10 Best Fantasy Series That Could Rival Game of Thrones on TV

The Lists Marc Buxton
4/18/2014 at 7:16AM
best fantasy series

Game of Thrones might be our favorite fantasy show ever, but here are the 10 best fantasy series that could possibly be even better...

It’s time for fans to return to Westeros and once again visit the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, Baratheons, Greyjoys, Freys, Tyrells, Martells, Mormonts, Cleganes, and the rest of the players of Game of Thrones. Fans have grown to love George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, in fact, other than The Lord of the Rings, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire has become the first fantasy epic truly embraced by the general public.

Game of Thrones is one of the greatest fantasy epics ever written and it makes for the perfect episodic television experience. But it’s not the only one that deserves to be on TV. There are plenty of other epic fantasies that would make killer television shows, and they would grip fans just as much as Martin’s tale of dragons, White Walkers, knights, magic, and betrayal has. Hollywood is already taking notice, with the world of Terry Brooks' Shannara already on the way to the small screen, but there could be so many more.

So come, join us, as we sing of other tales that are worthy of television consideration...

authors: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Essential Reading: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, Dragons of Spring Dawning, Time of the Twins, and more!

From the world of Dungeons and Dragons comes the world of Krynn. A world rich in history and on-the-nose archetypes that have been involved in the bestselling series for decades. Originally conceived by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance saga has had countless spin-offs as many other writers have carved out there piece of Krynn history.The series' weakness is the familiarity of the character types: you have the outcast Half-Elf, the muscle bound but simple warrior, the noble knight, the rapscallion thief, the gruff dwarf, and the mysterious mage, but it’s what Weis and Hickman do for these familiar character types that have made generations of fans come back to the world of Dragonlance again and again despite the predictable nature of the characters.

There is a gentleness to Dragonlance that could scratch an itch not satisfied by the always ultra violent and dark Game of Thrones. Fans would delight on going on old-fashioned dungeon crawls with the Heroes of the Last Home, but it’s not all rolling D20s in Dragonlance. From the complex sibling relationship of the sickly and power hungry mage Raistlin Majere and his brother, the oafish but loyal Cameron, to the love trial between heroic Tanis Half-Elven, the noble Elven woman Laurana and the recently turned to the dark side Kitiara (who also happens to be Raistlin and Cameron’s half sister). There is the Vader-like Lord Soth to provide some villainy, Tasselhoof Burrfoot the Kender thief to provide the comic relief, and dragons.

But the best part? Tons and tons of dragons...all different colors of the rainbow, good dragons and bad, all fighting for control of the skies of Krynn. Fans waiting for Khaleesi’s dragons to finally grow will be able to get their dragon fix with the heroes of Dragonlance, a sometimes soft but always epic fantasy that is just waiting for some daring cable channel to shell out the cash to bring this beloved series to life. Conceivably, the show would focus on the core group of heroes, but like Game of Thrones, Dragonlance could also explore the world of Krynn’s past, present, and future, and cover some of the better work from all the authors that have visited Krynn during the series’ long run.

best fantasy series
9. Earthsea
author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Essential Reading: "The Word of Unbinding" (short story), A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind

Earthsea is one of the most beloved worlds in fantasy. Originally conceived in 1964, Earthsea amassed a vast following of fans who love the diverse world of magic as envisioned by the great Ursula K. Le Guin. No doubt, an Earthsea series would be expensive as most of the story takes place in the water, on ships, or on the archipelagos of the Earthsea realm. The story deals with good wizards who use their magic to restore balance to the world, and dark wizards that use their necromancy to take from the well-balanced environment.

Le Guin has been critical of fantasy, particularly its focus on primarily Caucasian characters that limit the genre's potential. The world-building of Le Guin’s series redefined the genre in the mid '60s, showing readers that a good fantasy series is possible without cribbing from Tolkien. The diverse cast and environmental and social themes would fuel any TV show for years. Le Guin borrowed liberally from Taoist philosophy and combined these old schools of thought with allusions to Dante’s Inferno and Greek myth to create a world like no other...a world that needs to come to life now that technology and special effects have evolved to match Le Guin’s grand vision.

The Syfy channel gave Earthsea a whirl in 2005 with a two-part, three hour mini-series. The network felt it would be a good idea to cast almost every role with Caucasians and fundamentally change the original structure of Le Guin’s story. It didn’t go well, and it managed to anger loyal fans and Le Guin herself. It’s time for a network that fully understands Earthsea's brand of thoughtful fantasy to bring the series to life.

best fantasy series
The First Law
author: Joe Abercrombie
Essential Reading: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings

Joe Abercrombie has become one of the most original voices in fantasy over the last decade. He deals in gritty realism and pragmatic characters but somehow remains fully embedded in a functional fantasy setting that is as complete and whole as any Martin, Rothfuss, or Tolkien epic. There are not many fantastic creatures in the pages of these books. Instead, Abercrombie’s series centers on a world at war in three separate theatres of combat. It’s like the sword and sandals version of Band of Brothers, featuring a diverse band of characters who must survive and find a way to win an all consuming war.

