In the middle of the last century, dedicated novels for hero types in the action adventure genre like Tarzan and Buck Rogers or Doc Savage were flying off magazine and book racks when post war kids dreamed of jungle adventures and space cowboys. Occult detectives were also the rage and may have been inspiration for series like The X-Files up to Doctor Who, and Supernatural. Your grandpas or fathers may have a small or even a sizable collection of such book series from the 60s and 70s or older.
Unlike female readers, who actually hoard as many pulp romance ebooks or paperback erotica novels (to get lost in when no one's looking), male action adventure fans may not seem to be making as big a dent as they used to on the books that used to be called dime adventures.
But modern action hero adventure novels always have their own tight fans, who'd shell out good moolah if you can deliver the same good stuff they want--occult detectives fighting sleazy demons and femme fatales, space cowboys or mercenaries fighting oppressive empires or running a smuggling operation just for the heck or it (Han Solo and Chewbacca), crime crusaders fighting the system for kids who don't even have a prayer against drug syndicates, sea adventurers uncovering secrets that the powers that be would rather keep hidden so they can rule the world, and even Russian secret agents who are actually out to save the world and not enemies of humankind.
Want your own fix of alpha male hero adventures? Let's take a look at nineteen modern pulp hero book series for boys at heart of all ages.
CRIME FIGHTER or SECRET AGENT SERIES
Burke, (Burke P.I. Series)
by Andrew Vachss
The Equalizer, a TV series about a CIA agent turned vigilante P.I for hire for special criminal cases is the closest thing to Andrew Vachss' own hard boiled series. Burke is a pseudo-P.I. for hire, who is your salt of the earth, been-through-hell-and-back ex-con who find a new lease on life as a crime crusader who specializes in cases that involve human trafficking, drugs, murder, and robbery. The author is an actual lawyer for cases that involve crimes with child victims in the New York City area. Burke takes on special cases, and is often highly paid by shady characters, to get to the bottom of things. He is your stereotypical sin city, anti-hero who goes out of his way to save the world for innocents. This P.I. owns a big nasty guard dog named Pansy (trained to snifff out drugs and trouble). And like all antihero crime crusaders, Burke has a muscle car that runs on a souped-up fuel cell engine and has other tricks to evade or destroy chasing criminals.
The settings with the Burke novels involve the usual: bimbos with a heart of gold, victims out for vendettas, drug deals gone sour, and all sorts of shady characters being treacherous with each other. If you like modern crime fiction and are not squeamish about scenarios involving human trafficking and drugs, this crime crusader series is a romp on its own and even the older books in the series don't get dated storywise.
Kurt Austin, NUMA Series
by Clive Cussler
If you want seafaring heroic adventure, look no further than Kurt Austin, mariner and head operative of the fictional National Underwater and Marine Agency, a special rescue and investigation arm of the U.S. for any seaborne incidents. Clive Cussler's Austin is a special agent and underwater special-ops guy who sleuths for all sorts of grand conspiracies, or sea tragedies encountered by America in this action adventure series. Cussler is one of the most popular writers of heroic action adventure books today.
Austin's adventures are always rather out there: secret plots to rule the world by uncovering buried secrets in the deep ocean ranging from Atlantean technology to former Soviet high tech submarines that got sunk, or secret viral bio weapons that are being cultivated for a plot to rule the world. But that's why you pick up these kind of books--for the larger than life, racing against time,, against all odds heroes that make the book their own guilty pleasure.
Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Kingsman)
by Mark Millar
As the graphic novel Kingsman, this hero book is a variation of James Bond's secret service, except it has more gonzo elements and that staple of Brits: cutting wit and black humor. Mark Millar, the author weaves the coming of age story of a kid whose father is one of Britain's top secret modern knights: a special forces trained-secret agent--the Kingsman. His father's death in one mission against terrorists is the trigger that gets him recruited by Her Majesty's Secret Service to replace their lost white knight.
