The 30 Best Fantasy Book Series of All Time

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The 30 Best Fantasy Book Series of All Time

Some readers equate fantasy with hobbits and magic wardrobes. Others conjure images of a wizard P.I. in Chicago or a gunslinger in a magical Wild West. And that is the beauty of the genre.

Fantasy thrives on the creation of new worlds, species and magic systems. It allows for the impossible to occur—for elves to fall in love with humans and for street urchins to wield magic. Fantasy introduces readers to adventures starring world-conquering villains and selfless heroes (or, sometimes, tender-hearted villains and amoral heroes). In short, fantasy is a genre of epic strength and incandescent beauty.

To celebrate the heritage of the genre, we’ve assembled a list of what we believe are the best fantasy series of all time. Enjoy reading our selections (listed in alphabetical order by series title), and share your favorites in the comments.

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BlackCompany.jpg The Black Company by Glen Cook

First Book in the Series: The Black Company (1984)
Description: Good fantasy tales rely on world building, and Glen Cook’s Black Company series has this in spades. The tales cover more than 400 years of rich history across the 10 novels, three sub-series and plenty of short stories that followed. Though a series’ title isn’t always telling for literal descriptions of the adventures within, The Black Company couldn’t be a better fit; the collection mulls morality within a group of hired mercenaries in a multi-dimensional world of wizards and magic. Aside from fantasy aficionados, Cook found an eager audience in real-life soldiers, too, who embraced The Black Company’s more true-to-life portrayal of mercenaries handling life within their chosen profession. —Tyler R. Kane

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BrokenEmpire.jpg The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence

First Book in the Series: Prince of Thorns (2011)
Description: Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy wraps a war epic around a family drama within a coming-of-age story, creating a multi-layered fantasy series steeped in dark magic. Physically and emotionally scarred after watching the murders of his mother and brother, Jorg Ancrath, the titular “Prince of Thorns,” transitions from a tortured child to a callous leader vying for the throne. Beyond delivering memorable (if sometimes vicious) characters, Lawrence’s trilogy presents the all-too-common “teen fighting to unite the land” storyline with a twist: this protagonist won’t hesitate to leave a trail of corpses in his wake. —Frannie Jackson

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ChroniclesofNarnia.jpg The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

First Book in the Series: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Description: C.S. Lewis’ kindhearted Narnia series sometimes feels like the yang to Tolkien’s serious and moody yin, which makes sense, given that the two Inklings were close friends for decades. Lewis’ series, though, is too often reduced to the child-friendly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s the other entries that feel more epic and filled with heraldic magic, such as the high-seas adventure and beautiful vistas of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or the wondrous moments of Narnia’s birth in The Magician’s Nephew. The way time passes so quickly in Narnia vs. our own world also infuses the series with a gentle but persistent sense of remorse; constant reminders that all things are impermanent. Even the great empires of our heroes in one entry are all swept away by the time we reach the next, ultimately showing us many sides of the land of Narnia. —Jim Vorel

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ChroniclesofPrydain.jpg The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

First Book in the Series: The Book of Three (1964)
Description: In an age when any successful tween series is hyped as a potential film franchise, Lloyd Alexander’s pentalogy has managed to stay out of the limelight (Disney’s unfortunate 1985 film The Black Cauldron notwithstanding). Soaked gently in Welsh mythos without being beholden to it, this coming-of-age tale of Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran and his friends tells a story that’s both high fantasy and touchingly human. As a result, the series is a great introduction to the genre, as Taran, Eilonwy, Flewddur Fflam, Gurgi and Doli are characters who will hold their own in the reader’s memory alongside famous hobbits and talking lions. —Michael Burgin

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Chroniclesofthomascovenant.jpg The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

First Book in the Series: Lord Foul’s Bane (1977)
Description: Though Stephen R. Donaldson’s trilogy is undeniably derivative of Tolkien (an immensely powerful ring, staff-wielding magic users, an unseen foe of supreme malevolence, etc.), the writer pulls one of the greatest switcheroos of reader loyalty seen in fantasy: its protagonist is one of the most grating main characters to ever anchor a series. Granted, Thomas Covenant has reasons to be unpleasant: leprosy sucks. But since it’s on this list, Donaldson’s trilogy obviously has plenty else going for it—the Bloodguard and some amazing battles, not the least. Yet loving The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is about loving the Land. It’s a world where the relationship between people and stone and wood and animals is depicted with a richness that makes you care for it deeply. With The Lord of the Rings, you root for the hobbits, for Aragorn and Gandalf and Gimli and Legolas. But you don’t root for Thomas Covenant. Instead, you root for the Land and against the forces that threaten it. It just so happens that this self-loathing leper seems, inescapably, the best hope to defeat Lord Foul and company. —Michael Burgin

