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Best LITRPG Books

The Best of the LITRPG Fantasy Books

LitRPG an emerging subgenre of Science Fiction & Fantasy and, arguably, the fastest growing new speclatutive fiction genre, if you look at the sheer number of LitRRPG indie fiction being released right now.

LitRPG literally stands for 'literature Role Playing Game'. In other words, a story version of an RPG -- at least in theory. Truth be told the genre has busted out of its pure gaming roots and has started to define an identity. What it will be in a few years might not be what it is now.

The Short History of LitRPG

The genre (which up to recently was often bundled in with Cyberpunk) started out in Korea as a sort of successful fanfic experiment.

This new kind of story (about gamers trapped in VR gaming worlds) gained some popularity in Korea.

Then a few Russians, sensing an opportunity, started to dabble in this new genre, releasing LitRPG books in Russia. D Rus (Play to  Live) and V Manhanenko (The Way of the Shaman) were the first such.

These authors soon became fairly successful in Russia which garnered the attention a well-regarded Russian Science Fiction writer Andrei Livadny who wrote the Phantom Series novels. 

This series became a national best seller in Russia and soon LitRPG became a real thing in Russia, not just an obscure niche of science fiction. 

A few years later, D Rus translated his Play to Live series into English and released them on the Kindle marketplace. 

The books found a hungry English-speaking readership willing to buy anything stamped with LitRPG on it and soon, the Russian invasion of LitRGP began.

English Indie SFF writers saw how successful this new genre was on the marketplace (dominated up to this point by Russian-translated works) and started writing their own LitRPG stores.

And here we are a few years later with a new genre.

An Emerging Genre Still in Flux

Regardless of the LitRPG definition, one key element that defines it is the inclusion of a virtual game world as a big part of the story.

Clearly, telling stories that involve gaming nerds trapped in the very games they play has hit some sort of cultural nerve among a segment of readers, if the explosion of indie LitRPG is any indication.

Indeed, if you check out Amazon and start browsing for fantasy or science fiction books, I'm willing to be a significant percentage of all the new indies published are LITRPG. As such, LitRGP and Indie Fantasy are currently attached by the hip (see our Best Indie Fantasy Books list).

The genre is still in flux with writers still finding their feet. 

As stated above, it's an emerging genre right now. 

Most of the best LITRPG is by Russian authors (translated into English) which can make for some particular language oddities and 'lost in translation' moments during your reading. 

The rest of the LitRPG is by indie authors, which can make for some challenging reading, to say the least. 

A good amount of the LitRGP is clearly written as wish fulfillment by nerds who've are gaming addicts or talked to a girl. But then again, amidst the pure crap, there's some good reading to be had if you dig deep.

In the hustle of this exploding genre, a few of the best books have floated to the surface. And surprise, surprise, if you can suspend your disbelief (which can be a challenge when reading LitRPG, even for well-established fantasy readers used to do such) and relax your expectations a bit, you might just be treating to some compelling, and surprisingly addictive readings.

So What is LITRPG? 

It's all about virtual reality becoming reality, where everything that happens takes place partly or entirely inside virtual reality. Think the Matrix meets World of Warcraft meets Ender's Game and you have a good idea what it is.

LITRPG is pretty much what happens when you pry a MMORPG gaming addict off his chair, force him to bang out a few hundred pages of story, then publish the result via the Amazon Kindle Program.

Ok, I'm joking -- but only a bit.  There's a lot of crap out there (in fact, about 98% of all LITRPG is crap), but there are a few good reads to get warmed up on.

This genre, when you compare it to the more established fantasy genres, is one of those guilty pleasures, but if you do manage to find a good LITRPG, you might find that it can be surprisingly addictive. 

I just recommend you LISTEN to the audiobook version over reading it as it makes the stories far more palatable (especially with the stat announcements managed by the narrator).

The books kind of read out like an RPG-converted-to-novel mated with a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

If you read enough LITRPG, you'll see a few elements that remain the same from book to book. I call these the LITRPG 'clichés and you'll encounter them over and over in most LitRPG's you read, in some form of another.

You typically get two types of 'heroes' in a LitRPG novel: incredibly overpowered or barely scraping by -- rarely anything else.

Standard Features of the LITRPG Novel

-A character forced into a game virtual reality world, modeled after RPG games but through advanced Virtual Reality.  The character experience the world like a video game where every element of the world is defined by the stat characteristics you find in video games (strength, charisma, chance, dexterity, etc).

