The Best Fantasy- and Sci-Fi Book Series (IMHO)

I’ve assembled a list of what I believe are the best fantasy / science fiction series so far. >Blimey! I know that I’m missing something important…

The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

First Book in the Series: The Name of the Wind (2007)
Description: With only two books published relatively recently (and a related novella), it could be argued that the unfinished Kingkiller trilogy doesn’t belong on this list. But only someone who hasn’t read these books would make that argument, as no other fantasy novels so easily shrug off their genre tag with such gorgeous prose. Kvothe’s tale is not an epic hero journey. Told as a regretful autobiography by a secluded innkeeper, it’s a life lived large, filled with magic and adventure, sure, but also with love, music and the trials of a poor student just trying to survive until the next meal. There is no book I’m more excited to read (The Winds of Winter included) than the final entry of this series. And along with the strange and lyrical novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, there are no other books I would recommend more to someone wanting to dip their toe into fantasy waters. —Josh Jackson

The Black Company by Glen Cook

First Book in the Series: The Black Company (1984)
Description: Good fantasy tales rely on world building, and Glen Cook’s Black Company series has this in spades. The tales cover more than 400 years of rich history across the 10 novels, three sub-series and plenty of short stories that followed. Though a series’ title isn’t always telling for literal descriptions of the adventures within, The Black Company couldn’t be a better fit; the collection mulls morality within a group of hired mercenaries in a multi-dimensional world of wizards and magic. Aside from fantasy aficionados, Cook found an eager audience in real-life soldiers, too, who embraced The Black Company’s more true-to-life portrayal of mercenaries handling life within their chosen profession. —Tyler R. Kane

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

First Book in the Series: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Description: C.S. Lewis’ kindhearted Narnia series sometimes feels like the yang to Tolkien’s serious and moody yin, which makes sense, given that the two Inklings were close friends for decades. Lewis’ series, though, is too often reduced to the child-friendly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s the other entries that feel more epic and filled with heraldic magic, such as the high-seas adventure and beautiful vistas of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or the wondrous moments of Narnia’s birth in The Magician’s Nephew. The way time passes so quickly in Narnia vs. our own world also infuses the series with a gentle but persistent sense of remorse; constant reminders that all things are impermanent. Even the great empires of our heroes in one entry are all swept away by the time we reach the next, ultimately showing us many sides of the land of Narnia. —Jim Vorel

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

First Book in the Series: The Blade Itself (2006)
Description: Fantasy is a genre that depends on reliable world-building, but fans of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy hoist its titles high for another reason: superior characterization. Though promises of barbarians, wizards and multi-territory conflicts should be enough to engage readers, First Law fans delight in scenarios that see their protagonists not only excel at the labels they’re given, but indulge in their worst behaviors. The first installment, The Blade Itself, explores a broad, world-worn cast: a military officer, a barbarian, a man with magical properties and a torturer. Within his three novels, Abercrombie unravels a world through the eyes of deeply flawed characters, crafting more emotionally engaging stories as a result. —Tyler R. Kane

The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch

First Book in the Series: The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
Description: The Gentleman Bastards, led by professional thief Locke Lamora, prove that gloriously three-dimensional characters can exist within a rich fantasy world, adding depth to the setting rather than existing in spite of it. Throughout Scott Lynch’s three published books (with four more to come), Locke and his friends have consistently undertaken cons and heists so astonishing—yet believable—that fans of Ocean’s Eleven and Patrick Rothfuss alike will find their adventures ridiculously entertaining. With the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, Lynch reminds us that fantasy is an absolute joy to read. —Frannie Jackson

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

First Book in the Series: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Description: What began as a children’s series about an orphaned boy whisked away to a magical school developed into one of the most beloved book franchises of all time, turning its then-unknown author into a billionaire. But forget the movies, the theme parks, the college Quidditch teams and the ubiquitous halloween costumes. None of that would exist if this coming-of-age story, told over seven novels, wasn’t so completely enchanting. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is so well developed—and her characters so lifelike—that legions of fans abandoned work, social interaction and even sleep every time a new entry was released. It earned its place alongside the giants of the fantasy genre with gripping tales about the boy who lived. —Josh Jackson

