Overview: YA Paranormal Romance Books 2019
The summer of 2019 saw hot trends in YA romance alongside classic servings of the coming-of-age novel, almost all of them set in high school. Romance plots in paranormal, scifi, and fantasy can be counted on to exhibit one or more of these must-have situations adding excitement and conflict to every ‘ship.
Blog writer Kirsty Mackay focuses on trends in current best seller charts. In her July 2 post on the blog Watched Plot Never Boils, she says of YA: “[R]oughly 60% of the top fifty books in the chart this week featured high schools, and most of them were magical.
… [F]emale protagonists are ruling the roost here, the obvious reason is to assume that the Teen and Young Adult genre is focused on the female buyer, and there is probably some truth to that. But, there are still some male protagonists on the charts. Interestingly, there are less female villains than one might imagine.
First, What is a Trope?
a word or expression used in a figurative sense
a common or overused theme or devicea phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages
Specifically in the YA paranormal/scifi/fantasy romance arenas, the books selling the most share a number of things in common. Here is a breakdown of the top 10 tropes:
In 2019, the hot big seller in YA is the magical academy, quite often in a series. Just like Harry Potter, these are about magical schools and the teens who fight monsters in them. Remember Monster High and Ever After High? The tweens who absorbed those dolls and cartoon shows are now the buyers for the YA book market, and the market is listening. Scroll through the current listings on the CW television network and you’ll see this trend as well.
Mackay says magical academy books feature
… a young woman who goes to a magical school, possibly after just finding out she has magic. Usually everything that might occur in an ordinary high school, exam stress, awkward romance, hateful teachers, but everything also has a magical twist to it. If you fail the exam, you might die, for example. And of course as well as this is the fact that unlike most high schools, the children at magical academies are generally super powered and are likely to have a pretty big impact on the fate of the world.
She goes on to instruct hopeful authors that:
Teen and Young Adult Fiction is filled with teenagers, magic, and schools. You ignore this at your own risk.
A subset of the “enemies-to-lovers” trope is the hot new trend of the “bully romance.” Positives of this trope include the heroine getting revenge on her former (or current) bully through their romantic entanglement. A darker slide into an abusive relationship is another possibility, walking a fine edge but always entertaining readers with the drenching emotional angst we read YA to find. Love the idea or hate it, this trope has arrived and is wildly popular among teens and adult readers.
Deanna of Deanna’s World blog wanted to know more about this up-and-coming trend and researched it:
It’s defined now as what dark romance used to be. It’s when the hero (or heroes if you’re reading a reverse harem book) treat the heroine like crap, but she still falls for and loves him / them. There is no guarantee that at the end of the book or the end of the series that these men are redeemed (as in dark romance of old) and there’s no guarantee that these men treat the heroine better. According to my research into the books, how the men treat the heroine by the end of the story varies between they are totally redeemed to they still treat her like crap.
[Bully romance] comes in varying levels of “dark” and contains a lot of triggers for people, particularly if they have been bullied in the past. … These are usually in high school settings, although there might be some that are more adult-focused as well.
Maryse of Maryse’s Book Blog describes the hero of this niche this way:
“Those that purposely infuriate, terrorize (in whatever way) alienate and humiliate the heroine. I love when a heroine sees him and immediately runs for cover, or does her best not to be noticed. And of course that never works. LOL! I especially love when we find out it’s just ’cause he’s hurt, or scared to let someone in, or thinks it’s “for her own good” to stay away from him… or maybe even just ’cause he’s just a plain ol’ ass, and doesn’t know any better!”
This trope seems to have originated with Japanese anime and manga stories and is now weaving its way happily through the YA-verse in the West. Plenty of adult fiction plays on this new label for menage or polyamory stories, but it began appearing in YA around 2016.
Shelly of Grumpy Book Grrrl blog says,
[T]his trope is found in several Young Adult novels/series, so of course there is no sex. It’s just the female having her own small pack of boys who worships the ground she walks on. She might have a special bond with them, magical or otherwise, they may kiss, but there’s really no smut… because, YA.
More than a love triangle, in a reverse harem the female protagonist is the center of attention for a multitude of potential suitors, human and…otherwise (this is paranormal/scifi/fantasy, after all). Writer C.L. Stone says,
[R]everse harem is strongly connected to the romance part of the story, not the sex. While sex may be included in the story, how the relationship turns out and the attention one gets throughout determines if the story is a reverse harem.
Examples: Trickery (Curse of the Gods #1) by Jaymin Eve & Jane Washington (note this is also a “magical academy” setting). The Seraph Black series and Curse of the Gods, both by Jane Washington, have a female protagonist bonded to four young men. The Academy series by C.L. Stone is another (and another academy!).
Readers looking for more of this trope can find a list on Goodreads dedicated to “reverse harem.”
This trope never goes out of style—who doesn’t feel comforted by the idea there is someone out there for everyone? There is plenty of room for angst here: what if you meet the other half of your soul and (this is paranormal) your dad eats him? In stories where magic or other supernatural things are involved, fated pairings can carry more significance to the stakes of the plot. Writers have the power to design prophesy, use magic to either bring the lovers together or hold them apart, or go full Romeo and Juliette with a feud between supernatural families (vampire vs. werewolf is always a classic).
In the supernatural world, sometimes destiny delivers one’s soulmate, igniting an unfathomable, intense connection. Fated mates is one of our paranormal romance readers’ favorite tropes right now.
