If you’re looking for more comics and books like The Kingkiller Chronicles, you’ve come to the right place.
Why I love The Kingkiller Chronicles
I heard of The Kingkiller Chronicles from webcomic artist Greg Dean. He recommended the book intensely, to the point where he buys all of the author’s books. This was also when I was in high school, and when I devoured fantasy. Naturally, I read book one, The Name of the Wind, and got hooked.
The story, as former hero and innkeeper Kote tells a Chronicler, is his life, under a different name. Kvothe started life as a budding Bard, ready to sing narratives. Then a mysterious villain wipes out his family, and he decides to study magic after grieving for a long while. In between he attends University, falls in love, and fights bullies who want to destroy him for his arrogance. He travels to see the world. Obviously, we wait for book three to wrap up all the knots and turn Kvothe into the famed hero his world knows.
What We Like About Kingkiller Chronicles
First, readers enjoy a good fantasy story with deep lore. We certainly get lore, from the various stories that Kvothe weaves into his narrative. There’s a giant world where dragons are flightless, yet magnificent creatures, where moneylenders can take your blood as collateral, and where you can lose your hands for bringing candles into a library.
The Chronicles also establish some story points we haven’t reached: Kvothe will be expelled from his University at a younger age than most men even start to attend, he will burn down a town, steal princesses, and kill a king. We don’t know the king that Kvothe will kill, or why he goes into hiding. We want to know what happens next. Each book contains a compact story, but we don’t have the whole. Patrick Rothfuss achieves gestalt, or the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, with this style.
So what stories have intriguing lore, have dangling story threads but self-contained narratives, and make us follow the main character despite their flaws? What are books like the Kingkiller Chronicles? I will include manga and comics with these recommendations.
Books LIke The Kingkiller Chronicles
1. Serpentine by Cindy Pon
An outcast who fights to keep her place with the people she loves? An outsider who needs to decide who she is, and what world she lives in? Sign me right up!
Skybright, a handmaiden and confidante to a wealthy noble’s daughter, has a terrible secret. She turns into a serpentine demon at night, without control. Worse, other strange beings claim she belongs to them, and not to the human realm. Skybright would rather remain normal and help her mistress Zhen Ni with an arranged match. Destiny and duty both call at inopportune times, however, giving her little choice.
We don’t know much about the magical world from Book One, but we see hints of its influence as Skybright’s mysterious origins call to her. She tries to avoid what seems like destiny, because she has a job to do: protect her mistress. We have so much lore to learn, especially I’m eager to read book two and see what more we discover.
2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Royal succession never pays. It especially never pays when you’re considered the outsider. Yeine Darr is related to the royal family, but she has lived her life in a northern tribe, due to an unnamed disgrace. Then her mother dies. Her grandfather summons her and names her as an heiress to his kingdom, in addition to two other heirs. When she protests, he says she doesn’t have a choice but to fight for her place. If she doesn’t, the other heirs will kill her.
First chapter in, we already know we’re in for a wild ride. Yeine has to earn her place in this new world, and redefine her role. She dislikes subterfuge, and would rather return home and grieve for her mother. The world only gets bigger with each revelation, as does the lore.
3. Coal: Book One of the Everleaf Series by Constance Burris
Coal wants to stay in the fey realm. He has lived there all of his life, since he was rescued from the human world’s streets by a fairy princess. Said princess, Chalcedony, will become queen of her realm in a few days. The other fey worry that Coal’s close relationship with Coal, though he keeps claiming they’re friends, will interfere with her royal duties and political affinities. Coal would rather solve the problem by becoming a blacksmith’s apprentice, but the princess doesn’t want to lose him.
Chalcedony when trying to solve the dilemma considers replacing Coal with a new human child, a little girl named Elizabeth. Elizabeth soon tires of the fey, however, and accidentally breaks a law that could get her killed. When it seems Chalcedony to save face has to kill or enslave Elizabeth, Coal decides to run with Elizabeth and take her home. Doing so, however, ensues in the highest form of treason.
We cannot trust the fey. Neither can Coal, as he slowly learns. Still, the simple solution would be to trust Chalcedony and her attempts to loophole past the laws so as to save Elizabeth. We don’t know if Coal is right to fight for his freedom, or not. And as one reader pointed out, we don’t know if he has earned his happy ending. But I hope he does.
