Young Adult vs. New Adult: What’s the Difference?

Young Adult vs. New Adult: What’s the Difference?


The easiest way to break this down will be to list what I think a reader should expect from each genre, and since I’m all about bullet points in my articles…here we go!

Young Adult
This genre has been made widely popular over the last decade or so, and many adult readers have come to love it just as much as teens…and that’s my first point.

YA novels may be read by all but they are written for teens, and that spawns the main differences to NA.

  • Characters’ Ages: Usually anywhere from 14 – 18 years of age
  • Situations: The teenage characters are facing “high school” type situations. They usually have to deal with parents or some other authority figure. The stories tend to revolve around teenage issues, many of them touching on those precious coming of age moments that so many teens face.
  • Language: There is swearing in these books, but it is usually milder as writers are aware of their audience.
  • Sex: There can be sex in YA novels, but it’s usually only mentioned and the physical details are simply touched on, not given in full detail. If the characters do have sex, the reader is offered more of an emotional ride rather than a graphic painting of the event.
  • Voice: The voice in these books is younger, more carefree; the weight of responsibility does not sit as heavily on these characters’ shoulders. Don’t you remember feeling invincible as a teen? Like nothing could really touch you, because you hadn’t lived long enough to be burned yet? YA novels are usually the teenage characters’ first taste of fire. It’s their first real love, their first full-blown betrayal. Whatever the crisis may be, it’s taking them from a point of innocent childhood and giving them a small piece of what awaits in the future. They may not be aware of it at the time, but these characters are being made battle-ready for adulthood.
  • Lessons Learned: As I mentioned above, the lessons learned, those sweet coming of age moments, are the ones we take with us into the future, but at the time, the future is usually the last thing on the characters’ minds. It’s all about the here and now. I’m not saying all teenage characters don’t think about the future. That’s not true. Some of my YA characters think ahead to where they might end up, but it’s usually with rose-tinted lenses as they still believe they can be whatever they want – if only they could get out of school, home or whatever is dragging them down.

Now let’s transition into NA where these characters are actually out of high school and home…

New Adult
In my opinion, this genre needed to be created. For one, you had teenage readers getting older and looking for more than just high school situations and romances, but weren’t yet ready to hang out in a totally adult world. You also had adults who were still keen on YA, but again, wanting a little more than what it had to offer and so NA was born and yay for me, because I LOVE NA fiction!

  • Character Ages: Usually between 18 – 25 years of age
  • Situations: These characters are now hitting the adult world and having to face situations on their own. They may be in college or getting their first real job. They may have moved out of home and are dealing with the different freedoms and pressures a lack of parents/authority figures brings. It’s a whole new ball game for these characters, and the burns and challenges they may encounter are much bigger, the risks so much greater. It can make for a more intense story.
  • Language: There seems to be no language barriers in NA. Characters can say whatever they like, so it’s really up to the comfort level of the author.
  • Sex: The same thing seems to go for the sex in NA. At one point, I think readers mistakenly thought NA meant page porn, but that’s not the case. Some NA novels are basically erotica, but they don’t have to be. Explicit sex scenes are not a requirement of NA fiction. I have read some awesome NA novels that have either no sex or fade to black type situations. They both work. I think one subtle difference between NA and YA sex scenes is that NA characters are more aware of their bodies. They aren’t afraid to recognize when they are being turned on and they’re more confident in exploring their sexuality.
  • Violence: I just want to take a moment to touch on violence for all you readers who aren’t a fan of the good ol’ romance reads 😉 The same sorts of rules seem to apply. There can be violence in both YA and NA books, but the intensity and graphic nature of these scenes are amplified in NA…if the author wants them to be. I guess NA gives the authors who like to write really gritty stuff more freedom, because their readers can handle it.
  • Voice: As you would expect, the voice in NA should be more mature. They are facing much bigger issues and they’re often facing them with less support than YA characters have. The characters’ voices, insights and attitudes should reflect this. They are still learning, but they know more than a high-school teenager. They’ve quite possibly had their first taste of fire and are more hardened to the realities of the real world.
  • Lessons Learned: The lessons in NA novels are often life-changers. NA characters are dealing with things to do with their future – marriage, career choices, travel opportunities, families of their own. They are adults now, yet they still don’t quite feel like it. This is such an important transition time and I for one, learned SO much about myself at this age. A New Adult world is so much bigger, with so much more scope, and the lessons these characters learn need to reflect that. Their coming of age moments, rather than learning a little more about who they are, tend to lean towards actually deciding who they want to be and taking ownership of their life and their future.

I love both genres for different reasons and I can understand why the lines get blurred. There are many similarities, but you should be able to tell pretty quickly what you’re reading. If you’re a YA fan, don’t be afraid to try out NA, you’ll probably like it.