Dragons, fairies and love: How ‘romantasy’ became TikTok’s hottest literary trend

The genre has billions of hashtags and views on social media, as fans snap up the latest releases and pore over plots

Romantasy, which brings together the romance and fantasy genres, is regularly on top of the charts thanks to its popularity on BookTok. Photo: Theo Crazzolara / Unsplash
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In keeping with Gen Z’s preference for “discovering” things that have been around for a long time, from flip phones to libraries and Friends, the latest slice of culture to get repackaged and rebranded is the fantasy romance novel.

Dubbed “romantasy”, a portmanteau of romance and fantasy, the genre that was historically derided as the guilty secret of Mills & Boon-reading middle-aged housewives, has become a multi-million behemoth, making huge stars out of the most popular authors.

The romantasy hashtag has garnered billions of views across social media, and Facebook groups dedicated to the many different series have hundreds of thousands of followers.

Here are five of the most popular authors writing in the genre.

Sarah J Maas

At a midnight launch party this week at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York, hundreds of mostly young women, turned up to countdown the release of House of Flame and Shadow, the third book in the hugely popular Crescent City series by the current queen of the genre, Sarah J Maas.

Maas, who started her writing career penning fanfiction and posting it on online forums, has so far written 22 books, including the popular Glass Throne, A Court of Thorns and Roses (Acotar to those in the know) and Crescent City series.

Romantasy also captures Gen Z's woefully perceived attention span. Maas’s books regularly top 200,000 words and her latest is 839 pages across 102 chapters.

Her public appearances provoke the kind of hysteria that was once bestowed on Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and Harry Potter creator JK Rowling.

Maas’s books are often inspired by existing stories, with her Assassins series based on the Cinderella story, while A Court of Thorns and Roses is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Her characters have names that seem straight out of Tolkien – Aelin Ashryver Whitethorn Galathynius, Arobynn Hamel – and the level of romance in her books elevates them above what would be considered Young Adult, moving into the New Adult genre.

The Acotar series and Crescent City books have sold more than 38 million books worldwide to date.

Shanora Williams

Having already won a legion of fans with her contemporary romance novels, US author Shanora Williams dipped her toes into the romantasy waters with her popular Tether Trilogy.

Vicious Bonds is the first book of the series, introducing the female character Willow who, after hearing a man’s voice in her head, gets pulled through a portal, landing in a forest in a different world where she meets Caz, who has been hearing her voice in his head.

The second book, Wicked Ties came out in November last year and will be followed by the third, Rising Shadow, due to be released later this year.

Fans of Peaky Blinders may enjoy the trilogy as the male protagonist is inspired by the lead character Tommy Shelby, who Williams says: “Inspired me so much I wanted to write a story based off of him, but instead of writing in the past, I set him to a different realm.”

Rebecca Yarros

Yarros’s debut, Fourth Wing, spent 18 weeks on The New York Times' bestseller list after being lauded on BookTok.

The first book in the Empyrean series follows Violet Sorrengail, who joins Basgiath War College in the fictional country of Navarre, and who must train to become a dragon-riding warrior against her wishes.

Yarros has written five series, including Flight & Glory and Legacy. She is also the author of seven stand-alone novels.

The second book in the Empyrean series, Iron Flame was released last year, selling more than half a million copies on the first day.

Carissa Broadbent

Broadbent has become a heroine for aspiring authors looking to self-publish, as she eschewed finding an agent to publish her latest novel, The Serpent and the Wings of Night, herself.

“I love being able to have full control over my output, books, packaging, marketing, and career,” she wrote on Goodreads. “The financials of indie publishing are also very different than trad, and they've been very kind to me.”

Her ongoing Crowns of Nyaxia series features books including The Ashes and the Star-Cursed King and Six Scorched Roses as part of a planned six-novel series. She has also written the War of Lost Hearts series, comprising four novels.

Her protagonists are mostly vampires, with a few human allies thrown in for good measure.

Jennifer L Armentrout

Werewolves are the main protagonists of Armentrout’s work, and the American author’s books have landed her on the number one spot on the bestseller lists of both The New York Times and USA Today.

Of her 65 published books, 50 are in the romantasy genre.

Her Blood and Ash series, with a focus on the love story between main characters Poppy and Casteel, is a sweeping epic across six books, with the final long-awaited instalment being released in May this year.

“I try not to map out an entire series in too much detail because then you feel locked in and are reluctant to change the path, even if the story now dictates that it should happen,” she told nerddaily.com of her process. “I know what the key points are for the overall plot and character development and how the series will ultimately end.”

Updated: February 04, 2024, 3:06 AM