4. Wrath of the Dawn By Renee Ardieh
We know the tale of Scheherezade as the tale of thousands of stories. One woman, determined to save her country from a murderous king, married him and risked her life. She would tell one tale per night, leaving each on a cliffhanger. Eventually, she told enough tales that he fell in love with her and shed his murderous ways.
That is not Sharzad’s story. Sharzad seeks not to save everyone but to murder her king. He killed her cousin Shiva, in his bid to marry one girl a night and execute them at dawn. She hopes she can outwit him, and figure out why he’s killed so many. The answers prove to be shocking, as do her changing feelings towards him. We also learn that this world isn’t a series of fairytales with puzzles upon puzzles, as with the original Scheherazade.
5. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
In this novel, diviners could once use magic. They had the gods’ blessing. But they lost their powers eleven years ago. That night, the king’s soldiers struck and wiped out as many powerless diviners as they could. The powerful maji became nameless “maggots” and have to pay high taxes to keep their freedom.
Zelie is one of the diviners’ children. She has no magic, but she has the telltale white hair. But she has grit, and a sense that all is not well. When it seems the magic has returned, the king isn’t pleased. He executes his daughter’s beloved confidante, also a diviner, on learning her powers has returned. The princess decides to atone for Binta’s death and help the diviners. This world is not friendly, to either the marginalized or those who hope to make things right. Knowing the journey is hard makes the conclusion that much sweeter.
6. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Stephen King—he made quite an impact on horror and fantasy culture. We got a recent film adaptation of The Dark Tower with Idris Elba, which at the least has a magnificent lead.
Roland the Gunslinger seeks the Tower, to save it from malevolent forces. A man in black, a violent villain, sends him along his way but also vows to destroy him. He has to traverse many worlds, befriend and capture companions. Sometimes he visits our world, in different time periods. Other times, he enters realms with murderous golden balls and discs.
I will say that the first three books haven’t aged well since the 1980s; we have some artistic license with mental illnesses, a lot of violence, and some rather unsympathetic choices. If one can get past that to books five and six, however, you are in for one heck of a ride.
7. The Dark Lord of Derkholm duo By Diana Wynne Jones
You can’t go wrong with Diana, RIP. She was a wonderful writer, and one of the most creative. In this two-book story, she depicts a world where sorcerers reluctantly have to play the part as villains and sidekicks for tourists. The dark lord in resident, Dirk, would rather make new animal-hybrids to adopt and consider his children. Then when the children attend university, they find the education substandard.
Unlike the other books here, Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin are pastiches. Diana reportedly hated the cliches that people used to emulate Tolkien, and believed that authors could do better. So she wrote a book with loving scorn, and comedy for our inner child. Her scorn paid off, if the pit of orange juice meant for an assassin is any indication.
8. Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix (Children’s Literature)
Keys to the Kingdom is like Alice in Wonderland, if Alice found herself targeted by malevolent beings. Arthur Penhaligon finds out he has to get all the keys from various beings known as the Days of the Week. To do so, he has to enter their realms, fight their monsters, and locate new allies. These Days of the Week also want him dead. No pressure, right?
Arthur would rather return to his normal life. He still enters these worlds and become the hero that they need. The lore is immense, and intense. We barely get a chance to breathe and figure out what happened. And it is delightful.
9. Discworld by Terry Pratchett
You want stories that are told with lore, with hooks that can sometimes take an entire series to it, but with self-contained adventures? Then you got Discworld. It lies on a flat world on the back of a turtle, where the characters mock the fantasy genre tropes and get involved. As you can imagine, each book packs laughs and kicks in the gut.
Mind, Discworld isn’t perfect. Terry Pratchett, despite being ahead of his time, had some tales that may not sit well with marginalized folk. You can, however, cherry-pick which stories you prefer. Mark Oshiro has done reviews of most of the books, and has pinpointed the ones with problematic material. Hogfather, Carpe Jugulum and The Shepherd’s Crown are my favorites.
While building his career as an animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki worked on this manga. He used it to challenge his philosophies about humanity and our relationship with nature. Along the way, he created four volumes of lore-rich, morally ambiguous manga.
Princess Nausicaä doesn’t view herself as a hero. She lives in a world where toxic fungi have taken over most of the forests, and strange bug-like creatures the size of cattle roam the land. She doesn’t even know what legacy she will leave behind, if any. Survival and protecting her people take priority. The more she travels, and learns more about the land, the more she realizes that one has to know the past, and its spiritual ties, to save the future.