-MMORPG terminology is used by the characters in the book such as noob, mob, loot, pvp'ers, levels, experience points, reputation, item durability, item class (common, uncommon, rare, epic, legendary). Basically, terms straight out of a D&D gaming manual.

-The characters are often on a quest (if not to escape the game world back to reality) to achieve greatness by acquiring rare ‘loot’, gaining reputation points, new class abilities, achievements, and levels.

-The character continually improves his statistics (model after an RPG) through in game quests/events / actions which increase his game character 'level' ranking which gives him/her more power in the game.

-The character usually has a list of RPG-like 'skill's that he improves gaining new abilities. These skills and levels are announced by a sort of 3rd party narration of the stat bonuses when the character gains a rank or skill increase.

-Player can often win special achievements in the game world by the game for achieving certain feats (capturing a dungeon first, killing some special monster, gaining some reputation by completing a quest)

-Game gods or controlling forces that help guide the protagonist are often occupied by the game's artificial intelligence which often becomes sentient.

-The game is usually populated by many (millions usually) of other real people who control other player avatars. There are also NPC's controlled by AI.

-The character is often stuck in this virtual world and unable to log out, or if they can log out, are compelled to stay in the world for long periods of time (earning online cash, stuck in a prison, dead and trapped online.

-There is some method describing how the character interacts with the game world (a game capsule where the player stays linked up to via neurological connections)

-The events in the game may impact the real world (you can earn money which can be translated to real-world currency or the game dynamics and politics influence real-world politics and power struggles or the game reality bleeds into reality

-The character (usually) starts as a new player (noob) with ZERO experience and must navigate the world

-The protagonist is some sort of prodigy (often a Gary Stu) and through the book uses his smarts (or in some cases, sheer luck) to shortcut his way through the world, quickly gaining influence, reputation, and social power and becoming a force that conflicts with the status quo, both in the game and in the real world through the game.

Slogging Through a Desolate Landscape of Fiction To Bring You The Best LitRGP Recommendations

And that my friends is the essence (so far) of the LITRPG genre. Technically, LITRPG is science fiction (virtual game world and all), but it's often a fantasy adventure through the trappings of the sci-fi game world.

So with the rise of this new genre -- and the sheer popularity of LITRPG among some readers (who consume these books like a body builder does protein scoops), let's take a good look at some of the best in the genre.

To put this list together, I have personally plowed through dozens and dozens of LitRPG books (probably 40 at least). It's taken about 6 months, but I wanted to make sure I fully explored this emerging genre before I cooked up this best list. 

As one of Scott R. Bakker's characters in The Judging Eye says when recounting a nightmare voyage through a monster-infested landscape: doing so was 'the slog of slogs'.

As there's a FLOOD of new LitRPG's being released every single day, I'll keep this list updated from month to month.

Not 'strictly' a LitRPG novel, but Ready Player One has a lot of elements that make up an LITRPG book, those being the in-game sequences. 

This is not only a LitRPG (partially) but a fantastically, brilliantly funny science fiction read. It's hands down one of my favorite books of all time. While there are flaws, there is just so much that's great about the book you can't but help love it.

Definitely, a must read, whether you love LitRPG or not. I would easily put this on a Top 25 Best Science Fiction Book list; and in fact, if you check out that link to our sister site, I did just that.

The protagonist is one a quest to solve a mystery inside of a massive multiplayer RPG (MMRPG). The game world, fictional as it is, ties into the real world because the in-game 'money' is used as a real-world currency. The game prize is ownership of the entire game world.

Ready Player One is not just a LITRPG, it's an outstandingly fun read. While I can't say it's a hardcore LITRPG, it's certainly a novel that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Unlike traditional LITRPG, it lacks some of the hardcore gaming elements that you may or may not like.

So if you liked Ready Player One and the gaming elements affecting reality, then you may just like LITRPG, which takes gaming and make it THE focus of the story (usually by trapping people/gamers into a game world and killing them off in horrible ways)

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This one has been around for a long while now and pre-dates the whole LitRPG movement. However, as the premise of the story takes place partly in a massive, realistic virtual game world, we can squarely put this one in the LitRPG category, even if it's treated as a strict science fiction.

