Looking for a new fantastical world to get lost in? Then you’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ve included a list of some of the best adult fantasy novels. There are many fantastic, worthwhile fantasy books and series out there, far too many to include in such a short list.
Still, the novels and series below are some of the most popular in the fantasy genre, published by prolific fantasy authors.
Many of these are adult fantasy books but can be enjoyed by teens and young readers, just as adults enjoy teen or ya fantasy books.
Best adult fantasy novels
The following are some of the best adult fantasy novels created in the past decades.
The earliest entry in the list dates back to the 1950s (with JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), and some entries have only been published in the last five to ten years.
The fantasy genre is a long-standing favorite among the general public, and if you read any of these books, you’ll understand why.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas is somewhat of a fantasy superstar these days. Her first novel debuted in 2012 and has amassed a large and loyal following ever since.
Her 2015 novel series A Court of Thorns and Roses is her follow-up to the 2012 novel Throne of Glass, taking place in the same megaverse, and earns Maas her popularity, again.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is the story of heroine Feyre Archeron, once mortal but soon to become High Lady of the Night Court. We first meet Feyre in A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first book of the series, and follow her through the trilogy.
The trilogy includes:
Maas’ trilogy, as well as her debut novel Throne of Glass and another renowned series Crescent City, which stands out as one of the best fantasy series published in the past decade, is full of rich characters, an engaging plot, immersive fantasy world and fantastical elements.
‘I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal. I was a survivor, and I was strong. I would not be weak, or helpless again I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.’
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Sayaka Murata is a Japanese writer and winner of the Gonzo Prize for New Writers. Her work is right up there with other best adult fantasy novels.
Much of Murata’s work focuses on nonconformity, gender roles and identity, responsibility, and sex. Murata is not afraid of taboo – she’s known for grabbing taboo topics with both hands rather than shying away from them.
In Earthlings, we are told the story of Natsuki, an 11-year-old girl who, along with her cousin, believes she does not belong to her family.
Natsuki and her cousin, Yuu, believe they cannot naturally be part of such a tumultuous and chaotic household and vow to stick together after terrible events in their youth threaten to pull them apart.
As an adult, Natsuki is still not free of her childhood difficulties, and they come back to haunt her.
Family pressure mounts, and Natsuki feels the heat. With a desire to leave everything behind, Natsuki plans to reunite with Yuu and fulfill their earlier promise.
Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings is a beautifully written tale about feeling like an outsider and the pressure of conformity. All readers will find some way of relating to Natsuki.
“I was a tool for the town’s good, in two senses. Firstly, I had to study hard to become a work tool. Secondly, I had to be a good girl, so I could become a reproductive organ for the town.”
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is a masterfully written tale of the continent of Osten Ard and the royal family ruling the land.
On Osten Ard, humans inhabit the land alongside elves and dwarves. The races and species on Osten Ard did not always live in harmony, but peace has come thanks to King John the Presbyter, also known as Prester John.
King John is old, and his health is waning, . Though sad about their father’s looming death, sons Elias and Joshua can’t help but argue over who will succeed him.
Early in the first book, The Dragonbone Chair, we learn that King John has not yet been entirely honest with his sons.
He keeps a dark secret that threatens Osten Ard’s well-being and its inhabitants’ unity. In addition to John’s secret, another player threatens the continent – Pryrates, a priest many call a pawn of evil.
The three books in the series are:
- The Dragonbone Chair
- Stone of Farewell
- To Green Angel Tower
“He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.”
A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR. Martin
If you absolutely loved the HBO TV series, The Game of Thrones, you will enjoy reading George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, a fantasy book for adults.
Instead of forging ahead with unapologetic details, Martin doesn’t hold back on violence and sexual themes.
Violence, sex, and other adult themes prevail throughout the series, accompanied by rich and vivid characters, magical creatures, an immersive world, and plot twists that make it almost impossible to stop reading. Martin’s world-building skills are practically unrivaled in the genre.
Adapted for TV by HBO (Game of Thrones), Martin’s work has gained global success. Since it was first published in 1996, it’s sold over 90 million copies worldwide.
The series follows nine noble houses on the fictional continent of Westeros as they fight for control of the Seven Kingdoms and rule of the Iron Throne.
The Game of Thrones is fraught with political intrigue. Enemies and allies shift and change, but one common enemy looms beyond ‘The Wall’ – the White Walkers, an army of the icy undead.
The epic fantasy is long, with five published books and more on the way. But a huge fan of the series will not mind all these pages.
