Urban fantasy is no doubt one of the most fascinating genres in modern literature. For those who may not know what it is, you can head to this post for a great guide on what is urban fantasy — but, in a nutshell, it consists of fantasy plots that play out in modern settings, for a great mix of enchanting and accessible. Not to mention that it usually involves paranormal elements, particularly vampires, werewolves, and faeries. (Oh my!)
So for fans of all those things and more: if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 20 highly addictive urban fantasy books to try — many of which are part of larger series, so you’ll be able to feed your addiction for many sequels to come. 😉
1. Borderland, edited by Terri Windling
It could be argued that Borderland was the catalyst for the entire urban fantasy trend. Indeed, this anthology perfectly embodies the idea of worlds colliding: each story takes place in “Bordertown,” a chaotic, dystopian city that separates the human world from the mythical “Elflands.” And in Bordertown, things are never as they seem. Neither magic nor human technology works reliably, and their combination can even prove deadly. The inhabitants of the town, including a (literally) bewitching musician and “halfie” residents descended from both human and elf blood, all share in the struggle to understand themselves and the world around them… a world that, by its very nature, defies understanding.
2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The other head of the urban fantasy revolution was Neil Gaiman, who enthralled millions with the 1996 urban fantasy novel/TV series Neverwhere. When Gaiman released American Gods a few years later, it was an even bigger success, garnering awards and praise as one of the best novels of the twenty-first century.
This book follows ex-con Shadow Moon as he becomes the reluctant bodyguard of a man called Mr. Wednesday — whom Shadow quickly realizes is actually Odin, the Norse god of war. Wednesday/Odin is working his way across the U.S. in search of fellow Old Gods, recruiting them to battle the American “New Gods” of media and modernity… but for what cause? As Shadow unearths more secrets about his mysterious employer, he begins to find his mortal self in over his head — but that won’t stop him from trying to put things right.
3. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare is another huge name in the urban fantasy game, and her novel City of Bones helped bring the genre into the twenty-first century mainstream. In this whirlwind tale, New York teenager Clary Fray discovers her identity as a Shadowhunter, a supernatural entity with the power to kill demons.
When her mother Jocelyn is kidnapped, Clary teams up with newfound accomplices to figure out who’s taken her and why. They learn shocking truths about the world of the Shadowhunters, truths that Jocelyn always intentionally kept from her daughter — not knowing that Clary would need that very knowledge in order to save her life. Luckily, our heroine is determined to find out as much as she can, and to fight with every ounce of her strength to keep herself and her loved ones safe.
4. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Moon Called has been hailed as one of the most innovative additions to urban fantasy in recent years. It stars Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson, a skilled mechanic and shapeshifter who lives among werewolves, vampires, and supernatural creatures of all sorts. But though their shared home of the “Tri-Cities” area may seem perfectly harmonious, trouble has long been simmering just under the surface.
That trouble boils over when Mercy is approached for work by a desperate teenage werewolf, who reveals he’s just escaped his fate as a lab rat (or lab wolf, in this case). Mercy soon realizes that her new acquaintance is not an isolated incident, and must set out to rescue all the werewolves she knows before it’s too late.
5. Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn
It’s Ginger Snaps meets Good Morning, Vietnam — well, not exactly. But Kitty and the Midnight Hour does involve a young werewolf, ironically named Kitty, who hosts a popular late-night radio show in Denver. It’s a great gig for Kitty, but there’s a catch: her show is an ongoing exploration of supernatural folklore, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to hide her true identity from her audience.
After several attempts on her life, Kitty knows she has to reel back her radio presence — but how can she, when her devoted listeners may be depending on her to save them? Imaginative and highly engaging, not least due to Kitty’s witty on-the-air commentary, this book will make you see “the midnight hour” in a whole new light.
6. Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst
To invoke cinematic comparisons again, Fire & Heist is urban fantasy’s answer to the Ocean’s franchise. Sky Hawkins has always known it’s her destiny to pull off a heist: not only do nimble fingers run in her family, but so does tradition. The Hawkinses prove themselves through heists, and Sky is eager for her chance at the golden (or should we say gold-pilfering) crown.
