Best Young Adult Fantasy Books

Fantasy Categorized as YA usually featuring a teenage protagonist
Magical Journeys Await: The Best Young Adult Fantasy Books Uncovered

Young adult fantasy targets readers between the ages 12 to 18 and typically feature a young adult as the main character of the story. Because of the protagonist's age, coming-of-age often plays a key role in YA fiction.

We’ve given a list of what we consider to be the best modern YA fantasy books, drawing from a number of different styles of fantasy from different periods, ranging from the recently published to several decades old. Each of the suggested books is highly recommended as a great read for teenagers and adults alike. A good number of these titles may be familiar to you as classics, but there may be a few surprise reads in the mix too.

YA Fantasy Books vs. Children's Fantasy Books

We distinguish between Young Adult fantasy books and Children’s fantasy books in that YA books often have more complex, adult themes than children’s fantasy; YA fantasy might be considerably darker in tone and atmosphere as well. Quite a few YA fantasy books can be read by readers under the age of 12, however. Many of these stories can easily be appreciated by adult readers as well. Be sure to read our related Best Children's Fantasy Books list which suggests specific books for children (readers under the age of 12). There may be some overlap between the two lists.

If you're fed up with books that take themselves too seriously, Jonathan Stroud's debut series is a great place to find a break. His style is of a casual, comedic tone, with heavy doses of cynicism and sarcasm. It's less of a world-shaking fight against evil and more of an adventure, infused with memorable characters and rule-breaking. This isn't your regular coming of age, either. Nathaniel doesn't learn to accept people for who they are or become a better person. If anything, he becomes more of a snarky dick. That may not make for the most likable protagonist, but there's plenty of growth in the area of magic, and the other characters more than make up for it. The second PoV from Bartimaeus, a sarcastic Djinn, brings the whole story together and creates plenty of funny moments. In the end, though, the feeling of growth is still key in this story. Nathaniel's penchant for vengeance is marred slightly by a small conscience deep inside, and he eventually feels the need for redemption. Stroud's subversion ultimately makes the series stand out above the competition, and makes for a wildly entertaining read. Read if you like: Humor in fantasy, snarky protagonists.

Books in Bartimaeus Sequence Series (2)

The premise of this novel completely redefines the boundaries of young adult fantasy. Told from the perspective of individuals stuck in a 'limbo' between life and death, Shusterman's work is set in the strange new world of Everlost. When two teens find themselves in Everlost after a car crash, they are forced to confront the fact that they are not dead and or alive. Everlast is an epic reimagining of the afterlife and Shusterman has pulled out all the stops. The protagonists, Allie and Nick, are immediately thrust into the terrifying world of Everlost, meeting other bands of lost children and learning the dangerous art of 'haunting'. Everlost cleverly, and somewhat surprisingly, contains a wide array of well-developed and intriguingly distinctive characters. The magical world that Shusterman creates is melancholic and alive, introducing a new set of rules for the fantasy genre while presenting a seemingly untold take on the afterlife. Boasting at least two villains, this novel is certainly not short on action and danger. Furthermore, Shusterman has ensured that this novel, while seemingly for younger teens, holds a number of emotional themes, addressing the idea of life after death and stressing the importance overcoming adversity. This novel is most definitely a must read for young adults looking for a refreshing yet rewarding fantasy tale.

Books in Skinjacker Series (2)

Yes, we're talking about that book about bunnies. No, we haven't lost our minds. Take note: This isn't a children's book, despite it being about fluffy animals. If you've read Watership Down, you'll understand it's on the list. And if you haven't, you're wrong. It's impossible not to be moved by this tale – even if it is about rabbits.Why it made the listThe themes that underpin the plot of this book – of survival, of the influence of storytelling and of man's destructiveness – get deeper as the plot of Watership Down progresses. This is due to the personalities of the rabbits: As you get to know them, you'll not only identify with them, but feel for the things that happen to them. And, while they have some anthropomorphic elements, Adams hasn't erased their animalness in favor of human characteristics. That is to say, there are no bunnies in waistcoasts. Or squirrels smoking cigars. There's never a moment when you forget that you're reading about rabbits, but there's also never a time when you won't be able to identify with them.Adams has created a well balanced novel here: When it gets too dark, he throws in some humor. When the rabbits share their fables, it's because they're relevant to the action at that point in the plot. When the adventure becomes harrowing, there are moments of reflection. It's a rare writing skill, and if it's the only reason you pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.The action never stops moving, which – considering the intense emotions the book will inspire in you – is both a blessing and a relief. Watership Down may not be fantasy in the most obvious sense, but it's a classic and deserves to be on any ‘Best of…' lists.

Books in Watership Down Series (1)

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A dark epic fantasy tale about a girl who will go into the land of the dead to save her father. It's an exciting adventure that's also scary. Nix is a talented author who has an excellent command of the English language -- and the man uses his abilities to great effect in this series.While this series is classified as Young Adult fantasy, it can be read and appreciated by all ages. Just make sure you read this series with the lights dimmed -- you're going to be in for a good scare!If you want a really chilling feeling, get the Audiobook version of the series. The narrator does a superb job and the tale seems even more scary. 

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A classic series kids around the world have grown up reading is The Chronicles of Narnia. While Narnia is very clearly a Christian allegory, it can be enjoyed without reading too deep into the Christian subtext. The writing is great and it's a great magical adventure for both kids and adults. 

You should also read Garth Nix's newest series, Keys to the Kingdom . It's also a great read, both for the kiddies and adults, one of the better series for kids. 

Don't forget to read Jonathan Stroud's very impressive The Bartimaeus Trilogy It's an action-packed thrill ride about a magician's apprentice who manages to summon a powerful genie (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is less than pleased with this turn of events and tries to sabotage his young master at every opportunity. Hilariously funny, at times very dark, with great writing, a great cast of well-developed characters, and an interesting world, Bartimaeus is a must read series (for both kids and adults). 

