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Teen

25 Best Fantasy Books for YA Readers

by Feliza Casano

Fantasy has exploded in the young adult category, and the past decade alone has seen some really incredible works. But with so many excellent stories to check out, there’s a chance you might have missed some of the best.

Here are 25 of the best fantasy books for teen or adult readers to check out — new and classic tales alike, these stories have everything from love triangles to mythical creatures, fantastical worlds to magic that lives in our own reality.

  • The Wrath & the Dawn

    by Renée Ahdieh

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    In Khorasan, each new day’s sun rises on another family in mourning: Khalid, the 18-year-old ruler of Khorasan, takes a new wife each night, only to have her executed at dawn. That is, until 16-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid with a plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the caliph for the women he’s killed, including Shahrzad’s best friend. The series continues in The Rose & the Dagger.

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  • The Kingdom of Back

    by Marie Lu

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    Perhaps best known for her sci-fi series Legend, Marie Lu is every bit as masterful in this standalone fantasy novel, which centers a real-life woman forgotten to history: Nannerl, the older sister of Amadeus Mozart. A prodigious piano talent herself, Nannerl’s career will be over as soon as she comes of marriageable age — unless she takes the costly deal offered by a mysterious stranger.

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  • Born Wicked

    by Jessica Spotswood

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    Set in an alternate historical version of America, Born Wicked — the first book in Spotswood’s three-book Cahill Witch Chronicles — brings the witch hunts of early colonial American history into turn-of-the-20th-century New England, where networks of witches seek to protect themselves and one another from the anti-witchcraft Brotherhood. Though the plot focuses on the literal sisterhood of Cate, Maura, and Tess Cahill, Cate experiences sisterhood bonds with many of the girls and young women she encounters. Born Wicked uses magic to explore these bonds of sisterhood and all its ups and downs.

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  • The Guinevere Deception

    by Kiersten White

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    The Camelot Rising trilogy begins with a betrothal between Princess Guinevere and young King Arthur, a union contrived by the wizard Merlin to keep King Arthur and Camelot safe. But this is no medieval matter of alliances between powerful kingdoms; Guinevere is actually a changeling who must navigate the rigid ways of royalty while the people of Camelot clamor for a new way of life.

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  • Half Bad

    by Sally Green

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    Nathan is something of an anomaly: He’s both White witch and Black witch, the illegitimate son of the most dangerous witch in the world, and in possession of a power unlike the magic most of the world knows. Imprisoned in a cage and hunted by all, Nathan knows he must escape before his 17th birthday, when he can receive three gifts from his powerful and deadly father. But to receive those gifts, Nathan has to find his father first — and stay out of the hands of those who would see him locked up forever. Fans of this one can read the rest of Nathan's story in The Half Bad Trilogy.

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  • Seraphina

    by Rachel Hartman

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    Rachel Hartman’s award-winning debut novel takes teen readers into a world where dragons and humans live side by side, even as tensions between them rise. The titular Seraphina is half human and half dragon, with a dragon mother able to take human form and a human father who can’t stand dragons. Called upon to help investigate a royal family member’s murder alongside a very perceptive prince, Seraphina’s ability to keep her ancestry hidden is in peril, and failing to do so may mean forfeiting her own life. Seraphina is filled with timely themes and has all the potential to become a teen fantasy classic. Fans can pick up the sequel, Shadow Scale.

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  • Wicked Fox

    by Kat Cho

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    In modern-day Seoul, 18-year-old Miyoung can pass as an ordinary girl, when in fact she’s a gumiho: a nine-tailed fox that lives off the energy of men. One night, an encounter in the forest with a human boy named Jihoon costs Miyoung her fox bead, and with it her immortality. Jihoon and Miyoung grow close, but ancient forces threaten their entire world — which grows more expansive in the sequel, Vicious Spirits.

