If you’re just getting into the adult fantasy genre and don’t really feel like you’re ready for the epics yet, don’t worry! There are plenty of “lighter” fantasy reads just waiting to be discovered by you.
These 25 are perfect for dipping your toes into the genre before diving into the Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin deep end. Most of them are series starters, but there are a few standalone stories in the mix. The list includes all different types of fantasy, including urban and high fantasy, plus a few hilariously funny fantasy novels.
Best Adult Fantasy Books to Read if You’re New to the Genre
Check out the quick list below for a fast “I just want the name of the book” look at my top 25 picks, then keep reading to learn a bit more about each selection.
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If you’re looking for more great book recommendations, check out all 400+ books mentioned on Gilmore Girls
Quick List of Adult Fantasy Books (Start here if you just want to see the titles)
Best Adult Fantasy Starter Books (in more detail)
I’ve read most of these books at some point but the ones that I haven’t come very highly recommended by fantasy-loving friends and family. Even though I absolutely abhor one of the books on this list, I’ve included it based on those recommendations because everyone has different tastes.
When a book is part of a series, I noted the name of said series in parenthesis. In all cases, the book below is the first one, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally jumping in at the middle of the story.That about covers it! Go ahead and check out the books now. 😀
1. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
My all-time favorite fantasy book was written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and became a limited series on Amazon Video late last month. You’ll definitely want to read the standalone novel before you binge your way through the six outstandingly imagined episodes.
The story follows the misadventures of Crowley and Azaraphale, a demon and an angel who decide to thwart the apocalypse because they rather like living on earth. Of course, in true Gaiman and Pratchett fashion, things go hilariously wrong with that plan! If you love humorous fantasy novels, this is a great place to start! If you’re easily offended by religious satire, though, skip it.
Funny story, 20,000 religious fanatics signed a petition demanding that the show be cancelled. The funny part? They demanded that Netflix cancel it! I love when irrational people make fools of themselves. Seriously, if you don’t like a show, don’t watch it. Don’t like a book? Don’t read it! It’s really that simple!
- Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett
- William Morrow
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (06/28/2011)
2. Rosemary and Rue (October Daye)
Rosemary and Rue introduces us to October Daye, a changeling (half fae/half human) who emerges from a pond after spending over a decade living as a fish. She’s lost everyone that she loves and since she can’t really explain her absence to her husband and daughter, she has no choice but to start over on her own. She just wants to live a normal life outside of Faerie, but of course Faerie has other plans for her!
The 13th book releases in September, so you’ll have all summer to get caught up. I’m going to be so depressed if Seanan McGuire ever decides to end October’s adventures. It’s by far one of my favorite series ever.
3. Dragonflight (Dragonriders of Pern)
Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern is unique in that it’s high fantasy filled with dragons and epic world building, yet it takes place on another planet rather than an alternate earth-like realm. Because of that, it’s a good choice for sci-fi fans who want to cross over into fantasy.
4. Storm Front (The Dresden Files)
Back to the world of urban fantasy, The Dresden Files follows the life of Harry, a professional wizard takes care of pesky problems, like black mages who don’t play well with others (for a fee of course).
Honestly, I never really got into this series because I gravitate more towards books with strong female leads, but quite a few of my fantasy-loving friends recommend it.
- Jim Butcher
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 1 (04/01/2000)
5. The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next)
I have a mad sort of love for Jasper Fforde’s writing, especially in the Thursday Next series! The Eyre Affair introduces us to the Thursday, a Special Operative in literary detection (which isn’t even remotely what you might think it is). When somewhat starts kidnapping characters from books and dropping them down in other novels, it’s up to Thursday to set things right! If you love unique worlds with witty dialogue and a strong plot, you’ll adore the Thursday Next series.
6. Grave Witch (Alex Craft)
I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy, but I never really got around to the Alex Craft series. I’m adding it to my “to check out” pile now, though!
The series focuses on Alex, a woman who can speak to the dead and even gets along well with Death himself. She works as a police consultant and after getting attacked on her latest case, she has to work overtime to find out why someone really wants to keep her from finding out what the dead have to say.
7. Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles)
I’ve never read the Dragonlance books but my ex-husband absolutely loved them. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing him read anything else. That’s okay, though, because there are dozens of books in the series (like 90 or so). They’re high fantasy books that are perfect for anyone who spent hours playing D&D in their youth.
- Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman
- Wizards of the Coast
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (12/21/2010)
8. Magic Bites (Kate Daniels)
Kate Daniels lives in a world that constantly flips between “magic up” and “magic down.” When magic is up, electricity doesn’t work and vice-versa. Kate cleans up the messes made when magic is up.
