This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and decide to buy, I make a small commission for referring you. This helps me make a few cents for doing what I love.
Fantasy books are a great way to escape reality and immerse yourself in a world of magic, adventure, and wonder. Whether you prefer epic sagas, urban mysteries, fairy tale retellings, or anything in between, there are fantasy books for you. This blog post is part one of two where I share some of my favorite fantasy books and why I love them. Hopefully, you will find some new titles to add to your reading list, or maybe revisit some old favorites. Let’s dive into the realm of fantasy!
Fantasy is one of my favorite genres because there is tons of variety. It can also be a little polarizing for readers, but don’t let that stop you from reading. I’m breaking down this mammoth of a genre and then giving you lots of my favorites for fantasy books that are perfect for fantasy beginners. Who knows maybe you’ll discover a whole new genre you love!
I’m Emily Campbell, a full-time mom of two young kids and a reader extraordinaire. I built this blog to be a resource for readers wanting to know what is in their books. I’ve been disappointed so many times after picking up the latest and greatest on a book list after jumping in and realizing that the amount of language, graphic violence, or inappropriate sexual content did not fit my media standards.
I love reading, but also very selective about what media I consume. Plenty of things in books out there do not need a permanent place in my mind. The Book Nanny is here to help you look inside your book. I break down the language, violence, and adult content so you can enjoy the reading process instead of getting an unpleasant surprise.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Booksio and Amazon. If you click on a link and decide to buy something, I make a small commission for referring you. This helps me make a few cents for doing what I love.
Fantasy Fanatic or Unfollow Fantasy?
When people hear that I love fantasy books there are a few different responses I get. Some people are super enthusiastic to share their own favorites and see if we are secretly book-besties. Others say “Oh that’s nice”, like I just shared my favorite brand of toilet paper. They are slightly intrigued that I enjoy fantasy books but they don’t really want to continue the conversation.
This happens because we all read for different reasons! Some people read to learn new concepts or explore an issue a little deeper. Some readers want to forget their problems and get wrapped up in someone else’s drama for a bit. Understanding your why for reading can help you pick the right book. That right book might be a fantasy book!
Fantasy books to read when you don’t like Fantasy
I’ve talked with quite a few people who don’t like fantasy and it’s usually because it is hard for them to suspend disbelief. Some things are just too far out there to be believable and instead of dropping into a new world and forgetting their stress they overanalyze everything and think about how unrealistic everything is. When I’m feeling more cynical about fantasy, I like to read low fantasy because it tends to have more relatable elements to ground the story.
Sub-Genres of Fantasy
Did you know there are different types of fantasy books? Usually when you hear think about the genre of fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings pop into your head. But there are actually lots of different types of fantasy books! Many fantasy readers jump into a book like Harry Potter as an escape from the real world the same way you might turn on a Marvel movie, or flip through reels.
Fantasy books have things that you won’t find in real life, like magic, witches, time travel, advanced technology, and mythical places. This is a broad area and could literally describe anything an author can dream up. So, there are tons of subgenres to describe similar books. A book doesn’t need to have all of the characteristics to fall into a subgenre, or it could fall into two genres! Here are a few that come to mind and a few of their characteristics and two recommendations for each subgenre.
High fantasy books are typically set in a made-up world similar to our medieval world. A place that typically has horses, castles, knights, and usually some sort of royalty. Then there are supernatural creatures like elves, dwarves, faeries, wizards, werewolves, etc. The main protagonist usually finds themselves going on some kind of quest and usually, there is some kind of magic involved at some point.
Here are a few iconic high fantasy books but there are so many books that are part of this subgenre!
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is a classic fantasy novel that tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who joins a company of dwarves and a wizard on a quest to reclaim their ancestral treasure from a dragon named Smaug. Along the way, they encounter many dangers and adventures, such as trolls, goblins, elves, spiders, and a mysterious creature named Gollum.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
After a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier, 18-year-old Celaena is brought before the Crown Prince and given a choice. She can finish her life sentence in the mines or compete to become the new royal assassin.
Each opponent is sponsored by a different member of the King’s Council. Celaena is the only woman against mercenaries, thieves, and assassins. If she wins a series of tests, she will be granted a four-year contract as the Royal Assassin. Then competitors start showing up dead. Celaena must discover who is behind the deaths before she is the next one killed.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Alanna of Trebond is a girl who would rather train as a knight than become a magic-wielding lady. To fulfill her dream, she swaps places with her twin brother Thom and travels to the palace to train as a page, renaming herself Alan.
A Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Princess Lia runs away from a political match on her way to the altar. Lia tries to make a fresh start without knowing she has two people on her trail. One is a jilted prince bent on tracking down his would-be bride. The other is an assassin sent to kill the princess in “an accident”. Both start the dangerous game of courting her and trying to win her heart, but can she figure out their true identities before she dies?
This is the first book in a trio. I highly recommend getting all three before beginning. A Kiss of Deception is a clean fantasy book for teens and young adults. Grab the entire series from Amazon.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
The people of Scadrial have been ruled by a tyrant emperor for over a thousand years. Since his rise, the sun hasn’t been seen. Ash constantly falls from the sky, and food is hard to come by. An Allomancer (someone who can use metal magic) and his apprentice decide to pull a fast one on the society they are bent on bringing down. They pretend to be nobility to sneak into high society, and Vin has to learn the ins and outs of being a lady.
Low fantasy books start with a character in our contemporary world who is introduced to magic and supernatural creatures. Another name for this genre is Urban Fantasy because it takes place in contemporary cities but is filled with fantasy elements. You still get the joys of magic and going on quests, but usually, the story is easier to connect with.
Here are a few well-known low fantasy books.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide by Holly Black
Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace move into their great-aunt Lucinda’s old house after their parents’ divorce. While exploring the house, they find a secret library and a mysterious book called “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.” The guide is full of information about magical creatures. The children soon discover that the guide is real and that the creatures are not only real but also dangerous.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
When fifteen-year-old Clary walks out of the Pandemonium Club in New York City, the last thing she expected was to witness a murder. Even stranger, the murderers are teenagers covered in tattoos with weird weapons. But the mystery surrounding the event deepens when the body disappears. Within a day, Clary Fray is pulled into the world of Shadowhunters (warriors tasked with getting rid of demons) when her mother is kidnapped, and Clary is attacked by a demon. The question is why are demons interested in Clary and her mother, and how can she see them?
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
When Bella Swan shows up in the small town of Forks, she plans to endure high school for two years and get out. Instead, she discovers that vampires are real and not a nightmare. One of those vampires craves her blood above all others.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry is an orphan, and on his eleventh birthday, he discovers he is a famous wizard. Harry attends Hogwarts, a school of wizardry, and learns that being a wizard is much more than just waving a wand. As Harry tries to navigate this new world, he stumbles into a mystery. He has to solve it before the embodiment of evil can terrorize his newly discovered world.
Harry Potter is a series for all readers. These books will go down in history. For more about the first book, check out my parent guide. If you still need your copy of the series, this is the sign to add them to your library. Here is where you can get the series on Amazon or Booksio.
Touched by Corrine Jackson
Remy O’Malley can heal with a touch, but every injury she cures becomes her own. Growing up in an abusive household, she heals countless broken bones, bruises, and burns. Then one night, her stepfather goes too far. Being shipped off to live with her estranged father gives her a fresh start. Asher Blackwell used to be a Protector of Healers, but he sacrificed his senses to become immortal. Healers are like drugs to Protectors, and the only way Protectors can feel a burst of sensation but it requires Healers to die in the process. Falling in love is against the rules of the two enemy races. Because of Remy’s ability, Protectors will come for her, unless Asher kills her first.
Touched is for readers 14+. I love the twists and turns in the plot! You won’t want to miss this one!! Get your copy from Amazon.
Dystopian books have become more popular over the last 15 years. Typically, they are set in a post-apocalyptic, futuristic, or fantasy world. Their societies were once perfect, or they were made to be perfect, but there are flaws in the system. Usually, there are separations between classes and groups of people for various reasons. Sometimes this looks like a class or caste system, and other times it’s a physical difference. Whatever the reason for the division, it’s the reason why society doesn’t function well. There is also usually a very recognizable evil figure or ideology that needs to be stopped.
Here are a few notable dystopian fantasy books.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Capital controls the twelve districts of Panem by forcing each to send one boy and one girl to participate in the annual Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death on live TV. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her sister. She accepts that she has been sentenced to death. But survival comes easily to Katniss. To win she has to choose between survival and humanity, between life and love.
