Whether you are looking for fantasy, adventure, some romance, or even mystery, the young adult genre, or YA, has plenty of stories to offer when you want to immerse yourself in a great read! Though meant for readers between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, young adult novels betray their name since readers of any age can enjoy this genre.
So, we’ve done our research and provided a buying guide to help you select the best YA novel for you! Included in this article are our 10 favorite books. Consider our top pick, the Harry Potter series, an epic fantasy phenomenon that has influenced a generation. It embodies the best of the YA genre having coming-of-age elements, adventure, fantasy, romance, and mystery! Along with our 10 picks, we also have a buying guide full of helpful tips from an education specialist.
With 16 years and counting in the education field, I have worked with pre-school age children all the way up to university students. I have taught in classrooms, trained teachers, and managed schools around the globe.
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Table of Contents
What sets apart young adult literature from other genres is that teenagers are the protagonists of these stories. But, despite its name and its young protagonists, readers of all ages can enjoy YA these days.
Take a moment to think about the different aspects of the YA genre. From sub-genre to tropes and conventions, there are many aspects you can consider when choosing your next YA read.
There are several more sub-genres of fantasy that we'll explain below, but what these have in common is that the protagonist is pitted against a villain or magical force. These stories may include elements of adventure, romance, and mystery, but magic will usually be at the forefront of the story.
Popular YA fantasy sub-genres include urban fantasy, such as The Mortal Instruments, which has a fictional world hidden within the real world, or high fantasy like the Throne of Glass series, which is set in a completely different world.
But if you're looking for more of a thrill or a scare, check out some YA horror selections. This genre can teach readers how to deal with fear. Sometimes, the author uses the tools of horror to tell a story of past trauma, regrets, and the fears of leaving childhood behind.
An example is the Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, about a boy raised in the cemetery after his parents were murdered. For more mature readers, we recommend IT, by Stephen King, a horror coming-of-age novel about the town of Derry being haunted by the creepy clown, Pennywise.
However, be careful when choosing a horror YA novel because some subject matter can get disturbing and a bit dark. If you are buying a book for a young person, make sure its themes do not upset or disturb them.
Both YA dystopian and science fiction genres are usually social commentaries as a whole. Their plots usually follow teenagers that "wake up" and realize something is wrong with the society they are living in.
Dystopian novels are very popular in the YA market, as they highlight the flawed system of a particular world to comment about real-world events. An example is Unwind by Neal Schusterman, where society is forever changed because of war regarding pro-choice and pro-life.
Other popular examples are The Hunger Games or the classic1984, which is not technically YA but is often included in high school reading lists. On the other hand, sci-fi uses futuristic scientific elements to explore humanity. A popular example is The Giver, by Lois Lowry.
Contemporary encapsulates several genres, including romance. The main appeal of contemporary young adult books is that they help the reader appreciate the current world that they live in.
Romance in particular is popular for young adult fiction, as it studies interpersonal relationships. It's also a genre that can be an excellent way to learn about minority groups in the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
A popular example is the award-winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Sáenz, a coming-out story where the writer explores the blurred lines between friendship and romance. Another book is You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, which explores female friendships and romance.
If you like solving mysteries and "whodunnit" plots, there are plenty of YA mystery books available that will set your head spinning with twists and turns. One example is One of Us is Lying series by Karen M. McManus. It's about five students in detention, and one of them does not make it out alive.
That being said, some mysteries do contain darker themes like death and violence, so make sure the gore factor is appropriate enough for you or the person you're buying for.
Young Adult books are often read by school-grade readers as well, so if you're a parent or someone who is buying a book for a young reader, you may want to check content warnings, trigger warnings, or how appropriate the content is for younger age groups. You can do this by visiting review sites such as Goodreads.
We also recommend https://booktriggerwarnings.com/index.php?title=Welcome that lists trigger warnings of certain books. Online buying websites, such as Amazon, sometimes specify the recommended reading age of readers for the books you are looking at.
Do you want your story to go on and on, or do you prefer a quick one-off? Writing a long series is popular among YA authors but doesn’t come without its hiccups.
Book series are great if you want to be entertained for a long time! The story goes on over several books and will keep you engaged. Plus, a long series often gives you time to get attached to characters and become immersed in a new world.
However, it may take a while to reach any kind of conclusion. In some cases the series might not even be fully written yet, which means a long wait between book releases (we’re looking at you, George R. R. Martin).
Stand-alone books are great because their stories are contained within just one book. You can enjoy it quickly, and you’ll get immediate closure once you reach the end.
Some people might want more fun and find this kind of story too short for their taste. These books are limited to only one book, so the world isn’t always developed fully. Plus, when it’s over...it’s over! It can be disheartening to be done with the story after just one volume.
Do you want to go for tried and true novels or venture into the unknown? Sometimes our tastes may differ from the general consensus, and the best option is to try something completely different.