I read most of the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, up until around the 6th book (there are ten). I didn’t lose interest so much as found other interests. I’ll go back and re-read the series then finish it up at some point. The first book is fantastic and sets the groundwork for even better stories in the next 4-5 books. After that, the main story arc kind of ends and the series takes on more of a “monster of the week” feeling.
9. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials)
One could argue that The Golden Compass is a children’s book and doesn’t belong on an adult fantasy list, but I think it’s a great fantasy starter book for adults, too!
Philip Pullman is a brilliant storyteller and His Dark Materials series has won countless awards. Unfortunately, the movie version of this book was an epic failure, so if you saw it, don’t judge the book by it!
One word of warning: the series sort of paints organized religion in a negative light, so if you’re easily offended or extremely devout, you may want to skip it. I’m neither, so it didn’t bother me at all.
- Philip Pullman
- Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 1 (11/13/2001)
10. Key of Light (Key Trilogy)
Nora Roberts may primarily be a romance writer, but her Key Trilogy and other magic-centric stories make good “bridge books” for romance fans who want to dip their toes into fantasy. The Key Trilogy centers around three women discovering that the’re linked to keys that can free demigoddesses who are trapped in a mystical prison.
Each book in the series focuses on one of the women, with the other two playing supporting roles. Like her other trilogies, the stories are incredibly formulaic. I kind of like that sometimes because I know what to expect. Some days you just want predictability!
11. The Magicians (The Magicians Trilogy)
Touted as the grown-up version of Harry Potter, The Magicians follows the life of Quentin Coldwater, a math genius that has always been fascinated with the magical land of Fillory from his favorite childhood novels. When he’s admitted to a secret college of magic, he discovers that the land of his dreams has a very dark and twisted back story!
I haven’t read this series yet, and I had a hard time getting into the show. Everyone seems to love it, though, so I’ll give both another chance.
12. Darkfever (Fever Series Book 1)
You have to be in just the right mood to read the Fever Series, especially because the main character (and most supporting characters, actually) are seriously flawed and occasionally annoying (Mac, the lead, is a bit vain). That said, I read the first five books in about three days. I stopped there because the story was over and the books that follow focus on other characters that I didn’t really care much about.
The main series follows Mac’s search for her sister’s killer, which takes her to Ireland to hunt down the meaning behind a cryptic clue. There, she discovers that the Emerald Isle has a lot of dark and twisty secrets, and one of those secrets is about her!
13. Wicked (A Wicked Trilogy)
Another series that you really have to be in the right mood for, Wicked centers around Ivy, a member of an order dedicated to protecting humans from evil faeries bent on reopening the doorway between worlds and taking over the mortal realm. Much of the story is dedicated to her relationship with Ren, a guy who isn’t exactly what he seems.
Fair warning: this is not a book for those who prefer “clean” reading, as it gets fairly graphic sex-wise at times.
14. Ink and Bone (The Great Library)
Ink and Bone has been sitting on my Kindle for like two years now because I forgot I bought it. It came up in a discussion about the best fantasy books for adults, so I moved it to the top of my TBR list.
In the story, the Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, and now it’s a ruling presence in every major city. Jess Brightwell is training to enter the Library’s service, but his loyalties are tested when he discovers that the Library cares more about knowledge than people.
15. Secondhand Spirits (A Witchcraft Mystery)
Secondhand Spirits and the books that follow are more cozy paranormal than urban fantasy. In San Francisco, Lily Ivory finally found a place where she can fit in and hide her more unique qualities. She’s content to run her second-hand clothing shop, where her talent help her choose just the right outfit for everyone who walks through her doors. When weird things start happening in the city, though, she finds it harder and harder to hide her true self.
- Juliet Blackwell
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (05/22/2009)
16. A Potion to Die For: A Magic Potion Mystery
One last light read before we dive back into the richer world of fantasy, the Magic Potion Mystery series is part fantasy, part cozy mystery. I was so sad that it ended after just three books, as the town of Hitching Post was too fun to leave!
Carly goes from the most popular potions maker in town to the #1 suspect in a brutal homicide overnight. The only way to clear her name is to find the real killer! That’s not easy with her cop ex-boyfriend investigating the case, too. This is a great fantasy starter series for those who love cozy mysteries but want something with a fun paranormal slant.
17. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I could completely fill this list with Neil Gaiman, but I promised myself I wouldn’t include more than one book by the same author. Good Omens doesn’t count because he co-wrote it with Pratchett (who appears a little further down).
