Fantasy novels come in all shapes and sizes — but, like with so many other genres, publishers and critics spent decades pushing books by white men at the expense of... well, everyone else. If fantasy’s lingering reputation as a bastion of racism and misogyny has turned you off of the genre, then check out one of these 30 must-read fantasy series by women. Published between the 1960s and the present day, the titles on the list below make fantastic introductions — or reintroductions — to worlds full of dragons, faeries, and adventure.
Now, there are a few things you should know about this list. First off, you might notice that there aren’t that many series by women of color included in the first half of the list. That’s because it’s been arranged chronologically, and the old guard were more likely to publish a fantasy novel by a white woman than one by a woman of color.
You might also wonder why more than half of this list is no more than 10 years old. Doesn’t that bely the genre’s long history? Well, maybe a little. But it’s important to remember two things. One: these aren’t the
only must-read fantasy series by women, just 30 of our favorites. And two: although reading the classics of any genre is a worthy pursuit, giving your money to contemporary writers who are is a fantastic way to keep fantasy — or any other genre — diverse. currently publishing
Below, 30 of the best fantasy series written by women.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
Centering on the Murry family’s children, Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet begins with
A Wrinkle in Time: the story of one young girl’s mission to travel across space and time in search of her missing father. Books in the Series: A Wrinkle in Time , A Wind in the Door , A Swiftly Tilting Planet , Many Waters , and An Acceptable Time 2 Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (1968)
Initially published in
Analog as two separate novellas — “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider” — Dragonflight is the first installment in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. The story follows Lessa, the human queen of Pern, and Ramoth, the dragon queen who serves as Lessa’s telepathic steed. Books in the Series: Dragonflight , Dragonquest , and The White Dragon 3 Land of Ingary Trilogy by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)
If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli’s
Howl’s Moving Castle, you need to check out the source material. Set in a world in which fairytale tropes are painfully real, Dianna Wynne Jones’ 1986 novel follows Sophie Hatter — an 18-year-old girl cursed into premature old age by an evil witch — who finds work as a servant in the the Wizard Howl’s home. Books in the Series: Howl’s Moving Castle , Castle in the Air , and House of Many Ways 4 Heralds of Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey (1987)
Mercedes Lackey has written dozens of books about the land of Valdemar and its denizens, so it’s difficult to choose just one series from among them. Heralds of Valdemar is a fantastic introduction to Lackey’s created world, however, and you won’t be able to get enough of tomboy Talia and her silver-hoofed Companion, Rolan.
Books in the Series: Arrows of the Queen , Arrow’s Flight , and Arrow’s Fall 5 The Great Alta Saga by Jane Yolen (1988)
From celebrated fantasy author Jane Yolen comes this high-fantasy coming-of-age series about a young woman prophesied to destroy the world and remake it. Orphaned teen Jenna has spent her entire life studying combat and moon magic in Selden Hame. But war is approaching, and Jenna will need all her wits and skills about her if she wants to survive
. Books in the Series: Sister Light, Sister Dark , White Jenna , and The One-Armed Queen 6 Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
No list of must-read fantasy series would be complete without Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Planned as a 10-book set, Gabaldon’s tales of time-traveling English nurse Claire Beauchamp and her Highlander husband Jamie Fraser are still going strong after 30 years on the market.
Books in the Series: Outlander , Dragonfly in Amber , Voyager , Drums of Autumn , The Fiery Cross , A Breath of Snow and Ashes , An Echo in the Bone , Written in My Heart’s Own Blood , Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (coming Nov. 23, 2021), and an as-yet-untitled final book 7 The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995)
Robin Hobb fans know the Farseer Trilogy’s main character, the royal bastard FitzChivalry, all too well. He’s just a boy in the series’ first installment,
Assassin’s Apprentice, which follows him through his adolescent training in magic and death-dealing. Books in the Series: Assassin’s Apprentice , Royal Assassin , and Assassin’s Quest 8 The Crown & Court Duology by Sherwood Smith (1997)
Crown Duel omnibus contains both volumes of Sherwood Smith’s Crown & Court duology. The books follow siblings Mel and Bran, who find themselves marching off to a war they cannot possibly win — all to defend their homeland and its residents, human and non-human alike, from a greedy king. Books in the Series: Crown Duel and Court Duel 9 The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier (1999)
Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Trilogy begins with
