The History of the Wonderful Romantasy Genre

Romantasy is a highly popular genre with a surprisingly short history. Read to learn more about this addictive trending hybrid genre.

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Book covers, from left to right: 'The Serpent & the Wings of Night,' 'Fall of Ruin and Wrath,' and War for the Oaks.'

Book genres are constantly evolving as authors find new ways to explore established genres and tropes. One relatively new genre gaining popularity is Romantasy. This fantastical and sensual genre is a mix of romance and fantasy, and it’s only been established as a genre within the last few decades. It’s gained popularity quickly and is one of the most popular genres today.

What is Romantasy?

As stated above, romantasy is a mix of fantasy and romance. It’s usually set in a fantasy world with its typical tropes, such as complex magic and intricate worldbuilding, but in this genre, romance is the main point of the story. If you remove the love story, the book doesn’t work. Some famous examples include Fall of Ruin and Wrath by Jennifer L. Armentrout, Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros, and The Serpent & the Wings of Night by Carissa Broadbent.

'Fall of Ruin and Wrath' by Jennifer L. Armentrout showing two ravens surrounding a sword.

In this genre, romance isn’t a side story or additional plot line: without the main romance, the plot wouldn’t exist. Romance and fantasy work together for the story rather than supplementing the other. Seeing how the cliches and tropes of both genres intertwine and move the story along is one of the best parts of the genre. Notably, the common romance trope between fae and humans is the most popular. There are endless options for fantasy, ranging from dark and cozy to extremely high fantasy. Mixing and matching brings originality to the genres and the romantasy subgenre.

Romantasy Origins

It’s hard to pinpoint when the very first romantasy book was published. However, 1987’s War for the Oaks by Emma Bull can be remarked as the earliest publication from within this genre. It’s about a rock and roll singer named Eddi McCandry who somehow became drafted into a war between faeries, and now her life is in danger. Not to mention, she finds herself slowly falling in love with the same person who put her in danger. The fantasy is obviously rich in Irish mythology, but there is also the solid romance between Eddi and the unnamed phouka in the center of the war.

'War for the Oaks' by Emma Bull book cover showing a dog on top and a city street on bottom.

It’s possible that the subgenre has existed for far longer, but the term didn’t come about until 2008. That’s when the term was added to the Urban Dictionary, though it’s unclear how long the term existed before that. Regardless, the term is commonly used now; most fantasy book lovers understand it.

Romantasy vs Romantic Fantasy

As mentioned, romantasy needs both fantasy and romance at the heart of the plot. It doesn’t work if only one is more primary than the other; with less fantasy, the romance doesn’t survive, and the story doesn’t work with little to no romance. This is especially so if one or both of the main love interests are a fantasy species like fae or elves or if magic is important in romance, such as love spells, potions, or compatible magic. The point is that they must blend for the story to work.

'Fourth Wing' by Rebecca Yarros book cover showing a dragon flying around clouds and circles.

But in a romantic fantasy, the romance is just a subplot. It’s a part of the story, but the plot is still intact if you take the romance out. It focuses primarily on fantasy, though this genre has its own tropes, such as fairytale retellings and the female lens. Romantic fantasy has likely been around as long as fantasy has, though it didn’t get its name until the last few decades since there wasn’t much of a need to distinguish it from just fantasy.

Romantasy’s Popularity

Romantasy has gained a lot of popularity within the last few years. Writers such as Sarah J. Maas, Danielle L. Jensen, and Scarlett St. Clair are selling romantasy books like crazy. Maas alone has sold over 40 million copies of her romantasy books, and there are millions more by other prolific authors. It’s easier than ever to find them online or in a bookstore — likely in the fantasy section rather than the romance section.

'The Serpent & the Wings of Night' by Carissa Broadbent book cover showing a green snake, a sword, and thorns.

Another part of that popularity comes from TikTok. There are over 800 million views on #romantasy on TikTok, and the views are still climbing. More readers — and nonreaders too — are discovering the subgenre, and with so many videos recommending good romantasy books, sales are up. This fast growth is incredible, and it cements romantasy’s place in the publishing world. Based on this, more romantasy books will likely be published, and more will be sold.

Why is Romantasy Popular?

There isn’t one specific reason why it’s popular, but one factor could be how easily the common tropes and themes from fantasy and romance appear to overlap. They’re great genres on their own, but sometimes we want an unbelievable adventure story with a central — and sometimes spicy — romance. It gives us an escape that can even make our current problems feel more relatable, plus the bonus of a happy ending.

'Daughter of No Worlds' by Carissa Broadbent book cover showing a young woman in a bright red dress with a sword.

Another valid reason could be the enticing book covers. We all love to say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we (secretly) always do. A book’s cover is the first thing we look at when deciding whether to buy a book. Romantasy covers combined elements of romance and fantasy themes. Romance covers are soft and warm, usually with the main couple or one of them standing at the front, while fantasy uses strong imagery and elegant font. Combining these styles creates gorgeous covers that catch the eye and make people want to buy them.

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