Any list of the best fantasy book series of all time is going to be controversial. To make our list, I only included those series that are finished – so that means no A Song Of Ice And Fire, even though it is one of the best. I also only chose one from each author although several of the people here have more than one excellent series to their names; it just seemed fairer that way. There are some classics here and also a few newer entries, but they all deserve their place for one reason or another. So, without further ado, here are ten of the best fantasy book series of all time.
The Best Fantasy Book Series
1. The Black Magician Trilogy – Trudi Canavan
First book: The Magicians’ Guild (2001)
The Black Magician Trilogy is YA, but that shouldn’t put you off if you’ve never read it before. If you enjoy magic in your fantasy, then the title should also let you know that this is something you need in your life. If you are looking to move on from a certain boy wizard, then this will be the series to help you do that.
Sonea is a girl who was born in the slums of Imardin, only to find that she has the same magical talents as some of the higher-class people. The trilogy follows her as she tries to escape the Magician’s Guild, who want to control her powers, and how she comes to learn about her magic and uses it to save her country.
The Daevabad Trilogy is the newest entry on this list, with the last book The Empire of Gold published last year. It might seem premature to include it on a list of best fantasy book series of all time, but it is easily one of the most exciting series of recent years.
If you like your fantasy with the flavour of alternate history, then these are the books for you. Set in an alternate 18th century Ottoman Empire, our hero is Nahri, a con woman who reads palms and cheats Ottoman nobles out of their money. She summons a djinn during an exorcism, and so begins a journey full of magic, monsters, love and a devastating civil war that threatens to tear the world apart.
Hobbs is one of the authors who could easily have had more than one entry on this list; her prolific writing really is a thing to behold. Her Farseer Trilogy has, since she finished it in 1997, spawned second and third trilogies, The Tawny Man Trilogy and Fitz And The Fool, written years later – so if you enjoy the characters in the Farseer Trilogy, it is good to know that there is more to their story.
In the Farseer Trilogy, FitzChivalry Farseer is an assassin learning his trade in a kingdom where his uncle is waging a war against a foe who turns his people into emotionless zombie-type creatures. Fans of these books love the characters and their complexities in particular – and the number of novels which feature Fitz tell you how popular he is.
Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series is the sort of thing that you might think of if I said best fantasy book series of all time; it is old-school and it is epic, spanning twenty-one books written over almost a quarter of a century. Goodkind also wrote most of the books to standalone, aside from the final trilogy, which means the series is easy to dip in and out of – and if you don’t like one book, you can just go easily to the next.
It is difficult to summarise something as epic as this series, but in essence, we follow Richard Cypher, a young man defending the New World against the Imperial Order, and the Old World. It is a series about freedom, and fighting to defend freedom at all costs.
You can’t talk about the very best fantasy series without Earthsea. One of the oldest on the list – the first book came out in 1968 – it is a true classic. Just like Sword of Truth, there are plenty of Earthsea stories to go around; as well as the original trilogy, Le Guin published two more novels and a collection of short stories too.
Earthsea is made up of a huge number of islands, and it is a world of magic. One of the things that truly sets it apart from many others is that it does not have the stereotypical ‘vaguely Medieval European’ vibe of many fantasy series. Even back in 1968, Le Guin was working hard to represent characters of different races in her stories, and that is admirable.
The Wheel Of Time is another giant series, running to fourteen volumes published over twenty three years, and easily deserving of its place as one of the best fantasy book series of all time. Author Robert Jordan died in 2007, after eleven books had been published, but he left highly detailed notes and Brandon Sanderson finished the series for him.
If you think of epic high fantasy, The Wheel Of Time is exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind. Shadowy agents of the Dark One are looking for the Dragon Reborn, a prophesised saviour. Three young men from an unassuming village are swept from their homes and set on a course to unite the kingdoms against the Dark One.
Jemisin achieved several firsts with her Broken Earth series. As well as being the first black author to win the Hugo for Best Novel, she also was the first person ever to win the Hugo for Best Novel three years in a row – for each book in the Broken Earth series. And in doing that, she was also the first person ever to win the award for each book in a trilogy. There are no small feats when it comes to Jemisin and this trilogy.
In a far, post-apocalyptic future, the land is wracked by frequent disastrous events that continuously break and re-shape not only the world, but the people who have to survive in it. The world-building of the Broken Earth trilogy is what makes it really stand out, as well as the diversity of the cast of characters.
If you happen to be someone who doesn’t enjoy the epic fantasy style, then Discworld is the series for you. Over forty-one charming and hilarious novels, Pratchett immerses his readers in a world so teeming with life that it is hard to even know where to start in describing it.
From the hardworking police of the City Watch in the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork to the witches of the Ramtop Mountains, there isn’t anyone who couldn’t find something to love in Discworld. And if you happen to be someone who would dismiss Discworld for being not only fantasy but also comic, then you should know that Pratchett also writes satire so sharp that unsuspecting readers will cut themselves. There isn’t a single social issue that he did not cover.
First book: Northern Lights / The Golden Compass (1995)
His Dark Materials has been finding a new audience thanks to the pretty good BBC television show of recent years, but the best way to experience these books is to read them. There is just no comparison there. Pullman’s masterpiece in a writing career full of excellent work, these are technically young adult novels – but young adult so blindingly good, adult readers were more than willing to give it a chance.
In a world not entirely unlike our own, the series follows Lyra and Will across a series of parallel worlds, pursued by the all-powerful Magisterium – a clear facsimile of the Catholic Church. Pullman has been criticised for his treatment of religion in His Dark Materials, but the books are an incredible exploration of philosophy, theology and physics as well as organised faith, and have so much more to say than the average fantasy novel that is well worth hearing.
It’s against the law to write a list of the best fantasy book series of all time and not include The Lord of the Rings. I don’t make the rules. It was literally formative for so much of the fantasy that came after it, helping to shape the genre in a way that few other stories did. It isn’t just one of the best fantasy books of all time – it is one of the best-selling books of all time, full stop.
We all know the story of The Lord of the Rings, even if we’ve never read the books, so I won’t summarise it here. The story itself has a fairly simple good vs. evil, Chosen One narrative. But it is Tolkien’s worldbuilding that’s truly a blueprint for so many fantasy authors who came after him. He was immersed in Middle-earth in a way that few authors have been immersed in their creations — The Lord of the Rings is only a tiny part of something so much bigger.
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