Core Best Fantasy Lists
- Top 25 Fantasy Books
- Top 100 Fantasy Books
- Best Fantasy Series
- Best Stand Alone Fantasy
- Best Young Adult Fantasy
- Top 25 Best Indie Fantasy
- Best Fantasy Audiobooks
- Best Fantasy You've Never Read
- Most Influential Fantasy
- Best Non-English Fantasy
- Great Fantasy Books
- Good Fantasy Books
- Worst Fantasy Books Ever
Best Yearly Lists
Best Decade Lists
- Best Fantasy Since 2010
- Best Fantasy of the 90's
- Best Fantasy of the 80's
- Best Fantasy of the 70's
- Best Fantasy of the 60's
- Best Early Modern Fantasy (30's-50's)
- Best Pre-Tolkien Fantasy
Best Thematic Lists
- Best Anti-Hero Fantasy
- Best Asian Fantasy
- Best Feel Good Fantasy
- Best of the Tolkien Clones
- Best of the Dresden Clones
- Fantasy That Will Blow Your Mind
- Best Fantasy Books for Women
- Best Fantasy Books by Female Authors
- Best Fantasy Books for Children
- Best Vampire Books for YA
- Best Vampire Books for Adults
Best Subgenre Lists
- Top 50 EPIC Fantasy
- Best Grimdark Fantasy
- Best Military Fantasy
- Best Urban Fantasy
- Best Steampunk Fantasy
- Best Literary Fantasy
- Best Vampire Fantasy
- Best Sword and Sorcery
- Best Fantasy Mysteries
- Best Romance Fantasy
- Best Paranormal Romance
- Best Vampire Romance
- Best Dragon Fantasy
Fantasy Award Winners
- Guide to Fantasy Genres
- How to Find Your Next Read Here
- Guide to Vampire Books
- Beginner's Fantasy Guide
Movies & Games Lists
- Best Science Fiction Books
- Best Fantasy Games
- Best Sci-Fi Games
- Best Sci-Fi Movies
- Best 'Thinking' Sci-Fi Movies
- Epic Fantasy
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The Best of the Fantasy Genre
Best Fantasy Picks at a Glance
This is a supplement list to The Top 25 Best Fantasy Books.
This site has grown so big and the number of fantasy books so large that I figured I’d write a special ‘primer’ cheetsheet that looks at the best fantasy, by subgenre and theme and category, and give the top recommendations based on that.
This is a detailed overview of the best fantasy books by genre and the close runner ups for that pick. The goal for this list is to be a specific overview of the best books in the genre.
Unlike the other Best Lists, I recommend the single BEST book for that category, not a list of all the books. Use this as a cheat sheet of sorts.
I hope this helps you guys in your search for the best fantasy books. Do let me know in the comments if you find this useful and want me to expand it in the future.
If you want to see a breakdown of my Best Fantasy Books in a ranked list, check out The Top 25 Best Fantasy Books. Also check out the complete Best Fantasy Books of 2014 for a list of LAST year's best of the best releases.
Note, if you want an overview on WHERE to start on this site when it comes to finding your next book, look our how to find your next fantasy book on our lists guide.
- Best Overall Fantasy Book of 2014 Pick
- Best Fantasy Sequel of 2014 Pick
- Best Fantasy Debut of 2014 Pick
- Best Fantasy Debut of 2013 Pick
- Best Overall Fantasy Book of 2013 Pick
- Best Stand Alone Fantasy Pick
- Best Classic Fantasy Pick
- Best Forgotten Fantasy Pick
- Most Underrated Fantasy Pick
- Best Incomplete Fantasy Series Pick
- Best Fantasy Series Pick
- Best Children's Fantasy Pick
- Best Epic Fantasy Pick
- Best Urban Fantasy Pick
- Best Military Fantasy Pick
- Best Dark Fantasy Pick
- Best Classic Sword & Sorcery Pick
- Best Modern Sword & Sorcery Pick
- Best 3teampunk Fantasy Pick
- Best Paranormal Detective Fantasy Pick
- Best Young Adult Fantasy Pick
- Best Heroic Fantasy Pick
- Best Literary Fantasy Pick
- Best Historical Fiction Fantasy Pick
- Best Romantic Fantasy Pick
- Best Humorous Fantasy Pick
We recommend the top fantasy picks for the major categories of fantasy -- best fantasy book of 2014, best debut novel, best fantasy sequel, best fantasy series, most underrated fantasy book, etc.
Heroes Die by Michael Stover
I’ve been railing against this for years to no avail. Heroes Die is the most under-rated fantasy novel in the genre. This book should be wildly more popular than it
currently is. Heroes Die is likely the most violent and bloody read you’ll encounter while still remaining a sharp, witty, and deftly written read.
The Why: Caine is the coolest bad-ass ever to grace the fantasy world. This guy makes other heroes in the genre like Rand al’ Thor look like the whiny-assed, diaper-wearing kids they really are. If you want to read about a real bad-ass and not a boy moaning about his mental problems to the world, Heroes Die should be your next read. The premise of the book is so out of this world (literally) yet handled with so much polish that the whole plot just works. To quote Caine: “To God, a Fear of Caine, is the beginning of Wisdom." Read the novel to see why truer words have never been written.
Read If You Like: A Quintin Tarintino level of stylistic bloodshed, violence, and gore; assassins; anti-heroes; video games
Readers Choice: The Chronicles of Amber at number one on the public list.
Runner Ups: Talion: Revenent, Master Li, Chronicles of Amber, The Lion of Senet, A Man of His Word, Monarchies of God, The Coldfire Trilogy, The Tamir Triad
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
These are Fantasy Classics that helped to define the genre. They are pre 1980’s but contain many of the modern trappings that you see in more modern works. You might call
these the father-works of fantasy.
The Why: Not too much needed to explain the juggernaut that is Lord of the Rings. Fantasy existed before the Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien’s works helped to define elements of the genre (which we now call a subgenre – epic fantasy).
Runner Ups: A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Earthsea trilogy, The Last Unicorn, The Neverending Story, Riddle Master of Hed, The Broken Sword
The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddision
A bit different then the underrated fantasy pick.
These are fantasy books that are not only underrated, but are pretty much unknown by the average fantasy reader – usually because these classics were published
before most fantasy readers were born! This is fantasy that didn’t necessarily take the form of fantasy you see today. You might call these the "prototype fantasy" or the
grandfathers of fantasy. Consider these fantasy works that were written before Tolkien.
