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The Best and Worst Tropes in YA Fiction

Young adult fiction has changed dramatically throughout the years, yet the same tropes keep popping up. Which ones still work--and which ones need to be retired?
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We’ve seen young adult fiction go through phases, like when everyone was obsessed with vampires and werewolves. But throughout every single phase, many of the same tropes pop up. And while some are amazing, and I can’t get enough of them, there are a few that should just stop happening in books.

Worst: Dead, Absent, or Clueless Adults

Elena Gilbert at cemetery in The Vampire Diaries pilot episode
Warner Bros. | CBS | Outerbanks Entertainment | Alloy Entertainment

I don’t know why, but many of the YA books from the 2000s and 2010s followed protagonists or groups of teenagers going on adventures. Somehow, their parents were utterly clueless about their shenanigans. Were there no adults anywhere who cared about these kids?

Thankfully, YA books and shows have improved with keeping parents active in the story. Look at Virals by Kathy and Brendan Reichs. While the group’s parents aren’t on the adventures with the teens, they’re still a part of the story and dole out appropriate consequences to their kids.

Worst: Protagonist Doesn’t Know Their Beauty

Anne Hathaway in Princess Diaries
Walt Disney | BrownHouse Productions | Buena Vista Pictures

I understand why the female protagonists of some of the most popular YA books in the past thought they weren’t pretty. It was relatable then, but it’s gotten stale after the body positivity movement went mainstream.

I want to see more protagonists who know they’re beautiful and don’t let others put them down. But I don’t want them to be full of themselves, either. Aelin from Throne of Glass is one of the best examples of this type of character.

So Boring: Protagonist Doesn’t Fit In

Tris in Divergent
Lionsgate | Summit Entertainment | Red Wagon Entertainment

In a similar vein as the last trope, we’ve got the protagonist who says they don’t fit in. Tris from the Divergent series is a perfect example of this trope. And while I did like her character in the first book, she started getting on my nerves by being “an outsider” at every turn.

We get it; you’re different. But there’s got to be something you relate to others with. How else would you have all these other outsider friends accompanying you on your quests? This trope is so stale; I want more books like Uglies where the protagonist just wants to live the life she’d told she wants at first.

Time for a Break: European Fantasy Settings

The Pevensie Siblings in Narnia The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Walt Disney | Walden Media | Buena Vista Pictures

Now don’t get me wrong, I love European castles. But after reading more books set worlds inspired by Asian or Arabian mythology, I want more. For decades, all we really got to see in mainstream books and movies were European fantasy worlds.

It’s time to let other cultures shine in the fantasy and sci-fi universes. One of my newest fantasy book faves, Within These Wicked Walls, takes a story based in England and puts it in an Ethiopian-inspired country. It even used the traditions and stories from Ethiopia to create the magic system.

See related: Asian Mythology Retellings You Need to Read Now

Worst: Mastering Combat or Magic Without Training

Edward and Bella in Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2
Lionsgate | Temple Hill Entertainment | Sunswept Entertainment | Summit Entertainment

One of the most annoying tropes I keep seeing in books and movies is the protagonist picking up combat, magic, or other skills and becoming a master in a short amount of time. It’s just not possible to be perfect at everything, even if they’re the “chosen one.” (I’ll get to that trope later.)

I want more montages in movies that show the characters getting better and learning. I want to read about their struggles, too. It’s just a lot more relatable and will get people more invested in their stories.

Best: Forced Proximity

Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal
Walt Disney | Mandeville Films | Kurtzman/Orci Productions | Touchstone Pictures

Blame The Proposal, but I can’t get enough of forced proximity storylines. When I read about two people allied against their will, then being forced to share a room or even a bed to keep their cover, I get so excited about the drama. It just hits right.

I don’t care if they have a romantic relationship before, during, or after this trope. I just want to see characters struggling to get along and adjust to life together. It really brings out the reflective conversations and shows that the characters aren’t as put-together as they try to be.

Worst: Black and White Morals

Kaz, Jesper, and Inej in Shadow and Bone
Netflix | 21 Laps Entertainment | Chronology | Loom Studios

I absolutely hate when a character has black and white morals. There is not one instance I can think of where something is either entirely good or bad. And maybe that’s why morally grey characters have grown in popularity recently.

Some of my favorite characters are “good” people but have murky morals. Look at Kaz Brekker: he’ll kill, cheat, and blackmail people, but he would sacrifice himself if it meant those he cares about make it out alive and well. I need more of these characters.

