a TV series.
George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones
The popularity of this fantasy novel has skyrocketed in recent years, so what list would not include A Game of Thrones as one of the best fantasy series? If you enjoy multiple intricate storylines, a cast of characters in which no one is safe from death, and a world full of lords, knights, bastards, wizards, ladies, and more, this series is for you.
It has magic, intrigue, mystery, and plenty of romance; in short, it's a world unlike any you've ever seen. While the film adaptation has sparked several debates, the series is undoubtedly one of our top fantasy books.
The Six of Crows, Bardugo, Leigh (2015)
Six of Crows, described as "Game of Thrones meets Ocean's Eleven," is set in the Grishaverse, the same world as the award-winning Shadow and Bone trilogy, which is now a major Netflix show. While the show is called Shadow and Bone, it also features characters from Six of Crows.
Six of Crows begins in Ketterdam, a raucous, busy trade hub with a criminal underbelly. Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind offered the opportunity to carry out a high-risk heist for a large reward. He handpicks a team to assist him, including a convict, an excellent sharpshooter, and a spy - a total of six outcasts attempting to pull off the ultimate heist.
Bardugo is a master of world-building, a treat for those new to the Grishaverse, and a welcome return for those who have read the Shadow and Bone trilogy or her latest duology set in the same universe, King of Scars. Six of Crows and the other Grishaverse books are technically YA, but that shouldn't put you off.
P. Djèl Clark's Ring Shout
According to Clark's harrowing novella, when The Birth of a Nation premieres in 1915, white supremacists summon demonic entities. Seven years later, three battle-ready Black women armed with a sword, a rifle, and explosives assemble at Stone Mountain to prevent a demon-infested Ku Klux Klan from bringing about the apocalypse.
Michal Ajvaz's The Other City
The Other City, which was translated into English in 2009, is a difficult but enriching novel set in Prague, in which an unnamed narrator discovers a purple book written in an indecipherable language; he then realizes that another surreal version of the city exists in the same space as the familiar one.
His midnight journeys through this "other city" are rich in Borgesian and Dalesque imagery, making for an unforgettable reading experience.
Neil Gaiman's Stardust (2010)
Neil Gaiman is the only person who deserves to be on this list twice. Stardust is a magical fantasy novel for readers of all ages. It tells the story of Tristran Thorn, a young man who vows to find a star for the woman he loves after they see one fall from the night sky.
What follows is a fairy tale that incorporates stories, characters, and settings from our cultural heritage, such as pirates, spells, curses, witches, power struggles, falling stars, otherworldly beings, and much more.
"I wanted to write a story that would feel, to the reader, like something he or she had always known," Gaiman said, and that is Stardust's enduring appeal. In 2007, a star-studded cast, including Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes, adapted the book into a film. After you've finished the book, you should be able to find it on your favorite streaming service, as it does Neil Gaiman's original story justice.
J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring
They are all ruled by one ring. The Dark Lord concentrated all of his power in a single ring, which was taken from him. After many years in Middle-earth, Bilbo Baggins obtains the ring. He vanishes when he reaches his eleventh year, and the ring is given to his cousin, Frodo. So begins the epic quest to destroy the ring and everything it represents.
Fonda, Jade City Lee (2018)
Jade City, another award-winning entry, won The World Fantasy Award in 2018 and was nominated for numerous others, including the Nebula and Locus Awards. It's an epic story that many have compared to classic Hong Kong gangster films. The twist here is that it takes place in Janloon, a fantastical metropolis that Lee describes in great detail.
As you might expect, the central premise of Jade City revolves entirely around Jade. This city's lifeblood has magical properties that can enhance a person's natural abilities. That is why it is so valuable and is controlled by two feuding families.
However, when a new drug emerges, that allows anyone to access the mystical energies of Jade, tensions rise, and violence ensues. It's stylish, full of beautiful, gritty descriptions, and, despite being a fantasy novel, it touches on many relatable themes, such as family honor and tradition.
Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn (1968)
The Last Unicorn, considered one of the best fantasy books ever written, is a magical story about a unicorn living in a forest. Hunters arrive in the forest one day and believe it must contain a unicorn due to the magic that protects the creatures there.
One of the hunters warns the unicorn that she may be the last of her kind, prompting her to embark on a quest to find more unicorns - or discover what happened to them. What follows is filled with sadness, adventure, and wonder, as well as talking animals, witches, a harpy, spells, a magician, and much more.
It's another book that returns to the world of magic and fairy tales for adults, but it's also a firm favorite for kids of all ages. The Last Unicorn has since been made into a film. It was adapted into a film in 1982, starring Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee.