Best Fantasy Series
Here you will find an overview of what I believe to be the best and most influential fantasy series ever written. When starting this list I intended to make a Top 10 Fantasy Series. However, I came up with more than ten series I really liked and wanted to include so it has become a Top 12. I have decided not to limit the number of series in this list which will allow me to update and extend it if I feel I need to.
Note that I created this list firstly based on my opinion of these series and secondly on my view on how influential the series are or have been. Of course I haven’t read all fantasy series out there and my preference for high (or epic) fantasy will have influenced my selection. Many of you will be hardcore fans of one of these series and claim it should be number one while saying that other series shouldn’t even be on the list. If you do not agree with my views or if you have additions, please leave a comment and perhaps I will use your feedback to update this list!
1. The Lord of the Rings
Wizards, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs: Lord of the Rings has it all and has defined the genre. It is the well-known story about the Hobbit Frodo who finds himself in the possession of the one ring that will rule them all. Against all odds, but with the help of a fellowship, Frodo will have to destroy the ring to prevent the evil lord Sauron from ruling the world, while at the same time the forces of good are fighting Orcs and Uruk-Hai in huge battles to distract Sauron.
Perhaps it is not the best written fantasy series and but LoTR is definitely the most influential series ever written. Millions have read this masterpiece of J.R.R. Tolkien and a whole new generation has gotten known the trilogy through the movies. Fantasy as we know it today wouldn’t be the same without this series.
2. A Song of Ice & Fire
Politics and warfare, in a world where no one is free of doubt and everyone has a dark and/or weak side. The most powerful Houses of Westeros are fighting for the throne, while at the Wall in the north long-forgotten, mythical enemies gather for invasion. At the same time, on another continent, a young girl – the righteous queen of Westeros according to some – prepares for an invasion of her own. And she will bring some interesting pets to battle…
Fantasy does not have a prominent place in A Song of Ice & Fire, certainly not in the beginning of the series, while politics do play a large part. George R.R. Martin’s writing skills, together with many, interesting plots, unexpected turns and incredible characters, make this series a masterpiece. An interesting note is that HBO has recently given the go ahead for a television series based on the first book of the series (A Games of Thrones). If only Martin had a bit more “writers testosterone” and would focus his attention on completing the next books in the series.
3. The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Being a soldier is probably never easy but being a Bridgeburner in the armies of the Malazan Empire really sucks. Incredible powerful wizards, demons, Ascendants and even Gods are fighting their wars and playing their games with you right in the middle. On the other hand, no one in these series seems to be without some kind of ability and gods are probably more afraid of mortals than the other way around.
Fantasy to its extreme, epic, overpowering, almost more you can handle. It can be a bit over the top but personally I love it and especially the last 100 pages of each book are fantastic. Everyone is special and everyone is flawed. A character in a book of Steven Erikson will have no clue as to what will be waiting for him around the next corner as is the case for you as a reader.
4. The Wheel of Time
Every Age goes through the same struggle between good and evil. Each time the Dragon stands against the Dark One but is unable to utterly defeat him. This Age, sheepherder Rand al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn and with the help of many, many friends, he just might pull it of.
The Wheel of Time is a great and influential series with the cliché story of a simple boy who turns out to be the great hero, but it is well written. A lot of attention is given to the personal issues of the main character but the series is often considered to be a bit too extensive and having too many characters. Author Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 before finishing the 12th book of the series. Hopefully Brandon Sanderson can write a satisfying end to the series.
5. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (the Unbeliever)
A leper who is despised in real life and not too happy with himself, enters a magical Land (possibly in his own mind) where he is healthy again and is considered a hero destined to defeat an evil lord. Covenant struggles to believe the world is real and tries to prove it is not, while against his will he does take upon himself the role of defeating The Despiser.
The main character is an unstable, bitter man and the story is dark and psychological, with deep meanings and moral issues. This might scare away the average, casual fantasy reader but is at the same time a series you should definitely read. Also because the fantasy world described by Stephen R. Donaldson is very well created and often regarded as of the same level as Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
A whole bunch of fantasy stories happening on a world carried on the backs of four elephants, standing on the back of a turtle… need I say more. The stories are not all connected, although many characters and groups of characters feature in more than one story. Many different topics and themes are discussed in the Discworld novels but always they are looked at from a humoristic point of view.
