24 Best Fantasy Books Everyone Should Read

The best fantasy books should take you out of this world, or keep you here but with a touch of wild possibilities that are far from reality or defy scientific explanations. The fantasy genre is older than writing and probably as old as humanity. Before people started printing and circulating fantasy literature; stories about strange creatures, magical powers, and imaginary universes existed, albeit in spoken form. The genre has evolved so much over the centuries that it now encompasses numerous genres with a multitude of subsets.

From Low and High/Epic Fantasies to Fables, Magical Realism, Superhero Fiction, Dark, Romantic, and Bangsian Fantasies; there are just too many fantasy literature genres to keep up with. The implication of this is that there are also thousands of such works that have been published. Given that, it is easy to see how fishing out the best fantasy books is quite a difficult and herculean task. It is really like finding a needle in a haystack and to be honest, rather audacious to make a list of fantasy books and proclaim them the best.

However, based on the factors we considered before selecting the following works, it’s fair to regard them as some of the best fantasy books people should read.

Some of The Best Fantasy Books That Are Worth Your Time

Bangsian Fantasy Books

A sub-genre of fantasy literature, Bangsian fantasy concerns itself with the afterlife. Its name was derived from John Kendrick Bangs, an American author considered a pioneer of the genre.

1. To Your Scattered Bodies Go

  • Author: Philip José Farmer
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: June 30, 1998 (first published in 1971)
  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5 (30,915 ratings)

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The first of Farmer’s stories of the Riverworld, To Your Scattered Bodies Go is one of the best fantasy books from the Bangsian sub-genre. A 1972 Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, the book also received a Locus Award nomination for Best Novel that same year. It tells the story of an unknown world, a Riverworld where humans find themselves when they die. They are cared for to start afresh but have no idea what the purpose of the afterlife is all about.

2. A House-Boat on the Styx

  • Author: John Kendrick Bangs
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 12, 2021 (first published in 1895)
  • Publisher: Independently published
  • Print Length: 113 pages
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.65/5 (245 ratings)

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As stated earlier, the author of this book is considered a pioneer of the Bangsian fantasy genre. It is the first book of his series about Styx, an underworld river where the dead finds themselves. It is a story that imagined what would be if various prominent figures who have ever lived are brought together in an afterlife. Bangs explored various themes which ultimately denied the book a central theme. In 1896, Publishers Weekly named this book on its list of 10 best-selling novels in the United States. A House-Boat on the Styx is considered a timeless classic in some quarters.

3. What Dreams May Come

  • Author: Richard Matheson
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: January 1, 2004 (first published in September 1978)
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.95/5 (11,960 ratings)

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What stands this work out as one of the best fantasy books in the Bangsian genre is its exploration of life tragedy and love, even in the afterlife. What Dream May Come tells the story of Chris Nielsen who was separated from his beloved wife Annie after he was involved in an accident. Chris found himself in heaven when he passed but when his grief-ridden widow committed suicide and went to hell, he risks his soul to save her and contend with the fate that threatens to keep them apart forever. The book was adapted into a 1998 movie of the same title which won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Must-Read Romance Fantasy Books

Fantasy romance and romance fantasy are often used interchangeably, but in a strict sense, they are not the same. While romantic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy literature, fantasy romance is a sub-genre of romance. The dominant element for each of the sub-genres is the parent genre: that is, romance fantasy books have fantasy as their dominant element and romance should be the major element of a fantasy romance book.

4. A Court of Thorns and Roses

  • Author: Sarah J. Maas
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: June 2, 2020 (first published in May 2015)
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Print Length: 432 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.19/5 (700,268 ratings)

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The first of Sarah J. Maas’ popular series, this work earned the American fantasy author a nomination for Goodreads Choice Award in 2015. Among other prestigious awards and coveted recognition, it has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. It is one of the recent, best fantasy books under the romance sub-genre. The book tells the story of Feyre Archeron, a mortal who finds herself in a faerie land for murdering a faerie. She would later fall in love with her captor and find herself fighting an ancient curse to avert losing him forever.

5. From Blood and Ash

  • Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: March 30, 2020
  • Publisher: Blue Box Press
  • Print Length: 627 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.30/5 (153,284 ratings)

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An American writer known for her fantasy, contemporary romance, and new adult works, Jennifer L. Armentrout has disclosed that her Blood and Ash series would consist of six books. From Blood and Ash tells the story of Poppy, a Maiden appointed for a solitary life with the fate of a kingdom resting on her shoulders. She must prepare and keep herself worthy for the gods and Ascension but would be tempted with the forbidden and dragged to the edge of being found unworthy as the line between what is right and what is forbidden blurs.