The Why: Pre-Tolkien and was arguably a pro-type for modern fantasy. It’s written in a flowery style reminiscent of the Homeric epics and the Norse Tales. Don’t expect this to be some more ancient version of Lord of the Rings. It’s completely different, yet there are hints of what fantasy will become. And you don’t have to take my word on it. The great J. R. R. Tolkien named the author as "the greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read."
Runner Ups: Conan, The King of Elfland's Daughter, A Princess of Mars, , The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories , Dracula, Phantasms, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, The Wizard of Oz
Tigana by Guy Gaverial Kay
Probably Kay’s most famous book and despite a string of newer, awesome books, still his best in my opinion (though a very close second would be his mythical Chinese
tale, Under Heaven). Kay is an absolute wordsmith, paying attention not just to the finer points of subtle storytelling but to the very way words are used. Quite simply,
the man writes like a poet and the beauty of his words leak from every page. Tigana is brilliant.
The Why: Tigana is a compelling work full of complex characters. Everyone is flawed here – both heroes and villain, and the villain –
nasty character on paper that he might be, is a character you can emphasize with. The book leads you to the question: who is truly the enemy --- a band of revolutionary
terrorists with a vendetta to square or a dictator who’s brought a lot of good to the world? It’s a question that when you strip away the fantasy elements maps over to the
Tigana is a book that polarizes the audience: you’ll love it or you’ll detest it. If you are a person who enjoys deep characterization, strong writing, and who likes things unraveled as the story unfolds, slowly and with a measured pace, this is your style of book. This book is more about the complex relationship between characters and the many shades between black and white of what is good and what is evil than it is about destroying evil and righting wrong.
If you want unbridled action and all-powerful heroes with the same basic story (overthrow an oppressor), you might want to look at the action version of this tale, which would be the first Mistborn book. But for those of you who love to READ, Tigana is an outstanding work.
Read If You Like: Complex characters, beautiful writing, stories about revolutionaries seeking to overthrow an ‘evil’ emperor, a tale of revenge, love, and betrayal
Readers Choice: The Hobbit is at first place with my choice, Tigana, at third. Sanderson’s Elantris takes the second spot. Considering that Kay is more of a niche author than Sanderson who is the most popular mainstream fantasy author right now (besides Martin), it’s high praise that the popular consensus puts Tigana at the third spot.
Runner Ups: The Hobbit, Under Heaven, Elantris, Mistborn (first book), Neverwhere, Good Omens, Talon: Revenant, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The City and the City, Watership Down
Keep An Eye On: The Genie and the Golem, The Night Circus, The Troupe
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
This is a challenging one since pretty much 99 percent of the fantasy comes with a sequel. Or 10. That means we have to sort through pretty much the entire genre to present the best incomplete fantasy series.
The Why: The popular choice would likely be A Song of Ice and Fire with all the attention it’s been getting. However, I’m going to go with The
Kingkiller Chronicles. The second book wasn’t as good as the first, but still an awesome read. There is something visceral about these books that resonate powerfully when
you read this series. Whether it’s reading about Kvothe’s day to day struggles with money, his botched attempts to woo the love of his life, his attempts to master his
magic studies or the brief interludes when he just does something right for once and straight out kicks some ass and saves the day, The Kingkiller Chronicles is just a
killer read. What makes the series even more enticing is that there is something of a meta layer to the story – you don’t know if everything that is happening is
simply active Kvothe’s imagination, half remembered actions hyperbolized with the retelling or the real, fact by fact truth.
Read If You Like: character-driven fantasy; beautiful writing; underdog heroes; magic schools; systematic and logical magic systems;
long waits between books
Runner Ups: A Song of Ice and Fire, The Stormlight Archive, The Dresden Files, The Gentleman’s Bastard Sequence
Discworld by Terry Pratchett
The standard choice here would be A Song of Ice and Fire (not completed yet), Lord of the Rings, The King Killer Chronicles, or maybe Mistborn. I’m going to veer away
from the standard script here and throw out Discworld as the best fantasy series. What the fuck right? Hear me out people before you grab your pitchforks, tar, and
The Why: The series maintains its high quality throughout the many books which is one of the major criteria’s for deciding what the best series is. The series arguably gets even stronger as you go on. You can’t reasonably say a series is great based on how good the first two books are when the other five might be horseshit. Discworld, typically, maintains high quality. Let’s get to the actual writing. The writing is oh so clever, packed to the seams with humor and wit. I know most of you epic fantasy obsessed reader will skip this recommendation and go right to the Runner Ups, but if you want something that’s a bit…different, I say do give the first book a read. You could find your new favorite series. The series pretty is pretty much a satire of everything that makes fantasy, well, fantasy. If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, Kurt Voneget, or Mark Twain, absolutely read this remarkable series. It’s truly a carnival of fantastic imagination and tongue in cheek humor.
Read If You Like:books that keep getting better and better; pointed satire about everything in fantasy; ridiculous funniness
A Song of Ice and Fire: Yea, the American Tolkien. I’m not sure who hasn’t yet read it. It’s not yet complete and the series has not delivered the past two books.
It’s dicey as to how Thrones is going to turn out. Move along.
King Killer Chronicles: One of the more beautifully written character-driven epic fantasy tales in the genre. If you don’t love the series, you will be one of the few who don’t.
Mistborn: Two words only needed: Allomancy and Sanderson.
Keep an Eye On:
The Traitor’s Son Trilogy. Man, I loved this one. This was arguably my favorite read of 2013, beating out some of the heavy hitters like the new Scott Lynch book and the final Wheel of Time book. It’s a version of The Black Company / Instrumentalities of the Night but with the knights fighting against supernatural creatures living in the forest who come out to haunt the lands of men. This one has shades of horror and fantasy with elements of A Song of Fire and Ice (the wall keeping out creatures of the dark from the lands of men), military fantasy, faery creatures who are (mostly) inimical to mankind invading the known world (Game of Thrones, Shadowmarch, Tyranny of the Night).
The Powder Mage by Brian McClellan. A subgenre of fantasy that’s not yet highly populated. Think a Steampunk version of Mistborn where gunpowder powers magic. Lots of action, some interesting characters. Lots of potential.
The Shadow Campaign. If Brent Weeks, Glen Cook, and Steven Erikson had a threesome, this would be the child. If that were possible. Which it is not. Ok, never
mind and move along. Needless to say, it’s a great read with a lot of potential in the series.
