From Arthurian legends to Harry Potter, literature has always had a tradition of supernatural elements and stories set in places where magic happens. It’s no secret that the market for young adult literature has been expanded in the last decade, producing a vast array of fantasy novels for a young audience.
I have always been a lover of the fantasy genre. The novel that launched my love of reading was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, but I have never stopped to consider why it is so popular among young adults until now.
After some research, I discovered several reasons that explain why so many young readers sometimes prefer the fantasy genre over others. Escapism is the obvious one. Another reason, according to author Marie Rutkoski, is that the fantasy genre easily lends itself to characters who are going through experiences for the first time. Middle and high school students, as they read, are navigating new experiences at the same time as their favorite protagonists. This coming-of-age aspect makes it easy for young adults to connect to the characters and the plot.
In a CNN article, young adult author and Ph.D. Jennifer Lynn Barnes suggested that some of the popularity of young adult fantasy can be accounted for in that both protagonist and reader are trying to navigate the gap between two worlds; fantasy seeks to combine aspects of the real world with the supernatural, while young adults are struggling to find their place between childhood and adulthood.
The commercial success of certain fantasy series has also had a significant effect on making the genre more popular. After the Harry Potter phenomenon swept the globe, readers were looking for the next great fantasy saga, opening the door for new, creative, young-adult fantasy. If your child or teen is looking to fill the hole that Harry Potter left, loves fantasy, or just loves to read in general, here is a list of books, old and new, that will sweep middle grade and young adult readers away to magical lands.
This series is my favorite book series ever, and I have done a lot of reading. Following several children, most notably the Pevensie siblings, on their quests to save the magical land of Narnia, the books are full of talking animals, evil witches, and a wide array of heroes. There are two ways you can go about reading the series: publication order and the order in which events happen in Narnia. Either way, The Chronicles of Narnia are sure to please young readers.
Both of these series follow the adventures of Percy Jackson, the demigod son of Poseidon, and his demigod friends as they attend Camp Half-Blood and fight mythological monsters. These books are especially great for young readers who love Greek mythology.
Meggie’s father, Mo, never reads books to her because he has a secret power; when he speaks aloud the words in the books, characters come into the real world. After Mo unwittingly unleashes the characters of Inkheart—and traps his wife inside the book—Meggie must stop some terrifying villains from using her father’s powers, and save her mother.
In a mysterious, wandering circus, two young magicians have been entered into a competition by their masters. Only one can be left standing, and when the two begin to fall in love they threaten the safety of the entire circus.
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This classic science fiction/fantasy novel follows fourteen-year-old Meg Murry as she, her little brother, and a friend from school set out to save her father—a brilliant scientist—after he has goes missing. Aided by magical beings Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, Meg must believe in love to ensure the safety of her family.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Down the rabbit hole is a world of magic and adventure where nothing is at it appears to be. Join Alice as she takes a break from her everyday life to explore Wonderland. You'll meet classic characters like the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts.
Handsome farm boy Westley and his new friends—a revenge-obsessed swordsman and an amiable giant—must stop Westley’s true love, Buttercup, from marrying the nefarious Prince Humperdinck. This story proves that true love conquers all.
When her mother goes missing, fifteen-year-old Clary Fray is plunged into an underworld of mystical creatures, and becomes part of a secret world of Shadowhunters: people who hunt demons. Her rescue mission may put her whole world at risk.
There’s no place like home... or the Land of Oz, a place filled with wicked witches, flying monkeys, and wonderful wizards. After a tornado, Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto find themselves in Oz. Dorothy, along with her new friends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, travels to the Emerald City in hopes that the Wizard of Oz can send her back to Kansas. For readers who particularly enjoy this series, Baum wrote a total of fourteen Oz books.
The Redwall series chronicles the world of Redwall and its animal inhabitants. Because this series consists of over twenty novels, it is perfect for young readers with a long attention span.
Despereaux, the smallest mouse in the castle, loves to read, and dreams of daring adventures. While living in the castle, he befriends Princess Pea. He discovers that may be in danger. Can he save Princess Pea from an evil kidnapping plot?
While Tristran and Victoria, the woman he loves, are out for a walk, he sees a falling star. He vows to bring it to Victoria, who promises to give Tristran anything he wants in exchange. Tristran crosses the wall into the magical land of Faerie where the star turns out to be a woman named Yvaine. Together they end up on a magical adventure, discovering Tristran’s true destiny in the process.