6. Radiance

  • Author: Grace Draven
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: January 11, 2015 (first published in February 2014)
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Print Length: 296 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.05/5 (42,063 ratings)

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Radiance tells the story of a forced political marriage between a human (Ildiko) and a being from the Kia kingdom of Bast, Brishen Khaskem. While Ildiko prepares for the marriage to seal a treaty; nothing prepared her for marrying someone who isn’t human. It was an incompatible match by all standards but as fate would have it, Brishen and Ildiko would realize that they were destined for each other and find themselves contending with a hostile kingdom that is bent on tearing them apart. Radiance was nominated for various awards, including Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Fantasy Romance in 2015.

Best Fantasy Books In Dark Sub-genre

Dark fantasy stands out from other sub-genres of fantasy literature because it incorporates scary and perturbing themes of fantasy. It’s what you get when a sense of horror and dread is subsumed in tales about the supernatural, magical creatures, imaginary universe, and things of that sort. Gertrude Barrows Bennett (Francis Stevens) is remembered as “the woman who invented dark fantasy”.

7. A Game of Thrones

  • Author: George R.R. Martin
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 1, 1996
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • Print Length: 694 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.44/5 (2,135,232 ratings)

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The first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series of the famous American author, George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones has enjoyed critical acclaim. In some quarters, the book is counted among the 100 most influential novels. It received multiple nominations for esteemed awards, some of which it won, including the 1997 Locus Award for Best Novel and the Ignotus Award (2003) in the same category. The premise of the book revolves around several noble houses engaged in a battle for the throne amid a lurking supernatural threat while an exiled princess Daenerys strives to find her place in it all.

8. Coraline

  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 29, 2006 (first published in January 2002)
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • Print Length: 162 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.06/5 (539,862 ratings)

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Most people count Coraline among the best fantasy books because of the awards it has won. But more than that, the dark fantasy children’s novella has been able to attract a massive adult audience because it is really a thrilling book to read. It follows Coraline Jones who uncovers a doorway to a parallel and evil other world after her family moves into an old house. She must now contend with the evil to keep her family safe. The book earned Neil Gaiman multiple awards, including Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella in 2003. The previous year, it earned the British author the Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers.

9. The Gunslinger

  • Author: Stephen King
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: May 3, 2016 (first published in June 1982)
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Print Length: 288 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5 (544,968 ratings)

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Stephen King is one of the famous writers of this genre and The Gunslinger is the first book of his acclaimed The Dark Tower Series which has spewed a total of eight books. As its name suggests, the book tells the story of a gunslinger named Roland Deschain and his effort to catch an adversary known as “the man in black”. This quest would ultimately lead him to the Dark Tower. While this first book of the series was quite difficult to follow (until King revised it in 2003), the unfolding stories in the subsequent books are worth the effort.

Heroic Fantasy Books

Also a prominent sub-genre of fantasy, heroic fantasy is peculiar for portraying stories in a world that is devoid of modern technology and full of magic. Another defining attribute of the genre is its major characters. They are often presented as underdogs who are dragged out from the identity of their humble origins by a heroic act they were initially reluctant to champion.

10. The Name of the Wind

  • Author: Patrick Rothfuss
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: January 1, 2008 (first published in March 2007)
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Print Length: 661 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.51/5 (786,695 ratings)

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This heroic fantasy novel is the first book of Patrick Rothfuss’ trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicle series. Also called The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One, Publishers Weekly named this work on its 2007 list of Best Books of the Year. Moreso, it earned the American author some coveted awards like the 2007 Quill Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and the ALA Alex Award in 2008. The book essentially tells the story of a magically gifted and legendary young fellow named Kvothe who grows into the most notorious wizard ever known to the world.

11. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again

  • Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: September 21, 1937
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Print Length: 366 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.28/5 (3,139,884 ratings)

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The Hobbit is one of the popular works of the late English author. First published in September 1937, the book was met with positive reviews and its legacy has manifested in several forms, including its popular sequel, The Lord of the Rings. It has been many decades since its first publication and the book is still touted as the best fantasy book ever written. A historic book credited to have introduced literary devices like allegory, The Hobbit tells an adventurous story that revolves around a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the wizard, and other fascinating creatures like a dragon, elves, and dwarves. This is undoubtedly one of the best fantasy books, a classic children’s literature.

12. The Eye of the World

  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: October 6, 2020 (first published in January 1990)
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Print Length: 784 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.17/5 (425,082 ratings)

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Although criticized for being similar to Lord of the Rings, The Eyes of the World was a commercial and critical success when it was released. The first book of The Wheel of Time series, it received a Locus Award nomination for Best Fantasy Book in 1991. The plot of the story majorly revolves around Rand al’Thor, a farmer. When the savage tribe of Trollocs attacked Emond’s Field, he flees the village alongside Matrim Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, and Egwene al’Vere to prevent further attacks from the half-men half-beast tribe. But then, the group would encounter new dangers as they realize that they are fated to either prevent or aid the rise of the Dark Power.