The Lightbringer. Best Action epic fantasy series in a while. Up there with a Sanderson novel.
The Chronicles of the Skewed Throne. The Emperor's Blades was one of the most impressive epic fantasy releases of 2013. It has everything you could want. Read.
The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
There's been a number of awesome Fantasy Books in 2014 so the choice is a hard one. However, our pick for the best Debut Fantasy Book of 2014 (by a new fantasy author) is The Emperor's Blades, especially if you love EPIC fantasy -- which it is solidly in that camp (think in the style and form of A Game of Thones). If you want a DIFFERENT sort of fantasy, than I solidly recommend Traitor's Blade, which is an fantastic release by a new author and very much a fantasy version of The Three Amigos.
However, by far if we count both the Science Fiction and Fantasy, I would put my overall recommendation solidly on Red Rising. A phenomenal book -- a heady mix of Ender's Game, Lord of the Flies, and the Hunger Games with fantastic writing, deep themes, and a wonderful narrative. If you read ONE book this year, make it Red Rising, even if it's not 'fantasy.'
Note, check out our Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list.
The Why: Great writing, a cast of separated royal siblings growing up in different settings with completely different adventures, a hidden and inimical threat from elder gods creeping into the world, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, love, giant birds you can ride on -- with elements like these, how can you NOT fall in love with a fantasy like this?
Read If You Like: character-driven fantasy; great world-building populated by different cultures, peoples, and environments, a threat beyond the pale, epic fantasy in the vein of Martin.
Runner Ups: Traitor's Blade, The Mirror Empire, The Goblin Emperor
Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
My overall pick for 'The Best Sequel' would be Magician's Land by Lev Grossman. One of the best books I've read this year and a solid conclusion to The Magicians trilogy that really elevates the entire trilogy to one of the best works in the genre. There were a lot of complaints people had about the first book (much to do with the ambivalence you feel towards the heroes), but by the end of the third book, it all makes sense and the characters have all evolved.
Note, check out our Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list.
Best Epic Fantasy Sequel: For a pure epic fantasy sequel book, The Word of Radiance definitely takes the cake.
Best Grimdark Sequel: For grimdark fantasy, The Dark Defiles by Morgan was fantastic -- a fitting conclusion to his 'anti fantasy series'.
Best Action Sequel: For all out action, The Crimson Campaign was another remarkable sequel that did everything the first book did, but better. I also enjoyed The Fell Sword, which was a heady mix of military fantasy, epic fantasy, and good old fashion knight on knight action.
Runner Ups: The Words of Radiance, The Dark Defiles, The Fell Sword, The Crimson Campaign
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson
The Why: As so many fantasy books were released this year, the best fantasy book that's not a sequel would be City of Stairs by Robert Jackson. Jackson has been writing some of the best fantasy for a few years now, but hasn't really garden the praise he deserves. City of Stairs changes that however, and marches the authors first foray into the epic (of sorts) fantasy territory that tackles some of the more traditional fantasy conceits. But typical of a Jackson novel, everything is more complicated and basic tropes are somewhat subverted. But this is a fantasy tale that EVERYONE can enjoy -- fans of epic fantasy and those who don't like epic fantasy but love a good tale. There's something for everyone.
For the Runner ups, I was extremely impressed with The Emperor's Blades. The Grim Company was one of the best grimdark fantasy reads this year, in the vein of an Abercrombie's book. Traitor's Blade was the best action fantasy. Prince of Fools by Lawrence was a great anti-hero fantasy that combined the best parts of gritty grimdark with his trademark style of an anti-hero tale. The Mirror Empire was another ones of those debut fantasy tales that made a lot of waves. The Goblin Emperor, a fantasy more in the classic mold (not gritty) that sucks you in.
Note, check out our Best Fantasy Books of 2014 list.
Runner Ups: The Emperor's Blades, Fool's Fate, The Grim Company, Traitor's Blade, The Mirror Empire, Prince of Fools ,The Goblin Emperor.
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
The Why: A slick read. What could be more interesting than watching armored knights do battle with the “The Wild”, magical creatures that live beneath the shadows of a great forest? Toss in different types of magic, throw in a copious amount of blood and gratuitous violence, sprinkle in elements of horror, throw in a good dose of Heroic fantasy and you have The Red Knight.
While the “main” character is the titular hero, The Red Knight, be prepared for some epic POV switching with a good 9 other protagonists who share the spotlight.
Runner Ups: The Thousand Names, A Promise of Blood, Drakenfeld by Mark C. Newton, The Grim Company by Luke Sculls, The Golem and the Jinni
Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Why: There were a lot of strong fantasy released in 2013 (heavy hitters such as The Promise of Blood, The Thousand Names, Rivers of Stars, and The Red Knight among the many), but Gaimen pretty much takes the cake with his fantastic adult fairy tale. If a perfect adult fairy tale exists, then Ocean at the End of the Lane would be it. Quite simply, you have to read it. This is a tale that speaks to the inner child inside each of us. It’s creepy, horrific, and yet also celebrates the innocence of the child within us.
It was a close running with Kay's marvelous River of Stars which is one of the best historical fiction fantasy books I've ever read (and a good read no matter what your tastes).
For those of you who want fantasy with more..action and violence, your own favorite fantasy novel this year could be Promise of Blood, The Red Knight, The Thousand Names,
or The Blinding Knife. Or for pure epic fantasy, the final book of The Wheel of Time, of which I was personally disappointed with.
Read If You Like: Adult fairy tales; creepy horror; witches and fairies; scaring the shit out of your inner child
Runner Ups: River of Stars, Emperor of Thorns, The Golem and the Genie, The Red Knight, The Thousand Names, Memory of Light, Republic of Thieves
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Why: There is some stiff competition here, such as Harry Potter and the Hobbit. But in my opinion, nothing can match that childhood sense of
wonder as Lewis leads you through a giant house full of wonders and then through magical closet to another world. This is about as perfect a kids tale as exists.
Readers Choice: Harry Potter
Runner Up: The Hobbit, Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Neverending Story, Coraline, Princess Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Check out our Juvenile Fantasy Books subgenre page for information about the subgenre and recommendations
Fantasy recommendations broken down by the strict subgenre they are generally classified under.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Epic fantasy is by far the most popular fantasy subgenre. Plenty of authors are seeing dollar signs this genre represents and it’s becoming the “Catch All” genre for
fantasy now. For better or worse, the public’s perception of “fantasy” IS epic fantasy thanks to films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. It’s a
bloody shame too because this is only ONE face out of the dozens of faces of fantasy.
