Fantasy has the ability to have us escape from the real world. It allows us to dive into something original, something fresh that has similarities to our world but grasps onto new effects we do not have.
Fantasy is a broad genre. You have middle-grade, young adult, adult, epic, urban, dark tales, magical realism, fairy tales, superhero, etc… Each gives a new, exciting story with characters to entice you. Below I have tried to be as selective as possible whilst also trying to broaden and match different forms of the genre.
- Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
Now, I’m beginning with middle grade as it’s perfect for not only young readers, but any age who wants to dive into fantasy but never tried it before. Some might say using Percy Jackson is a bit of a cob out as it is mixed with Greek and Roman mythology, but it is fantasy and it is still a form of magic to add on.
The series follows young Percy Jackson who discovers he is a half-blood. He is sent to a place where half-bloods train and can be safe called Half-Blood Hill and there he discovers that he has been accused of stealing the King of the God’s, Zeus, Lightning Bolt. That is just the story of the first one. The rest of the series follows Percy and his friends to succeed on quests and to stop the villain from rising — not going to name him as that is sort of the fun of the series.
Rick Riordan does a perfect way of bringing our world into the story and making the Greek gods come back to life. To me, if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, then this is just another solution. You have a young boy who discovers he has powers and needs to defeat an evil villain to win the day. Doesn’t sound original right? But how many stories can you say that are about this? Probably a lot. It’s a good trope that is often used in fantasy — the chosen one is a good story to use and many authors have it as the heart of their tale. It doesn’t mean it can’t be original. It’s the hero’s tale. One that has been used back in Greek and Roman times, and will be used for thousands of years to come. But what I find that is beautifully done in this series is the use of the mythology throughout the entire time. I can hold a hand on my heart and say that I know so much of my Greek and Roman mythology because of these books — makes you look very smart when it comes to quizzes I have to say.
It is such an easy read and if you’re a die-hard reader can easily do a book in a few hours sitting. Its light-hearted, fun and the characters are brilliant to feel the connection and to route for them.
- Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Now, here is a series I find is not talked about enough. Again, we are still in middle grade, yet even into my twenties I am pre-ordering the next instalments. It’s a lengthy series — Landy is currently releasing the fourteenth instalment — but you are constantly shocked and wowed at every turn.
The story follows a young girl called Stephanie Edgley who has been left her uncles’ estate after his untimely death. Soon, she meets the strange and enticing detective Skulduggery Pleasant, which surprisingly, is a skeleton. Here Stephanie learns that there is a magical world within our own and it uses the idea of elemental magic along with other forms. Here, she helps Skulduggery with his cases and soon starts to learn if she is able to use magic herself.
The characters are full of wit and Landy does a perfect job of using sarcasm but not too much that the characters become annoying. He also uses the idea of the chosen one and flips it on its head — but I won’t go into detail about that as it would be a massive spoiler.
Like Percy Jackson, it is a very easy read due to the age group it is targeted at, but is a perfect start to fantasy. I would also say if you are more into your thriller and detective style but then want to try fantasy, this is perfect as every book is a new case for the dynamic duo. They do become darker as the series continues, but there is enough laughter and jokes along the way to not become too heavy.
Young Adult/ New Adult
- A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Now we edge into Young Adult. A Darker Shade of Magic is a clever take where there are four London’s and there are only two people in the worlds that have the ability to move between them called the Antari. Like Landy, Schwab uses elemental magic as her source of power, but mixes in her own take with having a fifth element of bone and also the Antari having the ability to use blood magic in order to harness their power.
You have your protagonist Kell and also Lila and unlike the two previous examples, there are multiple perspectives for you to dive into the worlds. Whilst one London is based in our own world, it is during George III time where you are in a Stuart time frame. However, the other London’s in the book are new worlds that Schwab has conjured herself.
This is a big step from the middle grade examples as it consists of a lot of world building to have these other London appear real and enticing to the reader. Schwab excellently accomplishes this with Kell coming from Red London so you get a high amount of description. There is also a good amount from the other London, named as White London, for the reader to see the difference between the worlds.
