A Grown Up’s Guide to ‘The Witcher’ Franchise

Fans that found The Witcher through the Netflix series might not be aware that this is a franchise with a surprisingly long history. The Witcher debuted with a short story back in 1986 written by series creator Andrzej Sapkowski. Premiering in a fantasy anthology magazine, it was the author’s first published work, followed by novels, comics, video games, and its own TV series.

Featuring the complex world-building of any fantasy great but centered around a particularly charismatic lead in the lovably standoffish Geralt of Rivia, this is truly a series that has something for everyone, regardless of your preferred medium.

Monster Slayer (Mobile Game)

Monster Slayer
Courtesy of Spokko

This AR game invites players to become monster slayers in their own right, allowing you to become a Witcher yourself and fight any number of macabre creatures. Featuring a Pokémon Go! style format, it encourages fans to take to the real world and battle monsters on various street corners and hotspots. This game is a fairly simplified version of The Witcher 3, but if you’ve got some time to waste on a walk, there are worse ways to kill an afternoon.

Season of Storms (Novel)

Season of Storms

The Witcher Saga officially drew to a close before this stand-alone novel, making this perhaps the least essential among the books. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much fun to be had, as this story takes us back to the early days. Geralt is arrested, loses his swords, and spends much of the story trying to retrieve them with a little help from his friends.

The most fun thing about Geralt is that sometimes he just has a bad day or even fails in his mission, making him more complicated and fallible than the standard hero that always wins. This novel shows him losing and making choices that aren’t necessarily good, making it a moody read that fleshes out some of the earlier novels.

Lady of the Lake (Novel)

Lady of the Lake

This is ostensibly the conclusion of Yennefer, Ciri, and Geralt’s collective arc, though, naturally, there is plenty of space for flashback novels in the future. Ciri tells the story of a battle in which she and her adopted guardians, Yennefer and Geralt, fought against a great wizard. Leaning fully into Arthurian legend, she tells the tale to none other than Sir Galahad.

There are plenty of surprises along the way, but the most important thing about this book is that it reunites the crew and frees Ciri from her “destiny” so that she might pursue her own interests in life. This is exactly the kind of ambiguous, heartfelt ending that The Witcher was destined to have, and it’s an incredibly entertaining read. For new readers, however, you’re going to want to start a little earlier in the series, so the twists that pop up here have the earned relevance they have for many longtime fans.

Season 1 (TV Series)

The Witcher Season 1
Courtesy of Netflix

This is the kind of fantasy series where it felt destined to get its own TV show ultimately, and it’s kind of surprising it took as long as it did. Still, however, the dominos had to fall to give us Netflix’s The Witcher. We’re fine with it because it was worth the wait. Whether or not this adaptation works for you overall is a matter of personal preference, but there’s no denying that the cast clicks with their characters in some impressive ways.

This season pulled from short stories and used a substantial number of time jumps that confused some viewers, but if you stick with it, it’s a lot of fun. Seeing some of the epic fight scenes of the stories come to life has been a true delight, and Yennefer and Geralt’s slowly unfolding love story is one for the ages.

Blood of Elves (Novel)

Blood of Elves

Much of the second season of the show is based on this book, though scenes of the fall of Ciri’s hometown of Cintra appeared throughout the show's first season. In essence, this is how the band gets together. It’s the first chronological entry in the series, kicking off the overarching story of Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer becoming a family. Still, the TV series diverges from the book in some important ways.

Yennefer’s narrative is substantially different here as she does not lose her magic, and she comes to teach Ciri of her own free will when she is asked to do so. She and Ciri are at odds initially, but the roots of their ultimate mother-daughter bond are sown here, making this a must-read for Yennefer diehards (us included).

The Last Wish (Short Story Collection)

The Last Wish

This is the first collection of short stories, many of which were adapted in the show's first season. Naturally, that makes it a great jumping-on point for readers looking to delve into the wild world of The Witcher, though the Geralt you meet here might be a little softer and a little sadder than the fellow you’ve come to know through the TV series and video games. Giving us our first glimpses of mainstays like Yennefer and Dandelion (Jaskier on the show), this is essential reading, and not only due to its status as the first book.

The moral quandaries Geralt faces here tell us a lot about who he is and what makes him tick. Inviting us into a universe in which the myths of our world, like Snow White and King Arthur, are very much real things that happened, this remains an impressively solid first outing.

The Tower of the Swallow (Novel)

The Tower of the Swallow

This is the follow-up to Baptism of Fire’s epic cliffhanger, and it does not disappoint. The story follows Geralt as he attempts to save Ciri from the clutches of Nilfgaard, the invading army that not so long before destroyed her hometown. The dialogue is perhaps better here than in any other entry, making it the go-to for anyone looking for more of that classic Geralt banter.

