This list was curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled and books that have great Goodreads reviews.
We’re always here for some good sci-fi and fantasy novels. Let’s face it: Sometimes it takes reading about robots to really connect with our humanity, and it takes journeying with an unforgettable crew of magical characters to really feel like we’ve escaped our realities.
Curious to see what our favorite releases of the year are? Here’s a list of our top SFF reads (a mix of adult and young adult) published in 2021 — all with 4+ stars on Goodreads. All unputdownable.
Pack a bag and gather your fellowship — away we go!
Calling all Norse mythology fans! This tale follows Angrboda, who survives a fiery punishment from Odin and flees into the forest, where she’s found by Loki. They fall in love and have three unusual kiddos that Angrboda tries to raise far from Odin’s reach — but of course it’s not that simple. She gains help from the huntress Skadi to forge an unforeseen future.
One reviewer says, “What Madeline Miller did for Circe, Genevieve Gornichec does for the Norse giantess witch, Angrboda.” Impressive indeed.
Inspired by the history and epics of India, this book kicks off a new LGBTQ+ fantasy trilogy. It has a large cast of characters but mainly follows unlikely allies — a captive princess and a maidservant — who possess forbidden magic and set out on a journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.
Many reviewers agree, this feminist, political fantasy has really interesting world-building. Something we’re always here for.
Six Crimson Cranes is hot out of the gate with a nearly 4.5-star rating from hundreds of glowing early reviews.
If you love fairy tales with forbidden magic, the whole arranged marriage trope, family and siblings who have unbreakable bonds, dragons, curses, quests, and talking paper cranes (it’s a retelling of The Wild Swans), then you need this young adult fantasy novel in your life.
This YA series is described as “Game of Thrones” meets “The Princess Bride” with a feminist twist. (It had us at “Princess Bride”). It’s full of adventure, first love, twists and turns, a kick-ass heroine, pirates, and swordplay (obviously). And yes, this is a kissing book.
We’re not going to give away any spoilers for this one seeing as it’s the sequel to The Princess Will Save You, but now that it’s out, you can binge-read them both.
We originally took note of this one because fantasy legends such as Robin Hobb wrote stellar early reviews, but all it took was the first chapter to fall under its spell.
This one’s for fans of true epic fantasy. If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss, then definitely give it a try. It follows Kinch, a witty thief who’s in debt to the Takers Guild (those who trained him as a thief), and he might be one of our favorite narrators ever.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a “teenage-vampire” book. In the vein of (heh, see what we did there) Patrick Rothfuss and Anne Rice, this epic tale is told during one long night, but flashes back over the lifetime of captive silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of the Silver Order.
The 730-page tome is filled with gritty, dark, bloody scenes, more than a little language, heroic fights, extraordinary world-building, and also threads of romance. Like a cold-blood on the hunt, we couldn’t stop reading late into the night. Plus, it contains stunning artwork throughout!
This queer reimagining of the rise of the Ming dynasty is being described as “Mulan” meets The Song of Achilles. An epic tale that sweeps across an alternate 1345 China, Zhu escapes her former life and becomes a rebel who expels the Mongol conquerors and founds a new dynasty.
The author has described it as “a book version of one of those sweeping, addictive Asian historical TV dramas!”
We can’t wait to continue this second installment of The Scholomance series after the first book, A Deadly Education, left us in dire need of more from El and Orion. They face their final year at the school that literally shakes them off their feet — a dark school of magic with a mind of its own.
Without giving anything away, we’ll just say this series (enjoyed by both teens and adults) is full of terrors, sarcasm, and a fascinating magic system.
Last fall we raved about Alice Hoffman’s release of Magic Lessons, and this time we’re mixing the midnight margaritas once again as we step into one of our fave stories — that of the Owens family.
This is the conclusion to the magical series that was popularized with the 90s film “Practical Magic,” and while we’re a little sad this is the end, Hoffman’s writing is so bewitching that we just might start at the beginning and read them all again next autumn.