I would say the only downfall of the series is that there are parts that a predictable, but can easily be overlooked with the way the characters are brought across. You have your Prince, your sorcerer, but they have a bond to make any reader engrossed to know their story. Plus you have a badarse woman who will do what she wants. Even the villains are cleverly created to show what can happen when someone is driven to hold the ultimate power and desperately wants to save their world.
All in all, it’s a step up from middle grade, but is still a very easy read that will engross you to start diving into fictional worlds.
- Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
This is a six-part series that I can only describe as the younger version of Game of Thrones. You have your complex characters that within the tale are weaved together.
You have three countries all knitted together, Auranos, Paelsia and Limeros, where you are met with a broad spectrum of characters. You have your Prince, Princess, Rebel, Sorcerer, and even a little bit of incest that partly has me connecting it with Game of Thrones. But it is still its own stories.
Rhodes has beautifully made this a character driven story and you are tempted with every page. There have been some faults that people claim it is a bit silly with how everyone at one point or another seems to want to bang each other — but it never takes it away from the main storyline.
The countries are wonderfully complexed with having your north with Limeros, where you have your cold winter months continually and the people are more likely to starve. Then you have Paelisa that has no ruler and is more the stepping stone between the other two countries as both fight to try and hold a rein on it. Then you have Auranos which is the southern country where it is constantly summer and spring and is seen as the beauty of the world.
But alongside this, Rhodes has also created a paradise where her version of magic is placed. Amongst the battle to try and claim the lands, there are watchers who take the form of eagles when they leave their home and observe the others whilst trying to protect a hidden secret.
It is thrilling, enticing and a quick read for anyone who wants to start off lightly with fictional worlds.
- Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor has such a poetic tone that you feel you are reading magic itself. With her series Strange the Dreamer, we have Lazlo Strange, a young man who is obsessed with the mythical city Weep that he manages to find himself on an expedition to research and find it.
The series is a duology, and explores the theme of loss and survival with the other half of the tale following five children who are half-gods and have been living in an abandoned city above after humans rampaged and murdered all their gods.
The series beautifully explores the need of survival with these children, but also the humans down below with Lazlo as they are determined to rule themselves after the Gods were destroyed.
It is a quick read with Taylor’s poetic flow and wanting to find out what happens as the children and Lazlo get closer to coming face to face with one another.
The world is cleverly built and has the mixture of her own version of religion that can have you on the edge of your seat to decide whether the gods did deserve what came to them or whether it was a mass slaughter.
- Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas is soon becoming the top author for romance fantasy. Both her series Throne of Glass and A Court of Thornes and Roses deserve to be on this list, but I decided to go with her first series because it brings a wider spectrum of a fictional world.
The series follows Celena Sardothian, an Assassin who has been taken from her life sentence in the mines to compete in a competition to become the King’s Assassin. But the series soon takes a turn as the books continue to bring together a rich, tantalising tale that covers many countries across this fictional world Maas has created.
Maas is known as the Fairy queen as she uses the Fae to become her fantasy element with magic and immortality. Now I put this quite low on the young adult list because whilst the first three can seem appropriate for younger readers, as the books continue there are scenes I would not recommend as she does dive in quite explicitly.
Now, Maas is one of my all-time favourite authors and I love those scenes as they bring another element to the connection of the characters, so if your sixteen or over, I would say this is a top read. If a little younger, wait a few years and then definitely pick it up.
Not only is our main character given layers upon layers to explore, but all the characters are delved into that as you are routing for them. It is a magical world full of creatures and elements you would not expect and has you gripped with every page.
- From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Now edging into adult fantasy, the good contrast between this style and young adult is the more adult themes. Both do dive into fictional worlds, but adult can be seen more on the political side and does not walk away from certain actions.
From Blood and Ash is a prime example as there is a lot of sexual interaction between the two main characters which does make this a grown up read, but it adds so much to the story.
