Light fantasy novels are the perfect form of escapism. Sometimes you need a break from Planet Earth, but worlds that are grim and gritty aren’t exactly appealing either. There’s no official consensus on what qualifies as a light fantasy. Now, I love a rigorous definition as much as the next word nerd. The best approach I found to define light fantasy was to outline a constellation of features that bring lightness to the genre. Those features are humor, low stakes, whimsy, and happy endings. Any fantasy novel likely gets you at least one of these. So let’s say a book needs to check at least two boxes to reach the diagnostic threshold.
It’s useful to draw a distinction between light fantasy and low fantasy. The latter involves stories in which magic intrudes on a world that is otherwise recognizably ours. High fantasies are set in entirely magical worlds and realms. By that token, a light fantasy book could be either high or low.
The Old Guard of Light Fantasy
Two authors stand out among those who write light fantasy novels. Terry Pratchett was the beloved and prolific author of the Discworld series. If you’re looking to dive in, you should read up on the different inroads to Discworld. Likewise, Dianna Wynne Jones is well known for her brand of whimsical fantasies, perhaps most notably Howl’s Moving Castle, adapted into an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki. She, too, was quite prolific and has more than one entry point for new readers.
Both of those authors are no longer with us. So we look to newer works to find authors who have taken up the mantle of light fantasy. Our journey through this light-hearted genre takes us across all around the bookish realm, from middle grade and young adult books, from romance to graphic novels. A delightful journey indeed. There may be low stakes, but here there be dragons!
23 Fun and Delightful Light Fantasy Novels
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott
I promised dragons, didn’t I? Dragons in a Bag, a middle grade novel, is an ideal feel-good fantasy romp. In this heartwarming story, Brooklynite Jaxon meets a cantankerous witch who enlists his help to deliver baby dragons safely to a magical realm.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
If you go even further back in history to the Tudor Era, but add shapeshifting magic, you’d arrive at My Lady Jane. If whimsy is an element of light fantasy novels, this one rates very highly. It’s a Monty Python–esque version of the story of Lady Jane Grey.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
More whimsy ahoy! Maybe you’ve tried to nurture a sourdough starter during the pandemic. If so, it couldn’t have gone much stranger than it did for Sourdough’s Lois, whose starter has a life of its own. This book is an absolutely delightful cautionary tale that has a nuanced take on tradition versus technology.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Food and fantasy often go together. Additionally, many light fantasy novels are off-kilter retellings of well-known fairy tales. Combine those and you get Gingerbread, which takes a retelling to the most oblique angle. It’s an inventive family legacy story inflected by magical realism and a little Hansel and Gretel flavor.
The Hike by Drew Magary
If you’re drawn to the absurd, look no further than The Hike, the story of a normal hike gone very strange and epic. It’s unpredictably weird and viciously funny. You would guess that if you’re an appreciator of Drew Magary’s hilarious annual Hater’s Guide to the Williams Sonoma Catalog.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is a kid-friendly gem of weirdness and humor in light fantasy. Mysterious chickens with superpowers. What else do you need to know? This is a heartwarming story with laugh-out-loud lines you’ll want to read to whomever’s sitting next to you.
The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken
For a funny fantasy that skews more adult, G.A. Aiken, along with her other pen name Shelly Laurenston, is reliable for fantasy romances that are funny and violent both. In this story, a queen’s prophesied ascent threatens the king’s sons, and some kilt-wearing mountain warriors come to her aid.
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
Romantic elements are always a great way to lighten a fantasy world. Wicked Fox uses tropes straight out of K-dramas for extra style and flourish. When you are a nine-tailed fox who devours men’s energy to survive, is contemporary Seoul the best place to remain undiscovered?
The Lightning-Struck Heart by T.J. Klune
More romance, you say? The Lightning-Struck Heart a slow burn, but you probably won’t mind. The adventures of wizard’s apprentice Sam, Gary the hornless gay unicorn, a half-giant named Tiggy, and dreamboat Sir Ryan Foxheart will have you caught up in utter ridiculousness.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
Love is an epic fantasy all on its own, isn’t it? Even still, when Genie Lo has to hone her powers to protect the Bay Area from hellspawn from Chinese folklore, she’s going to need all the help she can get from the mythological Monkey King incarnate.
Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
Tying folklore to the contemporary world is another great way to inject lightness in the fantasy genre. Muse Squad does this in a heartfelt and heroic manner. When a Cuban American girl discovers she’s one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology, she learns to use her magic to inspire and empower others.
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Learning to wield newfound powers is also a running theme in light fantasy novels. Heroine Complex tells that story in a world with superheroes. When Evie Tanaka discovers it’s not only her childhood best friend who has superpowers, can she save the day against the threat of demons? Can she and also find love in the process?
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
The above book highlights the growth of the friendship between two women, which is also a theme in Race the Sands. Tamra and Raia team up to win a competition racing fearsome monsters called kehoks, lest they doom themselves to the undesirable fate of becoming monsters themselves.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
If fewer fearsome monsters are desired in your light fantasy, there could hardly be fantasy lighter than The Tea Dragon Society. This graphic novel about adorable dragons who sprout tea from their horns is soothing, gentle, and all about friendship and memory.
Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Does your mind palace goe to freakier places than adorable dragons? Reverie might be the book for you. When Kane gets dragged into strange worlds that materialize out of nowhere, he realizes he has to figure out what is the force behind these altered realities. It’s a wildly imaginative queer YA fantasy.
Moonstruck, Volume 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Caitlin Quirk, and Clayton Cowles
If you want more queer YA fantasy, how about a graphic novel fantasy that is so light it’s literally awash in pastel tones? Sure, there is an evil magician who casts a spell that needs to be undone, but it’s also a graphic novel of lesbian werewolves hanging out in a coffee shop.
A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
For more light fantasy featuring food service, A Dash of Trouble is a charming middle grade novel in which Leonora Logroño learns the women in her family running their bakery are also brujas. The magic runs in Leonora, too, and she has to find out how to use her powers for good instead of chaos.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Magic often creates chaos, but some fantasy novels are more orderly. One of the reasons The Martian was such a hit was the way it took a story with dire stakes and broke it down into a series of problems to solve. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City has a similar vibe, giving engineer Orhan’s account of saving an alt-Byzantium from a siege.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
Alt-histories bring a lot of fun to the fantasy genre. Dactyl Hill Squad, a middle grade fantasy, asks, “what if the American Civil War, but also dinosaurs?” In this story, Magdalys and her friends have to take down a kidnapper, but they have to learn to fly on dactylback first.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Another way to lighten fantasy is to make fun of its own tropes. Nimona is a graphic novel epic fantasy that puts humor on an equal playing field with the bloody battles. This tale of Nimona seeking to be the apprentice to villainous Lord Ballister Blackheart will have you questioning who’s a hero and who’s a monster.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
YA fantasy is a genre full of high stakes stories set in broken worlds, but some float up with more lightness and wit. Sorcery of Thorns, in which Elizabeth tends a library of magical grimoires that can turn into real monsters, is vibrant, funny, action-packed, and romantic.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Okay, this book is neither recently published nor from a living author, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include The Princess Bride. If you’re only familiar with the beloved movie, William Goldman wrote that screenplay, so you’re sure to love the book just as much.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Check out our list of feel-good fantasy books for even more recommendations. And if you are looking for a recommendation that is personalized to your exact tastes and specifications, check out TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations!