Since fantasy is my absolute favorite genre out there, I thought I would write a recommendation post for people who want to dive into the genre, but have no idea where to start. Before we really get into the meat of the post, I do want to say this: fantasy is known for having series, and not really singular standalone books. This makes fantasy intimidating to a lot of people because you have to commit to reading a 3+ book long series in order to get a complete story. I’m here to tell you that no, you really don’t. If you read the first book in a series, and aren’t feeling it? Stop. Stop reading it. Move on. Life is too short to keep reading books you don’t like, especially when those books are in a series.
So, with that being said, this list is primarily books that I believe are relatively easy to get into, relatively easy to read, and complete series. Meaning — you don’t need to read anything but the book itself to understand it, the language used isn’t overly ridiculous, and all the books are out. Oh as a side note — most of these books are written for adults, but there might be one or two that wiggle on the YA/Adult border.
Now that I’ve rambled on for forever, let’s get into the recommendations.
THE MISTBORN TRILOGY by BRANDON SANDERSON
For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Then Kelsier reveals his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets. She will have to learn trust if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.
WHY THIS SERIES? The Mistborn Series (The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages) is a complete story done in three books. The ending of the story is 100% satisfying, with almost all questions answered. Brandon Sanderson is a master at world-building, and at creating extensive, amazingly-unique magic systems. If you want an entry point into modern fantasy — here is the best place to start.
- WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? The Final Empire
- HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
- CW: abuse by a sibling, death, gore, murder, rape (mentioned), slavery, violence
- IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, or The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
THE OLD KINGDOM SERIES by GARTH NIX
Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.
As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.
WHY THIS SERIES? I grew up with this series, so I’m a little biased when I include this one in this list. Despite that, I still think it’s a great example of what fantasy can be, and it’s incredibly easy to read. There are talking animals, beings of enormous power, and just enough world-building to keep you curious. Nothing is shoved down your throat, but nothing is hand-waved away, either. A note – there are actually six books in this series, but the first three (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) are the ones that I’m talking about in this recommendation. I haven’t actually read the others, because I’m afraid they’ll ruin my enjoyment of the first three.
- WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Sabriel
- HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
- CW: blood, death, death of a parent, gore, murder
- IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, or The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
THE RIYIRA REVELATIONS by MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN
Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles-until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.
Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires?
And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.
WHY THIS SERIES? If you’re looking for a classic fantasy feel with wizards, and swords, but with a modern feel to the language, then you want The Riyira Revelations. This series is straight-up like popcorn. It’s so good! You will fly through these books, and by the end, you’ll want more and more of Hadrian and Royce! Good news is Sullivan wrote some prequel books! These are not necessary to understand what happens in Revelations, though!
- WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Theft of Swords
- HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
- CW: death, blood, murder, ableism, sexism, sexual assault
- IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, or Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ KLUNE
A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
WHY THIS BOOK? Good news! This one is a standalone, and it’s relatively short. If you’re looking for a warm hug wrapped in magic, then you want The House in the Cerulean Sea. This sweet book is about finding family, and what you’d do to protect them once you have them. There’s unique children, some even what most people would consider ‘monsters’. This is a great place to start if you’re looking for a lighter entry into fantasy.
- WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? The House in the Cerulean Sea
- HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 1
- CW: child abuse, xenophobia, fatphobia, confinement, body shaming
- IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: The Princess Bride by William Goldman, or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by DIANA WYNNE JONES
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
WHY THIS BOOK? This is another sweet story that’s very easy to read! There are technically three books in this series, but I have only read this one. It’s a complete story, too, so there is no reason to venture out into the other books unless you really, really want to. This is about Sophie, and her adventures with the great wizard Howl, and the three different worlds he can travel to. And yes, there is a movie, and yes, it’s just as adorable as the book, though there are some changes. I recommend the book! Obviously.
- WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Howl’s Moving Castle
- HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
- CW: body horror, confinement, death, murder, death of parent
- IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: Stardust by Neil Gaiman, or Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
Those are my recommendations for an entry point into the fantasy genre. I’ve read every book listed here — I will never recommend a book I haven’t read! I know people won’t agree with every book that I’ve mentioned, but maybe they should write their own recommendation posts, then, huh?
But before we go, I do want to say one last thing — I did not include The Hobbit on this list, because a lot of people find the language hard to get through. Not to mention, there are great swaths of that book that are boring. I wanted to include books that won’t bore someone out of reading more fantasy novels! However, if you’re absolutely looking to start with a classic, I’d start there, with The Hobbit. You’ll notice I also didn’t include extremely long winded series (The Dresden Files, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Iron Druid Series, the Mercy Thompson Series, etc.), because those are intimidating just due to sheer length!
Do you have any other suggestions for a good starting place to try out the fantasy genre? Leave what you’d recommend in the comments below!