Tad Williams is a talented writer -- one of the best wordsmiths and fantasy authors in the entire genre; he penned celebrated fantasy classics such as the great Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, probably THE singular coming of age fantasy story of the 20th century (and one that inspired Martin to write A Game of Thrones).

So what does Williams have that most of the authors in the LitRPG genre don't have? Well for one, he's a better wordsmith than every single one of them. Second, he knows how to write a deeply plotted, character driven story through and through.

All of the LitRPG landscape features similar conventions to those found in the Otherland series. The thing is, Tad Wiliams did it first with his series of novels before LitRPG was a thing. In terms of writing and character development, and arguably the sheer scope of the story, Otherland stands unique in the genre. I wouldn't technically categorize it as LitRGP, but rather a full-fledged science fiction work, but one that takes place in a game.

So for probably the best character-driven LitRPG story, and one that predates the entire genre by a good decade), read Tad Williams Otherland series.

Books in Otherland Series (4)

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Probably the best written LITRPG and one with the most complex characters I've read in an LITPRG so far.

It's basically about a loser-in-real-life character(Jason) who picks up a startlingly realistic virtual reality video game and within the game unexpectedly becomes 'the dark lord' of a game world through his actions.

Except things are reversed around where good is not necessarily good while bad might just be good.

This book is by far the best intro the genre with two books out so far.

Without a doubt, this is the best LITPRG out so far, and I have to say a thoroughly entertaining read.

Start with this one, then decide if you like the genre or not. If you don't after reading this one, you won't like anything else about LITRPG.

Books in Awaken Online Se... Series (2)

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An entertaining science fiction power up LITRPG that focuses on a grand galaxy-spanning video game where the in-game stakes have real world consequences to earth.

The fate of the universe literally rests on the outcome of the game. It's an interesting premise where Earth contacts other alien races and is part of a galaxy-wide conflict where the conflicts & resources are determined via virtual reality game that connects the entire galaxy.

If I could describe this one, it's a whole lot of Ender's Game, a big dollop of Ready Player One, a pinch of Dragon Ball Z, and a huge dose of Anarchy Online.

If you watch Anime, then the book is reminiscent of the GunGame Arc of the Sword Art Online anime, but where conquered territory in the game affects the land holding rights in the real world. It's basically a made scramble between different alien races to control the galaxy, with Earth the newest addition (or you might say target) added to the list of competing civilizations.

The character is a Gary Stu and pretty much a clueless idiot, but there's something entertaining when you read the book -- it kind of like watching Dragonball Z episodes. One of the better LITRPG's I find with perhaps one of the more interesting settings/worldbuilding.

Books in The Gam3 Series (1)

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The Way of the Shaman series is probably the most popular and well known LITRPG's out there right now, translated from a Russian author whose name I can never pronounce or spell correctly. As of 2017, there are five books out with a few more still being translated from Russian.

This one is near the top of most best LITRPG lists -- and for good reason, it's a pretty entertaining read all in all, despite a few hiccups. It's probably the most complex LITRPG in terms of world building (so far, there are 4 books out with a couple more being translated from Russian).

If you want a fantasy RPG that represents the bests (and worst) aspects of LITRPG, check the first book out. I find it quite entertaining -- if you don't like it, then you better give up on the entire genre since most books are 'inspired' (or plain copy) this series.

The Way of the Shaman series is hardcore LITRPG (full of crafting, leveling, character stat counting, dungeon crawling), but if you want to see what the whole LITRPG genre is about, this is one of the books/series that started the craze in the first place.

As this is a 'translated from Russian to English' book, some of the prose can be a bit awkward. And some of the ideas, wordings, and phrases are Russian through and through. However, for the most part, it's 

My main complaint with The Way of the Shaman series is that as the books progress, the protagonist starts to power up like crazy, solving every difficult problem at a whim and never suffering more than a hitch to his grand ambitions. It's the classic Dues Ex problem that haunts the later books the series.

So far, it's a series that's much stronger in the beginning than the later books (the first 2 books were the best I thought). But as the series is NOT yet completed (at least in English), we'll see how things pan out in the later books. I've only listened to the Audiobook version, which is how I recommend you consume this series.

Books in Way of the Shama... Series (5)

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The closest you'll find to Shaman's Quest series -- also by a Russian author with an unpronounceable name. 

If you've ever read one of those news articles about prisoners in China forced to  mine gold in World of Warcraft 14 hours a day for the warden, well, THIS is that untold story from the perspective of the prisoner -- or the Russian equivalent of that story.