Best High/Epic Fantasy Books

This is probably the most common sub-genre of fantasy. It is characterized by the epic nature of its setting, plot, themes, and even characters. Disregarding that, high/epic fantasy books are often set in a fictional world, different from the world known to us. Several works of J. R. R. Tolkien like The Lords of the Rings are considered good examples of high fantasy.

13. Eragon

  • Author: Christopher Paolini
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: April 26, 2005 (first published in June 2002)
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • Print Length: 528 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.91/5 (1,533,371 ratings)

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The first book in Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle, Eragon was released to a huge critical and commercial success. It spent a massive 121 weeks on New York Times Children’s Books Best Seller list. Among other prestigious recognition, the book received the Young Reader’s Choice Award and the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award, both in 2006. Eragon has been adapted into a film of the same name and the book tells the story of Eragon, a poor farm boy who discovered a polished blue-colored stone, a dragon egg that changed the course of his life and pushes him towards becoming one of the legendary Dragon Riders.

14. Assassin’s Apprentice

  • Author: Robin Hobb 
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: March 1, 1996 (first published in May 1995)
  • Publisher: Spectra
  • Print Length: 448 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.16/5 (258,253 ratings)

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Assassin’s Apprentice is the first book of Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy. The first book that Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden published with the pseudonym, Assassin’s Apprentice received positive reviews upon its release. The book won the American writer the Compton Crook Award in 1996, including a Locus Award nomination and a British Fantasy Award nomination for Best Novel. Primarily, the book tells the story of Fitz Chivalry, a royal bastard who possesses a magical link with animals. He later begins training as an assassin and risks his life to defend the throne. Subsequent books of this series contributed to earning it a place among the best fantasy books.

15. The Way of Kings

  • Author: Brandon Sanderson
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 31, 2010 (first published in May 1995)
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Print Length: 1008 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.61/5 (354,130 ratings)

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The Stormlight Archive is a popular series of novels written by Brandon Sanderson and The Way of Kings is the first book thereof. The book spent several weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and went on to win several esteemed awards like the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Novel. It also won two Whitney Awards for Best Novel of the Year and Best Speculative Fiction. It follows the story of three narrators: a slave (Kaladin), a high prince (Dalinar), and a noblewoman (Shallan) which evolves into a series of epic fantasy masterpieces. It would be hard to find anyone who wouldn’t agree that The Way of Kings is one of the best fantasy books in the epic subgenre.

Low Fantasy Books

A prominent subgenre of fantasy, low fantasy is also called intrusion fantasy because it is characterized by the intrusion of magical events on stories set in a normal world. It is a sharp opposite of high fantasy and typically does not dwell much on elements associated with fantasies, but sets its narrative in a realistic environment. Works like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods are some of the best low fantasy books.

16. City of Bones

  • Author: Cassandra Clare 
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2015 (first published in March 2007)
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Print Length: 544 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.09/5 (1,746,075 ratings)

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City of Bones is the first book in Cassandra Clare’s popular series, The Mortal Instruments. It features a compelling story that earned it the prestige of being published in other languages. The book also won several awards out of multiple nominations, including the Lincoln Award and the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award of 2010. Set in modern-day New York City, the book also categorized as urban fantasy follows Clary, a 15-year-old who witnesses a strange murder crime with the victim’s body vanishing into thin air. She was surprised her friend couldn’t see the attack and it is only the beginning of a series of intriguing tales.

17. The Lightning Thief

  • Author: Rick Riordan
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: June 28, 2005
  • Publisher: Miramax Books/ Hyperion
  • Print Length: 384 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.27/5 (2,228,029 ratings)

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Percy Jackson & the Olympians series is often counted among the best fantasy books and the reason for this is not far-fetched. It has sold over 69 million copies in at least 35 countries, has been adapted into films, and spent 245 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. In addition to that, it has won numerous awards that are quite many to count. The Lightning Thief is the first book of the series and it set a standard that Rick Riordan has managed to keep up. Set in modern times, the book tells an adventurous story about Percy Jackson, a demigod, and his friends who are also demigods. Together, they fight mythological monsters and thwart the schemes of lord Kronos.

18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • Author: J.K. Rowling
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: October 1, 1998 (first published in June 1997)
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Print Length: 309 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.47/5 (7,802,522 ratings)

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J. K. Rowling is best known for the Harry Potter fantasy series. It has sold over 500 million copies across the globe and is the best-selling book series in history. Considering this, it is no surprise it is always listed among the best fantasy books. Interestingly, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the debut novel of the British author; it is also the first book of the aforementioned series. The book itself has sold over 120 million copies which earned it a place among the best-selling books of all time. It tells the story of a young wizard and orphan named Harry Potter. He discovers he is a wizard on his 11th birthday and would soon find himself striving to defeat “He Who Must Not Be Named”.

