Magic, mystics, and mayhem, oh my! In YA fantasy worlds, the impossible is made possible as teens traverse snowy peaks, explore murky waters, and trek through endless deserts. The feel of the world wraps you up like a soft blanket on a fall day. So, why not create a world and get your next YA fantasy recommendation?
Building Fantasy Worlds
Building a fantasy world is objectively difficult in YA and Adult novels. With worldbuilding, authors can construct new rules of reality. Everything from plants and animals to magic systems, legal boundaries, religions, and family dynamics create culture. From high fantasy to low fantasy, worldbuilding elements play a vital role in storytelling as they shape the characters and create physical barriers for them to overcome.
Admittedly, fantasy has had a problem with fostering queer, racially diverse, or gender-diverse authors and stories. As a result, readers have long been plagued by white, European-medievalist takes on fantasy worlds. I like The Lais of Marie De France as much as the next girl, but not every fantasy world needs to have fairies, witches, wizards, and fun shape-shifting hawk-knights (like in Yonec).
Globally, myth, folklore, and legend have always explored human life in magical and entertaining ways. The birth of humanity, the creation of the world, and the experience of the afterlife often appear in oral traditions around the world. Recent fantasy worlds in YA have been inspired by Japanese Yōkai, Persian mythological gods, and West African Yoruba mythology. More authors are playing with global mythology and getting published in no small part due to campaigns like We Need Diverse Books that work to improve diversity in publishing so readers can see themselves represented on shelves. Authors are building worlds in YA fantasy based on wider arrays of myth and it is wonderful.
A Fantasy World For a YA Fantasy Recommendation
Now, worldbuilding is a difficult, arduous process that the following quiz will not fully address. Instead, you get to create a simpler fantasy world and get your next new YA recommendation. I have included YA fantasy books from high fantasy to low fantasy with differing magic systems. I hope your dreams come true.
Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
Twin sisters and their bonded beasts must tame damned souls with the help of an imperial guard and a roughish thief. But this year the souls will not be silenced and they must warn the Emperor. The wasteland should be empty, but the monsters of legend have awoken. Now, if they want to get to the emperor in time, they must cross the devastating wasteland in one piece.
Master of One by Jaida Jones and Dani Bennett
The city’s best thief is offered a choice when guards arrest him. Break into a fae dungeon and collect ancient treasure or die. Agreeing to their request, he finds both the fae treasure, and the people who master them. Can a thief, a fae prince, a human prince, a rebel, an ex-guard, and a disgraced noble outsmart a government bent on controlling the fae magic for themselves?
In Deep Waters by F.T. Lukens
A coming-of-age tour goes horribly awry when a prince with forbidden magic is kidnapped by pirates and held ransom. The only one who can save him is a mysterious young man who the prince saved just days before. Now, they will have to work together if they want to save each other and the kingdom.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The African elemental legends, Maji, have been hunted by the crown ever since magic vanished. Zélie remembers when Maji freely practiced magic to help their communities, but she must rebel against the ruling power if she ever wants to see her people free again. Burners will manipulate flame, Tiders will control the water, and Repers will call on souls once more if she can keep hold of her convictions and her heart.
Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
When Rue’s mother is shot on her doorstep, her magical lineage is revealed, changing her life forever. She would rather stay with her younger sister, but instead, her mysterious father whisks her away to learn how to use the magical powers of a half-god on a secret island. Escaping and returning to Houston, she stumbles across a great evil that only she can stop. If stopping it is even an option.
Talon by Julie Kagawa
Dragon and dragon hunter will meet on the sunny shores of California, upending the ancient wisdom of both dragon-kind and the order created to hunt them. Ember finally has her chance at a normal teen life when she is given a chance to live amongst humans. She never counted on a dragon hunter finding her, but then again, he never thought he would find a dragon that would rattle his convictions.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
When Bree eagerly leaves her mother’s death behind and takes on college classes for high-school students, she never expects to encounter demons. Now, she has stumbled upon a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights and magic users who protect the world from demons. She has magic and knows they were involved in her mother’s death, she just has to infiltrate them to figure out the truth.
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
Welcome to a Jamaican-inspired fantasy world filled with matriarchy, magic, and betrayal. Iraya is from a magic dynasty, but she has spent her life imprisoned after her island nation was overthrown. Jazmyne is the queen’s daughter and someone who does not want to die to embolden her mother’s power. Although the two are enemies, they will have to come together to overthrow the queen if they want to be free once and for all.