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Coming-of-Age Fantasy

What is Coming-of-Age Fantasy?

In the tradition of acknowledged classics like Candide, Jane Eyre, or even Tom Sawyer, this genre takes our protagonist along an arc that starts with loss or alienation. Perhaps the young hero discovers that the people who raised him are not really his parents. Or just as likely, his magical powers have become evident and he can't explain to anyone's satisfaction why or how the family car becomes a dragon-drawn chariot whenever he gets in.

Whatever form the main character's “specialness” takes, he is forced to pursue further knowledge about who—or what—he is. This journey of self-discovery is also one of moral and psychological growth, for having special powers requires that one learn to use them for good.

And what is good? That is an age-old question, and like every young person the protagonist must decide whether to accept society's values as his own. Because of his special powers, he is put to severe tests that most young adults will never encounter; but in the process he will build a solid foundation to support his conception of good.

Dark Lords may also feature heavily in this sort of fantasy – beings of malevolent power that opposes the hero’s quest, threatening the status quo of the present world (for example, Sauron from Tolkien or The Dark One from Robert Jordan).

Coming-of-Age is more of a descriptive definition of fantasy than a specific subgenre as it can be a theme in virtually any fantasy tale. Coming-of-Age often goes hand in hand with epic / high fantasy, with the classic prototypical tales about someone inexperienced taken out of a sheltered life and into the broader, more dangerous world, forced to grow, adapt, and transform from innocence to experience.

New fantasy works, however, often try to subvert some of the classical coming-of-age conventions into something different. Hence you have authors such as Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself, The Heroes, etc) and Richard Morgan (The Steel Remains) who often alter of the common themes and coming-of-age conventions to tell a slightly different tale.


Coming of Age Fantasy Features

  • Level of Magic

    Heavy. The main character is almost certain to be endowed with special powers that he or she “discovers”; further development and experience expands those magical abilities and their application. However, the magic entails costs and has limits (befitting an instructional novel for young people).

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Varies. There may be many characters broadly drawn, or few characters written with great detail, or a combination of the two. The main character will be complex enough to recognize the difficulty of the moral choices presented.

  • Level of Characterization

    Generally easy to follow the plot. The genre is well understood and familiar to most readers, due to its bildungsromanfoundation and the beloved classic books of this type.

  • Level of Violence

    Usually low, and not of an upsetting nature. Authors realize they are inviting sometimes tender psyches into the world of the story. However, as this sub-genre has gained in popularity, more variety exists in the tone of the stories.

Related Types of Fantasy




    The structure of this type is related to the bildungsroman (formation novel) in traditional literature. The form presents a young person actively seeking maturity of thought and action to help them deal with the initial alienating event. Some political fantasy could be similar, since it often involves a naif learning to navigate and overcome a corrupt environment.Fables also offer some guidance to the inquisitive seeker. Epic High Fantasy qualifies as related due to the quest component. There is quite a bit of crossover between Coming of Age fantasy and High/Epic fantasy. Quite a few high fantasy novels feature a coming of age story about a hero’s rise, which is a key element of heroic fantasy.

Coming-of-Age Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you find the earnest soul-searching required of a young and inexperienced character tiresome, you might not enjoy this genre.

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