Armed with gadgets and weapons you would only expect among James Bond types, Eggsy is pitted against wacko hip-hop crime lords and assorted creeps who can slice secret agents' bodies in half with their weaponized limbs. Under cover of a high end tailor shop along Savile Row, the Kingsmen save the world from assorted terrorists and conspiracies of the evil powers-that-be. This is a romp of an adventure with plenty of adult-oriented humor that is not suitable for kids (like taboo sex with a Swedish princess as a reward for rescuing the world ).
by John Greenwood
British secret agent, Ulysses Quicksilver
belongs to a darker, alternate Earth British empire which rules the
world, for 160 years running, with holdings in other planets and with
plenty of enemies on both earth and from other planets. This retro tech,
action hero series was among the forerunners of steampunk themed sci-fi
adventures before they were a too fashionable theme for throwback
heroic adventure. Quicksilver is a Bond-styled secret agent, a dandy
space cowboy in Magna Britannia, that era of British Empire supremacy of
a gorgeously strange, quantum future.
British Empire of Ulysses Quicksilver is retro-tech potboiler
adventure with bawdy and dandy heroes and villains, dinosaurs and
monsters, as well as grotesque horrors. If you like alternate history
adventure heroes in steampunk eras, Ulysses Quicksilver\'s Pax Britannia
omnibus is probably your kind of hero series to collect.
Eugene Sokolov, Sokolov Saga
by Ian Kharitonov
Eugene Sokolov is a secret agent for Russia who is deeply embedded in fighting plots to destroy his motherland. Sinister forces from within and without the country conspire to grab power and rule the world. It's a typical action adventure hero trope not different from James Bond. Kharitonov is a Russian who grew up in the U.S. and weaves his tale with historical asides to flesh out the setting. Russian writers tend to embelish their cultural heritage to prop up their heroes and this reads more as a historical thriller that just happens to have a Russian counter-spy operative.
The Sokolov agent series is more of a DaVInci Code-like thriller but with Russian historical and cultural events and characters as the main conflict and points of interest. Sokolov is also a self-published author who has a sizable fanbase of action-adventure fans who crave for stuff like DaVinci Code Thrillers in any setting.
OCCULT DETECTIVE SERIES
Harry Dresden, Occult Detective (Wizard)
by Jim Butcher
This popular occult detective fights all sorts of supernatural adversaries, from vampires and werewolves to Norsk dark elves. Harry Dresden is both a wizard and a P.I. who is tasked by his order to protect mankind from plots and schemes of assorted unsavory supernatural villains. The series is written with hard boiled crime fiction tropes, but the characters wield magic as their weapons of choice.
Felix Castor (The Devil You Know)
If you've outgrown Wizard Potter and want your wizard to be some fairly badass dude, but don't want your younger siblings to steal time reading your books for the nasty stuff, Harry Dresden books are probably your choice of occult detective adventures. Filipino readers who may not like the rough and tumble or black humor and sexy moments of western action adventure novels may find the Harry Dresden series to be a really good read as an occult detective series, with all the spooky and scary and adventure but with none of the things your younger siblings would be stealing time nocking your books for.
by Mike Carey
He's an exorcist who can whistle away ghosts and spirits haunting places or possessing other people. Mike Carey's Felix Castor is a contemporary sleuth with supernatural counters to creepy things from the other side. In the course of his first book, he even gets to be intimately almost murdered by a succubus who then becomes his best friend and detective partner. Castor faces off against satanic criminal syndicates, zombie hackers, and a demon possessing his best friend.
Occult detective book series are an acquired taste for male fans, and may be one of the sexier themed action adventure pulp for male readers. Like regular hard boiled heroes, the dialogue is snippy and wisecracking, while the sense of danger and suspense is always atmospheric in its own flavor as only occult detective stories can pull off.
