Arts and Entertainment

Where Has the YA Genre Gone?

Why was the YA genre so popular and where has it gone now?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The ever beloved and notorious Young Adult (YA) genre is a branch of literature aimed at individuals ages 13 to 20 that rose in popularity during the 2000s and early 2010s. Many YA series were extremely popular during that time, when nearly every teenage girl fell in love with John Green’s novels and when nearly every popular and highly-rated series, (think “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” or “Twilight”) was made into high-budget, blockbuster films. YA covers a variety of genres, ranging from fantasy, action, and romance, thus appealing to a wide variety of readers, which likely played a large role in their popularity.

While the quality of these novels is subject to heated debate, it is undeniable that the novels were immensely popular during their release and continue to have a large presence within pop culture today. Some people find it baffling that these novels grew to be so critically-rated. While a select few of them are considered revolutionary works of fictions (e.g. Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games”), others are heavily criticized for their use of cliches and tropes (Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”), as well as piggybacking off of already successful works by using similar premises and themes. A commonly used example of this is Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy, which was often compared to the “Hunger Games.”

Despite differences in how the novels were perceived, they were all discussed frequently. Many of them became heavily advertised and highly budgeted movies. J.K. Rowling’s ever-beloved “Harry Potter” series, while not technically a YA series because it was aimed at a younger audience, was marketed like one and changed the way the genre was advertised. To this day, the series has one of the largest and most dedicated fandoms of any work of fiction.

But what sparked this craze for YA literature? The answer might lie in the reason people create fiction in the first place. These are novels told from the perspective of young people, and we as readers are meant to relate to them. This sort of immersion allows people to escape into a more attractive reality that revolves around young people just like them.

YA novels tend to be very character-driven. Series such as “The Hunger Games” capture the spirit of rebellion that this demographic finds inspiring and exhilarating, and are only fueled by the characters in the story that people want to cheer for. The heavily criticized “Twilight” series features a protagonist that is a literal blank slate, meant to be a foil for readers to insert themselves into. Even stories that don’t have as many supernatural elements, such as the critically-acclaimed John Green’s novels, remain character centric and portray emotions and relations in a way that begs readers to become invested. No matter what kind of protagonist or cast a story has, the objective remains the same: the characters are young people put into fantastical or whimsical situations, with human characteristics that allow teens to relate to them.

Novels in this genre are hit-or-miss for me. Because they can vary from fantasy, romance, or dystopia, there are many series that may appeal to one person, but are disliked by another. Several YA titles are deserving of their popularity, due to having unique stories and characters. However, there are many popular series that fall flat for me due to an overuse of tropes, lack of originality, or generally just bad writing. For example, the “Divergent” trilogy lacked any sort of original story or characters. The story tried too hard to be science fiction and create an interesting dystopian land, but ultimately failed to do so in the end. The author focused too much on the two very bland protagonists, making the series more reminiscent of a romance novel rather than a sci-fi novel. Another popular example of a badly written novel is the “Twilight” series, which is known for having an endless number of tropes, such as a predictable love triangle, as well as weak female lead who is constant need of saving and attention. In the end, whether the fame of YA novels is justified or not is heavily dependent on what series one has read and how far one has delved into the genre.

But where are all the YA novels today? When was the last time you heard that a popular YA series was a getting a film adaptation? It appears that the popularity of this genre is slowly waning, or at least getting much less attention than it had in the past. Back then, YA novels were getting blockbuster movies left and right, a practice that rarely happens nowadays.

The truth is that, yes, YA literature is still being written, but the novels just aren’t getting the same level of attention as they were in the past—and, perhaps, this is justified. Critics of this kind of literature argue that it is has become oversaturated within media, that the themes and characters are too tropey, and that the books are poorly-researched and written. Even during the peak of its success during the 2000s and early 2010s, YA literature was criticized for being overdone, and many series were compared to each other, some even being referred to as rip-offs of more popular and successful series, such as the previously mentioned “Divergent” being constantly being compared to the “Hunger Games.” Seeing the success of a select few series drove other authors to attempt to recreate the same level of success, without venturing into new topics.

Dystopian settings and romance novels are incredibly common, while mystery and other types of fiction are forgotten. Writers were constantly trying to become the “next big thing,” which took away genenuity from their writing and made their works less enjoyable to read. This also blocked more passionate authors from getting as much attention as others. For example, James Patterson’s mystery novels are phenomenal, but they never got a film or even much media attention.

When literature becomes so overdone that every work ends up being too similar to the one before it, readers naturally become bored and move on to better and more original content. Under this lens, the lacking presence of YA literature today is justified, and until authors of this genre can come up with new ways of tackling old subjects, or creating entirely new and original narratives, it will stay this way.