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Last updated: 06/09/2020

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Fantasy is currently one of the most popular literary genres. Millions of people around the world will confess to following characters such as Harry Potter, Daenerys Targaryen or Conan the Barbarian. This is a testimony to the success of the genre among readers of any age.

A number of characteristics differentiate fantasy books from other genres such as science fiction or horror. They are generally set in imaginary worlds inhabited by mythical beings and creatures, often embarked on heroic adventures. They sometimes form sagas that can consist of dozens of books.

Key Facts

  • For decades now, the fantasy genre has taken pride of place among best-selling books. Seemingly unaffected by changing times, this literary phenomenon covers a wide audience of readers of all ages. This genre is itself divided into various subgenres, such as dark fantasy, fairy tales or historical fantasy.
  • Fantasy novels have become a real gold mine for cinema and TV directors, with successes such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. In that regard, American authors have gained notoriety with works of great quality and impact.
  • Whether you’re an avid reader or a newbie to the genre, it won’t hurt to know a bit more about it to pick your next fantasy novel. You may want to opt for classic books, or rely on other readers’ opinions and the different subgenres you’re familiar with to choose your next literary adventure.

Our Selection of the Best Fantasy Books to Introduce You to the Genre

The first fantasy novels date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Works such as The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were the first novels to fall into this literary genre. In the following section, you will discover our very own selection of the most popular fantasy books on the American market.

The Best-Selling Fantasy Book

Published from 1991 to 2014, the Outlander saga is one of the most popular fantasy works ever written and unsurprisingly an Amazon Best Seller in the category. Embark on an incredible journey through time alongside Claire Randall, the protagonist of this romantic fantasy series. With 8 published novels so far, another one upcoming and various other works related to the Outlander universe, you have dozens of hours of reading ahead of you.

The Best Fantasy Book for Young Adults

This complete set includes all five novels of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians saga, and it’s the ideal gift for avid young readers who will relish the incredible adventures of the main protagonist created by Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy who discovers he is the son of Greek god Poseidon, and the novels revolve around encounters with mythical creatures and the struggle between Good and Evil.

The Best Fantasy Book Adapted to the Screen

The two works mentioned above were also adapted to the screen, but few have gained the popularity of Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing short of a masterpiece, with the saga taking place in a truly elaborate fantastic universe that consists of two continents — Westeros and Essos. Delve into a world where several families fight a dynastic war for the control of Westeros.

The Best Comedy-Fantasy Book

Recently adapted to the screen by Amazon Video, this 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett is a hilarious yet incredibly clever take on the apocalyptic fantasy genre. The end times are imminent, but a sassy devil and a fussy angel are unwilling to accept the end of their comfortable earthly existence. All hell breaks loose — dare we say — when the child and future Antichrist disappears… but we won’t tell you more!

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Fantasy Books

Did you think you knew everything about fantasy novels? Did you think that the genre was limited to Harry Potter, Game of Thrones or J. R. R. Tolkien’s works? The fantastic narrative is more popular than ever before, and every year brings with it a few best-sellers on the bookshelves. Let’s now have a look at some characteristics of the genre.

library dream

The fantasy genre became extremely popular in the 1970s, and this trend hasn’t shown signs of slowing down.
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What are the characteristics of fantasy books?

A fantastic narrative must incorporate elements that are alien to our reality, seeking to stimulate the reader’s imagination. It can be differentiated from science fiction in that the extraordinary events that occur in these stories are caused by the paranormal and do not respond to the physical laws normally that govern us.

The fantastic genre originates from the mythological legends of antiquity. The presence of imaginary characters inspired by traditional folklore is another key feature of fantasy novels. These stories often include gods and demigods, heroes, knights, and all kinds of magical creatures.

Coffee and books

Fantasy books deal with a wide array of themes.
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Literary theorists have classified fantasy books into four subgenres. In stories belonging to the uncanny, it is the reader who must the explanation for the strange events that occur. In the fantastic-uncanny, on the other hand, the mysterious happenings are explained by the author himself.

Fantastic-marvelous stories are those where the irrational remains unexplained, but clues are given that give rise to a rational clarification. Works of the marvelous subgenre are the most frequent; the strange and unusual events are considered normal for the characters in the book but are not for the reader.

How many fantasy subgenres are there?

The fantasy subgenre par excellence is known as high fantasy. These stories see valiant heroes face evil beings in elaborate worlds often inspired by medieval times. Low fantasy narratives, on the other hand, the line between Good and Evil is blurred and the protagonists are sometimes antiheroes.

Magic and swords dominate heroic fantasy novels. The protagonist is generally a savage hero who faces his enemies alone. This character is often accompanied on his journey by a voluptuous and expert sword-wielding woman, or by some sort of magician. Created in 1932 by American author Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian is the best example of this subgenre.

Open book and open world

Fantastic literature is a very broad genre and will satisfy readers with very different tastes and interests.
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In the dark fantasy subgenre, the protagonists are often harassed by demonic creatures. Horror prevails over epic in these stories, and happy endings are not a common characteristic. In science fantasy novels, on the other hand, the supernatural and technological blend in the world, although the narrative remains purely fantastic.

Historical fantasy authors take a real-life period or civilization as a starting point and add extraordinary elements to it. Magic realism stories also take place in our world and have ordinary people as protagonists. However, unreal elements come in and disrupt the natural order of things.

Which epic fantasy novels are classics?

