You are going to have a lot of fun
I love me some superhero fiction. As much as I love comic books as a medium, I feel like superheroes tend to get to stretch their legs when they move beyond serialized sequential art. Part of this is because they more often are allowed to have character growth, definitive endings, and stories that just don’t bleed into the next volume.
As the author of the extremely popular Supervillainy Saga, I’ve done a lot of research into prose superhero fiction and have read literally hundreds of examples of the genre. You can check out my Goodreads if you don’t believe me. Some of the books stand a cut above the rest and I thought I’d share an article on what I perceive to be the best of the best. Better still, the books you’d probably enjoy if you wanted to get into the subgenre. Pick any one of them and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
I should note that I haven’t included any books starring the world’s most famous superheroes. First, that’s a cheat and second, they don’t need the additional publicity. It also doesn’t take advantage of the biggest advantage of prose fiction that these characters belong to the author rather than the machine that produces them.
Soon I will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
The first superhero book I ever read and one that left the biggest impression by the brother of the guy who wrote The Magicians. This is the story of Doctor Impossible, a Lex Luthor meets Doctor Doom-esque villain who suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder. What does that mean? He’s an evil genius. He can’t not try to take over the world. Opposing him is FATAL, a beautiful cyborg who is a new hero and awkwardly thrust into a group of Teen Titans-style heroes (who haven’t been teens for a while). They’ve been at it for decades but one day, well, Corefire (AKA Superman’s analog) dies and everything changes—or does it?
Dreadnought by April Daniels
Superheroes are inherently escapist fantasy. They are stories that somehow, someway, we can our best selves and use that to help the world. April Daniels successfully relates that to the trans experience with a bit more success than the X-men by being more literal. Danny Tozer has been in hiding about her true identity for her entire life and when she receives the power of Dreadnought, world’s greatest hero, it transforms her into the beautiful powerful paragon she was always meant to be. However, is the world ready to accept a trans hero? Certainly, her family isn’t.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
It would be a poor list without including one of my favorite genre writers. Steelheart, first book of the Reckoners trilogy, deals with a world where superheroes are real and they’re all evil. For whatever reason, gaining a power turns you into a sociopathic monster. Steelheart is the strongest of these heroes and our protagonist wants to take him and every other superhero down. However, things are not what they seem but when are they ever? A great standalone read but also great as part of a trilogy of books.
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
Ex-Heroes has the delightfully batshit premise of superheroes vs. zombies in a world where the latter has won. The last superheroes in the world have gathered in Los Angeles and done their best to keep as many humans alive as possible. However, the simple fact is the undead are still around and it seems like a hopeless situation. The first book has some unnecessary edgelord elements that it backs away from in later books, but the heart of the book is strong: the characters are just likable.
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts
Quite possibly the single most adorable superhero books ever made and ones I almost put on the essential list. The Inscrutable Machine is a trio of superpowered teens who wanted to become superheroes in middle school but have been labeled supervillains. Harmless adorable supervillains. Penny Akk is embracing it with gusto, though, and each of the stories told about the characters is great. Eventually, the books
move onto new junior high and high school characters but remain deeply fun as well as harmless.
The Roach by Rhett Bruno
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Please Don’t Tell My Parents is The Roach. Reese Roberts was once the Batman-esque protector of Iron City. Except he was a lot meaner and nastier than Batman, barring the Tim Burton and Frank Miller ones. Still, he protected the innocent up until he was paralyzed from the waist down. It’s a fascinating story of disability, struggle, and old fashioned superheroism with an edge. Very dark but very enjoyable.
Forging Hephaestus by Drew Hayes
Drew Hayes is the undisputed master of indie superhero fiction, which is a somewhat specifically sized pond but no less a kingdom. The Superpowered series and Corpies are both extremely fun, but this is the one that stands above the rest. There’s been a treaty between the villains and heroes for a long time, almost to the point there’s peace, but this is a situation that cannot last. An apprentice supervillain and the world’s strongest man are about to find out how fragile the world they live in is.
Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon
Wearing the Cape is about a world where superpowers appeared in an event called the Breakthrough. Hope Corrigan gains the power of Supergirl when she barely survives a terrorist attack and immediately tries to figure out how superheroes work. A lot of attention is paid to how superheroes “could” work in a semi-plausible world. I also really like Hope, she is a noble and goodhearted heroine but still very believable.
Velveteen Versus The Junior Super-Patriots by Seanan Maguire
Velveteen Versus is one of my favorite book series on this list but sadly is only available on audiobook format as well as online (link: https://seananmcguire.com/velhome.php). Poor Velveteen was sold by her parents to the Super Patriots Corporation. Now an adult and horribly traumatized, she wants to live a normal life, but the corporation never lets any of its assets away. I really enjoyed the book and suggest purchasing all of them on Audible.
SCPD – The Case of the Claw by Keith R.A. Decandido
Super City Police Department is a wonderful collection of novels dealing with the titular cities’ cops as they struggle to keep up with the outright surreal crimes always being committed around us. The Case of the Claw is the first of these and probably the most enjoyable. I’ve always loved Keith RA Decandido’s work in Star Trek and he brings his love of the superhero genre to every page.
Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for Ultrahuman Protection by Alexander C. Kane
Andrea Vernon is a Haitian American with a love of travel and an inability to keep a job. So, it comes as a great shock when she ends up semi-voluntarily recruited to be a secretary for the world’s largest private superhero corporation. Developing a relationship with one of the superheroes, Andrea soon finds herself swept in a variety of insane and hilarious but no less life-threatening situations. I enjoyed all three of these books on audiobook format and recommend them that way for their fantastic narration.
The Superhero Detective by Darius Brasher
Darius Brasher has a mastery of writing superhero stories that are short, easy to digest, and thoroughly entertaining. Which one of them to start with was a hard call but I choose the Superhero Detective that is honestly more noir than superhero. However, that’s what makes these books the best as they follow the investigation of the sordid underbelly of superheroes. Sex, lies, and blackmail to keep one’s public image clean.
You’ve probably heard of it, but a shoutout for the webserial Worm! The narrator’s a sort-of villain with the power to control bugs, all the powers are so unique and specific, things get *extremely intense*.
That sounds like fun. We will do more lists and we can add this
Nearly 3 months later, you may have looked into this already. If not, I can second the recommendation – it’s an incredible story, even moreso for the fact that it was written and published in twice weekly chapters over two and a half years. The first few chapters understandably look a little unpolished, given the rapid timescale, but the author soon hits his stride.
There are some highly innovative powers, but these are a facet of characters, not be the only thing of note about that person. While it goes to some very dark places, it is also ultimately about striving for a better world. It’s the bar I judge other superhero fiction against.
Also, it’s nearly 1.7 million words. Just a small detail.