The narrative stretches from the kings and generals of the war to the lowly foot soldiers, each character’s tale fraught with drama and meaning. Magic is well represented in the novels, but Abercrombie’s take on wizardry as just another weapon of war entrenches the more fantastical elements of the world in the same grim realism as the muck-encrusted soldiers that fight on the same battlefields. Let’s face it, many fans come to epic fantasy to see the battles. The romance, politics, intrigues, and high concepts are nice, but who doesn’t like a good prolonged fantasy clash like Helm’s Deep, the battle of Pelennor Fields, or the Battle of the Black Water? The war in The First Law lasts for the entirety of the series. So pick a side, because if this one of its kind drama of First Country ever comes to television, fans will line up to join the front lines.

Best Fantasy series
author: Clive Barker
Essential reading: Weaveworld

Most people think of Clive Barker as the master of horror that brought us Pinhead and his flesh rending hooks and chains. But Barker is also a folklorist and mythic storyteller of the highest order and some of his fantasy work includes some of the most original creations the genre has been gifted in over a century. Barker’s most compelling fantasy work is Weaveworld, the tale of a world that exists inside an intricately woven carpet. Every thread of the Weaveworld contains the possibilities of adventure.

The story centers on a world called the Fugue, a place created by the magical Seerkind to hide from humanity over centuries of persecution. The story of Weaveworld is limitless, and a TV show can go way beyond the confines of the novel. The Seerkind are a fascinating race with a long fictional history that would take an entire television series to explore. The idea of a fantasy world, particularly one conceived by the limitless imagination of Clive Barker, existing in the intricate weave of a rug is such an awesome concept that fans would eat it up, and the amorphous nature of the Seerkind would make them a fascinating race to explore week after week. There have been rumors of a Weaveworld mini-series for years, but a finite series couldn't do Barker’s vision justice. Game of Thrones proves that fantasy for adults will work on television, and it just doesn’t get any more adult than the mind of Clive Barker.

author: Brandon Sanderson
Essential Reading: Mistborn: The Final Empire, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, and Mistborn: The Hero of Ages

In his first multi-part epic, Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson created a world very different from the typical Tolkien-esque fantasy realm. Sanderson, the writer who was hand chosen to take over the Wheel of Time series from the deceased Robert Jordan, created a world with functional rules of magic and a complex but understandable history. In the world of the Final Empire of Scadrial there are beings that can control metal, so, yes...Mistborn is pretty much a planet full of Magnetos warring for control of the Empire. The series also crosses genres as Sanderson recently announced that the new Mistborn trilogy will be set in a futuristic city.

This genre-bending epic would make for great television as the book doesn't feature your expected fantasy settings and familiar swordplay. Imagine a show where Sanderson’s metal controlling wizards, known as Allomancers, use their powers to battle for the fate of Scadrial. Here, the combatants don’t use swords or axes; they use coins to wage epic battles. Picture that visual. Mistborn could take viewers past the comforting confines of familiar fantasy elements into a new world of endless possibilities. There is enough political intrigue to please any Game of Thrones fan, but the well thought out system of magic and combat would make Mistborn appointment viewing...if only a network was brave enough.

the dark elf saga
The Dark Elf Saga
author: R.A. Salvatore
Essential Reading: The Dark Elf TrilogyThe Icewind Dale Trilogy, and tons more Salvatore/Drizzt goodness...

Drizzt Do’Urden is like fantasy’s very own James Bond: an adaptable and enduring character that can fit into any type of fantasy story. For those who have never had the pleasure of reading a Drizzt novel, the long running series penned by R.A. Salvatore takes places in the Dungeons and Dragons sub-world, The Forgotten Realms...but Drizzt and his companions have grown way beyond the confines of that license. Drizzt’s book series has been a perennial mainstay on every bestseller list. Once a year or so, Salvatore revisits the Dark Elf champion and fans keep coming back for more.

