The realm of fantasy literature is brimming with timeless classics that have captured the imaginations of readers for generations. The best fantasy books of all time transport readers to captivating and otherworldly realms, often weaving intricate tales of magic, heroism, and epic quests. From J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” to C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia,” these works have left an indelible mark on literature, enchanting readers with their rich world-building and unforgettable characters.
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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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