The New Adult Genre Demystified

Posted by November 8th, 2013

new_adultEver since Nevena and Alex Maurer first explained to me what the “New Adult” Genre was, I’ve been super curious to do a deep dive into this exciting new territory of the Genre Map. In some ways, it feels like the genre I have been waiting for my whole life, as a reader and as a writer. In fact, I am so enamored with this literary category that I decided on a whim that my NaNoWriMo project would be a New Adult novel and I am having a blast with it.

Alex was kind enough to share her analysis of New Adult with Book Country today: already this is a genre with its own tropes, quirks, triumphs, and guilty pleasures. As I’m crafting my New Adult novel, I’m very grateful to have Alex as my genre expert. ~LS


New Adult is a literary category occupying the middle ground between YA, contemporary romance and “chick lit” (the 90s most prominent women’s fiction subgenre). The storylines are adapted for the 18+ audience interested in characters that are in college or are newly minted grads heading into the world. New Adult shoots for the audience who’s graduated from YA and is not quite ready to read about divorce, re-marriages, or children.

Some paranormal and fantasy stories have college-aged heroes/heroines. But those books aren’t necessarily New Adult, because New Adult is similar to contemporary romance:the love story is the meat of the book. Because let’s face it. After YA, we as readers are looking for something steamier.

New Adult spans heroes and heroines that are between 18 and 25 years old. (If characters are in their mid-twenties, the book is pushing contemporary romance (i.e., Samantha Young’s ON DUBLIN STREET, Raine Miller’s The Blackstone Affair series, and Sylvain Reynard’s GABRIEL’S INFERNO). While all of these have young 23-24-year-old heroines, the heroes are older, and the story lends itself to more traditional contemporary romance tropes.

So what else differentiates New Adult from contemporary romance, chick lit, and YA? We look for the following themes!

The Reformed Man-Whore: The too-good-to-be-true hero who was essentially formed by the gods. Besides fantastic hair, piercing eyes, square jaw, high-cheekbones, and a smokin’ body, he most likely has a “little black book” the size of Webster’s dictionary. This reformed man-whore changes for the heroine and boom! the college big man on campus is now a sworn monogamist (for the most part!).

Innocent Virgin Turned Sex Goddess: While this theme took off from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, many authors have put their own spin on it. These heroines are inexperienced for when coming to college and turn into little minxes after encountering the hero.

Finding True Love After Your Boyfriend Cheats On You: This is a common theme in many Romance books: The jilted lover finds comfort after heartbreak with a new guy, who is infinitely better that the previous boyfriend. Score!

An Abusive Past: This is extremely common in recent New Adult books. This abusive past can be physical, emotional, or sexual. The hero or heroine has experienced some type of abuse, which breaks them psychologically. The entire book is about them healing and finding redemptive love.

Shattered Familial Past: The shattered family almost always goes hand-in-hand with the abusive past plus includes mental disorders, alcoholism, abuse, and terrible parents.

A Secret Past After Which College Becomes Your Fresh Slate: We all wish we could have do-overs in certain parts of our lives. New Adult books have become a touchstone for this theme. The heroine escapes the abusive/shattered familial past and start over. Her desire and search for freedom is how the she breaks free and ultimately ends up in love as well. An ultimate acceptance of what has happened and the glorious possibility of the future trumps the sadness (in most cases).

Companion Novels and Alternating Viewpoints: A key point in New Adult books is the alternating viewpoints. The first book in a series is almost always narrated from the female’s point of view and the second is from the male’s point of view. In other NA books, the female/male POV switches off each chapter. Readers in the genre enjoy getting into the heads of both characters and seeing the book’s world through both the hero’s and heroine’s eyes. It’s partially driven by the hope we ladies can get inside a boy’s head and see what they are really thinking (and what a magical unicorn idea that may be!).

Overcoming a difficult youth is a common theme in contemporary romance. But new adults are experiencing those difficulties in the “now” of the novel or reflecting on it a few years out. The cheating has just happened while they were most vulnerable sexually. That plus to balancing friends, secrets, school, first jobs, all while being a newly minted “adult” is what sets this the New Adult genre apart. On the other hand, NA incorporates issues that aren’t easily explored in contemporary YA, like sex, alcohol, and drugs. YA can’t push those boundaries without an editor saying you’re heading into “adult” territory

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Look at Jay Asher, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Simone Elkeles. But New Adult authors deal with these issues, but also usually find a way to give us the coveted happily ever after, a trope consistent with the romance genre.The heroine finds a partner by the end of the book no matter how flawed she or her partner is.  But the characters in NA are much more realistic and grounded than in many romance novels. New adult characters make lots of mistakes–but you feel a sense of “realness” about these characters and their very real-world problems.

New Adult filled a void in the book industry. Before NA, where were the frat parties; college coeds; professors; girls balancing classes, boys, friends, and family issues? What about the people from the other side of the tracks and the imperfect families and relationships that deserve redemption?


Haven’t read much or any New Adult? Where do you start? Listed below are my top 15 favorite New Adult books and authors. It’s the perfect jumping off point to read for creative inspiration if you are looking to break into the genre.

1)      Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines

2)      Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

3)      Wait for You by J. Lynn (Jennifer Armentrout)

4)      Ruin by Rachel Van Dyken

5)      Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

6)      Real by Katy Evans

7)      If You Stay by Courtney Cole

8)      Losing It by Cora Carmack

9)      Falling Into You by Jasinda Wilder

10)  One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy

11)  Rule by Jay Crownover

12)  The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

13)  Crash by Nicole Williams

14)  Easy by Tammara Webber

15)  Someone to Love by Addison Moore


alexandra maurerAbout Alexandra Maurer: 

Alexandra Maurer is a publishing professional and an unrepentant fan of paranormal romance. Currently, she works in the special markets division at Penguin Group (USA), navigating the new waters of custom publishing. She is a member of the Young to Publishing Planning Committee. Her popular book reviews can be found on Goodreads


More from the Book Country BlogYou might also like: Writing Paranormal Romance (PR).


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4 thoughts on “The New Adult Genre Demystified

  1. j.p. grider

    Thanks for the list of NA books. There are some I haven’t read yet; now I’m looking forward to them. Your post was also helpful in helping me to put together my NA book. Until now, I’ve written YA and Contemporary, but I’m loving the NA story I’ve been working on. I can really push the boundaries. It’s great.

    1. Lucy SilagLucy Silag Post author

      Hi JP! Glad this was useful for you. We’re working our way thru the list as well . . . anything that’s stood out to you as really great so far?


  2. Pingback: Things that inspire me to write: rejections and the New Adult genre |

  3. Laura W-A

    LOL… I was told my novel fit in this category, but after reading this, I’m not so sure… It has the virgin falling for the bad boy thing, only he turns out to not be so bad. It has the troubled childhood (both of them). But it’s a sci-fi/fantasy book and she isn’t convinced to go to college until after he leaves (he has to), so college isn’t a main setting. And they don’t end up together until many sequels later. 🙂


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