Fantasy animal companions are adorably perfect. I would argue every good fantasy needs fantasy animal companions or guides to lead them through peril. Steadfast companions in search of fame, justice, or adventure are not easy to come by, but we cherish them and love their stories through time.
Some dynamic duos immediately come to mind. Iconic pairings like Ash Ketchum and Pikachu, Aang and Appa, or Shrek and Donkey model unmatched levels of friendship and loyalty. Let’s be honest, comics and animation are wonderful mediums for magical companions of all kinds without the limitations of practical effects or CGI. Although these modern pairings are prolific, the concept of characters having a fantasy animal companion is not new.
Humans have always been fascinated by fantastical beasts and partnerships built on non-verbal communication. Let’s look back to western Medieval literature. You may remember Marie de France’s Bisclavret and the King of Brittany or Chrétien De Troyes’ Yvain and the Lion. Both the werewolf and the lion used non-threatening body language and guidance to communicate important information to their human companions. Great and terrible beasts who will lead you through any crisis are necessary in a world where the monsters that hunt us at night have their own life-threatening tricks. Animal companions balance the scales. Having a king with a werewolf companion is legendary for a reason.
In my opinion, the dynamic between the main characters and their fantasy animal companions has to be rooted in mutual respect. Much like cats, magical animals are amazing and if they choose you, you know you are someone special. These duos care for and trust each other in equal measure. Consent and autonomy are necessary if the partnership is going to work in relationships using verbal and non-verbal communication. If you expect to accomplish impossible feats, you have to trust one another. Now, I am happy to present a guide to some of my favorite animal companions in fantasy.
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
Content Warnings: Imprisonment, Parental Abuse, Death
In a world where damned human souls become kehok monsters in their next life, riding them untrained is a death sentence. Tamara is penniless after a scandal ruins her reputation as a professional trainer for riders. When your job has been relegated to training rich kids how to become kehok riders, there is not much hope for winning the races. That is, until she runs into a talented girl looking for a trainer. Raia is fleeing a cruel fiancé and is determined to ride a monster to buy her freedom. Their far-fetched plan to win the races might just work too with a kehok who seems far too human.
Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M Martineau
Content Warnings: Death, Torture, Enslavement
Leena Edenfrell has a bestiary and she is not afraid to use it. She loves her beasts, but ever since her exile, she has been forced to sell them on the black market – a crime punishable by death for any beast charmer. When death finally catches up to her, she strikes up a deal with her assassin – magical beasts in exchange for her life. Noc still has to complete his contract and terminate Leena, but will he be able to follow through as she grows closer to his heart?
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Content Warnings: Child Death, Death of Loved One, Drowning, Parental Abuse
The emperor’s reign is coming to a close, his grip on bone shard magic is slipping, and revolution is sweeping across the horizon. Lin is the heir to the throne the emperor refuses to recognize, but she understands using bone shard magic to create animal-like constructs maintains law and order. So, she begins to learn a forbidden art to claim her inheritance and save her emperor. Meanwhile, Jovis sails the endless sea looking for his forgotten wife, and finds an animal companion instead. When Jovis and his animal companion begin saving children from the Tithing Festival, they accidentally become legends in a kingdom looking for hope. In this interconnected story, can anyone truly balance the empire without sacrifice?
The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune
Content Warnings: Death, Imprisonment
A chaotic, queer fantasy epic for the ages. Sam Haversford was plucked from the slums and given a place in the kingdom as the Wizard’s apprentice when he turned miscreants into stone. One day he will serve as the king’s Wizard, but for now, he is still learning the ropes from his mentor with the help of Tiggy the half-giant and Gus the (hornless) unicorn. When a dragon captures the prince, it is up to Sam and his friends to save him. One problem – Sam’s longtime crush, Prince’s fiancé, the knight commander, is tagging along. It’s going to be fine. Mostly.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Content Warnings: Racism, Death, Imprisonment, Torture
An artist and their dragon take on an unfeeling government in a fantastical journey inspired by Korea under Japanese occupation. Gyen Jebi is thankful to finally catch a break after unemployment. They have a chance for a job with the government occupying their country but it’s something. While painting mystical sigils on automations, they notice the source of the sigil’s power is abhorrent. Gyen must steal the ministry’s dragon automation to right the wrongs of an occupying force.
Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
Content Warnings: Animal Death, Death, Kidnapping, Mental Illness, Sexism
As a specialist in non-urban cryptids, Alexander Price puts the zoo in a cryptozoologist. He has trained with his family to fight just about anything but he prefers researching gorgons, basilisks, and other mythological creatures. Alex thought researching at a zoo would be easy or at least non-life-threatening, especially with Crow, his church griffin, at his side. But when murders start occurring, Alex will have to take a page from the Price family handbook and neutralize the killer before someone realizes that the killer isn’t exactly human.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
Content Warnings: Death of Loved One, Alcohol Consumption, Death, Physical Abuse
Traverse Japanese mythology in an Odyssey-esque adventure with a kitsune and her assassin. Yumeko is a kind troublemaker who has a way with fantastical Oni but has never left the monastery. That is until she must protect an ancient scroll. Tatsumi is a deadly warrior who is tasked with killing the world’s monsters and his latest assignment is to retrieve a scroll. When their fates collide, Yumeko and Tatsumi must maintain the balance between their humanity and their otherworldly selves. Kagawa delivers fantasy, adventure, and romance in a page-turning novel.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Content Warnings: Death of Loved One, Child Abduction, Death, Gun Violence
America has been irrevocably changed by the monsters, legends, and magic that seep into everyday life. Elatsoe is just your normal everyday ace teen from a Lipan Apache family who can raise animal spirits. When her cousin dies, the town is unwilling to investigate the accidental death. Luckily, Elatose is on the case. She will have to gather her friends, animal companions, and courage to solve a mystery the town wants to be forgotten.
Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson
Content Warning: Death
Legendary trader, shipowner, and wheelchair user Rysn Ftori is known for her ability to make a fair deal, but can she sail to the heart of an ancient island that has killed other adventurers? If she wants to cure her animal companion Chiri-Chiri, a supposedly extinct winged larkin, she has to try. Taking up Navani Kholin’s contract to discover the secrets of the island, Rysn will travel through perilous waters with the help of the Windrunner Lopen and her untrustworthy crew. This Stormlight Archive novella is a part of a larger fantasy series, but Chiri-Chiri and Rysn are too iconic to exclude.
So, while this list of fantasy animal companions is only a small field guide, I hope it will introduce you to some new and exciting dynamic duos. Magical animal companions can make or break a good story with fun hijinks, amazing reactions, and last-minute assists in battle. Sometimes the power of friendship does save the day.