Black Girl Magic Comes to Life in These 15 Mystical YA Books
Representation has always been lacking in the YA fantasy genre, and it's rare to see the section in the bookstore or library stocked with anything other than books about white witches and European-style magic. But anyone who reads these types of books knows they could seriously use a spark of Black Girl Magic, especially since African witchcraft and voodoo are at the root of many of the stories. In a genre largely defined by white bias, a handful of Black authors are finally breaking the mold and giving us the Black Girl Magic frequently absent in literature. Here are 15 of the best fantasy novels featuring strong Black girl leads who navigate fantastical worlds and alternate universes with their supernatural (and natural) powers.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
An modern-day take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Legendborn is a gripping novel filled with equal parts mystery, history, and Black Girl Magic. On her first day at the University of North Carolina, Bree Matthews accidentally witnesses a demon feeding on human energies in the middle of the night. Becoming tangled in a strange reality, she meets a teenage boy named Merlin who attempts to wipe Bree's memory of everything she saw but fails in the process, thereby unlocking Bree's magic and her buried memories. In the blink of an eye, Bree becomes equipped with painful knowledge about her mother's death, as well as a newfound ability to bring justice to her loss.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Set in a West African-inspired world of gods and humans, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is Rapunzel meets The Hunger Games. Tarisai is the daughter of The Lady and has spent her entire childhood isolated in a lonely mansion. When her mother deems her old enough, Tarisai is sent to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with children from all over the world to become one of the Crown Prince's Council of 11. Conflicted by her desire to finally experience a sense of belonging and The Lady's magical wish involving the murder of the Crown Prince, Tarisai learns the value of loyalty and self-preservation.
The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
In The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark, it's the year 1884 in an alternate-universe New Orleans, and Jacquelin "Creeper" is done living on the streets. To secure passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber, the scrappy teen plans to utilize her two biggest secrets: the divine powers given to her by Oya, the African orisha of the winds and storms, and the Black God's Drums, a mysterious weapon created by a kidnapped Haitian scientist.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Dubbed "the Nigerian Harry Potter" by fans of Nnedi Okorafor's series, Akata Witch tells the story of 12-year-old Sunny, an African girl with albinism. When the American-born teen moves from New York to Nigeria, nothing seems to be going in her favor. But when she meets Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, her life becomes magical — literally. Forming the youngest-ever Oha Coven, Sunny and her friends embark on a life-changing mission and use their powers to track down Black Hat Otokoto.
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
A contemporary reimagining of Alice in Wonderland with a Black protagonist, A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney follows the story of a teenage girl named Alice, who ventures through Wonderland, a dark dream realm as nightmarish as her life in Atlanta. To face her demons head-on (literally), Alice uses her hardcore fighting skills, magic weaponry, and, most importantly, her bravery and courage.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Black sirens, magic, and high-school drama take center stage in Bethany C. Morrow's fantasy novel A Song Below Water. Protecting herself from the judgment of society, teenage siren Tavia has always kept her identity under wraps. But when a siren murder trial rocks the nation and she accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police encounter, Tavia's family secrets are no longer safe, and now nothing will ever be the same.
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Though she is the heir to two lines of powerful witch doctors, Arrah, the protagonist of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron, has no magic of her own. Feeling powerless against the kingdom's rising tide of darkness and the growing disappearances of its children, Arrah resorts to a forbidden ritual in which she trades years of her life in exchange for magic. Her life forever changed, Arrah must now face the consequences of her decision before things take a turn for the worse.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Shadowshaper, an urban fantasy novel by Daniel José Older, follows Sierra Santiago, an Afro-Boricua teenager living in Brooklyn. Sierra's summer is off to a fun start, until a strange zombie man crashes the party she's attending and she's introduced to a supernatural order known as the Shadowshapers. Learning that her near-comatose abuelo innocently shared the secrets of the Shadowshapers with the evil anthropologist Dr. Jonathan Wick, Sierra harnesses her own shadowshaping abilities to protect her family from his destructive plans.
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
In Blood Like Magic, Liselle Sambury's urban-fantasy novel debut, teen witch Voya Thomas is left with an unimaginable task. In order to preserve the magic in her bloodline, Voya has no choice but to sacrifice her first love to one of her ancestors. Driven by the unshakable bond of her Trinidadian-Canadian blended family and the heart-stopping romance she shares with Luc, a trans man whom she never thought she'd fall for, Voya is determined to do everything in her power to protect her loved ones.
Out June 15
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
As the first installment of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms introduces Yeine Darr, who from birth has been outcast from the ruling family of Sky due to being the product of an unsanctioned, biracial marriage. After her mother's mysterious death, Yeine is summoned back to the city of Sky, where she is named one of the king's three heirs. To officially earn the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine must prove her worth, but with the Enefadah gods on her side, the odds are in her favor.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
In the fictional world of Orléans from Dhonielle Clayton's novel The Belles, beauty is not natural unless you are a Belle. Camellia Beauregard is one of them, and she wants nothing more than to be chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live at the royal palace — a palace she later learns is full of dark secrets. Camellia's powers are even greater and more dangerous than she ever realized, and before she knows it, she's faced with the decision to risk her own life to help the princess.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Set in the year 2025, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler depicts a dystopian world of anarchy and a woman who attempts to overcome it. Lauren Oya Olamina, who possesses the supernatural gift of hyperempathy, lives in Los Angeles — or what's left of Los Angeles, anyway. Experiencing a life of immense loss in a society that has been destroyed by disease, war, and climate change, Lauren begins to develop a new belief system she calls Earthseed and makes it her mission to travel beyond Earth to save mankind.
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
A genre-bending thriller, The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden introduces us to a futuristic South Africa filled with ancient demi-goddesses, AI uprisings, hallucinogenic drugs, and plenty of queer characters. Nomvula, Sidney, Muzi, Riya, and Wallace — who leads a double life as Felicity — are at the heart of all the chaos, and it's up to them to harness their powers to reclaim their future.
Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
At the center of Wings of Ebony by J. Elle is a fearless heroine, a half-god, half-human girl named Rue whose life spirals downward when her mother is shot to death on her own doorstep. Soon afterward, Rue is whisked away to Ghizon, a hidden island of magic wielders, and is forced to leave behind her little sister and her familiar Houston neighborhood. When Rue breaks Ghizon's sacred rule and returns to home on the anniversary of her mother's death, she learns of the violent reality that the Black locals like her sister are facing. To save her sister from the same forces that claimed her mother's life, Rue must wield the full magnitude of her supernatural powers.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Alechia Dow's The Sound of Stars takes place during the aftermath of the world population's biggest demise. There's been a detrimental misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori, and 17-year-old Ellie Baker is one of the survivors. Despite the fact that all art, books, and creative expression are now illegal in Ilori-controlled New York City, Ellie doesn't hesitate to break the rules by keeping a secret library. Soon after, she finds her fate resting in the hands of a lab-born alien, and a plan to save humanity begins to unfold.