If otherworldly stories filled with magic, mysterious creatures, and other weird happenings are your cup of tea, we know you’re always on the lookout for a great story to indulge in. Thousands of reality-bending stories have been written over the years, so choosing the best fantasy books of all time can seem like an impossible task.
The fantasy genre stands apart from science fiction and horror with the inevitable occurrence of a magical event or creature that can’t be explained by a fictional technology or supernatural force, though the styles can overlap. Fantasy stories are among our oldest, as they date back to our ancient mythologies and folklore. The best fantasy books of all time ignite our imaginations and give us a bit of wonder for a time, and they typically make epic movies we can watch again and again.
Some may feel like reading is a waste of time. But, it actually benefits you in more ways than one besides just being entertaining. In fact, a recent study shows that reading fiction books for fun can improve your language skills. Fiction books — from “The Hunger Games” to “Harry Potter” — often don’t receive the same praise for their educational benefits as their non-fiction counterparts. However, the team found that reading for fun led to higher scores on tests than those reading only for “function” — to gain specific knowledge from a non-fiction book.
Reading is also great for development in children. Research shows that reading books with kids “turbocharges” their brain. The study, led by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, shows that kids’ brains enjoy a cognitive “boost” when they’re just as much a part of the presentation of the story — even by simply turning the pages — as their parents.
Indulging in your favorite fantasy book is a great way to relax and leave the stress and pressures of the real world behind for a while, all from the comfort of your own home or preferred reading location, like at a park or the beach. They can even help us resolve real world problems and by helping us see grand conflicts through a new light.
So, with so many titles to choose from, where does a fantasy fan start when it comes to deciding which to pick up next? StudyFinds did some research, consulting 10 expert sites to come up with this list of the five best fantasy books of all time. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty to read since all the best fantasy books are series broken up into several novels – let us know which are your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Fantasy Books of All Time, According to Experts
1. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
The books in this series are often considered the best fantasy books of all time, and they no doubt have inspired countless authors since their publication. Tolkien’s epic story of good-versus-evil features memorable settings and characters with loads of magic. “No list would be complete without the father of fantasy fiction,” writes ProWritingAid.
“J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy is a classic of fantasy fiction and is a must-read for all fantasy fans,” states Pan Macmillan. “The story of the hobbit Frodo and his epic quest to reach Mount Doom and defeat the Dark Lord, Sauron, by destroying the One Ring, Tolkien’s epic fantasy was adapted into three of the most popular films of the 2000s. One of the best fantasy books ever written.”
“The epic high fantasy novel began life as a simple sequel to Tolkien’s earlier work but grew into something much larger, much lengthier, and just a little more popular (at least if its sales of 150 million-plus are anything to go by),” writes Money Inc.. “The trilogy plunges us back into the world of Middle-Earth, resurrecting our old friend Bilbo Baggins and introducing us to some new faces along the way (some friendly, some, quite frankly, the stuff of nightmares). The impact of Tolkien’s work can’t be underestimated: in addition to inspiring some of the biggest and most successful film adaptations the world has ever seen, his masterful approach to fantasy has seen the words ‘Tolkienian’ and ‘Tolkienesque’ make their way into the Oxford English Dictionary.”
“Lord of the Rings is not only considered as the best fantasy book but is also the best book of the period,” states Software Testing Help. “Covering an epic tale of good vs evil, friendship, and sacrifice.”
2. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
While “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is probably the most famous, there are seven installments in this fantasy book series, and they’re considered some of the best in the genre. There’s adventure, magic, and imaginative creatures that have made these books stand out for decades.
“Lewis, like Tolkien, is a medievalist at heart … the series as a whole is an allegory for the Christian faith, but it is also written as a vivid and deeply moving finale to this chapter of the Narnian chronicles,” writes IGN.
“If you’re a fantasy buff, you’ll already know that the lion is a Christological stand-in, and that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a meditation on redemption, sacrifice, and faith. But you don’t need to worship anything to want to drop in on Narnia for an hour or two,” says Reedsy.
“Set in the time of World War 1, Chronicles of Narnia tells the tale of four siblings who find a cabinet that leads them straight into a fantasy world of Narnia which is in the middle of a war between the peaceful creatures of Narnia and the evil forces of the Ice Queen,” explains Software Testing Help. “Narnia is the imagination of a child that is put into words. It depicts children who are being the unwitting saviors of a world of mythical creatures. Narnia is also a book that can encourage children into finding the pleasure of reading.”
3. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
This modern classic still has more story to tell, but what we have so far has been some of the best blend of high fantasy and medieval political intrigue we have in literature. It’s a sprawling story with many detailed characters that’s full of schemes and betrayals, magic, and dragons.
