Best Modern Fantasy Books: Top 7 Tales Most Recommended By Experts

21st-century authors have produced some of the most popular books of all time. Especially in the fantasy genre, authors from all walks of life are telling wildly imaginative stories that have also garnered great financial success. Our list of the best modern fantasy books is all 21st-century publications that might already be on your reading list.

For some, reading is a lifelong pastime. The younger you start, the better. Children who are avid readers tend to develop into happier and smarter teenagers, a new study reveals. Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that reading for 12 hours a week is optimal for youngsters to foster bigger and better brains. People of all ages can strengthen their brains by diving into the world of literature.

Imagining literary worlds as real isn’t just for kids, though — according to seven in 10 (72%) respondents, book immersion gets easier with age. Men were more likely to share this sentiment than women (78% vs. 68%). With the infinite universes created in the fantasy genre, becoming immersed in a novel is an easy feat.

While there are many amazing titles in literature’s history, the best modern fantasy books are a reflection of today’s society and culture. Modern fantasy books appeal to many readers because of their prose, action, and characters. Our sources helped us find the greatest works of 21st century fiction listed below. Let us know your favorite titles in the comments below!

Dark fantasy books
Fantasy book glowing (Photo by EFKS on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Modern Fantasy Books, According to Readers

 

1. “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

This is a story that utilizes the trope of an orphan becoming a powerful magician. Despite the cliché start, this book rapidly becomes a wholly unique tale. “An orphaned boy named Kvothe who comes from humble beginnings becomes a wizard university’s most talented pupil, attracting enemies with the speed of his rise… Rothfuss constructs a compelling world with richly detailed economies, cultures, and history that is home to a thrilling story,” according to Oprah Daily.

The Name of the Wind
“The Name of the Wind”

“The genius of ‘The Name of the Wind’ is that the skill of the author elevates it beyond the sum of its highly entertaining parts. Long fantasy novels with magical schools are plentiful, but ‘The Name of the Wind’ casts a spell that has not diminished with the passage of time,” asserts Powell’s City of Books.

Paste evaluates, “Patrick Rothfuss is the kind of writer that transcends genre qualifiers. The prose is masterful with rich characterization [and] exhilarating storytelling. Not a word feels out of place. This is the kind of book you recommend to anyone, whether or not they think they like fantasy.”

2. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

“The Night Circus” is an example of the success that independent authors are now able to achieve. This title has a non-typical publication history. Medium raves, “‘The Night Circus’ is a historical fantasy novel that was originally written during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, an online-based creative writing month that encourages writers to complete a draft of a novel during November) and is perhaps unique in that respect in this Top 25.”

The Night Circus: A Novel
“The Night Circus: A Novel”

Books and Bao praises, “‘The Night Circus’ is a very special debut novel, one that instantly shot its author into the stratosphere, writing her name in the stars alongside other urban fantasy greats. This is a novel of magic in every sense of the [word], a novel bursting at the seams with wonder, possibility, imagination, poetry, and beauty. Gorgeously written, full of mystery and intrigue. This is a fantasy novel, a fairy tale, [and] a piece of historical fiction.”

Paste exclaims, “A ‘Romeo & Juliet’-esque love story between two powerful young magicians that can actually do real magic, everything about Morgenstern’s debut novel is stunning. The actual Night Circus is a traveling spectacle, a secret that arrives each year, and in this year’s traveling troupe, these two smitten magic-wielders are [unknowingly] pitted against one another, their very lives at stake.”

3. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James (2019)

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is a story based in African mythology. It tells an event-driven action narrative. Wired says, “Marlon James, who won the Booker prize for ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings,’ is not traditionally a fantasy writer, but he dubbed his latest book the African ‘Game of Thrones.’ (Although he later revealed the comparison was a joke). This book focuses on the political tensions between warring states, in a world populated by a host of magical creatures: cannibals, vampires, witches, ghosts and sorcerers.”

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy)
“Black Leopard, Red Wolf”

Book Riot describes, “Marlon James’s 2019 epic novel draws on African history and mythology to create a fantasy world [that] critics have compared to Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ but with Marvel Cinematic Universe levels of action. ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ is one of Time’s 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time. Additionally, it was named a best book of 2019 by The Wall Street Journal, Time, NPR, GQ, Vogue, and The Washington Post.”

