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Best Young Adult Fantasy Books

Fantasy Categorized as YA usually featuring a teenage protagonist

Young adult fantasy targets readers between the ages 12 to 18 and typically feature a young adult as the main character of the story. Because of the protagonist's age, coming-of-age often plays a key role in YA fiction.

We’ve given a list of what we consider to be the best modern YA fantasy books, drawing from a number of different styles of fantasy from different periods, ranging from the recently published to several decades old. Each of the suggested books is highly recommended as a great read for teenagers and adults alike. A good number of these titles may be familiar to you as classics, but there may be a few surprise reads in the mix too.

YA Fantasy Books vs. Children's Fantasy Books

We distinguish between Young Adult fantasy books and Children’s fantasy books in that YA books often have more complex, adult themes than children’s fantasy; YA fantasy might be considerably darker in tone and atmosphere as well. Quite a few YA fantasy books can be read by readers under the age of 12, however. Many of these stories can easily be appreciated by adult readers as well. Be sure to read our related Best Children's Fantasy Books list which suggests specific books for children (readers under the age of 12). There may be some overlap between the two lists.

From the Inside Flap Nathaniel is a young magician with only one thing on his mind: revenge. As an apprentice to the great magician Underwood, Nathaniel is gradually being schooled in the traditional art of magic. All is well until he has a life-changing encounter with Simon Lovelace, a rising, star magician. When Simon brutally humiliates Nathaniel in front of everyone he knows, Nathaniel decides to speed up his magical education, teaching himself spells way beyond his years. Eventually, he masters one of the most difficult spells of all: summoning the all-powerful djinni, Bartimeus. But summoning Bartimeus and controlling him are two very different things--and Nathaniel may be in way over his head. This is a really good fantasy trilogy. It's right up there with His Dark Materials and Abhorson as far as plotting, action, and writing quality go. The series is quite intense and becomes dark (people die, scary things happen, etc), but children ages 11+ should be able to follow along. This is a children's fantasy book that both kids and adults should read.

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One of the most interesting plots I’ve encountered. The premise is that not everyone gets to where they are supposed to be going after they die. Most people find the light, but occasionally just a few miss the tunnel and end up in a land between life and death, Everlost. In this strange new world, two teens find themselves, Allie and Nick, who collide in a car crash. They are not quite dead, but they are not alive either. In this mysterious world they set out to find a way back to where they are supposed to go.

This is an epic retelling of the afterlife – or maybe it’s an epic quest to find out how to get to an afterlife that makes sense. There’s a cast of great characters, an interesting world with new rules, and (over the course of several novels), and epic plot about the fate of the world itself. Highly recommended.

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modern classic in every sense of the word; it’s also a story with many layers. It’s a children’s story and it’s not a children’s story. Though the story is ostensibly about rabbits, it’s dead easy to see the parallel to humans going on. All the literary sparkle aside, the book is astoundingly well written, immensely imaginative, and an all great adventure yarn. A must read.

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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.

Amazon Book Description  Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death--and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.  A rip roaring adventure set in a dark fantasy landscape. This book is ostensibly for Young Adults, but children can still read it (11+ age). A warning: this book is scary -- but the story is wildly entertaining, and the world well drawn and vivid, something that appeals to all ages. This is one book that the adults should read too; it's made my Top 25 Fantasy books list and with good reason. This is one children's fantasy novel that adults shouldn't miss!

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A young girl's journey of magic and discovery that will take her to the ends of the earth...and beyond.  His Dark Materials is a modern classic that can be enjoyed by old and young alike; This is "Narnia" for the 21st century. It's made my Top 25 best fantasy books list. Like Garth Nix's Abhorson trilogy, these are children's fantasy books that every adult should read.

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Comments (2)
Award Nominations:2009 BFS, 2009 WFA

This is probably the most charming allegory of childhood you will ever read. It’s an absolute pleasure reading this book. This is the story of Nobody Owens – a young boy who’s been raised in a different sort of environment than your average child. He’s been raised in a cemetery by a motley group of ghosts, having been murdered by a mysterious assassin as a child. There’s a lot to love about this story, one that’s truly a magical journey into a vividly realized world. There are a lot of themes present in the story but you’ll be so busy actually enjoying the tale, you might not remember to look for them.

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A classic that should not be missed by either children or adults. It’s a heady mix of everything you want in a fantasy tale including dragons, romance, and royalty. One of the most compelling female heroines in the fantasy genre. This is a “children’s book” that’s every bit as good for the adults. Also check out her other great work, The Blue Sword, which should be on every YA reading list.. 

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A fantastic story about a young boy training to be an exorcist in a land where dark things roam the night.