Worst: Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Scott and Ramona in Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Universal Pictures | Dentsu | Closed on Mondays Entertainment | Big Talk Films | Marc Platt Productions

Don’t hate me, but I cannot stand the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” anymore. We got way too much of that trope in Scott Pilgrim vs The World. the World, and I think that’s enough to last a lifetime. This type of character is usually the quirky and pretty girl that is only there to make the male protagonist try to be a better person.

I don’t want love interests who are one-dimensional and only there to further the plot. Give me their background, their motivations, and their dark side.

Switch It Up Already: The Dark and Broody Bad Boy

Wuthering Heights movie from 2009
ITV | PBS | Mammoth Screen | WGBH

Don’t get me wrong, I love some broody boys (specifically in The Vampire Diaries universe), but after almost two hundred years, it’s starting to get stale. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights was one of the original bad boy romantic heroes, and since then, we’ve seen the same basic character in so many YA novels.

When I started looking back at the series I read in high school, I realized they all had one thing in common: The girl always chose the broody bad boy despite him treating her horribly. I want some “golden retriever” boys and dark, moody girls for once.

Worst: Love Triangles

Edward, Bella, and Jacob in Twilight Eclipse
Temple Hill Entertainment | Maverick Films | Imprint Entertainment | Sunswept Entertainment | Summit Entertainment

This was the norm for so many YA novels, shows, and movies during the late 2000s and early 2010s. From Twilight to The Hunger Games to The Vampire Diaries, we had the girl choosing between two guys. And most of the time, neither guy deserved her for the things they did in the series.

Even more unbelievable, why do these girls always choose one of the boys vying for their affection? I honestly don’t think this trope could work well anymore, especially since we’ve seen so much of it already. I mean, we got it twice in the same year from Netflix. And it fell flat both times.

Best: Enemies to Lovers

Alina and the Darkling in Shadow and Bone
Netflix | 21 Laps Entertainment | Chronology | Loom Studios

I love an enemies-to-lovers story, but I must add that not all villains deserve a redemption arc. If you have an extremely toxic antagonist for three books dramatically switch sides and try to win the protagonist over in the fourth book, I don’t like it.

Unless there has been a lot of growth from both sides of the “enemies” part of the relationship, maybe they shouldn’t be together. And we don’t just forgive bad people because they’re conventionally attractive. I’m looking at you, Darklina (Shadow and Bone) shippers.

Worst: Female Characters Who Reject “Girly” Interests

Tris in Insurgent
Lionsgate | Summit Entertainment | Red Wagon Entertainment | Mandeville Films

Let’s take a trip back to the “outsider character trope” and build on that. When I see a female character described as “strong” because she rejects any “girly” interests, I get so mad. You can be a warrior on the battlefield and love knitting or embroidery at home.

One of the best “strong” characters I’ve seen also be a little girly was Luisa from Encanto. She was literally the strongest character in the movie, and she still did everything in a skirt. She learned to embrace her feelings, and I just wish more “strong” girls in books did this, too.

See related: Six Books That Deserve a Second Chance at the Screen

Best: Fake Dating

Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Netflix | Awesomeness Films | Overbrook Entertainment

While the “fake dating trope” can be a bit problematic, I will never get enough of it. But it has to be done right. For example, take To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (the first book). The characters learned more about and grew to care for each other.

I haven’t seen this done horribly yet, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign authors know what readers like. I’m thrilled this trope has come to be in quite a few newer YA and new adult releases because even if it’s the same plotline, it always plays out differently.

Getting Old: The Chosen One

Harry Potter from Sorcerer's Stone
Warner Bros. | Heyday Films | 1492 Pictures

Don’t hate me; the “Chosen One” is old and needs to stop. I get being part of a group in a prophecy is fun (I won’t disagree with that). Still, I don’t want to see another child be raised for slaughter like Harry Potter was just because the world decided he was the Chosen One.

Nowadays, I want “Chosen Ones” who reject their destiny, forcing someone else to take up the quest. I’d even like to see it as a prequel that leads the non-Chosen One to become a villain in another story. Just think of the possibilities!

Best: Friends to Lovers

Rosie and Alex in Love, Rosie
Lionsgate | Constantin Film | Canyon Creek Films | Octagon Films

And last but certainly not least, we have friends-to-lovers. I might actually like this more than enemies-to-lovers stories. Sure, they usually don’t have as much “spice” and passion that enemies-to-lovers are known for, but they’re still amazing.

One of my favorite movies–Love, Rosie–sees friends falling for each other but never telling each other until it’s too late. The journey of growing together and overcoming struggles together just makes the moment they finally tell each other their feelings just that more satisfying.