Is it superhero Fiction or Superhero Fantasy? The all knowing wiki says “The genre primarily falls between hard fantasy and soft science fiction spectrum of scientific realism” which frankly doesn’t help the discussion one way or other. The G-Force and momentum of Harry Potter’s magic powered broomstick lie closer to our known science than ARC reactor powered Iron Man’s suit. Superman’s Kryptonic powers are as unfamiliar to us as Dr. Strange’s mystical powers. We could have a whole blog debating this. Let’s just call it as “Superhero Fantasy” and be done with it for now!
Caped heroes, maniacal villains, secret identities, shadow organizations, these books have everything to rival anything Marvel and DC can throw at them!
Now before we start there are some popular titles (Ex Heroes by Peter Cline, Parahumans by John C. McCrae, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon to say the least) that are missing from the list simply because I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. There’s enough to make another list in future.
Now without further ado, in no particular order, let’s suit up!
Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson
Books in series: Steelheart, Firefight, Calamity
“If random people suddenly got superpowers, would they be heroes or villains?” The books are set in a dystopian earth, where people (“Epics”) get corrupted by superhuman powers. We get to live in a feudalistic world where cities/territories are ruled by various Epics with normal people living in a state of constant fear and forced into pressgang type workforce to keep the cities running. Lives are cheap because of the mercurial mindset of the Epics and their disputes with each other.
Despite the setting, it certainly is a lively fun adventure ride, where we follow the protagonist who seeking retribution and has the secret to killing the Epic ruling the city. The variety of powers in the Epics varies from the traditional to novel. The way the dynamics of characters are explored brings a delicate human touch keeping the novel well-grounded and relatable.
Villains by V.E Schwab
Books in series: Vicious, Vengeful
Two bright college kids crack a theory behind people who are rumored to have gained superpowers and trying it on themselves with a bloody trail of bodies left behind as a consequence. The characters are few, but well etched. They way author builds the characters as shades of grey which gets even more ambiguous as novel progresses is brilliant.
Writing style is stark and beautiful. There are no flowery descriptions and fancy words, just simple sentences that cut through straight to the heart. The way book is structured in multiple small chapters gives the reads of sense of flipping through cards as the story cuts across characters, locations and timelines.
At the end you end up cursing the simplistic beauty of the book and wished the author had written more pages and not leave you wanting for more!
Super Powereds by Drew Hayes
Books in series: Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4 + Corpies
Superpowered kids in University! The books are set in Lander University where our protagonist group joins as freshmen and the series follows their progress till graduation. Year 1 introduces the characters and predominantly covers the usual University dynamics with a smashing climax. The plot progress moves faster as you get to the series with an absolutely brilliant Year 4.
Apart from the plot, we explore the dynamics between normal people vs Supers vs Powereds [who have powers but cannot control them]. Our protagonists have secrets of their own and caught in machinations way above their level. How they tackle college life, hero graduation and solve the plot makes the rest of the series. The characters are interesting, the college life is fun and mystery is intriguing making for a fun read.
There is also a side story, Corpies which is brilliant in its own way. It tackles far more mature issues in a brilliant way. An adult books which masquerades as a teen book. Must read!
Soon I will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
A tale of a stereotypical villain vs a bunch of flawed superheroes. Doctor Impossible is the main anti-hero of the book and as the title suggests, he holds megalomaniacal intentions to rule the world. Opposing him is a group of heroes joined by a new cyborg looking to find her origins. Very stark diary’esque writing style which is refreshingly good to read.
Characters are flawed making them very interesting and it’s refreshing to imaging a superhero lifestyle to mirror a normal person’s life in many ways. Though a well written novel, it almost reads like a comic book. Very entertaining! The flawed dynamics of the hero group is engrossing and done very realistically.
The Rules of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
Books in series: The Rules of Supervillainy, The Games of Supervillainy, The Secrets of Supervillainy, The Science of Supervillainy, The Tournament of Supervillainy, The Future of Supervillainy, The Horror of Supervillainy
I had so much fun and lol moments in this book. It’s like a anime book of the genre with heroes and villains who’d have fit in One Punch Man or shows like that. Over the top silly and ridiculously fun to read.
Gary gets a super cloak of a dead hero and decides to be a villain, but the he’s not really a villain material. He confesses to his wife and gets her support, and then recruits two henchpersons (an ex-girlfriend and a past his prime villain), realizes that even the heroes he’d face are kind of acquaintances leading to immeasurable fun and mayhem. Story picks from book 1 and Phipps has takes us on a fun romp through the book
Chronicles of the Fid by David H Reiss
Books in series: Fid’s Crusade, Behind Distant Stars, Starfall
Considering this book also made my “Feel Good Fantasy” list, you know how much I love this series.
Book 1 was hands down the best book I’ve read in 2019. What a journey! It’s like reading Iron Man, Despicable Me and The Incredibles all in same book. It’s an astonishingly refreshing and fun series.
Our MC is Dr. Fid a self-made techie super-villain, who after seeing his brother die, because a hero refused to help makes it his job to keep heroes in check and bring the wayward ones to task. One of the most fun villains, I ever rooted for! The character arc of Fid is one of the most loveable arc’s I’ve ever read. It just felt so natural and yet over the top at the same time! Add in alien villains, bad heroes and a loveable android girl, and this blossoms into a wholesome, well written, down to earth and thoroughly fun adventure rollercoaster ride of a book. Not just super-fights, but the author nails down the human interplay emotions just right to leave a deep impact as you start understanding and sympathizing with and rooting for the characters.
Villains Code by Drew Hayes
Books in series: Forging Hephaestus, Bones of the Past
The second series from Drew Hayes to make this list.
The writing is smooth and story unravels seamlessly giving perspective on the protagonist and the world at large. The worldbuilding is really good as we see the perspectives of both the heroes and villains. Though the plot per se doesn’t deviate from standards of the genre, the way it is handled makes all the difference.
The cast if just well etched and colorful. We just don’t get the “they have x and y superpowers” but rather we get to see more on intentions and perspectives of most characters. They dynamics between the characters and the heroes vs villains divide is shown nicely from perspectives of different characters in both camps.
The Dire Saga by Andrew Seiple
Books in series: Born, Seed, Time | Wars, Sins, Hell
Mad Max with superhumans. A bit darker/grittier than the usual books in the genre and quite compelling to read.
The book is set in a future world that is a bit dystopian in nature. We have brutal gangs vying for power, superheroes fighting super villains thrown into the mix along with AIs and believe it or not…a bit of Vampires (and Holy Grail references), so it was a totally new and refreshing take on the genre. The books starts off with an action sequence and it pretty much continues with brief interludes (to let readers catch their breath, I presume!). We are left in lurch with a protagonist with memory loss and get to unravel the world with her, which adds lots of suspense and excitement.
A good cast of supporting characters that get their moment in limelight and add value to the story. The moral ambiguity prevails almost everyone as there are no good and bad characters…some are just more evil than others.
Gailsone by Casey Glanders
Books in series: Big In Japan, Red Rook, Head of the Dragon
Kill Bill of Superhuman fantasy!
A story of a super villain trying to redeem herself. Alice Gailsone also known as Dyspell was one of the most feared women in the world…until she retired abruptly. Lovely book that features two of the most badass female characters in this genre.
It’s a fast paced read, full of humors and just enough twists and turns to make this a page turner. We get to follow Alice (and Allison) as they try to redeem themselves into valuable members of the society which is [obviously] rigged against them. The protagonists are memorable and it sports enough side characters to make the world more interesting. Extra points to author for avoiding the trope-y romance that always tags along with female protagonists.
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