Discussion

The Role of Male Leads in YA Fantasy (Just heartthrobs?)

And I’m back with another discussion! Which…might just anger a few people, but I cannot just look over this impulse I have for posting my thoughts about this, so here it is!

The discussion today is about the role of male leads in YA fantasy, and whether they are mere heartthrobs.  Hehe. I can already feel some people get riled up, and others hurry to close this post because it doesn’t really interest them or downright offends them. Whatever it is, I hope I do not offend you, and I definitely mean no disrespect for your opinions/feelings.

That being said, one more tiny detail remains without which if I go into this topic, people will probably disown me from the blogging community :P In my last discussion, where I talked about Why I Really Need to Reduce Reading YA Contemporary, lots of people commented saying that there are quite a few good YA contemporary books out there, to which I kept repeating that out of everything had read, (and I have read a lot of YA contemp) those were the conclusions I came to.

However, to avoid such a situation this time around, I’m pretty much going to mention all the YA fantasy series I’ve read. So, I’m shortly naming all the YA fantasy series I’ve read till date, just so you guys know where exactly my thoughts/arguments come from : Twilight Saga, Percy Jackson (half), Vampire Diaries (half), Mortal Instruments (half), Infernal Devices, Hex Hall, Throne of Glass, Shatter Me, Vampire Academy, Bloodlines (half), Lux, Caster Chronicles (first book only), Lunar Chronicles, Mara Dyer, Hush Hush, ACOTAR, The Raven King, Red Queen, TWATD, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Selection, Firebird, Chaos Walking (first book only), Legend, His Fair Assassin (first book only), The Selection, The Maze Runner (first book only), Matched (first book only), Delirium and Gone (first book only). So, yeah. That’s the entire list.

I know I might not have read ALL the series out there like some people who mainly read YA, but at the same time I do know that I’ve read quite a lot of the ‘famous’ or ‘popular’ YA fantasy books. Which basically gives me the courage to go ahead with this discussion. 


Firstly, I need to give the credit for the idea of this discussion post to The Quiet People whose post I read, and then I could not get the idea of this post out of my head. Thank you!

First thing which comes to my mind about this, is, when most people begin reading an adult book, they are never really that concerned with or give a thought to the male lead. Or even the female lead, for that matter. It’s like, the male lead being swoonworthy in an adult book isn’t really something that matters, whereas the attractiveness or ‘amazing-ness‘ of a YA male lead is a whole different aspect of the book. It’s like, it’s a whole different thing of its own.

Come to think of it? 95% of the fangirling and the hype surrounding male leads is always about those who are in YA books. Almost always. People are obsessed with Tobias or Percy or Warner or Gale (though I prefer Peeta) or Gansey and the EVER SO FAMOUS Will. Oh, the endless talks and obsessions and craziness these characters have led to.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing (heck, even I’m attached to quite a few male protagonists) but have we ever considered or analysed the actual personality/character of the person? Now now now…don’t jump at me. You’re probably bursting with frustration over the fact that you actually do take in the true personality of your YA male leads, but the real question is how often? And since we’re talking about YA, and the only other genre I can compare it with over this issue is adult, let’s face it : the depth and sincerity with which we analyse and soak up an adult male lead’s character is far deeper than a YA lead’s character. For a YA male, all it takes is a physical description and some sexy, cool talks and we’re won over. 

And I don’t blame you for that. There are times when I too go “damn…!” when something like this happens; I’m just trying to figure out how things got this way. Why does it take so less for a YA male lead to makes readers swoon over him, and pick teams and fight over him whereas we read about adult male leads so, so diligently? Are they just meant to be heartthrobs?

And to be honest, most of the YA fantasy male leads have a common structure which authors follow when they create them, and yet each and every time, we fall for each new character with fresh vigour. They are always good-looking brats, with perfect hair and perfect smile and different eyes and perfect height and body. Personality-wise, they are either the calm, brooding, calculative, “I’ll be there for you” types, or the hot, sleazy, making-you-go-nuts type, or the typical I-have-a-horrible-past type. The only characters I felt were different were the Raven Boys, and I commend Stiefvater on accomplishing that.

Another reason I have for calling them ‘just’ heartthrobs – the role they play in their books could be equally accomplished even if they had not been that attractive. Honestly, it’s mostly the girl who’s doing all the good work (Katniss, Tris, America, Juliette, Rose, Mare, Feyre, Aelin) whereas the guy is always by her side providing support and stupid romance and whispering words of ‘love’ in her ears and seducing her with his ‘perfect’ grin and talks. What real role does he play? Oh. A heartthrob.

