Romantasy has exploded in popularity, with an increasing number of books and games exploring this genre. Like upmarket fiction and romantic suspense, it attempts to blend two genres into something that appeals to fans of both – without leaving either audience cold.
Is romantasy just a publishing buzzword for something that already existed? Is it really just a cute, hashtag-friendly portmanteau for romantic fantasy, or fantasy romance, or is it actually a whole new genre? And what (if anything) is the difference between those two genres?
Let’s answer these questions, and also share how writers and gamemasters can follow this trend to find a magical love connection with readers and players!
Defining a genre can be tricky. Literary genres are more a marketing tool than a hard-and-fast scientific classification system. Any genre’s primary purpose is to ensure creatives meet audience expectations. So that makes it worth the effort to get some level of clarity.
With romantasy, settling on a firm definition is even more complicated. It’s a relatively new term coined on social media. But generally speaking: romantasy is a subgenre of commercial fiction which combines elements of romance and fantasy. The term has been mostly applied to books, but it can also encompass movies, television series, games, and other media.
The appeal of romantasy lies in its strong heroines, intricate fantasy worldbuilding, and intense romantic relationships. It offers magical worlds, epic adventures, and passionate love stories that appeal to a wide range of audiences. Ideally, a romantasy story gives equal or near-equal weight to the heroic fantasy plot and the romantic relationship progression. If you could remove either element and still have a complete story, you may not be fulfilling everyone’s expectations.
That said, there’s definitely some wiggle room! It might be best to think of romantasy as a spectrum, with romance and fantasy at either end. And you might offer people more clarity by also positioning your story as either fantasy romance, or romantic fantasy. So let’s spend a moment outlining those two genres, and how to tell them apart.
The rule of thumb (at least in English) is “whatever is listed last is the noun, and whatever is listed first is the adjective.” So fantasy romance is primarily a romance, in a fantasy setting or with fantasy elements included.
These stories will generally follow a beat sheet plot structure, which you can find in Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat. It may use a first-person, dual or single point-of-view, often alternating chapters between the romantic leads. And like romance, each book in a fantasy romance series will usually follow a different couple. If your romantasy story sounds more like this, consider also using fantasy romance to describe or pitch it!
Following our rule of thumb, romantic fantasy is primarily a fantasy, with a strong romantic subplot. These stories will follow fantasy adventure plot conventions, typically using the Hero’s Journey plot structure.
The romantic interest or romantic pairings among the main characters may change, and unlike a fantasy romance, a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” (HEA/HFN) ending is not guaranteed. These stories are often written in third person point of view, with either a single protagonist or a group of main characters. Romantic fantasy often has longer word counts, like epic fantasy.
If this feels more like what you have in mind, consider also using romantic fantasy to describe your work!
A Brief Word About YA Fantasy
Many books shelved as “romantasy” are also intended for young adults, or feature young adult protagonists. This is another layer of reader expectation you’ll need to address with your work. It’s important to remember that young adults are still adults, so these books may still contain mature content. But they often include less, or less explicit, violence and sexual content.
Watch Your Tone: Other Genres to Consider
Another axis to consider in the “romantasy scatter plot” is tone and stakes. Which can vary wildly from cozy, low-stakes stories to emotionally-gutting, tragic tales of grief and betrayal. Some people would consider the “witchy romcom” trend to be a part of romantasy. Dark fairytale romances are also often included under the umbrella of “romantasy.”
As you’re planning your work, think about these adjacent and overlapping genres, and consider which of them appeals most to your muse – and your ideal audience.
Popular Romantasy Books
To kickstart your romantasy journey, check out curated reading lists to see what most readers in the genre recommend. These lists can help you both understand the genre’s cliches and conventions, and discover fresh ideas. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- A Promise of Fire, Amanda Bouchet: This series, included on nearly every list of romantasy books, follows a powerful sorceress and a warlord in a dangerous realm of magic and political intrigue, whose undeniable attraction complicates their mission.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas: abbreviated on social media as ACOTAR, this series pairs vicious fey court intrigue with a simmering enemies-to-lovers romance.
- Fourth Wing, Rebecca Yarros: this dragon-riding battle royale story finds the heroine in a struggle to survive her training – and her complicated relationship with another rider.
- Stardust, Neil Gaiman: a young man journeys into faerie to impress a girl, only to find that nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.
- Poison Study, Maria V. Snyder: a poor girl accused of murder becomes the king’s food taster – and then starts exhibiting magic powers.
- The Paper Magician, Charlie Holmberg: an apprentice magician must track down an evil practitioner of forbidden magic to save her strange yet kind teacher.
- The Wrath and The Dawn, Renée Ahdieh: a retelling of the Thousand and One Nights, a young bride must uncover the dark secrets lurking at the heart of her magical realm.
Is there something unskippable we missed in this list? Drop a comment to let us know!
Romantasy in Gaming
Romantasy has also had an influence in gaming, including Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TTRPGs). These games incorporate romantic and fantasy elements to create memorable, emotionally-driven experiences.