Though we previewed this book on a hot summer day long before it was released, we think it would be a perfect YA fantasy to devour on a misty autumn evening.
Artemisia wants to train to become a nun, but instead must train to become a vespertine priestess to wield a power that could save her entire convent from a malicious spirit.
This haunting world will draw you in with its dark magic, ancient evil, and a brave young woman who fights the darkness.
We’ve been highly anticipating this epic sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter since last fall. The strange tale continues in Emperor, and reuniting with these characters when we read an early copy caused some true #BookNerd excitement.
There’s some seriously unique magic in this action-packed tale and a political revolution in the balance. It’s a roller coaster of emotions.
Light a candle on a rainy evening and pull up a blanket for this haunting gothic fairy tale — an Ethiopian-inspired retelling of Jane Eyre. This romantic yet super eerie tale stars a Black heroine, Andromeda. She’s a debtera (an exorcist) hired to clear the bad energy in the great estate that belongs to Magnus Rochester — but she soon realizes this is not going to be an easy job.
Great if you’re in the mood for horror and romance.
Ren is half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami, and collecting souls in London is what she’s done for centuries. She’s concealed her emotions for a long time, despite her fellow reapers who despise and torment her. She heads to the Japanese underworld hoping for more acceptance, but she must find and eliminate three Yokai demons to prove her worth.
This YA book is full of morally gray characters, Japanese mythology, and lots of monsters.
In this version of Camelot, Prince Arthur is a botanist living with depression and is more interested in books than princesses. Meanwhile, Lancelot has been demoted to castle guard, and Merlin is a girl — disguised as her twin brother because “girls can’t practice magic.”
This is the witty, historical YA rom-com that we’ve been waiting for all our lives.
Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers has written the first book in a strangely comforting new solarpunk series about a monk and a robot. It takes place in the future on a moon called Panga, centuries after the last of the robots gained self-awareness, put down their tools, and all wandered into the wilderness. But one day, a nature-loving robot shows up in the life of a traveling tea monk. It’s a fascinating, philosophical read full of hope and many cups of tea.
We were instantly charmed by this one, and can’t stop recommending it to our friends. And at under 150 pages, it’s a quick read that might help get you out of a “reading slump” in no time.
You don’t have to read the books to be a fan of “Star Wars,” but we will say, if you’re a fan of the movies and haven’t read any of the books yet, you’re missing out. The recent wave of new Star Wars: The High Republic books takes place in the “golden era” of the Jedi — 200 years before the Skywalker story begins. And while there are plenty of new Jedi to meet, there are also a few familiar faces.
The latest adult installment is The Rising Storm, and the latest young adult book is Out of the Shadows. We highly recommend reading Light of the Jedi and Into the Dark first.
From the author of The Martian comes a sci-fi mystery full of discovery, survival, and an unforgettable interstellar journey. It follows Ryland Grace, the only survivor of a mission that he intends to finish — only problem is he’s sort of lost his memory after being asleep for a super long time. It takes him a while to remember why he’s there and the gravity of what rests on his shoulders… but he may just have an unexpected ally.
Multiple people on our team are currently reading and loving this one.
This queer fantasy/sci-fi mashup is both heartbreaking and hopeful. It explores themes of found family, self-discovery, and seeking hope amid pain and loss… even if it takes crossing a universe to find it. It follows three women in California’s San Gabriel Valley: a musician who made a deal with a demon, a runaway trans violinist, and a retired starship captain who opened a donut shop.
And we are now really craving fresh donuts.
If you haven’t read the first two installments in this series yet, you’re in luck because now you don’t have to endure the agonizing wait for the conclusion of this beloved YA series to binge it all as one.
It features a cast of characters that make for an incredible found family and one of our favorite interstellar crews of all time.
Listening to audiobooks more your jam? Check out this latest installment of Star Wars: The High Republic series, exclusively in audiobook format. The cast does a great job with the voices of these characters — not all of which are human, of course — transporting listeners right into a galaxy far, far away.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.