I’ve read very few books where the story is about a male lead (like Percy Jackson) and even fewer books where the male and female are equally doing all the work (like Legend, ACOMAF) and it irks me how a lot of these YA fantasy books have the males only as a pathetic excuse for being a ‘companion’ to the female and helping her out, and instead showcase him for purely romantic reasons to involve lovey-dovey agitation. Like, why not add more meaning to your characters?

My main question is, why does the reader’s attraction to the male lead in a YA fantasy book matter so much? It’s like, you pick up any famous YA fantasy series, and discussions about the male lead and his attractiveness and how ‘amazing’ he is always comes up. Is it always necessary to fall in love with a YA fantasy male lead?


So that was it for my discussions! Join in!

Make your own blog post, or discuss in the comments below. 

What do you feel about this topic? Did you agree or disagree with whatever I had to say?! Who are your favorite ‘heartthrobs’? Suggest some good male-driven YA fantasy novels? 

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28 thoughts on “The Role of Male Leads in YA Fantasy (Just heartthrobs?)

  1. This is a really interesting discussion and I definitely think there’s so much to talk about around this particular topic! You are right in the sense that most of the guys in fantasy/dystopia YA are portrayed as good looking, brooding, or complicated in some way. I think there are plenty of exceptions (Katniss wouldn’t have survived the games without Peeta – his temperament and different skills complimented hers and they worked amazingly as a team, Rhys in ACOMAF is all about he and Feyre being equals and Maas uses this relationship really well to explore feminism and healthy relationship dynamics) but I think there is a lot of lazy characterisation about/cut and paste heartthrobs! Really interesting post! X

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  2. What a great post! I didn’t really think about this–mostly because I’m usually too busy liking the strong female leads haha. BUT I was going to make a point about The Raven Boys and you already did it for me. I feel like a big part of the reason is because as young adults and teenagers, we can be won over more easily by charm and looks instead of the deeper layers of the human psyche (nothing wrong with it, I think it comes with being young)–so that’s how the males are written. In the few adult books I’ve read, the males are definitely more fleshed out but that’s because–for the most part–we get over the need to be visually pleasing and charming (though it’s a huge plus), we’re looking for something deeper. It’s funny how in YA it’s kind of the reverse problem than in film or television. We have a lack of fleshed out male characters where in film or tv we have a lack of fleshed out female characters haha.

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    1. Yes, maybe the reason is that as young adults, we can be won over more easily by charm but as an young adult, when people read an adult book, they’re not looking for a charming male lead. That’s only in the case of a YA book. I read a lot of adult books, and I don’t really care how or what the male lead is, whereas in a YA book, I’m much more susceptible to such shallow attributes.
      I think yes, the reason is because YA male leads are not well fleshed out. Very few authors managed to do that (like Maggie Stiefvater and even Suzanne Collins) but most don’t bother to build him up except for making him a good romantic.

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  3. I totally agree with you. I really find the trend of ‘hot’ male leads sometimes annoying. I like to read about well written characters, with complex personalities.
    However, this is a consequence of the audience of YA books largely being female, and I can’t help wondering why that’s so. Most of the people in the book community, blogger, booktubers etc are female as well. What do you is it about YA books that appeal to females more than males?

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    1. Yes exactly. ‘Hot’ male leads who are only good at flirting and romance and easy talks. There are very few YA male leads who have actual depth or personality.
      And yep, I do agree that this is a consequence of YA books being largely read by females, and indeed, most book bloggers, booktubers and bookstagrammars are female. But however, the main point I wanted to bring across is that our perception towards an adult book is not the same, whereas for a YA book, the charm of the male lead is of utmost importance.

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  4. You know, I’ve never really thought all that much about this, but it’s an interesting topic now that you’ve brought it up. I’ve never been one to terribly swoon over guys in YA, though I’ll admit to a few instances (ACOMAF comes to mind). Honestly, I’ve done much more virtual ogling of men in adult fantasy than in YA, but even in real life I’ve always been much more interested in depth of personality than in looks, you know? But I mean, MOST teen girls DO ogle, so it makes sense to cater to them.

    There are some serious archetype male roles in YA fantasy books, and you hit them right on the nose. Some of my favorite YA books are actually ones that deviate at least somewhat from those archetypes. It’s definitely clear that the presumed target audience for YA is teenage (or twenty-something) girls. I don’t think anyone expects (or even wants?) guys to read these books, so why bother with it?

    ~ Michelle @ FaeriFits

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    1. Yep, I do agree that these books are targetted towards young girls (teens or 20-somethings) but do they react the same way to guys in adult books (fantasy and/or contemporary)? I doubt it. It’s the guys in YA which get such a reaction and are able to ‘charm’ readers. A lot of teens read adult books too (I do) and I doubt readers would be attracted or so ‘in love’ with a male lead from a literary fiction novel or a historical fiction novel. It’s just that YA male leads are written with a mindset that they have to be attractive, and that sells the book. It’s like, once you’ve added the ‘attraction’ or the ‘charm’ factor to a male lead, half your work is done.