Not only are the stories brilliantly thought up and extremely funny, Terry Pratchett has also written them very well. It is high-class comedy in a world that is almost too fantastical too believe and that’s what I love about it. It is fantasy making fun of fantasy: simply hilarious.
7. The Riftwar saga
Through magical means a rift is opened between two worlds and the home world of the orphan Pug is invaded. Pug, who is thought to have minor magical abilities, is transported to the world of the enemy and becomes a great magician. As the series continues it turns out that Midkemia faces a far greater enemy.
It is high fantasy as it should be. Magician, the first book of the Riftwar series, was my introduction to the fantasy genre and just for that the Riftwar saga has earned a spot in this list. The story is not too complicated and characters are not that developed but Raymond E. Feist has an easy writing style and the series has more than enough interesting, new ideas to make it a great read.
8. The Dark Tower
Fantasy meets spaghetti western. The gunslinger Roland is on a quest to find the Dark Tower. Along the way he picks up several friends who share in his destiny and through many amazing, strange adventures, both on Mid-World and our own world, Ronald comes nearer to the tower.
Definitely an odd one out on this list. The Dark Tower is not at all the typical high fantasy that characterizes the rest of the series in this list and it will prove to be a difficult read to many. However, it is so good that I simply couldn’t leave out and probably should have placed it higher if it had some elves and dwarves in it. Written by the legendary Stephen King, it is dark, mysterious, and disturbing: what more could you wish for?
9. The Farseer Trilogy
A young boy, bastard son of a prince, is taught to be an assassin. He finds out he has incredible Skills and amazing Wits. Power struggles within a kingdom, invading raiders, and in the middle of it all a young royal assassin wanting revenge and struggling to save the kingdom and the people he loves.
The Farseer series may not be very action-oriented, but it has great plot twists and very solid character building. Robin Hobb, perhaps because she is a woman, puts a lot of emotion in her writing and the main characters in her books really come to life and develop themselves throughout the series.
10. The Sword of Truth
A boy turns out to be legendary hero, destined to face evil enemies with incredible powers and of course he gets help from an old wizard and a beautiful girl. It is a clear cut story of good versus evil containing a lot of morality. The story must sound somewhat familiar by now but it is well constructed and there are some interesting new forms of magic in the series.
Some love it, some hate it: let’s say that it is not exactly my cup of tea. The first couple of books were pretty good but I have to admit that I stopped reading after 5th Book. It became a bit too romantic and tedious for my taste (not what I am looking for when reading a fantasy book). On the other hand, millions have read Terry Goodkinds books and it is on of the few fantasy series of which a quite successful television series has been produced.
11. The Belgariad
Garion finds out he is a descendant of a powerful sorcerer and goes on a quest to find and protect an orb that has the power to rule the world. As foretold by an ancient prophecy, Garion, together with his friends and family, has to battle the followers of the evil god Torak and even will even have to face the god himself.
It is a nice read but definitely not ground-breaking in any way. The overall story is quite straightforward and the characters are not very complex. Simplicity is not always a bad thing and as many people have read the series and like it, Belgariad has been quite influential but it is not a series I will read for a second time.
Set in the distant future, after the destruction of the world as we know it, several races (men, elves, dwarves and trolls) fight each other for world domination. A group of people (the Druids) tries to prevent war and defeat evil as do members of the Shannara family.
With a storyline and races based on The Lord of the Rings, some say this series is a simplified copy of LoTR. To me, the series it is a nice and easy read but that is about it. Than again, Shannara has a lot of fans and has been an introduction to fantasy for many so I felt I had to include it in this list.
Read more about Shannara.
There it is: my list of best fantasy series. If you are not familiar with one or more of these series, I hope this list will help you decide which series to read next!
As indicated before, this list is just based on my opinion complemented with my view on the mark the series made on fantasy/history. If you don’t agree, please share your opinion with the rest of us!