YA fantasy has spent 20 years at the top of the most esteemed bestseller lists, but what are the best young adult fantasy novels you can read right now? We’ve picked 20 contenders for you to check out below.
Twilight. Red Queen. A Court of Thorns and Roses. The Wrath and the Dawn. You’ve no doubt heard of these bestsellers, whether you’re a fantasy aficionado or prefer your literature to be strictly mundane. These series pushed open the doors of young adult fiction for thousands of books to follow. As Foul Lady Fortune author Chloe Gong pointed out in her 2021 op-ed, “Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes … paved the way for YA fantasy from underrepresented voices to enter into prominence too, right when YA fantasy [was] having its heyday.” Gong went on to note that 2020 gave birth to “a great boom” of YA fantasy literature from marginalized authors, adding: “It is my hope that YA is in fact expanding the sort of stories they are letting creators tell, and not merely clutching onto a zeitgeist.”
We’ve got 20 of the best young adult fantasy novels picked out for you below.
The 20 Best Young Adult Fantasy Novels
A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee
An innkeeper’s daughter must strike out on a journey to find a cure for her deadly curse, in A Thousand Steps into Night. Miuko isn’t exactly the model of obedience and grace. So it’s no surprise that she finds herself with few allies once she’s hit with a curse that will turn her into a demon. With only her wits to guide her, Miuko takes to the road in search of a way to break the spell that binds her to an unknown fate — a quest that will unexpectedly lead her down the path of self-discovery.
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi
Indigo’s husband promised not to question his wife about her past, nor go searching for answers to those questions himself. He only realizes how difficult it will be to keep that promise when a relative’s death summons them to her family’s ancestral home. There, he learns that his wife’s childhood friend, Azure, vanished years ago. Digging into her story will unearth Indigo’s as well, however, and the couple will be forced to reassess their priorities. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a rich, gothic jewel box of a YA fantasy novel.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
This modern classic in YA fantasy introduces readers to a world in which Beauty — with a capital B — is held, distributed, and manipulated only by a chosen few. As a Belle, Camellia has the power to lift the ugliness that plagues most of the people in Orléans. All that privilege hasn’t stopped her from dreaming of a better life, however. Camellia and several other Belles seize the opportunity to become the queen’s favorite Belle, an honor that will allow the chosen one to live in the lap of luxury forever. But there’s plenty the Belles do not know about their own powers, and they may soon be asked to perform magic they did not know was even possible, in The Belles.
The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon
The Witch King centers on Wyatt, a trans witch born in a fae-controlled realm where he’s treated as a second-class citizen. Discrimination against witches didn’t stop the fae royal family from arranging a marriage between Wyatt and Prince Emyr, however. Before they could marry, Wyatt fled to the mortal realm, where he discovered he was trans. His transition has not changed his magical bond with Emyr, and when the fae prince comes to Wyatt for help, he’s not sure he wants to go back to a world in which he’s bound to be undervalued.
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
An indentured zookeeper and a disgraced warrior join forces to take down an ultra-powerful creature, in Beasts of Ruin. Ekon has a legacy to uphold, and only one rite of passage stands in his way. Koffi has spent her adolescence keeping her head down, working diligently to free her parents from bondage. The two teens meet at just the right time to set off a colossal chain of events that could destroy both of their futures. Now, their only hope of salvation may lie in hunting down a near-legendary monster that has stalked their city for generations.
The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan
Rochelle Hassan’s YA debut is The Buried and the Bound. The story here centers on Blackthorn, MA’s resident hedgewitch, Aziza, whose work protects the town’s magical and mundane inhabitants from things that go bump in the night. The discovery of a fearsome presence in the forest surrounding Blackthorn — one that threatens to destroy the town entirely — swiftly upends her peaceful life. With the clock ticking down to the town’s expiry, Aziza must take on her biggest threat yet, aided only by two young men she isn’t sure she can trust.
Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman
Unseelie is a duology-starter from debut author Ivelisse Housman. Societal prejudice forced Seelie to hide the truth about her changeling identity until she was very nearly grown. It wasn’t easy; Seelie’s autism and her somewhat chaotic affinity for magic don’t exactly lend themselves to blending in. After the story finally broke, she and her twin sister Isolde set out to make their own way in the world. The girls have spent time in the worlds of both humans and the fae, but that doesn’t mean they understand the way either world works. Then again, perhaps no one really does — as these two sisters are about to find out.
