According to Goodreads, which is about half accurate, I’ve read 93 YA fantasy books so this should be easy enough. However, when I started to think about it, I realized that true escapist fantasy for me is kind of hard to come by–especially given that the majority of the books I’m mentioning here are parts of series. But I think I’ve got some really great recommendations for you, so let’s jump in.
1. Rick Riordan
I can’t choose between the series that I’ve read so we’re just going to start with an author. Rick Riordan is a middle grade author who has become so popular, Disney let him start his own imprint. He writes middle grade books based on various mythologies and they are lovely.
I started with the Percy Jackson series, which is, of course where you should start as well. That series begins with The Lightning Thief. You get to meet Percy and Annabeth and go to Camp Half-Blood. The series, the found family elements, the friendship, Percy and Annabeth… All of it is perfect for running from your problems.
This book is actually really important to me for many reasons, but one of those is that I read this for the first time my first year of law school. I was home alone in North Carolina, six hours away from my family, when I got a call that my cousins had been in an ATV accident and were on their way to the hospital. At the time, no one was sure what was happening, but I was told to stay where I was. I couldn’t stop worrying, but I knew that one of my cousins adored these books. So I downloaded The Lightning Thief as a way to feel closer to my family even though I was far away. I wound up completing the trilogy in a few hours and immediately began the Heroes of Olympus series. So, I can most definitely recommend this series for running from your problems!
Also, note that this middle grade series definitely holds up for an adult read.
2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Obviously. I’m actually impressed with myself for putting these second rather than first. But is there a better escapist read than pretending you’re at Hogwarts with the gang? And you can stick to just Prisoner of Azkaban if you want to live in the sweet spot where no one dies, Harry learns about his dad’s escapades, and life was good for a year. I mean, besides the dementors and the events that set off the chain reaction leading to the entire rest of the series. But whatever.
Harry Potter is great for running from your problems and one of the best parts of it is that if you want, you can go read so much excellent fanfiction about it, where Sirius lives and Draco gets a redemption arc. Just me? Okay.
3. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas is a slightly controversial author because her books lack diversity in meaningful ways (though Tower of Dawn did appear to be a step in the right direction), but I love her books. Maas wrote Throne of Glass when she was seventeen and it’s been through several re-drafts, but I think it’s so incredible to watch her grow as an author even just from Throne of Glass to Crown of Midnight. By the time we get to Queen of Shadows though? Yes. I love her writing. I’m just so impressed by how many ships we go through with Celaena and how well I felt they each fit together. I’m a Hufflepuff (so is Sarah!). I’m loyal by nature, but… Yeah. I’m all about the end game in this series.
Also, I’ve seen so many people complain about the sexy times we get in Empire of Storms, which baffles me because my friends and I spent Queen of Shadows screaming about how… our faves needed to get it on. I say this just to say that this is definitely a series that straddles age lines and you should know that going in. (Also, Sarah J. Maas likes romance novels and she writes the sex with some of the romance novel euphemisms, which I think is an ode to the fact that this is supposed to be a YA series. But she definitely doesn’t fade to black.)
4. A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas
I get that I could have just told you all to read all of Sarah J. Maas’s books, but these series are very different and also, this is my post, so I get to do what I want. I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses when I first read it and still vividly remember having discussions with my friends about how they were shipping Feyre and Rhys and being like what???? It did not compute. And then A Court of Mist and Fury came out and I could honestly re-read ACOMAF every month if there weren’t so many new books to try. Once you’ve read the entire series, you can pretend that ACOMAF is really the only one that exists because Sarah made a mistake in writing the most perfect book as the second one in the series. But really. Read ACOMAF if you want to run from your problems because Feyre and co. will capture your attention and your imagination and suddenly you’ll find yourself transported to a whole new land.
5. Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix
I loved these books as a child and now there are NEW ones! Okay, I still haven’t read Clariel but I’m sure it’s great. At least I really hope it is.
In case you missed these when you were younger, these books are about necromancy, kind of. Wow, that’s probably a terrible way to get you engaged with the series… Anyways, the first book is Sabriel and it’s about Sabriel, who has to enter the Old Kingdom to find her father, the Abhorsen. It turns out that this summary does not sound at all familiar to me, which means we should ALL read these books together and escape to the Old Kingdom because, I mean, really, why stay in 2017?
6. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Speaking of my childhood, let’s talk about Philip Pullman bringing His Dark Materials back!! I feel so blessed, even though the only person I know of who has read The Book of Dust says it wasn’t as good as the original trilogy. But the original trilogy still exists so let’s focus on that for now. These books are about Lyra and the story begins with The Golden Compass. Lyra is, of course, an orphan, who goes to Oxford (but not our Oxford?) and then winds up setting out to rescue her best friend, Roger. This series is truly excellent and I brought them down from home so I can re-read them in preparation for reading The Book of Dust, which will hopefully happen sooner than later.
7. Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are absolutely fantastic on audiobook and I highly recommend you give them a listen if you read them the first time or if you’ve never read them at all. The book features a cast of characters that are all morally grey and would likely be the villain in someone else’s story. But this book is about found family, friendship, a heist, but most importantly FRIENDSHIP. I love everything about this book, from Nina’s love of waffles to Kaz Brekker’s gruff refusal to emote. I absolutely cannot wait to get around to re-reading these books because they were so good.
8. Fallout(Lois Lane series) by Gwenda Bond
Fallout begins a series about Lois Lane as a high school student, new to Metropolis and to school. Her only real friend is smallvilleguy who she met online in a message board about the flying man who saved her and her dad one night. But when she lands a spot at the Daily Planet, things really start to take off for the intrepid reporter we all love. I adored everything about this book and the two that came after and so I need everyone to read it so Gwenda can convince her publisher to let us have a thousand more. I mean, seriously, just wait until book three!
There’s female friendship, sisterhood, technology, Lois being amazing and also really bad at friendship but figuring it out, and so much more. I highly encourage you all to pick this one up! Also, I reviewed book three in October in a wrap up, so you can find that linked to the side.
9. Carry Onby Rainbow Rowell
Remember when I referenced Harry Potter fanfiction earlier? Yes, well, Simon Snow and Baz are the Harry and Draco of Rowell’s universe and the ship sails, my friends. This book is perfect for fans of Harry Potter, fans of themselves… Really, just, this book is incredible and I highly recommend it to everyone I know. Also, if you’ve read Fangirl, you may recognize Simon Snow as the protagonist of Cath’s favorite fandom. That’s no mistake. And my friends… This book is really, really good. I ask Rainbow Rowell on Twitter for a sequel at least once every few months because I NEED IT, okay?
10. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
If you haven’t already read this series, now is the perfect time to start because the new covers are absolutely stunning. This is a series about Laia, Elias, and Helene. Elias and Helene have been training basically their whole lives to be warriors for a brutal kingdom. Laia is the daughter of rebels and the sister of a rebel who has been captured.
This series is one that will lead you far from your problems because it creates a world that you can literally imagine–but you’d never want to live in. I think Sabaa Tahir is a genius with words and world-building and am so excited for book three.
These are some of my absolute favorite fantasy books/series, but I’ve discovered that I maybe haven’t read as many as I thought. So if you have favorites you don’t see mentioned here, give me your recommendations. What worlds do you run away to when everything is overwhelming?