With so many urban fantasy books or series to choose from, it can be hard to narrow down the best ones. But there are a few series that stand out above the rest for their excitement, quality writing, and interesting plots.
Unarguably, urban fantasy is one of the most celebrated genres in modern literature.
Meaning of Urban Fantasy
Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of contemporary fantasy set in the modern world and takes place in real, alternate-history cities.
It stories follow characters who have varied magical abilities or who can access a greater order of magic than their mundane society.
Urban fantasies may include setting elements from the secondary world, like spell-casting, sorcery, or secret organizations; events from the primary world, such as political conflict or economic depression, urban undertones such as crime or gangs (known as gangsploitation); and references to modern subjects not common in contemporary fantasy, such as drug trafficking, snobbery, pollution or homelessness.
History of Urban Fantasy
As opposed to popular conception, an urban fantasy didn’t begin with the Dresden Files, although it did help contribute to the growth of the genre. Laurell K. Hamilton, Tanya Huff, and Kim Harrison are among the notable female contributors to urban fantasy.
Moonheart, published in 1984 by Charles de Lint, was the first book considered to be urban fantasy, with Terri Windling following closely behind with her Borderlands series in 1986, and the term itself was coined in 1997.
Best Completed Urban Fantasy Series
I’ve compiled a list of ten of the most critically acclaimed, award-winning, and best urban fantasy series available right now. Some are finished, some are in progress, and all are ideal for marathon reading.
Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews
Set in a near but also distant future where technology and magic coexist, Kate Daniels is a smartass sword-wielding mercenary who would just like to get through the week without the world ending—just once, please.
The series was recently completed, with ten books in the main storyline and several novellas and short stories interspersed throughout. More novels are also being written in the same universe.
Kate Daniels’ story is both an international and New York Times best-seller. Magic Bites is the first book in the series, and it is the beginning of a very long marathon read.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris
Also known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the True Blood series, if you’ve walked the fantasy shelves at a library or bookstore you’ve come across a book in this series. It’s a fixture in the urban fantasy genre and was the basis for the critically acclaimed HBO series True Blood.
The series is filled to the brim with vampires, shapeshifters, and faeries (oh my), and is set in a small town in Louisiana. There are 13 books in the series, ending with Dead Ever After published in 2013.
The first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, won an Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001.
Bone Street Rumba Series by Daniel Jose Older
Written by a New York Times best-selling author, Bone Street Rumba is a trilogy with a diverse cast in a noir urban fantasy setting heavy with the undead. The protagonist Carlos Delacruz is an in-betweener, half alive and half dead, and works for New York’s Council of the Dead.
These books are steeped in Latinx culture and undead folklore as Delacruz and his companions fight against ghosts and ghouls to keep the city safe. The first book in the trilogy is Half-Resurrection Blues.
Arcadia Project Series by Mishell Baker
With the first book Borderline being a Nebula award nominee and a Tiptree Award honor book, the Arcadia Project series starts off strong.
The trilogy centers on Millie, who is disabled and has borderline personality disorder. She’s recruited by a secret organization that keeps the line between reality and faerie from being too blurred and war from breaking out between the two.
This is definitely a series I recommend picking up, especially because the author has a borderline personality disorder.
The Jill Kismet Series by Lilith Saintcrow
An Amazon bestseller and written by a New York Times best-selling author, the Jill Kismet series is another one you may have come across in the fantasy aisles.
Starting with Night Shift, the series spans six books and a couple of short stories following Jill Kismet, a demon slayer who is just trying to stay alive and keep the city safe but of course, that will never happen.
This series is set in the same universe as Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series, which has five books, so you have a good weekend ahead of you by reading either or both of these series.
Best Ongoing Urban Fantasy Series
October Daye Series by Seanan Mcguire
This series is BIG in the urban fantasy world. It’s been nominated twice for a Hugo Award, as was Seanan McGuire’s other urban fantasy series InCryptid, and there are so many books in it.
There are currently 14 books published A Killing Frost just came out September 1, 2020, and books 15–17 are planned out and scheduled for 2021, 2022, and 2023.
You can set a calendar for Seanan’s releases. And, as a studying folklorist, the faerie lore in it is pretty accurate, with the necessary creative licenses taken.
You will have a least a week planned if you pick up the series, and what a good week it will be, following changeling PI/knight errant Toby Daye as she wishes she could just have one quiet week where nothing happens. I could write a five-page essay about this series, which I won’t do…here. I highly recommend it.
Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is another big name in urban fantasy. Her Mercy Thompson series starts with Moon Called, and spans 12 books, #12 having just been released. Books #5 (Silver Borne), #6 (River Marked), and #8 (Night Broken) were all nominated for Endeavor awards following their publishing years.
The books contain the holy trinity for urban fantasy faeries, werewolves, and vampires as well as some witches and shifters and other folklore for extra measure.
Mercy Thompson herself is a mechanic, not the usual PI that you find in urban fantasy, but that doesn’t save her from the machinations and politics of fantasy creatures. Patricia Briggs also writes the Alpha and Omega series set in the same universe, starting with Cry Wolf.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Spanning 17 books and also being the basis for a TV show (although only one season), The Dresden Files starts with Storm Front and is a fairly common first introduction to the realm of urban fantasy. Along with some of the others on this list, it’s probably one of the first names that come to mind.
Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire and occasional paranormal consultant helping out Chicago P.D. with their cases, and whoever is willing to pay.
The series is currently on #16, Peace Talks, with #17, Battle Ground, expected September 29, 2020. The 15th novel in the series, Skin Game, was a 2015 Hugo finalist for Best Novel.
Guild Hunter Series by Nalini Singh
The Guild Hunter Series has been on multiple best-selling lists, including The New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly lists.
Starting with Angels’ Blood, the series currently has 12 books, with #13, Archangel’s Sun, expected November 24, 2020.
It follows vampire hunter Elena Deveraux as she gets involved in the business of archangels and tries to keep the world balanced and safe from vampires.
Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee
Think of the show Into the Badlands, where The Godfather meets kung fu. Except that instead of dealing opium in a post-apocalyptic world, magical jade is the preferred underground good.
Beginning with Jade City, winner of the World Fantasy Award in 2018, the Green Bone Saga follows the Kaul family on the island of Kekon as they try to maintain control against rival clans and keep outside forces at bay. There are two books in the series so far, with a third set to be released in 2021.
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