If you’ve seen the term floating around in genre discussions, then you’ve probably wondered at some point the meaning of New Adult fiction. And you wouldn’t be alone. It’s a relatively new term, coming about at the end of the 2000s, and at its core, it essentially follows protagonists in the 18-30 age range bracket.
But isn’t that what Adult means?
Not necessarily. For the New Adult protagonist, there’s a bit of blending between the Young Adult and the Adult. While Young Adult characters deal with issues such as friendship, self-identity, independence, or family life as they come of age, Adult characters have already navigated through those areas and instead deal with issues such as parenthood, sex, careers.
Take the Harry Potter series and the Dresden Files for example. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry gets whisked away to Hogwarts, where he finds enemies and friends, makes choices that guide his identity, and comes to a point where he’s made his own family with the people he’s met in the wizarding world. He faces Voldemort, and sure, there’s tension, but the reader understands on some level that JK Rowling isn’t going to have the 11 year old boy eviscerated by the Dark Lord. While in the Dresden Files’ first novel, Storm Front, Harry Dresden is a magician, but has to contend with crime scenes where people have had their hearts ripped out by magic and a corrupt magician using orgies to power magical drugs, all to edge out mob bosses, with the final fight involving a nasty demon. This isn’t Dresden’s first rodeo and you get the sense that he’s a tried hand at these sorts of problems.
See the differences?
New Adult straddles the line between these two. It’s about fledgling adults, those people whom society will view as an adult but who, internally, might still not feel like they’re ready to be viewed that way. There’s a great line that Eric from That 70s Show says during a Halloween episode: “It’s like we’re too old to trick or treat and too young to die.” New Adults means there’s still some growing pains, still some uncertainty and that these main characters still have some defining to accomplish in their infant stages of adulthood.
New Adult stories also have themes generally common to the genre.
- Finding career paths or deciding on future career goals
- Marriage or starting new families
- Friendships beyond school
- Financial independence and supporting yourself
- Living away from home for the first time
- Failure and the fear of it
These are just some examples, and not a comprehensive list in the slightest, but it’s to give you an idea of the problems New Adults are facing. I, personally, remembered the pressure of finding and finalizing a degree choice in college. My future would be based on that decision and I wanted to make sure it was the right one. As a New Adult, I was expected to succeed in whatever I chose, so the weight of making the right decision set heavily on my shoulders. A Young Adult protagonist might have some vague idea, but it would still be a distant choice, with time left to change their minds. Whereas with an Adult protagonist, that choice had already been made, and they were living with the consequences of their decision.
New Adult fiction can also be combined with other genres. A New Adult Fantasy, for example, might see the angst of deciding on a career path taking place in a realm like Middle Earth. New Adult can be mixed in with nearly everything: from mystery to horror, from romance to science fiction. Because as long as stories have people, they’re going to have problems. And these problems just happen to be universal for people in the 18-30 age range, making them the definition of New Adult fiction.