Here are a few romance-friendly fantasy TTRPGs worth exploring:
- Blue Rose RPG: Adventure Game Engine (AGE) game from Green Ronin inspired by works of the romantic fantasy genre. Connections to other characters matter as much as combat skills and magic in these stories of solving mysteries, righting wrongs, and daring heroics.
- Monsterhearts: A Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game where players create stories about sexy monsters, teenage angst, personal horror, and secret love triangles.
- Thirsty Sword Lesbians: Flirting, sword-fighting, and zingers in a system designed for both narrative drama and player safety.
- Good Society: Pride, Prejudice & Practical Magics: Inspired by works such as Sorcery and Cecelia, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and Shades of Milk and Honey, this addition to Good Society adds a magical backdrop to regency society.
- Hearts of Wulin: roleplaying game of wuxia melodrama. Players take the role of skilled martial artists in a world of rival clans, conspiracies, and obligations.
The beauty of romantasy in TTRPGs lies in rich and emotional storylines, where characters can form deep connections and experience dramatic arcs.
For TTRPG enthusiasts looking to infuse their games with romantasy elements, World Anvil offers a range of features to support their creative endeavors. Our platform is a terrific resource for organizing game lore, as well as managing campaigns and one-shots in nearly any game system imaginable.
Writing Romantasy: Tropes and Tips
You’ve probably noticed that this genre can include elements from many different styles of storytelling. That means you have a wide range of tropes to mix and match in order to create a unique and interesting tale. Here are a few of the most common tropes in romantasy fiction, as a starting point:
- Star-Crossed Lovers/Enemies-to-Lovers: As a counter to their overwhelming mutual attraction, there’s usually a Very Good Reason the main characters absolutely, positively can’t be together (but there’s usually a loophole).
- Fairytales and Faerie Tales: Many romantasy books are either retellings of familiar traditional folk tales, or else incorporate the idea of fey courts and faerie kingdoms.
- Strong, Independent Heroines: The protagonist is often isolated from her family, and has become both hypercompetent and deeply paranoid about stranger danger. (Although the paranoia is often justified because people ARE trying to kill her!)
- But He’s the Bad Guy: Falling for the villain is another common romantasy trope that adds some delicious conflict to the romance plot, although usually it turns out that he’s cursed, controlled or just misunderstood.
- Found Family & Belonging: Remember that family your heroine lost before the story started? Guess what her heroic journey brings? NEW BESTIES!
- Destiny/Prophecy/Fate: The protagonist is the subject of a portentous destiny, usually tied to the Reason They Can’t Be Together. In fact, it may be the Very Good Reason.
While tropes are fun, and useful for thinking through twists and archetypes to add to your story, it’s also important to consider what to avoid, as well as what aspects of writing craft need extra attention. Here are some tips for creating compelling romantasy narratives:
Developing well-rounded characters: Focus on creating characters that are multidimensional and relatable. Give them strengths, weaknesses, and personal goals that drive their romantic and heroic journeys.
Balancing romance and fantasy elements: Strive for a seamless integration of romance and fantasy. Ensure that both aspects of the story receive adequate attention, enhancing each other rather than overpowering one another.
Avoiding overused plot devices: Romantasy, like any genre, can fall victim to clichés and predictable plot devices. Keep your storytelling fresh and original by subverting expectations and surprising readers with unexpected twists.
Maintaining diversity and inclusivity: Representation of different cultures, backgrounds, and identities allows for a more inclusive and immersive reading experience. By incorporating these elements, writers can create meaningful and resonant stories that connect with a bigger audience.
Tools for Writing Romantasy
For romantasy writers seeking a platform to support world-building, character development, and publication, World Anvil offers a range of features to support their creative process and goals. It provides tools for creating family trees, relationships, and interactive maps, allowing for the development of immersive romantasy worlds.
Features that are particularly useful for romantasy writers include:
World Anvil’s Manuscripts feature is a novel writing software that lets users write and publish their own romantic fantasy works – either as short stories or as serialized web novels. It also enables you to monetize your work through Patreon or Paypal, and create subscriber groups to make sure your biggest fans can get exclusive content.
Family trees and relationships
World Anvil allows writers to create detailed family trees and relationships between characters. This feature is especially valuable for building romantic storylines and exploring the dynamics between characters. The character profile template also features professionally-designed prompts to help you get at the heart of your protagonists.
Interactive mapping and timeline features
The platform offers interactive mapping and timeline tools, allowing writers to visualize and share their characters’ journeys. These features enhance the world-building process and enable writers to create immersive settings for their stories.
Collaboration and community
World Anvil’s collaborative nature enables writers to work with others on romantasy projects. Whether it’s co-authoring a story or seeking feedback from fellow creators, the platform fosters a supportive and collaborative environment.
With a wide range of features and resources, World Anvil serves as a comprehensive toolset for writers and game masters looking to bring their romantasy creations to life.
Romantasy, romantic fantasy, and fantasy romance have emerged as a set of subgenres that combine the allure of romance and the enchantment of fantasy. Their growing popularity showcases the universal appeal of stories that blend love, magic, and adventure.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of fantasy romance, World Anvil is the perfect platform to explore and create your own romantic fantasy worlds. Visit our website for more information, inspiration, and tools to embark on your own creative journey in the realm of romantasy.