And finally, Harry Potter . I won't bother explaining why. 

If you are specifically looking for books your kid might like, i suggest you visit The Top 10 Fantasy Books for Kids list.

A young girl's journey of magic and discovery that will take her to the ends of the earth...and beyond.  His Dark Materials is a modern classic that can be enjoyed by old and young alike; This is "Narnia" for the 21st century. It's made my Top 25 best fantasy books list. Like Garth Nix's Abhorson trilogy, these are children's fantasy books that every adult should read.

Books in His Dark Materials Series (2)

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Since His Dark Materials is the anti-Chronicles of Narnia, it makes sense that you should read The Chronicles of Narnia . C.S. Lewis' masterpiece Narnia is a classic of the genre. While it's very clearly a Christian allegory, it can be enjoyed without reading too deep into the Christian subtext. The writing is great and it's a great magical adventure for both kids and adults. 

I also suggest reading Garth Nix's The Abhorsen Trilogy . Garth Nix is a fabulous writer and Abhorson is a chilling horror fantasy that really sucks you in. It's YA (young adult) but don't let that stop you! Garth Nix's newest series,Keys to the Kingdom , is also a great read, both for the kiddies and adults, one of the better series for kids. 

Don't forget to read Jonathan Stroud's very impressive The Bartimaeus Trilogy It's an action packed thrill ride about a magician's apprentice who manages to summon a powerful genie (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is less then pleased with this turn of events and tries to sabotage his young master at every opportunity. Hilariously funny, at times very dark, with great writing, a great cast of well-developed characters, and an interesting world, Bartimaeus is a must read series (for both kids and adults). 

And finally, Harry Potter. I won't bother explaining why. You might note that each of these YA books can be read by children, but at the same time they are equally entertaining for adults. And every one of the books mentioned starts of pretty lighthearted but becomes quite dark in tone and content. While this may not be great for 6 year old Johnny who is wondering why his hero dies a horrible death, it makes for a more sophisticated plot. The sweet is not as sweet without having the bitter.

 If you are specifically looking for books your kid might like, i suggest you visit The Top 10 Fantasy Books for Kids list.

Gaiman is one of the biggest names in modern fantasy, and for good reason. His ability to craft fairytale-like, lyrical stories is almost unparalleled. With The Graveyard Book, he goes a little outside of that norm, presenting us with a slightly darker story. Despite being for children, the novel starts with a very macabre tone. Following a triple homicide, Nobody Owens seeks a new family in his local graveyard. Adopted by ghosts, vampires and other creatures, he makes his home among the tombstones. In a blend of creepy and sweet, the author manages to appeal to a whole spectrum of ages. Along the way, Nobody learns to use magic, the history of the ghosts, and the truth about his parents killer. More importantly, though, he struggles to gain the skill to return to the world of the living. Gaiman's book draws parallels with the same challenges children face today, raising questions about traditional upbringings and if you can truly be prepared for adulthood. Entwined in that is a brilliant exploration of death and living in spite of loss. The end result was so perfect that it won a Hugo award and Newbery medal. Read if you like: Children's fiction, paranormal elements.
Aerin is shy, clumsy, ugly, and mistrusted by the people she is supposed to rule. She is ridiculed for being the daughter of a witch with none of her witchy powers, and even when she eventually becomes a Dragon-Killer, it is because it is a task that needs doing; the dragons are small and numerous… like rats. It isn't exactly a heroic compliment. Yet her inner strength, her determination and willingness to learn that which does not come easily make her the hero she needs to be. She is tough and proves her worth again, again, and again no matter the obstacles or jeering from the sidelines she endures. While there is romance, it is most definitely on our heroine's terms, and not because she intends to snag him as a way out of her miserable life. It is organic and complex and believable, which is so very lacking in many fantasy novels. Hero and the Crown is still one of the best fantasy novels on the shelves today.

Books in Damar Series (4)

A fantastic story about a young boy training to be an exorcist in a land where dark things roam the night.One of the best modern children's tales I've read. This one is scary folks, probably one of the scariest books I've read. The books are pretty dark with a lot of death that happens during the series. But the tale told is a heartfelt one and the narrator (first person from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy) works very well. If you are afraid of haunted houses, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night, you might want to avoid this spine-chilling series. But man, it's a good one and one of my favorite YA series hands down. I don't recommend this series for little ones, but kids over the age of 12 should enjoy it. And the adults will too!

Books in The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles Series (16)

Nearly half a century ago, fantasy was dividing into two fantasy worlds: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia has entertained generations of children and continues to do so even to this day.For those who dislike books written in heavy allegory, especially heavy religious allegory, it's best to avoid this series -- you're going to get upset. However, above the layer of allegory is a fantastic tale of magic and adventure. Narnia may not be as complicated as the new generation of fantasy, but as an old classic that's made its mark for decades, it should be read -- if only to your children at night.

Books in The Chronicles Of Narnia Series (8)

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The following are some of the best YA (Young Adult) novels written.Don't let the YA tag sway you from reading them however. They are every bit as enjoyable to adults as they are for kids, and each series is actually rather dark!

His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials. A subversion of the religious themes present in The Chronicles of Narnia. Absolutely read if you want a deep and dark YA fantasy that gives a stinging rebuke to religion in general. 

Abhorson trilogy

The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. One of the best YA fantasy trilogies out there. Dark, scary, with awesome worldbuilding and great characters. Do read this.

Bartimaeus Sequence

My favorite YA books with one of the best characters in fantasy. This series is exceedingly well written -- funny, dark, disturbing, and horrific all at the same time. But mostly, just a fantastically spectacularly awesome read. There, with all those adjectives, you better read it.

Harry Potter

Not to much to say here. Read it if you want a grand adventure for kids and adults alike.

