The trend for books about magical schools started in 1968 when Ursula LeGuin published The Wizards of Earthsea. It really took off with the release of the first Harry Potter in 1997. I was working in a bookstore when Pottermania went stratospheric and was delighted to see that the series helped to move kids and adults from reluctant readers to full blown book worms.
Since that time, magic school books have become their own very particular sub-genre of fantasy. And if you loved Potter or Earthsea, you’ll be happy to know that there is a whole new generation of books that will scratch that particular itch.
When I was sourcing books for this list, I combed my own reading list but also crowd-sourced ideas from my Facebook communities. I was completely flooded with suggestions. This article could easily recommend 50+ books about magical schools. But 50 new books for your TBR (to be read list) is a bit overwhelming, so I applied some criteria to come up with a list of 20 great reads.
Let’s start with quality and popularity. All of the books here have an average of 4+ stars on Goodreads reviews. Beyond that, I’ve deliberately curated a diverse mix of books. There is a mix of adult and YA books. I’ve included schools for both magicians and paranormals. There are standalones and series. We have some romance, dark academia, coming of age stories, high fantasy, LGBTQ characters, books that you don’t want to read on a dark and stormy night, and a few books that are well-doused in snark.
So, open up your TBR list, grab your wand and let’s get started.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
4+ Star Books About Magical Schools (Ranked)
Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1), B.B. Alston
When Amari’s brother disappears, she bothered by the fact that no one else seems to be bothered by it. Then she discovers that he’s left behind for her a nomination to a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. She begins training as a junior agent, setting off a series of twisty adventures chock full of myths and legends.
The book covers themes like the race and class, perseverance, self-confidence and resiliency. If you like the book, there is a second in the series and more on the way.
The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune
This book is a big warm hug with all the feels, and bonus points for an LGBTQ plotline and students who are very species-diverse.
Linus Baker works for the highly bureaucratic (and deeply flawed) Department in Charge Of Magical Youth (DICOMY), evaluating the orphanages and schools that house magical children. He cares about his job, but his personal emotional life is pretty walled off. When he’s called to evaluate the students at Marsyas Island Orphanage, he is surprised by what he finds there and it changes him in the most profound ways.
The House in the Cerulean Sea also makes for a great book club read. You may also be interested in this interview wherein Klune talks about why it’s important for him to write queer characters.
In Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan
When his class goes on a field trip, Elliot can see a wall that no one else can see. It’s the Borderlands and he’s soon given the chance to go to school there. He was hoping for lots of mermaids but what he got was a gender-flipped elvish world with a lot of knife throwing.
This book is light on world-building as it de-constructs typical portal fantasies. It’s full of snark, flirty moves and surprise twists.
Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles #1), Lynette Noni
This book has been pitched as Harry Potter meets X-Men with a bit of Narnia.
In this portal fantasy, Alex enters a door on her first day of school and finds herself stranded in Medora. While trying to figure out how to get home, she attends the Akarnae Academy magical school. She befriends Jordan and Bear and seems to be doing OK, but something isn’t quite right at the school and she needs to figure out what’s going on.
And…bonus…the school features a sentient library! If you like the book, there are four more (plus a few side volumes) in the series.
Carry On (Simon Snow #1), Rainbow Rowell
I promised you some snark…and Carry On delivers. Simon may be the Chosen One, but he can’t get his wand to work, his girlfriend broke up with him and there’s a monster on the loose. And then there’s Baz, Simon’s vampiric arch nemesis *slash* love interest.
Simon has to sort all this out while also attending Watford School of Magicks. The book has solid world-building and tons of character development. The book is a fun read, but it doesn’t skim over the fact that being the Chosen One can be traumatizing.
The book is part of a trilogy.
The Wizard Heir (Heir Chronicles #2), Cinda Williams Chima
Seph is an orphaned, untrained wizard who lacks control over his powers. After a series of disastrous accidents, he’s sent to The Havens, which is a secluded boy’s boarding school in Maine. The school is creepy and there is clearly something sinister going on. The headmaster is up to some truly nighmarish stuff.
Seph resists the darkness and does what he can to escape. Chima uses the characters and setting to make the point that everyone can make a difference no matter what power you have.
This book is part of a series of 5 books but it can be read as a standalone. The other books do not necessarily feature magical schools, but they are full-on urban fantasy nonetheless.
