The Afrofuturism sub-genre of speculative fiction has become widely popular. It covers books from widely-read African American authors including Octavia Butler, N. K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, P. Djeli Clark, and many others.
The term “Afrofuturism” was first coined in 1993 by Mark Dery in his article “Black to the Future.” In that essay, he lays out the fundamental principles that drive Afrofuturist stories. He said:
“Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners, and set designers ― white to a man ― who have engineered our collective fantasies?”
He then goes further to explain the features of Afrofuturist stories:
“Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture — and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future — might for want of a better term, be called ‘Afrofuturism.’”
Though the term Afrofuturism seems encompassing, it has been argued that it excludes a very large part of the genre: Africa.
Adilifu Nama notes in Brave Black Worlds: Black Superheroes as Science Fiction Cipher: “In America, there is a dubious history of presenting Africa as a primitive and backward nation in books, television, and film.”
Hence, in the preface to her book Intruders, Mohale Mashigo in 2018 suggested that Afrofuturism, as a term, does not work for African writers writing in the speculative fiction genre. She wrote:
“I believe Africans, living in Africa, need something entirely different from Afrofuturism. I’m not going to coin a phrase but please feel free to do so.”
Winner of a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okarafor coined the term “Africanfuturism.” Though closely related to Afrofuturism, Africanfuturism is specific and rooted in African cultures, history, mythologies, cosmologies, and technology. It doesn’t center the West in its narratives. Africanfuturism mostly portrays a vision of the future for Africa with little to no concern with Western worlds. As Nnedi puts it:
Afrofuturism: Wakanda builds its first outpost in Oakland, CA, USA.
Africanfuturism: Wakanda builds its first outpost in a neighboring African country.
Having made this distinction, you might want to ask: what books fall under Africanfuturism? Well, here’s a list of them for you to check out.
10. Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwe Parkes
In this novel, a village in Ghana is filled with indigenous people who walk with their ancestors and speak in the language of their ancestors. They were known as the Sonokrom people. But the once-peaceful village soon turned on itself when the bones of a vanished man were discovered. A pathologist, Kayo, appears to have the much-needed answers to the bone puzzle.
In this novel, we see street hawkers and Accra pubs. We follow the lives of the people of Sonokrom as they live, sheltered by the forest, not worrying about iOS upgrades. Most of the novel is a metaphor about the struggles between the old and the new, the mythical and the scientific. The novel considers where these dichotomies overlap and intersect.
9. David Mogo, GodHunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
The gods fell from the sky. Now they’re forced to wander Lagos, Nigeria.
That’s the introduction into the novel.
This novel follows David Mogo, a freelance god hunter who is the protagonist of this Lagos-set urban fantasy. Even though he has been able to catch a high-profile god, he still struggles to make a decent living wage.
But when he is contacted to catch a pair of twin gods, Mogo is thrown into the world of Lagos hustle-and-bustle as he navigates police brutality, bribery, and the Lagos-ness of demigods. Okungbowa employs a lot of Yoruba mythology which is central to Mogo’s character.
8. Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood
You’ve probably heard of apartheid, the period of racial segregation in South Africa. This is the setting of this thriller-cum-sci-fi novel.
A white psychologist who develops a machine to read the minds of people meets a super-patient, Sibusiso Mchunu. As the psychologist continues to test his machine, news of the machine leaks to the public. Special Branch agents and the ANC, the two parties of the apartheid era, want the machine for different reasons. Sibusiso must face his nation and become its conscience.
7. Blackass by Igoni Barrett
Joining a long list of Kafkaesque novels, Blackass employs metamorphosis in a new and interesting way.
When Furo Wariboko, a Black man in Lagos, Nigeria, wakes up one morning to discover that his entire body, save his ass, has turned white, we follow what it’s like being an oyibo (white man) in the city.
To help him navigate the city, Furo changes his name to Frank White, but soon realizes it is a mistake and a blessing. The city opens its doors to him, he meets beautiful women, his cab fares are higher than normal, everyone stares at him. Essentially, the novel explores the privileges that come with whiteness even in black communities. It’s a powerful satire about Lagos, race, and the reality of how color shapes our experiences.
6. Beasts Made Of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
This Nigerian-inspired fantasy is the first in a duology. Its sequel is Crown of Thunder.
In the city of Kos, Akis, or “sin-eaters,” are in a symbiotic relationship with corrupt mages. The royalty pays the mages for the Akis to eat their sins, and the Akis get a fraction of the payment.
Soon Taj, a young Aki, falls in love with a princess, prompting a chain rebellion that will shape his belief and existence.
5. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
“The world in my head has been far more real than the one outside—maybe that’s the exact definition of madness, come to think of it.”
Ada, a girl grappling with multiple personalities and protracted trauma is the protagonist of this coming-of-age novel. The book is written from the point of view of spirits called Ogbanje in Igbo mythological traditions (Ogbanje are children who die over and over again). As Ada grows up in Nigeria and navigates violence in America, these spirits trouble her and give her clarity.
4. The Terminal Move by Dilman Dila
After losing their previous home to a competing tribe, the Jalabong tribe looked for a new home. The tribe is torn apart by battle and famine throughout this protracted search for a home. However, Laceng, a fiery youth from the tribe, finds new ways to steer the tribe in the right direction with the help of his gang.
We see a story told in the style of a fantasy adventure in this work.
3. The Forest of a Thousand Daemons by D.O Fagunwa
In this 1938 novel, we follow the tales of a Yoruba hunter named Akara-ogun (Compound-of-Spells), who was one of the most fearsome hunters of his time. He fought against sorcery, monsters, ghommids, spirits, and gods.
Binti is a member of the Himba tribe, which is known for isolationism. She is a sixteen-year-old math genius who has been accepted into the famous Oomza University, but she is fighting family pressure to keep her from leaving the tribe to further her studies. She sneaks off at night to board a spaceship to the planet where Oomza University is located, convinced by statistics and logic.
While in transit, terror strikes as the spaceship is boarded by a jellyfish-like alien species called the Meduce, and Binti must use her tribal metaphysical powers to broker peace before she begins her studies in the university.
Okarafor uses cultural references that are traceable to Nigeria in this sci-fi epic.
1. The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
The Old Drift is based on The Autobiography of an Old Drifter by Percy M. Clark (1874-1937). Set in Zambia from 1903 to 2023, it traces the colonial history of the country up until the present day.
This is a family saga that spans three generations in Zambia. High-tech drones, a chorus of mosquitoes, a blind tennis player, and more are among the sights we see.