Frank Gomez, Vampire P.I.
by Mario Acevedo
If women get off on Fabio cover trashy romances, guys have books like Mario Acevedo's occult detective series, Frank Gomez the vampire P.I. All of Acevedo's books have titles like The Undead Kama Sutra or Jailbait Zombie and are as politically incorrect as 40 Shades of Grey will always be, even if it made bestseller and has been adapted into a movie. To get an idea of who Frank Gomez is as a character, think of Angel from Buffy, except raunchier (if that is even possible) and with themes that are considered taboo.
Considering that taboo is a theme that exists in women's erotica romance, having a men's action adventure that borders on illegal, but gets off on laughs and puns plus the requisite supernatural action hero, it's not that bad having this book series in your collection if older women have 40 shades of grey on their iPad (or raunchier taboo stuff).
James Stark (Sandman Slim)
by Richard Kadrey
Richard Kadrey used to write cyberpunk in the late 80s and 90s before hitting gold with his anti-hero occult detective assassin, Sandman Slim. As a half-Nephilim assigned to the gladiator pits in Hell who escapes into an equally hellbound Los Angeles, an alternate reality LA where all the supernatural sleaze would gravitate and wreck havoc on its citizens, Sandman Slim is your modern action adventure, hardboiled supernatural merc. Stark is the kind of character that is always in deep shit no matter what odds or debacles he overcomes as he makes his way on in otherworldly Los Angeles.
James Stark was an assassin in Hell for 11 years before
escaping into Los Angeles--a version of it that also is Hell-on-Earth.
Hell's denizens come after him and try to whack Stark but he keeps alive
as the nastiest scumbag ressurected back into the world. If you like Lobo, Preacher, Death's Head and similar black humor, anti-hero characters, Sandman Slim should be an essential part of your hero-from-hell collection. William Gibson considers the series a masterpiece, so you know you're getting a good book.
CYBERPUNK MERCS and SPACE COWBOYS
Takeshi Kovacs (Altered Carbon)
by Richard K. Morgan
Cyberpunk is still a genre that creates exciting action adventure heroes no matter how dated and played out sci-fi stories of this theme may look on paper. Takeshi Kovacs is one of the new heroes of this genre that fans can't get enough of. As a former criminal and shock trooper whose consciousness is downloaded onto a new body, Kovacs uses his wits and bits and pieces of old memories to stay alive as he is downloaded into new body after new body in a dystopian future of both megalomanical corporations and scheming alien adversaries.
In one of the books, Takeshi has to fight a resleeved version of his younger self while fighting a religious zealot military order that is trying to weaponize ancient technology belonging to the long lost race of Martians. Kovacs is all hard boiled, military sci-fi mercenary action that may be too contrived for some, but is essential reading for guys who want a hero who is exactly the kind of bastard they want to root for to save the world.
Sven Tveskoeg (Death's Head)
by David Gunn
As one of the extreme sci-fi anti-heroes you may collect if you like bad-ass, soldier heroes that take down entire armies, this space hero is your action-adventure book guilty pleasure reading. Death's Head is supposedly written by a former British Special Forces soldier, who strangely has been missing in action and cannot be found on any author website. That adds a little mystery to the novel series itself, and Death's Head is a very engaging sci-fi romp not only because of the space cowboy merc, but also because of his gun, a sentient and foul-mouthed blaster that adds more flavor to what would otherwise be another Buck Rogers spin.
The books, according to fans, is actually penned by one Jon Courtenay Grimwood, using a pseudonym and his life partner's publishing house as the outlet for this pulp project. Although the book might be in limbo reportedly due to disinterest from the author from pursuing the series, it has rabid fans the world over who clamor for characters like Sven, and the only guy they have left is Richard K. Morgan' Altered Carbon space merc cyberpunk hero, Takeshi Kovacs.