Of course, the fact that she’s a wyvern — a human who can transform into a dragon — is also something of a boon. But when Sky stumbles upon a dark secret in the process of planning her heist, she starts thinking her familial roots aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
7. Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Ilona Andrews’ gritty Magic series has been one of the most prominent in urban fantasy over the past few years, and it all kicked off with Magic Bites. In this world, a “magic apocalypse” has left all systems totally unpredictable — neither technology nor magic functions as it should, and when one works, the other inevitably fails (not unlike in the Borderland universe, but to an even greater extreme).
Enter Kate Daniels, a young woman living in Atlanta among vampires, were-creatures, and power-hungry necromancers. Kate has magic in her blood too, but stays hidden so as not to be a target; to ward off danger, she relies on her sharp sword and sharper tongue. When trouble befalls her from an unexpected source, Kate has to make a snap decision — fight or flight? Sword in hand, she soon becomes a vicious mercenary, ready to make all her enemies pay.
8. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden is a professional wizard. Or more accurately, he’s a supernatural private investigator in Chicago, who uses his enhanced abilities to solve paranormal crimes. But even Harry finds himself biting off more than he can chew with his newest case: the mystery of a missing amateur magician and two dead civilians, whose hearts have been brutally ripped out. As Harry struggles to make the connection, the Chicago P.D. begins to suspect him of committing the murders. Now the clock is ticking for Harry to find Victor, the missing magician, and expose what he believes to be Victor’s grisly role in this convoluted case.
9. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Wicked, lovely, or all of the above? That’s what Aislinn Foy has to figure out about herself, as her world is rocked by teenage hormones and magic spells alike. Aislinn has Sight, meaning she can see faeries that are invisible to all other human eyes — but that doesn’t mean she’s not afraid of their terrible power and cruel attitude, especially toward non-faerie folk.
Her fear only increases when she’s approached by Keenan, the “Summer King” of faeries, who wants to make her his queen… no matter what it takes. Will Aislinn submit to Keenan’s sinful yet seductive advances? Or will she confess her attraction to Seth, her evasive and womanizing best friend? Aislinn’s conflict over not just one boy, but one life compared to another will no doubt keep you riveted through this and the rest of Marr’s Wicked Lovely series.
10. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Best known for her work on The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black turns her focus to urban fantasy with The Cruel Prince. Jude and her sisters live in the bustling High Court of Faerie, where they strive to fit in despite their mortal appearance and abilities. Having spent ten years in residence, their faerie fellows still look down on them — especially Prince Cardan, whom Jude describes as the most beautiful and hateful of all. She knows that his approval is the one she’ll have to win… and the only way to do that is by defying him. With glorious worldbuilding and a heart-pounding plot, this book shows that Black has by no means given up her title as queen of the faerie-writing game.
11. Fated by Benedict Jaka
Alex Verus owns a magic shop in London, but not the kind you’re thinking of. Instead of playing cards and top hats, he sells mystical herbs and crystal balls — not that Alex has any need for them himself, since he’s a diviner who can see the future. Still, he’s pretty much just a typical mage, living in peace and running a small business… until one day his apprentice Luna brings him an item of particular significance, a cube made of a strange crimson glass. Unable to interpret its exact meaning, he instinctively understands one thing: his life is about to change drastically, whether he’s ready for it or not.
12. Touch the Dark by Karen Chance
Another diviner features in Touch the Dark, the first installment of Karen Chance’s gripping urban fantasy series. However, our hero Cassandra Palmer doesn’t just see the future — she can also communicate with the past, i.e. spirits of the dead.
Yet it’s the undead who prove to be a much bigger problem for Cassie. She’s haunted by a vampire mobster who wants her dead, and who gets closer to finding her again every day. Cassie’s soon forced to turn to the undead “senate” for protection, but how much help can they actually be? Quite a lot, it turns out… if Cassie is willing to give them something valuable in return.
13. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye is many things: half human, half faerie, San Francisco resident, and grocery store graveyard shifter. She only knows one thing for certain, and that is she’s left her faerie life behind. Or so she thinks. When her former fae friend Evening Winterrose is murdered, Toby finds herself magnetically (or magically) pulled back into her old life. And despite the countless miseries she’s suffered among them, Toby can’t resist another adventure — namely, the chance to find Evening’s killer and enact swift, savage vengeance.
14. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
In the vein of The Hunger Games, Maas’s Throne of Glass centers around a fierce to-the-death competition — only its participants aren’t randomly chosen civilians, but expertly trained killers, competing to serve their king.
Eighteen-year-old criminal assassin Celaena Sardothien is thrust into the ring by Prince Dorian, who claims she’ll be pardoned from her crimes if she triumphs. As you might expect, the prince has more than a professional interest in Celaena, as does her battle trainer Westfall. But Celaena has no time to think about romance when her fellow contestants start turning up dead before the competition has even begun. It’s up to her to figure out what’s going on, lest she become the next victim.
15. Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill
One more time around the Chicago block, but with vampires this time! Some Girls Bite is the inaugural tale of Caroline Evelyn Merit, a 28-year-old grad student who’s saved from a campus attack by Ethan Sullivan — a vamp who turns her into one of his own. Now faced with a life (or rather, un-death) completely different than the one she expected, Merit naturally encounters a few growing pains. These include (but are not limited to): concealing her new identity from her roommate, getting along with the other vampires of Cadogan House, and dealing with her growing attraction to Ethan — who’s now her imperious master, and infuriatingly ambiguous about his own feelings for her.
16. The Brimstone Deception by Lisa Shearin
A supernatural detective agency? Check. A New York City full of vampires, werewolves, and countless other unspeakable creatures? Check. A terrifying new designer drug that allows humans to actually see them… called Brimstone because it’s literally manufactured from the pits of hell? Yup, check on that one too.
Work’s never exactly been easy for detective Makenna Fraser, seer for the SPI (Supernatural Protection & Investigation), but safe to say it’s never been this hellish. When Brimstone breaks out and the cartel controlling it starts murdering dealers left and right, Fraser and her team have their mission cut out for them: to find the source of the drug — a rift between hell and earth — and close it before not just NYC, but all of humanity is destroyed.
17. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Rivers of London is the tale of Peter Grant, an English constable who gets recruited into the shadowy magic division of the London Metropolitan Police. (Too bad he didn’t know Harry Dresden from entry #8, huh?)
The case at hand: a series of strange, inexplicable murders sweeping through London, each more gruesome than the last. Peter must decipher the magical elements intertwined among the victims and use them to track down the murderer. Of all the urban fantasy on this list, this is the one where the city feels most like a character itself — indeed, Aaronovitch’s rich and immersive portrayal of London (and its ancient guardians) is one of the main selling points of this series.
18. Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead
Between her cool day job at a Seattle bookstore and her steamy night job as a succubus, Georgina Kincaid would seem to have it all. In reality, her demon manager is constantly getting on her nerves and she has no romantic life to speak of — not least because every guy she dates would have to sacrifice a piece of his soul to sleep with her.
But Georgina’s life is about to get a lot more interesting. After one of her vampire contacts is suddenly killed, Georgina and her fellow supernaturals must work together to find the man (or rather, demon) responsible. Along the way there’s bondage of all varieties, dead bodies, and a hunky writer that Georgina’s been fantasizing about for months… though he’ll turn out to be a bit different from what she expected.
19. Broken Elements by Mia Marshall
Aidan Brook is an elemental: she has the power to control water, and she’s always been able to use it to her advantage. Until one night her elemental abilities stop working, and horror ensues. Unable to face the consequences of her failure, Aidan flees — only to be brought back to the place where it all began after the murder of a close friend. Now Aidan must desperately try to re-harness her powers, in order to both solve the murder and save herself.
20. Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep
Our final entry, Spider’s Bite, is another well-known work in the urban fantasy canon. Its heroine, Gin (who’s just as sharp as her namesake) is an elemental assassin in possession of Stone and Ice magic, though she doesn’t use them to kill unless she absolutely has to. Known in local lore as “the Spider,” Gin is as deadly as an actual black widow. But she meets her match when an Air elemental associate betrays her, killing the handler who sets her up with victims.
On a straight path to revenge, our Spider is now accompanied by Donovan Caine, a detective who's as rugged as he is reluctant — because Gin is still a criminal, after all.