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Guided Tour: Young Adult Fantasy

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With over 72 million monthly visitors across over 320,000 wikis (and counting!), Wikia is a hotbed of passionate expertise on an incredibly diverse range of topics. With such a plethora of information to sift through, breaking into a new franchise or genre can seem a tad overwhelming. To help break the ice, we're going to be asking experts from various communities to tell us what it is about their area of expertise they find so captivating -- and the steps they recommend beginners take to set themselves on the path to geekery.

We're calling the series "Guided Tour," and today we're taking a look at Young Adult Fantasy.

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Continuing our running series on the various flavors of fantasy, we turn this week to Young Adult fantasy, a genre that, despite having existed for over a century, has received a substantial boost in popularity in recent years.

YA Fantasy, and YA literature in general, actually began with the establishment of "young adult" as a concept. Before the 1920s, books were either written for adults or children, as this was the only age distinction that really existed within the collective imagination. During the 1920s, however, the idea that the young are a separate generation, distinct from both children and adults, began to gain some traction. That said, a writer named Sarah Trimmer laid out the terms for this distinction over a century earlier, in 1802, in her children's literature periodical, titled The Guardians of Education, describing "young adulthood" as the period between ages 14 to 21 -- which, for the most part, is still considered the genre's age range (some fudge it to 12 to 18).

The genre continued to come into its own over the course of the 20th century, evolving and adapting with the ever-changing cultural landscape. The Young Adult Library Services Association was established in 1960s to represent readers between the ages of 12-18. Many of the books aimed at teens were "realistic" at this point, eventually devolving into what were derogatorily coined "problem novels," which were simplified illustrations of a single social issue a teenager may or may not encounter, along the lines of divorce or gang violence. Young readers were eventually bored by these oftentimes formulaic novels, and it wasn't until the '80s that things changed for the better. New YA fantasy series like Diane Duane's Young Wizards and Tamara Pierce's Song of the Lioness breathed much-needed new life into the YA fantasy sub-genre, proving that fantasy books for young adults were compelling, original, and fun to read.

It wasn't until the '90s, however, that YA fantasy, as its own YA sub-genre, really found its footing. Series like Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, and Tamora Pierce's Immortals set the stage for the YA fantasy explosion. It was Harry Potter, however, that served as the genre's powder keg. Though considered Children's Fantasy by some, Harry Potter did very well amongst the YA demographic, setting a precedent that would persist through the following decades. Had Harry Potter not caught on like it did, it's hard to say whether or not we'd have series like The Mortal Instruments or The Hunger Games.

Today, YA Fantasy is a cultural phenomenon -- a behemoth force to be reckoned with. They appeal to young adults and adults alike, as the book's passionate characters and emotional nakedness provide a much-needed respite from the sometimes cryptic nature of adulthood. Whether you take it or leave it, love it or loathe it, from Vampire-Werewolf love triangles to 800 year old warlocks disguised as 19 year old boys, YA Fantasy is an ever-growing genre with a surprising amount of depth -- and, as with Children's Fantasy, wading through the growing mountains of books in search of that life-changing gem can be an arduous task. So, let's turn to our expert panel for some advice.

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Rainbowshifter YAFGT

RainbowShifter joined the Hunger Games wiki after a friend told her about the series. Feeling out of the loop, she went and bought Catching Fire, and upon reading it craved a website where she could "geek out" about it. Soon enough, she happened upon the Hunger Games Wikia, and has been actively editing ever since. Through hard work (though I doubt she'd call it that) and persistence, she eventually became a bureaucrat. Beyond the wiki, RainbowShifter is truly in love with YA Fantasy. She has "always found fantasy such a free genre to work with and write" that she actually pens her own fantasy fiction in her spare time.

RainbowShifter recommends The Vampire Diaries television series for newbies. "Even if you hate vampires with a passion after the Twilight fad passed," she says, "this series is one to watch." Though it might be a little explicit for younger readers and definitely leans to the "adult" side of "young adult", RainbowShifter also recommends George R. R. Martin's "complex and exciting" A Song of Ice and Fire series. For anime, she recommends the immensely popular Naruto Shippuden -- the subject of one of Wikia's most popular communities. The series boasts millions of fans who, as RainbowShifter says, "love it with good reason." On the gaming side of things, she points to the beautiful Star Ocean, an incredibly well-written game with memorable characters and an unforgettable story.

