The best YA fantasy for newbies

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good escape. And that’s exactly what fantasy literature does best — it draws us out of our everyday worlds into lands filled with magic. And sometimes dragons.

As I wrote in another Reading is Magic post about what makes YA fantasy special, what I love about young adult books in particular is how they often dive into fantasy worlds and magic through the perspective of someone instantly relatable to us: a kid or teen. Even if you’re all grown up like I am, our emotions at those ages are so strong, it’s easy to get swept up in a story told by someone that age with all those same passions and fears.

If you’re just getting started with YA fantasy, I recommend a few books to get you started. Some of these are classics, because some people feel more apt to try a book if they’ve heard of it before. Others are a little more offbeat, but I believe they capture the magic of YA fantasy perfectly. Perhaps the true magic of the genre is that there’s something for everyone!

The Hobbit

Best for those who love classic stories.

You can’t get more classic than The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard of it. The tale of a homebody hobbit going on a great adventure with a band of dwarves and a wise old wizard is something everyone should experience at least once in their literate lives!

There’s also a beautiful illustrated edition you can enjoy with younger readers — take a look here!

The Near Witch

Best for those who enjoy their stories a little haunted.

V.E. Schwab’s first novel, The Near Witch is a beautifully-written story about a girl who’s as interested in the local witches and lore as she is in discovering what happened to a little boy who went missing from her village. Everything seems entangled; every conversation could contain a clue to the magic behind the scenes of this strange world. Read it just to inhale how vivid the prose is — you’ll hear the crunch of leaves and smell the moss on every page!

The Chronicles of Narnia

Best for experiencing childlike wonder.

I don’t remember exactly when I read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia — only that I did. And I watched the movies. And I loved every bit of this world. An epic story of. good and evil, what makes it so special is that it begins so simply: with children walking through a magical wardrobe and entering another world, a land of endless snow and talking animals and a charming but suspicious witch. There’s something about literally stepping into another world that feels so childlike and wonderful, and Narnia captures that feeling perfectly.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians

Best for fans of ancient history and mythology.

Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan is another of those series that many people have heard about, but it’s a more modern classic than The Hobbit or Narnia — and it’s much different in style, too. You follow young Percy, who has ADHD and dyslexia, as he discovers his powers as a demigod. What I like about these stories is they center on a kid who seems, at first glance, like any other — and he has all the struggles of other preteens, too. But because he’s the son of Poseidon, he has a whole other bag of issues to deal with. Get ready to dive into ancient Greek mythology with this one!

Harry Potter

Best for anyone who wishes they could learn magic at school!

Harry Potter is another modern classic that I believe everyone should read at least once! J.K. Rowling’s series follows young Harry, an orphan who learns he’s actually a wizard — and he has to fly off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to wield his magic. The books are a sweet and sometimes dark concoction of Harry’s studies, friendships, and fight against the evil Lord Voldemort. Even if you’ve seen the movies, it’s worth reading the books to experience the full magic of Rowling’s clever prose and Harry’s emotional story.

Six of Crows

Best for those who crave dashing characters and romance.

With her novel Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo dives into a unique world of magic where an oddball group of very different characters come together to pull off a heist. The world of Ketterdam is based on 17th century Amsterdam, which makes it a thrilling read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Best of all, Six of Crows dishes out a perfect recipe of action, romance, and memorable characters — there’s something for everyone with this one!

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