Armentrout uses vampires like no one has ever before to the point where you forget you are reading about a trope that has been done over and over again. The story followers a young woman called Poppy who is known as the Maiden and has been shrouded from the world until her ascension when she is nineteen. But just prior to it, she meets the new solider Hawk who is set to become her new bodyguard and there she soon starts to not only learn about him, but also herself.
This is a romance fantasy, but for someone who is not huge on the spin-off of the genre, this soon became one of my favourite ever reads.
Not only does Armentrout beautifully world-build, but the characters, especially Hawk and Poppy, are deliciously crafted to have you route and also despise the villains.
The story has so many twists and turns — especially the second one — that you never expect the corner that Poppy and Hawk take.
Armentrout’s language makes it very easy to read and whilst mixing in the political, it is full of action to keep it moving.
- Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas is the only author to graze this list twice, and there is a perfect reason. Whilst her previous series have been more young adult/ new adult, Crescent City takes a nice little leap into adult fantasy.
The only major arts to distinguish this series to the others is the language barrier Maas uses, but also the themes she has put in.
It does openly talk about sex and drug abuse to mix in with the psychiatric of the two.
Here, you meet Bryce Quinlan, a half-Fae half-human who has to come to terms with the loss of her dearest friend. She is approached by the government to try and discover the killer of her friend alongside an angel named Hunt.
I have never read anything like it. To mix in the technology and modern style of our own into a fictional world filled with magic and creatures makes it an inviting read. With any of Maas characters, you instantly fall in love and route for them to achieve their goals. It is thriller meets fantasy with the crime element and has you turning every page.
There is perhaps a few parts in the beginning that can feel a bit of a world overload, but it only proves how much Maas has thought to create her world. The series has only just started, so can expect many brilliant tales for Bryce and Hunt.
- The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
I did contemplate whether to add this series onto the list, for I didn’t always get on with Sanderson’s writing style. It is complex and very political if you are not entirely into that trope, but I could not to a top fantasy series without including the first trilogy in the Mistborn world.
Sanderson is the master at creating worlds and magic systems. In this trilogy, he creates the idea of metal magic where a person has to consume in order to retrieve the property. This tale followers Vin, a young woman who has the ability to consume any metal to gets its magic. She comes across a group who is set to rebel against the evil sorcerer who had defeated the chosen one to have a thousand-year long reign.
There are twists and turns throughout the series that has you wanting to keep reading even when some parts may feel a bit disheartening. They are long books, so if you are new to fantasy, I would not recommend it to begin with. This is more once you have established the genre and are looking to move onto the deep world-building. One thing I have to add though is that this series needs to be on your list whenever you get to it just for the ending. Majority of series I can think of a possible alternative ending, but this one is the only book I have ever come across that I could not imagine it any other way.
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
This last one should come to no shock to anyone. You cannot do a top ten fantasy series without including good old George R. R. Martin.
With the length this series has been out and the attention the series got, I’m sure I don’t need to explain the storyline. So all I will say is that Martin has created something special. Never has a series been written with so much depth and history. It literally feels that Westeros is real and we are just learning as we do about our own world history. That’s not even to mention the characters.
I watched an interview once where Martin was asked how he can write female characters so well, and his response was simply “I always believe women to be people.” How beautifully put because he shows every aspect of a person. Someone who is driven by fear, by loss, by power, by love — everything is mixed into.
Now, it is not always an easy read. I would recommend perhaps watching the show, not many episodes but perhaps a few, as there are a lot of characters to try and get your head around. But if all you have done is watch the show, then you have missed out. The story is roughly the same with a few different styles to begin with, but even with later books it doesn’t deviate too much, and naturally we do not know how Martin intended for it to end — but the depth and mindset you get into the characters is nothing like writing it first-hand.
It is of course a very political storyline, but a few of the books are full of action were one you have constant death and destruction. It is a miss if you do not put it on your reading list.
There are many fantasy series out there, a mixture of middle-grade, YA and adult. All of these have appealing stories and characters to keep you moving, but if your new to the genre, I would recommend giving yourself a slow trot into the fantasy realm. Then once you are settled, you can lose yourself into many fictional worlds.