The Why: So what’s the best epic fantasy book as of 2013? Of the hundreds of choices, I’m STILL going to go with Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire. This series has been transformative on the entire genre and on pop culture. For better or worse, Martin has inherited Tolkien’s place on the fantasy podium. Yes, the series has fallen from grace with the last two books. If Martin can’t deliver with the next book, I’m going to finally replace him with another author.
Read If You Like: Evil creatures of legends invading the world of men, gray characters who you should hate but love, casual brutality between characters, unexpected deaths, global power struggles, exotic landscapes, dragons, books with a huge cast of characters, magic that’s mysterious and not entirely explained, unfinished series where you wait 4 years between each book
Readers Choice: Lord of the Rings. Our Public Epic Fantasy Books list has Lord of the Rings as the most popular reader choice, with over 700 positive votes. A Song of Ice and Fire comes in at #3 with more positive votes but more negative votes as well.
Lord of the Rings. Nothing to say here. The fantasy world is divided into two camps: those who have read it and those who have not. If you are part of the later
and not the former, then you better damn well read this series. And no, watching the movies do not count.
Malazan Book of the Fallen. Squad combat, magical trench warfare, a complicated almost incomprehensible magical systems. Gods that walk among men generally
fucking shit up. 10 massive books long and completed. This is a series that takes a few books to get into. But stick to it and you’ll see why this is one of the most
beloved epic fantasy series in the genre.
Stormlight Archive. Some of you will jump in here and want to toss in Mistborn instead, but by all standard which we measure EPIC fantasy, Stormlight is superior
and vastly more epic. Read for a bad ass magic system, a huge world, massive armies fighting, and a bunch of other cool epic fantasy shit.
Wheel of Time. I know the flood of Wheel of Time fans will take exception to the fact that WOT was not picked or did not make runner up. Look, I like WOT and it has its place in the genre. I stride the middle ground here between the haters and the fan boys. But honestly, it’s not the best, sorry. Not by a long shot. The fact that Jordan’s train became derailed and it took another author to (sort of) bring it back on track says enough. It’s a compelling work when you look at it on the whole but there are better works out there right now.
Keep Your Eyes On:
The Traitor's Son Cycle. Hit with the force of a category five hurricane in 2013. Seriously cool series with some awesome potential. Kind of combines the dark horror of Spook Apprentice, the squad combat vs monster elements of Glen Cook’s The Instrumentalities of the Night, and the epic character scale of A Song of Ice and Fire. Waiting to see where this all goes, but yes read it.
The Chronicles of the Unhewn Thrown: The best epic fantasy debut of 2014. There are shades of A Song of Ice and Fire here and the first book combines everything
you want to see in a proper epic fantasy series.
Malice: The Faithful and the Fallen: Very Song of Ice and Fire like in many ways, though more of a classic tale than modern gritty fantasy.
The Lightbringer series. Vicious action. Awesome magic system. Epic battles. Epic fantasy that’s just done damn right.
The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
Urban Fantasy, next to epic fantasy, is probably the second most popular fantasy subgenre right now. It [wrongly] is associated with popcorn fantasy. However, there
are some very talented authors writing in this genre right now.
Technically, any fantasy that occurs in a contemporary setting (which usually happens to be a city) is “Urban” fantasy. However, there are a number of “sub” divisions of this subgenre now.
The most popular right now is probably the paranormal fantasy version: You know, vampire lovers, friendly witches, and maybe a werewolf, a thieving ghost, and a goblin
or two thrown into the mix. These are usually over the top and romantic in nature.
The noir/ hardboiled detective wizard version of Urban Fantasy is also popular, with Dresden leading the pack with a few authors nipping closely at his heels.
The Why: The Magicians is what I call fantasy for grownups. It’s mature, deep, and mostly depressing. It’s also a critique on the genre on a number of levels and a character study of what it means to have everything you want in life yet still find yourself unhappy. The series only gets better as the books progress as the themes and characters become more complex and the characters steadily evolve. The magic system too is pretty complex and explicit in the way it functions; fans of the boy-goes-to-magic-school type of fantasy will thoroughly enjoy this one. There are shades of Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland in the novel, but rebuilt with a more a-moral and jaded building blocks.
The Magicians doesn’t tend to get a lot of love in the fantasy circles because the characters are complex and multidimensional rather than straight heroic and bad ass. That means you don’t have an overpowered [insert overpowered hero here] beat the living shit out of every bad guy he comes across. Call The Magicians a poignant and realistic version of The Name of the Wind and Harry Potter.
This can be read as a poignant celebration or straight out satire of everything you like about the fantasy genre – both its strengths, glories, and foibles. I would
even say this series is just using fantasy as a skin with the guts of it something…else. The book is depressing, poignant, and…remarkable. To be truly appreciated though,
you have to read the entire trilogy (new book coming out this year as of 2014) to get the whole picture. So don’t just read the first book and start writing the negative
If you enjoy simpler fantasy fare with a lot of action and absolutely no subtext behind the text, where the story is what it appears to be on the surface: the hero beating up on the evil bad lord/wizard/god threatening the world and banging the hot princess while at it, then avoid this. But if you want something deeper, read The Magicians.
Read If You Like: A Quintin Tarintino level of stylistic bloodshed, violence, and gore; assassins; anti-heroes; video games
Readers Choice: Dresden is the most popular voted. The Magicians comes in at #19 which shows my pick is more of an eclectic one than popular consent.
The Dresden Files. The template to beat for hardboiled detective fiction meets fantasy. The series only gets better with every new book, the characters
deeper and more complex.
Perdido Street Station
River of London series. Procedural police fiction meets urban fantasy. Very good, but a slower paced than Dresden.
Alex Verus series:. Close as you'll find to Dresden but still unique
Mythago Wood. Beautiful, traffic, haunting. Stays with your long after the final page ends.
American Gods. One of Gaimen’s best. Just Read it.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel. Jane Austen meets Tolkien. Sort of. Slow, pedantic. Brilliant.
Also check out our Urban Fantasy genre page for more information about this subgenre and for recommendations
The Black Company by Glen Cook
What is Military Fantasy: Fantasy books that feature the military life as the primary vehicle that carries the story. Quite often this revolves detailing the minutia of a military squad, both in and out of combat.