When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb
The son of a powerful demon king, Little Ash has spent centuries in an eastern corner of the Russian Empire, studying Talmud with his best friend, the angel Uriel. Their unnamed shtetl is tiny and growing tinier, as young people leave for America to escape antisemitic violence. When one young woman suddenly stops writing, Little Ash and Uriel board a ship bound for the United States. The country is known as the goldene medina — the golden land — but the demon and the angel quickly grow disillusioned with its treatment of immigrants, in When the Angels Left the Old Country.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
Elizabeth Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes is a “Wild Swans” retelling set against an East Asian-inspired backdrop. Princess Shiori never meant to stumble upon her stepmother Raikama’s biggest secret, and now she and her brothers must pay. Raikama transforms the boys into cranes and curses Shiori to be cast out of her father’s palace. To make matters worse, Raikama’s spell prevents the princess from speaking, lest she kill her brothers. Can she find a way to save her siblings — and herself — before it’s too late?
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
As a shénnóng-tú, Ning studies magical tea-making. Shénnóng is an ancient and revered craft. It used to be something Ning loved. Then her mother died, her sister fell ill, and Ning was left with the guilt of accidentally brewing poison. A Magic Steeped in Poison follows the apprentice tea-maker as she enters a cutthroat competition to be crowned the greatest Shénnóng practitioner in the land — and win a prize that could save her sister’s life.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Two Black teenagers lean on one another to endure a period of intense personal and political turmoil, in A Song Below Water. Tavia must keep her siren magic a secret; everyone knows sirens can kill with their voices. It’s easy for someone to murder a siren and claim they acted in self-defense. In fact, that’s exactly what has happened in the case of the recently murdered Rhoda Taylor, whose boyfriend is now claiming that she was a siren. Tavia is outraged at the support for Rhoda’s killer and terrified she’ll be hunted down for supporting an accused siren. Meanwhile, her best friend Effie is haunted by the events of her past — events that may make her even less sympathetic than a siren.
Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson
Lily Anderson’s Scout’s Honor is perfect for former Girl Scouts and Lumberjanes fans alike. To the mainstream public, the Ladybird Scouts appear to be a genteel group of tea-sipping gossips — annoying, but completely harmless. In reality, they’re the warriors responsible for beating back a race of dangerous parasites that eat negative emotions. Sixteen-year-old Prue is a third-generation Ladybird Scout who’s pulled back into the organization after a three-year-long hiatus. Prue hung up her sash and cap when her best friend died in service to the cause. Now, her hometown is in danger, and the Ladybird Scouts may be the only people capable of protecting it.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
The first book in Nnedi Okorafor’s Nsibidi Scripts series, Akata Witch follows Sunny, a 12-year-old girl who has grown up straddling worlds. She’s too American for Nigeria, too Nigerian for the United States. People keep her at arm’s length due to her albinism, which often prevents her from participating in the same activities as her peers. She just wants to be like everyone else, but that’s impossible, as Sunny’s about to discover. She’s one of the Leopard People, powerful magic-users who study juju to hone their talents, and she’s not alone.
Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid
Ava Reid retells “The Juniper Tree” in Juniper & Thorn. Witch sisters Marlinchen, Rosenrot, and Undine live with their wizard father in Oblya, where magic is becoming increasingly scarce due to technological advancement. Zmiy keeps his daughters locked away, safe from the world outside their home. The only interactions these young witches have with non-relatives involve the exchange of money for their magical crafts. Until the night they sneak out and experience Oblya’s nightlife, that is.
A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft
Aspiring alchemist Wes came to Welty Manor to pursue an apprenticeship with Evelyn Welty. Too bad she’s been missing for months. In Evelyn’s place he finds her daughter, Maggie. She would be quick to turn him away, but she just so happens to need an alchemist to enter the Halfmoon Hunt: an annual event that pits teams of two against a beast with godlike powers. Maggie’s hoping to win the hunt and reunite with Evelyn, and Wes has a host of family problems that fame and fortune could cure. Come for the magical partnership, stay for the slow-burn romance, in A Far Wilder Magic.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab
Gallant centers on Olivia, a mute young girl who has grown up at a stringent boarding school. Her mother’s diary is the closest thing she has to family, and it’s hardly comforting. So when her estranged uncle invites her to come live at his mansion — the titular Gallant — Olivia is quick to accept. She might finally get the chance to unlock the secrets of her mother’s diary … if she doesn’t get tangled up in the house’s own mysteries first.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
Another fairy tale retelling, Sue Lynn Tan’s YA fantasy introduces readers to Xingyin, a girl who has grown up in exile on the moon. Xingyin’s mother, Chang’e, was supposed to endure her sentence alone; she’s kept her daughter hidden out of necessity. That same necessity forces Xingyin to abandon the only home she’s ever known when a magical outburst alerts the Celestial Emperor to her presence. Alone and in the company of others for the first time in her life, Xingyin searches for a way to free her mother, in Daughter of the Moon Goddess.