In the Realms, Drizzt is the only member of his race, the vile Drow Elves, who was born with a sense of morality. His people see it is a tragic birth defect, but the people Drizzt help see the Dark Elf as a hero despite his dark lineage. Drizzt and his status as the only altruistic member of an evil race is a story engine like no other in fantasy, but the drama does not end with Drizzt, who is surrounded by friends like Catti-Brie, a beautiful ranger turned mage, Wulfgar, a lost son of an aggressive race of barbarians who also must overcome his heritage to be a hero, Bruenor, the adopted Dwarven father of Catti-Brie and Wulfgar, and Regis, the somewhat cowardly Halfling thief. Even the villains have an incredible amount of depth, antagonists such as Artemis Entreri, an assassin who is obsessed with defeating Drizzt in one on one combat, and Obould Many Arrows, an Orc warlord whose morality and motivations will surprise even the most jaded fantasy fan. 

best fantasy novels
The Kingkiller Chronicle
author: Patrick Rothfuss
Essential reading: The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear

In 2013, 20th Century Fox announced that Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle had been optioned to series, and thank the gods, because the tone and world of Rothfuss’ epic is the closest thing to Game of Thrones fantasy lit has going at the moment. But there are stark (HA) differences that would make this new fantasy classic a television staple. For one, The Kingkiller Chronicle is told from the point of view of one man, a hero named Kvothe, who is almost every heroic archetype rolled into one: a wizard, a warrior, a scholar, and even an accomplished musician...so he’s kind of like Conan, Harry Potter, and Eddie Van Halen all rolled up into one.

Rothfuss establishes political alliances, social structures, and rules of magic without robbing readers of any character development. And what a character! Kvothe doesn't always do the right thing for the right reasons; he is a flawed hero who makes mistakes as he has to navigate a complex world of danger and intrigue. Whether it is on the streets as Kvothe learns to become an accomplished musician or in a mage school that is about as different from Hogwarts as it gets, Kvothe’s adventures are never redundant and constantly surprising. Fantasy fans are reading Martin, but writers like Martin are reading Rothfuss. 

fantasy novels
Robert E. Howard Presents
author: Robert E. Howard
Essential Reading: Any collected editions featuring Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Cormac Mac Art, El Borak...

Everyone knows Robert E. Howard created Conan the Barbarian, but he also created a legion of characters...and not all of them connected to the world of fantasy. As amazing as the first Conan the Barbarian film was, there has never really been a true film adaptation of any of Howard’s works on the big screen or on television. Imagine an anthology series where the mission statement is an exploration of the myriad time periods and characters created by Howard in his prolific but all too brief career. A show that could jump from the mist shrouded battlefields of Conan’s Hyboria, to the unexplored godless jungles of Solomon Kane’s era to the modern day boxing ring of Steve Costigan’s day. There is so much to Howard beyond Conan, but the fickle nature of his fiction would make features difficult to construct for most of his characters. The short form nature of television would make a perfect platform for Howard’s children. By Crom, someone make it happen, I’ve been dying for a Solomon Kane show since I was about five!

The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower
author: Stephen King
Essential reading: All of it.

It’s been rumored forever, but it’s past time that Stephen King’s mythic quest series comes to television. The story contains everything that makes for great television drama: its own mythology, an incredible cast of characters, more action than you can shake a six shooter at, and an all abiding mystery. King doesn’t reveal till the end exactly what is in the Dark Tower and why his hero Roland has sacrificed everything to find it.

To completely tell the story of The Dark Tower and Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger and his Ka-tet, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and a billybumbler named Oy, a network is going to have to make quite a commitment in terms of years and money...but it would be worth it. The Dark Tower is one of the greatest contemporary fantasies of our generation. The tale is an epic quest for truth and an examination of the nature of heroism and sacrifice, and it has some of literature’s most badass villains. The story of The Dark Tower ties into most of King’s other works including The Stand, It, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Talisman, The Mist, Heart of Atlantis, From a Buick 8, and so many more. A TV series can examine those threads and show even the most casual fan that all of King’s books and movies they have enjoyed over the years are all bound by The Dark Tower. It would be a long term gamble (Hollywood isn’t exactly enamored with Westerns lately...thanks, Lone Ranger), but someone just has to aim with their heart to bring King’s Dark Tower to life.

the hobbit
Lord of the Rings
author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Essential reading: Do we even have to say it?

Yeah, we know. This has all been covered perfectly in the past decade by Peter Jackson, but with this year’s release of the final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy, the cinematic exploration of Tolkien’s world will come to an end, leaving us Hobbitless for the rest of our natural days. That just can’t be. As perfect as Jackson’s films were, they were still limited by time. A Middle Earth show can break the confines of a film’s pacing and allow fans to meet Tom Bombadil and Goodberry for the first time or reinsert the Radagast subplot back into Lord of the Rings or allow fans to linger in Hobbiton just a bit longer at the beginning of the saga and return there at the end to meet Sharkey, the new boss of Hobbiton. Pieces of the appendices and The Silmarillion can be liberally inserted throughout the series creating a more detailed history of Middle Earth. Most of all, we just want more Tolkien, in any form, produced by talented people that love the work. Jackson’s interpretation is valid (and darn near perfect), but Middle Earth is fertile enough to contain multiple creative visions, and we wants it precious.

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