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Best Anti-Hero Fantasy Books

Best Anti-Hero Fantasy | Best Fantasy Books

Tired of fantasy where the hero is always noble and good and the perfect gentleman? Want a hero that's a bit of a dick, occasionally selfish or maybe even a complete amoral bad-ass? Then this list of the best fantasy books with anti-heroes is made just for you.

What is Anti-Hero Fantasy?

Most fantasy tends to feature the perfect hero – handsome, muscular, charming (if somewhat shy), and always willing to do the right thing, even at the cost of self. This perfect vision of a hero is not the way the world works though – the line between heroism and villainy is often pretty thin. Enter the anti-hero.

Antihero vs Hero vs Villain 

Anti-hero: Anti-heroes don’t always do the right thing; they may be selfish, in fact, and do the wrong thing – if not always, then occasionally. In extreme cases, anti-heroes might even qualify as the villain. In fiction, an anti-hero (feminine: anti-heroine) is generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis. One common error people seem to make is to confuse the anti-hero with the villain. In fact, they play different roles. Generally, the motives of the anti-hero are impure, yet at the same time, sympathetic. The usual motivating drive would be revenge; thus the anti-hero will commit all manner of atrocities to achieve revenge.

Hero: the good guy, often (but not always) the protagonist of the story. A hero's role (in fantasy) is to save the day and upon his or her shoulders may rest the fate of the world, a kingdom, or some other weighty responsibility to which only the hero has the means to a solution. A hero will usually commit to his duty out of a sense of responsibility, justice, or because of some emotional impetus (revenge, grief, justice, etc.). The typical hero will (usually) take the higher road, or if a moral dilemma is offered, the best of the worst choices. If a hero is driven by darker emotions or/and presented choices which are all bad, then you may see the intersection between where a hero and anti-hero meet. Anti-heroes, you see, are heroes driven by strong emotions, usually negative ones.

Villain:  the villain, on the other hand, is usually driven by the thirst for unabated power – an unsympathetic motive. Anti-heroes are often portrayed as underdogs and who doesn't like to root for the underdog. So even if the anti-hero breaks laws and commits crimes to accomplish a means, we often still root for him by virtue of the underdog quality; basically, the anti-hero has the odds stacked against him and must use any means possible to overcome them. 

Also make sure you check out our Best Grimdark Fantasy Books list -- there are some similarities between the two lists as a number of great grimdark fantasy books feature antihero characters.


A rising fantasy star and a nomination for one of the best new fantasy series released in 2011. As of 2013, the trilogy was completed and was...spectacular. It's some of the best fantasy since Martin and Lawrence pushes the fantasy genre in a new direction with his unique take on an anti-hero story. There really is nothing else quite like The Broken Empire books just yet, even in 2015. There are a whole wack of new grimdark authors inspired by Lawrence, but so far, this author is leading the pack when it comes to grimdark antihero fantasy.

What's so awesome about Prince of Thorns? The hero is bad-ass prince who should be pretty much unlikable on paper, yet still has you rooting for him the whole way though, even those he's a sadistic bastard abut 95 percent of the time. 

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Awards Won:1979 BFS
Award Nominations:1978 WFA

This is the guy that everyone loves to hate. There’s quite a bit of reader invective towards this series, in no small part due to the hero, Thomas Covenant. Good old hero Thomas, in the first book, manages to rape the first girl who shows him any sort of kindness, then proceeds to treat the fantasy world he finds himself with disdain (he imagines the whole thing is part of some delusion he’s having). However, there is genius in the way Covenant is portrayed and you do see his growth from anti-hero to hero over the course of the series.

You might want to try Donaldson's Gap series, a science fiction space opera that's dark, gritty, and full of anti-hero characters all the way through.

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Another stellar fantasy tale, arguably one of the best fantasy book/series out there and certainly a contender for the top 10 best fantasy books. We’ll start with his original First Law trilogy. A number of Abercrombie’s ‘heroes’ in First Law could be deemed anti-heroes. Superior Glokta is a torturer who actually enjoys his work. You’ll read his chapters with a mixture of horror, sympathy, and laughter – definitely one of the best (and most complex) fantasy characters out there. Login Ninefingers, with his split personality, becomes a psychotic killer with his The Bloody Nine personality. Black Dow, another character, is a vicious killer who done wrong to do right. Abercrombie’s other standalone books, Best Served Cold and The Heroes, also feature a number of anti-hero protagonists. If I had to choose which book featured the strongest anti-hero theme, Heroes would take the cake. Joe Abercrombie's books are full of anti heroes, and I have a definite liking for Superior Glokta. Again, you’ll read his chapters with a mixture of horror and sympathy. The guy is a torturer and he actually seems to enjoy it. I couldn't help giggling at some of the things he did, and at the same time being disgusted with myself for finding it amusing in a macabre sort of way.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 

No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.


