Have you ever felt tired of reading the same-old, Tolkienesque fantasy books with European mythology and white characters? If so, today I’m here to end your boredom. There are countless options of epic and urban fantasy that draw on mythology and cultures from around the world, and that center protagonists of color. Here are 18 non-European fantasy books you won’t want to miss.
These fantasy books draw from South Asian culture, history, and mythology.
1. The Star-Touched Queen
An arranged marriage places Maya as queen of Akaran, but she soon finds herself in a web of mystery with the fate of human and otherworldly realms hanging the balance.
2. Empire of Sand
In a setting inspired by Mughal India, Mehr is an illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor who has inherited her mother’s magic. And in an empire where magic is both coveted and persecuted, the discovery of her power makes her a target.
3. The Simoqin Prophecies
An instant bestseller in India and a modern cult classic, this epic fantasy is both an ode to the classic genre, and a subtle spoof of it. References to Hindu mythology abound in an adventurous tale filled with humor and wit.
These fantasy books draw from Middle Eastern culture, history, and mythology.
4. The City of Brass
When Nahri, a con woman of 18th century Cairo, accidentally summons a mysterious djinn warrior, she finds herself caught up in an adventure of magic, mythology, and dangerous politics.
5. Throne of the Crescent Moon
This epic adventure follows three characters: A world-weary ghul hunter, a holy warrior, and a shape-shifting girl. Together they must learn the truth about a series of murders, but this leads them to an even greater problem: a plot to overthrow a throne that will throw the whole world into ruin.
6. We Hunt the Flame
Set in a world inspired by ancient Arabia, this story follows a girl who disguises herself as a man while on a quest to save her world, and the assassin sent to stop her.
These fantasy books draw from East Asian culture, history, and mythology.
7. The Poppy War
In this dark fantasy inspired by Chinese history, Rin enters an elite military school only to discover she has a magical power that may be the key to saving her people.
8. Girls of Paper and Fire
When Lei is taken from her country home to serve as one of the king’s consorts, she is supposed to see her selection as an honor. Instead, through a forbidden romance with one of the other consorts, she becomes involved in a plot of justice and revenge.
EDIT: The author recently tweeted this article and pointed out the additional South East Asian influences in this book’s world building, particularly those from Malaysia.
9. Shadow of the Fox
Yumeko, a half-fox/half-human hybrid, must team up with a mysterious samurai on a quest for a powerful scroll. But deception threatens to tear them apart, and an army of demons is hot on their heels as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
These fantasy books draw from the culture, history, and mythology of various regions of Africa.
10. Children of Blood and Bone
Inspired by West African mythology, this wildly popular YA fantasy book tells the story of Zélie, a girl who must bring magic back to her world to resist a ruthless king.
11. Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Written in a style evocative of Tolkien, but drawing from African mythology and history, this dark fantasy tells the story of a mercenary who is hired to find a missing child.
12. The Killing Moon
In the city-state of Gujaareh, dreams have magic that can heal — or kill. The setting is loosely inspired by ancient Egypt and Nubia, but is largely based on Jemisin’s own unique mythology and world building.
These fantasy books draw from the culture, history, and mythology of various regions of the Americas.
13. Trail of Lightning
After a climate apocalypse plunges much of the world underwater, the Navajo nation of Dinétah is reborn. The old gods are alive, but so are monsters. Fortunately, Dinétah has a monster hunter.
14. Servant of the Underworld
In a supernatural murder mystery set in the Pre-Colombian Aztec Empire, the magic of human sacrifice keeps the end of the world at bay, and a high priest must interrogate the gods to solve a dangerous conspiracy.
15. Sister Mine
This Caribbean-based urban fantasy features conjoined twins from a family of demigods and magic.
These books feature fantasy settings that have a non-European focus, but aren’t based on a single culture or region from the real world.
16. A Wizard of Earthsea
One of the first popular fantasy books to feature an explicitly brown protagonist, this well-loved tale of a young wizard draws from a variety of non-European cultures.
17. The Fifth Season
Considered one of the masterpieces of speculative fiction, The Fifth Season is set in a post-apocalyptic far-future with magical elements and an all-Black cast.
18. The Priory of the Orange Tree
In a world of various non-European cultures, this book follows a queen, a dragon rider, and a mage in an epic story of politics, religion, and prophecy, with a sapphic romance at its center.
This list is not comprehensive — there are many more non-European fantasy books out there. But this is a great place to start! There’s no shortage of ways to tell fantasy stories, and no limits on who can be a hero.