Magical realism weaves fantasy and magic with everyday life in the most matter-of-fact way. Many magical realism books offer a unique exploration of cultural, social, and emotional themes, diving into the spiritual world and tackling the what-ifs of the apocalypse. Even travel through time. Jump headfirst into the genre with famous classics as well as new releases set across the globe.
Table of Contents
Top Three To Start With
You are probably already familiar with the iconic works of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, which are also on this reading list. However, if we had to pick our top three favorite books with magical realism, we start with:
Take The Uncorked Reading Challenge!
Travel around the world with our Uncorked Reading Challenge. Never be late to the party with unique new book releases. Get the latest movie and book lists straight to your inbox.
20 Magical Realism Books We Recommend
For complete book summaries and more, keep reading as we share 20 of the best magical realism novels. Magical realism is also a theme for our 2024 Uncorked Reading Challenge.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
Anyone with an intense connection to someone will lose themselves in The Wicker King. Told with mixed media, this is one of the most creative magical realism books on this list.
August is a misfit, but he’s smart enough to be able to deal drugs at school without getting caught. Jack is a star football player, but he’s starting to see visions of things that aren’t there. Together, they will have to triumph over adversity if they want to discover the mystery of the Wicker King.
The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston
Following the unexpected death of her aunt, Clementine moves into her aunt’s swanky NYC apartment, having inherited it in the will. But while she’s grieving her aunt in the very place they shared many happy memories, something magical begins to happen.
It turns out that all her aunt’s stories about the apartment’s tendency to shift slightly in time might just be true. But does she heed her aunt’s advice to never fall in love in the apartment, or does she follow her heart? If you’re looking for heartfelt romance books with magical realism, The Seven Year Slip is the perfect choice.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot
What if you could go back in time? There is a quiet cafe in Tokyo where you can do just that. There are very specific rules you must follow, and you can’t change the outcome. But the most important thing is that you must return before the coffee gets cold.
In these four stories, we follow four people connected in some way to the cafe as they sit at this magical table and relive important moments. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a bittersweet look at time and memory, and one of the most popular Japanese fantasy novels in America.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Following three generations of the Trueba family in Chile, the book starts with Esteban Trueba and his clairvoyant wife, Clara, who has just predicted an accidental death within the family. Like many, the family grows and struggles against the backdrop of many of Chile’s biggest social and political changes of the 20th century.
With sprinklings of Clara’s gift throughout, this has become one of the most famous and beloved magical realism books – and for good reason. If you love epic family sagas and books with spirits, The House of the Spirits is a must!
If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang
In If You Could See the Sun, Alice hates being the poor kid on a partial scholarship at her elite private school in Beijing. She knows it will be worth it, but in the meantime, she feels invisible. Then the unthinkable happens: Alice starts to turn invisible.
Desperate for some extra cash after finding out her parents can’t afford the remainder of her tuition, Alice decides to utilize her newfound ability. With the help of her academic rival, she creates an app that allows people to anonymously hire her for seemingly impossible tasks. But is Alice getting in too deep now that she knows all these secrets?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
From Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude is undoubtedly one of the most famous magical realism novels ever written. It is often cited as one of the greatest achievements of world literature and is the most iconic book of the 1960s.
Its themes are no less formidable, ranging from the need for love to the fluidity of time and the nature of reality. All this is seen through the lens of the Buendía family, as we follow their fates and fortunes across a century of history and change.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Pet is by one of our favorite Nigerian authors, Akwaeke Emezi. Young Jam has always been told she lives in a utopia – one that her parents’ generation fought for her to have. Then she accidentally bleeds on one of her mom’s paintings and calls forth a terrifying creature called Pet.
Pet claims to be there to track down and kill a monster, putting everything Pet knows about her world into question. After all, isn’t Pet the monster? What could be worse than Pet?
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys is the perfect read if you are looking for queer YA books or enjoy a wickedly good “witch” story. It’s hard enough being a queer, trans, Latino boy, but when your family refuses to accept your gender it’s even harder. But Yadriel has a plan to show them once and for all.
In his family, brujas (women) have magical healing abilities, and brujos (men) can summon ghosts. So all he needs to do is summon a ghost, and he’ll prove he’s a real brujo. Unfortunately, while he successfully summons a spirit, this one is a newly deceased teenage boy, and he doesn’t remember how he died.
Kraken by China Miéville
Author China Miéville is one of the most prominent members of the “New Weird” wave of literature which emerged in the 1990s-2000s. This recently emerged style uses magical elements, fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction in combination with the more well-known genres (horror, romance, etc) to create new and very unusual stories. Kraken is one of the best of these.
While giving a tour of the Darwin Centre of London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow is surprised, dismayed, and horrified to discover that his most prized specimen – a rare 40ft giant squid preserved in formalin – is gone.
Has it been stolen by a crazed cult who believes the squid will bring about the End of the World? He’s going to have to deal with secret police, mystical gangsters, chilling assassins, and the undead before he finds out.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel
This time, we have two seemingly separate plots and protagonists that grow gradually closer to each other as the book progresses, with chapters alternating between the two.
In the odd numbers, we have 15-year-old Kafka, who fled his home in an attempt to cheat fate, finding refuge in the house of Miss Saeki and her well-curated private library. With the even-numbered chapters, we follow Nakata, a man who experienced a strange accident as a child which left him unable to read or write… but who can now talk to cats. And you know we love our adult cat books here at TUL.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Whilst already having highly regarded fantasy novels under his belt, author Neil Gaiman then wrote a magical realism book so successful that it spawned a professional stage play adaptation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story for all ages, with each generation of readers able to get something different from it.