The Darkness That Comes Before

(R. Scott Bakker)

(The Prince of Nothing)

This book made waves when it was first released. A philosophizing, epic fantasy – arguably the first of its kind. The story and landscape is one of desolation and darkness, the characters are either used or use others, and the heroes are broken individuals with plenty of flaws or straight-out manipulative bastards. One of the key characters that the story centers around, Kellus, becomes a sort of magical Jesus Christ of the series. However, unlike the Jesus of the Bible, his motives are definitely not altruistic: He uses his training to manipulate everyone around him in such a way as to angle himself into positions of power; you might say the whole trilogy centers around Kellus’ manipulation of the world. In one part of the story, Kellus even allows an innocent slave woman to continually be beaten and raped by her tormentor because it allows him to better manipulate both her and her tormentor (a travel companion), playing them off each other. If that’s not anti-hero behavior, I don’t know what is.

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One of the darkest fantasy books (and's a trilogy which was completed at the end of 2014) you'll ever read. It's pretty much the 'anti-fantasy' of every fantasy book you've read, a complete subversion of the fantasy tropes. It's also darkly gripping, insanely violent, well written, with some of the best action scenes you'll read in the genre. If you can get past the depressed heroes and the dreadful world portrayed, there's some real good stuff to be found in this series. The concluding novel in the series was remarkable and a fitting ending to the series (it's the best of the the three books).

If you want antihero, well, Morgan delivers a story with about as antihero as you are going to get, poking holes into the fantasy genre the whole way through with his subversion.

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A military fantasy where there is no real definition of good and bad. These books center on the exploits and struggles of The Black Company, a famous badass mercenary company that gets stuck on the wrong side of a war, working for what you might typically call “the bad guys.” What’s the anti-hero aspect found in these books? The so-called “heroes” of the Black Company are sometimes downright villainous, committing some pretty heinous acts – murder, rape, robbery, torture -- in the name of war and profit. By far, one of the more interesting characters is The Lady – a female version of Sauron (or more accurately, Sauron’s wife). She’s a well-developed character in her own right, though with some complex motivations. Croaker, the protagonist-narrator of the story (at least for the first few books), is also an anti-hero, quite often doing bad things just for the sake of survival.

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Mark Lawrence's newest 2014 release in his new The Red Queen's War trilogy, set in the same world as his Broken Empire trilogy. This time around he focuses his efforts on a different sort of anti-hero, a prince who is a cowardly fool. For the most part, Lawrence's effort works. The anti-hero is interesting and empathetic and funny to read about. This is no comedy though -- it's grimdark in the style of Lawrence's Broken Empires, though with more humor.

Absolute a must read if you want some awesome antihero stuff.

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This, as some people have put it, is fantasy pretending to be science fiction and science fiction pretending to be fantasy. And the star of the show, Caine, is the high priest of violence a broken, brutal assassin who kills for the entertainment of millions. Why does this qualify as an anti-hero fantasy? Simple: Caine is a homicidal anti-hero whos not afraid to get his hands dirty to solve a problem. In fact, Caines attempts at solving political problems usually end up with everyone dead and the world worse off than before his meddling. Violence aside, theres some seriously strong writing going on in the Caine series with a twisted story, non-stop action, and top-notch narration. Stovers works are vastly under-appreciated for the gems that they are and Caine, the storys brutal badass that always seems to get the short end of the stick, a fascinating portrait of a broken hero. The actual premise of the Caine novels is quite interesting (and unique): Caine is a mega superstar who gets transported to an alternate reality to unleash his butchery on the local residence all for the entertainment of millions who watch his violence via live feeds on earth. Three words to describe Caine: badass, brutal, and utterly brilliant.

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Black Sun Rising

(C.S. Friedman)
(The Coldfire)

For a truly evil anti-hero, read the Cold Fire trilogy. Tarrant is a human whos literally traded his soul for eternal unlife, yet still has a twisted sense of honor that somehow makes sense. There are a couple of other main characters, but Tarrant is by far the most interesting of the bunch and perhaps one of the most interesting characters I've yet read. Tarrant is not just some straight evil bad guy whos going to destroy everything but hes not a misguided fool that needs to be helped to see the right path; he knows right from wrong, good from bad, but is not sure he wants to seek the right path. Never do you label him as some dark lord and forget about him; hes a real, breathing character with a bent towards cruelty and his motivations are complex, and in some twisted way, sympathetic.

This book is good, damn good. Good character development, compelling story wrapped in a dark fantasy/horror universe.  One of the best characters would be the world itself its a twisted world, literally powered by the imagination. Magic itself comes from the fae, which is pure thought; dark emotions such as pain, anger, suffering, rape, and death feed the Fae and literally bring to life these imaginings, which take the form of monsters. Death, tragedy, and suffering are scattered throughout the novel; this world is a dark place and the story never lets you forget it.

