Everything you need to know about 'cozy fantasy'
Where enchantment meets warmth and charm, this sub-genre of fantasy books is gaining in popularity.
It’s no mystery that adult fiction, particularly fantasy, has been rising in popularity. The need for escapism has never been more tempting and so greedily digested by its audience like in the past three years, and with good reason (let’s just say there’s been a lot of real-world things to escape from the past few years).
It was the high-stress occurrences in everyday reality that allowed one category in fantasy to skyrocket, and today its popularity continues to rise; standing toe-to-toe with other hot genres such as romance and science fiction. We’re talking about cozy fantasy.
It’s relatable and ‘big-hearted’
Cozy or light fantasy doesn’t have a formal definition. It’s best described as a sub-genre that offers audiences fantasy elements with a low-stakes plots in a magical or high-fantasy setting.
Think of it this way: It’s like taking realistic descriptions of your everyday life and adding a fantasy flourish. So, imagine you’re enjoying a latte with a friend, but instead of a local Starbucks you’re having teatime with dragons and your barista is a retired Orc warrior.
The plots of these narratives also often focus on character relationships or community. These softer narratives also center on what Barnes & Noble Category Manager Kat Safras described as carrying “big-hearted” themes.
“When people think about fantasy—they immediately go to high fantasy,” says Safras. “With light fiction, there’s this big-hearted theme in fantasy where characters do relatable things and [have] relatable feelings in situations you can understand that’s not totally far-fetched…you can envision yourself in it.”
Safras’ job is primarily to recommend fantasy and science fiction titles she’s sure will win over fantasy lovers, whether they’re customers or coworkers. Currently, she can’t stop talking about cozy fantasy. Mostly because it’s so relatable to the reader.
These stories can include a myriad of themes, such as cooking meals for family and friends, exploring personal identities and sexualities, overcoming personal vices and fears, or even the vulnerabilities of falling in love. Relatability is inclusive, and that kind of attention is being noticed by a wide range of readers.
“We are in the golden age of fantasy,” says Safras. “In terms of where we came from…I look now and what I love to see is the representation; across LGBTQIA, across women writers—diverse writers that for a very long time [in the genre] have [historically] not been treated very kindly.”
Building momentum and then some
The need for escape had never been higher, and the rapid rise of the fantasy genre is tangible proof. With the help of social media influencers, like BookTok, the fantasy genre has exploded. In fact, a report from Publishers Weekly showed fantasy book sales grew by 45.3% in 2021 compared to 2020 and had a 17.4% jump in sales since 2021. Today, those sales continue to climb.
“When Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes first came out and those sales rolled in, like those numbers? I was like ‘this is amazing, these fans are amazing,’” says Safras.
But the need to escape wasn’t to escape one stressful environment and enter another in a far-off land. The need for escapism was a need for something of a lighter touch.
Cozy titles and where to find them
Baldree’s book was self-published before it was eventually picked up by Macmillan Publishers, the same as Olivia Atwater’s Half a Soul, which was later picked up by Orbit books. It’s a trend that Safras says will continue to grow and nudge publishers into thinking about what readers are demanding.
“Talking about booksellers and readers…it's about them using their voices to dictate to the publishers what they want to read and what they want to see and what they’re consuming,” says Safras. “I can’t tell you how many publishers come up to me and ask, ‘have you seen this self-published (author)?’ or ‘what are you hearing about it?’ Publishers are using these (questions) as sort of like a metric or ways to find talent.”
For those looking to dive into the soft-core fantasy sub-genre, don’t despair. If it’s a title you’re looking for, we’ve got some recommendations to help you begin your journey.
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
The House Witch: A Humorous Romantic Fantasy by Delemhach
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett
Coffee, Milk & Spider Silk by Coyote Jim Edwards
Open Throat by Henry Hoke
Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim
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