The best trope-twisting fantasy books to make you laugh

Who am I?

I’ve been an avid ready of fantasy for over twenty years, and I’ve spent nearly as long at least thinking about writing. In that time, I have definitely found some fantasy that wasn’t for me and some that really, really was. I like my fantasy fun and relatively light—I own nearly every Discworld book but could never get into George R. R. Martin. And my writing has naturally evolved around the same lines. I love a good joke or a well-timed pun almost as much as I love unexpected takes on fantasy tropes. 


I wrote...

I Am Not Your Chosen One

By Evelyn Benvie,

Book cover of I Am Not Your Chosen One

What is my book about?

Kell Hồ Sinh Porter is twenty-six years old and desperate to leave his unhappy life and his dead-end town. One night his wish is granted—though not in any way he would've imagined—and he finds himself in the semi-magical land of Allune where everyone thinks he’s the “Chosen One.”

Is this destiny or just bad luck? Magic is dying, the stars are calling him, and somehow this is his responsibility now? As if.

The books I picked & why

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Carry On

By Rainbow Rowell,

Book cover of Carry On

Why this book?

Carry On is my favorite take on the Chosen One trope yet, and the book that got me thinking about writing my own series with this trope. It handles magic and monsters with a beautiful weariness and mundanity: there’s nothing quite as compelling (or funny) as a jaded Chosen One. And it asks the questions that I keep coming back to in my own series: what is it that really makes a Chosen One, and more importantly, says who? The answer may never be easy, but it’s always interesting.


A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears

By Jules Feiffer,

Book cover of A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears

Why this book?

An absolutely favorite read, A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears is a perfect blend of humor and fantasy—exactly the sort of thing I strive for with my own writing. With characters that actively defy the author and the constricts of the plot, this book was meta before meta was cool. A classic tale of love told in a very not-classic way, this is the first book I can vividly remember making me laugh the whole time I read it. It’s a distinct feeling, and one I have been chasing ever since.


The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System: Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong (Novel) Vol. 1

By Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, Xiao Tong Kong (Velinxi) (illustrator),

Book cover of The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System: Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong (Novel) Vol. 1

Why this book?

A blend of humor and Chinese fantasy, The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System was my first brush with the Chinese sub-genre of transmigration novels, similar but different from Western portal fantasy or Japanese isekai. The main character ends up in a world not his own, and in the process of trying to make it better, comes rather close to destroying it. That dissonance between intention and results is something I absolutely love in my heroes. Competence is boring. I want to see (and write) messiness and complacency and efforts made that perhaps weren’t thought out all the way. That, to me, is not only humor but true heroism.


Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Howl's Moving Castle

Why this book?

Howl’s Moving Castle is both subtly funny and poignant at the same time. A portal fantasy novel by technicality, it defies tropes by sidelining the character who came to the fantasy world largely in favor of a character who has lived there her whole life. Its fantasy world is rich but not overwrought and its strength is in the characters and the quiet humor they bring in their interactions with each other. Not to be mistaken for the movie of the same name, which is equally funny but shares very little in the way of plot.


Kyo Kara Maoh!

By Tomo Takabayashi, Temari Matsumoto (illustrator),

Book cover of Kyo Kara Maoh!

Why this book?

A Japanese light novel, manga, and anime, Kyo Kara Maoh! is perhaps the foundation upon which my obsession with trope-defying fantasy humor was built. I will admit to watching the anime first (as an impressionable young teenager) and being hooked. It wasn’t like any show I had seen before. It was funny because it made fun of itself and the genres and tropes that normally constrained such a series. And as soon as I found that such a thing existed I wanted it. Tropes are great, but I love them so much more when they’re turned upside down or inside out or stretched out of shape completely, because then you get to see what they’re really made of.


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