Boiled down to its essentials, litrpg / gamelit is a portal fantasy (something C.S. Lewis popularized with his iconic Chronicles of Narnia series), only it’s a portal to a digital world instead of another planet or dimension. Anyone who has seen The Matrix or a few particular episodes of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Stargate: SG-1 will be familiar with the idea. However, with litrpg / gamelit, it isn't just thrusting the character(s) into a digital reality. It highlights the need to progressively develop your skills, talents, and powers according to game rules and mechanics that characterize RPG or MMO games.
In a typical MMORPG game, a new player starts with minimal levels (or stats) in things like strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, charisma, etc. He or she also has little to no money and virtually no skill or ability when it comes to fighting, crafting, trading, or whatever occupations the game offers. The player must start from scratch and systematically build his or her character into a formidable warrior, successful business owner, powerful mage, or whatever. This is what makes the LitRPG genre so entertaining. It puts the literary concept of character development on steroids!
The quality of writing in the litrpg / gamelit subgenre varies considerably. And I have by no means read enough of them to give any kind of objective "top 10" list, but these are my favorites among the litrpg / gamelit titles I've read.
*Disclaimer: With one exception, none of these titles are Christian novels. The gamelit / litrpg subgenre is still on the young side, and there isn't a Christian litrpg / gamelit sub-subgenre as of yet. Therefore, I want to be clear that many of these books contain language and story elements that are inconsistent with my Christian faith. If you are looking for a clean, Christian-friendly read, most of these will not fit that bill. On a personal note, though, I hope to rectify this by contributing books to this genre that are enjoyable for Christian readers.*
Here are my favorite litrpg / gamelit books (so far):
The Land: Founding - Chaos Seeds: Book One by Aleron Kong
I have to list this one first, because quite simply, Aleron is "the king." More appropriately, he's the "Daddy" of this genre. That's right, he's known (quite appropriately) as the "Father of American LitRPG." I'm embarrassed to admit that it's taken me this long to start reading Aleron's series. And I'm definitely hooked.
Awaken Online series by Travis Bagwell
The first book of this series, Awaken Online: Catharsis, is, by far, Bagwell's best - at least in my opinion. I didn't enjoy the second one nearly as much (though it did end on a cliffhanger), and I haven't yet read his "side quest" book (Awaken Online: Retribution). Lots of strategy and action. And if you like cinematic and in-game villains, well...this one's right up your alley.
The World of Ruul series by J.A. Cipriano
Jason Cipriano is a prolific author who has made the New York Times bestseller list. He's thus far written three installments in this series - and I've read them all. They are Soulstone: Awakening, Soulstone: The Skeleton King, and Soulstone: Oblivion. The first, Soulstone: Awakening, was my introduction to the litrpg / gamelit subgenre overall. I've been hooked ever since. Of this series, I actually enjoyed Soulstone: The Skeleton King the best. The battle scene at the end was amazing. A warning to my fellow Christian readers: The language is pretty bad at times.
Viridian Gate Online series by James Hunter
Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm is the first part of an ongoing series by LitRPG / GameLit author James Hunter. Cataclysm follows protagonist Jack Mitchel, a 32-year old EMT, who faces (along with the vast majority of our planet's population) an extinction-level asteroid headed toward Earth. Jack's only real hope of survival is to upload his consciousness into the ultra-immersive virtual reality world of Viridian Gate Online. A very enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys fantasy.
Kingdom series by Adam Drake
Simple. Straightforward. And (aside from a bad word here or there) clean. Some have criticized Drake's Kingdom books for being "hack writing" (and I'm sure some litrpg / gamelit aficionados will criticize me for including it on this list), but the truth is.... I've enjoyed this series. I've read all four parts (Levels 1-4) so far, and can't wait until Kingdom: Level Five.
Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Tomorrows by Stan Faryna
It's short. And it's dark. Much darker than I normally like. But the writing is incredible and the story pulls you in. I found myself completely absorbed by both the in-game world and 'real' world of Faryna's making. It's hard to classify. It's part dystopian, part gamelit, part Christian (though dark), and part science fiction. If you read it...fair warning: Expect the story to hang with you for a while.
Camelot series by Galen Wolf
If you like Arthurian legend (as I do), you'll probably enjoy Galen Wolf's litrpg series set in a virtual, make-believe medieval England. So far, I've read the first two in the series, Camelot: Overthrown and Camelot: Dungeon. Despite some typos and grammar issues, I find the series to be good, clean fun. And, even though some of the game mechanics surrounding prayer, "holy water," etc might be theologically problematic (to say the least), it's refreshing to see the Christian side as the "good guys" in a fantasy story.
Unwritten Rules by Adam Horne
This is the first of a planned series titled Genesis Online. It follows a young man, physically disabled in an accident, drawn into a virtual reality game for the chance to earn real-world money. He soon runs afoul of an in-game bully and must resort to cunning and strategy to defeat him. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more of what Adam Horne has to offer.
Delvers LLC: Welcome to Ludus by Blaise Corvin
This is an entire series, and I'm way behind the times. I've only read the first book. The world-building is incredibly immersive. The characters are well-developed. It's definitely not a Christian book as evidenced by the profanity and some of the sexual situations, but it's enjoyable fantasy fiction. And, again, did I mention the incredible world-building? Blaise is also one of the most well-known writers in the gamelit / litrpg subgenre.
Dungeon Born: The Divine Dungeon by Dakota Krout
Imagine a dungeon-crawler story from the dungeon's point of view - and you get the Divine Dungeon series. An incredible concept. And one that's well executed by Dakota Krout. I've only read the first of the series so far, and do plan to read the rest.
Ascend Online by Luke Chmilenko
The story starts off with a bang. Marcus, the main character, and his friends are excited to plunge into a revolutionary, high-tech, full-immersion virtual reality game -- and a glitch sends Marcus away from his friends (and the simple, easy starting point city for new players) and right into the middle of a goblin attack! There's lots of management, crafting, strategy, and fun in this story. I enjoyed it. So far, I've only read the first one in this series.
Super Sales on Super Heroes by William Arand
How can I describe this? Well ... for one, I can't even think of the book without hearing "pancakes!" (Inside joke). It also must be said that this was a book I enjoyed and (given my faith and my full-time job) should not have enjoyed. It's not exactly the kind of book that a conscientious Christian would read. Some of the story elements -- slavery, a harem (though without anything explicit), torture, the bad guys running a city, etc, etc. -- are not exactly faith-friendly or family-friendly. So, let's call this a "guilty pleasure," because I definitely felt guilty after reading it. That said, the concept is quite unique and the writing is well-done. It's a book that I couldn't stop reading once I started.
There are several other litrpg/gamelit books which I've read, and I've enjoyed most of them. But the above are among my favorites. As I continue to read, I'm sure more will be added to the list.
In addition to finishing the series I've mentioned above, my list of other litrpg / gamelit books to still read include (among others):
- the rest of The Chaos Seeds series by Aleron Kong
- the rest of Viridian Gate Online by James Hunter
- The Emerilia series by Michael Chatfield
- The Codename: Freedom series by Apollos Thorne
If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.