The PlayStation 5 and PC game Forspoken is a portal fantasy in the grand tradition. Frey Holland is a young woman from New York City who is suddenly transported to a fantasy world. There, she discovers incredible powers that she must use in order to get home — and probably save that world along the way, if the genre tropes hold true. The game promises fluid movement and combat, dazzling magical abilities, and a classic fish-out-of-water narrative.
There’s something quite meta about a portal fantasy video game. After all, each player is sitting on their couch in modern times. Through clever technology and dedicated game developers, players are briefly professional athletes, sword-swinging warriors, spellcasting wizards, or cyberpunk ne’er-do-wells. Essentially, every video game is a portal fantasy, but Forspoken promises the traditional definition.
Portal or crossworld fantasy has a long tradition in books. Classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court all featured an everyday person in modern times finding themselves whisked away to a magical realm that they had only previously thought existed in books. This sub-genre has continued to effects dramatic, comedic, and everything in between.
Here are a dozen portal fantasy books like Forspoken.
Portal Fantasy Books Like Forspoken
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Sunny was born in America, now living in Nigeria, and trying to live a normal life despite the strange-to-her country and her albinism. But she soon discovers that normal just isn’t in the cards for her. She’s a “free agent” with incredible magical powers, and she’s not the only one. But there’s a magical serial killer on the loose, and only Sunny and her friends can stop them.
Birthright by Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan
Young Mikey Rhodes went missing only days before his birthday. His family fell apart in the aftermath. One year later, Mikey returned, but he was no longer a young boy. He was a man grown, musclebound and covered in scars. He’d become a warrior in a magical land called Terrenos. Now Mikey is filled with mysterious purpose, and can he be trusted?
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
Alice started having the nightmares when she was young. They nearly killed her, but she’s been training as a warrior in them for years now. By day, she’s a young woman living in Atlanta. In her dreams, she’s the warrior savior of Wonderland. But a new threat may end both lives. This retelling of Alice in Wonderland is far more diverse and violent than the original classic.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
Genie Lo is a winner. She’s in high school, winning at volleyball and classes and working toward Harvard. But this is one of the portal fantasy books like Forspoken, so she doesn’t stay there. A demonic being straight out of Chinese folklore lays siege to her hometown, and now Genie needs to win at killing hellspawn. How can she balance the magic that her new friend, Quentin, is teaching her with her former life?
Finna by Nino Cipri
This portal fantasy is more on the comedic side, for sure. The furniture industry is tough. When an elderly customer wandering the aisles slips into an alternate dimension, it’s up to a pair of minimum-wage employees to save her. You gotta save the old lady, right? Oh, and because the furniture store’s bottom line depends on it.
The Ghost Bride by Yangzse Choo
Li Lan’s father was respectable until he lost his fortune. Now the entire family is desperate for a favorable marriage, and so she’s made into a ghost bride, marrying a recently dead young man of means. The practice is meant to appease restless spirits and set up Li, but she’s soon sent to the Chinese afterlife each night, finding secrets and truths she’d never wanted to know.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This atheistic retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost involves a lot of different worlds, some magical and some not. Lyra lives at Oxford, exploring the grounds and the city at her whim. Soon, though, she’s pulled into a grand adventure of political turmoil, powerful magic, and multiple worlds colliding and collapsing.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Want something more dramatic? Not all portal fantasies draw their protagonists into worlds of magic. In this case, Dana is a Black woman living in modern-day California who suddenly finds herself in the antebellum south. She arrives just in time to save the life of a young slaveholder. Again and again, she’s pulled back, tied to this terrible young man and experiencing the horrors that her ancestors experienced.
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
Some portal fantasy books like Forspoken, including this one, blend science fiction into its fantasy for a unique narrative. On the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint, Carnival is a time of revelry, even if masked Midnight Robbers are known to cut purses. Young Tan-Tan likes to dress up as the mythical Robber Queen for fun, but soon Tan-Tan and father find themselves in the world in which the Robber Queen is very real and very powerful.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater is a pretty normal guy. He’s smart, sure. He’s also miserable. He’s a bit obsessed with a children’s fantasy series and totally rudderless in life. At least, until he’s accepted into a mysterious magical college. Not only does he start to come into his own and make friends, but soon finds that the stories in his books aren’t so fictional.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
There’s basically an entire sub-sub-genre of portal fantasy dealing with alternative Londons. This is one of the best. Richard is a young and boring businessman. One day, a random act of kindness sweeps him into the underside of London, a place filled with monsters and magic and power dynamics that Richard never dreamed of. And he wants none of it.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Zachary is a grad student in Vermont just studying for his next exam when he finds a strange book in the stacks. It’s filled with fantastical stories, and then he finds a story in there of his own childhood. The clues pull him like gravity until he finds himself in a magical underground world and the people who have given nearly everything to protect it. Which will Zachary be? Like in many books like Forspoken, will Zachary be this world’s destruction or protector?
If you could step through a door, a wardrobe, or a mythical archway into another world, what would it be? Sorcerers and knights? Talking cats? Utopian future? They’re all out there in fantasy books like Forspoken.