Today I’m featuring a guest post from Desiree Villena, filling us in on all the up-coming Paranormal Romance (PNR) trends. I know some of you love your saucy shapeshifter stories…so, over to Desiree…
Trends in Paranormal Romance – Desiree Villena
Vampires, werewolves, raunchy love triangles — is there anything more to paranormal romance than this? If you haven’t kept up with this intriguing genre, you might be justified in thinking there’s not. And to be fair, plenty of new releases continue to perpetuate the same old tropes and ideas. But that’s not to say that there aren’t new trends cropping up in paranormal romance all the time! Today, I’ll be taking you through some of these developments so you’ll know what to expect the next time you browse the shelves.
This will surely come as good news to jaded readers of the genre: the lengthy reign of vampires and werewolves is finally being counterbalanced by the worlds of fae, mermaids, and mages. And while these certainly aren’t uncharted territory, there has never been so much enthusiasm for fantasy world-building in PNR as there is now.
Take Bella Forrest’s Harley Merlin series, for instance, which follows a 19-year-old orphan who discovers a community of people who share the same strange psychic abilities as her — among whom she might just find her true love. While the first volume was published in just 2018, its continual success (and the wonders of self-publishing platforms) have led to 20 more books detailing the adventures of Harley Merlin. It goes to show how much traction this sort of universe has!
For good measure, here’s another example of a uniquely mystical world: the Fireblood Dragon series by Ruby Dixon. Set in a post-apocalyptic realm where humans live in enclaves away from beastly dragons, these books follow different female protagonists as they are punished for their deviance by being made “dragon baits.” If you’re wondering where the romance comes in — well, these dragons are shapeshifters looking for lifelong partners (and fiery passion, no pun intended). Now on its eighth installment, it seems this enchanting universe is only becoming more popular, setting the trend in PNR for years to come.
Love in the academies
As PNR is largely targeted at young adults, this trend should come as no surprise. Academies are a very popular setting in fantasy and sci-fi books, from A Wizard of Earthsea to the aptly named Vampire Academy — and since these genres have significant overlaps with paranormal romance, it’s about time boarding schools and spell-binding institutions made their mark on the genre.
We don’t have to go any further than the Harley Merlin series to see this in action. Just from the Amazon book description, which compares Harley Merlin to Harry Potter, readers immediately know that Harley will find herself having many adventures in a magical school. Even though she goes out into the world to hunt monsters and face her dark past, her starting point, her home, and the place where she develops a bond with her significant other is the academy that welcomes her at the beginning of the series.
Some authors go even deeper into this trope, setting almost their entire series in an academy, as Serena Akeroyd did with her Caelum Academy trilogy. Eve, the protagonist, has been raised in an emotionless cult and cut off from outside the world — until she is mysteriously smuggled out of “the compound” and taken to Caelum Academy, a school for those with who aren’t really humans, but paranormal creatures. Here, she’ll not only learn about the world she’d been kept from in the past, but also meet people who truly love her.
Subverting PNR gender norms
In tandem with the rise in academy settings, which provide love interests galore, is the increasing popularity of the “reverse harem” in paranormal romance. This has its roots in recent developments in Japanese animation, and involves a female protagonist encountering many love interests throughout her journey, but being unable to decide on her “one true love.” Sounds dramatic, I know — but isn’t that the whole point of these supernatural love affairs?
Let’s return to Caelum Academy, where our female lead is initially bullied and made fun of at her new school because of her ignorance of the modern world. Soon enough, however, some of the guys who made fun of Eve take a liking to her (in a typical enemies-to-lovers turn of events) and start trying to help her out. As the trilogy progresses, Eve develops strong relationships with these guys, some of which excitingly escalate beyond the friendzone — but she never admits to loving any of them in more than a platonic way, at least not until the final installment.
Rather than making these books purely raunchy, Akeroyd shows readers that relationships are complicated, and finding “the one” isn’t so easy, or even necessarily imperative. It’s also a great way to throw a wrench into the common trope of a dominant male stringing along a female lead. If you’re interested in these types of gender role-subverting stories, consider checking out Meg Xuemei X’s War of the Gods series, and The Dark Side series by Kristy Cunning.
Crossing over to urban fantasy
Sure, it’s thrilling to be pulled into bizarre landscapes with fantastical heroes, but isn’t it even more enthralling to discover the world you thought you knew in a different light? This is the premise of urban fantasy: it takes a familiar setting (our own world) and points out the nooks and crannies in which you can find a whole other, supernatural universe.
This trend has been a long time coming, starting in the mid-2000s with some PNR classics such as the Dublin pub-hopping adventures of Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, and the bounty-hunting chases of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. Since then, plenty of series have taken readers down dark alleyways in cities we thought we knew all too well, suspensefully revealing the underbellies and hidden gateways of concrete jungles… while spicing things up with some (often star-crossed) romance. Though many urban fantasy fans aren’t particularly fond of the growing romance segment of their niche, PNR fans continue to embrace this trend, which should make for a number of fascinating crossovers in the future.
PNR books do tend to be slower to change — authors often stick to the ideas and themes that they’ve seen work well, not wanting to mess with a successful formula. However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been shifts in the paranormal romance landscape over recent years, and very interesting ones at that! Hopefully, these trends will kickstart a host of other innovations in this corner of the literary universe, and we’ll be looking at plenty of exciting new titles soon.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading paranormal romance, writing contemporary fiction, and analyzing tropes and trends.