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

First Book in the Series: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
Description: J.R.R. Tolkien spent a dozen years building the world of Middle Earth between The Hobbit’s publication and the completion of Frodo’s epic journey to Mordor in The Return of the King. Every location the Fellowship encountered possessed a rich history and language, showcasing songs and poetry and mythology that always spoke of more beyond the page. But it was the four simple hobbits, bravely facing a world far larger and darker than their home in the Shire, that made every strange encounter relatable. Fighting orcs and spiders and worse, there was a nobility inverse to their size and a struggle between good and evil that resonates 62 years later. —Josh Jackson

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

First Book in the Series: Mistborn: The Final Empire (2006)
Description: Brandon Sanderson’s ambitious Mistborn “umbrella” encompasses four series within a world called Scadrial, beginning with a trilogy following an orphan girl in a medieval setting. The second series takes place 300 years later, focusing on best friends living during an Industrial Revolution-like era. Sanderson plans to write two more series (one in a modern, urban setting, the other in a futuristic, sci-fi setting), ensuring that Mistborn will appeal to readers of multiple genres. With a rich history and an original magic system that flourishes alongside the characters, Mistborn proves to be a landmark addition to the fantasy realm. —Frannie Jackson

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

First Book in the Series: A Game of Thrones (1996)
Description: While only five of the planned seven books have been published—worrying fans, HBO and George R.R. Martin himself—what we’ve already been given is so epic in scope as to (almost) make Middle Earth appear quaint by comparison. There are so many different players on the chessboard, struggling for either power, survival or revenge, that the fifth volume could only deal with half of its key characters. But all of the religions, customs and histories of the seven kingdoms of Westeros and the free cities to the east still fit together as they jostle for position. Martin has been criticized for killing off his characters, but the brutality of this Machiavellian, patriarchal society only serves to make us care more deeply about the innocent and afflicted underdogs of the realm. —Josh Jackson

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

First Book in the Series: The Way of Kings (2010)
Description: Brandon Sanderson is a masterfully technical worldbuilder, and the magic in his books follows a precise logic that gives it natural boundaries. But his greater gift is with character. The danger of fantasy literature is that its inhabitants can be so far removed from our world as to be completely unrelatable. But Kaladin and Shallan, two main characters in The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, are so full of personality that their struggles in a war with monumental ramifications, though completely unlike anything we’ll ever face, feel real. We’re only two books into what Sanderson plans to be a 10-book series, but it’s already one of the most original and intricate fantasy worlds put to paper. —Josh Jackson

The Malazan Book Of The Fallen by Steven Erikson

First Book in the Series: Gardens of the Moon (2007)
The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.
For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.
However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand . . .
Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

First Book in the Series: The Gunslinger (2003)
Set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace, The Dark Tower features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend. As Roland crosses a desert of damnation in a macabre world that is a twisted image of our own, he moves ever closer to the Dark Tower of his dreams—and nightmares.
This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier western legend. The Gunslinger’s quest involves the pursuit of The Man in Black, a liaison with the sexually ravenous Alice, and a friendship with the kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, here is stunning proof of Stephen King’s storytelling sorcery.

The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

First Book in the Series: Assassin’s Apprentice (1995)
Description: Encompassing multiple series set in the same fictional world, Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings delivers adventure in a variety of arenas. Three series follow the life of royal bastard and assassin FitzChivalry (The Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy), while two others explore the sea trade and dragons in the same world (The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Rain Wild Chronicles, respectively). The interwoven stories found in the Realm of the Elderlings novels prove that Hobb can successfully build a rich fantasy world while simultaneously exploring the daily lives of beloved characters.