Image description: On a breakfast table, a plate with eggs, bacon, and vegetables is shown next to a classic romantasy book: Sarah J. Maas
Image description: On a breakfast table, a plate with eggs, bacon, and vegetables is shown next to a classic romantasy book: Sarah J. Maas


Romantasy Is Reversing Literature Trends, For Better or For Worse

The global appeal of “romantasy” literature lies in empowerment themes but lacks diversity and reinforces stereotypes.

Apr 1, 2024

It is 8:30 AM on a weekday and the girls are having a girl breakfast at D2. It is what follows a girl dinner, often a solitary ordeal, where you allow ketchup to stain your middle-school uniform T-shirt while you are reading a romantasy novel. It is exactly because of the pre-arranged girl breakfast that you must do your assigned reading so that you can discuss it with the rest of the people in your little reader group, who definitely have many other better things to do. We choose to waste time like this, for ourselves and for each other.
There is no magic in romantasy. Well, correction, the genre is all about magic, but in the very banal and expected way. Just like with anything else in these books. The magic that is missing is really that feeling of discovery, of seeing something in between the lines that potentially nobody else saw. There simply is not enough space in between the stacked cliches for any introspection. Yet there is something about that fast-paced reading that brings quite a few people around the globe their daily dose of excitement, so much so that romantasy has become the best-selling genre of the past few years.
What is it exactly? The name stands for “romance and fantasy,” and while that is a good outline for what the novels of this genre are about, there is something very specific as an experience about romantasy books. The term was coined back in 2008 according to Urban Dictionary, but Bloomsbury claims it was popularized because of the series they published by author Sarah J. Maas, who apparently spearheaded the genre. Her success and the subsequent popularity of the books by authors like Kerri Maniscalco, Rebecca Yarros, Stephanie Garber, and many others, have made romantasy the most read genre of the past year.
Romantasy is a genre of its own and not simply fantasy with romantic elements. While the latter has the romance between some characters, sometimes not even the leads, as a secondary plot line, in the former the romantic story is a catalyst for many of the events in the story. Therefore, the content and consequences of action sequences as well as the slice-of-life moments will be highly dependent on the connection between the love interest and the main character, even of some less prominent love stories of secondary characters.
They are immediately recognizable on a shelf. The anatomy of a romantasy is actually pretty straightforward: the titles have a distinct style, often in the format of “The [blank] of [blank] and [blank]” or any variation of that, where at least one of the blanks is an anger word like “fall,” “ruin,” “flame,” “blood,” etc.; the protagonist is usually a young female narrator, often described as frail and/or unnoticeable among her own community, and it is the main male love interest that is the first to notice some distinct quality in her and provides her with a platform to showcase them; the plot is entirely based on tropes, such as “enemies to lovers,” “trauma-bonding,” and “found family,” which were, in the early days of the genre, one big trope per novel, but in more recent releases there is a whole plethora of tropes interconnected with each other.
Historically, the genre has been disregarded, and reading it has been associated with shame somehow. However, recently it has gained a place in the spotlight of literary communities, primarily because of the emergence of Booktok, a reader subcommunity on the popular social media platform. That and social movements that have helped alleviate the stigma around romance and intimacy have been instrumental in shifting opinions about female authors overall. The fact that for many years women have dominated the literature market both as creators and consumers but have been underpaid or shamed for their choices of genre shows the kind of connotation that people would associate with love/romance, namely weakness or triviality. I believe that you would agree that relationships are everything but easy and trivial. Then why would people, and especially women, be shamed for engaging in romantic content? And what has changed?
Romantasy has one more feature to its plots that is crucial to understanding why the genre has achieved such a big feminist milestone. There is a trope that is particular to this genre of the main male protagonist enabling the female lead to make her own choices, both in their relationship and outside of it. Usually, there is another male character who has previously not believed in the main character, has doubted her strengths, and has attempted to protect her by closing her off from the world. Breaking that bond and fighting for her own place in the community is what the female protagonist’s journey is about and her love for the main love interest is a product of his trust and faith in her. Outside of literature, many women do not feel empowered by the men in their lives, not to mention the overall socio-economic systems. Seeking escapism and role models in romantasy books is then not a sign of weakness of character, but rather of a rightful disappointment in the real-world society.
Yet even if the genre has achieved much in the feminist fight for the rights and representation of women, it falls short in several aspects, especially in terms of intersectionality. The most popular books on the market are very noticeably not diverse in terms of racial, ethnic, or even cultural representations, which undermines some of the causes that the journeys of the female protagonists represent. Furthermore, even if the authors tackle issues of body politics and body image issues for women through their romantasy novels, in the same books they create more harmful stereotypes about male bodies. That is because the male leads of the books are always Golden-Ratio-rule symmetric and unrealistically athletic, which can only distort the understanding of health, exercise, and masculinity.
Any fantasy-adjacent genre has, in fact, a responsibility to engage mindfully with genuine issues, and the authors should aim for an intersectional representation of bodies and stories. Even though we, readers, might treat the genre as a form of escapism, the true purpose of fantasy is to bridge gaps between reality and expectations, to provide us with tools to reconcile with conflicting situations and emotions, and to stimulate our imagination to create better realities. If we treat literature as a whole as a looking glass into the fine details of what makes up our world, then romantasy becomes only the tell-tale of a world that is suffering from misunderstanding intimacy, love, and what makes us girls stay up unhealthily late and wake up extra early to be with each other and share dreams.
Yana Peeva is Senior Columns Editor. Email them at
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