The Magicians

The Magicians is a complete subversion of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. Which is why you should absolutely read it. It's not a book for kids though, but an adult take on childhood fantasy, showing the friendly animals to be monsters and the perfect magical land not as perfect as you might think.

Spook's Apprentice
Starts with Revenge of the Witch. Dark and scary,this YA horror meets fantasy has some power to it. I was a big fan, even if it ended (so far) on a bit of a downer note. And the recent movie The Seventh Son was absolute shit. The first book is NOTHING like it at all -- the movie doesn't even remotely follow the events of the book.
Lockwood and Co.

If you like scary, then read Jonathan Stroud's newest series. Scary, scary, and awesome for kids and adults alike.

The Skinjacker Trilogy

The Skinjacker. A tale about an afterlife gone wrong, where kids who die sometimes don't make it into the life and end up trapped in pseudo afterlife. Awesomeness.

A tale for the ages: a young boy, unhappy with his life, desires to live in a place free from any responsibilities. He finds that place through a creepy tunnel of mist in the form of a quaint little house run by an elderly caretaker. Harvey finds the place is magical. But all is not what it appears to be, for beneath the house a terrible secret waits, one from which he cannot escape. Barker is a master storyteller and he brings his considerable skill for writing atmospheric horror novels to the YA genre.
Yes, everyone has probably read this. In fact, these these may have been the books that got you started reading fantasy in the first place. These books do make for a good read and as the series progresses, the plot gets darker and darker. Read the books, you'll enjoy them. They are not what I consider the best of the best in the fantasy genre, but they are a far cry from the worst! Highly recommended reading for those looking for a nice introduction into the fantasy genre.
A steampunk fantasy with a lot of oomph to it. It’s an alternative history story, one that merges the period history of World War 1 events with a fantastical world where there are airships made from bioengineered creatures and mechanical wizardry. Into this strange world, we follow Deryn Sharp, a young woman disguised as a boy, for only men can serve in the army. Westerfield creates an interesting alternate history – a sort of steampunk version of World War 1, if you will. In this world, we see a host of strange creatures and machines. But what really drives the novel forward is not the interesting setting, but the strong characters. The Prince Aleksandar and the disguised-as-a-boy girl, Deryn, make for an interesting pair with a dynamic relationship (both are on different sides of the war, yet team up together). There’s a lot of suspense and action in the story and it’s one you definitely do not want to miss.
One of the more unique tales. It's the story about a young boy trapped in a brutal and mysterious prison, where humans eke out a survival-level existence and are hunted by the prison itself, which seems to be a living entity. This is a prison where escape is absolutely impossible. Or is it? Think futuristic prison meets with the Victorian era, a heady mix that just works. It's action-packed, gritty, and sometimes disturbing.

Books in Incarceron Series (1)

Harry Potter did the English magician story very well, but it also overshadowed some incredible books with similar settings. Will is a chosen one of sorts, one of the few that can battle the powers. His mentor is an old, kind wizard, seeking to end the cycle of light and dark. It sounds quite familiar, but other than the setting, that's really where the similarity ends. Arguably, Cooper is a better writer than Rowling, stepping away from a cheery style and into a darker tone. Where JK's story is a mashup of different myths, Cooper's is a careful construct of Celtic and Arthurian legends. That makes for some very clear imagery and some fantastic conflicts. Will narrates the story from two perspectives, his young, content self, and his wise, magical self. As a narrative tool, it highlights the cost of power and the changes of adulthood. It's not an easy journey, and Cooper weaves in heavy themes of loss, unwanted destiny, and darkness. Read if you like: Harry Potter, King Arthur, English settings.

Books in The Dark Is Rising Series (9)

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Let's base this strictly on other good Arthurian works of fantasy. You should read The Mists of Avalon if you are even remotely interested in Arthurian fiction. Even if you aren't, read it. Stephen Lawhead's excellent The Pendragon Cycle will fill your Arthur craving with a solid number of compelling books in the saga.

You'll probably like The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart as well, which is another retelling of the Arthur myth but this one is about Merlin. If you want to read the Arthur myth in a different light (some might even argue "a whole new light" even) from a historical fiction light rather than a fantasy one, give Jack Whyte's The Camulod Chronicles a read.

This haunting children's novel follows a young, curious girl named Coraline, who discovers a hidden world inside a locked cupboard in her home. Inside this world, everything is better. Her father isn't glued to his computer and her mother has time for her. However, this short novel quickly turns dark when Coraline realises that her real parents have been kidnapped and it's up to her and her cat to track them down. This dark yet insightful fairy-tale undeniably proves that Gaiman has mastered the ability to craft a non-condescending and highly immersive fantasy book that also appeals to adults. Much like Rowling's Harry Potter, Gaiman's protagonist, Coraline, is an intelligent, inquisitive, slightly contrary child. This character depiction will appeal to children and adults alike, invoking feelings of parental inattention, boredom and, most importantly, an innate curiosity of what lies behind a locked door. Labelled by Gaiman as "refreshingly creepy," this novel has charmed thousands of readers with its unusual and positively terrifying Tim Burtonesque darkness and inimitable style of writing. Gaiman's work is always unique and Coraline stands apart as one of the author's most distinctive stories.
A steampunk-esque fantasy tale that follows loosely in the path Rowling trod with Harry Potter, but presents the reader with a completely different setting. Fans of Harry Potter, Artemis Foul, and Westerfield’s Leviathan will find a lot to love in this series. I had the vague sense that I was reading something inspired by a Jules Verne novel, with the characters and setting a marriage between the Victorian setting and sensibilities with modern values. This series is dark – there are often frequent descriptions of death and violence and there are no bumbling sidekicks, ridiculous villains, or any other comedic shenanigans to lighten up the mood. But what there is is a strong tale that shows the growth of the characters through a time of trial and troubles. There’s love, bravery, and heroism enough to make up for the darkness.

