Home Articles 7 YA Fantasy Books That Sparked a Phenomenon

7 YA Fantasy Books That Sparked a Phenomenon

by Rosie Wedge
History of YA Fantasy

It’s easy to argue that YA Fantasy is currently one of the biggest sectors of the publishing industry, and has been for some years now.

YA Fantasy boasts some of the most diverse, accessible, imaginative tales I have ever come across, and whilst I appreciate that it isn’t for everyone, I certainly think that YA fantasy is doing absolute wonders for the publishing industry. Growing up in the 2000s, I was pretty much the only one of my friends that read, and reading amongst younger kids truly did seem to be dying out at the hands of increasing technology.

However, since YA Fantasy underwent a major reshaping, I have seen such a surge in the number of people my age finding they have a love and passion for reading (which means I’m no longer alone in gushing over my emotional-attachment to fictional characters, but I now do have to share all my book boyfriends; pros and cons, I guess).

It’s easy to take for granted how fortunate we are to have YA Fantasy as we do today, because it certainly hasn’t always been this way.

And so, if I may, I want to take you on a little journey, and look back at the history of our beloved YA fantasy, and look at some of the major events that made it what it is today.


The most logical place to begin our YA Fantasy history tour would be somewhere before it exploded into the huge, mainstream phenomenon that it is today. So let’s go for 1950.

Why 1950?

Well, 1950 was the publication year of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, considered by many to be the first mainstream example of a children’s fantasy novel.

Prior to its publication, the vast majority of successful fantasy was aimed at adult readers, the most pivotal and influential of which was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (my literary hero).

The only other really successful children’s fantasy was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. A beautiful set of books, inarguably, but miles off from what we know and love today.

Thankfully for us however, Tolkien and Lewis were pretty good buddies. Tolkien sparked Lewis’ interests in both Christianity and fantasy literature, Lewis smashed them together with a child-based audience in mind, and what did we get?

The Chronicles of Narnia: One of the most beloved children’s fantasy tales, and actually one of the most beautiful in regards to the prose, ever.

After this unfortunately, YA still wasn’t really a big deal in the publishing industry.

The odd few books were aimed at teenagers, but there was a drastic gap between the children and young teen targeted books, and books written for adults. To insinuate that YA in general did not exist before the 1990s would be very wrong of me, however it certainly wasn’t at the forefront of the publishing industry, and super-duper certainly didn’t care much for fantasy.

The success and genius of Tolkien influenced so many high fantasy series, for both adults and children, but most authors were totally blind to that big group of us smack bang in the middle. Fantasy had to be either fairytales for little kids or complex info-heavy high fantasy for adults.

Umm, excuse me, where are my fairytales, please?


That was until a certain series began 1997.

A certain magical series…set in England.

I would give you another hint but I think we all know where I’m heading with this one…Harry freakin’ Potter.

A history of YA Fantasy

Regardless of whether you love this series, hate it, or don’t give a heck about it, Harry Potter completely shook up and re-birthed the YA Fantasy sector of the publishing industry like nothing else had ever done before, and like nothing I believe will ever manage to do again.

You may be thinking Rosie, hang on a sec; The first few books were marketed as kid’s books, and you would be right in thinking that.

However, this is where the genius of it all came in.

Want to know something that no series had ever really done before, but Harry Potter did do? Age with the audience.

So not only was this series so phenomenally written, and the Wizarding World so magically crafted that you could literally smell the welcome back feast in the Great Hall, but you also got to grow up alongside these characters, feel the same things that they were feeling, relate to them from the very first book, all the way up to the finale.

Okay, I doubt any of us here have had to battle a Dark Lord in our lives and destroy a bunch of objects that the aforementioned Dark Lord split his soul into (but if you have, you sure are one cool person).

However, we’ve all had that “I don’t fit in” feeling at some point, we’ve had something that makes us different to others, we’ve had loved ones come and go, we’ve experienced our first love, fear, angst, grievance, all of it. And many of us were lucky enough to experience it alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione.

YA Fantasy really took the reshaping that it needed to boost it into the phenomenon that it is today; it realized that it’s not just about writing a story about young teenagers and young adults, it’s about representing and relating to them.


Is Harry Potter the most super inclusive, diverse series in the world?

No, it’s not, and that’s okay.

What this series did do, though, was pave the way to a new YA Fantasy, that has grown beyond belief in the past two decades.

Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, I stand by it when I say that The Shadowhunter Chronicles that Cassandra Clare has created is one of the most inclusive series I have ever read; LGBTQ+, strong female protagonists, autism, polyamory, and it doesn’t end there.

Throne of Glass then came along with some fairly mature, dark content, which many early 2000s YA Fantasy novels shied away from, as they didn’t want to step too far from PG-13 friendly content.

However, now the genre is maturing with its audience; young characters are dying young, themes of drug and alcohol consumption are present, sex scenes are becoming increasingly more common, as are gory battles, and murder. People that fall within the target age sector are being treated more maturely.

They are no longer are being given the choice of either adult literature that’s just too… well, adult-y… or books made for little kids that they’ve grown past now. They are being given more mature themes, that present themselves at a level that they are still able to be comfortable with, and can grow with.

The Folk of the Air series is one of the first YA Fantasy series I have ever seen where all of the protagonists and lead characters are morally grey, not everyone is a good cookie deep down, and I LOVE it for that. YA Fantasy is often criticised for being too trope-y, and being confined to its set expectations.

Whilst this can be true at times, it also challenges itself here and there, just like Holly Black does, which shows that it’s willing to push it’s own boundaries of expected normalcy.

And now, the list of YA fantasy books and series is endless. I could go on about endless examples, but I’m sure you’ve got more riveting things to be doing, so I won’t.

Every day, I see YA fantasy bringing young people together online, helping them get through the rough patches in life, influencing them to be creative and pursue their passions. Some of the stories that I hold most dear to my heart are YA fantasy, and I know I’m not alone in saying that.

Okay, let’s just quit with the mushy stuff now, and end with this: the road to YA fantasy being a respected sector of the publishing industry has been a long one, but now that it’s here, I have no doubt it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

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