Overall, it's quite a good book as LITRPG goes. The bar is low in the genre, but this series manages to stand out above the rest. if you liked The Way of the Shaman series, well you'll love the MIRROR WORLD series; overall, I find it superior.

I'd say it's my favorite 'traditional LITRPG' series so far.

Unlike most of the other LITRPG's where you have a nerd-turned-game-hero leveling up in the 'real' game world, usually by saying 'mobs' (game speak for monsters), this one is about a poor Russian schmuck who's forced out of desperation to do in-game jo jobs (mining in-game resources) to pay for his dying daughter's surgery.

It sounds boring, but surprisingly, it's not. By book 3, things resort to the normal LITRPG style of things, but it's one of the better LITPRG series out. Like all LITRPG, it's best consumed as an Audiobook, due to the stat readouts by the narrator. 

Books in Mirror World Series (3)

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This one has a very Hunger Games feel to it -- that is, there's lots of drama, angst, romance, and betrayal between a few 20-undersomethings.

And of course, there is a game to win with only one winner; toss in a Hunger Games style romance between two protagonists and you have a potential made-for-the-movies script coming out of this series.

Out of all the LITRPG's, The Game is Life perhaps the least 'game' orientated in that there are no state readouts, no dungeons to clear, no RPG game talk, or any of that.As the title states, the Game is Life.

The premise is actually quite interesting (and it's by a non-Russian author for once). Gamers play a sort of realistic video game as the star of their own 'game show.' The characters progress from birth to death in the game, living their game life from birth to death.

When they die, they wake back into the real world with a score. The real world, you see, is a pretty damn shitty place to live full of poor people who spend their time watching these 'gamers' play their life video games. The top ranking gamers can become rich celebrities while the failed ones wash out and are destined to a hard life living on the streets.

If you want an easy entrance to the LITRPG genre but without all the game trappings that scare off most everyone who's not a hardcore gamer, read this one.

Books in The Game is Life Series (2)

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Another cross-into-a-game-world LitRPG and a new one (came out in 2017), but it's also one of the better reads and certainly better than most. It has a bit of an Ultima Online feel to it where characters are not stuck in a specific class (something that happens all too often if you read books in the genre).

Only one book is out so far, but it's a fast read and sets things up for the next one. As this one is by an American, you can chalk one up for the American LitRPG authors as well over the Russians, who currently dominate the genre.

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Most people know Vasily Mahanenko through his Way of the Shaman books, which are probably the most popular LITRPG on Amazon right now. 

His brand new series, Dark Paladin, however, I find is a better written and much more complex book (series, but unless you read Russian, you can't get the second book).

The premise is that the entire world is just a 'game' and when you die, you might just wake to the real world, provided you've done something worthwhile in your life to achieve this. The real world, as it is, is modeled after a fantasy RPG. 

Those people who 'awake' to the real world choose a class to train in (Mages, Paladin's, Rouge, etc). But to train, you first have to survive the Academy. And thus begins the book.

Yea yea, we've seen this already about a dozen times (in my case over forty times, which is the number of LitRPG's I've read). However, how Manhanenko creates the logic of his world building and how he dies pretty much everything together somehow makes a lot of sense and is, perhaps, one of the more unique LitRPG world building efforts I've seen yet in the genre.

The setting is reminiscent of the Hunger Games where characters are put into a massive arena and forced into a last-man-standing type of conflict.Somehow, the whole thing works (when you read LITRPG, you kind of have to take your suspension of disbelief to a whole new level ). 

It's a promising read and, considering I've powered through dozens of bad, bad, bad LITRPG's, one of the betters in the genre. 

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For a Star Trek-style sci-fi RPG, give The Phantom Server series a go.  

Livadny is an actual Russian science fiction writer who decided to try his hand at LitRPG, unlike many of the other Russian LitRPG writers who were indie authors at first -- Livandny is actually a published author. On the whole, his writing, plot, and characters are a cut above the usual LitRPG I feel.  Livandny helped prove to the Russian market that LitRPG was a real thing, with his Phantom Server series becoming national bestselling books in Russia and proving that LitRPG was not just a niche thing (at least to the Russians).

I'd say along with The Gam3 by Cosmo Yap and the Galactagon series is probably the best sci-fi LITRPG I've read so far in the genre.

