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The 30 Best YA Fantasy Books for Teens

Tuesday, Feb 05

Fantasy is a (literally) magical genre — and a great coping mechanism for not-so-magical times like, say, adolescence. However, even if you're no longer a young adult yourself, there's something for everyone in the subgenre of YA fantasy! From Tamora Pierce to Tomi Adeyemi, you're sure to find something amazing in this list of the 30 best YA fantasy books.

1. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Before he became the greatest sorcerer in the land, Ged was a young boy who lived on the island of Gont. This is the story of his beginning: how he gained knowledge and power, how he lost it, and how he matured into one of Earthsea’s most respected conjurors. From one of the most iconic writers of the genre, A Wizard of Earthsea isn’t just one of the best books in YA fantasy — it’s one of the all-time best books for young adults.

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Angharad Crewe, aka Harry, is the daughter of a nobleman and fated heir to the “Blue Sword” of Gonturan, which wields massive amounts of power. Harry herself also has incredibly strong “kelar” — a magical property contained within royal blood. She begins training in the land of Damar, despite her roots in the land of (where else?) Homeland, and soon transforms into a masterful warrior worthy of both realms. But when a schism erupts between Damar and Homeland, Harry must choose: which will it be, the place full of people that raised her, or the one that has brought her closer to her glorious destiny than ever before?

3. Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Alanna Trebond is unfortunately a girl. Which means that she can’t become a knight, even though it's what she knows she’s destined to be. After all, she craves the adventures and can fight like hell. One day, she hatches a plan with her twin brother: Thom will go to the convent to learn magic, and she will travel to the castle to become a page in the King’s court. Thus begins Alanna’s epic journey to become Alan of Trebond in this beloved first installment of a legendary series.

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4. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Inspired by an odd question a schoolboy once asked of Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is a story of a girl named Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three sisters in the town of Market Chipping. As everyone knows, the eldest never gets to go anywhere or do anything. So Sophie sits in her hat shop all day, talking to hats… until the day that a witch stops by and transforms her into (gasp) an old woman. And what’s an old woman to do other than get to her feet, hobble to the nearest evil wizard’s moving castle, and start having many adventures of her own?

One of Jones’s funniest and most charming books, Howl’s Moving Castle should be a staple on every teenage reader’s bookshelf. Do yourself a favor and pick it up now if you haven’t yet.

5. Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel and her father have a unique talent: they can communicate with the dead and the damned. In particular, the world depends on her father, the Abhorsen, to lay these creatures to rest in the Old Kingdom where they belong. Things all get a bit awkward, however, when the Abhorsen goes missing. Now Sabriel has to venture into the Old Kingdom to find him — with no-one but a cat and a young Charter Mage for companions. And that’s not even to mention the dark evil that’s beginning to spread out over the land.

Inventive and brilliantly written, Sabriel (along with the next two installments in its trilogy) has continued to make waves since it first burst onto the YA fantasy scene in 1995.

6. Graceling by Kristen Cashore

Gracelings are people born with rare abilities, and are discernable by their mismatched eyes. Katsa is such a Graceling — and it just so happens that she is ‘graced’ with with talent for killing. Under the service of the King, she murders and tortures her way across the seven kingdoms. But then Prince Po walks into her land one day with mismatched eyes (one in silver and the other in gold), he upends everything with a truth that even Katsa cannot slay.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

This twelve-year-old boy wizard exploded onto the literary scene in 1997 — only to change the face of publishing forever. If you haven’t hopped on board the train at Platform 9¾  yet, now’s the time to do it. Go on the adventure of a lifetime with Harry, Hermione, and Ron at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as they grow up to battle grumpy Potions masters, puberty, and a Dark Lord who simply refuses to die.

8. The Reader by Traci Chee

Above all else, Sefia is a survivor. After her father was murdered, her Aunt Nin took her in and taught her to hunt, track, and steal when necessary. But after Nin is seemingly kidnapped as well, Sefia is at a complete loss. Then she discovers that the odd rectangular object left by Nin is actually a book, rare and largely useless in their illiterate society.

Of course, to our plucky heroine, her inability to interpret the book’s pages is only a minor detail and won’t stand in her way. With the help of a furtive stranger, she begins the search for her aunt and starts unearthing the circumstances of her father’s death, and the truth surrounding their societal taboo of reading.

9. Fallen by Lauren Kate

Getting sent to reform school after accusations of lighting a boy on fire may not seem like the most auspicious path for a teenage girl. But for Lucinda Price, it’s the key to her destiny: only upon arriving at Sword & Cross Reform School does she realize that she’s not like other girls (and not in a manic pixie dream girl sort of way). It's only a matter of time before Luce stumbles upon whole the truth about Sword & Cross — and has to make an unfathomable choice between the two opposing sides of it.

10. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This one takes the cake for having the most fascinating approach to storytelling of any book on our list. Originally intended as an enigmatic picture book, it ended up being a well-woven combination of writing and found photographs. The narrative follows a teenage boy named Jacob, who’s always had a vivid imagination and a penchant for stories, as he discovers the strange young inhabitants of his grandfather’s old house in Wales. The children living there are not just peculiar, but entrenched in danger. What is the source of this danger — is it the surroundings or the children themselves? The only way for Jacob to find out is to wade further into the mystery.

11. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

You probably don’t know about the Leopard Society; that's because it’s a super-secret society of magical people in Nigeria. Twelve-year-old Sunny finds herself on the brink of induction, so long as she’s able to control the magical powers that she’s just discovered. As you might expect, that’s easier said than done — especially when she’s tasked to kill a career criminal whose magical powers might be greater than hers. Harry Potter comparisons are easy, but Akata Witch is much more than Nigerian Hogwarts.

With a vibrant world of its own and truly iconic characters, the magic of this novel will leave you gasping out loud.

12. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

In the Kingdom of Goredd, humans and dragons (who can assume human form) live side-by-side in an uneasy alliance. When the human crown prince is murdered, it appears that dragons are at fault. Young Seraphina, a court musician, finds herself drawn into the investigation as she harbors a secret: she herself is half-dragon, and if she's found out, she would be in serious danger. Along with its follow-up, Shadow Scale, this book is perfect for fans of dragon books who worry that the tropes were starting to get a bit creaky.

13. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

In an alternate timeline, the witch hunts of the 1600s are unfolding in twentieth-century New England. Leagues of witches must go to great lengths to protect themselves from the priests of the Brotherhood, who are on the lookout for girls who show even the barest hint of magic.

Unfortunately, Cate Cahill is a witch. She already knows that it’s not a great time to be a witch, and now she must keep her dying mother’s promise to protect her two younger sisters. To make things more complicated, she might soon have to pick between marriage or the Sisterhood… and then there’s the mysterious governess who enters their service with secrets of her own. Twisty and thrilling, Born Wicked is only the first book in a terrific trilogy about the bonds of friendship and family.

14. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Meet Harper Price: southern belle, homecoming queen, and… paladin? Yep. One night, during a homecoming ball gone horribly wrong, Harper becomes a Paladin a.k.a. a guardian with superhuman fighting abilities. Which is weird but, okay, fine — until she finds out that the person who she’s supposed to protect is none under than David Stark, the classmate she hates most. As if that’s not enough, David might be prophesied to destroy the whole world. And you thought that your high school was tough.

15. Half Bad by Sally Green

Nathan is a peculiar kind of witch: half White and Black. The small problem with that? It’s not particularly a good thing to be a Half Code when White Witches and Black Witches are in the midst of a brutal war. And Nathan is the illegitimate son of the most dangerous witch in the world, which means that many would pay to have his head on a platter. Now Nathan has to escape from a literal cage to find his father, and receive the gifts that will empower him on his seventeenth birthday… if he can survive until then.

16. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Princess Lia of Morrighan seems to have a perfect life: born into a royal family, betrothed to a prince, without a care in the world. Except Lia does have a care in the world — namely, she refuses to enter into an arranged marriage with someone she’s never even met. That’s why, on the morning of her wedding day, she escapes to a far-off village to begin a new life. But as our princess will soon discover, even the lengthiest journey cannot put enough space between her and apparent treason… especially when two mysterious men arrive in town with an unusually pointed interest in Lia and her past.

17. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire, no-one is free — least of all Laia. She’s a girl from a poor family that quietly scrapes by each day without a word of protest. But all of this changes when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason. To save him, she has no choice but to go undercover inside of the Empire’s greatest military academy where she meets Elias, the Empire’s star soldier. As it happens, they might have more in common than she might think at first.

With intricate worldbuilding inspired by ancient Rome, An Ember in the Ashes is an instant hit that critics have called the perfect blend of Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones.

18. The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

If you’re the number-one witch hunter in all the kingdom, what’s your biggest fear? To be accused of witchcraft yourself, of course! And that’s exactly what happens to young Elizabeth Grey, a teenage witch-hunting prodigy. Hours away from being burned at the stake, she is offered salvation by Nicholas Perevil, the land’s most powerful wizard. In exchange for her life and freedom, she must help him track down the wizard who placed a curse upon him.

19. The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

In the land of Khorasan, people walk in fear of its Caliph: a eighteen-year-old boy named Khalid, who takes a new bride every night and executes her by sunrise. What Khalid does not expect is for a girl to volunteer to marry him. Her name is Shahrzad, and she carries a secret of her own: her best friend was Khalid’s latest victim. Now she’s out for revenge, but will soon discover that the palace and the Caliph are not all that they appear to be.

20. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Lee Westfall is both blessed and cursed. She has the ability to sense the presence of gold nearby, whether it’s buried deep in the soft earth or laying in a rushing river. She could be wealthy beyond imagination but if word of her powers got out, you can imagine the number of people who would want her by their side. Now she must disguise herself as a boy and escape to California. But the road will be dangerous, for in Gold Rush-era America, hers is a dangerous secret to keep...

21. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

In the gritty metropolis of Ketterdam, young Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind known as “Dirtyhands.” If you need a rough job done quickly and quietly, he’s your guy. So when a botched drug experiment threatens a potential outbreak, Kaz and his crew are hired to retrieve the scientist responsible to prevent any information (or chemicals) from spreading. The scientist is being held in the Ice Court of Fjedra, which is supposed to be impenetrable; but of course, Kaz Brekker loves a challenge.

The only problem is, he may not have banked on how much of a challenge this would be… not just to succeed, but to survive.

22. And I Darken by Kiersten White

Think Game of Thrones, but with teenagers! And set in the Ottoman Empire. If you need more convincing than that, meet Lady Dragwlya: a princess who must be ruthless in order to survive the Ottoman courts. Despite their longing to return to their homeland of Wallachia, she and her gentle younger brother are stuck as pawns in the empire. Their only friend is the sultan’s lonely and beautiful prince, Mehmed. But as the siblings’ relationship with him deepens, their web of complex relationships might just pull them under. Gorgeously drawn and deftly plotted, this novel is a brilliant rendition of political intrigue and bravery against the odds.

23. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Fans of historical fantasy, here’s one for you. You get a compulsively exciting world, set in the smoky nightclubs of Boston, 1919. You get an unlikely pair of fast friends, the sly con artists Ada Navarra and Corinne Wells. Don’t forget magic, gangsters, illusions, and the adventure that ensues when a job goes fatefully wrong. And there might even be a touch of romance in this rollicking, original fantasy for teens and adults alike.

24. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

The Old West meets the mythical Middle-East in this thrilling, propulsive debut from Alqyn Hamilton. Amani is a sixteen-year-old girl stuck in a dead-end town where everybody works at the local explosives factory. She also happens to be one heck of a gunslinger and has no intention of sticking around just so she can be married off. One day, a mysterious foreigner rocks up in town, offers her the chance of escape, and kicks off her discovery of magic and excitement.

25. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

An East Asian twist on stories like Wicked and Maleficent, Julie C. Dao’s debut novel tracks the rise of Xifeng, a peasant girl whose wicked aunt has prophesied her rise to greatness. But in order to meet her destiny, Xifeng has to make some terrible compromises and embrace the dark magic she was born with. If you’re a reader who can’t get enough of anti-heroines but long for a fantasy novel that isn’t set in Medieval Europe, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and its sequel are going straight to the top of your reading list.

26. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

In Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Melissa Bashardoust marries Frozen and Snow White to dazzling effect. Mina is a queen with a heart of glass. Her stepdaughter is a princess made of snow. Destiny might say that they will be eternal rivals for the crown, but the path forward may be more complicated than that in this powerful feminist retelling of fairy tales older than time.

27. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

This dark fantasy classic-in-the-making is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice, who’s spent most of her life on the road with her mother, running from something unknown. Alice intuits that it has something to do with her grandmother, the author of dark fairy tales collected in a book called Tales from the Hinterland, but she can never be sure. That is, not until her grandmother dies and Alice’s mother disappears, leaving behind only a single clue to her whereabouts: a cryptic note that says “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Naturally, the Hazel Wood — her grandmother’s mysterious former estate — is where Alice must go. From there, she’s drawn into a world in which fantasy and reality are blurred even more darkly than in her grandmother’s tales, a world from which she’s not sure she can ever escape.

28. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

When Zélie Adebola’s mother was killed, all the magic of her world disappeared — literally.

For Zélie’s mother was a maji, one with unique magical abilities, and she along with countless other maji were murdered by the tyrant King Saran in his quest to control all of Orïsha. As young Zélie grows, she feels the mystical power pulsing in her blood, and realizes her destiny to take back her land and restore its magic — no matter the sacrifice. This beautifully rendered, West African-inspired tale of love, bravery, and magic of all sorts has been a phenomenal hit in the YA category, soon to be followed by two more novels in Adeyemi’s planned Orïsha trilogy.

29. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Lazlo Strange lives up to his name: ever since he was a child, he’s had bizarre dreams about the land of Weep, a mythic city halfway around the world. Now, at twenty years old, Strange finally gets the chance to travel to the supposedly abandoned Weep and see how much of his subconscious projections are true. There he finds forces that are powerful beyond his dreams and imagination — yet something about their form does seem strangely familiar.

This Printz-winning first installment of Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer series is both a thought-provoking challenge and an immense reward, for teen and adult readers alike.

30. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

In a small, unnamed Eastern European town lives Miryem, the teenaged daughter of a terrible moneylender. Not terrible in the sense that he’s cruel or exacting: in fact, quite the opposite. When her father gives away the last of their family money, Miryem takes it upon herself to get their money back and quickly proves herself as quite the businesswoman. However, her newfound reputation of “spinning silver into gold” catches the attention of some unsavory characters.

Inspired by the Rumpelstiltskin story, Novik shows an incredible talent for reworking fairy tales in a way that doesn’t simply rehash them in another setting. With an incredible eye for worldbuilding and a morally complex heroine, she has crafted an instant classic of the genre.

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