11. Full Metal Alchemist By Hiromu AraKawa
If you want moral ambiguity, combined with steampunk aesthetics and the tragedies of war, you got this adventure story. The Elric brothers, teenage Edward and Alphonse, accidentally sacrificed their bodies when trying to resurrect their mother. Edward manages to bond Al’s soul to a suit of armor. As they seek to restore their original bodies, civil war and a dark secret brews in their home country. They fret as friends fall victim to learning the truth of these affairs, and others suffer for the boys’ sins.
The story has loads of lore related to alchemy, alkahestry, the politics of the three main countries, and storytelling. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of how victors define the history books and heroes. What’s more, the script flips a few times with each revelation.
12. Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi
Princess Yona has wanted for nothing in life, save her bodyguard’s respect and her cousin’s romantic love. Prince Soo-won could marry her and become king, if her father would give his blessing. King Il refuses, for reasons he won’t specify. Yona schemes to demand his blessing, on her birthday. That same day, Soo-Won murders her father and nearly kills her as well. Her bodyguard Hak rescues Yona, and they both run for their lives. Yona eventually decides to protect Hak in return, and travel the world in search of mystical warriors who can do the job and keep Hak alive.
We have a lead who loses her entire world, and then has to regain her place by finding a new one. Much like Kvothe, Yona is told she could turn from a harder path, and spend a life in solitude. She refuses, and changes her role from damsel to leader. The more Yona enters her kingdom, the more she learns about her father’s shortcomings, and the weight of caring for people. She’s mourning a father, but they are shedding no tears for an inefficient ruler. Yona has to change the narrative.
13. Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess Series by Jeremy Whitley (Author), Rosy Higgins (Illustrator), Ted Brandt (Illustrator)
A princess has lost her home, her inheritance, and faith in her family. Pirate Princess Raven seeks revenge on her brothers for locking her up in a tower and stealing what should have been hers, instead of making her queen of their empire. She just needs a crew willing to fight for money. How hard can that be?
The story deals with an arrogant but disillusioned lead, who uses her brains and bravado to meet any situation. We have lore from the previous Princeless series, and a whole new world to find. Raven hopes to earn her rightful place in the world, or reshape her world to regain her legacy.
14. Monstress by Marjorie Liu (Author), Sana Takeda (Illustrator)
Maika Halfwolf seeks answers. Her mother died in the desert, murdered. She seeks to learn about her origins, and a terrible curse that befalls her at bad times. It would be nice to find out why, and how to stop her violent side. Breaking into an out of a witch’s compound was the easy part; finding the answers is much harder.
This alternative fantasy shows no kindness to monsters or outsiders. Unlucky “monster” children, part of the Arcanics race, end up used as guinea pigs in experiments for witches. Maika has survived war, and ended up in slave camps. Then she has her problems. We have to join her to find the lore she seeks.
15. Bone: The Complete Edition by Jeff Smith
Absolutely nothing like a comic story that goes from straightforward, Disney-influenced slapstick to high fantasy. The Bone Brothers, who just have run from an angry mob and away from home sweet Boneville, find themselves in a mysterious desert and then a valley. Phoney Bone got his brothers exiled and always seeks scams. Smiley Bone just wants to stay positive and keep his family together. Fone Bone wants to survive, read his edition of Moby Dick, and get along with everyone, including his new host Grandma Ben and her granddaughter Thorne. Things change when rat creatures and a dragon find all of them. Also, the rat creatures believe Phoney Bone is their chosen one.
Lore here is important in that it shapes how the heroes, and their abilities, are shaped. The rat creatures pursue Phoney because they believe he can unlock great dark powers. Grandma Ben reveals that she and Thorne have to hide from the world because of who they once were. Fone also learns that the dragon that keeps saving him has more up his sleeve.
The mood shifts rather abruptly several chapters into the story. At first, we have cow races and Phoney having to wash dishes to pay off a bar tab. Then we get a destroyed village, and armies of rat creatures, as well as Thorne’s true origins. I recommend reading the full edition rather than the colored reprints coming out in installments, so that one can get the full story.
What other books like the Kingkiller Chronicles would you peruse while waiting for Book Three?