The 30 Best Fantasy Book Series of All Time

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Earthsea.jpg The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin

First Book in the Series: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
Description: The Lord of the Rings gets extensive head-nods in the fantasy world, but another title that tackled massive world-building (and influenced writers like Neil Gaiman) was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. The series’ six titles, which were published between 1968 and 2001, dived into an archipelago that strayed happily from our own world. We may immediately think of wizarding education in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but many point to its origin in Earthsea. The series follows a young mage through the daunting task of bringing balance to the world of magic—a theme that American moviegoers are well aware of in 2016. To this day, Le Guin’s influence is a strong pulse in the ever-evolving fantasy world. —Tyler R. Kane

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FirstLaw.jpg The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

First Book in the Series: The Blade Itself (2006)
Description: Fantasy is a genre that depends on reliable world-building, but fans of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy hoist its titles high for another reason: superior characterization. Though promises of barbarians, wizards and multi-territory conflicts should be enough to engage readers, First Law fans delight in scenarios that see their protagonists not only excel at the labels they’re given, but indulge in their worst behaviors. The first installment, The Blade Itself, explores a broad, world-worn cast: a military officer, a barbarian, a man with magical properties and a torturer. Within his three novels, Abercrombie unravels a world through the eyes of deeply flawed characters, crafting more emotionally engaging stories as a result. —Tyler R. Kane

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GentlemanBastards.jpg The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

First Book in the Series: The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
Description: The Gentleman Bastards, led by professional thief Locke Lamora, prove that gloriously three-dimensional characters can exist within a rich fantasy world, adding depth to the setting rather than existing in spite of it. Throughout Scott Lynch’s three published books (with four more to come), Locke and his friends have consistently undertaken cons and heists so astonishing—yet believable—that fans of Ocean’s Eleven and Patrick Rothfuss alike will find their adventures ridiculously entertaining. With the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, Lynch reminds us that fantasy is an absolute joy to read. —Frannie Jackson

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HarryPotter.jpg Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

First Book in the Series: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Description: What began as a children’s series about an orphaned boy whisked away to a magical school developed into one of the most beloved book franchises of all time, turning its then-unknown author into a billionaire. But forget the movies, the theme parks, the college Quidditch teams and the ubiquitous halloween costumes. None of that would exist if this coming-of-age story, told over seven novels, wasn’t so completely enchanting. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is so well developed—and her characters so lifelike—that legions of fans abandoned work, social interaction and even sleep every time a new entry was released. It earned its place alongside the giants of the fantasy genre with gripping tales about the boy who lived. —Josh Jackson

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HisDarkMaterials.jpg His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

First Book in the Series: The Golden Compass (1995)
Description: Between Nine Inch Nails’ landmark Further Down the Spiral tour, the fundamentalist-skewering film Se7en and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, it’s safe to say Christianity and the mainstream media weren’t huge friends in 1995. But unlike the disturbing exploitation of the first two head-turners, Pullman’s fantasy masterwork tackled its philosophical adversary with intelligence and staggering imagination. The Golden Compass—or Northern Lights as it’s known in Pullman’s native England—set off a trilogy following a young girl named Lyra as she adventured through multiple universes with a device that could answer any question. Pullman’s world(s) building is intoxicating, concocting a reality where children manifest souls as animal companions before the Magesterium severs their bond, rendering the kids as inert slaves. The fact that The Boston Globe would uncover a far more insidious parallel of this scenario seven years later speaks to a relevancy that a blockbuster film adaptation couldn’t hope to achieve. But as Lyra attempts to liberate the multiverse from theological rule, His Dark Materials pulls off a monumental accomplishment: enchantment and provocation in equal turn. —Sean Edgar

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Kingkiller.jpg The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

First Book in the Series: The Name of the Wind (2007)
Description: With only two books published relatively recently (and a related novella), it could be argued that the unfinished Kingkiller trilogy doesn’t belong on this list. But only someone who hasn’t read these books would make that argument, as no other fantasy novels so easily shrug off their genre tag with such gorgeous prose. Kvothe’s tale is not an epic hero journey. Told as a regretful autobiography by a secluded innkeeper, it’s a life lived large, filled with magic and adventure, sure, but also with love, music and the trials of a poor student just trying to survive until the next meal. There is no book I’m more excited to read (The Winds of Winter included) than the final entry of this series. And along with the strange and lyrical novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, there are no other books I would recommend more to someone wanting to dip their toe into fantasy waters. —Josh Jackson

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LordoftheRings.jpg The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

First Book in the Series: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
Description: J.R.R. Tolkien spent a dozen years building the world of Middle Earth between The Hobbit’s publication and the completion of Frodo’s epic journey to Mordor in The Return of the King. Every location the Fellowship encountered possessed a rich history and language, showcasing songs and poetry and mythology that always spoke of more beyond the page. But it was the four simple hobbits, bravely facing a world far larger and darker than their home in the Shire, that made every strange encounter relatable. Fighting orcs and spiders and worse, there was a nobility inverse to their size and a struggle between good and evil that resonates 62 years later. —Josh Jackson

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Magicians.jpg The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

First Book in the Series: The Magicians (2009)
Description: While the shorthand description for Lev Grossman’s trilogy was “Harry Potter for grown-ups,” that ignored two facts: 1. Harry Potter was already for grown-ups. 2. Despite its magical school setting, the series owed more to the wonder of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series than to J.K. Rowling’s books. There’s plenty of college-age angst in the first entry, but as the focus shifts from Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy to the fantastical world of Fillory, captured in a set of children’s books that have long fascinated young protagonist Quentin Coldwater, Lev Grossman opens up his heart. Each book cares a little more deeply about its characters, who face the same struggles for meaning and purpose that the rest of us do. —Josh Jackson

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Malazan.jpg Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

First Book in the Series: Gardens of the Moon (1999)
Description: In terms of world-building, Steven Erikson’s 10-book series is by far the most sweeping, astounding endeavor undertaken in epic fantasy. Ever. Its scope is staggering, making Tolkien’s Middle Earth look like Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. The action spans continents, dimensions and, oh yeah, millennia. Robust, intriguing systems of magic? Two or three. Add to this a fresh takes on elves, the undead, shapeshifters and dragons (as well as the introduction of some new entries for the fantasy menagerie), along with a number of jaw-dropping battles over the course of the series, and you have an epic story that will leave even the most jaded fantasy reader awestruck. —Michael Burgin

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Mistborn.jpg Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

First Book in the Series: Mistborn: The Final Empire (2006)
Description: Brandon Sanderson’s ambitious Mistborn “umbrella” encompasses four series within a world called Scadrial, beginning with a trilogy following an orphan girl in a medieval setting. The second series takes place 300 years later, focusing on best friends living during an Industrial Revolution-like era. Sanderson plans to write two more series (one in a modern, urban setting, the other in a futuristic, sci-fi setting), ensuring that Mistborn will appeal to readers of multiple genres. With a rich history and an original magic system that flourishes alongside the characters, Mistborn proves to be a landmark addition to the fantasy realm. —Frannie Jackson

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