This book is for readers twelve and up. Granted, there is quite a lot of violence because it is a fight to the death. If you are already a fan, I have another post full of similar books. Here are links to purchase your own copy from Amazon or Booksio. It’s free if you have Kindle Unlimited!
The Selection by Kiera Cass
Thirty-five girls have been selected to compete for the hand of the prince. They are whisked off to the palace to be surrounded by glittering gowns and jewels. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is America’s worst nightmare because it means turning her back on her secret love and leaving her home. She doesn’t want to participate in the competition and definitely doesn’t want to live in a castle under attack from a rebellion. After meeting Prince Maxon, America starts to question all the dreams that she had. She starts to wonder if her future is supposed to look a little different.
The Selection isn’t your typical love story. Also, not to spoil it too much, but their story doesn’t end at the end of this book. There are two more books of America and Maxon’s story, so be sure to get The Selection, The Elite, and The One before you sit down to read. You won’t want to put them down!
Matched by Allie Condie
Cassia has always trusted The Society’s choices. The Society chooses who you love, where you work, and when you die. When her best friend’s face flashes across the Matching screen, she knows he is the one… until a second face flashes on the screen, before it goes black. Now she has to choose between perfection and passion. Does she dare to choose love?
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Tally turns sixteen in a few weeks and can’t wait. On her sixteenth birthday, she can finally have an operation that will turn her repulsive ugliness into a spectacular Pretty. She will move across the river to a high-tech, never-ending party. Pretties have the looks and the fun without the responsibility. Tally’s best friend Shay isn’t sure if she wants to become Pretty, and runs away before her operation. The authorities have given Tally an ultimatum. Either she finds Shae and brings her back, or they will never turn Tally pretty.
Uglies is the first of four books showing the progression of Tally’s journey. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where science and selfishness are leveraged for the government’s benefit. There are some kissing and a small amount of violence at the end. This is a good book for grades 7+. Snag your copy from Amazon or Booksio.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
In this dystopian society, everyone chooses one of five factions. Each faction values one particular trait – Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amnity (peace), and Erudite (intelligence). On a specific day every year, all the sixteen-year-olds choose which faction they will be a part of for the rest of their lives. Beatrice Prior has to choose between staying with her family or being her true self. Her choice surprises everyone, including herself. But Tris has a secret. A secret that might kill her if others find out. When conflict arises between the factions, Tris learns her secret could help her save her loved ones or end her.
Divergent is a science fiction dystopian novel and one of four books. It has a dash of romance and a whole lot of action. It is for grades 7-12. Overall this book is PG-13, but the war scenes get intense at the end. Read the full review before getting your copy from Amazon or Booksio.
Post-apocalyptic books are most recognizable because of their setting. As the name implies, these books are set in a world after apocalyptic disasters hit. There has been a breakdown of government and society as we know it. There are lots of different types of apocalyptic disasters, and each disaster still affects the day-to-day life of the characters. Some are natural disasters, but others are man-made from war, or genetically engineered diseases or problems. Post-apocalyptic books can feature advanced technology or survival situations.
Here are a few post-apocalyptic books to explore.
Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up inside a metal box with no memories except his name. He joins a community of boys who live in the Glade. Outside of the walls of the Glade, is a limitless, never-ending, forever-changing maze. It’s the only way out. No one has made it through. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever brings a message. Remember. Survive. Run.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Matteo Alacran is a clone of a wealthy drug lord named El Patron. Their country Opium lies right between America and Aztlan (formerly Mexico). Many people around him view Matteo as nothing more than a beast and not a real person, but El Patron sees him as his ticket to eternal life. El Patron loves Matteo because Matteo is his clone. They have identical DNA.
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the Earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.
This story is written as a journal as Miranda tries to hold onto her hope. This book is good for ages 12+. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this is the book that I thought of. Purchase your copy on Amazon or Booksio.
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Rhine Ellery is sixteen and has four years left to live. She lives in a world where genetic engineering has created a perfect generation of humans, but also a deadly virus that kills females at age 20 and males at age 25. Geneticists race against the clock in a world full of orphans, crime, and young girls sold as polyamorous brides to bear more children. Rhine is kidnapped by Gatherers and forced to marry Linden Ashby, along with two other girls, Jenna and Cecily. She lives in a luxurious mansion with her new husband, but her world is far from perfect. Who can she trust, and is escape possible before her time runs out?
