YPulse’s new Subculture Series will share deep dives into some of Gen Z and Millennials’ ever-evolving list of subcultures. Our research shows how these gens thrive off of connectivity and find solace in niche communities (and there’s a lot of them). While some involve fandoms they love, others involve deep trends and highlight bigger cultural shifts. This month, we’re taking a look at the fantasy subculture and how young people are driving new trends within a huge community that has spanned generations.
While fantasy has long been a part of literature and pop culture, Gen Z and Millennials have revolutionized the genre by giving seemingly old lore modern twists. The fantasy aesthetic to these gens goes beyond dragons and faeries, and consists of anything magical or supernatural that doesn’t exist in the real world—which is why young people have especially been loving the genre. Escapism plays a major role in Gen Z and Millennials’ lives following the pandemic and through their current struggles with issues like inflation, social unrest, and climate change.
Millennials who are part of the fantasy subculture grew up reading and watching Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, and more recently, they named House of the Dragon as one of their top favorite TV shows. These were all major cultural game changers for them, igniting passions for cosplay and helping geek culture go mainstream. (As well as making Harry Potter tattoos a cliché for the gen.) But Gen Z has recently reshaped the fantasy subculture, mainly thanks to TikTok, and more specifically #BookTok. YPulse told you how #BookTok essentially revived a love of reading for teens and majorly boosted book sales over the last few years, and according to WordsRated, “fantasy book sales grew by 45.3% in 2021 compared to 2020, which was the largest increase among all genres aside from graphic novels.” And for a generation obsessed with cores, Gen Z’s love of fantasy BookTok has merged with lore-based aesthetics. To really understand what impact the members of the fantasy subculture have on pop culture overall and how to pique their interest in your own brand through this niche, we’re breaking down the elements of this wide community:
Gen Z is embracing long-standing franchises and fostering new fandoms
Gen Z has embraced fantasy as much as Millennials. And while they might make fun of Millennials’ over-the-top obsession with HP from time-to-time, they’re not rejecting the content that came before them. In fact, the future of the fantasy genre is being built off franchises that have already been established in the ’00s and ‘10s (and even ‘80s and ‘90s), appealing to both Gen Z and Millennials’ love of all things nostalgic. They love movies and TV with familiar fantasy like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and The Witcher. It helps that fantasy has become a focus for the streamers that they watch most frequently: New Disney+ series based on popular YA fantasy novels such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, and The Spider-Wick Chronicles. Amazon’s The Rings of Power and HBO’s House of the Dragon have been renewed for second seasons—and HBO has several other new Game of Thrones spin-offs in the works. In short, the huge tentpoles of the genre are still reaching this young audience.
But they’re also fueling the success of newer series—and using social media to amplify the success of those titles. Epic high fantasy book series like Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, authors like Brandon Sanderson, R. F. Kuang, and V.E. Schwab, and really anything published by Torr Books or Bloomsbury has gained huge Gen Z fandoms. Plus, YPulse data shows Gen Z is gaming just as much as they watch TV and some of their favorite trending games take place in high fantasy worlds like Elden Ring.
They’re pushing fantasy into fashion
Gen Z members of the fantasy subculture love to create content that revolves around the fantasy aesthetic: going to Renaissance Faires in DIY costumes, knitting their own clothing like harnesses, or thrifting #CottageCore style clothing and home decor. The future of fashion has everything to do with escapism and a full immersion into fantastical worlds. Some of the most popular identifiers in the fantasy community are fashion looks that adhere to that with #RegencyCore, #CottageCore, Renaissance-inspired clothing like long skirts, dresses, and cloaks.
They’ve made social media content the fuel of their fantasy fandoms
The best way to view Gen Z fantasy content on the platform is through the hashtag #Fantasy, which currently has over 11.3B views. Other hashtags part of the subculture include #FantasyCore (108+M views), #FantasyRomance (478.3+M views), and #SoliderPoetKing (483.8+M views). The last is the result of the Solider, Poet, King trend which consists of an online personality quiz that determines which character archetype you most resemble. Users have been sharing their results and commentary on the personality meanings while playing a popular audio that resembles fantasy tavern music.
And the influencers making their way to the tops of these tags can range from mainstream lifestyle content with hints of fantasy—like @mary_skinner (1.4M followers, 106.9M likes), a grad student who posts lifestyle, knitting, reading, and fashion content—to more niche fantasy influencers like @deaaaalzuhhhhhhh (26K followers, 7.2M likes), @dvnnisimone (28.1K followers, 2.7M likes), @book_reviews_kill (207.6K followers, 4.4M likes), and @zai_rambles (242.6K followers, 4.6M likes) who all post memes, book reviews / recommendations, and spark discussions on their current fantasy reads. Others make content like decorating their bookshelves, getting ready for Ren Faires, or film scenes acting out epic fantasy stories IRL.
There’s plenty of opportunity for brands to play in the fantasy world
While it may sound niche, and only for certain brands to be a part of, the future of the fantasy subculture actually has space for plenty of brand interaction. Revolution Beauty released a 15-piece makeup collection inspired by GOT last fall and got super creative with their product names like the Renaissance Flick Raven Black Eyeliner and the Dragon Egg Blender Sponge. Especially for readers, there’s not a ton of merch they can buy compared to that of film and TV, so they’re constantly buying shirts / hoodies with their favorite book quotes or fan art prints from small Etsy stores like @HouseofJupiter, ShopMCStudios, and @BiblioStyleCo. Virtually any brand can get involved with one of these series by incorporating fantasy themes in their advertising, partnering with influencers in the space, and collaborating with popular franchises for fantasy-themed items.