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Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. Judging by the bestseller lists, the best fantasy series are a favorite for a lot of other people, too. While there are standalone fantasy novels, series are much more the norm. But in a sea of wonderful, not-so-wonderful, and downright terrible fantasy books, how do you pick the best?
Great magic, incredible world-building, and a story that completely pulls me away from my day-to-day life are all must-haves for a great fantasy series. For the best fantasy series, I need memorable characters and brilliant narratives that redefine the genre.
A note about some series that I’ve left off this list. You won’t find George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Why? It’s unfinished and unlikely to ever be finished. I’ve also left off The Wheel of Time series from Robert Jordan. While I recognize how influential it is, I just don’t think it holds up. I’ve also left off plenty of series that I love but just don’t quite make the top ten.
Below, you’ll find a lot of epic fantasy, both recent and classic in nature. These books are mostly for adults, but there’s a splash of excellent young adult fantasy in there, too. There are plenty of European-style settings, but some others to mix things up. There’s even an incredible fantasy comic book series to round things off.
Enough preamble. Here are the best fantasy series.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
First up is a classic that’s a personal favorite of mine. The world-building, both physical and political, is intricate and beautifully woven into a grand story. Severian is a member of the executioner’s guild who commits the guild’s greatest sin: showing mercy. Banished, he wanders the land, surviving off his skills, and slowly becomes entwined in the grand political machinations of Urth.
The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin
Three books. Three Hugo Awards for Best Novel. It’s an astounding achievement that was well deserved. In this world, magic users are enslaved and controlled so that they don’t cause the world to break yet again. One woman is hiding her nature until her husband discovers that both of their children have the power. He kills one and flees with the other, and a quest for revenge will upend the workings of the world.
Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Not all fantasy novels have to be serious. One of the best fantasy series, in fact, is downright hilarious. This sprawling series is set on a disc-shaped world on the backs of four elephants on the back of a space turtle. While the setting is shared, the characters and storylines range far and wide, poking fun at just about every other fantasy novel in existence along the way.
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Earthsea Cycle spans seven novels and numerous short stories, all set in a mostly aquatic world. It’s the story of Ged, the greatest wizard in all of Earthsea, but it’s really a story about how a young man named Sparrowhawk became Ged. The setup is simple enough, but the delivery is funny and complicated and full of philosophical themes.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The first young adult fantasy series on this list is definitely one of the best fantasy series around. Inspired by the Roman Empire (insert your favorite memes here), Leia is seeking out an existence until her brother is arrested for treason. To free him, she makes a bargain with the rebels, putting her squarely in the path of Elias, a soldier. Their destinies are twisted up together along with the destiny of the empire itself.
Legacy of Orisha by Tomi Adeyemi
Here’s one more young adult fantasy series that is going to finish later this year. Orisha used to be brimming with magic until the king took it all away. Zélie remembers the magic, and she remembers it being taken away when she was a child, along with her mother. Suddenly, Zélie finds she might be the key to returning magic to Orisha, along with the runaway princess, if the crown prince doesn’t kill them both.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
You knew this was going to be here. Epic fantasy as we know it started when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, and he perfected it with this trilogy. Epic and unspeakable evil. Rural, unwilling heroes who rise to the occasion. Enigmatic sidekicks, elves, orcs, grand kings, and wizards. All that have come since The Lord of the Rings are still inspired by Tolkien.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is the modern grandmaster of the fantasy genre, and Mistborn is probably still his greatest achievement. In a world governed by the powerful and immortal Lord Ruler, Kelsier is a Mistborn, one capable of using all forms of metal magic, and he’s a rebel. He meets Vin, a young thief who is also Mistborn. Together, they might be the key to raising a rebellion to the level needed to finally end the Lord Ruler.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
I told you there was a comic book on this list, and here it is, one of the best fantasy series. Maika is a teen linked to a powerful and mysterious monster. In the matriarchal society in which she lives, the Arcanics and Federation have been at war for ages. Maika is both and neither, an Arcanic who looks human. Maika’s strange appearance and power is only part of a bigger secret, one that forces Maika into the middle of a massive power struggle.
The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Spanning 16 books and several short stories, this is certainly the biggest fantasy series on this list. The full series spans many characters, stories, and situations. There are four trilogies and a quadrilogy, all told. Between the training of master assassins, pirates, and so much more, there’s never been a more expansive tale.