Red Sister (The Ancestor #1), Mark Lawrence
In a rare twist on the genre of books set in magical schools, this high fantasy is set in a convent school. At the ironically named Convent of Sweet Mercy, these young girls are raised to be killers. Some of the students have rare, mystical talents. The Abbess Glass sees a a wild streak in the lead character Nona. The Abbess thinks that, with training. it could bloom into something magical.
“This novel rewards commitment, and by the time the world’s magic grows from a whisper to a scream, what was sluggish has become enthralling. Like the way it’s always quiet just before a thunderclap erupts, the descent-into-hell plotline is splashed out in bright, bold strokes.”
Red Sister is part of a trilogy.
The Novice (Summoner Series #1), Taran Matharu
Fletcher was blacksmith’s apprentice, when a chance encounter leads to a discovery that he has the ability to summon demons from another world. Fletcher’s demon becomes his loyal companion. But they are both forced to flee the village, dogged by accusations of a crime that Fletcher didn’t commit. He manages to get himself enrolled in the Vocans Academy, which trains summoners.
There are a lot of interesting class-based power dynamics and species-based racism. And the story is chockablock with shady doings, political shenanigans and conspiracies.
There are three main books, plus a few side reads in the series.
Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1), Richelle Mead
These vampires aren’t all undead. Lead character Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess and a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. And her friend Rose has a powerful blend of human and vampire blood. Together they are forced to attend the St. Vladimir’s Academy, which is fraught with danger for Lissa.
The book’s themes feature strong female power and forbidden student/teacher romance. Good not only for fans of Twilight, but also for people who don’t link they like vampires.
This is the first in a six book series.
The Black Witch (The Black Witch Chronicles #1), Laurie Forest
Elloren may have had a powerful grandmother, but she is utterly devoid of power herself, in a society that prizes magical ability above all else. But there are some family secrets that Elloren’s uncle is keeping from her. She wants to become an apothecary and ultimately joins her brothers at the Verpax University.
Not unlike the whole “pure blood”, “mud blood” theme in Harry Potter’s magical school, there is no shortage of racism occurring between the various magical races in The Black Witch. A good vs bad paradigm doesn’t really work in this book where everyone is difficult and weird and jealous and vindictive and moody (including the main character).
“This is a story about realizing how you may be a product of your environment and upbringing. This is a story about one woman realizing the dangers of the way she had been conditioned to think for her entire life, and overcoming those notions. This is a story about redemption and friendship and the beauty that comes with realizing that there is strength in diversity and multiculturalism. “
There are four books published in the series and another in the queue.
The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins
A lot of magical school books are suited for YA, even though they have dark themes, fighting and tribulations. But Mount Char is most assuredly not YA, because this book is darker than the darkest night. It’s definitively a great crossover read for fans of horror.
After Carolyn’s parents died, she was taken in by a man (or is he?) called Father to be tutored in his ancient customs. Each of Father’s students have a particular elemental gift and through Father’s tutelage and books from the library, they are taught to hone their skills in a series of cruel, competitive and bloody lessons. When Father goes missing, Carolyn sets out (with a vengeance) to figure out what’s happened.
Vita Nostra, Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
Julia Meitov Hersey (translator), (4.09 stars)
While vacationing with her mother, Sasha meets a mysterious and somewhat sinister man who compels her to perform a series of scandalous tasks. Each completed task rewards her with gold coins, which she ultimately uses to gain entrance into the Institute of Special Technologies. The coursework is impenetrable but the consequences of failure are catastrophic. Sasha feels trapped at times, but ultimately seizes her fate.
This book lacks the pithy, plotty tropes that many magical school books employ. Rather, it’s a dark, philosophical mind trip with a long, slow burn.
There are three books in this series, but as of now, only one has been translated from the author’s native Russian.
Tempests and Slaughter (Numair Chronicles #1), Tamora Pierce
Pierce’s Tortall universe includes 20 books in the series. The Numair Chronicles follows the younger years and magical schooling of Aaram Draper. Because this is a prequel, it’s not a requirement that you’ve read other books in the series.
Aaram attends the Imperial University of Carthak with his friends Varice and Ozorne. Even though he’s only 10, Aaram is a gifted mage whose power rivals even that of students almost twice his age. His Gift puts him on a specialized track and a lot of the book centers around his magical education. And like Harry Potter, the three friends and their evolving relationships are the heart of the story.
Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1), Mercedes Lackey
Talia, once a runaway, has been chosen by the mythical horse Companion Rolan to train as a Herald for the Queen’s elite guard. Talia attends the Collegium, where she struggles, despite her burgeoning talents. The book follows her journey from sweet girl to fierce protector of the Queen.