The Phantom Server covers the same territory that most of the other RPG's tread, except for the setting in that this one is all about space. This is another book by a Russian author, so it's translated into English and you get the occasional language oddities in the writing from this - not a put-down-the-book sort of thing, but there are some problems with the prose.

It's kind of like an LITRPG version of the video game Eve Online but with the characters inside those ships real people trapped in a video game.

The premise starts out like most LITRPG's: The protagonist plays this new illicit video game he hears about (though of course, the standard game capsule conceit) and finds himself trapped in the sci-fi game, unable to logout, and stuck in a hellish alternative beginning where your task is to die, and die, and die some more. 

I struggled through the beginning of this one, but you get into the thick of things, the plot starts to come together than the world (and how things end up the way they are) pull you in. 

So definitely give the book some time to warm up - it gets better as you go along, significantly improving by the end of the first book. Book two is MUCH, MUCH better than the first book. Things fall apart by the end of the third book, so the series is rather uneven, but certainly worth reading if you want one of the better LitRPG's (and a pure science fiction in the vein of Star Trek).

It's also one of those LITRPG books that will have you guessing at what's really happening behind the scenes -- are things in the game as experienced by the player actually real or is the whole thing just part of the game.

Books in Phantom Server Series (3)

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If you've read Play to Live (Alterworld), Viridian Gate Online feels somewhat similar especially to the early Alterworld books (after the 4th book, the entire series details). It' got a young man who flees into a virtual reality world to save himself from destruction (in this case, a flying Asteroid about to make landfall

This one is new (came out this year), but it's one of the stronger LitRPG books out so far. It's also written by an American (something to take note of in the genre, with most of the best LitRPG translated from Russian authors.

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Atamanov wrote one of the better LitRPG's with his science fiction Perimeter Defense series, which tells a grand strategy style tale that feels a bit like your are reading a live rendition of a 4X video game. 

The Dark Herbalist is his fantasy entry to the genre and a bit more traditional in the telling of it, but one that does enough to make it stand out from the rest of the books in the genre right now.

Books in The Dark Herbali... Series (2)

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Real of Arkon is basically the MMORPG Everquest meets Diablo video game made into an LITRPG. I would not recommend this book as your segway into the world of LITRPG, however. It's more of a hardcore read, best appreciated by those who get their digs from The Way of the Shaman series, Mirror World, and the like.

This one is sort of the 'Military LitRPG' of the genre with a lot of focus on the minutia of big battles and the strategies involved.

This one has a lot of focus on Dungeon Crawling -- i.e. the protagonist slaves away, inch by inch trying to complete dungeons. You might say this one is the 'Diablo' inspired LITRPG. The protagonist is literally stuck in a sort of gaming version of Diablo but stuck in nightmare difficulty where you can actually die and die and die some more.

For the hardcore LITRPG enthusiast, the Realm of Arkon stands above some of the other books in the genre.

It's by no means the best (the protagonist is a Gary Stu through and through and is pretty much just handed unlimited power from the start without working for it), but the plot is decent (as LITRPG goes), and you kind of want to see how things progress over the books.

As of now, there are 4 books out in the series. Like all these LITRPG though, these ones are best experienced through the audiobook versions. It just makes consuming the whole 'character improves stats' readouts every other page far easier to digest.

Books in Realm of Arkon Series (4)

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This one has a lot of empire building and grand strategy in it -- sort of like the main character stuck in a virtual Eve Online who's is responsible for saving the human fleet from an alien threat. So for your sci-fi fix, this one might do the trick.

The protagonist, a professional gamer in Russia, is offered a new job to unofficially play as another gamer's character in a beta game. He accepts this new job and finds he's unable to log out.

Despite having some of the same trappings as other LitRPG's, this series is unique to the genre. The emphasis is on the character gaining reputation and wealth and using such to build up a fleet/empire to dominate with and not slaying monsters, acquiring stat points, and trying to sleep with NPC barmaids.

Even more, the protagonist, unlike most of the wish-fulfillment LitRPG in the genre, occupies the body of an old, fat and hated prince rather than a perfect digital specimen.

The series is a bit of a hit or miss with the character blithely conquering all and sunder with barely a hitch, but because this one is quite a bit different than the usual run of the mill LitRPG, I recommend it -- especially for those who want more focus on military strategy.

Books in Perimeter Defens... Series (3)

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