Neverwhere tells the tale of Richard Mayhew, a good guy with a regular life. When he helps a girl bleeding on the sidewalk, though, all of that changes. He’s plunged into a dark and fantastical world that exists in the shadows of London. Like all of Gaiman’s novels, the story takes you down some very strange “fever-dreamlike” paths. If you’ve ever wondered what tripping on acid felt like (um, not that I would know…), read a Neil Gaiman book!
18. Magic Kingdom For Sale–Sold! (Magic Kingdom of Landover series)
Some of my earliest memories involve my mom reading Terry Brooks. I asked her if she felt like the Shannara series would be a good starter series and she said yes, but suggested this one instead. It was her first journey into the magical world of fantasy novels.
- Terry Brooks
- Del Rey
- Kindle Edition
19. The Mists of Avalon (Avalon series)
I love The Mists of Avalon because I always felt like Morgan Le Fay got a raw deal in the Arthurian legends, and Marion Zimmer Bradley sets the story straight by telling the tales through the eyes of the women behind the men.
There was a movie version years ago with Julianna Margulies that I really wanted to rewatch recently, but sadly I can’t find it streaming anywhere.
- Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Ballantine Books
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 1 (07/15/2001)
20. Outlander (Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is a wildly popular time travel fantasy that was made into a just-as-popular TV series on Starz (it’s now streaming on Netflix). If you love alternate history novels, this is a good place to launch a love for fantasy as well. Claire Randall starts her journey in 1945 as a British combat nurse who heads to Scotland on a second honeymoon with the love of her life…and ends up back in 1743, where she eventually falls for another guy and finds herself torn not just between two times but two great loves.
- Diana Gabaldon
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 1 (10/26/2004)
21. The Color of Magic (Discworld)
Need a break from the series fantasy novels of Gabaldon and Bradley? Head to Discworld, where you’ll join tourist Twoflower and his wizard guide, Rincewind on an irreverently and uproariously fun adventure. Pratchett’s novels spoof pretty much every element of high fantasy novels while still making you care immensely about the characters.
If you fall in love with Discworld, you’ll be happy to know that there are 40 more books to keep you reading well past your bedtime! Sadly, Pratchett passed away in 2015, before he could see the 41st novel published.
- Terry Pratchett
- HarperCollins e-books
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (10/13/2009)
22. The Talisman (The Talisman series)
The Talisman was written by Stephen King and Peter Straub, two authors best known for their horror stories. The story centers around 12-year-old Jack, a boy who just wants to save his mom. To do so, he’ll have to travel to a land of magic and danger to claim a prize that just might cure her.
It’s a good first fantasy book for fans of horror novels as well as a good first Stephen King or Peter Straub books for fans of fantasy.
- Stephen King, Peter Straub
- Pocket Books
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (09/25/2012)
23. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Gaiman called McKinley’s story of a baker who uses her magic to get by in a post-vampire apocalypse world “pretty much perfect,” which should tell you something. I’ve read other Robin McKinley books, but this one is new to me. It was recommended as a great fantasy story for fans of Charlaine Harris and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (of which I am a super super fan and I’m currently rewatching for the 15th time).
I’m actually thinking about renewing my Kindle Unlimited membership for the summer so I can read it (along with a few other books that I’ve been meaning to read, I wouldn’t get KU just for one book. That would be silly.)
24. A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy)
I’ll be honest, I really didn’t like A Discovery of Witches when I read it back in 2011, mostly because I was expecting something entirely different than an adult version of Twilight. At the time, it wasn’t what I wanted. The blurb and cover made me feel like it was going to be more of an intellectual fantasy with a hint of romance, rather than yet another cheesy insta-love story between an insecure woman and a vampire that she just met but can’t live without.
So many people love it, though, which is why I’m including it here. You can read my review here, but keep in mind that it was one of the first things I ever wrote for this site and the formatting is dreadful (in my defense, though, this was before everything had to be mobile-friendly and people had attention spans longer than a gnat).
- Deborah Harkness
- Penguin Books
- Kindle Edition
- Edition no. 0 (02/08/2011)
25. Markswoman (Asiana)
Markswoman is a great fantasy starter book for anyone who loves post-apocalyptic fiction and strong female leads. The main character, Kyra, is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a guild of female assassins. Kyra is sworn to protect the people of her land, but at the same time she’s overwhelmed by a need for vengeance against her family’s murderer. The series is a duology (just two books), so it’s great for a weekend read when you want to kill a lot of time but also have the tale wrapped up before you head back to the real world.
If it seems like these books don’t really have much in common, there’s a reason for that. I purposely chose a very wide variety of adult fantasy books (even one that I didn’t like personally) to give you plenty of places to being your own fantastical journey. I hope you find something you enjoy!
Last update on 2019-09-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API