Powell’s City of Books elaborates, “Marlon James has created a fantasy epic for the ages, a twisting, betrayal-studded, magic-imbued adventure that mesmerizes even when the violence on the page gets especially gruesome. I would not pick this up if you’re looking for a light book; I insist you read it if you’re looking for an unforgettable tale that will rearrange your thoughts and blow your hair back.”

4. “Jade City” by Fonda Lee (2017)

Fonda Lee has created a world of organized crime meets Wuxia martial arts heroes. “Jade City” has been appropriately compared to “The Godfather” for its depiction of a powerful crime family. “The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities,” details Anxious Nachos

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, 1)
“Jade City”

Wired comments, “Another award-winning entry, ‘Jade City’ bagged The World Fantasy Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for many others, including the Nebula Awards and the Locus Awards. It’s an epic story that many have said is reminiscent of classic Hong Kong gangster movies.”

Book Riot adds, “Yep, this is another World Fantasy Award winner and one of Time’s Top 100 Fantasy Books of All Time. Of course, with a pedigree like that, ‘Jade City’ is one of the most influential fantasy books of the last 10 years. It’s a perfect mashup of a Godfather-esque gangster film, a family drama, and a fantasy epic unlike anything you’ve read before.”

5. “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo (2015)

“Six of Crows” is a deliciously dark fantasy about criminals. This book takes place in Bardugo’s previously established high fantasy realm. Paste explains, “Set two years after the end of Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Grisha Trilogy,’ ‘Six of Crows’ is impossible to put down, boasting an inspiring fantasy world that’s easy-to-get lost in. The novel takes you back to her fantasy realm of Ketterdam, featuring a ragtag crew of outcasts who must pull off a major heist.”

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, 1)
“Six of Crows”

Wired offers, “‘Six of Crows’ begins in Ketterdam, a raucous, busy hub of trade with an underbelly of crime. Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind who’s offered the chance to carry out a risky heist with a considerable reward. He handpicks a team to help, including a convict, excellent sharpshooter, and a spy – six outcasts in total, all trying to pull off the ultimate heist.”

“Perhaps you’ve heard of Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ or its Netflix series adaptation. If so, the characters in this award-winning novel will be familiar. Starring six dangerous outcasts, this magical YA heist story offers both action and compelling characters to root for,” states Book Riot.

6. “The Fifth Season” by NK Jemisin (2015)

“The Fifth Season” is the first book in the “Broken Earth Series.” It explores social castes in a volatile world of natural disasters. Pan MacMillan relates, “‘The Fifth Season’ is the first fantasy novel in N. K. Jemisin’s ‘Broken Earth’ trilogy. In a far-future Earth, a continent known as the Stillness is plagued by apocalyptic natural disasters known as Seasons, that can last for generations.”

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, 1)
“The Fifth Season”

Powell’s City of Books claims, “Jemisin flawlessly executes this multiple perspective narrative in a richly imagined and immersive dystopian setting. The magic system is also well developed and wonderfully scientific and offers something new and refreshing to the genre. This is a story that will draw you in immediately from the sheer depth and richness of the world.”

The Guardian reviews, “The books might take place in a far future on a world that is not our Earth, but clearly, they also connect with the here and now, with themes of climate change, environmental degradation, racial injustice and the burdens of the past. A daring second-person narration and a complex, admirable but not always likable hero make this book much more than the sum of its themes.”

7. “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke (2004)

This large tome varies in total page count in print, but it’s a hefty book. The huge wordcount of this novel serves to paint the fine details of a layered and magical world. Medium cites their own poll results, “This epic novel… about a pair of battling magicians during the Napoleonic Wars… was an overwhelmingly popular choice with people voting in this poll.”

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”

“The 782-page novel includes copious footnotes following one rabbit hole after the next. It’s a distinctly English work, recalling Jane Austen as much as J.R.R. Tolkien and offering a world of moral complexity, never shying from the darkness of men’s souls,” assures Paste.

Wired articulates, “The book’s premise is that magic has returned: two men, Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, wield it. Written in a comedy of manners, Jane Austen style, it took its author British writer Susanna Clark… ten years to write and was widely acclaimed on its release in 2004.”

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Sources:

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.

Comments

  1. Lol no way. Six of crows was alright, so was jade city. Name of the wind was good but Patrick rothfuss is a total asshole and the genre should boycott him for his disdain for fans and his hubris. The fifth season was more about sex than fantasy. It’s obvious your sources are things like Oprah daily, these are not epic fantasy novels.

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