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DarkElf.jpg The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

First Book in the Series: Homeland (1990)
Description: Role-play gaming and fantasy novels have gone hand-in-hand for most of their existence, but it’s a path that can be dangerous for casual fans to explore. On one hand, the game-based fiction provides an otherwise impossible immersion to such a world. On the other, it can be a painful slog through clumsily written fantasy fiction. Thankfully for fans of Dungeons and DragonsForgotten Realms sector, that’s rarely been an issue. R.A. Salvatore’s contributions to Forgotten Realms are some of the series’ most beloved, and among its best titles is The Dark Elf Trilogy, which brings the vibrant history of elf Drizzt Do’Urden to life. This is one of the rare instances where a series such as this one reached mass audiences; the final tale, Sojourn, turned heads with a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. —Tyler R. Kane

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DarkTower.jpeg The Dark Tower by Stephen King

First Book in the Series: The Gunslinger (1982)
Description: You probably associate Stephen King’s name with another brand of genre fiction, but that’s no reason to discount his forays past traditional horror. With The Dark Tower, King masterfully blends dark fantasy, western and horror across eight tales, which were released between 1982 and 2012. The story’s Wild West-esque environment might not appear to be the ideal landscape for fantasy, but the trials and travels of its main character, the Gunslinger, are more Lord of the Rings than Clint Eastwood. And though fans have different opinions on the best installments within the series, its continuity and whether it will receive the film adaptation it deserves, The Dark Tower series has proven worthy of its decades-spanning discussion. —Tyler R. Kane

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Discworld.jpg Discworld by Terry Pratchett

First Book in the Series: The Colour of Magic (1983)
Description: Terry Pratchett was a voice sorely needed in the regal, sonorous fantasy genre, where so many authors have imagined themselves as the next Tolkienesque figure. That wasn’t for Pratchett, whose Discworld books imagined what might happen if the characters of an ostensibly high fantasy-type universe grew up a little, only to develop thoroughly modern foibles and anxieties. By transferring much of the action to the stinking, grimy underbelly of an industrial-era city, Pratchett gave us answers to fantasy questions that no one had even thought to ask—i.e., what kind of menial city labor is appropriate for trolls? The sprawling comic mythology of the series simultaneously highlights different ends of the Disc continent while returning time and time again to persistent groups of beloved characters hailing from different tiers of the social strata—The City Watch, the Witches, the inept wizard Rincewind, the devious Patrician of the city, etc. Pratchett’s comedy is rooted in absurdism, and each entry combines real character-building with an outside threat that ultimately builds to a madcap conclusion with universe-wide consequences. —Jim Vorel

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Dragonriders.jpg Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

First Book in the Series: Dragonflight (1968)
Description: Great fantasy writing teases the imagination, and I still remember the feeling of reading those first Pern books as a child—the wonder of dragons who bonded with their riders through telepathic communication was almost too much to bear. There was no vocation on this earth more enticing than to protect my world from the plague of Thread while mounted on my fire-breathing steed and best friend. But I would have settled for becoming a harper like Menolly, writing songs with telepathic fire-lizard pets to keep me company. Anne McAffrey found endless stories to tell in her land of dragons, enough to fill 22 novels and two collections of short stories, but her first two trilogies remain classics today. —Josh Jackson

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DresdenFiles.jpg The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

First Book in the Series: Storm Front (2000)
Description: Hard-boiled detective fiction set in Chicago with a wizard cast as a PI? The premise for Jim Butcher’s immensely popular series has to be one of the biggest “Why didn’t I think of that?!” combos since the birth of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The mash-up of two well-established pulp genres gives Jim Butcher’s stories a prefab structure that fans of both fantasy and detective noir can immediately recognize—even as it allows the author to skip some of the more onerous aspects of world-building and get right to the action, all the while polishing the very tropes and clichés he used to get a head start. The result is a pulp series that feels both modern and retro, and which, like any good pulp series, has ample content (15 novels and one anthology) for all your bingeing needs. —Michael Burgin

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