Our main character is an unnamed middle-aged man, who returns to his childhood hometown for a funeral. While there, he visits the place where he and his sister grew up, and starts to reminisce about Lettie Hempstock, a young girl he knew as a child. As his memories come flooding back, he realizes their “magical adventures” were perhaps more real than he thought.
Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
This poignant graphic novel is a highly original case study of grief, mortality, and the human condition. Daytripper is also one of the best magical realism books ever made. Each of the 10 chapters is an individual story – an important moment in the life of the protagonist, Brás de Oliva Domingos.
Brás spends his days working as an obituary columnist for a local newspaper, whilst dreaming of becoming a successful author in his spare time, just like his famous father, Benedito.
From childhood joy to midlife crises, weddings and births to breakdowns and deaths, Brás is forced to examine his life and attempt to work out what it all means. But at the end of each chapter, Brás dies, only to be alive and well again in the next chapter. This creative hook adds weight and emotion to an already exceptional book.
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
If you’re after dark books about books set just beyond the veil of the real world, The Book Eaters is for you. Plus, we just love the folk horror genre here at TUL. Unbeknownst to most people, a species of people do not eat food; they eat books. They retain the knowledge in those books, and conduct their affairs in plain sight, though they are reclusive.
Devon is part of The Family – an old clan of the book eaters – and she wants out. She wants to take her son Cai far away from the rules and restrictions so he can live his own life… and avoid being killed; Cai is rare even among book eaters, with an even more disturbing craving.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Things get very serious very quickly in this post-apocalyptic tale of revenge, genocide, and sorcery, Who Fears Death. As a child of rape, young Onyesonwu is declared Ewu and ostracised by her Okeke tribe, for her father is a Nuru man, and they are trying to wipe out the Okeke. However, Onyesonwu has the gift of magic, and as she grows up, she learns to use her magical powers to great effect.
During one accidental mental journey, she discovers that someone is trying to kill her. What will she do, she whose name means “Who fears death?”
Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey
Considered by many to be a modern classic, Vita Nostra mixes dark academia into the magical realism genre to make an ominous tale about the nature of existence. It’s also a strong book written by a Ukrainian couple for urban fantasy seekers.
While on summer vacation with her mother, young Sasha meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov, who offers her a place at the prestigious – and unheard of – Institute of Special Technologies. Sasha discovers that her life will consist of a series of studies and tests the likes of which she has never seen before, and that will strain her resolve to the limit.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
A devastating climate apocalypse has left most of the planet underwater, but some communities have managed to adapt to the new world. One such place is Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation), in which Maggie Hoskie lives and works as a hunter. Specifically, a monster hunter because both monsters and gods now walk the land.
Maggie uses her supernatural gifts to keep the peace. But when she is called upon to rescue a kidnapped girl, she may never be the same again. Trail of Lightning is perfect for fans of magical realism books set in an alternate USA.
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
One of the most cerebral books, The Memory Police will leave a lasting impression on any reader. Set on an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, members of a community find that things keep disappearing. First, it’s innocuous items like hats and ribbons, but then it’s roses, then birds that are suddenly, inexplicably, gone.
Then the residents forget that the missing things ever existed, and those few who do still remember them are quickly taken away themselves… by the mysterious Memory Police.
Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
Books with magical realism elements can sometimes be philosophical and introspective, and nowhere is that more true than with this supernatural LGBT gem, Under the Whispering Door.
When Wallace realizes at his funeral that he has died, it is strangely not the most unusual thing that happens to him that day. Now he appears to be in a quaint little tea shop, where the owner is going to act as his guide to crossing over. However, Wallace is not ready to be dead (even though he already is), and is determined to spend the 7 days he has before crossing as well as he can.
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Relationships with those we love are complicated enough without time travel making a mess of things, and unfortunately for Oona Lockhart, in Oona Out of Order, she’s going to have to play on hard mode.
Oona is a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. When the clock strikes midnight, it will be January 1st, 1983 and she will turn 19. But then she faints and wakes up on January 1st … 2015. What happened? Where is she? Why is she so old now? Did she forget her life?
It seems she hasn’t missed anything; she’s still going to live every year of her life, just not in the right order.
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
What would you do if you could have a do-over for anything you did? How many things would you want to redo? That’s the conundrum in author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel Seconds, one of the most fun and relatable magical realism books.
Katie lives for her restaurant, Seconds. It’s her dream and her passion, and it’s super successful. If only everything else was going so well. So when a mysterious girl turns up in her room offering a special do-over mushroom, it’s a chance to correct a big mistake. But when Kate finds more mushrooms under the floorboards, she soon gives the “one mushroom per person” rule a pass.
More Related Reading Lists To Love
Before you go, please let us know what magical realism novels you enjoy in the comments. While magical realism offers just a touch of fantasy, horror, monsters, and the paranormal, you might also enjoy these reading lists:
- Audiobooks for adult fantasy lovers
- Books with mermaids for adults
- Famous haunted houses in literature
- Adult dragon novels to read
Jeremy (pronouns: any) is an autistic writer, hobbyist, and movie buff, as long as that movie is Labyrinth. Since leaving the corporate world behind in 2018, he has read more books than he thought possible. True to his British upbringing, his first instinct in any given situation is to put the kettle on.