Books in The Hungry City Chronicles Series (3)

Yep, had to include it. Most people have probably read this series and even more authors have written hackneyed copies of it, but this series is the original father epic fantasy and deserves to be read. To the two people who haven't read it: just go ahead and get it over with. If you want to factor in significance to the genre of fantasy, Tolkien ranks at the #1 spot. However, most people have read him so I've put him at a lower spot to give other authors a chance at some recognition. 

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What can I possibly recommend if you like Lord of the Rings? 'Rings' is the progenitor of an entire genre, and one can recommend almost anything. Regardless, I'll try to suggest a couple books based on the "feel" of Lord of the Rings. 

Tolkien has always been about the world in which his characters live, never about the characters who live in his world. He created a world full of myth and legend, starkly real and full of mystery. There is always some strange power deep in a mountain, or some magical glade in the heart of a forest. There are worlds deep in the world, and worlds high in the heavens. It's a land full of wonder, a world too large to explore; it's an earth that still has mysteries and unknown lands. 

There are several authors who recreate this type of world -- but with stronger characters and more meaningful relationships. Tolkien's characters were always too perfect, too evil; their motivations are at best unclear and at worst, unrealistic. Modern fantasy has taken the roots created by Tolkien and grown them into full trees and in some cases grafted those roots to new trees completely.

The Wheel of Time


If you like Tolkien, read Eye of the World by Jordan. This man, when he was alive, claimed Tolkien's world building mantle: Jordan created a massive world, richly developed cultures, and well-defined magic system. When you read Jordan, youexplore an ancient world full of secrets. I have to throw out a disclaimer though: Wheel of Time is far from perfect; Jordan becomes lost in his own world as it grows too big even for him; (some of) his characters devolve into caricatures, and Jordan's handling of romance between characters is puerile to say the least. However, many people still find the books great fun, and if you like Tolkien's epic style, Jordan is a must read. Jordan died a few years ago, but the talented Brandon Sanderson is finishing the series and looks to be doing a good job. In fact under Sanderson's finishing touch, the Wheel of Time is finally getting back on track; Sanderson's last two Wheel of Time books were some of the best Wheel of Time books since books 5-6. This year (2011) will mark the final completion of the series when A Memory of Light, the final book, will be released.

The Way of Kings

For another epic fantasy with an end-of-the-world plot and a coming of age (sorta) story, read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings (first book in the Stormlight Archive saga). If Jordan took up Tolkien's world-building mantle with A Wheel of Time, Sanderson is picking up that epic fantasy mantle with this generation's new epic fantasy series.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn


If you want a book that's like Lord of the Rings but longer, has strong female characters, and very strong characterization (FAAR better than Jordan's), read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn saga, another classic.


The Swan's War

If you want the beautiful, almost lyrical writing of Tolkien and a world in which magic is present but still a grand mystery (i.e. not every character is throwing around magic like kids throwing sand at a beach), Sean Russell's The Swan's War is the answer. 


Earthsea Cycle

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle is also a beautiful tale, full of lyrical, often sad, prose; a tale about a village boy who seeks his destiny. 

Riddle Master 

Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle-Master is also another series(trilogy) that brings back similarities to Tolkien's style of writing. 


A Song of Ice and Fire


For a 12th-century version of Middle Earth set in a stark (English) European landscape that's as cold as the world is gritty and brutal where main characters can die at any moment, read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga tale.

First Law

If you want to see some of Tolkien's conventions turned on their heads and enjoy a noir version of a classic high fantasy tale with a starkly realized cast of grey characters, read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

Assassin fantasy set in a distinctly Japanese milieu. This one’s got everything you want in a good martial arts fantasy tale: ninja assassins, samurai warriors, beautiful princesses, evil lords, deadly battles and even deadlier magic. It’s a coming of age tale with a lot of “kick” to it and one that you won’t want to miss – as a teenager or as an adult.

Books in Tales Of The Otori Series (3)

While Martin's epic contains a lot of brutality towards women, it also shows how women, surviving in a man's world, can use their cunning, charm, and looks to run the show. There are few fantasy fans who have not read the books by now and a significant number the of the general public has followed along with this series through the TV series.Now the TV series puts more emphasis on female heroines than do the books, but this does not take away the cast of strong heroines present in the series who, over the five books, carve out positions of strength and power.Martin can be brutal in his treatment of women but given the realities of the era (a fantasy version of the War of Roses period in English history) it's a true take on the role and treatment of women. But it's also fair in that women, often, indirectly can garner power.

Books in A Song Of Ice And Fire Series (7)

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The First Law trilogy

First Law by Joe Abercrombie. It's witty, intelligently plotted, the characters are all grey, and there's a ton of brutal action in the books. Abercrombie writes some of the best fight scenes in the genre, and his portrayal of war and battle is spot on (especially in his later books like The Heroes) and will make you really think about the ultimate cost of war. One of the best series that's come out in a few years -- one that actually tries to do something new in the genre. Even better, with every new book added to the series (or universe), Abercrombie gets better and better. It's similar to Martin's work in the sense that there is really a moral compass -- good and evil are just both sides of the same coin. Heroes are not made out to be noble paragons: they are just straight out meaner, stronger or more conniving than the rest.

Prince of Thorns

If you like the grittiness of Martin where the boundary between heroes and villains is thin, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is an interesting take on the Anti Hero. This is the singular tale of a hero on a quest for revenge and glory (which eventually involves saving the whole world) but the flawed humanity present in Prince of Thorns channel the shades of Martin's brutal take on a fallen and immoral knighthood.


Try David Anthony Durham's Acacia . It's has a somewhat similar feel to A Song of Ice and Fire. The series wasn't as good as it initially promised to be by the end of it, but it's still good enough to read; the author pulls some interesting plot threads out of the blue by the end of book 2. My major complaint about the series was that I never really found the characters all that interesting.


Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock. Elements are similar. You have incest, kingdoms on the cusp of decline and ruin, pacts made with monstrous powers. The landscape is dour and the heroes are partly villains.