Best-seller novels YA novels are a safe choice for any reader. They're popular for a reason! Many readers find the characters or themes relatable. Plus, it can be fun to participate in pop culture and be able to connect with other people over popular books!
However, just because it's a best seller doesn't mean you'll like it! Sometimes the mass appeal of these books is a drawback for certain readers that enjoy more unusual or unique stories. Plus, there's something fun about discovering a book that's under the radar!
Choosing the most recent bestsellers may also make it easier to find others who are reading the same book, and therefore easier to find or form book clubs to discuss what you're reading.
Forming book clubs around best sellers that address social issues such as The Hate U Give, and Stamped often results in gathering like-minded readers, so you'll be able to swap recommended books that you each enjoy.
Classics are novels that have stood the test of time, and are often greatly regarded among literary critics.
They're also an important rite of passage for many readers, and knowing the classics can help you connect to other bookworms and understand literary references. Classics are also great to read if you want something to analyze or a bigger challenge!
Reading books by different authors that have diverse background are important as it offers the readers a chance to view the world from their eyes. Reading cultivates empathy, open-mindedness, and critical thinking. So, introducing books written by LGBTQ and minority authors gives fresh perspectives and teaches us about diversity.
An example of YA books like this is Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, a Dominican-American writer. It follows two half-sisters living in separate countries. They need to learn how to move on together from the death of their shared father in a plane crash.
Another is Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown. This is a biographical novel that utilizes magical realism to tell the story of young Echo Brown as she grows up studying in a rich school. She has to learn how to navigate between her life at home and the privileged world of her school.
Click to purchase
Harry Potter Books 1-7 Special Edition Boxed Set
Best Epic Fantasy Adventure Series for Young Adults
The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay
Best Dystopian Social Commentary
The Book Thief
Best Standalone Heartfelt Story Amidst World War II
Best Sci-Fi Story on the Price of Immortality
Best High Fantasy Inspired By West-African Mythology
Best Coming-of-Age Story Set in 1930s America
Best for a Queer Prom Story by a Black Author
The Hate U Give
Best Homage to the Black Lives Matter Movement
Best Classic Commentary on Humanity
Best Mystery That Lets You Solve Along With the Characters
Harry Potter takes you on a journey through seven years of his life as he discovers his heritage as a wizard explores every corner of the secret Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He must also navigate friendships, teachers, the Dark Lord, and eventually romance during his time at Hogwarts.
Reviewers love this unique box set because the design reflects how special the Harry Potter series is to them. Many said they bought this set either to display it or give it as a gift. However, some had issues with quality control, saying that some of their books were missing pages. Nevertheless, customers agreed that this set has a beautiful art style.
When Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, she leaves her provincial home of District 12 and is taken to the Capitol for training. What is essentially a reality show for the citizens of the Capitol is a fight to the death for the teenagers who are forced to kill or be killed.
With its detailed world-building and strong heroine, this is a gripping story that will pull at your heartstrings. Readers especially love the fast pace of the narrative. Most agree that the boxed set is better value, though its quality is occasionally challenged by a reviewer. But, these books are worth the read because of the ideas it presents.
Narrated by Death, he tells the story of a young book thief named Liesel who has fallen in love with reading at a dangerous time. As she’s living in 1939 Germany, her world changes when her foster family decides to hide a Jewish person in their basement.
Most reviewers described this book as "life-changing." Readers praised this book for tugging at their heartstrings. Some critics say it lacks a plot, but these criticisms belong to a very small minority. Despite this, its well-written characters have their own stories and are guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings.
In a utopian world where all disease, injuries, and accidents can't kill people, this society's solution for overpopulation is a group of people called "Scythes" to "glean" citizens every once and a while. Two teenagers are then recruited to be scythes and learn the art of "gleaning." Along the way, they begin to question if these Scythes do have the right to decide who lives and who dies.
Readers praised this book because of its thought-provoking material that made them question the meaning of being human. They praised the author's imagination and how he laid out a story in a simple yet impactful way. Readers agree that this collection is a must-have.
In a land where magic has disappeared and maji are being hunted down because of their power, a young girl, Zélie, fights to bring magic back to her land of Orïsha. Along with her quest, she struggles to control her powers and learns about the harsh reality of her society.
This book garnered praise for its rare glimpse of West-African-inspired fantasy. Readers loved the book's universal message about oppression and racism. However, some criticized this book for being cliche and predictable. Nevertheless, most agreed that the diverse cast and imaginative world are worth getting to know.
This well-known classic has withstood the test of time with its commentary on society and its coming-of-age themes. It follows the story of Scout Finch and her adventures as she grows up in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama.
Readers have praised this book for its lessons and well-written characters. They loved the innocence of its main characters as it tackled serious issues about society like discrimination.
