Between Hugo Awards drama and Oscar nominations, awards season is fully in swing. It's worth taking a look back at 2023, which was a spellbinding year for speculative fiction. Plenty of books, shows, and movies played around with form or tackled the cyberpunk dystopian future we’re slowly heading towards, while pushing the limits of the genre in myriad ways. Authors and directors have broken away from formulaic, trope-driven storytelling in favor of more experimental narratives and political allegories that are, nevertheless, rooted in optimism and hope—a reminder that speculative fiction exists not just as a cozy escape from reality, but to actively imagine better futures and alternate ways of being.
Below are some of our favorite, most memorable reads and watches of 2023 that are worth a try.
The Best SFF Books This Year
The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport
I love everything about The Jinn-bot of Shantiport, the latest novel by bestselling writer, Samit Basu. It’s action-packed, socially relevant and gloriously entertaining—with mecha battles, a heartwarming romance, and a meditation on bot rights carefully woven into the narrative.
We follow Lina, a young activist who strives to save the slowly-decaying city of Shantiport from its corrupt rulers, and her brother, Bador, a monkey bot with ambitions of his own, through the eyes of Moku, our hilarious narrator whose attempts at detachment are slowly complicated by…feelings. The result is a cyberpunk Aladdin retelling that’s full of chaotic shenanigans and perfect for fans of science-fantasy novels.
Mad Sisters of Esi
Mad Sisters of Esi is one of the most marvelous and structurally inventive novels I’ve read in years. The story begins in the caverns of a many-chambered mythic whale, moving towards a Museum of Memory and a Festival of Madness being celebrated in a sentient island, with nested fairytales, dictionary entries, academic papers and diary excerpts, all part of the dazzling and immersive narrative.
On one hand, it’s a tale of sisterhood, of longing and the grief of separation, but it’s also about the act of creation itself and the stories we tell. Bold and experimental, I’d recommend Mad Sisters of Esi not just for lovers of fantasy, but to anyone longing for an utterly magical experience.
For fans of Gothic tales and haunted homes, Starling House is a mesmerizing tale by the author of Ten Thousand Doors of January.
Starling House is a mansion that was the home to E. Starling, a writer and illustrator who disappeared. It’s a house with secrets—one that Opal stumbles upon as she signs up for a job as a cleaner and slowly catches feelings for Arthur, the sole and reclusive heir of the place.
Reminiscent somewhat of Silva Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and V.E. Schwab’s Gallant, Starling House with its evocative prose promises to be a spooky and satisfying read.
The Circumference of the World
I first fell in love with Lavie Tidhar’s works after coming across a copy of Central Station in the library—entranced by the real and virtual worlds within, and the characters who inhabit it.
The Circumference of the World is even more ambitious, taking the readers on a wild, unforgettable cosmic ride, across multiple realities wherein a mobster, mathematician, and a book dealer search for a mysterious book that disappears upon being read. It’s a wondrous and imaginative homage to classic and pulp science fiction, while also being a book about an elusive book. It’s enthralling, meta, and sure to surprise you in the best of ways.
The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar
One of my all-time favorite novellas, The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar follows the story of Ru, a boy from nowhere whose parents are migrants from another reality, growing up in north Calcutta during the late '90s/early 2000s, and his friendship with Alice, a neighbor from Chinatown.
It’s a poignant and moving meditation on identity and belonging, where the dragons are both real and metaphorical. If you love coming-of-age tales tinged with magic realism, Studio Ghibli movies, and poetic prose, you’ll adore this gem of a book.
Guardians of Dawn: Zhara
Reading an eARC of Zhara: Guardians of Dawn brought back the joy I felt when I first started voraciously reading fantasy novels as a teenager. Set in an East-Asian inspired fantasy world, Zhara: Guardians of Dawn is a lighthearted Cinderella retelling with references to K-pop and where Prince Charming is an adorable himbo.
It’s very neatly plotted, filled with action, hilarity and silliness. If you love optimistic fairytale retellings, you’ll find this one to be quite an endearing and refreshing read.
The Ten Percent Thief
If you love mosaic novels, you’re surely enjoy The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan that imagines a very plausible near-future society built on “meritocracy”—and the struggles, strife, and revolution that it will inevitably bring.
It’s a biting and excellently written satire with interconnected stories that smartly explore how digital technology and capitalism dominate our lives.
