The sole non-American entrant in this list — we’d need a separate catalog of book series from across the pond to do them true justice — the Biggles adventures gets a mention here through the sheer volume of its oeuvre. W.E. Johns, a former air-force pilot from World War I, wrote nearly 100 books covering the exploits of James Bigglesworth, nicknamed Biggles, a daring British fighter pilot and proto–James Bond figure who can battle in the open sky but also sleuth stealthily in the suqs of the Middle East. The tales of Biggles’ derring-do, translated in numerous languages, were cherished by whole generations of boys in the decades following the end of World War I and into the Cold War.
To some readers now, the books, which channel a much forgotten British imperial swagger, may seem a bit problematic — maybe even at times racist. But TIME finds charm in Biggles‘ anachronism. In an era when austerity measures have led Britain to put some of its prized military hardware up for sale, it’s fun to revel in these breathless, exciting stories of seaplanes and Spitfires.