Best Fantasy Books In Historical Fantasy

A genre of historical fiction and category of fantasy, historical fantasy is known for imbibing elements of fantasy like magic into realistic stories that seem to recount history. Generally, stories categorized here happen before the 20th century; their plots are often set in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and biblical times.

19. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

  • Author: Susanna Clarke
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: September 5, 2005 (first published in September 2004)
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Print Length: 1024 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 3.82/5 (217,639 ratings)

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Susanna Clarke is an English author and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is her debut novel. She quickly became a popular writer as the novel attained the third spot on the New York Times best-seller list. Moreso, it received positive reviews and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004. The following year, it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That same year, it won the British Book Awards for Newcomer of the Year, the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature. Clearly one of the best fantasy novels, it is set in 19th-century England and the story revolves around the return of magic in England, thanks to Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange.

20. The Night Circus

  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: September 13, 2011
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Print Length: 400 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.03/5 (766,317 ratings)

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An American author, Erin Morgenstern originally wrote The Night Circus for a yearly competition organized by NaNoWriMo. Upon its publication in 2011, critics gave it a warm embrace while comparing it to popular works like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Twilight, and Harry Potter. The book spent seven weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and won the ALA Alex Awards (2012); Locus Award for Best First Novel (2012), alongside nominations for other coveted gongs. The Night Circus tells an intriguing tale of an ancient duel between two magicians.

21. Outlander

  • Author: Diana Gabaldon
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: June 1, 1991
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • Print Length: 640 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5 (896,562 ratings)

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With over 25 million copies sold worldwide, many people would agree that the Outlander series is one of the best fantasy books ever published. Although mostly classified as historical fiction, the book is of a hybrid genre and features elements of adventure and romance. It even won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for Best Romance in 1991. The novel tells the story of Claire Beauchamp, a nurse who travels through time to 18th-century Scotland and falls in love with Jamie Fraser. Each book of the series is like a chapter of a larger story, so it is best to read the books in the order they were published.

Science Fantasy Books

It is pretty easy to tell science fantasy apart from other genres of literature. As its name suggests, elements from both science and fantasy are combined to make up the core of a story. The genre often presents the world to be scientifically logical, but with fantastic elements that defy scientific explanations in the real world.

22. Gideon the Ninth

  • Author: Tamsyn Muir
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019
  • Publisher: Tor
  • Print Length: 448 pages (hardcover)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.20/5 (54,276 ratings)

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Even though it is the debut novel of the New Zealand writer, it is considered as one of the best fantasy books, especially under the science fantasy subgenre. Gideon the Ninth is the first book of Muri’s The Locked Tomb series. It won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2020 and was nominated for other coveted gongs, including the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Set in a galactic empire, the book tells the story of nine planets, their politics, and unique ways of communicating with the dead through magic.

23. The Fifth Season

  • Author: N.K. Jemisin
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2015
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Print Length: 512 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.28/5 (187,558 ratings)

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The first book of Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season earned the American writer the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016. This made her the first person of black extraction to win the esteemed gong. In addition to that, she received numerous nominations that are quite many to count from international and local organizations. The book revolves around a planet called the Stillness and its inhabitants who face a disastrous climate change every fifth season.

24. Dune

  • Author: Frank Herbert
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: August 2, 2005 (first published in June 1965)
  • Publisher: Ace
  • Print Length: 704 pages (paperback)
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.24/5 (892,408 ratings)

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Dune is one of the most popular and best fantasy books ever published. Disregarding the fact that it has inspired several productions in the movie industry, it has had a massive cultural influence on the entertainment industry at large and even the world of science. Dune is now a science fiction media franchise and reading the book that started in all is worth every bit of the time you’d spend to do so. It is the first book of Frank Herbert’s Dune series which is made up of 32 works. Among other feats, Dune won the 1965 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1966 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The book tells a story of an intergalactic empire of humanity set in the distant future.

How The Books On This List Were Selected

As stated earlier, picking out the best fantasy books isn’t the easiest thing to do. There are thousands of such books out there and a good number of them make a decent read. To come up with a fair list, we considered several factors. First, we decided to only select a book per author. And for any book that’s part of a series, we went with the first book of the series. The sentiment behind this is a simple one, serious readers would read any series in the order they were published. So it makes sense to regard any series as an entity.

For each book, we considered factors like how it was received, when it was published, the literary awards it was nominated for, those it won, its ratings, and to some extent, its popularity. More so, to come up with a broad list, we decided to pick two books each from some of the most popular/significant sub-genres of fantasy. These include low and high/epic fantasy, science fantasy, historical fantasy, heroic fantasy, dark fantasy, romance fantasy, and Bangsian fantasy.

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