“You can’t have a list of the best fantasy books without mentioning George R. R. Martin’s famous series,” gushes ProWritingAid. “Set in the world of Westeros, multiple power-hungry people vie for the Iron Throne—the throne that will allow them to rule the entire land. There are dragons, ice zombies, and sorceresses, but the most intense conflicts occur between ruthless humans.”
“When the first book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was published in 1996, no one could have predicted that Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow would become household names two decades later, courtesy of HBO,” notes Esquire. “While the two most recent volumes have lost some of the momentum Martin built in the first three, there’s no denying that the original A Game of Thrones is a landmark event for turning so many well-worn genre tropes upside down.”
“No list of the best fantasy fiction is complete without George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy fiction series, universally acknowledged to be some of the best fantasy books of all time,” states Pan Macmillan. “The first book in the series gave its name to the TV series that became one of the most talked-about in history.”
4. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The seven novels that make up this series from British author J.K. Rowling are some of the best fantasy books of all time. Following the central character and his friends as they navigate their magical education and a slew of mysteries, the story has inspired eight movies and its own amusement park.
“A book that most millennials grew up with, The Harry Potter books are coming of age tales wrapped in delicious dark fantasy,” writes Software Testing Help. “The tale of a boy chosen by an eerie prophecy to vanquish a dark lord is age-old lore. However, what makes Harry Potter great is its magnificent world of witchcraft and wizardry.”
“Love them or hate them, the Harry Potter series has shaped millennials more than any other media phenomena, creating a generation of bookworms inclined to question authority,” adds Reedsy. “But as the book that kickstarted his [Harry Potter’s] literary career, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains as influential as ever, with Hogwarts houses being as legitimate a source of identity as zodiac signs.”
“With more than 500 million copies sold worldwide, Rowling’s creation doesn’t just top the best-selling fantasy list, it tops them all,” notes Money Inc. “The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has sold over 120 million copies alone, while its successors (The Chamber of Secrets (1998), The Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), The Goblet of Fire (2000), The Order of the Phoenix (2003), The Half-Blood Prince (2005), The Deathly Hallows (2007)) have all broken the records as the fastest-selling books of all time.”
5. The Earthsea Cycle series by Ursula K. LeGuin
Set in a richly detailed maritime world called Earthsea, the initial 1968 fantasy book inspired five sequels and nine short stories. It’s an award-winning coming-of-age story of a powerful wizard confronting personal demons – and a dragon – to restore his world’s magical equilibrium.
“A classic of the genre from one of its all-time masters, Ursula K. LeGuin. The Earthsea saga confronts the great themes of life and death with its wonderful cast of magicians, priestesses, and dragons,” writes Buzzfeed. “Elegiac in tone and epic in scope, the books in this series will make you think and grow as you delight in the adventures of its characters.”
“On a dense cluster of islands, inhabited by dragons and raised out of the water by a god, master fantasist Ursula K. Le Guin spins out elegant, character-driven tales, enriched by her knowledge of world mythology,” adds Reedsy. “Her first installment in the Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea, is a bildungsroman of the old school, albeit enlivened with wizardry: a magical coming-of-age that treats hefty themes like death, the environment, and cosmic balance — all with Le Guin’s characteristically deft touch.”
IGN states that the series “Narrates the early career of Ged, a talented but tempestuous young goatherd turned wizard-in-training. So far, so predictable, but Ged is also haunted by a threatening shadow that he himself brought into being in a fit of reckless pride. The skilful handling of this brooding menace, evasive yet unrelenting, offset against Ged’s repeated attempts to face it, is what places Earthsea head and shoulders above its rivals in the genre.”
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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.
A bit sad to see GoT at the same level of the other mastodontes of the century. Not at all the same level. Plus it’s still unfinished. Not saying it’s a bad book, but it is not at the same level as the other 3!
Don’t know what worse: GoT in this list or people actually believing Jordan or Sanderson works should be there. Moorcock and Le Guin far exceed WoT and Sanderson. No issue with people liking them but feel they are very overrated when it comes to lists like this.
Agreed. Sanderson had some glaring issues with his WoT series that keep him off my top list.
His WoT series? Didn’t know finishing the last 3 books makes the whole series his?
Lists like this reveal more about the author than the items listed. “Fantasy books” include Le Morte d’Arthur, Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz. And that doesn’t include the supernatural Gothics, which (even excluding science fiction like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde) includes Dracula, the Picture of Dorian Gray, and the Haunting of Hill House. And how are we to classify A Christmas Carol?
What no WOT Robert Jordan should be on this list if not arguably on the top
Easily the top. That series straight up leveled me up as a human being (for reading comprehension).