John Perry (Old Man' War)
by John Scalzi
Earth is at war with aliens staking out claims among goldilocks planets and other resource rich bodies out in the frontier. The homeworld has turned into a backwater place and one hero, is recruited to be a part of a space cowboy outfit, where survivors get their own homestead in one of the Earth colonies. If they survive at all. John Perry is an old man who gets recruited into military service in the frontier where Earth is fighting tooth and nail with other species for control of livable worlds. The author has admitted the series being influenced by Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and the sequence of stories running as a platoon or battalion in field combat missions against a particular alien threat should be a treat for fans of military sci fi where groups of soldiers are actually out there matching their wits and hardware against an equally dangerous and armed alien menace.
John Perry's first troop command call themselves The Old Farts, for being entities rebooted into new genetic bodies that are hyper enhances with both nanotech and cyber implants to create the ultimate space mercenary capable of fighting alien hordes. They have a communication device called a BrainPal which enables them to telepathically communicate with their fellow soldiers in the field of battle.
All You Need is Kill (Manga Series)
by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
All You Need is Kill is a manga that runs off the Groundhog day conceit of aliens rebooting time to win wars on their own time against any planet they invade. The aliens themselves are extremely vicious and have perfected a warfare strategy that works off a Hive Mind as their planetary assault commander. The manga was adapted to film as the Tom Cruise/ Emily Blunt movie, Edge of Tomorrow.
The heroes in this book promise readers all the action adventure fix they want in the same vein as Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) and should be a cult favorite for this generation. The movie adaptation is desert island movie material itself so expect a really good romp of soldiers desperately fighting unbeatable aliens with lots of quantum reboot scenarios.
Darger and Surplus (Dancing with Bears Series)
by Michael Swanwick
Inspired by Fahfer and Grey Mouse series of the 50s by Fritz Leiber, Michael Swanwick's own rogue adventuring swindlers from the Far East, Dancing with Bears is a romp for fans of rascal gentlemen poseurs. Adventuring in strange lands for coin, women and everything else such characters go out of their way for, Darger and Surplus are a throwback to that era way before Han Solo and Chewbacca flew smuggler transports and bilked Jabba the Hutt of his dues. Darger and Surplus (a genetically modified dog who walks like a biped and is disguised as a Mongolian shaman) have their adventures mostly in a future post-apocalyptic Far East where A.I. is hunted down and destroyed. They put together various scams to get rich and even help some derelict warlord in his quest to reunite China under one ruler.
Darger and Surplus should appeal to fans of scoundrel adventurers of the Sword and Planet type and sci-fi gigs where an anti-hero and his sidekick run all sorts of bawdy and ludicrous quests. You can also look up Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance and even Gene Wolfe for stuff like this series.
by Gaie Sebold
Seen that cult-favorite, British urban romantic comedy TV series, Diary of a Call Girl with Billie Piper as the hooker -with the heart of gold? That was a true-to-life (and however fictional) story about women on the fast lane. Babylon Steel is like the Billie Piper character, except she is an avatar of the local goddess of sex and war (think Aphrodite doubling as Athena), and an assassin who owns The Red Lantern brothel on a planet that is a waypoint to other realms via portals. With many moons, were-creatures, elves conjuring sex magic and plenty of sleaze happening everywhere, including murder and wars, Scalentine is a playground for many stories--think of it like Thieves' World. The noir-fantasy sleazy female as a heroine in an action adventure books has been done before as secret agents and only recently have writers grabbed the opportunity to pen anti-heroines in roles that used to be taboo. Like a brothel madam.
As madam and assassin, Babylon Steel is as pulp as Elric, except she's an unabashed madam running a particular kind of business--which sets the stage for all sorts of action and adventure in an urban fantasy setting running hard boiled crime fiction adventures. Interested? Move over, Red Sonja, guys have a new amazon fave now and she's everything guys want from sword and planet characters with adventures in other realms as a promising setting for future books. The writing may be rather dialogue and banter heavy for a fantasy adventure hero series (think David Eddings instead of Michael Moorcock) but fans have lapped up the books and are clamoring for more.
