YA Fantasy Must Reads

Spanning decades and trends (Vampires!), these reads are essential if one wants to be literate in the genre. Due to concerns about space, I have not included graphic novels or manga in this project.

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Throne of glass (series), sarah j maas

Meet Celaena Sardothien.

Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, Celaena, an assassin, is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. 

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass—and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world (Maas, 2018).

“Libraries were full of ideas—perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons.”
— Sarah J. Maas
Celaena  Credit:  Charlie Bowater

Celaena

Credit: Charlie Bowater

 
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Tithe: a modern fairy tale, holly black

Sixteen-year-old Kaye finds a white-haired young man of exotic appearance bleeding to death in a rain-drenched New Jersey wood and saves his life. From that moment nothing in her life will ever be the same. Soon she is plunged into an inhuman world of conflict and betrayal, that demands a terrible sacrifice to win the kingdom. Cleverly combining romance with the resonance of myth, Holly Black masterfully evokes the dark heart of her conjured realm where Kaye must fight for her lover and her survival – a place of wonder, to be sure, but also of trickery, decadence, brutality and blood (Black, 2018).

She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.
— Holly Black
 
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Twilight (series), stephenie meyer

Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife-between desire and danger. Deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite (Meyer, 2018).

And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…” he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
”What a stupid lamb,” I sighed.
”What a sick, masochistic lion.
— Stephenie Meyer
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the iron king (Series), julie kagawa

Megan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart (Kagawa, 2018).

You made me feel alive again.
— Julie Kagawa
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the fellowship of the ring (series), j. r. r. tolkien

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkeness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose (The Fellowship of the Ring, 2018).

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Vampire Academy (series), richelle mead

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with an unbreakable bond to the earth’s magic. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making her one of them. Rose and Lissa must navigate through this dangerous world, confront the temptation of forbidden romance, and never once let their guard down, lest the Strigoi make Lissa one of them forever (Mead, 2018).

 
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harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone (series), j.k. rowling

When mysterious letters start arriving on his doorstep, Harry Potter has never heard of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

They are swiftly confiscated by his aunt and uncle.

Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a strange man bursts in with some important news: Harry Potter is a wizard and has been awarded a place to study at Hogwarts.

And so the first of the Harry Potter adventures is set to begin (Rowling, 2018).

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
— J.K. Rowling
 
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Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.
— Laini Taylor

daughter of smoke and bone (series), laini taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. 

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. 

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war. 

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? (Taylor, 2018).

 
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Eragon (Series), christopher paolini

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire (Paolini, 2018).

Books are my friends, my companions. They make me laugh and cry and find meaning in life.
— Christopher Paolini
 
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the golden compass (Series), philip pullman

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal—including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other...

A masterwork of storytelling and suspense, Philip Pullman's award-winning The Golden Compass is the first in the His Dark Materials series, which continues with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (The Golden Compass 2018).

You cannot change what you are, only what you do.
— Philip Pullman
 
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The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe (series), c.s. lewis

They open a door and enter a world . . .

NARNIA...the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy...the place where the adventure begins. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor's mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures in the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund and then Peter and Susan discover the Magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. In the blink of an eye, their lives are changed forever (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 2018).

If ever they remembered their life in this world it was as one remembers a dream.
— C. S. Lewis
 
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the raven boys (series), maggie stiefvater

An unlikely group stumbles across ancient magic in Virginia: Blue, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, who has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. Gansey, who seeks the Welsh magic he believes saved his life. Adam, who searches for a way out of the circumstances he was born into. Ronan, who seeks to recover the magic of his childhood (Stiefvater, 2018).

She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.
— Maggie Stiefvater
Ronan  Credit:  Maria

Ronan

Credit: Maria

 
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shadow and bone (series), leigh bardugo

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Follow Alina Starkov through Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising as she discovers her dormant powers and is swept up in a world of luxury and illusion. As Alina struggles to fit into her new life, a threat to the kingdom of Ravka grows―one that will test old alliances and challenge the very limits of magic, one that will forge a leader from a frightened girl (Bardugo, 2018).

 
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Alan, you seem to think we won’t like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you’re different?
— Tamora Pierce

alanna: the first adventure (series), tamora pierce

“From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.”

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins—one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and make her a legend in the land (Pierce, 2018).

 
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city of bones (series), cassandra clare

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know... (City of Bones, 2018).

Have you fallen in love with the wrong person yet?’
Jace said, “Unfortunately, Lady of the Haven, my one true love remains myself.”
...”At least,” she said, “you don’t have to worry about rejection, Jace Wayland.”
”Not necessarily. I turn myself down occasionally, just to keep it interesting.
— Cassandra Clare
 
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a great and terrible beauty (Series), libba bray

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to? (Bray, 2018).

There are no safe choices. Only other choices.
— Libba Bray
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the Lightning thief (series), rick riordan

Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is on the most dangerous quest of his life. With the help of a satyr and a daughter of Athena, Percy must journey across the United States to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction — Zeus’ master bolt. Along the way, he must face a host of mythological enemies determined to stop him. Most of all, he must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend (Riordan, 2018).

Characters in Percy Jackson series  Credit:  Burdge

Characters in Percy Jackson series

Credit: Burdge

If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself.
— Rick Riordan
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The Lunar Chronicles characters  Credit:  Dollisuu

The Lunar Chronicles characters

Credit: Dollisuu

cinder (series), marissa meyer

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future (Meyer, 2018).

Even in the future the story begins with Once Upon a Time.
— Marissa Meyer
 
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A monster calls, patrick ness

The bestselling novel about love, loss and hope from the twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness. Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking tale of mischief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive (Ness, 2018).

There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.
— Patrick Ness
 
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Assassin’s apprentice (Series), robin hobb

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill–and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom (Hobb, 2018).

Very little worth knowing is taught by fear.
— Robin Hobb
 
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an ember in the ashes (series), sabaa tahir

LAIA IS A SLAVE. ELIAS IS A SOLDIER. NEITHER IS FREE.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself (Tahir, 2018).

There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.
— Sabaa Tahir
 
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Steelheart (series), brandon sanderson

There are no heroes.

Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.

Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible.

It has been ten years. We live our lives as best we can. Nobody fights back . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans who spend their lives studying powerful Epics, finding their weaknesses, then assassinating them.

My name is David Charleston. I’m not one of the Reckoners, but I intend to join them. I have something they need. Something precious, something incredible. Not an object, but an experience. I know his secret.

I’ve seen Steelheart bleed. (Sanderson, 2018).

Never throw the first punch. If you have to throw the second, try to make sure they don’t get up for a third.
— Brandon Sanderson
 
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Ash, malinda lo

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief (Ash, 2018).

Then they took the last step together, and when she kissed her, her mouth as warm as summer, the taste of her sweet and clear, she knew, at last, that she was home.
— Malinda Lo
 
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when the moon was ours, anna-marie mclemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel's wrist, and rumors say she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel's skin, and they're willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up (McLemore, 2018).

The difference between baptism and drowning is a few faithless breaths.
— Anna-Marie McLemore