What is Young Adult Fantasy?
Young Adult (YA) Fantasy is a subset of fantasy fiction aimed at a teenage audience.
Fantasy is a wide genre and includes stories about made-up worlds, mythical creatures, and magic. Not all these elements have to be present to make a book fantasy, but a fantasy book will have creatures and concepts that do not exist in the real world.
YA Fantasy can be any type of fantasy genre, but as a general rule the characters will be aged between 13 and 18, and the storylines focus on teenage experiences. YA Fantasy is identified by its characters and the issues they face, rather than by the setting or situation.
YA Fantasy sub-genres
Certain fantasy sub-genres are more popular than others for YA. Urban fantasy is common, as is portal fantasy. These sub-genres have a mix of the real world and a connected fantasy world. Either there will be a door to a fantasy world, or the fantasy world integrates with the real world unknown to its inhabitants. This allows for more contemporary topics to be addressed such as high school, peer pressure, and coping with the stresses of everyday life in the real world.
YA Fantasy themes
Typically, YA Fantasy will contain some or all of the following themes:
Coming of Age
This theme involves dealing with the changes that life throws upon the characters in the transition from child to adult. This can involve taking on adult responsibilities, career choices, character growth, development of magical powers or skills, and realisation that the world is not as straight-forward as previously assumed.
This theme deals with learning experiences and how teenagers take their places in the adult world of work. Many YA Fantasy books are set in schools or training institutions, or involve apprenticeships or first jobs. It’s also common for training situations to revolve around magical knowledge. Often these learning sessions are used as a way to introduce the reader to the unfamiliar world and the magic system.
First love is a theme often explored in YA Fantasy, combined with learning to deal with brand-new romantic or physical feelings and the development of relationships. The younger end of this genre will probably focus on emotional feelings and be ‘clean’ in terms of romantic content, but older teen fantasy can sometimes include steamier scenes. As a general rule though, the feelings, emotions, and confusions of young love are seen as key in YA, rather than the physical side of a relationship.
Characters making their own way in the world is a key theme. They can no longer depend on the adults around them and must learn to stand on their own two feet. Often, adults are written out of the picture or take a back seat, in order to allow the teens to work things out for themselves.
Abusive or disinterested adults are often seen in this genre, allowing the themes of dealing with difficult home lives to be addressed. Some books may also deal with broken families or step-families. These themes will often be a backdrop to the fantasy plot, but also allow the teen to resolve or accept their issues, or otherwise deal with them with the help of the magical world.
Mental health Issues
Many contemporary themes such as peer pressure, bullying, drug abuse, depression, mental health issues, and more, can be part of YA Fantasy and can provide insight into how to deal with such issues, but again they are explored within a fantasy setting.
As a counterpart to the character arc, the YA Fantasy hero or heroine will often either fall into adventure, or have some kind of goal or quest to complete. They will be assisted on the way by their friends and mentor figures. YA Fantasy tends to be strongly plot-driven, and the plot progression and lessons learned on the way allows the teen character to develop and change by the end of the novel, whilst providing an exciting scenario for the reader.
Where Carpets Fly
Most YA Fantasy books will include some of the above themes. In my own YA Fantasy novel, Where Carpets Fly, a teenage girl leaves her family to live in the big city (independence) and take magic lessons (training). She is thrown into an adventure when she takes an unexpected voyage to a neighbouring country, and everything proceeds to go wrong (adventure). Throughout the story, she learns magic, has to deal with difficult situations on her own, and also has a romance; so I combined many of the elements above in my story.
YA Fantasy is not just for children and teens. Whilst it’s a genre with a primary teen market, many adults also read and enjoy young adult books, myself included. Themes of independence, change, and new relationships can resonate at any stage in life. So whether for nostalgia, inspiration or simply entertainment, why not give teen fantasy a go?
Let me know in the comments what your favourite YA Fantasy book is!