The Godless Word Trilogy

Another series that had a somewhat similar feeling to Martin's work is The Godless World trilogy -- there are some shared elements between the works or at least the gritty, dirty feel of A Song of Ice and Fire is shared by both works. The Godless World is actually more like a cross between Martin and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I did find the quality of the series dipped by the end of the trilogy, but it's still a good enough read.

The Dagger and the Coin

Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series. Rich characterization with characters you dislike who eventual grow on you as the story progresses; oh my god -- plot twists and turns, and magic that's not at all present until the story progresses. Not as much action and drama, but a more character driven saga.

Sword of Shadows Saga

Sword of Shadows is pretty close to Martin in terms of the setting and the portrayal of gruesomeness. The setting is a cold, brutal, Arctic-ice world. It's not as "grand" or "epic" as Martin and the cast of characters is not as morally ambiguous. Still a pretty damn good read, though the author is taking her sweet time finishing the damn series already.

The Black Company

I would be doing you a disservice if I did not recommend Glenn Cook's The Black Company series. It's gritty military fiction with a cast of grey characters, and great battle scenes -- something that Martin focuses on in his books. The focus of the series centers on a company of soldiers.

The Farseer Trilogy

If you like reading about Jon Snow, you might give The Farseer trilogy a read. There are some shared story elements (though the plot and world is NOTHING at all alike mind you). Farseer is pretty much the story of a young king's bastard who grows up in a castle full of intrigue. He doesn't have a lot of options and struggles to survive, and in the process gets tangled up in a series of political schemes. The main character also has a special relationship with wolves (he can speak to them mind-to-mind via a magical skill called the 'Wit') so you might read this one if you like the whole Stark and Direwolf thing. Some of the best characterization in the fantasy genre. Be warned: Jon Snow is a lot more bad-ass of a hero though.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is a must-read, and it's a finished 10 books long. There are some elements that are similar to Martin's work: it's got gritty and intense battle scenes, a cast of ambiguously grey characters, main character deaths, plenty of brutality that characters inflict on each other, and unpredictable (and utterly massive) plots. It's quite similar to Martin in the way that the line between villain and hero is quite blurred. You often end up rooting for characters on both sides of the war. No one is really "the hero" and every character is either trying to maintain their power status quo, or steal it from someone else. However, the work, as a whole, is a LOT MORE disjointed than Martin's work (even counting for the fact that Martin has lost his way a bit)

The Darkness That Comes Before

Try R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, which features superlative prose, a unique, but fascinating storyline, and the gritty realism that Martin exhibits. It's got that world is ending element to it as well. It's also a heck of a lot more philosophical too, which may or may not be something you like. On a whole Bakker's work is sort of like Tolkien's Mordor invades Martin' Kingdoms and stirs up a lot of shit. Throw a fantasy wizard Jesus with kung fu abilities and stuff the prose subtext full of philosophy. On the surface it's a head-case trippy mix, but there is a certain power to this series.

The Grim Company

The Grim Company by Luke Scull. There are elements of Martin in this work, which I was very impressed with as debut novels go. It's very much so a dark fantasy, with brutal violence, death, magic, and some compelling characters who are all flawed. You'll feel right at home if you are a Martin lover.

Monarchies of God

Monarchies of God -- a vastly under-appreciated series. If you like the epic struggle between kingdoms, fierce battles, strange unexplored lands across the sea, and life aboard a ship. Paul Kearny writes a compelling tale here. Elements of grim dark too.


You might also like Tad Williams newest fantasy saga: Shadowmarch which has some similar plot elements (strange fey creatures coming down from the north behind a wall of magic mist, trying to take over the world). There's a rich cast of characters scattered across the world in completely different lands (much in the way that Martin features characters living in the frozen north, characters living in exotic deserts, and so on). The creatures the north, the Quar, are similar to the Others, but more developed as mysterious, yet somewhat sympathetic entities, rather than the zombie-making horrors that Martin makes the Others to be. You might say this is the story of "The Others" and how they came to be so damn pissed off at the world of men.

A Land Fit for Heroes Trilogy

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, of Science Fiction fame. Marin can write villains as heroes and heroes as villains, but if you want to read about a dour world without a shred of goodness, check out Morgan's foray into the fantasyscape. Its a dark and blood and cold as ice, but there's a shit load of brutal action.

Coming of Conan the Cimmerian Martin himself recommends Howard's masterpiece. What more could you say to that?

Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Elements of ASoIaF's gritty and dark but at times hilarious. Well written. Think a book made up of the Tyrion chapters, centering around a band of thieving scoundrels in an Ocean 11 fantasy plot.

The Amber Chronicles

The Amber Chronicles by David Zelazny. Take a royal family who can walk into different realities. Gray characters, squabbling siblings, alternate realities, a prince in exile.

The Gap Cycle

The Gap Cycle by Donaldson. This is science fiction NOT fantasy and in no way is there any similar plot elements or themes, but Gap Cycle is darker than dark and features heroes who have more in common with villains. If you like the bleak outlook on flawed humanity taken up by Martin, Gap Cycle won't disappoint your disappointment in the human race.

In his self-acclaimed magnum opus, The Dark Tower series, Stephen King has crafted a unique multi-genre tale that blends fantasy with science fiction and Western fiction. Comprised of 8 books, The Dark Tower series is centred on Roland Deschain, the last member of a warrior group known as Gunslingers. Having taken over two decades to write, King's tale is lengthy and complex and thus, can be a little daunting for all readers, whether your new to the fantasy genre or a veteran fan of King. However, this epic tale will not disappoint and King's fascinatingly unique tale will have readers hooked until the very last book. Readers are guaranteed to become invested in King's fantastical setting, a world with a rich history of ancient technologies, old magic and seemingly impossible occurrences. As the series progresses, readers will begin to notice King's subtle expansion of this world, an action that takes nothing away from character and plot development throughout the series. King's story is layered with detail, subtly blending Arthurian imagery with Western-style adventurism. In the process, King creates a truly unique tale – a story that manages to be enchanting and unsettling at the same time. Given King's talented writing ability and unique imagination, it's hard not to love The Dark Tower series. Filled with refreshing twists, enthralling scenes and memorable themes, The Dark Tower series is in a league of its own in the fantasy genre. 