Also called epic fantasy, the high fantasy subgenre is the most common and most popular fantastic narrative. These stories take place in very elaborate worlds, inhabited by magicians, knights, and myriads races such as elves, orcs or giants. The eternal battle between Good and Evil is the backdrop of this subgenre.

Consisting of five books and three stories, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle is one of the greatest epic fantasy sagas ever written. The author developed a very elaborate, real world, with characters of great depth and rich psychology. Written in the 1960s, Earthsea remains one of the most popular fantasy sagas to this day.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is another work of high fantasy that every amateur should read. Set in the rich universe of Middle Earth, this story unveils a hero’s journey that then developed into the Lord of the Rings saga. It is hard to believe that this tale originally written to entertain his children has become such a literary classic.

What are fantasy novels for young readers?

While the fantasy genre was originally designed for a young audience, readers of all ages can now sit back and enjoy these books. That being said, some works are particularly tailored to a public of young adults. The most famous of these include the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings sagas.

Another extremely popular fantasy saga for younger readers is Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan. Twice brought to the big screen, the main series consists of five novels; several other books starring the protagonist complement the saga. These exciting works feature magic, Greek gods and mythological creatures.

underworld

Accomplished readers won’t be afraid to take on volumes of 800, 900 or even 1,200 pages.
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The Chronicles of Narnia were written by the British writer C. S. Lewis, a professor at the University of Oxford. The saga consists of seven books that are considered to be some of the most beautifully written works of fantasy. Each story features different characters, seven groups of children who play a crucial role in the history of the kingdom of Narnia.

Which TV series are based on fantasy books?

Fantasy books are an endless source of inspiration for cinema and TV scriptwriters. Based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones is the most famous example of this phenomenon. However, many other TV series were adapted from novels and fantasy sagas that you may not be so familiar with.

Inspired by Diana Gabaldon’s novels, Outlander is a fantasy series based on romance and time travel broadcast by Starz. The saga follows Claire Randall, an English nurse who travels back in time from 1945 to 18th century Scotland, initiating a torrid romance with a Highland warrior.

Terry PratchettEnglish Fantasy Author

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”

The Shannara Chronicles is a TV series based on a fantasy saga written by Terry Brooks, and it consists of more than 20 books and several tales. Brooks’ work takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where magic and fantastic creatures coexist with the almost forgotten technology of the ancient world.

The television series Shadowhunters is based on the book saga The Mortal Instruments by the American writer Cassandra Clare. Composed of a dozen novels and several volumes of tales that further develop its universe, the story takes place in an alternate world very similar to ours, where fairy tales and mythology are a reality.

Cloudy sky

So many new fantasy novels come out every year that classic works are sometimes left aside.
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What are the best heroic fantasy books?

Conan the Barbarian is one of the most famous heroic fantasy works ever written. Created in 1932 by the American writer Robert E. Howard, the Cimmerian warrior starred in a total of 21 stories. The popularity of this character has led other writers to use him in hundreds of books after the premature death of the author.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are the protagonists of a series of novels written by the American author Fritz Leiber between 1970 and 1988. Leiber’s intention was to create heroes that resembled Conan but that were more realistic. Elric de Melniboné is another such character and the protagonist of a saga of eight novels written by the British author Michael Moorcock.

Shopping Criteria

As you now know, the very broad genre that is fantasy targets readers with very different tastes and interests. This incredible variety of tales and subgenres makes it harder to pick a book that suits our personal tastes. In the following section, we’ll discuss some key criteria to help you choose your next fantastic read.

Subgenre of the book

We’ve mentioned earlier some of the many fantasy subgenres that exist. You will probably feel more comfortable reading a certain style of fantasy related to your overall literary tastes. If you’re fond of horror works, for instance, you should opt for a dark fantasy book. If you’re into fiction, on the other hand, go for science fantasy.

George R. R. MartinAmerican Novelist & Screenwriter

“All fiction has to have a certain amount of truth in it to be powerful.”

Classic works

The fantasy genre became extremely popular during the 1970s, today, and this trend hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. The incredible number of new fantasy works published every year means that classic works are sometimes left aside. Try reading a classic from times to times: they are just as entertaining and will enrich your literary culture.

Books adapted for the screen

You’re in luck if you’re passionate about fantasy-based movies or series and also enjoy reading. Game of Thrones isn’t your only option available, either. Many other works have been adapted to the big or small screen cinema and television and will provide you with countless hours of enjoyable reading. Are you a fan of series like The magicians, American Gods, or True Blood? All of them are based on books, so feel free to read them!

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Summary

We hope that our guide has helped you feel a little closer to the exciting fantasy genre. Rooted in the myths and legends of antiquity, this type of narrative has developed to reach a very broad reading audience. You can find numerous subgenres that we have discussed throughout our article.

Our goal was to try and make you a little more familiar with this thrilling literary genre by answering some questions that you may have asked yourself. You now know all about the best epic fantasy novels, as well as the most famous works that were adapted in movies or on television. Don’t forget to explore the books that have become classics over time!

We hope that you found our detailed guide on fantasy books enjoyable and interesting. If that’s the case, feel free to share this article on your social media. You can also leave us your opinion or your own literary recommendation in the section below!

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Why you can trust me?

Thibault Perinet Freelance Writer & World Traveler
As a literature and translation licensee and avid traveler, language has always been at the heart of my daily life. A freelance writer since 2014, I love to delve into a variety of topics that contribute to my professional and personal development. My favorite things in life? Maté in the morning, soccer with friends, and old school hip hop.