Destined Enemies Falling in Love
Obviously this trope comes with built-in conflict and the anticipation of the moment one heart flips and they find union and common ground or a common cause. While in contemporary YA this can be the more tame “rivals to lovers,” in paranormal, scifi, and fantasy genres writers can crank this up a few notches to drive the angst higher. Two people who through their culture or circumstance come at an issue from different angles must learn to work together and develop respect for each other, which then turns to love.
Author C.G. Drews says in her blog Paper Fury,
[T]here’s a difference between “enemies” of circumstance, etc, versus actual abusive relationships that are inherently unhealthy. When I say I love enemies-to-lovers, I’m N O T talking about a boy systematically abusing a girl because “he likes her”. I’d say you can take your toxic masculinity and pour it down the void, but even the void doesn’t deserve that mess.
If you disagree with that assessment, see “bully romance” above. Drews offers a list of 24 YA titles featuring this trope.
Tales of Dystopian and/or Autocratic Societies
Dystopian fiction features an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice. Autocratic societies are those in which a single person possesses supreme and absolute power, such as a monarchy or dictatorship; the common people have no power. Teenagers relate immediately to this concept as they grow toward adulthood yet are denied the power to make the world work the way they want it to. Authority figures are oppressing them and denying their freedom; parents are the ultimate autocrats.
Political intrigue and machinations fill the pages for this popular trope. It is easy to pinpoint the start of this trend with The Hunger Games in 2008. Eleven years later it’s still popular.
Mackay says, of the current best sellers in this category,
[T]he main character is a young woman thrust into a life of danger, in the midst of political and/or magical power struggles.
Female empowerment is the theme of the decade, for the same reasons cited above.
Look for love triangles, reverse harems, magical academies and bully romance within these stories too.
Goodreads lists highly-rated dystopian YA series, in case you can’t think of any. Or check out Amazon’s current best seller list in teen and young adult science fiction and dystopian romance (updated hourly!).
Fighting the Unstoppable
Books that feature young people fighting powerful enemies to choose their own futures is another hot trend this year. In these stories, the world faces a massive threat with only a few young people able to stop it. Charlie N. Holmberg’s Numina is an example. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner could go here as well. Every teenage superhero fits into this niche. Adult readers may be wondering what role adult characters are left to play other than the villain or the mentor fated to die a la Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” We must remember the YA genre features teens doing great things in the hope they empower the teens reading to also find the strength within to do great things.
Another version of this trope, and more intimate, is the worldwide threat crystalized into a singular relationship and the conflicts in the way of this fledgling romance. A good example of this is Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers.
Amazon has a list for every reader. Click here to find their current bestseller list in teen and young adult paranormal and urban fantasy romance e-books.
A sibling to the paranormal genre is the fantasy genre, and YA fantasy romances have populated the lists this summer alongside magical academy stories. The most basic form of a fantasy book is the quest fantasy. The protagonists must journey across the land facing danger to find something or deliver something, or merely to go home as Dorothy needed to The Wizard of Oz.
In these tumultuous contemporary times, characters with a clear goal and achievable steps to reach that goal can be soothing for readers. Finding love along the path merely sweetens the deal. Often the protagonists must find the magical item or reach their goal before the evil baddie can.
Beyond the light of fairies, mermaids, elves and other inhabitants of epic fantasy lies the darker, more angst-ridden realm of the dark fantasy. Modern teens find monsters lurking in dark corners as thrilling as anything they’ll find in horror. Look for love triangles, reverse harems, bully romance, and enemies-to-lovers alongside dragons, shape-shifters, dark elves, demons, sorcerers, and more!
The list of Amazon’s current bestselling teen and young adult fantasy romance books.
Chosen Ones, Evil Lords
Another common trope in YA paranormal and fantasy romance is the “chosen ones battling evil lords” situation. Quick—who’s the first “chosen one” hero to leap to mind? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Katniss Everdeen (although she volunteered)? Cassie Sullivan of The 5th Wave? Undoubtedly Harry Potter leapt to mind, maybe even Frodo Baggins. The hero of this type of story is an ordinary person until prophesy or an event reveals them to be special in some standout way that will save everyone from the evil lord. While eye rolls often erupt at the sameness of this plot device, it sticks around year after year for a reason.
Megan Maloy of the San Jose Public Library writes that the Chosen One trope
…is a narrative that investigates the difficult process of coming to understand one’s role in the larger world and battling with the frightening concept of a future, all struggles that are common to teenagers even without magical prophecies hanging over their heads.
Examples Fatemarked by David Estes, and JA Andrews’ The Keeper Chronicles.
Other Tropes and Themes
In YA, characters tend to fall in love and be betrayed at least once a series. This often leads into the ever-popular love triangle situation and readers picking sides such as Team Edward or Team Jacob (I know, that’s so a decade-and-a-half ago). Who can forget the angst of falling in love with both Gale and Peeta? Okay, that’s old now too. Epic Reads has an hilarious quiz to find out how you would be betrayed if you were in a YA novel.
Literary YA stories featuring anthropomorphic animals are big this year; classics such as Richard Adams’ Watership Down and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel are still popular, leading the way for a more modern tale like The Bees by Laline Paull.
Mackay finds that leaving home and exploring the world was a common theme in the YA books doing well in August 2019. From the paranormal perspective this includes the idea of a protagonist figuring out who she is after a lifetime of believing herself to be someone else, sometimes literally.
Take Advantage of Trends and Tropes
While literary trends in YA come and go faster than you can say, “That’s so keen!” it pays to keep an eye on the current best seller lists to learn the trends. If you have a manuscript ready to sell to a publisher, sort through your themes and tropes and see what trend your book could align with. Pitch your book based on that to ride the wave. Or who knows—your book could start the next big trend!