woman reading book with colors of gold, purple, and pink bursting from the pages
Illustration by Mara Preciado, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Opispo

Anatomy of the New Adult Genre

What exactly are New Adult books? Are they just glorified YA?

New Adult is a genre that eludes many people. It toes the line of both the “Adult” and “Young Adult” genres. 

Young Adult, or YA, is an incredibly popular blanket genre with many subgenres underneath it. It’s aimed towards tweens and teens, with coming-of-age stories taking up most of the genre. The “Harry Potter” series is a great example of YA books. Another good example is “The Mortal Instruments” series by Cassandra Clare. 

The Adult genre is pretty self-explanatory. Books aimed toward adults with heavier topics and more risqué elements being openly welcomed are what make up a lot of the Adult genre.

So, What’s New Adult? 

New Adult, or NA, are books and narratives aimed towards the age range of 18-25 with emphasis on transitioning into adulthood. Like with Adult and YA, there’s a lot of subgenres beneath the blanket genre, such as fantasy or romance and so on.

New Adult sounds like a great concept, so why hasn’t it picked up more traction?

There’s actually a lot of controversy surrounding the New Adult genre. NA first came around in 2009, but was immediately followed up with criticism because it seemed to be YA only with more sexual content. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with including more sexual content and making a more adult version of YA, it definitely created a genre that is now harder to market for. With such a similar genre already existing, it really just became a glorified cover for erotica. However, with an overwhelming amount of fantasy novels taking the reins in all three genres, we’re finally starting to see some branching out of this mentality.

New Adult Book Faves

“A Court of Thorns and Roses” Series by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the author of the “Throne of Glass” series and the ever-trending “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (“ACOTAR”) series. There is an extreme popularity to these series, so much so that people go to create guides on which books to read first and how the world building works. 

While personally my favorite book in the series is “A Court of Silver Flames,” many people prefer the first three books, which are about Feyre and Rhysand, whereas “A Court of Silver Flames” is about Feyre’s sister, Nesta.

Maas originally published “ACOTAR” as YA per an agreement with her publisher. As long as the books weren’t censored, they’d be published in YA. This changed when book two was released. 

A Court of Mist and Fury” is notorious for Chapter 55. Chapter 55 of “A Court of Mist and Fury” is an incredibly raunchy chapter of the book, where Rhysand and Feyre are sexually intimate and profess their deep love for each other. People have even gone so far as to make themed merchandise for it.

The series has since been changed to NA. 

Of course, as the series goes on the books get more and more risqué, but also maintain a wonderful storyline which keeps it from being pure erotica.

Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell

Now this one is a great example of NA books not having sexual content in them.

“Fangirl” is a personal favorite of mine. It’s about twins, Cath and Wren, going into college and learning how to be their own people. Cath dives into her obsession with Simon Snow (her world’s version of “Harry Potter”) to cope with her life changing so much and has to figure out just what she wants from her life now that she’s apart from her sister. 

This novel captures the concepts of the New Adult genre perfectly. It’s aimed towards the New Adult audience, demonstrating what it’s like to adult on your own for the first time while maintaining a fun, interesting feeling.

Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

Something enjoyable about the New Adult genre is also the inclusivity, with books like “Red, White, and Royal Blue” taking the forefront. The movie adaptation just released on Amazon Prime a few months ago

“Red, White & Royal Blue” is about the Prince of England and the son of the first female U.S. president and their intense rivalry. It’s a rivalry so strong, it winds up with them covered in wedding cake and having to make peace. So, they agree to pretend to be friends and make public appearances together. In the midst of this, they fall in love. 

It’s an endearing romance, and like the “ACOTAR” series, definitely has some risqué moments in the book. 

Alex, the president’s son is a college student finishing up his degree as well as going through a major sexuality crisis. He turns 22 in the book, and Henry, the Prince of England, turns 23. This crisis of identity combined with the protagonists’ ages are trademarks of the New Adult genre. A lot of what makes New Adult books fit in the genre is the ages of the protagonists. Protagonists aged 18-25 are what make up the majority of the New Adult genre. It’s a hard age to be in, and New Adult books do a great job of adding a sense of relatability to the identity crisis that most adults between 18 and 25 go through. 

A lot of New Adult books include a desire to belong or to be understood that most new adults go through, especially as they are learning how to be adults. New Adult is an up-and-coming genre which is only growing in popularity because of the mature and sophisticated way it deals with complicated issues, such as identity issues and relationship growth. With well-known authors like Sarah J. Maas publishing their books in the genre, the genre only grows and hopefully will encourage more authors to publish New Adult books.

There’s much to learn from New Adult books. People often make the mistake of writing off the genre because of the sexual content frequently found in the books. However, there’s quite a few amazing books to find in the New Adult genre that should really be given a chance.

Natalie VanHecke, University of Texas at Dallas

Contributing Writer

Natalie VanHecke

University of Texas at Dallas


"Natalie is a Literature major at the University of Texas at Dallas. When she’s not writing or studying, she can be found curled up with a good book and her dog."

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