8 Spectacular Backlist Sci-Fi and Fantasy Series Worth Reading

The son of a librarian, Chris M. Arnone’s love of books was as inevitable as gravity. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. His novel, The Hermes Protocol, was published by Castle Bridge Media in 2023 and the next book in that series is due out in winter 2024. His work can also be found in Adelaide Literary Magazine and FEED Lit Mag. You can find him writing more books, poetry, and acting in Kansas City. You can also follow him on social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, website).

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From #1 NYT bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout! Alex and her mom have spent years on the run from the Covenant, a school where the pure descendants of gods hone their powers and half-mortal teens train to kill daimons for them. When her mom is murdered, Alex has two options: become a servant for the pures or work twice as hard to catch up in her training. The second option seems easier, but gets complicated when pure-blood Aiden becomes her personal trainer. Falling for Aiden isn’t her biggest problem. As daimons close in, she must fight to stay alive…even while others around her are dropping dead.

What is a backlist book, you might be asking? Backlist has a very specific meaning in the world of book publishing. It’s a book that’s been out for at least a year but is still in print. This is opposed to frontlist, which is a new book that a publisher is pushing and placing prominently in stores and online.

So when putting together a great list of backlist science fiction and fantasy (SFF) series, I was looking for slightly older but still-in-print books. This immediately threw out some of my favorite series that are too new or have, sadly, fallen out of print. I also decided to avoid classics or other series that I’ve written about a lot. Let’s spice things up a bit, shall we?

This list is a pretty balanced blend of science fiction and fantasy, spanning cultures and space, past and future, and authors familiar and under-the-radar. Some of these books are doorsteps, while others might be considered novellas. There’s a little YA sprinkled in because great books can be aimed at young readers, too. Trilogies abound, though there’s a nine-book series in there as well.

Enough preamble. Here are eight great backlist sci-fi and fantasy series worth reading.

cover of Infomocracy: Book One of the Centenal Cycle by Malka Older (she/her)cover of Infomocracy: Book One of the Centenal Cycle by Malka Older (she/her)

The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

We all need a little cyberpunk in our lives, particularly when the commentary hits so close to home. A search engine company created a monopoly two decades ago. Since then, the world moved from nation-states to a global micro-democracy. The Heritage Party, a corporate coalition, has been in power for a long time, but an election looms. When absolute power is at stake, who can you trust with the future?

An Ember in the Ashes coverAn Ember in the Ashes cover

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I did promise some YA, didn’t I? This four-book series was romantasy before we had the term, and it’s a great one. Laia grew up on the streets, forever in fear of the empire. When her brother is captured, she’s forced to spy on the empire from inside the military academy. There, she meets Elias, an unwilling cadet. Together, do they have what it takes to bring an empire to its knees?

cover of Leviathan Wakes: The Expanse #1 by James S.A. Corey (both he/him)cover of Leviathan Wakes: The Expanse #1 by James S.A. Corey (both he/him)

The Expanse by James. S.A. Corey

The most popular series on this list is also the longest, coming in at nine books. Set in our solar system but significantly in the future, The Expanse follows the ragtag crew of the Rocinante as they navigate complicated politics, warring factions, and an alien protomolecule that threatens to end all life.

cover of The Blade Itselfcover of The Blade Itself

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Trilogy is a dark, epic fantasy series. Told through rotating points of view, the characters in this series are eclectic. A down-on-his-luck Barbarian, a selfish captain, a disabled torturer, and a temperamental wizard. Their paths are on a collision course that will likely change the face of the world.

Ancillary Justice book coverAncillary Justice book cover

Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie

Not only did this series take the SFF world by storm, but it also pushed the boundaries of gender in the process. There is a soldier known as Breq. She’s alone, but she used to be part of the larger AI consciousness for a ship called Justice of Toren. With her larger self and the crew destroyed, she wants revenge and finds that to get it, she’ll have to go all the way to the top of a galactic empire.

cover image of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson: simple black line illustrations of half a planet against a red backgroundcover image of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson: simple black line illustrations of half a planet against a red background

Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

Here’s the oldest series on this list, and still one of the best backlist sci-fi and fantasy series you can find. The year is 2026, and 100 Earth colonists are trying to terraform Mars. Some are looking for medical breakthroughs, others for scientific discovery, while yet others just want a fresh start. Amidst the incredible hard science of the novel are the very human stories of 100 people very far from home.

Book cover of Akata WitchBook cover of Akata Witch

The Nsibidi Scripts by Nnedi Okorafor

Looking for those little wizard boy vibes without the problematic TERF author? Look no further than this great series. Sunny lived in New York until recently when her family moved back to their native Nigeria. That’s enough to make a young woman feel out of place, but she has albinism. Desperate to fit in, she soon discovers that she and her closest friends are “free agents” gifted with powerful magic. They’re not alone — there’s also a serial killer hunting free agents, and only Sunny and her friends can stop them.

Cover of The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon YangCover of The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang

The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang

Looking for a quicker and beautiful fantasy read? Then, get these books on your TBR. As children, Mokoya and Akeha were sold to the Grand Monastery, even though they’re the twin children of the Protector. Mokoya has the gift of prophecy, and Akeha always knows how to manipulate adults. Rebellion is growing in the Tensorate, forces moving against Mokoya and Akeha’s mother, and both children must choose a side, even if they aren’t on the same side.

What are your favorite backlist sci-fi and fantasy series? Do you dig into the classics or opt for more recent books? They may not be as popular on BookTok or Bookstagram, but I stan the backlist.

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