The Most Lucrative YA Genre

Screenshot of the August 4th Goodreads Newsletter

This morning, I received an email promising a list of “The 40 Most Popular ‘New’ Young Adult Classics.” How can a classic be new, I wondered? A classic book by definition is old. We’re told they are classic because they stand the test of time. For me, a true classic is an old book people want to read; one they approach on their own, unassigned. Pride and Prejudice comes to mind, as does Jane Eyre. But my favorite definition of a classic comes from Mark Twain: “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” His notion of a classic book is probably closer to the truth.

I wondered what this list of new classics would look like. Would the article be a speculative? I clicked on the link and found that the actual article has a more sober title: “The 40 Most Popular Recent Young Adult Novels.” The person in charge of creating the email newsletter must have altered the title to make it look flashier. More clickbaity.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to study a list of the most popular YA books of the last three years. To generate this list, the compiler quantified a book’s popularity using the number of reviews a book has on Goodreads and then culling any books with low average star ratings, which in this list was anything below 3.5 stars. Though I rarely read YA, I was familiar with many of the titles just from watching Booktube, and it was interesting to see which hyped book had made it and which had not. (Where is Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing; 57,046 ratings/ 4.02 star rating.)

The wild success of Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give

For fun, I graphed the total number of star ratings against the book’s rank on the original list. You can see that after the second-ranked book, there is a precipitous decline in the number of reviews, suggesting that the popularity of the number 1 and 2 ranked books (The Hate U Give and Turtles All the Way Down, respectively) is of a different magnitude. Interestingly, both books are contemporary YA novels.

Fantasy is the most successful YA genre

Then I looked at genre. While contemporary novels might have runaway successes, the vast majority of the books on the list are YA fantasy novels (42.5%) with contemporaries coming in at a distant second (27.5%). It was interesting to note how diverse the contemporary novels were. Many of the books feature LGBTQ+ story lines or are about racial minorities. By contrast, YA fantasy novels seemed less diverse. From looking at this data set (which I suspect is inaccurate), one can conclude that (1) a writer trying to break into the YA writing market is best-off writing fantasy, and (2) a minority writer has the best chance of being published if they write contemporaries.

Below is the full list, including publication year, average star rating, genre, total number of star ratings, and total number of written reviews on the Goodreads website. The information was collected on August 5, 2020.

RankTitleDate StarGenreRatingsReviews
1The Hate U Give20174.52Contemporary470,67456,519
2Turtles All the Way Down20173.96Contemporary299,03033,508
3One of Us Is Lying20174.05Mystery194,37324,918
4The Cruel Prince20184.14Fantasy190,37526,315
5Always and Forever Lara Jean20174.14Romance139,44016,431
7Children of Blood and Bone20184.13Fantasy138,56022,632
8King’s Cage20174Fantasy118,90911,135
9Kingdom of Ash20184.59Fantasy120,71315,049
10Lord of Shadows20174.49Fantasy89,83512,197
11The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue20174.11Historical Fiction85,22115,522
12They Both Die at the End20174.12Contemporary85,81415,360
13Warcross20174.17Science Fiction73,88513,507
14La Belle Sauvage20174.16Fantasy73,3347,564
15Five Feet Apart20184.18Romance74,4779,514
16Thunderhead20184.48Science Fiction67,57711,273
17Carve the Mark20173.78Fantasy58,8107,360
18What If It’s Us20183.92Romance60,17610,576
19The Upside of Unrequited20173.96Contemporary57,8869,321
20On the Come Up20194.3Contemporary58,8118,921
23The Hazel Wood20183.58Fantasy55,87710,164
24The Ballas of Songbirds and Snakes20203.84Science Fiction109,33116,911
25Leah on the Offbeat20183.88Contemporary53,4709,098
26The Poet X20184.43Contemporary54,18311,093
27Long Way Down20174.32Contemporary51,91010,271
28Eliza and Her Monsters20174.22Contemporary44,5719,427
29Wayward Son20194.05Fantasy46,8817,935
30To Kill a Kingdom20183.93Fantasy45,5788,771
31A Curse So Dark and Lonely20194.16Fantasy47,0689,468
32We Are Okay20173.96Contemporary44,4557,504
33Truly, Devious20184.03Mystery45,0778,435
34Serpent and Dove20194.13Fantasy48,2339,423
35When Dimple Met Rishi20173.71Romance41,6849,083
36Two Can Keep a Secret20193.98Mystery43,3876,459
37King of Scars20194.21Fantasy40,2247,871
38Sorcery of Thorns20194.11Fantasy38,5497,825
39History Is All You Left Me20174.05Contemporary34,2326,145
40Flame in the Mist20173.89Fantasy33,4765,555

You can look at the list here.

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