The Why: The Black Company is something special in what is arguably a sub-gene full of quality competition. First off, The Black Company was highly influential on the entire fantasy genre, helping to shape the current form of the “gritty” style of fantasy in vogue. With a cast of gray, slightly evil characters and no clear division between the forces of “good” and the forces of evil, The Black Company is a compelling tale that sucks you in. It also details the squalor, misery, and triumphs of squad military life. There is quite simply, nothing exactly like The Black Company out there right now and even though it’s a few decades old now, it’s still can stand arm to arm with the more “modern” fantasy works modeled after it.
Read If You Like: Character-driven fantasy; great world-building populated by different cultures, peoples, and environments, a threat beyond the pale, epic fantasy in the vein of Martin.
Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It doesn’t get more epic than this series; practically every book is crammed full of military life, struggles, and conquests.
The Heroes by Abercrombie's Technically a standalone in his “First Law” universe, but it’s one of the most compelling mature take on how fucked up going to war is. A beautiful rendering of all glory and muck of what it’s like to be a solider, from the leaders to the heroes to the grunts. Brilliantly written and sarcastically sharp.
The Way of Kings. If you love military life…from the point of a slave forced into it. This one is all epic fantasy, but with quite a bit of the military element thrown in to boot.
The Macht by Paul Kearney. Gritty military fantasy but one of the more underrated authors in the genre.
The Prince of Nothing trilogy and The Aspect Emperor trilogy by R. Scott Bakker. Military Fantasy that's about as gritty as they come. If you want grimdark epic fantasy that's intelligently written with a good dose of insightful philosophy thrown in, there is no better series. It can sometimes be a challenge to read (the way Bakker says things can be...well...complicated with insight and thick prose) and the pacing can be very slow at times, but there's a power in his works here that cannot be denied. Certainly one of the more original series in the genre.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen at number one. The Black Company places number three.
Keep an Eye On:
The Red Knight. Awesomeness describes this historical fiction meets epic fantasy. Take Martin, Glen Cook, and throw in a dose of horror to boot and you have The
Red Night. There’s a lot of military combat and military stratagem thrown in here.
The Thousand Names. Glen Cook meets Eric Malazan in this awesome new military fantasy. Heavy emphasis on military life and squad life.
A Promise of Blood. While not purely military fantasy, it combines military fantasy with epic fantasy in a heady mix.
Check out our Best Military Fantasy Books list
Check out our Military Fantasy genre page for more information about the genre and for recommendations
Coldfire Trilogy by CS Friedman
The Why: This creepy fantasy is one of the most underrated fantasy books out there. For some reason, The Coldfire Trilogy gets passed over for lesser works all the time. Everyone’s read Wheel of Time and Harry Potter right. Few have read The Cold Fire trilogy, which is a right shame.
If you want a grown up fantasy that’s dark and haunting where the characters are a stand in for something more, an analogy for humanity of sorts and all it represents
– the good, the bad, and the fucking ugly – then you need to start this series.
The world of Cold Fire is one where human imagination and desire can literally affect the landscape, bringing to life primal fears and horrors as well as beauty. But as expected, mostly humanity just brings out plain old horrors on the plant. Which means of course, it’s not safe to go wandering around unless you want some foul creature birthed from someone’s deprived thought to come forth and tear out your heart.
The series is not fast paced, it’s not an action packed Sanderson novel. It’s not a novel Michael Bay will turn into a summer block buster. If you want this, skip this book. But if you can appreciate a deep novel where the landscape itself is just as much as a character as the character; a novel that moves along as the characters grow and evolve, then this one is for you.
Read If You Like: Creepy horror that will give you the tingles, vampires, anti-hero protagonist, strong but troubled characters, a unique setting that is a planet where mankind’s darkest nightmares will literally spring to life from uncontrolled imagination
Runner Ups: A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard Morgan, Heroes Die by Stover, Sword of Shadows, The Black Company by Glenn Cook, The Darkness That Comes Before by Bakker, The Broken Empire trilogy by Lawrence, Elric of Melnibone. by Moorcock, The Warded Man by Brett ,Hidden Things, Tamir Triad, NOS4R2 by Joe Hill, The Dark Tower by King, Kane books by Karl Edward Wagner
Books to Keep Your Eye On: The Red Knight by Cameron, Hidden Things, Any book by Mark Lawrence, any book by Joe Abercrombie, The Powder Mage Trilogy
Check out our Dark Fantasy subgenre page for more information about dark fantasy and for recommendations
Elric of Melnibone by Micheal Moorcock
The Why: Moorcock’s Elric series, a dark, complicated tale about a troubled hero and his soul-eating sword, has been highly influential on the fantasy genre on a whole. Elric is through and through an anti-hero character who does more damage whole trying to make things right than do some of the actual villains in the stories. You might think of Elric as a more complicated, more moody re-telling of the Conan tales. It’s pretty much impossible to mention S&S without mentioning Elric. The tales are somewhat uneven and they are hard to get your hands on, but if you want a fantastically written dark tale of tragedy and heroism, there are no better books then the Elric ones.
Read If You Like: anti-heroes; episodic tales; albinos who take drugs; violence
Runner Ups: Kane books by Wager, Conan by Howard, The Witcher books, Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser
Check out our Best Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Books list for more S&S book recommendations
Check out our Sword and Sorcery genre page for more info and recommendations
Check out our Sword and Planet subgenre page
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
The Why: Initially my choice here was going to be Glen Cook's The Black Company, but after finishing Morgan's 'Anti Fantasy' series A Land Fit for Heroes, I have to out these series as the best of the modern sword and sorcery works in the genre. It's just so intelligently written with visceral violence and blood, magic and mayhem, and a cast of extremely troubled characters who spend as much time fighting their personal emotional demons as they do everyone else. Morgan takes every fantasy trope you expect and completely subverts it. The result is, by the end of the third book, something special. For those who don't want to get too complicated into subversive fantasy, then you can just appreciate the surface narrative with visceral action, awesome writing, and a very dark world. This series is about as grimdark as you can possible get -- one of the darkest stories I've read in the genre. But oh so good.
Read If You Like: a cast of heroes haunted by personal demons, grimdark to the point of pitch black, subverted fantasy tropes at every corner, awesome writing, intense and thrilling action, sword and sorcery with a punch
Runner Ups: The Black Company by Cook, Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erickson, The Witcher Books, Dawnthief by Barclay, The Red Knight by Cameron
Check out our Best Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Books list for more S&S book recommendations
Check out our Sword and Sorcery genre page for more info and recommendations
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Why: An absolute classic. Following the (mis) adventures of a boy and his gene, this series starts off light but ends up dark and disturbing. Wonderfully written with characters that fully grow and change as the story progresses. In a subgenre packed with quality reads, the Bartimaeus trilogy stands out. In all the years since this series first came out, I still haven't found a series that topples it from my pick as the best YA fantasy book.
