The best oceanic YA fantasy books

Who am I?

I’m a South Asian writer who grew up in dry plains and the desert, so when I saw the ocean for the first time—it was an absolute shock to my senses. I was drawn to its vastness, its strangeness. Everything about our seas is fascinating, from the way they sustain life on the planet to the alien creatures that inhabit them. Since I’m a reader, I began to look for books featuring seas, and after nonfic ones, found fantasy books that were set in imaginative water-based worlds. This lifelong love has now led to my own debut being an oceanic fantasy. So I hope you enjoy this list. :)

I wrote...

Monsters Born and Made

By Tanvi Berwah,

Book cover of Monsters Born and Made

What is my book about?

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, 16-year-old Koral is forced to capture maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they're lucky―survive. When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl’s chance to change it all.

The books I picked & why

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By Adrienne Young,

Book cover of Fable

Why this book?

This is Adrienne Young’s best book so far — atmospheric and lyrical and hearty. As a lover of all things ocean, Fable really delivered with its high-seas sailing and dredging the bottom of the seas. But it is also a slow-burn, character-driven story that explores love, family, and the meaning of home. And Fable, the character, is smart, resourceful, and struggling with being abandoned by her father. Her internal struggle and coming to terms with herself make for a very satisfying read. She’s determined to find her rightful place next to her father—and at the same time, she’s a person who allows herself to feel what she must. She’s a character you root for, across the oceans. Very simply, Fable is an adventure wrapped up in a big heart.

All the Stars and Teeth

By Adalyn Grace,

Book cover of All the Stars and Teeth

Why this book?

All the Stars and Teeth, set in the Kingdom of Visida, a collection of islands, is a story with legends and history and dark truths that are uncovered along the way. It has mermaids, blood magic, sea monsters, and high-octane adventure that kept me turning the pages. It’s everything you would expect from an adventure set on the seas. The banter is actually funny, and the romance is a nice touch to the story. Amora, the protagonist, is sheltered and naive in the beginning but comes into her own and becomes a worthy leader. One of the most interesting aspects of All the Stars and Teeth was a mermaid straight out of scary legends, her fury a delight to read, and she certainly steals the scenes she is in.

The Light at the Bottom of the World

By London Shah,

Book cover of The Light at the Bottom of the World

Why this book?

I love inventive worldbuilding, more than anything else in a story. And The Light at the Bottom of the World, set in a post-apocalyptic future where our world is underwater is a criminally underrated gem. The whole book is as brilliant as it is surrealistic. It follows protagonist Leyla McQueen from submerged London who’s competing in a marathon in the hopes of freeing her political prisoner father — and who finds out there’s much more going on with the corrupt government than she knew. An astutely plotted thriller, The Light at the Bottom of the World is an achievement in imagination.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

By Axie Oh,

Book cover of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Why this book?

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a lyrical, whimsical retelling of Korean folklore that is all about fate and family. Mina, the protagonist, kickstarts the story to protect her brother from the wrath of the seas and gets whisked into the Spirit Realm by an underwater dragon(!). Everything that follows comes from Mina’s love and duty, and at its core, this book is about the many types of relationships one can have. The world of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is visually rich and vibrant as a Ghibli tale, the aesthetics of which are also one of the inspirations for this book.

Skin of the Sea

By Natasha Bowen,

Book cover of Skin of the Sea

Why this book?

Skin of the Sea is a beautiful blend of West/Central African mythology and alternate history to give us an imaginative story featuring a mermaid protagonist. Simidele is a water spirit, Mami Wata, whose job is to gather the souls of [enslaved] people who die on the seas. This concept alone makes the book interesting, but it is also a fast-paced story that never ignores its most powerful aspect—the mythology and the fantastic ocean world. The story is lyrical and atmospheric, and takes you along for an unforgettable journey into the waters.

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