17 SFF Novels By Black Authors That Should Be Adapted Immediately

From an Octavia Butler classic to C.L. Polk’s historical fantasy drama, these books should definitely be on the big screen.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

The entire time I was reading this entertaining, action-packed steampunk novel, I was imagining it on screen. Clark sets the novel in an alternative version of 1912 Cairo, where the veil between the magical and mundane worlds was lifted fifty years earlier. The dapper Fatma el-Sha’arawi is one of the few women agents working for the Ministry of Alchemy and one of the best. When a secret society is murdered with magical means, she’s placed in charge of the case. Meanwhile, she has a new young woman rookie to train, and her girlfriend is back in town. With a magical masked entity causing havoc and djinn keeping secrets, Agent Fatma has her hands full. With its richly imagined world and characters and its high-stakes and thrilling plot, this novel would make such a fantastic show in the vein of The Nevers and Carnival Row, but better. In 2020, Skydance Television optioned P. Djèlí Clark’s horror novella Ring Shout, though there haven’t been updates on the production since. While I adore Ring Shout and think it would make an excellent show, I crave seeing A Master of Djinn on the screen.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

When an alien biodome suddenly appears in Nigeria, the city of Rosewater forms around it. The appearance of the biodome triggers psychic powers among some — people called sensitives. When the biodome opens, it has the ability to heal, though it also reanimates any corpses left nearby. Once a thief, Kaaro is hired as an S45 agent for his psychic powers. However, when he realizes other sensitives like him are dying in mysterious ways, he begins to investigate, and his investigation leads him to believe sensitives are being murdered. This unique trilogy might be tricky to capture on screen due to its alternating timelines, but The Witcher has proven it’s possible to portray multiple timelines on screen effectively, and the intriguing visual world-building and high-stakes plot would make this a captivating series.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

The only zombie movie I need to see is an adaptation of Dread Nation. It takes place in an alternative version of the 19th century, where after the Battle of Gettysburg, the dead rose and became zombies. African Americans are freed from slavery only to be forced into combat schools and trained to fight the dead. The saucy and badass Jane McKeene is the best zombie slayer at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, though her rival Katherine Deveraux is nearly as good. The two rivals form an unexpected alliance when they discover a conspiracy that puts everyone at risk.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

With period dramas like Bridgerton and Downton Abbey receiving lots of viewers, I can't help but long for a similarly well-done historical fantasy period drama, and The Kingston Cycle, which begins with Witchmark, would make such an enthralling series. It takes place in the Edwardian England-esque fantasy world Aeland, where noble families hone their magical gifts attempting to control their country and beyond. Each book in the trilogy focuses on a different character. Miles hides his magical healing gifts because he doesn't want to become a part of his wealthy family's political maneuverings. He treats soldiers returning home from the war at a psychiatric hospital. His sister, Grace Hensley, is a cunning politician and magic-user who's attempting to deal with her family's history of cruelty and oppression while also wresting power from other magical houses. Robin Thorpe is a witch in hiding who longs for a free and just Aeland. With lots of romance, intrigue, and compelling characters, this would make such a great series. The good news is that the rights have been picked up by 1212 Entertainment. Let’s hope it leads to a show!

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

I will admit an adaptation of this horror fantasy might be too scary for me to watch, but I’d still love to see it happen. Henderson sets the novel in a fantasy, Puritan-inspired village surrounded by a supernatural forest where primordial, matriarchal horrors lie. Immanuelle is an outsider in the village for being biracial. Her now-dead mother once had a romance with an outsider, then hid in the forest while pregnant with Immanuelle. Though her grandfather raised her in the village’s patriarchal ways, she’s never been fully accepted. When Immanuelle escapes into the forest after an errant sheep, she may accidentally unleash an apocalypse.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

All three books in this trilogy, which begins with The Fifth Season, won Hugo awards, so if any fantasy series on this list is screaming “adaptation ready,” it’s this one. The novel takes place on an apocalyptic fantasy world where the Fulcrum harnesses the power of magic-users called orogenes — who can manipulate geologic formations. Any orogene not controlled by the Fulcrum is outcast from their homes. However, the main character, Essun, knows how the Fulcrum abuses their orogenes and vows to keep her and her daughter’s powers hidden. After an apocalypse, her husband kidnaps their daughter, and Essun takes off to find her. Tristar Pictures has picked this series up, so hopefully that means an adaptation will be on the horizon soon.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

While all Okorafor’s fiction would translate well to film, Binti especially would make an excellent series. Binti is the first on her planet to be offered a place in the prestigious intergalactic Oomza University. As she travels across space, the deadly Meduse — an alien race at war with the University — attacks her ship. While Binti’s cultural differences at first set her at odds with the other students traveling to attend the University, those differences might be the only way she can save herself. All three books in the trilogy are completed. As of 2020, the trilogy had been optioned by Media Res, though there haven’t been many updates since.

Mem by Bethany C. Morrow

MEMs are clones of a memory, destined to relive a person’s undesired, extracted memory for the rest of their short lives. However, Dolores Extract #1 is the first MEM capable of producing her own memories. The Vault scientists allow her to live independently because of this ability; however, she’s forced to return to the Vault after receiving a summons. Set a century ago, this philosophical sci-fi has the potential to be both visually stunning and thought-provoking.

