These are some of my favorite fantasy series. While there are many that I know others might put on this list (i.e. the Dresden Files, The Wheel of Time Series, etc.), they're not on my list because I either have not read the complete series or because I haven't gotten around to the series as of yet! So this may be a very different list in a few months. But for now, these are some of the fantasy series that i return to time and again. I've listed them in order of importance (read: how much I love them.).
While this story might seem deceptively simple and the plot is somewhat conventional (find three swords to defeat an unholy alliance), the dense character development turns an ordinary story into a complicated and thrilling read. Tad Williams is also willing to include incredibly moving scenes, which makes the reader become more invested in the lives of the characters and the development of the plot.
The Farseer Trilogy is one of the most complex and disturbing fantasy series that I've ever read. Not only is the hero, Fitz, at times despicable and spineless, the people around him seem determined to misunderstand and revile him...which is probably one of the reasons why I like it so much! This is no easy read, and I struggled at times to get through it because I wanted to shake some sense into Fitz and some of the other characters. Strangely enough, It was a thrilling read all the more for it.
This one is kind of a cheat as the series is yet to be complete, but I HAD to add it because of how engaging it is. Christopher Paolini certainly tricked us (or maybe he tricked himself) into believing that this would only be a trilogy. It's a great series. The primary character, Eragon, is a young country boy who finds himself in possession of a dragon's egg. which sets him on a dangerous and exciting adventure to thwart the evil King Galbatorix.
This is also a bit of a cheat, as the third book in this series is not yet available. I've been reading Tamora Pierce young adult fantasy novels for at least 15 years, and this is by far the best of the bunch. Beka Cooper is a strong willed, intelligent, and observant heroine. At only sixteen, she joins the Provost's Guard, and shows that she is more than willing to get down and dirty in order to protect the people of Tortall. I enjoy strong heroines, and she definitely fits the bill.
Carol Berg is phenomenal. This series is a quartet telling of an epic struggle between the Dar'Nethi and the Lords of Zhev'Na. Sorcery and the characters wielding of magical powers are the driving force of this series. How does power alter the course of a person's life and subsequently a people's history/destiny? Great stuff.
Menolly is another strong, female protagonist. She takes center stage in the first two novels in this series and makes minor appearances in the third. The story is straight forward, a young noblewoman is unable to cultivate her love for music because the profession is more the domain of men. Yet she resists attempts to curb her desires. Of course, dragons and other fantastic creatures play important roles in this series as they have in every other novel of Pern.
This is possibly the most unusual of the bunch. There aren't dragons and magic swords, etc. In fact, as more and more of the story is revealed, it would be very easy to classify this as sci-fi...but the reader might not make that decision upon reading the first book in the series. Strange, I know. Essentially, it begins with the story of "angels" who are the keepers of Samaria. They take care of, to some extent, the humans that inhabit the planet, and they make sure that they offer the appropriate conditions for a peaceful, harmonic coming together of the people of Samaria.
I read, The Dark is Rising, the second book in this series first. It was literally the book that set me on the path to a life long love of books. The Dark is Rising is perhaps the most well known of the series, as it has been made into a movie (The Seeker: The Dark is Rising), and it tells of a young man who learns that he is one of the keepers of the Light. His newfound powers must be used to suppress the Dark. The premise is somewhat conventional, but it's really an interesting read. That it features young people tasked with making clear head and responsible decisions involving very powerful forces makes it a great read for young adults.
There's not much that I need to say about this series is there. If you haven't read it, you're either living under a rock--or should be! Even if it turns out not to be your "thing," it's at least worth finding out what all the hype is about (especially if you have kids that have read/are reading it.).