Why Do Some Adult Fantasy Books Get Labelled as YA?

I’ve been wanting to make a post like this for a loooong time and I’ve definitely vented about it on Twitter before, but I finally did some research and got some very loose evidence to show what I’m talking about. The question I’m trying to answer today is: why do some adult fantasy books consistently get wrongly categorized as young adult?

INITIAL THOUGHTS

I always see The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty get called YA, even though it has never been marketed that way. I went over to Goodreads to look at what shelves people had put the first book, The City of Brass, on. Out of 43,000 ratings, 552 people marked it as YA, whereas only 290 people marked it as adult. Trust me, I know that this is nowhere near an accurate measure, but at least it’s something. Almost double the amount of people wrongly marked this as YA.

ADULT FANTASY BOOKS WRITTEN BY WOMEN

Now, I definitely already went into my research with some suspicions based on what I’d noticed, but I was still shocked by a lot of what I found. It seems like adult fantasy books written by woman, especially if there is a female protagonist, get marked as young adult. While I was doing my research, it was ridiculously easier to find adult fantasy books written by women that were marked more as YA than adult. Some examples from with a range of how many ratings each has:

TitleAuthor# of Ratings# of times marked as YA# of times marked as ADULT
The Queen of BloodSarah Beth Durst8,61334688
Green RiderKristen Britain32,56421861
The Bone SeasonSamantha Shannon56,600970232
The Queen of the TearlingErika Johansen81,3821,196325
A Darker Shade of MagicV.E. Schwab194,8432,172902

Across the board, even with a lower number of ratings or a high number, all of these books were marked as YA at least twice as many times as adult.

There are absolutely exceptions to this! Some that I found that have a higher number of adult marks are Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (anyone marking this as YA obviously hasn’t read it).

ADULT FANTASY BOOKS WRITTEN BY MEN

Now let’s talk about adult fantasy books by men. I found some…interesting results throughout my search. For one, it was very hard to find books with a comparable number of reviews to the majority of the books by women I’d found, which on average had around 30,000 to 80,000 reviews on Goodreads. Most of the male authored adult fantasy books had over well over 100,000 reviews. Also, it was almost impossible to find books that had a majority of YA vs. adult marks, let alone books with even a substantial amount of people marking it as YA.

One example of this is The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. It has 161,697 ratings on Goodreads, of which 19 are YA and 187 are adult.

One interesting thing I found was The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. This is one of the only adult fantasy book by a male author that I ever see get called YA, and it was even recovered and marketed as YA, but still, it has more people tagging it as adult on Goodreads. No other book mentioned in this post has been marked as YA, yet this one still gets considered as adult.

As before, there are always exceptions. The only one I was able to find that was marked more as YA than adult by a male author was Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. This one has 50,078 ratings on Goodreads, 713 of which are YA and 359 are adult. I have seen this one called YA before. My best guess as for why is that the protagonist is female, but that’s just a guess.

OTHER INFLUENCES

Obviously, the world is not so black and white. There are an infinite numbers of reasons for why some books get wrongly categorized that don’t have to do with the gender of the author and many of them can’t be so easily quantified. I didn’t even consider race in this post, which would be an entire other post on it’s own. Unfortunately, this also doesn’t take into account any authors that aren’t cisgender.

I know that Goodreads isn’t accurate, especially because people can tag books before they’ve even read them, but I do think it gives a good general idea. A lot of the books I mentioned and saw had overwhelming results one way or the other.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Normally here on my blog, I don’t often distinguish if a book is YA or adult unless it comes up in my review for some reason because it doesn’t really matter to me (I might make a whole separate post on this at some point). So why does this bother me? Well, if adult fantasy books by women are constantly being labeled as YA and there are people who refused to read YA, then that means chances are that they are not reading these books. One reason I wanted to use Goodreads as my source in this post is because a ton of people use it. If they look up a book they are interested in, and see one of the most popular things it is tagged as is YA, then that could greatly influence them.