Geralt of Rivia, The Witcher Series
by Andrzej Sapkowski
Polish and Slavic genre writers have their own gotterdamerung heroes just like Conan or Elric of the West. Geralt of Rivia is the closest they have to the civilized sorceror assassin, typical of Sword and Sorcery canons, and he has a girlfriend who is a sorceress, who helps heal him up whenever he gets fatally wounded. As a Witcher, he is an avowed sword-for-hire for various kingdoms and powers that be in his world.
Fighting every supernatural villain and more in a dangerous and treacherous medieval environs, the Witcher is that Eastern European conflicted character who broods like the Slavs do in the cold wilderness of some alternate Earth while making love with witch women, rescuing child messiahs and kingdoms, while killing for coin too.
ACE FIGHTER PILOTS
Hawk Hunter, Wingman Series
by Mack Maloney
If you grew up during the age of Mad Max, Airwolf, Blue Thunder, Firefox and Iron Eagle, this is an offshoot, albeit way dated book series of the proto-ace pilot of the Cold War future apocalypse of the 80s. Hawk Hunter is the novel version of Stringfellow Hawk, except he pilots an F-16 as the uber gotterdamerung ace pilot in the book series known as Wingman.
Like most men's action adventure series, Hawk beats impossible odds like shooting down droves of Soviet planes, with his radar conked out, and he gets to shag all the fantasy females one would imagine a U.S. fighter pilot in a Top Gun novel could collect as trophy girlfriends. The writing may be passe and the real-life parallels may be outdated, but for every kid at heart, who longs to be a pilot saving the world from badmen, Wingman is your guilty pleasure ace pilot read. All hail the F-16 in this series. Even my favorite 80s fighter plane, the British Harrier is featured in this series as a souped up interceptor.
Guy Bodie, The Relic Hunters series
by David Leadbeater
The Relic Hunters is leading bestseller right now on Kindle is a self-published adventure series penned by David Leadbeater, about a relic smuggler who gets caught from a Mexican prison by the CIA and recruited to work for them as a relic thief in the same mode as Indiana Jones but with a handpicked team of fellow thieves and infiltration specialist. Sounds like Warehouse 13--that TV series where government spooks keep the world safe from supernatural apocalypses by safekeeping cursed objects in a secret warehouse. You actually get something like The A-Team of artifact thieves and robbers who run covert ops the world over to steal certain objects that may or may not hide secret tech or powers in them.
Lt. Nicole Shea, First Flight Trilogyby Chris ClaremontChris Claremont is the legendary comic book scribe who put the X-Men on the map as endearing characters going through turmoil and defeating the most vicious mutant boss villains, often by the skin of their teeth. He has a trilogy that is an ace spaceship pilot action-adventure series. Lt. Nicole Shea is a new USAF space pilot on her maiden voyage in the fight against space pirates. In her first mission, she thwarts space pirates from sabotaging a mission, meets up with a xenomorph intelligence for the first time. And in her remaining adventures, she gets to be a flight commander, still an ace pilot in missions where she reencounters both the rebel privateeers and the alien forces at the edge of Earth's own space holdings.
Claremont is more known for his X-Men work, and by
contract restrictions, can't do much more at the moment until his
contract with Marvel comics runs out, so if you want to read stuff by
him to tide you over, this action adventure pilot heroine from the late
80s to early 90s should remind everyone the he does have the chops to
write the good stuff. And may even continue to do so if given by the
powers that be the opportunity to write more genre action adventure pulp
And there you have our list of Men's Action Adventure series and novels available right now that should be part of your reading collection, in case you want to browse through a quick adventure of some lothario swashbuckler saving the world, instead of putting on Valerian or Jupiter Ascending or Tarzan on your media player. Don't be ashamed to be seen in public reading this stuff.
Remember, female readers have steamier than 40 Shades of Grey hiding as an eBook in their smartphone or tablet, or as benign as The Juliet Society in their carry all purse.