To truly enjoy YA Fantasy, you have to keep an open mind. "Fantasy is a very wide genre," RainbowShifter advises, "don't be afraid to try something new" -- even if that means using Wikia features to deepen your involvement with a franchise. "On the Hunger Games Wiki we have blogs enabled which let you voice your opinion to the entire wiki. You could make a blog asking for recommendations and people will be sure to reply." Or you can just navigate to the chat, where YA Fantasy fans are always excited to have a conversation about their favorite topic.

Rainbowshifter recommends

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Redwall64 YAFGT

Redwall64, AKA Yssa, is an 18 year old bureaucrat on the Shadowhunter's wiki. She adopted it about two years ago and has been actively involved ever since. Growing up, she didn't even know the books she was reading were considered "Young Adult," but she always knew she loved fantasy books. She was recommended The Shadowhunter Chronicles series by a friend and was immediately hooked.

Yssa has a number of recommendations for new YA fantasy fans. Harry Potter, though she's apprehensive to call it YA Fantasy, comes highly recommended for anyone who hasn't already dipped their toes into the magical world of Hogwarts. She also recommend Rick Riordan's Camp Half-Blood series, Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy, and Neal Shusterman's Unwind Dystology. On the gaming side of things, she loves the Suikoden, Tales, and Final Fantasy series, all RPGs tinged with that YA fantasy magic. Avatar, and it's sequel series Korra, get yet another nod, proving its a series that defies boundaries (and should be checked out immediately).

Yssa has some advice for beginners: "don't force yourself to like something you're not into," she says, "I don't think anyone can really dictate what others should or will like." If you're having trouble getting into a new series, work hard to immerse yourself in the world, and as Yssa says, "just enjoy the ride."

Redwall Recommends

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Blackmage9 YAFGT

BlackMage9 is an incredibly active admin on the Divergent wiki. For the time being, it is his main Wikia project. H's been reading his whole life, and claims he was "born a YA Fantasy fan." As with our other experts, he was introduced to her franchise of choice by a friend.

He provided a comprehensive laundry list of book recommendations for beginners. As for classics, he recommends The Once and Future King, Peter and the Starcatchers, the Bartimaeus trilogy, and the Enchanted Forest chronicles. As for more contemporary works, he points to Shadow and Bone, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Lev's Grossman's The Magicians.

Counterintuitively, having made the mistake of ignoring books and shows that he later loved, BlackMage9 recommends trying out the "Not Recommended" section. "Don't be afraid to try new things, regardless of their ratings or other people's opinions." That said, he does acknowledge that some series can be pretty bad -- and recommends newbies simply avoid these and pretend like they never existed (which can be sometimes difficult.

Blackmage9 recommends

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Annette header YAFGT

Last but certainly not least, we thought we'd consult Wikia's own Annette Cardwell, a huge fan of all things YA Fantasy. Annette is the Director of Programming for Lifestyle and Books. She helped envision and implement the new Wikia Book Club, the Wikia YA Society, YA Bookshelf, though her fascination with the genre all began when she read Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time during her tween years. Recently, however, like some many fantasy-struck readers, she found her interest in the genre revitalized upon reading Harry Potter.

Fittingly, Annette considers the Harry Potter series a great starting point for young readers. She also points to the fantastical stories of Roald Dahl -- from James and the Giant Peach to The BFG. Lastly, she recommends newbies try the Percy Jackson books, though she adds that it's worth reading through some Greek mythology beforehand, as "you'll get more out of them if you know the backstories."

Annette advises readers not to spend too much time on a series they don't find very interesting. "There are too many books and series out there to explore to waste time on one you're not enjoying," she says. One last piece of advice from Annette speaks to Wikia's ability to empower curious fans: "Get involved with a community for any series you love. Bring your knowledge of those books to a group that'll really appreciate it."

If you're looking for an easy way to familiarize yourself with a new series of genre, you should definitely join the Wikia Book Club for one of their readings. They read mostly YA fiction, particularly YA Fantasy, and they always appreciate new voices.

Annette recommends

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Want to read more about YA Fantasy? All of our experts provided a number of links to help you discover magical new worlds. As always, they recommend you reach out to them via their message wall, wiki chat, or talk page if you have any questions. Here's the syllabus!
Wikia Book Club
YA Society
YA Bookshelf

Got any questions about YA fantasy or a favorite franchise to recommend? Leave a comment below!

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