A young girl, Alanna of Trebond, wishes to be the first female knight in Tortall, so she trades places with her twin brother Thom while he studies magic. This series follows Alanna’s training as a knight. Pierce also wrote two other books, together called Daughter of the Lioness, that follow the adventures of Alanna’s daughter, Alianne.
Not only can Daine talk to animals, but she can also take their form, heal them, and make them do her bidding. With her “wild magic,” she takes a job in Tortall where she meets many new people, including Alanna of Trebond from Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series.
This series follows the adventures of assistant pig-keeper Taran while he grows and performs heroic deeds. Eventually he has to make the choice whether or not to be the High King of Prydian. The 1985 Disney film The Black Cauldron is based on this series.
Ten-year-old Winnie Foster, bored with her life in Treegap, goes exploring in the woods and stumbles upon seventeen-year-old Jesse Tuck. He is drinking from a spring which contains magical water that grants everlasting life. Together, Winnie and the Tucks must stop the water from being sold to the residents of Treegap.
Nineteen-year-old Kelsea Raleigh was raised away from her kingdom, after her mother, the queen, died. Now she must tap into her own bravery and the magic of the Tear Sapphire to save her kingdom from the Red Queen.
The epic fantasy that allowed for the modern popularity of the genre, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is not to be missed. In order to save Middle Earth from the evil Sauron, Frodo and the eight other members of the Fellowship of the Ring must defeat their enemies and return the one ring to Mount Doom.
After kissing Prince Eadric in an attempt to transform him from a from his frog form back into a human, Princess Emma is accidentally turned into a frog herself. Together, Emma and Eadric must find a witch to turn them back into humans, or else they will remain frogs forever.
Ella of Frell is cursed with the “gift” of obedience, which her evil stepsisters frequently use to their advantage. As Ella nurtures her friendship (and eventually romantic interest) with Prince Charmont through the writing of letters, she realizes her “gift” can be used to hurt him. Ella must find a way to break the curse, so she can be with her true love.
Once Upon a Marigold is a charming love story about a princess and a commoner who grew up with a troll. Can Christian, an inventor and castle servant, save the kingdom and his beloved Princess Marigold from evil?
As long as he remains in Neverland, Peter Pan will never grow up. On a visit to London, Peter accidentally loses his shadow in the Darling children’s nursery, and when he goes back to retrieve it, he also brings back with him the Darling children, who are delighted to discover a land of fairies, mermaids, and pirates.
The last unicorn has been searching for answers as to what happened to the rest of her kind. She finds out that they have been captured by a creature called the Red Bull. Along with a magician and a bandit’s wife, she sets out on a quest to find the rest of the unicorns.
Eragon, a young boy, finds a mysterious stone in the mountains. It turns out to be a dragon’s egg. When it hatches, Eragon names the dragon Saphira and cares for her. Then King Galbatorix discovers the dragon's existence. Eragon and Saphira flee in search of a rebel group fighting to overthrow the king. This is the first book of the Inheritance Cycle, which Paolini began writing as a teenager.
A futuristic welding of several classic fairytales, The Lunar Chronicles follow the stories of beloved fairytale heroines as they seek to put the true heir on the lunar throne.
Artemis Fowl, a young, criminal genius, and a kidnapped fairy, Holly Short, solve several problems throughout the series. Will Artemis learn to help the fairy people or will he continue to exploit them?
Bartimaeus, a djinn summoned by the magician Nathaniel, has been charged with the task of stealing the Amulet of Samarkand from Nathaniel’s rival, Simon Lovelace. Through a world of magical dangers and old grudges, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel must fight for survival and, of course, the amulet.
Comprised of three novels (The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower), the series follows the story of a once-united kingdom, which is struggling in the wake of a king too old to rule. Simon, the kitchen-boy, must help fight to keep evil forces at bay.
There are many versions of the Arthurian legend, but not many are set in a modern day high school. The Order of the Bear is a mystical organization that believes King Arthur will be reborn someday. Although she initially thinks this theory is a little crazy, Ellie Harrison soon begins to discover that the Arthurian legend may be playing out in her high school.
And, of course...
No list of fantasy fiction would be complete without the Harry Potter series. The story not only contains a delightful amount of magic, but it also explores themes of oppression, love, friendship, and sacrifice. For anyone who has not read the Harry Potter series, I and millions of others would strongly recommend it.