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  • Squire

    by Tamora Pierce

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    As a major Tamora Pierce fan, I always recommend her books, but the Protector of the Small series is my top recommendation, especially for teenage readers. Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to pursue knighthood after the laws of Tortall have changed to allow it, and in Squire, she’s passed the trials of a probationary year and the final exam for pages. But as she continues her journey to knighthood, she must overcome even greater obstacles: finding a knight to take her on as a squire, facing the grudges and hatred of the people who don’t want her to succeed, and following her calling to become the lady knight she’s always dreamed of becoming.

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  • A Phoenix First Must Burn

    edited by Patrice Caldwell

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    Sixteen powerhouse authors follow the footsteps of Octavia Butler in this fantastical, otherworldly anthology that explores, as its subtitle declares, “Black girl magic, resistance, and hope.” Whether the stories are set in the past or futuristic societies, in magical realms or closer to home, each is bursting with undeniable energy.

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  • The Reader

    by Traci Chee

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    After Sefia’s father was brutally murdered, she escaped with her aunt into the wild. When her aunt disappears as well, Sefia is left with only a mysterious rectangular object from her father to hint at where they both went. And soon, Sefia discovers the real nature of the object: It’s a book, the first one she’s seen in her entire life. The discovery starts her on a journey to learn the real reason her father was killed — and to explore her own destiny.

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  • Rebel of the Sands

    by Alwyn Hamilton

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    Gifted gunslinger Amani has no greater desire than to get out of backwater Dustwalk, where her status and poverty keeps her locked in an unending cycle. But after a foreign wanderer named Jin appears in Dustwalk, Amani’s world explodes, opening a path for escape on the back of a mythical horse. After living all her life in the dull, mundane Dustwalk, Amani had no idea that magic still existed in the world — and that magic may be a part of her, too. Rebel of the Sands kicks off a three-book series.

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  • Fireborne

    by Rosaria Munda

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    Orphaned by the same uprising that toppled the aristocracy, Annie and Lee are now in training to join the governing body of dragonriders. But when members of the old regime rise up to regain control, the friends are faced with life-changing choices: Will Lee betray his new family to go back to his aristocratic roots? And will Annie protect him? The high-flying war continues in book two of the Aurelian Cycle series.

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  • Rebel Belle

    by Rachel Hawkins

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    Harper Price was born to wear a homecoming crown. But things become a bit more complicated when this peerless Southern belle gains incredible abilities and becomes a Paladin, part of a long line of guardians with superhuman fighting abilities. And when Harper finds out she’s supposed to guard possibly her least favorite student at school — who’s involved with a mysterious prophecy — things get a little more complicated. Rebel Belle is the first in a YA series that combines the supernatural charm of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with delightful banter and a dash of the South.

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  • The Babysitters Coven

    by Kate M. Williams

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    You’ve never met edgier babysitters than 17-year-old Esme Pearl and new-to-town Cassandra Heaven. That’s because the two are Sitters, part of a lineage of supernaturally gifted teens with a mission to protect the innocent. This is all news to them, though; Esme’s just trying to make a buck, and Cassandra’s following her mom’s mysterious edict to “find the babysitters.” Things are about to get witchy. The second book in the series, For Better or Cursed, will be released in December 2020.

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  • Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

    by Julie C. Dao

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    There’s no shortage of excellent fairy tale adaptations celebrating heroes, but Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns takes another tack: It’s an adaptation of “Snow White” from the perspective of the evil queen. Xifeng grew up as a peasant in a forgotten village in the middle of nowhere, but dreams of fulfilling her cruel aunt’s prophecy of greatness. But all things come with a price, as Xifeng learns, and to achieve her destiny, she must use the twisted magic she was born with, magic that’s fueled by eating the heart of a person recently killed.

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  • Akata Witch

    by Nnedi Okorafor

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    Fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Harry Potter will be swept away by this adventurous, Nigerian-based tale about a quartet of new friends who discover they have access to powerful magic. Born in New York City, Sunny Nwazue feels out of place and isolated in Nigeria — until she’s invited into a hidden world and handed a dauntingly dangerous task. The series continues in Akata Warrior.