Books in The Dark Tower Series (15)

The Hobbit is one of the most well-loved fantasy novels of all time. Written by J.R.R Tolkien as a bedtime story for his children, The Hobbit is a light-hearted tale, focussing on the exploits of an increasingly adventurous hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Set in the same world as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit ties into and lays the foundations for Tolkien's more famous work. However, The Hobbit, which functions as an excellent standalone book, definitely shouldn't be viewed as an inconsequential novella or tie-in novel. Unfortunately, Tolkien occasionally gets caught up in the minor details of world-building, spending entire chapters on meandering side plots. While this can make for slow read at times, Tolkien's masterful character development is sure to keep the reader hooked from the first page. Bilbo is one of Tolkien's most relatable characters, an unassuming hobbit who is plucked from his comfortable life and thrust into a fantastical world of magic, thievery and battle. In comparison to The Lord of The Rings trilogy, Tolkien keeps The Hobbit grounded in a single main storyline. Instead of trying to save all of Middle-earth, Bilbo and his companions are dedicated to one goal – to steal an ancient relic from a dragon's treasure trove. Since being published in 1937, The Hobbit has stood the test of time, and it remains an incredibly popular novel to this day.

Books in The Lord Of The Rings Series (6)

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon reinvents the use of time-travel in fantasy and historical fiction, crafting a thrilling drama set in the 18th and 20th centuries. The series follows Claire Randall, an ex-combat nurse who travels through time to the Highlands of Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion. Gabaldon cleverly employs the use of multiple viewpoints, slowly building a complex cross-era plot. In the process, the author's attention to detail in the characterization of central and supporting character leaves the reader feeling as though they know each and every individual in Gabaldon's world. Gabaldon doesn't shy away from adult themes, blending historical fiction with adventure, mystery and, most importantly, love. While Gabaldon's tale is highly engaging and very digestible reading for fans of the fantasy genre, readers should be aware that the adult themes in her books can have very dark elements, including sexual assault and torture. During these scenarios, Gabaldon's excellent prose can be almost too descriptive at times, especially considering that the book is marketed as a romantic fantasy. This novel would not be recommended for younger teens, however, the fainthearted can easily skip the more gruesome chapters and still follow the story.

Books in Outlander Series (10)

In his novel, American Gods, Neil Gaiman ventures into the heart of contemporary America, juxtaposing the decline of America's 'Old Gods' with the rise of new 'deities' (e.g. technology, mass media, and globalization). Gaiman's descriptions of the Old Gods, whether they're Irish leprechauns, Muslim djinns or Judeo-Christian figures, is compelling, distinctive and utterly unique.   In American Gods, Gaiman shows his mastery of his craft, effortlessly constructing a gritty and atmospheric world. This story is magnificently broad in its scope, but the ambitious world building takes nothing away from Gaiman's characters – whether they're gods, humans or something else entirely. Moreover, the author makes no attempt to dilute the book's plot an expects the reader to keep up with American Gods' fast paced and complex storyline. At 465 pages, American Gods is a hefty read. However, don't let that dissuade you. Gaiman keeps the story moving, crafting smart and unexpected plot developments at every turn. Gaiman's characters have an extraordinary presence in American Gods. The protagonist, a man known only as 'Shadow', serves as Gaiman's vehicle, taking the reader on a journey into an increasingly dark and fantastical world. Filled with mystery, Shadow's journey across America is interspaced with flashbacks – describing the development of America's many deities – and imaginative soliloquys on the nature of worship in America. As a fantasy novel, 'American Gods' is a truly unique addition to the genre. Amazon Prime recently adapted Gaiman's work for their hit show of the same name. But before you check it out, take the time to read the original masterpiece – you won't regret it.

Books in American Gods Series (5)

With the first novel of this series adapted from a fairy-tale by the Brothers Grimm, Shannon Hale has created an immersive and familiar narrative in The Books of Bayern. Hale's clear, concise and easy to follow writing styles paints a vivid and imaginative picture of an enchanting kingdom on the verge of war. With such lyrical prose and deep themes, Hale has ensured that the reader is too busy to wonder why the princess can talk to animals or how people are harnessing the power of the elements on a whim. The strong, independent heroine of the first novel, Ani, makes this series an excellent choice for young girls or women looking for inspiration to stand up for what they believe in.  Not only is this series not your typical princess fairy-tale, the fantastical elements of the story create a thrilling tale that's likely to have you engrossed in a world of deceit, love and betrayal. Hale's characterization of Ani is a roaring success, creating an incredibly likeable and genuine character for readers to empathise with. Similar praise can be levelled at the remaining three novels in the series, 'Enna Burning', 'River Secrets' and 'Forest Born', with every character developing an increasingly mature voice throughout the series. While the first novel, Goose Girl, is more light hearted, the second novel, Enna Burning, does deviate to heavier themes, with the protagonist facing a number of personal and physical struggles.