I’m surprised the Bible didn’t make it lol.
I agree that this tells us a lot about the writer of the article, little about fantasy. No sign of anything by Ursula Le Guin, not even “Earthsea!), Not a sniff of Michael Moorcock (without his “Elric” saga, GOT and definitely The Witcher simply wouldn’t exist. Nothing mould breaking by China Mieville? M John Harrison’s “Viricinium” not worth a mention? Sigh……. Vexatious! 😂
How does this list tell us anything about the author? It’s an aggregation list of most recommended books, not the author’s personal recommendations.
Commenting without reading is…vexatious.
Martin and Rothfuss cannot be in this list, their books ARE NOT FINISHED!!!!
Did you guys read the same list I did?
Any list that doesn’t include the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is incomplete.
Quite right,Loved the whole series,Bring out more of this kind of writing.
I really wished that the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman was on this list, It’s one of the greatest fantasy series ever.
Also I recommend the Thorn of Breland series by Keith Baker. It’s based on the Ebberon D&D Universe.
As much as I love the Name of the Wind… Why is it here? The KKC is not even finished, and as of now, the NotW is just bait for a trap of endless waiting. No hard feelings for Rothfuss tho, tho. We all know what he was through and he jas my wholehearted support.
I’d rather see more classic fantasy or Sanderson, instead of NotW.
Guy Gavriel Kay especially Under Heaven and River of Stars but all the others are very good.
Wheel of Time and Malazan are the pinnacle of available fantasy today. Coupled with Lord of the Rings then pick whatever else. I have read A LOT of fantasy and it is laughable that either WoT or Malazan is omitted while Kingkiller Chronicles is here. I loved Kingkiller Chronicles but it is a shadow of the ones I mentioned.
While a lot of the books here in the comments are important works of fantasy the title is aboutost recommended series and I would not recommend a lot of these to new fantasy readers.
The most recommended books I know more ssing from this list is anything by Brandon Sanderson.
If u want to start easy with fantasy,I thought The hobbit a good place to start,then LOTR and the Sillmarillan which explains a lot of the hobbit and LOTR, you should really read the Sillmarillan as it explains the 2 books I’ve mentioned, HAPPY READING
It seems that he belongs to the same block as George R Martin who keeps teasing his fans that the next book is coming.
Here’s my cosmere buddy hahaha.
Seriously, mistborn era 1/2, stormlight..elantris, Warbreaker..
He’s got the best stuff around by far, plus once you realize they’re all set in the cosmere it pulls you in even more.
I grew up on Lotr but it’s definitely not an exciting read, and asoaif is great, loved it since 2005, but once you read Sanderson GRRM just doesn’t come close.
Sanderson’s books are decent but Terry Mancour’s Spellmonger series blows him away. And how did the Dresden Files not make the list?
Even setting aside The Chronicles of Narnia, one series that definitely belongs on this list is Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Tolkien himself considered it as good as LOTR in its own way.
Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” series is an especial omission.
I agree. A wonderfully gently layered fantasy. Le Guin is a skilful aithor. The whole series needs to be read.
I might also add Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS.
What about Zelazny : Chronicles of Amber?
First read them as they came out. Just reread them. I think the first 5 were better than the last 5
I clicked on this article expecting to have to complain about Sir Terry not making the list. I was pleasantly surprised.
Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and the sequels are worth a nobel prize. Period.
Robin Hobb knows how to end a series, something half the authors on this list don’t seem to know how to do.
The Farseer Trilogy has the most rushed, disconnected ending of any series I’ve ever read. While the series is great until then, that end is ridiculously bad and nonsensical, in ways that undermine everything before it.
Worst books ever
Seriously no Stormlight Archive/Way of Kings..?
I’ve liked asoaif and Lotr for 20 years but Sanderson is light-years better haha, best goddamn series around.
I’m not quite sure anyone should trust a “top” fantasy list that doesn’t have Wheel of Time in it, let alone it not being at the top! Wheel of Time is most definitely 1 of the top 3 fantasy series of all time and in my opinion it should come in, if not 1st, at the very least 2nd!
I absolutely agree! The series becomes more dynamic and fulfilling with each rereading. Such a rich and expansive fantasy which has been mutilated by Amazon Prime. A sad loss to us fantasy lovers was the death of R
obert Jordan. Now Brandon Sanderson should take the giant leap and give us a massive epic too.
Seriously would’ve thought any fantasy list would have wot on there. It’s one of the most popular fantasy series in modern times —-
It’s cruel to recommend the name of the wind without the disclaimer that the series might never be finished. Your going to be teased with greatness only to be left with a sour taste in your mouth as you realise the authors “writer’s block” has been going on for nigh on 13 years.