One of the best modern children's tales I've read. This one is scary folks, probably one of the scariest books I've read. The books are pretty dark with a lot of death that happens during the series. But the tale told is a heartfelt one and the narrator (first person from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy) works very well. If you are afraid of haunted houses, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night, you might want to avoid this spine-chilling series. But man, it's a good one and one of my favorite YA series hands down. I don't recommend this series for little ones, but kids over the age of 12 should enjoy it. And the adults will too!

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This is the ultimate series for younger readers. It's got talking animals, children protagonists, evil witches, adventures galore, and the clash between good and evil. This classic is completely safe for the kiddies and can be appreciated by all ages. I grew up on this series as a kid, and I've been a fantasy book reader ever since. These are the ultimate children's fantasy books.

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A tale for the ages: a young boy, unhappy with his life, desires to live in a place free from any responsibilities. He finds that place through a creepy tunnel of mist in the form of a quaint little house run by an elderly caretaker. Harvey finds the place is magical. But all is not what it appears to be, for beneath the house a terrible secret waits, one from which he cannot escape. Barker is a master storyteller and he brings his considerable skill for writing atmospheric horror novels to the YA genre.

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Wizards, witches, and wonders, all set in a place every kid can identify with: school. Harry Potter is an "everykid" -- a character all kids can relate to. He's that awkward, shy kid starting his first day of school. He is forced to deal with situations that many kids face: bullies, annoying relatives, unreasonable teachers, etc. In short: it's a wildly entertaining series for kids and a fantastic way to get your child into reading; it's also not unheard of to have the parent "borrow" their children's copy. Who says children's Fantasy books are only for kids?

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A steampunk fantasy with a lot of oomph to it. It’s an alternative history story, one that merges the period history of World War 1 events with a fantastical world where there are airships made from bioengineered creatures and mechanical wizardry. Into this strange world, we follow Deryn Sharp, a young woman disguised as a boy, for only men can serve in the army. Westerfield creates an interesting alternate history – a sort of steampunk version of World War 1, if you will. In this world, we see a host of strange creatures and machines. But what really drives the novel forward is not the interesting setting, but the strong characters. The Prince Aleksandar and the disguised-as-a-boy girl, Deryn, make for an interesting pair with a dynamic relationship (both are on different sides of the war, yet team up together). There’s a lot of suspense and action in the story and it’s one you definitely do not want to miss.

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One of the more unique tales. It's the story about a young boy trapped in a brutal and mysterious prison, where humans eke out a survival-level existence and are hunted by the prison itself, which seems to be a living entity. This is a prison where escape is absolutely impossible. Or is it? Think futuristic prison meets with the Victorian era, a heady mix that just works. It's action-packed, gritty, and sometimes disturbing.

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An imaginative and heart-warming epic fantasy tale for kids and young adults. Its a classic tale of good and evil, but the strong hero and compelling portray of his struggle shoot this series far above the usual hackneyed epic fantasy series out there. This one will appeal to young adults and adults.

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If there is a perfectly chilling story for both children and adults, Coraline would be that story. It will be hard to beat this story folks – Gaiman is a master wordsmith who does not understand the concept of filler words. He’s a genius at describing -- well -- anything and everything, from the characters themselves to the atmospheric settings they find themselves in. And the world of Coraline is atmospherically creepy in all the right ways. This is one of those novels that deserve to be read aloud – either to your kids or through the amazingly well-done audio book.

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A steampunk-esque fantasy tale that follows loosely in the path Rowling trod with Harry Potter, but presents the reader with a completely different setting. Fans of Harry Potter, Artemis Foul, and Westerfield’s Leviathan will find a lot to love in this series. I had the vague sense that I was reading something inspired by a Jules Verne novel, with the characters and setting a marriage between the Victorian setting and sensibilities with modern values. This series is dark – there are often frequent descriptions of death and violence and there are no bumbling sidekicks, ridiculous villains, or any other comedic shenanigans to lighten up the mood. But what there is is a strong tale that shows the growth of the characters through a time of trial and troubles. There’s love, bravery, and heroism enough to make up for the darkness.

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Helped mold the fantasy genre into what it is today. Absolutely should be read.

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This is a pretty decent epic fantasy about a street girl-turned magician. Theres nothing really new here, but the whole story does make for an entertaining enough read.

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Assassin fantasy set in a distinctly Japanese milieu. This one’s got everything you want in a good martial arts fantasy tale: ninja assassins, samurai warriors, beautiful princesses, evil lords, deadly battles and even deadlier magic. It’s a coming of age tale with a lot of “kick” to it and one that you won’t want to miss – as a teenager or as an adult.

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