Narnia was my favorite book series when I was a kid, up until I found Harry Potter. Even though the YA Fantasy Genre didn’t explode until I was in my 20’s, it’s still one of my absolute favorite genres. I also read a lot of adult fantasy, and honestly, it’s usually pretty hard to tell the difference between the two (there are lots of cross over books). My boys are now getting to the age where they’re ready to start reading YA and adult fantasy themselves. Instead of only recommending my favorites to them, I’ll share them with you as well.
Books/series I absolutely LOVE:
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – This is a YA/Adult cross over duology that I honestly feel is more suited for adults than teens. It is absolutely beautifully written in a more literary style than most YA fantasy. The setting is gorgeous, the characters are heart warming, and the plot is okay, but really this is a duology that is only going to be loved by readers who prefer beautiful prose and compelling characters more than plot. I absolutely loved it!
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This is an older YA series that has morally questionable characters and is honestly something I hope my young teens don’t find for several more years. I loved it though. The first book in the duology is a heist with a large cast of characters. The second book is the fallout after the heist and mainly just focuses on further developing the characters. I liked Six of Crows, but I LOVED Crooked Kingdom (the second book).
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater – If you can’t tell from the other books on my absolutely loved list, I care more about characters than plot. This series has very little plot, and the plot it does have makes even less sense. But the characters are fabulous! It’s been several years since I read this series, but there was a time when I considered Maggie Stiefvater my favorite author. Also, these books are totally appropriate for young teens. My oldest son read Raven Boys in 8th grade.
Books/series I liked a lot:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore – I read the first three books in this series a decade ago. The forth book just came out, and I haven’t read it. But I absolutely loved this series when I first read it. It’s a high fantasy series that features very strong female protagonists. In the first book, the main character is a female assassin who ends up needing to rescue a prince.
Dormant by LeeAnn Elwood McLennan – I’m friends with LeeAnn in real life, and her YA superhero series is also super good. My oldest son has already read it, and I’m hoping my younger soon will pull it off our self soon. If you, or one of your children, wants a fun superhero themed urban fantasy, I highly recommend Dormant.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger – This is a 2020 release that I am definitely going to encourage my sons to read. It’s an urban fantasy about a Lipan Apache girl who can see ghosts. She has a ghost dog, a quirky best friend, and a fairly typical teenage life. Until her cousin dies and his ghost finds her and asks her to find his killer. It’s a great ghost story/mystery blend that I know my 14 year old son will absolutely love. And the own voices Native American representation is great too.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor – I’ve only read the first book in this series but I really enjoyed it. I’m fully planning to encourage my sons to read it. This is a fairly typical YA fantasy series that is similar to most of the other books I’m listing, except it’s set in Nigeria. I’ve been trying to read more diverse books lately, and I really enjoyed the African feel to this story, that had nothing to do with slavery.
The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater – I said Maggie Stiefvater used to be my favorite author. This is a werewolf romance series that came out at the same time as Twilight, and was infinitely better than Twilight. I haven’t heard anyone talk about this series in years, and I’m not sure if it’s even any good. But I really liked it 10 years ago.
Books/series I enjoyed:
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – The forth/final book in this series just came out in 2021. I read all four books in less than two weeks and really enjoyed them. They have a very gripping story line, with a great mix of war, political intrigue, and an enemies to lovers romance. But once I’d finished the series, it lost a lot of it’s excitement for me. I feel like this is a very fun series to read, but not exceptionally great literature.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – This is a series of fairytale retellings with a sci-fi feel. In the first book, Cinderella is a cyborg. Later, Snow White is trapped on the moon. It’s a fun series, that is probably more enjoyable for young teens than adults. But it can be fun for adults too. (My oldest son read Cinder in 6th grade.)
Vladimire Tod by Heather Brewer – This is a vampire series about a snarky teenage vampire who deals with normal teenage stuff while also being a vampire. The first book came out in 2007, when everyone was obsessed with vampires. These books were really funny though. I actually want to see if I can find some copies of it at the library, because I think my sons would really enjoy this series.
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White – This is another older series that I really liked when it first came out. It’s basically a super girly version of Men in Black, where sassy Evie and her faerie ex-boyfriend have to go around capturing dangerous supernatural creatures. It’s a funny series that is definitely appropriate for younger teens. While some books hug the line between YA and adult, this series is more on the line between Middle Grade and YA.
Books/series that were okay:
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna – This is a 2021 release that was good, but not amazing. The beginning feels kind of dystopian, even though it’s also clearly fantasy. There is redemption in the end, and you can tell the world will get better later in the series. I doubt I’ll read the rest of this series though, nor will I likely recommend it to my kids.
The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu – This is a 2020 release that doesn’t seem as hyped as some of the other recently released titles. It’s a historical fantasy about the Mozart siblings, Wolfgang and Nannerl. Nanneral is just as musically gifted as her brother, but because she’s a girl she hasn’t been remembered by history. If this was only a historical fiction, I would have absolutely loved it. But even though fantasy is my favorite genre, I didn’t like the fantasy part of this story at all. When fairies enter the Mozart children’s world and bless them with their musical abilities, all it does is detract from the history.
Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire – This is a series of portal fantasy books. Children that travel to different worlds (think Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, etc) are often feel very lost when they return to earth. So they all gather at a boarding school to recuperate, and sometimes find their way back to their other worlds. The books in this series are all super short (it’s more of a series of novellas). This series is typically classified as adult, even though most of the characters are teens. I know lots of people love these books, but they really aren’t my favorite.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – This is a 2020 release that mixes dark acidemia, a King Arthur retelling, and race issues all into one story that didn’t really work for me. Because this book came out so recently, there is quite a bit of hype about it right now. I feel like it’s over hyped and in a few years everyone will forget about it. There are many other books that deal with one of these themes way better, and combining them all into a single book feels like too much.
Books/series that Books/series that weren’t for me:
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – My oldest son actually read the first book in this series when he was in 7th grade and I yelled at him. I’ve never stopped my kids from reading, but this series isn’t good. Granted, the first book is kind of fun, and I did let me son read it. The series is fun enough that I read all four books when they first came out. But I really really wish I’d stopped after book three. Breaking Dawn is AWFUL! Even thinking about it a decade later, the premise of that book makes me want to vomit.
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick – I’m not listing every bad book I read over a decade ago, but I feel the need to list this book simply because it’s awful. This book takes “bad boy” romance way to far and is basically a paranormal romance written for teens that promotes rape. Do not read this book, and definitely don’t let your teenagers read this book.