Read If You Like: genies; coming of age; young magicians; orphans; magic schools; dark stories
Uglies by Scott Westerfield: Scott is an author who's not afraid to take risks in his writing; most of his books tackle real themes AND are completely engrossing reads to book. Of all his books, his Uglies series is the most profound and dark look at a dystopian future gone wrong
Everlost. One of the best young adult series. Explores a host of themes. The setting is unique as is the premise. And the story is a ride from start to finish.
Sabriel. On a lot of levels a startling read. Scary, spooky, and a journey to and back from dead. Classic YA themes abound and the book was almost my pick for Best YA.
Spook’s Apprentice. One of the more “scary” fantasy series out there. Follow our favorite “Spook” as he fights against things that go bump in the night. The setting is pretty creepy. Not all books in the series are of the same quality, but overall the journey from start to…well it’s not yet done.
The Golden Compass. If there was an anti-Narnia written, this would be it. A rich adventure with some deep themes explored. One of the best in the genre.
Harry Potter. To the three people who haven’t read it, do it. Our favorite boy wizard starts off callow and (fairly) carefree but by the time the 7th and final novel rolls around, friend die and loss is real. The series is a real journey.
Check out our Best Young Adult Fantasy Books list for more recommendations
Check out our Juvenile Fantasy subgenre page
Check out our Young Adult subgenre page
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Why:An amazingly strange tale that’s just as much as a picture as it is a story with the vivid and grotesque images that leap from the pages and the elaborate, almost Victorian use of the English language to describe things. Strange, bizarre, and weird come to mind when reading Perdido. But if you can look past the weirdness, Perdido Street Station is an outstanding work of fiction that requires a bit of focus on your part to get through. But if you give it your due attention, a rewarding experience awaits.
If you want a more “standard” Steampunk tale with a lot of action, guns, and magic than I recommend looking at Alloy of Law by Sanderson. Or if you want a novel that combines the weird with a more formulaic tale, give Nevewhere by Gaimen a good read. Time Power's Anubis Gates is also a perennial favorite recommendation too, which mixes in a number of different genres.
Read If You Like:Flowery language, Slipstream fiction, bizarrely constructed characters, physicists who can mess with magic
Runner Ups: Alloy of Law, Retribution Falls, Neverwhere, The Golden Compass, The Anubis Gates by Time Powers, Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Check out our Best 3teampunk Fantasy subgenre page for more recommendations
Check out our 3teampunk subgenre page
Check out our Arcanepunk subgenre page
Check out our Gaslamp subgenre page
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
The Why: The Dresden Files still leads the pack when it comes to Paranormal fantasy. The whole hardboiled magical P.I. thing just works on a whole lot of levels. It also doesn’t hurt that the titular hero, Harry Dresden, is a guy that just kind of pull on your heart strings. You can emphasis with his who down and out luck when it comes to his finances, career, and his love life. It takes a few novels for Butcher to really find his stride, but once he does -- wow what a read! The series progressively gets darker and darker, so what starts off as a somewhat light jaunt through the magical back alley’s of Chicago, turns into a blood fest of love, loss, and sacrifice six novels in.
Read If You Like: Noir / Hardboiled Detective Fiction; wizards, vampires, and about every other magical creature in existence; a main
character who can kick ass when really in a pinch but gets his ass kicked outside of that; a series that gets darker as the series progresses.
Runner Ups: Rivers of London, Fated, Nightside by Simon Green, Circle of Fire, Sandman Slim, Bobby Dollar
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Why: THE classic underdog tale of a nobody comeing a powerful somebody that we’ve all read about a million times by now. Yet, this is a book
where the journey is every bit important as the destination -- and the journey in this tale is an enthralling one. Gripping and so utterly delicious you want to get down
and lick the ink from the pages. Ok so maybe you don't, but I almost did.
And it’s in the how of Kvoth’s rise to glory that Rothfuss creates a work of startling emotional power. This is a story about a legend, Kvoth, about his deeds, his
exploits, and his failings.
It’s a tale with so much earnestness and heart to it that you can’t help but fall in love with the character as he overcomes challenge after challenge – from the humble wagons of a puppet troupe to the greatest magical school in the world, you’ll follow Kovthe in his pursuits at mastering magic, swordplay, and…love.
Frankly, with book three not yet released we still don’t know what the fuck is actually really going on with the story, but the two books that are out are good enough for
Read If You Like: Coming of age themes, heroism, a magic school/college setting, not knowing really what the hell is going on behind the scenes
Runner Ups: Legend by David Gemmell, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Silver Bow, The Ten Thousand, The Blade Itself, The Red Knight, The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Check out our Heroic Fantasy subgenre page for more heroic-fantasy recommendations
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Name of the Wind by Rothfuss
My main pick is Gormenghast, but I've also selected The Magicians AND The Name of the Wind as alternative picks.
The Why: It’s possible to present a literary tale that’s so damn literary and conceited that the story and character becomes merely a vehicle to show off just how damn clever and literary the author is (cough Margret Atwood). But the best sort of literary book is one that’s clever and literary. But it's also a pretty good fucking read too. Is that enough to convince you?.
If you want literary with a solid story and unforgettable characters, look no further than Gormenghast. This jewel of a series has indelible characters, evocative and poetic use of the English language, and so thoroughly Gothic that it’s the poster boy for describing that term. Gormenghast is a remarkable masterpiece. The castle, Gormenghast, itself is every bit as much of a character as the human ones. If you are hoping for mage battles and ham-fisted action, look elsewhere. But if you want to luxuriate in a rich Gothic tale that’s so visual you can practically see the words come to life, Gormenghast is that tale.
Alternative Picks: If reading a purely literary work like Gormenghast is beyond you, as I suspect it will be for most, then I suggest you sink
your teeth into The Magicians Trilogy by Grossman OR The Name of the Wind by Rothfuss. Both stories are self aware, extremely clever, and explore human themes, and if you
look, reference either directly or indirectly other works and literary ideas.
