A woman with a black moon on her forehead and a headdress made of candles poses against a crumbling concrete structure.

The 10 Best Urban Fantasy Novels For Those Magical Big City Vibes

Sometimes, you need a good fantasy read—but a Lord of the Rings-style epic quest just isn’t what you’re looking for. Thank goodness for urban fantasy!

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What exactly is urban fantasy? The strictest definition is a fantasy story that’s set in a modern-day metropolis. Instead of wizards and rangers chilling in Ye Olde Pub, you get magicians in trench coats drinking in a sports bar. Instead of a noble steed, the hero’s ride might be a muscle car. Instead of castles and dungeons, you get skyscrapers and sewers.

However, there’s a looser definition of urban fantasy: any fantasy story told in a real-life populated area, whether it’s the gritty back alleys of New York or the McMansions of Southern California. The heart and soul of urban fantasy is its characters: real people like you and me, who are thrust into extraordinary situations. Maybe fairies or gods are involved. You never know.

However you define urban fantasy, here are the 10 best urban fantasy novels to get you started on your journey!

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Cover of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Tor Books

In All the Birds in the Sky, Patricia and Laurence fall in love in San Francisco. The problem? Patricia is a rising star in a society of witches, while Laurence is a promising young engineer. As a war between magic and technology begins to rage, Patricia and Laurence are forced to choose between their love for each other and their allegiance to their people.

The Alex Stern series by Leigh Bardugo

Cover of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House and its sequel, Hell Bent, tell the story of first-year Yale student Alex Stern. After she survives a horrific multiple homicide, Alex is offered a second chance, only to find herself in the dangerous world of Yale’s secret occult societies.

Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint

Cover of Jack of Kinrowan by Charles De Lint
Tom Doherty Associates

Set against the backdrop of the 1980s Ottowa music scene, Jack the Giant Killer and its sequel, Drink Down the Moon, tell the story of young and reckless Jacky Rowan. When Jacky stumbles upon a gang of bikers attacking a small man, she stumbles upon the hidden world of Faerie, filled with monsters, magic, and the fabled Wild Hunt.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

cover of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing tops Neil Gaiman’s classic novel Neverwhere. While hurrying through the streets of London, Richard Mayhew finds a young girl lying injured on the ground. After he rescues her, he’s sucked into the world of “London Below”: a secret city populated by all the people who have disappeared from the surface world.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Cover of American Gods by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

Gaiman is the king of urban fantasy, so he gets two spots on this list. In American Gods, the gods of the old world, who traveled to North America along with their immigrant devotees, are preparing for battle against the new gods of commercialism and capitalism. One man, Shadow Moon, gets caught up in the conflict, with life-changing consequences.

The Unseen World series by Kat Howard

Cover of An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard.
Saga Press

If you’re looking for a series that’s half Game of Thrones, half Succession, then check out An Unkindness of Magicians and its sequel, A Sleight of Shadows. The Turning has come, when all the great magical houses of New York City vie for control of the city’s secret world. However, magic in New York is dying, and only one magician, Sydney, has the power to either stop it—or bring the whole system down.

The Great Cities Duology by N. K. Jemisin

Book cover for The City We Became By N.K. Jemisin
Amulet Books

With cities making up pretty much all the main characters, this duology is about as urban as urban fantasy can get! In The City We Became and its sequel, The World We Make, the city of New York comes alive and chooses five avatars to embody it. Those avatars have barely come to terms with their new immortality, though, when they realize that the city is under attack by an extra-dimensional threat that wants to annihilate it. This duology is half adventure story, half love letter to the great cities of the world—and all fun.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover of The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Can you even have a fantasy book list without Ursula K. Le Guin on it? In The Lathe of Heaven, mild-mannered George Orr discovers that his dreams can altar reality. Terrified of the unpredictable nature of his ability, George seeks treatment from a renowned psychotherapist—who, it turns out, seeks to use George’s power for himself. The technological aspects of this novel make it as much science fiction as it is fantasy, but the magical element is undeniable.

The Nsibidi Scripts series by Nnedi Okorafor

Cover of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.

In Akata Witch, young Sunny Nwazue moves from New York City to Aba, Nigeria. There, thanks to her albinism, she’s an outcast, ostracized by her classmates. However, Sunny soon discovers that she’s a “free agent,” or someone imbued with magical powers. Thus begins an odyssey that starts with Akata Witch, and continues in Akata Warrior and Akata Woman.

The Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Saga Press

Does apocalyptic fiction still count as urban fantasy? Oh, who cares—Trail of Lightning and its sequel Storm of Locusts are great, and they’ll scratch that gritty urban fantasy itch. After climate change destroys much of civilization, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) rises again. Maggie Hoskie is a Diné monster hunter who’s tasked with finding a missing girl—and matching wits with a whole host of living myths and legends.

(featured image: Lucas Andrade via Pexels.com)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>