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Disney producing live-action versions of their animated classics makes me long for subversive retellings that grapple with the misogyny of both the original fairy tales and Disney’s remakes. Bayron does just that in Cinderella Is Dead, which takes place 200 years after the fairy tale ending. Cinderella’s kingdom now hosts annual balls where men bid on teen girls who are forced to attend. If a match isn’t found within a few years, the girls disappear, never to be heard from again. It’s Sophia’s turn to attend the ball, but she’s more interested in women than men. She’s also deeply disturbed by the kingdom’s misogyny and wants to know the truth behind the missing girls. Queer Black girls overthrowing the patriarchy is precisely the kind of live-action fairy tale the world needs.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

As one of the first science fiction novels by a Black woman (also check out Of One Blood by Paula Hopkins), Kindred is a staple in the science fiction community. On her birthday, Dane — a Black woman and aspiring writer — is transported in time to early 1800s America, where she saves a boy from drowning and then immediately returns to her time. However, that doesn’t last long, and soon she’s catapulted back in time, and the white family she encounters enslaves her. The novel is a powerful look at slavery and, thankfully, is finally being adapted by FX. A pilot has been approved, so we should finally be getting an adaption of this classic.

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Callender sets their first adult novel in a dark and vivid fictional world based on the colonization and enslavement of the Caribbean islands and their peoples. Sigourney Rose is the child of one of her island’s noble-born conquerors — who practice magic — and one of the enslaved women. After her entire family is murdered, she focuses on learning how to perfect her magic to extract revenge. When the childless king invites all the nobles to attend to him to choose an heir, Sigourney leaps at the chance to attend and possibly avenge her family’s death.

The Dark Star Trilogy by Marlon James

James sets this grimdark fantasy series in a world inspired by African history and mythology. The first book, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, follows Tracker and his sometimes lover Leopard as they try to find a boy prophesied to be king. The second book, Moon Witch, Spider King, follows their nemesis Sogolon the Moon Witch. Each book is dense in world-building and characters and would make a vivid and harrowing series. Michael B. Jordan and Warner Bros. bought the film rights in 2019, though production has not yet begun.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

This stand-alone sci-fi takes place on board the HSS Matilda, a spaceship with strict social organization reminiscent of the antebellum South. As a queer, autistic, dark-skinned Black woman, Aster is forced to live in the lower-deck slums. She’s a brilliant scientist and has surrounded herself with like-minded friends who seek to tear down the ship’s racist patriarchy. When the Matilda’s sovereign dies, and his autopsy reveals a link between his death and Aster’s mother’s suicide twenty-five years earlier, Aster pulls out her mother’s journals in hopes of finding truths that can help her escape the ship’s brutality. While all of Rivers Solomon’s novels would make excellent adaptations, with its rich cast of characters and intriguing setting, I feel like this one lends itself best to the screen.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

Based on West African folklore, this first book in completed YA fantasy duology begins with a refugee, Malik, and his sisters escaping into the city Ziran. When a demon steals Malik’s younger sister Nadia, Malik strikes a bargain with him to win her back — in order to save his sister, Malik must murder Princess Karina. Meanwhile, Karina longs to escape the city’s walls. After witnessing her mother’s murder, Karina takes her place as Sultana of Ziran — though she and the council decide to keep this a secret until after the famous Solstasia Festival. Without her mother, it’s up to Karina to host the festival and the corresponding competition. Still struggling with grief, in a moment of thoughtlessness Karina declares that the winner of the competition will win her hand in marriage. Malik, the refugee who must kill her in order to save his sister, is among the competitors. Full of near-death experiences, political machinations, revenge, and magic, this would make such an intense adaptation. In 2020, ABC Studios optioned the rights.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

The Burning series is set in a Zulu-inspired fantasy world with dragons and many epic battles. Tau knows he’s destined to fight in the endless war the Omehi people have fought for centuries. He has no desire to excel at combat, instead hoping to escape to live a quiet life. However, when a cruel upper-class Omehi kills his father for no reason, Tau’s peaceful dreams evaporate, replaced by rage. He vows to train in combat and become the fiercest warrior there ever was so he can murder the man who killed his father. Meanwhile, his childhood sweetheart becomes one of the few women who can control dragons with magic. She joins the army as well to fight in the endless war. The first two books in the series have been published, with two more to follow. It would make an excellent grimdark adaptation.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Set in a West African–inspired fantasy world, this first book in a YA epic fantasy series centers around diviner and maji Zélie Adebola. Years earlier, magic suddenly disappeared and the king sent soldiers to kill all maji, including Zélie’s mother. Now, Zélie is bent on revenge and aims to bring magic back to the kingdom. Meanwhile, Princess Amari, who has never approved of her father’s genocide, escapes the palace with a scroll that can possibly bring magic back. Zélie decides to help her, but Amari’s brother, Prince Inan, is hot on their heels. The first two books in this series have been completed. Last year, Lucas films announced they had picked up the adaptation rights to the series, but they let the rights expire, and now Paramount Pictures has optioned the rights.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

At Deka’s coming of age ceremony, where girls are cut to ensure their blood is pure, Deka’s blood runs gold. Because of her so-called impurity, her village imprisons her in a cellar in the hopes she’ll die, but her body keeps healing itself. An elite woman warrior rescues her and takes her to the capital to train with other girls like her in the emperor’s army, where they fight the monstrous deathshrieks. This action-packed West African-inspired epic fantasy with feminist themes is both brutal and hopeful. The second book releases in May, with a third book to come. Makeready purchased the film rights in 2021. ●

BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them.

Topics in this article

  • Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance writer, editor, and all-around book nerd based in Nashville. In addition to BuzzFeed Books, her pieces have appeared at Book Riot, Star Trek, Parents, The Lily, SFWA, and more. She runs a children’s bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians and aspires to write both children’s books and fantasy, if she can ever wrangle enough time to do so between working, reading, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter @areaderlymom.

    Contact Margaret Kingsbury at rebolini+kingsbury@buzzfeed.com.

    Got a confidential tip? 👉 Submit it here