Read if You Like: 'othic themes and characters, evocative imagery, poetic language, a dark gloomy castle setting, a plot with very little action
Runner Ups: Watership Down, The Book of the New Sun, The Magicians, Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, The Last Unicorn, Lyonesse, Lord of the Rings, River of Stars, The Golem and the Jinni, The Name of the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians Trilogy by Grossman, The Darkness That Comes Before
Check out our Best Literary Fantasy Books list for more literary fantasy recommendations
Check out our Literary Fantasy subgenre page for more information about this subgenre and book recommendations
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Why: A magnificent tale that explored an alternative 8th century China. Kay has always been one of the most talent writers in the genre, a writer who's also a poet of words, who is just as concerned with HOW the words sound as what the words are. Be assured that any piece of writing by Kay will be beautiful and lyrical. But Kay doesn't just get lost in the beauty of his own words, he always tells remarkable human stories. Under Heaven, the tale of an ancient empire on the verge of collapse and the people fighting for and against that collapse, is simple remarkable. Read it and be amazed.
Read if You Like: Lyrical writing, the far east, deep characters and complex relationships, grand adventures
Runner Ups: Any other book by Kay. Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
Check out our Historical Fiction Fantasy subgenre page for more info and book recommendations
Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Romantic Fantasy, as the name suggests, emphasizes the romantic relationships. Romance may not be the sole driving force of the plot and the character motivations, but
it’s certainly a big one. These books tend to be heavy on characterization, great attention is given to developing complex characters and personalities, and romance /
romantic tension is a central part of the plot.
The Why: The setting is an alternate Europe with a strong emphasis on sexuality. The story as it first appears seems like something straight out of one of those standard fantasy romances with the heroine a courtesan navigating the whims of the noble households she services. But the titular hero, Phèdre nó Delaunay, is anything but your standard ‘female-to-be-saved’ character waiting for that white knight to come to the rescue. She’s a strong-minded heroin who uses her power to navigate an opulent and uncaring world on her own terms. This one appeals to both genders – it’s not some feminist rant against the injustice of a male-dominated society, but rather a celebration of what one woman with some ambition (and beauty) can accomplish.
The characters are compelling – flawed, sympathetic, and not your standard clichés. The world rich and exotic. And the character interactions and relationships are
complex. Throw in a lot of graphic sex, love, betrayal, and heartbreak and you have a surprising work that doesn’t really fit the common mold of romantic fantasy. Forget
50 Shades of Grey – this one is better on every level.
Reader Choice: The Name of the Wind
Runner Ups: Seven Waters Trilogy, Paladin of Souls, Daughter of the Forest, Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop, Sailing to Sarantium
Check out our Best Romantic Fantasy list for more romance book recommendations
Check out our Romance Fantasy subgenre page for information about this genre and for book recommendations
Check out our Fantastic Romance subgenre page for information about this genre and for book recommendations
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Why: What happens when you take two of the best writers in the fantasy genre and combine their talents? If your answer is “something great” then you are only half right. A more apt description would be “something spectacular.”
Good Omens in a story about heaven, hell, and humanity. It’s both whimsically funny as satire on the whole heaven vs hell conceit and also a sharp, poignant study of humanity and the failings of the standard Christian religion. Good Omens takes a good look at humanity and throws both the best of it and the worst of it on side of the scale and the hypocracy of heaven and hell on the other side. And rather than humanity failing to make the weight, it is rather Heaven and Hell that falls short. The authors handle this with some much pinache and heart that you just can’t but love it.
Read If You Like: Heaven and Hell; Likable Demons; Funny as Fuck Comedy; Discworld
The Color of Magic (Discworld): You don’t know funny till you read The Color of Magic. Prachette pretty much mocks every standard fantasy trope ever written into the genre. Clever, over-the-top funny, and a joy to read, The Color of Magic should not be missed by any fantasy reader who wants a good few thousand laughs. Just don’t read it in the library or you’ll be kicked out from all the laughing. Of course, any of Pratchett's Discworl books could ill in here.
Myth Books by Robert Aspirin. Fantasy that's funny, clever, and entertaining. But mostly funny.
Bartimaeus by Stroud. Dark but also funny and fun.
Vlad Taltos. Lots of humor the whole way through these books.
Bridge of Birds. Lots and lots of humor in these clever, clever books. Do read them if you haven't. You won't stop laughing.
The Spellsinger series by Alan Dean Foster.
The Blade Itself. Gritty fantasy, but Abercrombie's works have plenty of sharp, witty sarcastic conversations. There's plenty of gallows humor.
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence. Dark, and gritty, but with humor
Check out our Comedy Fantasy subgenre page for information about humorous fantasy and for specific recommendations
These recommendations are based on some descriptive type of fantasy -- Character-driven fantasy, anti-hero fantasy, the best magic systems, fantasy with magic schools, assassin fantasy, etc.
The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
The Why: The Farseer trilogy is completely driven by the strength of the characters, their interactions, and their emotions and their failures. Hobb has that rare ability to actually create believable characters; characters that are both real and wholly unique at the same time. These are not banal creations, but living entities that jump from the pages into your mind with a life of their own.
There is no set of books that will suck you into the day-to-day life a young boy growing up in a castle where most of the inhabitants either resent him or want to use
This castle boy archetype has been done to death in the fantasy genre, but let me tell you that no one has done it quite like Hobb. At its core, Farseer is a story about loyalty, love, and absolute injustice – one long ode to the fact that life is just not fucking fair. And this hard lesson is nailed time and time again on the body, person, and soul of Fritz Chivalry, practically from the moment of his birth as the bastard get of a prince. But it’s in this lad’s misery that something grand and enduring emerges.
Prepare to be sucked into a world – and story – that just won’t let you go. Prepare to be completely enthralled by the tale, but also completely wrung out and
emotionally drained by the end of it. This is not a story of positives, and trite “feel good” happy endings. No, this is a tale of reality and all the awesomeness,
drudgery, and bitterness that it brings. I guarantee you’ll be thinking about this series long after the last page is turned.
Runner Ups: Memory Sorrow, and Thorn, The King Killer Chronicles, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Long Price Quartet, Daughter of the Empire, Tigana, Kushiel, Earthsea Cycle, Rai-Kirah
Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Do you like that fantasy where the hero is maybe just as much of a villain as a hero? Once banished to eclectic works of fantasy, the anti-hero is back in force as of
2013. It’s seems almost vogue now to write in a hero with anti-hero characteristics. Kind of goes with the whole gritty fantasy setting and gray character fantasy tropes
The Why: This one came out of nowhere a few years ago and has really made a mark with a completed trilogy and a new book out in 2014. Mark
Lawrence has proven himself as someone who’s staked in his claim on the anti-hero niche of fantasy as one of the best at writing fucked up heroes who you actually kind of
want to win.
