(this includes canon!AUs, because I am an AU addict and can't stay away from them to save my life.)
oneshots and two-parters
Lemon Meringue: Arthur exiles Merlin for his own safety, but even from afar Merlin manages to make his presence felt anyway. (Lemon Meringue. Arthur squinted. On further inspection, it might have said Love, Merlin, but love and Merlin resolutely did not go together, especially not with the letter 'I' in front of them, so Arthur made himself settle on the meringue. Perhaps Merlin had been feeling peckish at the time. )
comment: this is the cutest fic in the world. my saying that probably doesn't tell you anything, but I don't even know how else to put it. it is adorable, and totally suitable for anyone easing into merlin/arthur fics. :3
Millions of Peaches: "When I was small, we used to have peaches," Arthur said, sounding a bit distracted. Apparently even strawberries were not enough to tempt him to his breakfast; Merlin would have to pester Gaius to check him over again. Perhaps he had some lingering touch of fever. "I don't suppose you had those in Ealdor."
comment: this fic has such a simple premise but it is a ~perfect display~ of how devoted merlin is to arthur. :] in which arthur tries to tell merlin things subtly, and - as expected - it all flies over merlin's head.
Fools of Us All: Romance, Humor. (~11,300 words) Merlin accidentally makes everybody in Camelot fall in love with him. Everybody except Arthur, that is.
comment: I don't really have anything coherent to say other than the fact that this is yet another gorgeous and adorable fic. arthur's voice is hilarious, and rereading this always makes me laugh.
Peach, Plum, Pear: Futurefic wherein Merlin has been gone for years and Arthur holds a contest for a new Court Magician.
comment: if you want something that breaks you heart and then puts it back together again, this is it. you start off years after canon, when arthur is king with no merlin by his side - and you can tell through the whole fic that is he just desperately lonely and alksjdkajk. I lovelovelove this.
Different Perceptions: Uther frowns because his son is hiding a smile behind his hand, his eyes mischievously meeting his manservant’s; they seem to have forgotten both their place as well as their status.
comment: this is the only fic on this rec list that isn't from merlin or arthur's point of view - but this is basically merlin-and-arthur interaction in the eyes of different people in the castle.
Secret Art: Of course Arthur already knows about Merlin's hiding spot.
comment: this is more like a ficlet - definitely shortest fic I've ever recced - but it's a fic that I still remember and think fondly of despite the 23432432432 merlin fics I go through every week.
The Knights Have A Thousand Eyes: In which Arthur attempts to teach his knights, his knights attempt to woo Merlin and Arthur is definitely not jealous....
comment: IN WHICH ARTHUR HAS THE BEST KNIGHTS EVER. it is frankly amazing how well the author developed the knights in this fic - they are all so fleshed out, and yet it's done in a way that's M/A-centric, :33.
The Sorcerer And The King: Canon AU -- Merlin's death is only the beginning; with no-one to protect the kingdom, Camelot falls to an enemy sorcerer and Arthur is forced to serve in the court that he once ruled. When an escape attempt goes horribly wrong, Arthur is rescued by someone he never expected to see again -- and it's their destiny to put things right.
comment: this is possibly my favourite fic ever in this fandom. see here for my original rec comments.
The Tournament Of All Magics: Merlin is invited to compete in a tournament of magic. Sure, he'd like to become the champion of all Albion, but first he has to get past giant creatures, a seductive sorceress, and the crown prince of Camelot.
comment: so Merlin runs off for a tournament... except he gets some unexpected princely company. ;)
The Twin Thrones: While visiting a neighbouring kingdom for peace negotiations on behalf of King Uther, Arthur finds his attempts to seduce Merlin thwarted at every turn. Hiding in the wardrobe seemed like a good idea at the time.
comment: this is actually a crossover with narnia, although I don't think you need to actually know anything about narnia to read it.
~ ~ ~
oneshots and two-parters
The Good Times Are Killing Me: "He hadn’t forgotten how devastatingly cruel Arthur could be, but it shakes him all the same." Arthur and Merlin have been dating for some time, but as Christmas approaches their relationship begins to crumble. They decide to separate, but in order to avoid ruining the holiday for their friends, they pretend to still be a happy couple at Morgana and Gwen's annual holiday party.
comment: this fic is devastatingly heartbreaking. you will get your happy ending, but not until you sob your way through the majority of it first. it's understated but painfully realistic, and that really packs a punch.
Reversal Of Fortune: Wherein Arthur is not the rich boss, and Merlin is not the assistant.
comment: I love this modern!au because, as the title/summary says, you have a fic where for once, merlin is the boss and arthur is the assistant. also, merlin makes the best boss ever, *___*.
The One Where Merlin Dances Ballet: Arthur wanted to spit the coffee out and say something wonderful and perfect like people in romantic movies said, all deep and shit, but he was Arthur and he was awkward when it came to emotions, and so he just ended up with the rather unpleasant feeling of coffee trying to back its way up into his nose.
comment: this is just lovely, and I don't have very much to say that is coherent. misswinterhill is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.
