Best Dark Fantasy Novels: Top 7 Grim Tales of Darkness Most Recommended By Experts

The dark fantasy genre is filled with classics that don’t shy away from the evils that the characters inflict on each other. These books are characterized by their ominous themes and are often dominated by protagonists that are more anti-hero than the traditional hero archetype. In these gripping stories, life is cheap, and any character can meet their demise at any time. The top seven best dark fantasy novels incorporate thrilling elements of horror with the rich world building of fantasy.

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Ready to dive into the ominous and magical lands of this genre? Dark fantasy encompasses everything from cultural phenomenon “Game of Thrones” to Stephen King’s “Dark Tower Series.” The best dark fantasy novels often offer compelling storytelling that makes for a page-turning experience. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

A magical book
A magical book (Photo by Romolo Tavani on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Dark Fantasy Novels, According to Readers


1. “The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie (2007)

In many ways, “The Blade Itself” captures all the best traits of the dark fantasy. Morally grey characters confront conflict with violence and brutal pragmatism. Read This Twice raves, “This gritty debut novel from a bestselling author follows the intertwined stories of a barbarian, a nobleman, and an inquisitor as they navigate a world on the brink of war. With a cast of unforgettable characters and a sharp, witty tone, this noir fantasy is not to be missed.”

“The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie (2007)
“The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie (2007)

The Portalist praises, “‘The First Law trilogy’s’ compelling opening novel, ‘The Blade Itself,’ takes a gleefully anti-heroic approach to the fantasy genre. Logan Ninefingers is an unlucky, overzealous barbarian… Captain Jezal dan Luthar is a self-absorbed card shark… The disabled Inquisitor Glokta is a hateful torturer… Together, they make up the three protagonists who face the treachery of the short-fused wizard Bayaz.”

Free Booksy exclaims, “The iconic first book in ‘The First Law Trilogy’ by New York Times bestselling author, Joe Abercrombie! Follow along with Logen Ninefingers, the infamous barbarian, and his group, Captain Jezal dan Luthan, Glokta, and Bayaz in this bestselling noir fantasy!”

2. “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman (2002)

The imagination of Neil Gaiman has given reader’s many volumes of fantasy tales. “Coraline” is dark fiction that is strange yet familiar-feeling due to Gaiman’s creative storytelling. Fly Into Books says, “Gaiman’s imaginative prose brings the Other World to life, immersing you in a tale of bravery and resilience against the unknown. If you’re a fan of dark fantasy books that delve into the eerie corners of the imagination, ‘Coraline’ will captivate you with its unique blend of mystery, courage, and haunting beauty.”

“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman (2002)
“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman (2002)

Shortform describes, “‘Coraline’ has been illustrated masterfully in scritchy, terrifying ink drawings by British mixed-media artist and ‘Sandman’ cover illustrator Dave McKean. This delightful, funny, haunting, scary as heck, fairy-tale novel is about as fine as they come.”

Book Riot elaborates, “The grass is always greener on the other side, or so we think. Coraline discovers otherwise when she crosses a threshold to find a house and family similar to her own. Never think that children’s books can’t be dark and scary. Coraline’s other mother and other father are the embodiment of creepiness.”

3. “The Warded Man” by Peter V. Brett (2008)

“The Warded Man” is written as a multiple point-of-view (POV) story. Learning about antagonists’ motivation first-hand adds to the complexity of the narrative. Read This Twice adds, “Discover a world where demons with supernatural powers rise as darkness falls. For hundreds of years, they have terrorized humanity, culling them behind fragile magical wards. But three young survivors of vicious demon attacks refuse to give up hope.”

“The Warded Man” by Peter V. Brett (2008)
“The Warded Man” by Peter V. Brett (2008)

Medium comments, “The in-depth storytelling involved in this book is extraordinary. You get an amazing sense of the characters, even delving into the minds of ‘villains’ to change perspective and see their side of things. I would absolutely recommend getting into this sooner rather than later.”

Shortform details, “As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile.”

4. “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (2001)

“American Gods” is an examination of belief, religion, and personal destiny. For many readers, this is a book that sticks with them long after it has finished. GrimdarkMAGAZINE claims, “Ancient mythology collides with the deities of modern culture in ‘American Gods,’ Neil Gaiman’s Hugo- and Nebula-award winning dark fantasy classic… The novel centers on ex-convict Shadow, who is caught in an epic battle between the Old Gods of classic mythology and the New Gods of modern technology, pop culture, and conspiracy theories.”

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (2001)
“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (2001)

Fly Into Books relates, “The narrative weaves together ancient myths, modern technology, and the changing landscape of belief in a captivating exploration of identity and faith. Shadow’s journey takes him across America as he uncovers the hidden conflicts and alliances that shape the balance of power among the gods.”

Medium reviews, “When ‘American Gods’ came out it won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards all in the same year. Think about that for a second. It won ALL the major awards for sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. That means it somewhat defies genre yet is so amazing it has critics raving about how good it is.”

5. “Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1)” by Mark Lawrence (2011)

“Prince of Thorns” like many of the other titles on our list, kicks off a series. Mark Lawrence has a flair for brutal action sequences. “The book is all about Jorg Ancrath, a Prince and heir to the throne of Ancrath… There’s lots of violence, it has action, and also moments of rest and reflection. Not to mention, Jorg is a great character you’ll just love to hate or hate to love,” according to Iris Marsh, book blogger.

“Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1)” by Mark Lawrence (2011)
“Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1)” by Mark Lawrence (2011)

Fly Into Books asserts, “The book’s immersive world-building, coupled with its exploration of the blurred lines between good and evil, makes for a captivating and thought-provoking reading experience… ‘Prince of Thorns’ offers a gripping narrative that is as compelling as it is unsettling.”

Shortform evaluates, “From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the ‘Prince of Thorns,’ a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities… Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.”

6. “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King (1982)

“The Gunslinger” is a compelling start to the “Dark Tower” series. Roland is the eponymous hero that takes us on a journey through King’s imagination. The Portalist compliments, “In order to fulfill his destiny, Roland must battle evil figures like The Man in Black and The Crimson King and form a fellowship with travelers from our own world. Full of body horror, unrepentantly bloody battles, and true moments of terror, ‘The Dark Tower’ series is a perfect fit for dark fantasy fans who want to sink their hooks into a long epic.”

“The Gunslinger” by Stephen King (1982)
“The Gunslinger” by Stephen King (1982)

GdM assures, “Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil… Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, ‘The Gunslinger’ leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.”

Book Riot articulates, “The first installment of ‘The Dark Tower’ series introduces us to Roland, the last gunslinger on a mission to track down The Man in Black—a figure who will be familiar to readers of King’s horror novels.”

7. “The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993)

“The Witcher” became a pop culture icon thanks to the efforts of the Netflix show and the ultra-popular videogame “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.” As is often the case, the book is better than the adaptations. Tim Hawken explains, “‘The Witcher’ has had an epic rise to fame over the last decade. From a hugely popular video game series to a mega hit show on Netflix. For some, it’s easy to forget this dark fantasy classic started as a short story and evolved into a dark fantasy novel series.”

“The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993)
“The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993)

Medium offers that this collection of short stories contains: “Monster hunting, a hero that is definitely one dark guy, villains you learn to love, and a world that you can easily get lost in. If you’re looking for a guide on the best order to read ‘The Witcher’ books in, [start] here.”

Fly Into Books states, “As Geralt navigates a world where morality is often ambiguous, he also contends with his own identity as a mutant created to hunt monsters. The book is structured as a series of interconnected short stories, each highlighting a different facet of Geralt’s character and the challenges he faces.”

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