Read If You Like: Dark, post-apocalyptic settings; squabbling nobles; emotionally tortured protagonists; graphic violence
and brutality; military stratagems; necromancy
Readers Choice: The readers vote for The Blade Itself, which all in all is an excellent choice and certainly very anti-heroish. Prince of
Thorns comes in a close second.
Heroes Die. Some of the most violent action ever to be put to pen in the fantasy genre. This is not just action, but stylized action in the way that a Tarintino
movie stylizes brutality and action.
The Blade Itself. The whole thing is a sort of post-modern take on the whole epic fantasy convention. It’s clever and sharply written. Most of the main character
include some anti-hero element.
The Black Company. Mercenaries for hired by “the bad guys” fighting against “the good guys.” How much more anti-hero can you get than that?
Elric of Melnibone. A style of writing that’s not for everyone, but Elric is one of the first anti-hero bad boys in the fantasy genre and must be mentioned.
The Chronicles of the Unbeliever. A polarizing series – you’ll either love it or detest it.
Lies of Locke Lamora. A thief who robs the rich to feed…himself? One of the best fantasy books and one of the most entertaining characters in the genre. This book quickly goes from light-hearted fun to dark.
Check out our Best Anti Hero Fantasy Books list for more recommendations
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
The Why: One word Allomancy. One of the coolest magic systems out there where all the rules are clearly spelled out for the reader. The magical system just makes a lot of sense. And did I mention it lends itself to some pretty damn exciting action scenes?
Fantasy with highly detailed magic systems; these are not just fantasy tales where the magic and the rules by which the magic operates are vague and undefined, but rather where the magic works in a systematic way with precise rules. The magic systems, in these books, are JUST as important as the actual plot.
Runner Ups: The Warded Man, The Lightbringer, The Master of the Five Magics, The Rune Lords, The Rithmatist, The Wheel of Time, The Magicians, The Old
Kingdom trilogy, The Wizard of Earthsea, A Man of His Word. The Powder Mage Trilogy. The Stormlight Archive. Libriomancer. Spellwright Hardcover – Bargain Price,
March 2, 2010 by Blake Charlton.
See our forum discussion for more best fantasy magic systems
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is a somewhat common element of fantasy -- a young prodigy goes to a magic school and proves himself. It often goes hand in hand with coming of age themes and there's usually a very detailed magic system present. Done right, the magic school trope can be a highly entertaining.
The Why: It's pure pleasure reading about Kvothe's adventures as he attends magical college. The detailed magic system, the interactions between Kvothe and his teachers and class mates and his perpetual poverty paying tuition fees is something that many of us who have attended college can well relate. Of course this is the fantastical version and Kovthe is that prodigy we all wish we were. If you want to read about a young boy's adventures kicking ass at magical college, The Name of the Wind is one of the best.
Harry Potter. This one is pretty much seven books about a magical high school. It's not as serious or as dark as some of the other books, but there's charm here.
The Wizard of Earthsea. The original boy-goes-to-magic-school story. Wonderful, beautifully written, and a compelling read. If you haven't read this classic, make sure you do. This is the book that start it all.
The Magicians: Lev Grossman's wonderful subversive fantasy takes apart piece by piece the whole Harry Potter goes to magic school and remakes it for grownups.
The Rithmatist by Sanderson. A wonderful series (first book out only) about a boy with no magical ability who attends a school for the magically gifted. Unique magic system and all that coming to age angst of a talented yet outcast boy going to a school that does not welcome him.
The Magicians Guild. I rate this as B fantasy, but if you want a “talented girl goes to magic school” story, well here is that story.
Wheel of Time. Perhaps one of the most detailed magic systems in the fantasy genre. There are a couple books in the massive series that focus on live at a magic school of sorts (The White Tower training the Aes Sedai characters). It's not the primary focus of the series of course, but there is that element in a couple of the books.
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams
The Coming of Age (see our Coming of Age subgenre recommendations) story is a story that's been told since the dawn of humanity. Where there have ever been stories told, there have ever been stories told about that tricky space of growing up and venturing into the wider world. This is the essence of the coming of age -- it's a tale that resonates with humanity and will continue to do so. To grow up is to be human.
As such an integral part of the human experience, it's no surprise that The Coming of Age tale is one of the bedrock's of the fantasy genre. You don't have to look very far to find a fantasy book about a young boy or young women moving into adulthood.
The Why: There's something powerful about Tad Williams answer to Lord of the Rings. The entire four books in the series are devoted entirely to bringing the young callow castleboy youth, Simon, into manhood. It's a slow, detailed, yet enthralling story about a young man's leaving his home, venturing into the wider world and finding his place. Simple themes maybe, but the beauty is in the journey of it -- of strange lands explored, of adventures had, of dragons slain, and kingdoms saved.
Farseer: Probably the best character-driven tale in the genre. And even in 2014, this tale by Hobb still stands out among the best. You will grow from boy to teen and from teen to man and man to middle aged man with the story of Fritz Chivalry over the course of 9 books (two trilogies and a new trilogy with the first book released this year).
Wizard of Earthsea: Le Guine weaves some potent coming of age themes into this powerful story about a boy wizard who's pride nearly damns the world.
The Magicians: Coming of age can be complicated when you are an all-powerful wizard. Dark, nihilistic, but ultimately a rewarding tale about magic, adventure, love, loss, and ultimately, redemption. Lev Grossman's book is subversive in all the right ways.
Abhorsen by Garth Nix: Dark epic fantasy. Starts with a girl who ventures out into dangerous lands to save her father and in the process take up his mantle as Abhorsen -- necromancers who keep the dead at bay.
The Name of the Wind: Beautifully written, intelligent fantasy with a strong coming of age story woven into the very threads of the story.
Magician: Fiest's first book is his best. This is a classic tale about a young boy who becomes the greatest magician the world has ever known. A good read.
Bartimaeus by Jonathon Stroud: A coming of age where the character evolves from selfish to altruistic over the trilogy.
Blood Song: Sort of like the Name of the Wind. A coming of age story about a young warrior who grows into manhood. Loyalty, honor, love, and treachery are all themes here.
The Wheel of Time: The entire series is one big coming of age.
A Game of Thrones: Coming of age only to find out the world is one big bastard out to kill you and your family.
Check out our Coming of Age subgenre page for info about this genre and for specific book recommendations