The shortest book in the bestselling fantasy series is the first, counting around 694 pages. The longest is book five, at over 1000 pages. Though long, many readers wish they hadn’t read them yet so, they could read them for the first time all over again!
You still have time to read the first five books in the entire series before the next book is out.
“It is night in your Seven Kingdoms now,” the red woman went on, “but soon the sun will rise again. The war continues, Davos Seaworth, and some will soon learn that even an ember in the ashes can still ignite a great blaze.”
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
It’s hard to say that it’s for adults exclusively, but it’s most certainly not a children’s book. It can be classified as technically YA because it can be very engaging to teens and young adults. Each book is a hefty volume and takes some commitment to read, but it’s worth every minute and every page to immerse in the magical world.
In the Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy, we meet Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who has been given a monumental task by his uncle Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is in possession of the One Ring, a mighty source of magical powers that grant invisibility but also insanity to its bearer.
In the epic story set in middle earth, Uncle Bilbo puts his only hope on Frodo, assigning him with the daunting task of taking the ring to Mount Doom in Mordor and destroying it in the fire of its creator, the Dark Lord Sauron.
Accompanied on his epic quest by a brave but small group of elves, dwarves, rangers, and the great wizard Gandalf, Frodo sets off from the Shire on the adventure of a lifetime.
Younger readers will enjoy the main characters in the unforgettable world unlike no other of the best fantasy book series – from the challenges of old friends, Sam and Frodo, to the final battle against dark magic. Adult romantics will swoon over the love story of Aragorn and Arwen.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first fantasy novel in the trilogy published in 1954. It’s followed by The Two Towers (1955) and The Return of the King (1955). The three book series showcases an extraordinary cast of characters and an engaging plot.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is an eight-novel fantasy series highlighting King’s varied skill set as a talented writer.
In the Gunslinger, the first book in the series, we meet Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of the Mid-World, traveling across a post-apocalyptic landscape once his home.
Roland is in search of the Dark Tower, a magical edifice 600ft tall that balances realities.
The series includes:
- The Gunslinger
- The Drawing of the Three
- The Waste Lands
- Wizard and Glass
- The Little Sisters of Eluria
- Wolves of the Calla
- Song of Susannah
- The Wind Through the Keyhole
The Dark Tower is a refreshing version of a classic theme – good vs. evil. King skillfully combines horror, fantasy, and sci-fi throughout the series, yet always keeping the reader with him.
‘The man in black persisted as if Roland hadn’t spoken. “Shall there be truth between us, as two men? Not as friends, but as equals? There is an offer you will rarely get, Roland. Only equals speak the truth, that’s my thought. Friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of regard. How tiresome!”
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Accomplished authors Pratchett and Gaiman collaborated on a novel in 1990.
The novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1991.
Good Omens is a comedy about the birth of Satan. The end of times is nigh, to the displeasure of angels and demons.
The Angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have grown comfortable in their English surroundings and wish to sabotage the coming of the end times.
In the book, Adam, the Antichrist, is involved in a hospital mix and goes home with the wrong family.
The aforementioned angel and demon, hoping to maintain their comfortable lives, prolong the end of times by confusing the young antichrist with both good and evil influences.
We also meet the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their huge personalities.
Good Omens may seem a bit dark but it is the best fantasy novel for adults looking for a bit of a laugh. Good Omens is a great place to start if you’ve never read Pratchett or Gaiman.
Both authors leave their mark on this book, and it offers a beautiful intersection between both authors’ styles.
“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Leia’s life is far from a fairy tale. A young girl from a poor family, Leia works hard every day and earns her living under strict and oppressive Martial Empire.
Leia keeps her head down but can no longer play dumb when the Empire kidnaps her brother.
Determined to find him, Leia sets out on a life-changing mission. She infiltrates Blackcliff, the most elite military school in the world, to find her brother and bring him home.
Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes is appropriate for several age groups. It can be the gateway book to fantasy novels at a young age.
It’s popular among teens and young adults, but fantasy readers of any age are sure to enjoy Tahir’s engaging and skillfully written tale.
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
Fantasy is a broad genre. Modern fantasy writers combine several elements and genres into their best fantasy novels.
King skillfully colors his Dark Tower series with science fiction themes while maintaining the fantasy status. R.R. Martin, on the other hand, combines romance fantasy with family secrets and intrigue. Both writers have come up with bestsellers and popular titles.
Good fantasy books can incorporate elements of fairy tales, history, science, and creative use of space and time. There are rules to the genre, but its very nature can bend those rules.
We hope this article has helped you in selecting the next fantasy novel to escape to. Feel free to comment below for other suggestions.