Books in Books Of Bayern Series (3)

Before famous director, Hayao Miyazaki turned Howl's Moving Castle into an animated film, it was an enchanting novel written by Diana Wynn Jones. This novel follows the life a young girl who is destined, as the eldest of three daughters, to fail if she ever pursues success. In a world where the tropes of most modern fairy tales are accepted ways of life, Jones' protagonist, Sophie, must learn to shape her surroundings instead of being shaped by them. Initially, Jones' Howl's Moving Castle appears to be clichéd. Sophie is cursed by an evil witch before stumbling upon a living, breathing castle inhabited by a wizard called Howl, on the outskirts of the magical Kingdom of Ingary. While this narrative may stay true to many classic tropes of the fantasy genre, such as magic witches and talking objects, Jones' novel features a memorable setting, unique characters and a striking plot. The subtle, Victorian prose, similar to that of novels like Jane Austen, allows the reader to establish a vivid and in depth image of each character. Furthermore, the magical Kingdom of Ingary is perfectly developed, with Jones giving just enough information to build a mental picture while still allowing her readers to run their imaginations wild. While Miyazaki's film and Jones' novel follow the same premise, they differ greatly in plot and characterization, making them almost two entirely different stories. If you've enjoyed either version of this tale, you'll likely enjoy the other as well.

Books in Howl’s Moving Castle Series (2)

Suzanne Collins' engaging narrative, while not entirely original, has garnered millions of fans across the globe, proving that The Hunger Games Trilogy has something for adults and children alike. On a superficial level, this trilogy boasts an engaging and blood-pumping plot, a courageous and independent protagonist, a futuristic alternative world and a both heart-breaking and heart-warming love story. However, on a deeper level, Collins presents the reader with an opportunity to question the human morality of this alternate universe, where people watch a 'gameshow' where young children fight each other to the death in a secured arena. Using her dystopian society, which features a geographic class system, Collins poses important questions about humanity's tendency to become selectively outraged by moral issues. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is the heroine of the story, characterized as a brave, fearless, strong and selfless young woman who inspires a rebellion across the broken and divided country of Panem. Despite instances of clunky writing, Collins excels at writing emotional scenes, cleverly drawing parallels between the brutal slaughter of the 'Hunger Games' and the gluttony of other citizens.   While the second and third books of this series have been heavily criticized, it is the first novel, The Hunger Games, that has brought this series to its startling popularity. The narrative voice and steady pacing of the novel completely draws the reader into the world of Katniss, allowing them to be immersed in her struggles and her victories. Some of the imagery can be quite graphic, especially considering that most of the series is comprised of children killing each other in brutal and horrific ways. Nevetheless, if you can stomach the violence, you'll find that Collins' story of violence, love, corruption and bravery is one of the most powerful fantasy series in recent years.

Books in The Hunger Games Series (2)

In The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Claire takes the stereotypical characters of fantasy and completely reinvents them into a thrilling and immersive fantasy narrative. The Mortal Instruments series follows the life of protagonist, Clary Fray, after she witnesses a murder in a nightclub. However, this murder has a twist; no one else can see the murderer and the body disappears into thin air. This is when Claire introducers the reader to the world of Shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves and other mystical beings, all wrapped up in one action packed, humorous, dark and sleek story. If you liked aa combination of horror and classic fantasy, the fast-paced prose of this story will have you completely hooked. Claire is a talented writer and she excels at developing likeable and sympathetic characters. From the nerdy and adorable best friend to the seemingly snarky, 'bad boy' Shadowhunter, Claire completely immerses Clary, and thus, the reader, directly into the dark and mysterious world of Shadowhunters. This series is perfect for young teens looking to delve into a non-conventional fantasy series. The Mortal Instruments has a little bit of everything for the reader; action, drama and just a touch of romance. With each book in the series getting better and better, Claire will constantly surprise you with the twists and turns on every page.
Most recently adapted into a chilling, gloomy film by the infamous Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is yet another entertaining and engaging young adult novel to recently hit the shelves. Starting his story with a number of 'peculiar' children being housed in an orphanage, Ransom Riggs has created a mysterious, deranged and completely horror-filled tale. The inspiration for Riggs' work was a collection of eerie vintage photographs of young children and teens with peculiar features. While the plot of this novel is a little slow moving at times, it definitely doesn't lack in adventure and mystery. Riggs begins the novel on a strong note, writing humorous descriptions and peppering the narrative with some clever World War 2 analogies. Although Riggs' writing style is very simplistic, he never fails to create beautiful and haunting imagery, indicating his suitability for the dark fantasy genre. The 'peculiar' characters Riggs slowly introduces throughout the story have all sorts of weird and wonderful talents and traits that defy the bounds of logic and common sense. The protagonist, Jacob, will become a highly relatable character for young teens and adults, with Riggs introducing some important issues regarding mental health throughout the novel. This novel could be considered 'scary', and even disturbing at times. However, Riggs sys away from graphic depictions of violence and this chilling tale is a must read for all young teens and adults.

Books in Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Series (1)

The protagonist of Emily Henry's novel, June, is not your typical young adult narrator. June is shockingly funny and more than just a typical female protagonist hung up on her high school crush. Don't get me wrong, A Million Junes does include a somewhat clichéd love story, however, everything else in this novel is anything but clichéd. Henry's impeccable writing style has created a beautiful, haunting and dramatic novel that will make any reader question their belief in the unexplained. Loosely based on the premise of Romeo and Juliet, June and the other major character, Saul, belong to the opposing families in the midst of a century long feud. Despite this, they develop an intense emotional connection, and inevitably begin to question the mysterious reasons behind their family's' longstanding feud. Henry has created a wonderfully balanced plot, taking the reader through a narrative of 'forbidden romance' as well as a greater evil that is threatening their world. Furthermore, Henry's ability to blend the magical elements of the story into the contemporary setting made for a seamless plot with no jarring or awkward rhetoric. Emily Henry's novel, evocative and full to the brim with lifelike characters, will be so enjoyable you'll never want to put it down.
Comprised of five novels, Helen Dunmore's sweet and charming Ingo series is a perfect introduction to young adult fantasy, especially for teenagers. After Sapphire's father vanishes off the coast of Cornwall, she is left alone with her brother and mother, wondering what exactly happened. However, when Sapphire feels the pull of the ocean, she becomes enchanted by the stories of a kingdom. Sapphire even believes that her father may still be alive and living under the waves with the kingdom's inhabitants, the Ingo, or Mer, people. Dunmore has a vivid and serene writing style throughout the entire Ingo series, imbuing each novel with a powerful undercurrent of emotion. While this series would technically be classified as children's fantasy, that should by no means stop you. The dream-like narrative and intriguing plot from Dunmore presents a completely new premise, only relying on the basic tropes of mermaid fiction and a refreshing depiction of Cornwall, England. This more light-hearted narrative is a breath of fresh air for the young adult genre, giving readers a brief respite from the dark and tortured tales of other young adult novels. The characters Dunmore has created are simple, yet entirely realistic and bursting with personality. Furthermore, the world of Ingo, as portrayed by Dunmore, manages to be magical while also being dark and dangerous. With strong elements of suspense and mystery, the Ingo series should not be thought of as a second-rate fantasy series.