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in 264 days. The last person she touched died, but it was an accident. No one knows why it happened, and they are too busy worrying about the world collapsing around them to figure out why. The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, and they forgot about her in a cell. Now the survivors are trying to find another way, and the Reestablishment remembers Juliette and wants to use her.
There is violence, some language, and PG-13 adult content in this book. This book is best for high school and older. I love the writing in this book! Make sure to get your copy from Amazon or Booksio.
Steampunk is a fantastic combination of the Victorian, pre-industrial era, and the wild west world with advancing technology. This is usually characterized by gears, mechanical parts, and electricity. Some books have a mix of magic with early technology. Others heavily lean into the mechanical side and mix in robots and cyborg elements. Even though there are a lot of mechanics and technology, it typically isn’t shiny or fresh. Instead, it has more of a weathered, thrown-together, and unique feel.
Here are a few of my favorite steampunk books.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Betrayed and fleeing from his own countrymen, Prince Aleksander has nothing left but his war machine and his faithful crew. He is the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire in name only. Deryn Sharp is a girl in disguise, serving as an airman in the British Air Service. She has a talent for flying but lives in fear of exposing her secret. As the world edges closer to war, their fates collide in an unexpected journey that will transform their lives forever.
This steampunk version of World War I helps younger readers understand more of the political nuances that were happening at the time in an easy and fun way. This is the first of three books. Get the whole series on Amazon or Booksio.
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a seventeen-year-old girl who loves dissection. Her uncle is a coroner and has agreed to teach Miss Wadsworth everything she wants to know. Enter Jack the Ripper. Audrey and her uncle are working to solve the case using early forensics. Soon her uncle is imprisoned as a suspect, and she is left to solve the mystery alone. All the pieces point to people she loves, but who is Jack the Ripper?
Steampunk crime procedural mystery?! Yes, please!! This is one of my favorite books. For a deeper look, check out this post. Also, remember to add this to your TBR list and get your copy from Amazon or Booksio.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
A thousand years in the future, Cinder works in her mechanic shop when Prince Kai appears with a broken android assistant in need of some help. Cinder’s friendship with Kai deepens while spending time at the palace after being drafted to help with plague research. Politics, a plague, and a conspiracy theory help round out and bring dimension to a well-loved story.
Cinder is a fresh take on the classic Cinderella story. This book and the rest of the series are great for middle and high schoolers. Check out this post with an in-depth look at Cinder and another about the rest of the series. You need this book in your home library, so get your copy from Amazon or Booksio.
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger
Sophronia is in desperate need of a finishing school. Her curtsy is terrible. Instead of enjoying embroidering, her favorite things are dismantling clocks and climbing trees. Sophronia is shipped off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy, but it isn’t the school her mother expected. She learns her manners and proper etiquette along with espionage and assassination. Her first year at school will definitely not be dull.
Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn
Aniri never thought she would regret escaping the palace. But as the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia, she had no obligations or duties to her kingdom. She was only a spare daughter, waiting for her older sisters to secure the throne or an alliance with their marriages. She dreamed of being free to marry the handsome fencing master.
But then everything changed—a proposal from a savage prince in the north. And a threat of war if she declined. She had no choice but to accept and pretend to be his bride and spy on him and his flying weapon. But when she arrived in the majestic mountains of the north, she discovers the prince had secrets of his own… and that her mission might cost her more than her heart.
Get Ready for Part 2 with even more fantasy recommendations!
If you are reading this, I’m glad you survived and made it to the end. You were probably looking for a book about monsters and didn’t realize this blog post would be a monster! This is only half of the amazing fantasy genres I want to share with you. It was so hard to pick just five books per subgenre. I’m hoping to do even more blog posts with lots of other books in each subgenre. If you want to know when the second half of this post comes out, or any other post, jump on my email list! I promise I won’t send you spam, but I do hope to bring a bit of book-flavored joy.
Looking for more fantasy books?
Do you love this list of books and are wondering where to go next? Here is a list with many more books to add to your reading pile and most of them are fantasy books!
- The Mandalorian Returns: Non-Star Wars Books to Read Immediately After Watching The Mandalorian
- Princesses Empowering Girls: 10 Books to Read if You Liked Princess Academy
- A Summer Reading List for the Adventurous Reader
- 10 Books to Read if You Like Harry Potter
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and decide to buy, I make a small commission for referring you. This helps me make a few cents for doing what I love.