With 2021 quickly drawing to a close, tradition dictates (or at least strongly encourages) that we round up our favorites for the year, be it memories or films or songs. Unsurprisingly, for readers like you and me, it’s books. Which begs the question: What were the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2021?
Well, here’s my personal little roundup of well-written SFF titles for your consideration! From hard-hitting fantasy adventures with colonial critiques, to softer stories with elements of magic, there’s hopefully something here for everyone. Make sure to treat yourself to these literary gems before the year ends.
Black Water Sister
In an unexpected reunion with her estranged grandmother’s ghost, Jessamyn Teoh suddenly finds herself in a perilous world of mysterious deities, spirits, and family secrets—with the added obstacle of having to take down a ruthless gang boss who has offended a god.
Set in Malaysia, Black Water Sister is a spellbinding contemporary fantasy where dangers run deep and family ties run even deeper. Whether you’re a fan of the paranormal or not, you’re sure to eagerly devour this masterpiece.
The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng
In this story inspired by pre-colonial Philippines, a queen known for her ruthlessness must unite a divided people against known and unknown enemies who threaten to tear her kingdom apart.
After two heart-wrenching, stomach-twisting installments, The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng is the masterfully written finale to Villoso’s epic fantasy trilogy. Arguably her most daring work to date, it leaves readers stunned, speechless, and satisfied.
In an Asia-inspired city, two powerful clans war over the control of bioenergetic jade, which lends its users superhuman abilities.
With an ambitious narrative spanning more than two decades, Jade Legacy offers a terrifyingly amazing conclusion to this expertly written urban fantasy saga. While the story’s stage is now much larger, its core remains unchanged and as compelling as ever.
Light from Uncommon Stars
Shizuka Satomi is one soul away from fulfilling her deal with the devil and trading the souls of seven other violin prodigies in exchange for her own success. But Shizuka's plans are suddenly sidetracked upon meeting a retired starship captain in a small donut shop along a busy highway in California’s San Gabriel Valley.
With elements of contemporary sapphic romance and sci-fi skillfully interwoven into its story, Light from Uncommon Stars promises a unique, tender experience for its readers.
Never Have I Ever
From witch doctors to manananggal, Isabel Yap’s debut collection of short stories features various mythological creatures and urban folklore from Filipino culture. It’s also very diverse in terms of genres, with tales ranging from fantasy horror to fabulism.
When I picked up Never Have I Ever, I was impressed by the range and flexibility of Yap’s writing style, as each short story has its own unique flair. This anthology is a hidden gem, and I absolutely recommend it.
She Who Became the Sun
In 1345 China, a young girl is left orphaned after a bandit attack. Determined to survive and to escape her fate of nothingness, she takes on her brother’s identity and enters a monastery as a male novice.
Following an ambitious and defiant queer protagonist, She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy that is epic in all aspects. It’s a fitting read for fans of heavy, intense plots and detailed historical fiction.
The Infinity Courts
When 18-year-old Nami Miyamoto wakes up to a strange cyberpunk afterlife, the last thing she expected to find was Ophelia, an AI entity intent on eradicating human existence. With a team of rebels, Nami must take down Ophelia and save all of humanity.
Perfect for thrill seekers, AI enthusiasts, and YA dystopia fans, The Infinity Courts is sure to keep its readers captivated.
The Ones We're Meant to Find
Two separated sisters must beat all odds and find their way back to each other in a disaster-ridden world destroyed by human greed and capitalism.
This is an atmospheric story rooted in sisterhood, shrouded in elements of mystery, and told against the backdrop of a precarious civilization on the brink of environmental ruin. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a genre-defying novel that’s worthy of the spot it earned on the New York Times bestseller.
Our Violent Ends
A loose reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai, Our Violent Ends follows a defiant girl on the warpath and a grief-stricken boy who loves and hates her in equal measure. When a new monster emerges in the city, Juliette and Roma must work together to end this threat once and for all.
True to its title, Our Violent Ends is an explosive, no-holds-barred sequel and conclusion to Gong’s highly acclaimed debut novel, These Violent Delights. Readers will find themselves enamored by the tenacity of Juliette and Roma’s romance, but also stressed over the outside forces threatening to break them apart.
A year ago, I listed Ifueko’s Raybearer as one of the best SFF releases in 2020, so it comes as no surprise that I’m mentioning its sequel in this list.
Redemptor easily picks up from where its predecessor left off: for the first time in Aritsar’s history, an Empress Redemptor sits on its throne, but not without dire consequences.
Thoughtfully paced and cleverly developed, Redemptor excels in delivering an immersive, expansive story while exploring ideas of justice, hope, and ultimately, what it means to live. Hands down, the best YA fantasy duology I’ve had the pleasure of reading!
Healer of the Water Monster
When young Nathan gets lost in a nearby desert and accidentally finds a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story, he must summon all his courage to save his new friend.
Written with love and warmth, The Healer of the Water Monster offers middle-grade readers an engrossing story steeped in Navajo culture and mythology.
Last Gamer Standing
In 2067, 12-year-old Reyna Cheng believes that she can win the championship title for the Dayhold Junior Tournament as the enigmatic TheRuiNar. But when an anonymous troll emerges to blackmail her, she is forced to deal with a dark side of the gaming community.
Empowering and fast-paced, Last Gamer Standing is a delightful blend of sci-fi and gaming culture, while criticizing the rampant misogyny faced by female gamers.