Daughter of the Forest: a lengthy retelling of “The Six Swans.” When Lord Colum’s new wife curses his sons and muddles his mind, it’s up to his youngest child, Sorcha, to save the land of Sevenwaters. Sorcha must spend years in silence if she wants to help her brothers, but her mission grows more complicated when she finds herself falling in love behind enemy lines. Books in the Series: Daughter of the Forest , Son of the Shadows , and Child of the Prophecy 10 Phèdre’s Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey (2001)
If you’re searching for an erotic fantasy series, look no further. Phèdre’s Trilogy centers on the eponymous courtesan: a woman cursed to feel pain and pleasure as the same sensation. Trained as an assassin and spy, Phèdre finds herself drawn into a world of courtly intrigue
. Books in the Series: Kushiel’s Dart , Kushiel’s Chosen , and Kushiel’s Avatar 11 Temeraire by Naomi Novik (2006)
Naomi Novik’s sweeping historical fantasy series begins in the midst of the Napoleonic War, when Navy Captain Will Laurence takes a dragon egg from a captured enemy ship and unexpectedly bonds with the sentient creature inside — a dragon called Temeraire. Will isn’t a member of the Aerial Corps, but his country needs Temeraire, and the two of them come as a package deal
. Books in the Series: His Majesty’s Dragon , Throne of Jade , Black Powder War , Empire of Ivory , Victory of Eagles , Tongues of Serpents , Crucible of Gold , Blood of Tyrants , and League of Dragons 12 Obsidian & Blood by Aliette de Bodard (2007)
Set in Tenochtitlan at the height of the Aztec Empire, Aliette de Bodard’s series of fantasy thrillers begins with
Servant of the Underworld, in which Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, must solve the case of a missing priestess, believed to be the victim of a Jaguar warrior... who happens to be Acatl’s older brother. Books in the Series: Servant of the Underworld , Harbinger of the Storm , and Master of the House of Darts 13 October Daye by Seanan McGuire (2009)
If urban fantasy’s more your style, you can’t go wrong with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series.
Rosemary and Rue introduces readers to Toby: a half-fae changeling who works as an ordinary private eye in San Francisco... until a case drags her back into the courts of the fae. Books in the Series: Rosemary and Rue , A Local Habitation , An Artificial Night , Late Eclipses , One Salt Sea , Ashes of Honor , Chimes at Midnight , The Winter Long , A Red-Rose Chain , Once Broken Faith , The Brightest Fell , Night and Silence , The Unkindest Tide , A Killing Frost , When Sorrows Come (coming Sep. 14, 2021), Sleep No More (coming 2022), These Violent Delights (coming 2023), and several planned, as-yet-untitled books 14 The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (2011)
Diana spurned her magical inheritance for a professorship at Yale University. But when she finds a long-lost alchemical text while conducting research at Oxford, Diana’s entire life is upended. Brought into contact with witchcraft for the first time in decades, the academic finds that she may have a supernatural destiny to fulfill after all.
Books in the Series: A Discovery of Witches , Shadow of Night , and The Book of Life 15 The Olondria Duology by Sofia Samatar (2013)
An avid reader, Jevick has always dreamed of visiting Olondria: a magical land full of books, which his merchant father visits each year. Carrying on the family business after his father’s death, Jevick makes his first journey to Olondria, which turns out to be everything he imagined. But when he’s unexpectedly haunted by a young girl’s ghost, Jevick is drawn into a political and religious conflict that will determine both Olondria’s fate and his.
Books in the Series: A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories 16 The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (2015)
Every millennium or so, a Fifth Season upends the Stillness for years, turning the continent on its ear as new mountains rise, valleys are carved out of the stone, and everyday creatures turn monstrous.Just as a Fifth Season begins, Essun, a woman with the power to control seismic activity, discovers that her husband has murdered their young son and kidnapped their daughter after realizing that both of his children also have this power — an ability widely feared and stigmatized. Essun sets out across an increasingly hostile landscape to rescue the daughter she loves and exact vengeance on her husband, but will she find them before it’s too late?
Books in the Series: The Fifth Season , The Obelisk Gate , and The Stone Sky 17 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (2015)
Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes wrapped up in 2020 with
A Sky Beyond the Storm, so now’s the perfect time to give it a read (or re-read). The story centers on Laia, a young slave girl who must go undercover in the heart of the empire as a spy if she wants to save her incarcerated brother from certain death. Books in the Series: An Ember in the Ashes , A Torch Against the Night , A Reaper at the Gates , and A Sky Beyond the Storm 18 The Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab (2015)
The adopted second son of the Maresh Empire’s ruling family, Kell is a talented magician with the ability to travel from his home in Red London to three other versions of the city: Grey London, where King George III’s son rules for him; White London, where magic is only for the rulers; and Black London, which it would be better to forget. But when Kell inadvertently smuggles a Black London artifact across the border between worlds, he finds himself on the run from dark magic alongside a Grey London pirate.