Books in Ingo Series (4)

A story of star-crossed lovers takes an incredible turn in this dark and intense series from Lauren Kate. While this series has been heavily criticized, it is impossible to ignore the intriguing premise of the plot. The story is centred on Luce, female protagonist, while she is drawn into a world of fallen angels, finding love and making enemies in the process. Admittedly, the love story of this series is not overly unique. However, the intensity and chemistry Kate creates between Luce and her love interest, Daniel, adds a captivating dynamic to the story. Furthermore, Kate's slow burning prose makes for a more interactive and pleasurable read, completely immersing her readers into her world before throwing you into the action, drama and love-triangle dilemmas. Kate's more simplistic writing style and the milder themes across the series makes this series a perfect read for younger teens looking to step away from childish novels and foray into the world of young adult fantasy. This five-book series has most recently been adapted into a film of the same name, however, make sure you check out these fantastic novels before you hit the cinema.

Books in Fallen Blade Series (10)

As one of the most popular fantasy series in history, it would be remiss not to include Stephanie Myers Twilight series on this list. The 4-book series has had an enormous impact on the young adult fantasy, shaping the genre into what it is today. This corny, teenage vampire romance series, while not entirely ground-breaking, sent the world into a frenzied vampire obsession, with Myers captivating her readers with an attractive teenage heart throb and a romance to stand the test of time. Myers must be given credit for her ability to write for an audience. Appealing to teenagers and young adults, the author chose Bella, a young high school student out of her depth, as the narrative voice of the series. Bella is a smart, pretty and shy arrival at her school, when she catches the eye of the sullen yet "dazzling" vampire Edward Cullen. Myer quickly throws her readers into a world of sparkling vampires and shirtless werewolves. However, while some sections of the series feel vibrant and exciting, there are long stretches of boredom and clunky dialogue, especially during the numerous Edward-Bella bonding sub-plots…feel free to skip that part. This generation defining series includes a number of intriguing ideas, however, the constant melodrama will irritate veteran fantasy readers.

Books in Twilight Series (6)

Only being published this year, Mary O'Connell's Dear Reader is a fairly new addition to the young adult fantasy genre. However, don't let that deter you, as O'Connell's novel is a tender, 'coming-of-age', ode to the much-loved classic, Wuthering Heights. When a student discovers her favorite teacher is missing, she discovers a clue to her whereabouts in her teacher's copy of the famous Wuthering Heights, which subsequently turns into a 'live-time' version of the teacher's journal. These clues take her to New York where she meets a boy who is so obscure, he almost seems to have jumped out of the pages of Bronte's Wuthering Heights. While the fantasy aspect of this novel is subtle, the book-magic that O'Connell incorporates into her tale is just enough to satisfy any fantasy nut. O'Connell's whimsical yet concise writing style along with the fast-paced and enigmatic plot make this novel an ultimately fantastic read.  If, like most people, you find it impossible to even finish half of a classic Bronte novel, do not fear, as O'Connell's world makes Wuthering Heights references mostly accessible and easy to follow. O'Connell's plot feels original and highly relatable, particularly for high school graduates and those looking to 'find themselves' before starting college.
A series of books about books…what more could an avid fantasy reader want? In her Inkheart series, Cornelia Funke takes everything that is enchanting about reading, and creates a hard-hitting story about a book binder who can read fictional characters to life. When the protagonist's mother disappears into one of her father's stories and she, herself, faces the wrath of a fictitious villain; Meggie must do everything she can to save her mother and her life. This page-turning series is driven by a simple and smart idea – what you write can come to life – and appeals to a very large audience (e.g. anyone who loves reading). Despite the simple premise of the Inkheart series, Funke had a difficult job of making each character feel as though they literally come to life in front of the reader's eyes. However, using eloquent prose and wonderfully detailed descriptions, Funke has done just that, producing a richly imaginative world that portrays each character down to the finest detail. Throughout the entirety of this series, the plot treads water on a number of dark themes, making this a heavier read than other popular fantasy series. However, this book isn't a grim or depressing read and it's darker sections are balanced by witty dialogue and one of Meggie's ever-cheerful companions.

Books in Inkworld Series (2)

Taking the time travel genre to a whole new level, Heidi Heilig has captivated readers with her magical series, The Girl from Everywhere. This book uses a winning formula of maps, mythology and pirates to create an intriguing and adventurous story. This series, while light-hearted and packed with action sequences, also takes the time to address a number of more realistic 'young adult' issues. The protagonist, Nix, has a complicated relationship with her father, the captain of their ship. While 'The Captain' feverishly hunts down a map that will bring back his beloved wife and Nix's mother, Nix faces an existential crisis of his own. The element of familial conflict creates a tense yet relatable representation of the relationship many young adults experience with their own parents, making Heilig's debut series incredibly insightful and relevant. Blending fact and fiction, Heilig put a lot of research into each book in the series, ensuring that the historical aspect of her series was accurate. Paired with the interesting locations throughout the series, Heilig has created an incredibly colourful fantasy world and it's sure to be an immersive experience for every reader.

Books in The Girl From Everywhere Series (1)