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  5. I wonder if it’s not so much that readers only look at the attractiveness of YA leads vs. looking at the whole package of leads in adult books, but more that YA seems to be the most popular genre right now, so that’s just what most people read, and so you just never see these people swooning over the hot leads in adults books though they probably would if they read them. Does that make sense?

    Then again, I haven’t read most of the popular YA books out there, or popular adult books lol, since I read mostly indie, so maybe there is a trend to flesh out the adults more and I simply haven’t noticed in the particular books that I read. Now that I think about it, most of my favorite male characters are adults, but maybe that’s just because I read more adult books? I’m starting to think I’m completely unqualified to comment on this post, haha.

    But anyway, like other commenters said, these are YA books, and that probably is what teenagers want to read. Sadly, it’s probably about the sales.

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    1. I feel that yes, there is more tendency to flesh out adult male leads than YA male leads, in general. But, somehow the mindset of readers too is such that if you pick up a historical fiction or a literary fiction, you wouldn’t really care if the male lead is hot or charming or not. However, most often, if you pick up YA, the attractiveness of the male lead is mandatory. The book becomes boring if the male lead isn’t charming and sexy and funny or brooding and calm and darkly seductive. It’s like, once authors add this attractiveness factor to their male leads, half their work is done because they know that readers will fall in love with the character and that definitely influences your perception of a book.
      As for YA being the most popular genre now, I definitely agree with that, and of course YA booka re targeted towards teens. But these same teens, when they read adult novels (especially of historical or literary fic), they don’t care that much about the male lead. It’s the YA books which are written like this, I feel, where the charm of the male lead is an important aspect.
      And of course you’re not unqualified! Any kind of opinion or thought is most welcome :)

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  6. I haven’t read too much YA but based on what I have read I’d have to completely agree with you. You are so right, even Gale or Peeta, heartthrobs with either good looks or good souls. While Peeta atleast had some major role, Gale didn’t do much of anything except get angry and look good. Sigh, It’s one of the reasons I’m putting off the YA books I have.

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    1. Yes, Gale and Peeta were definitely good looking and their physical appearance did have importance (especially with the movies) but at least they had some role and their physical appearance wasn’t the most improtant aspect of their characters. They had a bigger role, and they were not there mainly to flirt and romance and fall in love with the girl. However, I’ve read so MANY YA books where the half the presence of the male lead is just too make the girl fall in love; they don’t have much of an important role. Like I said in my post, the girl goes on doing the good work, whereas the guy hangs around to provide support in the form of ‘love’ and fulfill the role of eye candy.

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  7. It is such great discussion, and a really worrying factor when young readers swoon over characters just because they are hot. In most cases, a harmless hearttrob with a hot appearance and flirty comments is not that bad, although it is disappointing how these sorts of characters are being creating without any personality or a place in a book. But I fount it very worrying when these males show creepy and abusive behaviour, and are loved by young girls who read about them. Excusing this behaviour just because the character is hot is becoming a worrying issue.
    I myself do enjoy male characters who do not seem so perfect, and who have a place in the story that does not only service as a shoulder to cry on. I do think that personality does play a huge role in books, especially since a reader can imagine what they like. But I definitely think the authors should create more male characters who compliment the females, and do not serve only as swoon-worthy factor.

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    1. Yes exactly, authors should create more male leads which compliment the female, and not just act as a love partner. I too have a huge problem with how such characters are created without any personality or importance in the book. It’s like, they are only there to charm and flirt with the lady, and if you take away this ability or aspect of the character, the character is more or less dead.
      I too find it very worrying when abuse is sold as romance and people actually take this as love, which is a whole new discussion in itself. I plan on doing it soon!

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    1. Yes exactly, it’s worse when the guy is surly and rough but just because he’s pretty girls swoon over him. It’s definitely a great thing to see something more in YA boys.

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  8. I always like to mention a male lead’s non-typical characteristics in my reviews since I get very tired of gorgeous, moody, arrogant, is supposed to kill you but instead is willing to die for you (for no good reason) guys.

    And while I appreciate all the “strong” females, I want to see some solid healthy couples who work together and make each other better (my current favorite is Alain & Mari in the Pillars of Reality by Jack Campbell)

    My Most Recent Discussion: Oh the Horrors… or Not: Spoilers

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    1. I laughed out loud when on reading ‘gorgeous, moody, arrogant, is supposed to…’ because that is just SO true. Most male characters are actually like that. And I do love strong heroines but I too appreciate both the hero and heroine working together equally, than the heroine doing everything and the male just there for stupid romance.

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