Books in the Series: A Darker Shade of Magic , A Gathering of Shadows , and A Conjuring of Light 19 The Sorcerer Royal Series by Zen Cho (2015)
Set in an alternate version of Regency England, Cho’s
Sorcerer to the Crown follows Zacharias — a formerly enslaved man, now serving as the Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers — as he makes his way to Fairyland, looking for the source of England’s unexplained magical deficit. Books in the Series: Sorcerer to the Crown , The True Queen , and an yet-to-be-titled third book 20 The Wrath & the Dawn Duology by Renée Ahdieh (2015)
Renée Ahdieh’s bestselling fantasy duology breathes new life into
One Thousand and One Nights. Khalid, the caliph who rules over Khorasan, has taken many wives, but none ever survives her wedding night. When her best friend becomes his latest victim, Shahrzad resolves to exact her revenge. But what will she do when she learns that the caliph is not the man she thought he was? Books in the Series: The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger 21 Brooklyn Brujas by Zoraida Córdova (2016)
Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas series centers on the magical Mortiz family of — you guessed it — Brooklyn. In the first installment,
Labyrinth Lost, bruja Alex Mortiz attempts to rid herself of her magical powers for good, only to banish her entire family to Los Lagos instead. Books in the Series: Labyrinth Lost , Bruja Born , and Wayward Witch 22 The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee (2017)
Set on an island mined for its magical jade, Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga centers on the Kaul family — members of a powerful crime syndicate that partly controls the island’s jade production — as they’re forced into a clan war that may change their homeland as they know it.
Books in the Series: Jade City , Jade War , and Jade Legacy (coming Nov. 30, 2021) 23 Chronicles of the Wolf Queen by K.S. Villoso (2018)
Also known as the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, K.S. Villoso’s dark fantasy series centers on Talyien, a young queen whose marriage to a political rival promises peace for her war-torn country. When her husband vanishes, Talyien’s nation teeters on the brink, and she soon finds herself alone and far from home
. Books in the Series: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro , The Ikessar Falcon , and The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng 24 The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk (2018)
The first installment in her Kingston Cycle, C.L. Polk’s
Witchmark transports readers to a world reminiscent of Great Britain during World War I, where magic is outlawed and its users are imprisoned in asylums. Miles — a witch who faked his own death — is exposed when he attempts to save a murder victim, giving him no choice but to catch the killer before it’s too late. Books in the Series: Witchmark , Stormsong , and Soulstar 25 The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (2018)
The Hunger Games has a story about teen fighters been so compelling. Inspired by Revolution-era China, R.F. Kuang’s Poppy War series follows Rin, an orphaned girl from a rural province, as she accepts an invitation to study at an elite military academy. But Rin has a power rarely found in the Nikara Empire, and it may be the only hope her homeland has when faced with an unexpected war. Books in the Series: The Poppy War , The Dragon Republic , and The Burning God 26 The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (2019)
Set in an alternate version of Belle Époque Paris, Roshani Chokshi’s Gilded Wolves series centers on Séverin, a hotel manager who tracks down magical artifacts — for the right price, of course. When a mysterious organization offers him the deal of a lifetime to pilfer an item, Séverin assembles a crack team, but they may face their deadliest-ever job
. Books in the Series: The Gilded Wolves , The Silvered Serpents , and The Bronzed Beasts (coming Sep. 21, 2021) 27 The Locked Tomb Trilogy by Tamsyn Muir (2019)
When Harrowhark, a powerful necromancer and the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, receives an invitation to become a Lyctor in service to the God-Emperor, she cons her lifelong rival, Gideon, into joining in as her cavalier: the sword-wielding soldier who protects each House’s necromancer. But after reaching their destination, Harrow and Gideon find themselves caught up in a deadly game
. Books in the Series: Gideon the Ninth , Harrow the Ninth , and Alecto the Ninth (coming 2022) 28 Bethel by Alexis Henderson (2020)
Born from her mother’s forbidden relationship with a man of another race, Immanuelle has grown used to the way her neighbors look askance at her, and she’s spent years devoting herself to the Prophet’s teachings to fend off wagging tongues. But Immanuelle is about to discover the Darkwood’s magical and ghostly secrets, and what she learns will change her understanding of her home forever.
Books in the Series: The Year of the Witching and The Dawn of the Coven (coming Aug. 31, 2021) 29 Between Earth and Sky by Rebecca Roanhorse (2020)
As the world prepares for a solar eclipse on the winter solstice, the fates of three strangers — a prominent priest, a siren-like ship captain, and an unknown man sailing toward his destiny — wind together, and a prophecy foretelling the world’s destruction threatens to come true
. Books in the Series: Black Sun and an as-yet-untitled sequel 30 The Magic of the Lost Trilogy by C.L. Clark (2021)
A debut novel that ushered in a powerful new voice in speculative fiction, C.L. Clark’s
The Unbroken introduces readers to Touraine and Luca, a former child soldier and an emperor’s rebellious niece. The pair join forces to overthrow an evil empire, but soon find themselves at odds. Books in the Series: The Unbroken and two as-yet-untitled sequels