The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder
Leslie Vedder’s YA debut is The Bone Spindle. The story here follows Fi and Shane, an academic and a warrior, as they attempt to free a kingdom from an ancient curse. The Spindle Witch cast a vengeful spell over Andar, plunging the kingdom’s crown prince, Briar Rose, into an endless slumber that only the right kiss may end. A century later, Fi pricks her finger on a spindle and discovers that she’s the person destined to save Briar Rose and his kingdom. But Fi is under a curse of her own, and it might just get in the way of Andar’s salvation.
Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker
Thirty years after their grandmother was killed and their family massacred, a pair of 16-year-old twins discover that their surviving relatives live under the effects of an insidious curse, in Blood Debts. Cris Trudeau is still reeling from the death of her father when she learns that her mother is not long for this world. Cris has sworn off her magical heritage but agrees to perform one final ritual — a luck spell — with her twin brother, Clem, in a bid to save their mother’s life. It will take more than that to find a cure, however. The twins’ mother is cursed, as is the rest of their family, and people will continue to die until they find a way to break the spell.
That Self-Same Metal by Brittany N. Williams (April 28, 2023)
Set in 16th-century London, That Self-Same Metal centers on Joan, a Black girl who uses her Orisha blessing to keep William Shakespeare’s theater troupe armed with the best in stage weaponry. Joan isn’t the only person in her family interested in combat; they employ their Orisha blessings to keep London safe from the Fae. Their work has been peaceful of late, but that’s all about to change. Fae attacks on humans are ramping up — in both intensity and frequency — and Joan is about to stumble into a web of intrigue from which she may not be able to escape.
We hope you’ve found a few new books for your TBR pile among the 20 best young adult fantasy novels above. Keep scrolling for answers to your top questions about YA fantasy literature.
What is the difference between fantasy and YA fantasy?
The line between adult and YA fiction can be blurry; that’s one of many reasons we now have the “new adult” age category. There are a few clues you can look for to tell the difference between a fantasy novel written for adults and one written for teens, however.
If you’re trying to decide whether a fantasy novel is for adults or teens, content may not be the best factor to judge. YA books tackle serious subjects, such as racism, misogyny, ableism, fatphobia, and queerphobia, and books for teens can — and do! — include violence, gore, profanity, and sexual content. Most YA books containing these “adult” themes will not be explicit in their explorations of them. On the other hand, there are plenty of so-called clean novels out there aimed at adult readers.
Instead, try looking at the age of the protagonist and the trajectory of their story arc. YA fantasy novels tend to center on protagonists in their teens or early 20s, who often have much to learn about themselves. The coming-of-age narratives popular in contemporary YA show up in fantasy settings as well.
Although adult protagonists may have much to learn about themselves, they aren’t figuring out exactly who they are as people. Instead, they’ll find themselves faced with difficult choices — including the decision of whether to change their long-standing behaviors or philosophies.
Is it okay for adults to read YA?
Yes. Not only is it 100% okay for adults to read YA, but it’s also quite common. One 2012 study found that more than half of all YA books — a total of 55% — were purchased by adults for their own consumption.
What are the four types of fantasy?
In her 2008 book, Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identified four broad categories of fantasy narratives. They are:
1. Portal or quest fantasies, in which a hero travels to a new world — such as in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series — or to a new part of their own world — such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
2. Immersive fantasies, such as V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, in which the hero already lives in a fantasy world and knows the rules that govern it.
3. Intrusive fantasies, such as Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, in which an unknown variety of monsters or villains invade the hero’s nominally peaceful world.
4. Liminal fantasies, such as Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s Welcome to Night Vale, in which the characters appear to think they are living in a mundane world, despite the influx of — often unsettling — fantasy elements.
What are examples of dark fantasy?
Dark fantasy novels tend to be strewn with traces of horror. In the case of a dark low-fantasy novel, the story may contain elements of the grimdark subgenre, even if it does not fall completely within the grimdark category. Examples of such novels include Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, and Kentaro Miura’s Berserk.
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