I am sick and tired of seeing people, both in real life and online, who love fantasy, but are only or mostly reading male authors. I think that it is already hard enough for women to write in the genre without their books being considered YA, which it feels like many fantasy fans refuse to read.

The majority of authors writing YA fantasy are women, so when seeing this trend, it kind of feels like society is telling me that “young adult fantasy is for women, adult fantasy is for men”, that women writing fantasy couldn’t possibly be on the level of the men writing fantasy. It exhausts me.

If you have anything to say in regards to what I’ve laid out here, please let me know! I’d love for this post to start some conversation.

THE DATA

I just wanted to drop the rest of the data I found! I find it interesting, so I thought someone else might as well. This is not formatted very well, forgive me.

TitleAuthorRatingsYAADULT
The City of BrassS.A. Chakraborty43,000552290
The Poppy WarR.F. Kuang42,000187533
The Bone SeasonSamantha Shannon56,600970232
Green RiderKristen Britain32,56421861
Assasin’s ApprenticeRobin Hobb231,586193286
A Darker Shade of MagicV.E. Schwab194,8432,172902
UprootedNaomi Novik161,9172,100460
The Bear and the NightingaleKatherine Arden113,8621,117402
The Queen of the TearlingErika Johansen81,3821,196325
Every Heart A DoorwaySeanan McGuire65,7421,822232
Gods of Jade and ShadowSilvia Moreno-Garcia20,760120231
Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellSusanna Clarke194,95730259
The Queen of BloodSarah Beth Durst8,61334688
TitleAuthorRatingsYAADULT
The Final EmpireBrandon Sanderson394,372454760
NevernightJay Kristoff50,078713359
The Name of The WindPatrick Rothfuss706,035229764
The Blade ItselfJoe Abercrombie161,69719187
The Lies of Locke LamoraScott Lynch217,38375448
The Shadow of What Was LostJames Islington26,2272179
Promise of BloodBrian McClellan41,560678

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8 thoughts on “Why Do Some Adult Fantasy Books Get Labelled as YA?

  1. You’ve confirmed my suspicions! I hadn’t thought too much about the gender of the author, but it seemed a little crazy to me that almost all fantasy seemed to be labelled as YA. I’m one of those readers who isn’t a fan of YA, so I stare warily at fantasy labelled that way and then move on. They sound so good, though, but the fact that they’re called YA just has me reluctantly passing them over, so it’s good to know some of the books I’ve been wishing weren’t YA shouldn’t be called YA. It is terrible that so many fantasies by women are incorrectly labelled. Even worse, there are readers like me who will then not even attempt them because they’re called YA.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t noticed before but now that you mention it, women authors do get mislabelled so much more often and it’s just absurd! I also don’t care much about whether a book is YA or adult since I read both genres so I don’t really notice much of it most of the time unless readers get super angry about something (like the ACOTAR series being labeled as YA) or when authors themselves complain.

    I think one of the big problems with mislabelling books has to do with the fact that Goodreads doesn’t define the genre/age of a book per se and instead lets its readers decide basically.

    But the way bookstores promote books also might have something to do with this. For instance, Jay Kristoff has ranted on his IG stories multiple times that bookstores are mislabeling his Nevernight chronicles books as Teens & YA when they should be with the other adult SFF because they are extremely bloody and smutty.
    In the bookstores here, there’s little distinction between ages. There is a children’s section with children’s books and MG and the genre sections. Within those, the foreign literature in English is where I choose my books from and it’s a mix of all genres basically( and a sadly short selection).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point about Goodreads not defining age ranges! I think in general that is hard anyway, especially with YA and how the age definition changes over time anyway (it would take a whole other post for me to rant about that lol). I was SO surprised that Nevernight is often considered YA because it went against everything else I found, even though I had seen it referred to as such a few times. I wonder where bookstores get their info in terms of promotion. If they got it from the publisher, it wouldn’t be an issue haha. I kind of like that there isn’t much separation of age ranges where you are because someone could pick up something they wouldn’t normally see if they were shopping in one specific age range.

      By the way, thank you for linking this post in your wrap up! I put my soul into this post lol so it means a lot 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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