The Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books About Pop Culture Fandom

How deep does the rabbit hole of fandom go? These sci-fi and fantasy books seek to find out.

Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books About Pop Culture Fandom
Photo: Knopf, Random House, Flatiron Books

Fandom is multifaceted, and each of these 10 novels has a unique take on how pop culture shapes our lives. There’s a ’90s classic about digital D&D alongside a contemporary account of game designers from the Oregon Trail generation. Historical fiction set during comics’ Golden and Bronze Ages gives way to a cautionary tale about superheroes’ collateral damage. And while cons can be the setting for geeky romance meet-cutes, they can also be the site of Misery-inspired thrillers.

Whether you’re at San Diego Comic-Con or staying home this year, these books will conjure up the lines, cosplay, and con friendships…

The cover of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin) 

Every millennial who first explored the internet through fanfiction needs this charming coming-of-age tale about college freshman Cath, worshipped online for her Simon Snow stories but horribly awkward IRL compared to her twin and former co-author Wren. Rainbow Rowell bookends the chapters with excerpts from her fictional fantasy series, so you get to watch her write the fanfic and the source material.

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow 

Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf)

Sadie and Sam are game designers who first meet as kids, each inviting the other into the vulnerability of play. Together and apart, they create video games with inspirations as disparate as Emily Dickinson, the Third Reich, and The Tempest. Tracing a lifetime of professional collaborations and a will-they-won’t-they romance, the novel debates gaming success through popularity versus art.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon (Random House)

Michael Chabon’s exhaustively detailed, emotionally resonant magnum opus is about cousins Sammy Clay and Josef Kavalier, inspired by the recent success of Superman, pouring their talents and souls into their original comic book character, The Escapist. But it’s really about two Jewish boys in New York City during World War II doing their part to punch out fascism on the page.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood

Melissa Albert (Flatiron Books)

The first time that Alice’s world cracks in half is the revelation that her grandmother Althea Prosperpine’s cult-classic collection Tales from the Hinterland is not fiction and that Alice herself has fairy tale magic running through her veins. But when Alice recruits superfan Ellery Finch to help, she learns that the darkness of the Hinterland is the most alluring to its readers.

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Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots


Natalie Zina Walschots (William Morrow)

Masked vigilantes fight crime in this incisive debut, but it’s the baddies’ hench(wo)men who get caught in the crossfire. Anna Tromedlov works in the supervillain gig economy, but when a hero’s carelessness leaves her disabled, she’s laid off without health insurance. Anna feels powerless until she finds other temps left behind by the system, with their own damning data to weaponize.

Number One Fan by Meg Elison

Number One Fan

Meg Elison (MIRA Books)

“A gender-swapped Misery” is already an excellent hook for Meg Elison’s forthcoming thriller (released Aug 30), in which author Eli Grey is kidnapped by a loyal reader who loves her fantastical world and wants it to live on forever. But Elison escalates the conversation with Stephen King’s horror classic by exploring the entitlement of modern parasocial fandom in a post-#MeToo world.

Ship It by Britta Lundin

Ship It

Britta Lundin (Disney-Hyperion)

Tumblr fanfic author Claire joins Forest—the television star playing one half of her favorite (relation)ship on supernatural series Demon Heart—on a comic-convention road trip as a PR stunt. Riverdale writer Britta Lundin deftly balances the awkwardness of viewers who get too invested in a show with the beauty of actors collaborating with fans to change the canon.

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Secret Identity by Alex Segura

Secret Identity 

Alex Segura(Flatiron Books)

This noir is set in the 1970s comic-book world—grimier than the Golden or Silver Ages but still devoted to the medium. Assistant Carmen Valdez lends her personal experience to writing a new superhero, the Legendary Lynx, yet can’t get an author credit. But when her co-creator is murdered, Carmen must stay one step ahead of the killer while ensuring that the Lynx makes it to the next issue.

User Unfriendly by Vivian Vande Velde

User Unfriendly

Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt)

This is a ’90s throwback to the era when Dungeons & Dragons campaigns were all played in the basement instead of over Zoom… Except that for Arvin and his friends, their fantasy quest in a pirated virtual reality game is so immersive that if they die in the game—well, you know the rest. You’ll never look at a glitch the same way again.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians

Lev Grossman (Penguin Books)

While “fantasies inspired by Harry Potter” is its own subgenre, Lev Grossman’s stands out for shattering the wish-fulfilment dreams of Quentin Coldwater and his schoolmates at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. In the world of The Magicians, magic demands a bloody cost, magicians are petty and fallible, and the Fillory novels that Quentin grew up on are far more brutal than even the darkest Narnia tales.

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