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Scourge Of The Betrayer

(Jeff Salyards)

(Bloodsounder's Arc)

A new author, but one who is writing some powerful grimdark with some real zest. Scourge of the Betrayers is sort of a combination of Black Company, The Blade Itself, and Prince of Thorns, all wrapped up in one. And it's delicious indeed. A must read for any fans of some serious hardcore, bloody grimdark.

It's gritty gritty good.

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Elric Of Melnibone

(Michael Moorcock)

Classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy with a badass anti-hero. In any other series, Elric would qualify as the villain and not the hero of the story. After totally destroying his home and his family, he manages to kill off his friends for good measure and finds his own death at the hands of his sentient and murderous sword. He has a strict code of honor and does try to follow the right path when he can, and would be considered a lawful individual, but at the same time is aligned with demons of Chaos (from which his sorcerous power is derived) and so brings the world to a fiery ending. You quite feel for him, as life has dealt the poor guy a pretty crappy set of cards. 

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The Lies Of Locke Lamora

(Scott Lynch)

(Gentleman Bastards)

A fantastic fantasy series that’s funny and dark – right up there with the best the whole fantasy genre has to offer. So why does this qualify as an anti-hero fantasy? Locke is a thief, but he’s no Robin Hood. Rather, he robs from the rich and gives the proceeds…to himself. Unlike some of the other anti-heroes, he’s a likeable character, robbery-antics aside and generally tries to do the right thing, aside from the whole stealing from the rich thing. At what first seems a light frolic through Locke’s world turns pretty dark, however.

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The Book of the New Sun

(Gene Wolfe)

(The Book Of The New Sun)

More science fantasy than actual fantasy, but features one of the most complex and well-drawn anti-heroes in the genre. This is a literary masterpiece and Gene Wolf’s magnum opus. This book has often been compared to Lord of the Rings in terms of its visionary reach. It’s poetic, deep, and so visionary, you’ll be left stunned. But it’s not necessarily an easy read. If you have been weaned on fast-paced epic fantasy that’s thin on symbology and subtext, this is probably not the book for you. It’s a story that’s more than a story. The language is often poetic, the images, strange and haunting but indefatigably beautiful at the same time. The narrator gifts us with his thoughts, leading us into a new world that he, like the readers, experiences. Readers who love Jack Vance’s Dying Earth and Peake’s Gormenghast will find themselves quite at home in The Book of the New Sun.

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The Grim Company

(Luke Scull)
(The Grim Company)

A recent Grimdark release (it came out 2013), but a remarkable one. If you like Joe Abercrombie's style of grimdark, then you are absolutely going to love The Grim Company (and the sequel which comes out early 2015) which pays some serious tribute to Abercrombie. This book was one of my favorite reads of 2013 and if you love grimdark and anti-heroes, you absolutely must read it.

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Herald Of The Storm

(Richard Ford)

A new author who pays some serious tribute to Abercrombie with his style of grimdark. Do read if you like depressing, action ridden fantasy with a cast of troubled heroes. Some say this author is the best new and upcoming 'grimdark' author. I agree -- between Luke Sculls and Jeff Salyards, Richard Ford is an author to keep your eye on.

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The Barrow was a 2014 release of pure, unadulterated grimdark with a cast of antiheroes. Vicious, action-packed, brutal with more bad language throne in than Eminem song. And did I mention there's almost a porn-level of graphic sex tossed in as well.

But there's some real thrills in this book about a group of characters from different walks of life who band together out of necessity and embark on a quest to rob an evil wizards grave. Of course, shit goes awesomely wrong for all involved.

Some good stuff found in this book. Read if you want over the top...everything.

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Sapkowski's Witcher is an interesting character. Dark, troubled, and deep is Geralt the Witcher. And if complicated means interesting, then Geralt defines the world with the contradictions that make him who he is -- and make these books so damn awesome to read.The Witcher books follow the journey of Geralt of Riva, a Witcher (a monster slayer basically) as goes about...well., slaying monsters. But there's a lot more that goes on than just killing monsters. And that's the beauty of the books -- there's a lot packed into them.The Witcher books are wildly popular in Poland, but have just began to break into the western markets (in no small part due to the AWESOME Witcher video games which have revealed some of the stories to the wider world), gaining a cult following of enthusiasts who love his translated books. And with good reason -- The Witcher books are really some outstanding fantasy all round. And very much different than the run of the mill style fantasy in the genre.So...if you haven't picked up The Witcher yet, do so now. It's one of the more interesting fantasy books (well series) in the genre.

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One of the original anti-heroes in the fantasy genre; together with the Conan stories by Howard, Wagner's Kane helped shape (even start) the Sword and Sorcery genre.

Kane is arguably one of the deepest, darkest antihero's in the genre. Don't let these books pass you by -- they may be classics but there are relevant even by 2014 writing standards.

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