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  • Pet

    by Akwaeke Emezi

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    Akwaeke Emezi’s award-winning YA debut is essential reading for reckoning with ideas of justice, good and evil, and speaking out. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, live in the idyllic town of Lucille, where the old statues have been torn down and evil no longer exists. But when a creature named Pet emerges from one of her mother’s paintings, on the hunt for a monster, Jam will have to rethink all she’s been taught.

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  • Sabriel

    by Garth Nix

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    While attending boarding school, Sabriel receives a package from her father, who has been serving as a necromancer called the Abhorsen, who lays the undead to rest. The package contains a necromancer’s bells, her father’s swords, and a message instructing her to take up the mantle of the Abhorsen to stop a dangerous necromancer intent on destroying the Old Kingdom’s magical rules. This classic fantasy is the first novel in Nix’s The Old Kingdom series, providing interested readers even more of Sabriel’s adventures to explore.

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  • The Kinder Poison

    by Natalie Mae

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    With The Kinder Poison, Natalie Mae has built a fascinating world full of ancient magic, political intrigue, and a game with deadly consequences. Zahru is an animal Whisperer for the royal family, a lifelong appointment that's cut short when she becomes the human sacrifice for the Crossing, a race between the royal heirs to decide on the kingdom’s next ruler. No one in Zahru’s position has survived this cruel, generations-long tradition. Can she be the first?

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  • An Ember in the Ashes

    by Sabaa Tahir

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    The first book in Sabaa Tahir’s Ember quartet introduces Laia and Elias, two cogs in the great machinery that is the Martial Empire. Laia, a slave, struggles to survive in one of the poorest parts of the empire until her brother is arrested for treason. Rebels offer to save him – as long as Laia agrees to spy for them inside the Empire’s most prestigious military academy. It’s there Laia meets Elias, the school’s best soldier — who wants to escape the yoke of the tyrannical empire.

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  • Beasts Made of Night

    by Tochi Onyebuchi

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    In Taj’s world, young sin-eaters like him are forced to absorb the sins of the rich and powerful: when they slay a “sin-beast,” the creature appears on their skin in a tattoo, and the guilt of the sin becomes theirs to carry. It’s a precarious, unjust system, but when Taj’s duties find him drawn into a conspiracy to destroy the city and royal family, he’ll do anything to save the princess he’s loved from afar.

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  • Vampire Academy

    by Richelle Mead

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    Rose and Lissa are best friends — and a lot more. Lissa is a princess of the Moroi vampires; Rose, a half-human Dhampir, is her bodyguard. But that’s not an easy job, because the world’s most dangerous vampires want to take Lissa for their own … and after being on the run, Rose and Lissa have been recaptured and returned to the most dangerous place they could possibly go: St. Vladimir’s Academy, a boarding school for vampire elite.

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  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

    by Ransom Riggs

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    Sixteen-year-old Jacob’s journey has brought him to a seemingly abandoned island off the coast of Wales, the site of the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But as Jacob explores the ruins, he begins to suspect that the children weren’t just peculiar, but potentially dangerous … and then he discovers the children are still alive. Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children is a darkly entrancing series for those who love the strange and mysterious.

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  • Glass Town Wars

    by Celia Rees, illustrated by Anna Morrison

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    When his friend Tom falls into a coma, Milo decides to help him escape through a new gaming device that transports Tom’s consciousness to a faraway kingdom under siege. There, Tom fights alongside Augusta to save the land from chaos and turmoil, and this new reality starts to become Tom’s only reality. Will his family and friends succeed in pulling him back to London, or will Tom stay with Augusta forever?

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  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

    by Philip Pullman

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    Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust series is set before the events of His Dark Materials and follows Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta. Malcolm mistakenly receives an encrypted message about something called Dust, and before he knows it, suspicious characters begin coming around to ask about a baby named Lyra. Malcom will have to do whatever he can to protect her in this impressive prequel, which is continued in The Secret Commonwealth.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2014 and updated in 2020.