The Saint of Bright Doors
The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera is an inventive and intelligent standalone fantasy that’s probably unlike anything you’ve read before.
It follows the vivid tale of Fetter, a deeply divided person who’s been raised as an assassin with the sole purpose of murdering his almost god-like father, as he navigates the magical and mundane cityscape. If you’re in the mood for a literary fantasy that’s both surreal and stunning, The Saint of Bright Doors is your long-awaited portal.
Another gorgeously experimental novel, Dreambound by Dan Frey delves into fandom communities and Fae machinations, told entirely through mixed media elements—journal entries, emails, text messages, novel excerpts, letters, a police report, and more.
These “found” documents follow the exploits of Byron Kidd, whose daughter has gone missing under mysterious circumstances, as he uncovers a magical reality coexisting alongside contemporary Los Angeles. An unputdownable urban fantasy thriller that will surely appeal to readers, irrespective of whether they grew up reading fanfiction or not.
The Best TV Shows and Movies
Loki Season 2
In the first season, we were left wondering where Loki was sent, what was going to happen to the timelines, and where did Sylvie go? The opening of season 2 threw viewers right back into the action, answering questions before rapidly asking more. It’s a short season, with only 6 episodes, but the action-packed story with the perfect Loki sleight-of-hand vibe made for an immensely satisfying show.
Based on the dystopian series of the same name by Hugh Howey, Silo takes us into a future where mankind lives in a gigantic underground silo system. With mesmerizing sets, an addictive plot, and powerhouse performances, Silo is a genre-bending show that is guaranteed to keep viewers on the edge of their seat.
The Last of Us
2023 was the year of SFF breaking the internet, and one of the most talked about shows was The Last of Us. Based on the video game, the show follows a smuggler tasked with bringing an immune teenager across a post-apocalyptic United States. With heart-wrenching storyline, unforgettable performances, and a gorgeous score, it’s no wonder the award-winning show is generally praised as one of the all-time greatest video game adaptations.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
There’s something simply magical about a fun fantasy heist that has equal parts heart and humor. Throw in that it’s based on a beloved franchise, and it makes sense that this movie did so well. It’s a lighthearted adventure that invites both die-hard fans and newbies into the complex Dungeons & Dragons world.
Of all the movies and shows to garner internet buzz, only Barbie (when paired with Nolan’s biopic thriller Oppenheimer) nearly broke it. A surprisingly deep movie, we follow Barbie and Ken as they go on a journey of self-discovery.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
In most Godzilla movies, we may come to love the human characters, but really, we’re there for monster smashing. And yet, somehow, the MonsterVerse managed to take everything we love, throw in a father-son duo playing the same role in different timelines, and stretch it into an entertaining and engaging eight episode series.
Star Wars: Ahsoka
From the moment Ahsoka appeared on the screen in The Mandalorian, fans demanded more. This new series balances the original storyline created for the character in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars with a new plot welcoming in new fans.
A spin-off of the wildly popular and extremely violent Prime series, The Boys, Gen V focuses on young supes competing at a crimefighting university for a chance to join Vought’s elite team, The Seven. It’s just as gruesome and subversive as the source material, while daring to go deeper.
After the birth of their first child, a young bookseller’s wife struggles with postpartum psychosis that drives her to madness. After she commits a horrific act, Apollo descends into the underbelly of New York to find his wife and child. A dark fairytale sharpened with horror, The Changeling brings Victor LaValle’s novel of the same name to eerie life.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
In a year of superhero movies that failed to deliver, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a breathtaking exception. Instead of trying to go bigger and better, Spider-Man goes deeper into its comic roots. It’s over-the-top, packed with joy, visually stunning, and filled with non-stop action from the first frame to the cliffhanger end.
They Cloned Tyrone
When a series of unlikely events strike, an unlikely trio is hurtled down the road to discovering a government cloning conspiracy. With a stellar cast, a healthy sprinkling of humor, and an intriguing plot, They Cloned Tyrone delivers non-stop entertainment with a clever twist.
Lockwood & Co.
A paranormal detective adventure that stays true to the books the first season is based on, the show follows Ruby Stokes, a talented young ghost hunter joins a tiny ghost hunting agency. Though the show made it into Netflix’s global top ten for three weeks and had overall solid reviews, the show was not renewed.