It seems that he belongs to the same block as George R Martin who keeps teasing his fans that the next book is coming.
Except that Martin’s writing falls rather short compared to Rothfuss. Quantity vs quality and all that. Unfortunately there is a much greater chance Martin will finish first
Having just reread the first GoT book after a long while, it is indeed a masterpiece of world building. The work is so approachable and not bogged down by it’s world, it’s enhanced by it. Each character has remarkable depth, and intrigue. Having read Tolkien, Moorcock, Jordan, Pratchett I think Martin belongs near the top of any list. He is a legendary storyteller.
I feel like Joe Abercrombie deserves a place on this list.
His stuff can be a bit grim but I’d take him over GRRM and Rothfuss.
Joe Abercrombie packs more action and morality tales into a chapter than any of the bland poetry foisted upon Tolkien’s poor readers. The Bloody Nine is a far better developed character than any character created by George R. R. (Not done yet) Martin whether they are having sex with their siblings or not.
The peer of all SF and Fantasy writers with so many awards to his name never gets a mention.
Jack Vance and his Dying Earth novels,headed up by the Cugel books,knocks the rest into a distant second place or less. Humour and adventure awaits those who have yet to find him.
Any Clive Barker book is better then Lord of the Rings which only became popular due to the movies.
And best writers are:
Clive Barker – Dan Simmons – Weis and Hickman – Raymond E. Feist.
I agree with those authors (mostly) love lotr way before the movies Raymond e feist weis and Hickman and barker
The claim that The Lord of the Rings “only became” popular because of films from just 20 years ago is absurd and demonstrably false.
Incorrect. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS was a best seller looooong before Jackson’s beautiful films. Tolkien has influenced many, many fantasy writers.
I gather you weren’t around in the 70s, when everyone knew LOTR , FRODO LIVES was chalked on walls and the Silmarillion – hardly all that readable – was a best seller in 1977. The films were a success because they captured the books as faithfully as one could hope.
I 2nd that on abercrombie. Best fantasy writer out there right now. Him and Sanderson bust the books outs.
I love the story line of the books. The Wheel of time movie. I don’t like the way they charge the storyline. The name of the people, places are the same. The storyline of the TV show is very bad.It so sad. Why did they not use the real story line. They took a wonderful story line and change it to trash.
Not counting Lord of the Ice Garden by Polish author Jarosław Grzedowicz is a crime. This is one of the greatest fantasy novels, easily on the level of LOTR and much better than Pratchet’s work
Check out the fantasy book “The Good & the Shadow”.
I bet whomever made this list never read any of them. LOTR is a timeless classic, but GOT is a drawl that reads like a history book. Name of the Wind protagonist is a total Mary Sue, whom at the end when one thing doesn’t work out at the end gets depressed and gives up. Never had a book infuriate me more. Terry Pratchett’s books meanwhile are comedic satire genius
No fantasy fan worth their salt would fail to include the Raymond Feist series, that starts with Magician. This is second only to Lotr
With all due respect to GRRM, Joe Abercrombie has surpassed his writing skills. Action, dark humour, philosophy, religion and downright ugliness of the truth, LordGrimark has mastered the art of dark fantasy.
I should also mention NK Jemisons Broken Earth series. The closest you can get to Tolkien in terms of beautiful poetic prose with an unimaginable, out of this world storyline and no dragons. NK Jemisons is the JRR Tolkien of our time.
I cannot believe you have bot GRRM and Patrick Tothfuss on this list when they haven’t even finished their series. They are not even the best fantasy books. The best ones in my opinion are written by Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan’s best novel was book six of the wheel of time:Lord of Chaos. If you haven’t read Robert Jordan you must also please do not judge Robert Jordan’s series by the lackluster amazon tv show using the Wheel of Time’s name, it isn’t good and it isn’t the Wheel of Time.
I second Josh’s warning. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the SoFaI series books, but the series is not finished, so it seems premature to include it on any “greatest ever” list without an ending. We all know how the lack of a GRRM ending soured feelings about the otherwise excellent TV series…
You’re dead on!! But don’t sleep on Brent Weeks the Light Bringer series!! Or the Night Angel trilogy.
The only books listed here that are worthy of this title (and let’s remember the title of this list was deceiving, implying one book amount a list of others) are the novels by Ursula Le Guin with Tolkien coming in very close. It is simply insulting that Martin is included and highlights the ignorance of the article.
I cannot believe you let the TERF Rowling and her series enter this list. An entire litany of fantasy books and SHE makes the cut? Unbelievable
I don’t know who these “experts” are but if “The Malazan Chronicles” cycle is not at the first place, definitely they’re not experts but just people who reads mainstream!