This story follows Liz who dreams of studying in an elite college outside of her small town. Despite being shy, she braves social media exposure and awkward public events just to attain the Prom Queen Scholarship. New girl Mack eases the unpleasant experience for Liz, but Liz finds out that Mack is running for prom queen, too.
Readers praised this book for having all kinds of representation like LGBTQ+, people of color, and mental health. Readers also praised the romance as being "swoon-worthy." But, some reviewers said the plot is a bit predictable and cheesy. Nevertheless, readers recommend this for a heartwarming and lighthearted read.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a double life: one in the poor neighborhood she grew up, and one in the fancy prep school she attends. Her life is disrupted when she witnesses her best friend get shot by a police officer, and she is left to narrate what happened.
This is an engaging and necessary read for contemporary issues. Readers applauded the brave message of this book. But, some reviewers think this book leans too much on stereotypes. Nevertheless, the majority agree that this is a powerful and amazing read.
Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a utopian world; everything is perfect. That is, until he is given his life assignment, and begins to see cracks in the facade of their fantastic society.
This book is especially appreciated by reviewers for its agelessness. Children can enjoy it, but a lot of adults seem to find meaning in the text. Among the negative reviews, some say the book was damaged, so you'll want to consider buying a new copy when looking for this one.
Five years after a murder case in her small town, Pippa Fitz-Amobi re-opens the case and uses it for her final year project. What at first was supposed to be an academic requirement takes a sinister turn as she uncovers truths that were supposed to remain buried.
Readers loved the fast pace and shocking twists and turns of this novel. However, some reviewers found the shift between the first and third person to be a bit jarring. Despite this, reviewers agreed that people will enjoy the thrill and mystery of this story.
In addition to reviewing our buying guide, Minori was kind enough to recommend some of her favorite Young Adult books.
Set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead, once known as the United States, Atwood's book follows the harrowing journey of the main character June and other women living in an extremist, patriarchal society. Many women, including June, have been forced to bear children for richer members of society.
Deprived even of her name, June grimly clings to her old life that was taken by this new regime as she tries to escape and find her husband and child. The Handmaid's Tale is both a chilling satire and a gripping dystopian speculative fiction, although it may be a bit dark for younger readers.
Minori recommends this book, saying, "Books like this one are social and political commentaries, but they are somehow still relevant today. Handmaid's Tale is a truly excellent read."
You can easily type “best YA novels” into Google and work through the books you find there, but there are other sources online you can use to narrow down your search. These will really help you out when you’re out of ideas!
Goodreads is the database for books. Not only can you log the books you read or want to read, but you can follow friends and even authors, read reviews, and explore genres and sub-genres, as well as customized lists.
Every year, Goodreads also host their own literary awards where you can vote for the best novels in various categories. You can go back and look at the winners and nominees in every category too, so you’ll have plenty of reading ideas!
There are many YouTuber channels dedicated to book discussion. Often dubbed “BookTubers”, these people talk about trends in literature, often YA, and usually recommend books based on certain values.
They find creative ways to talk about books and often analyze tropes and clichés in YA. This makes it easier to understand why certain stories work well or don't work at all. That’s why YouTube is a great place to look for book recommendations!
WhatShouldIReadNext.com has a simple but effective concept: you type in a book you like, and they suggest further reading. You can also browse genres or even specific themes and tropes, and even create to-read lists!
The algorithm isn't perfect, as with anything, but this is a neat function to try when you’re out of reading ideas.
There are a plethora of online forums where you can discuss books. Something like r/suggestmeabook on Reddit is good to ask for quick recommendations. Many forums have a search function that allows you to look through older discussions, which is an excellent way to look for specific keywords.
The large number of forums out there might be a bit daunting, though. It’s best to find one you like and stick to it rather than join every single one!
Many forums, or even YouTubers, host regular books clubs where people can read and discuss the same book. This is a great way to find new and interesting literature that you may not have thought about reading. Plus, the online environment can be helpful if you're a little shy, live in a rural area, or don't have time to meet in person.
If you prefer going out and seeing people in the real world, check with your local library or bookstore. Many places offer book clubs, sometimes based around a genre. If there isn't a local book club that interests you, consider starting your own! It's a great way to connect with other people, whether they're new friends or old.
In addition to book clubs, author readings can be a fun way to explore new authors and books. Given the pandemic, there are more and more virtual author activities that can be easily accessed.
These fun sessions allow readers to get to know the author and the writing process. Some of them share discussion questions for their book or even help viewers with their writing.
Looking to add to your library? Check out these literary products perfect for whether you want a new e-reader to read easily on the go or you're looking to escape into a good book!
If you want to explore more options outside our picks, check out amazon's bestseller list of young adult novels!
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
No. 1: J.K. Rowling｜Harry Potter Books 1-7 Special Edition Boxed Set
No. 2: Suzanne Collins ｜The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay
No. 3: Marcus Zusak｜The Book Thief
No. 4: Neal Schusterman｜
No. 5: Tomi Adeyemi｜
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