The book covers themes of strong female power, coming of age and found families.
The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1), R.F. Kuang
Against all odds (and societal norms) Rin aces the Keju test, ensuring her a spot in the elite Academies. She’s poor, a girl, and she’s got darker skin than the other students. In addition, she possesses a rare shamanistic power, which she explores with the help of psychotropic drugs and one very eccentric teacher.
A fair amount of the action does take place within the magical Academy, but alot of it spills out into the Empire as a brewing war begins to bubble over. Despite that, I’ve included this book because it presents an completely unique world relative to everything else on this list.
Many/most books about magical schools have a very Anglo or Euro-centric culture. But The Poppy War is set in a world inspired by 20th century China. There is a lot of Asian mythology and military lore woven into the book, giving it a very fresh perspective.
And if you like it, there are two more in the series.
Kuang has also written Babel, which is set in an alternative Oxford University of the mid 1800’s. Magical silver-working uses language and translation to make England hum. The multi-cultural students at the university are taught the art of silver work, but England’s colonial zeal and racism threaten to bring it all down. Here’s our discussion guide for Babel.
Zodiac Academy: The Awakening (Supernatural Beasts and Bullies #1), Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
Tory and Darcy are twins who have no idea that they have elemental powers (or even that it was a thing), until Professor Orion turns up. He informs them that they are part of the Fae and that their parents were the King and Queen of Solaria. He invites them to attend the Zodiac Academy in Solaria.
But hey, no pressure.
Times are darker than they know, and they have to navigate the school without the benefit of knowing anything about their powers or the history of Solaria. There are a lot of power dynamics at play between the students, and the professors are less than cuddly. The book is a mix of Hogwarts action with a strong dose of bully romance thrown in.
Ninth House (Alex Stern #1), Leigh Bardugo
Alex is a very unlikely freshman at Yale. She’s a 20-year old dropout with a shady past who is only just recovering from a homicide attempt. When she’s mysteriously offered a position at Yale, she takes the bait, but does indeed wonder what’s the catch.
The catch is that she’s asked to monitor the activities of 8 secret Yale societies. Think fraternities and sororities, except fewer beer bashes and way more dark magic, occult rituals, ghosts and no small amount of female rage.
This book won a YA fiction award from Goodreads, but it’s pitch black twisty themes are definitely full-on dark adult fantasy.
A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1), Naomi Novik
I’m just going to let a Goodreads reviewer tell you what this is about, because he nailed it.
“If Hogwarts was a prickly, sentient, professorless school infested with demons, and the lead was an angry, dark Queen of Sarcasm and prophesied harbinger of death, trying to study and survive…or die, you’d have this book.”
So in that world, you find El tackling issues related to her mixed ethnicity, academic politicking and some very hungry monsters. The book reads like a dark comedy with a sarcastic queen of a main character at the center of the action.
The book is part of a trilogy and Novik also has several other magical series featuring fairy tale retellings and dragons.
Shadowspell Academy (The Culling Trials #1), K.F. Breene and Shannon Mayer
Yea. The Shadowspell Academy is deadly too. If you are invited and don’t go, they will kill your family. But even if you do go, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get out alive.
In a move reminiscent of Katniss’s bid to save her sister’s life, Wild pretends to be a boy and takes the place of her brother Billy. When she gets to the academy, she’s surprised to find that she has a lot of magic inside of her. And she’s going to need it if she’s going to survive the trials.
Zero Sight (Zero Sight #1), Justin Shier
Street smart Deiter is surprised to find that he is a latent mage with the power to bend manaflows. He has grown up on a dodgy part of Las Vegas with a crap father and gang problem. When he gets invited to attend Elliot College, which is the premier magical academy in North America, he jumps at the chance for a fresh start. On the way to school, he meets fellow student Rei. She spent her childhood with shadow vampire creatures and knows little about the modern world.
The book is great for fans of urban fantasy, Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne.
Bonus Suggestions for Books with Magic Schools
OK. I can’t help myself. Here are five additional books set in magical schools. They either didn’t make the cut-off for 4+ starred ratings, or they aren’t primarily focused on the school setting. However, they are interesting reads with a range of world-building and they’re worth a look.
- Hex Hall, by Rachel Hawkins
- Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard
- The Magicians, Lev Grossman
- The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
- Marked, by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
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