Likewise, Ciri’s story returns to center stage, and we follow her through some pretty wild adventures while also exploring what became of Yennefer after an escape from the Lodge.

The Dark Horse Series (Comics)

The Dark Horse Series

The various Dark Horse comic book miniseries in existence are self-contained, meaning it’s easy to pick up any of them to see if they’re your bag or not without committing to a larger read. They’re based in the world of the video games and thus do not serve as adaptations or continuations of the novels for the most part, though there are exceptions in books like Fox Children.

Stories like House of Glass take on a full-out horror vibe while Of Flesh and Flame leans more into the complex world of Geralt. These comics vary in tone and story, but if you’re a fan of the storytelling aspect of the games, you can’t go wrong in seeking these out.

Nightmare of the Wolf (Animation)

nightmare of the wolf
Courtesy of Netflix

This feature-length animated film takes us into the origins of Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir. Most Witchers have a tragic backstory in which they are dropped off or otherwise abandoned as children to become “unfeeling” monster hunters. Still, Vesemir has lived a long life, and it’s given him time not just to see his mentors but also his peers, and then his students, die en masse in myriad battles.

Perhaps worst of all, the great love of his life was a woman he was forced to leave behind when he began training as a Witcher. This tells the tale of their reunion, and it’s a tearjerker, to say the least. This prequel makes for a great jumping-on point full of epic battles and in-universe lore.

Season 2 (TV Series)

The Witcher Season 2
Courtesy of Netflix

The first season of the series is great, but the story for season two is tighter, more organized, and more personal, making it a rare improvement on an original. The fight scenes in the first season were a major draw, but here, the emphasis is on character-building and how Ciri and Geralt interact.

Meanwhile, Yennefer returns from apparent death and has lost her ability to use magic, making her a wild card throughout. Geralt’s skills as a teacher and a protector are under focus here, but his connection with the people in his life remains one of the show's highlights.

The Witcher 1-3 (Video Game)

The Witcher 1 3 Video Game scaled
Courtesy of CD Projekt

Before it was a show, The Witcher novels inspired a series of role-playing video games. Following Geralt’s journey across the Northern Territories while offering endless hours of gameplay, these are easily some of the most popular and well-received releases of the last twenty years. The Wild Hunt is the best of the bunch as far as AI and unique features, with werewolves and other monsters responding to whether it is day or night and several interesting non-playable characters to interact with.

It also comes with several possible endings, which makes the replay value high. If you’re a fan of video games, chances are you’ve already played this series through, but if you’re in a rut waiting for season three of the Netflix show, this is a great place to get your Witcher fix.

Time of Contempt (Novel)

Time of Contempt

This novel continues where Blood of Elves left off, and as the title might imply, we move a little bit out of the world of the epic monster-hunting and land right in the middle of some serious political dissent. Expanding Ciri’s character and offering up some context around what being a “child of destiny” even means, this is one of the more tightly-paced books as it jumps from scene to scene and introduces several new characters.

The pending war between Nilfgaard and the Northern Territories builds rapidly. Meanwhile, Yennefer takes Ciri to Aretuza in hopes of teaching her magic. Naturally, this plan goes awry, and our central crew is separated from one another. A story that allows Geralt to play a supporting role while focusing on Ciri, it’s safe to assume that this will be foundational for the show's upcoming third season.

Sword of Destiny (Short Story Collection)

Sword of Destiny

Taking the character-building of the first short story collection and expanding on it, this is where Geralt truly comes into his own as a unique and charismatic personality. Introducing Princess Ciri to the equation and dropping hints that their stories are soon to collide authentically, this anthology also expands a bit on Yennefer and Geralt’s sometimes bizarre connection. It allows her to show off her trademark stubborn confidence in full. Though it is better to start with The Last Wish and build to the Sword of Destiny, there is no denying that this is one of the major highlights of an awesome franchise.

Baptism of Fire (Novel)

Baptism of Fire

This is a long list of entries that are all amazing in their own respect, so choosing the top dog is a bit arbitrary because everything from The Witcher universe is worth at least a casual glance. With the gang separated after Time of Contempt, the focus is back on Geralt. Generally a loner, this book explores his inclination towards finding and even befriending other outsiders to work toward a common goal.

Fans of the Geralt/Jasker dynamic on the show will absolutely want to check this one out, and though Yennefer and Ciri appear sparsely, their absence is very much felt. This is not the best place to start, but when it comes to Geralt’s overarching story and the deft focus on worldbuilding, it remains the best in the series.

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.