Temporary Like Achilles: for kinkme_merlin: Merlin goes to NY on a sightseeing trip and meets Arthur. They have a short/hot steamy affair and Merlin has to come back to UK for work etc. They arrange for Arthur to come over the following week but he never shows or answers calls. Merlin is heartbroken - he thought this was the one. A couple of years later he meets Arthur under other circumstances and it is clear Arthur has no idea who he is. Arthur had a head injury the day Merlin left and lost six months, so he has no idea he ever met Merlin...but maybe he has been feeling odd since because of the 'something's missing' feeling.
comment: I AM SUCH A SUCKER FOR A CLICHES. and this is beautifully so, with just the right amount of heartbreak. ♥
The Pendragon Guide to How Not to Date: Modern day student AU. Still set in Britain. Morgana sends Arthur on some blind dates that don’t go quite according to plan.
comment: like the summary says - Morgana decides that it's time Arthur goes on some dates, and things get very entertaining. not saying anything else because I don't want to give anything away, but I love how Merlin/Arthur gradually and unexpectedly get together in this.
(okay, so like, most of these are from the merlin big bang this year. but can you blame me? if you have some time, you should definitely stop by paperlegends - I was blown away by how many fics with great premises there were for this year.)
Steam: It's been centuries since King Arthur united Albion and lifted the ban on magic. Ruled by Pendragon dynasty, the kingdom had prospered till a feud between the magicians and King Uther the Second drove the country to the brink of collapse. Now it's up to Prince Arthur and his Knights of the Engine to harness steam power to replace the magic Albion had lost, and it's up to Merlin to protect Arthur while he fulfills his destiny.
comment: steampunk!AU! maybe it's because I'm completely ignorant about stories from this sub-genre, but to me, this fic feels like the author just created a whole new universe, which never fails to amaze me. the whole story is fabulous and plotty - Arthur is wonderfully determined and stubborn and focused I love the way he and Merlin meets. :3
Radiant Under Every Sort of Light: Just your everyday Circus AU. Or: In which there are aerialists, decorative metal flowers, prejudices, artsy books and magic. Obviously.
comment: in which Merlin is determined to join the circus and Arthur is determined to make life hard for him. or something. their interaction makes me want to rub my hands together in glee, laughs.
Pianos Are Made For Falling: Inspired by Nodame Cantabile. Arthur is a world class violinist, trapped in Sydney, Australia, by his fear of flying. In the wake of a mediocre concert, vicious critics and with barely a month to go before his next (hopefully reputation-saving) recital, Arthur is almost at breaking point. When his accompanist, Morgana, breaks her wrist in a car accident, Arthur is more or less doomed. And the story begins, when the Maestro at the conservatoire, Gaius Stresemann, recommends his protege Merlin Emrys to step in. Merlin, who plays by ear, as he pleases and really just wants to be a kindergarten teacher.
comment: my favourite thing about this story is probably Merlin. I've never read a Merlin like this before. he's whimsical and childlike and gleeful and it almost feels like he's separate from the real world, somehow, just living on his piano and a constant sugar overdose. this is gloriously long and breaks my heart but also puts it back together again, in a way. ♥
Resolution Rush (Or Twelve Things Merlin Does In A Year): As a New Year's Resolution, Merlin and Gwen set forth on a year long journey to have one new experience per month. Along the way, they meet Arthur, Lance, Leon and Morgana.
comments: modern!AU! the summary pretty much describes the premise, and the Gwen-Merlin interaction is lovely. the whole crew is very in character, and I love Arthur's attempts at being subtle. ♥
Not In This Land Alone: Modern AU. When Merlin Emrys gets a summer job at Buckingham Palace, he doesn't expect to even meet King Arthur, let alone become involved in protecting him from a plot to overthrow the monarchy.
comment: I love AUs like this. Ever since Drastically Redefining Protocol, I've had a major bias for rl!royalty fics, and Merlin's clumsiness and general obliviousness in this make me happy and gleeful.
(so for the purpose of not overwhelming anyone, I stopped at 20 fics total. but really, there's also the one where merlin's magic is as in love with arthur as merlin is, the one where life is hard for arthur when he gets a manservant who actually does his job, the modern!au where arthur is a prince and a student, the one where merlin and arthur do a bodyswap, the one where arthur is a politician, the one where merlin works in a theme park, the one where arthur is the prince of wales and the world is ending, the one where merlin has no student housing, the modern!au where both arthur and lancelot goes to extreme measures to hide their significant other from each other, the one where arthur is famous and goes to the cafe a lot, and the one where arthur is a princess, among other things. also, have an rps where colin is fixated with whether bradley has any pants on (the british pants, not the american one).
and also, I would always rec anything by astolat and seperis and rageprufrock and syllic, :3