Looking for some fresh young adult fantasy literature that isn’t the same-old same-old? Here are 12 fresh titles worth adding to your list.
When it comes to young adult fantasy literature, the same several titles and series tend to pop up over and over again on best-of and must-read lists. In reality, though, the genre is so much more than just a handful of bestsellers—and, it should be noted, much more diverse than those few, too. Whether you’re looking for fantasies inspired by folklore from around the world or creative contemporary tales, these are a dozen of the brightest young adult books that deserve even more attention.
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale, the first entry into Arden’s Winternight trilogy, is a dark fairytale with a twist. When Vasya’s widowed father remarries, her new stepmother forbids the family to honor the spirits they always have, despite warnings that it could lead to disaster. When their village begins to experience tragedy after tragedy and her stepmother’s crusade continues, Vasya realizes she may be the only one with the power to protect her loved ones.
There’s almost a “beauty and the beast” element to the premise of Uprooted: a fearsome, withdrawn wizard whose price for helping keep a village safe from an evil forest is a decade of service from one village girl. Agnieszka fears that her friend Kasia will be the next one chosen—but she’s not prepared when the wizard makes a different choice.
Somaiya Daud puts a new spin on familiar tropes with her debut Mirage. In a world ruled by a brutal empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is kidnapped by the empire that violently took over her home. Because of her resemblance to their princess, the regime forces Amani to serve as her body double, placing Amani in dangerous and close quarters with the princess, her fiancé, and the heart of the empire.
The City of Brass
The streets of eighteenth-century Cairo are the setting for The City of Brass, where talented young con woman Nahri gets in over her head when she accidentally summons a sly djinn warrior. The unexpected duo have to flee together to a famous lost “city of brass,” full of magic and danger, where Nahri soon learns her presence could ignite a long-brewing war.
The Hazel Wood
Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood—first in a trilogy—pays tribute to the wild and wonderful world of fantasy literature in a unique way. Alice’s grandmother, who wrote a popular book of dark fairytales, dies on her mysterious estate, and soon after, Alice’s mother is kidnapped by someone who claims to come from the fantasy world her grandmother wrote about. Alice has to team up with one of her grandmother’s biggest fans to figure out what’s real and where her mother has been taken.
One of 2020’s hottest YA releases was Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys, a paranormal YA romance-slash-ghost story. Yadriel, a gay trans boy from a super-traditional Cuban and Mexican family, sets out to prove himself by freeing the ghost of his murdered cousin. Instead, he accidentally summons the ghost of his school’s bad boy Julian, and as they try to solve the mystery of Julian’s death, they grow unexpectedly closer.
Descendant of the Crane
When Descendant of the Crane begins, rebel Princess Hesina of Yan is suddenly thrust into leadership after her father is murdered. Determined to hold together an unsteady kingdom and find out the truth behind her father’s death, she hires a soothsayer—a terrible risk, because magic is outlawed in Yan. With the help of the soothsayer and a secretive investigator, Hesina tries to secure justice before it’s too late for her and for her kingdom.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Xifeng, the heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, faces an incredibly difficult choice. Her aunt, a cruel but powerful witch, has promised her that greatness awaits her—but only if she leaves behind her small village and the boy she loves to embrace her powers of sorcery, which require brutal sacrifices and a journey into darkness. Xifeng could become an empress—but at what cost?
Zoraida Cordova’s Incendiary centers on Renata, a young woman who was kidnapped as a child and forced to use her rare magic gifts to drain the souls and memories of the cruel king’s enemies and his own people. In time, she is rescued by a group of rebel spies, joins their cause, and falls in love with one of their own—but when he’s captured, her attempted rescue mission stirs up old fears and enormous secrets.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is a dark fairytale with a feminist twist and inspiration from Persian mythology. Soraya, a princess cursed to be literally poisonous to the touch, is spurred by her twin brother’s wedding to emerge from the shadows and try to solve the mystery of her curse. Supported by a handsome and understanding soldier, she ventures to the dungeons to beg for answers from a demon, where she gets more than she bargained for.
Where Dreams Descend
Take one part The Phantom of the Opera, add one part Moulin Rouge, and add a dash of The Night Circus to get Where Dreams Descend, the first in a planned duology by Janelle Angeles. Kallia, an ambitious magician, escapes from the limiting career she’s kept in by her charming but dangerous mentor and instead joins a competition in the big city, where she discovers the true extent of her powers alongside a fellow magician with a tragic past.
A Song Below Water
There’s more than a touch of magical realism to A Song Below Water Bethany C. Morrow, which pulls ancient siren myths into a contemporary setting, with all the classism, sexism, and racism that entails. Two best friends struggle to deal with supernatural gifts and burdens, and when a siren murder trial gets national attention and puts them both in danger, they can only rely on each other to make it through.