Top 5 Wednesday – Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s a freebie so I ended up making my own prompt: topics I’d like to see explored more in fantasy.




From Ninja Theory’s game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I can’t believe we don’t see mental health explored in fantasy more often. The genre is prime ground for it, especially in high fantasy where things like disease, war, imposed prophecies, and tyrants are commonplace.

I’d like to see princesses cancelling afternoon tea parties at the last minute out of anxiety; captains giving smiles and encouragement to their soldiers during the day and then later breaking down in the privacy of their room; Chosen Ones sobbing and saying, “I can’t do this.”

I know some people say they read fantasy to escape such heavy topics, and that’s a totally fair point. But for me, there’s something about a fantasy setting that helps me face those issues without getting too triggered. And in the case of stories like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, where the protagonist’s dark thoughts are given physical form, there’s something unbelievably empowering about seeing someone face down their demons with a sword and a snarl.




Mo and Meggie Folchart from Inkheart

I realize the “orphan protagonist” trope is a great way to add angst and loneliness to a character. But you can still get all that and more if the parent is alive, because a parent-child relationship is complex and, potentially, just as anxiety-inducing as being an orphan. You can explore all the ways that parents can be terrible and the ways they can be amazing and everything in between. And all in the complication of a fantasy setting.

“Uh but aren’t, like, 90% of your WIP protagonists orphans–?”



3. The Fallible Hero

This goes for pretty much all genres, but since fantasy is most often guilty of flaunting powerful, perfect protagonists, I’m adding it to the list.

Essentially, I want to see protagonists who fuck up. And I don’t mean characters who forget to pack their heirloom sword on the eve of a battle, or the ones who accidentally serve garlic bread to a vampire on a first date (there are so many conflicting vampire tropes out there–who knows which ones are actually true?) I want characters to make mistakes that have significant, lasting consequences for both character development and plot–characters who abuse their power, give into a villain’s temptation, or hurl cruel words to a loved one out of anger or jealousy.

Togashi Yoshihiro’s Hunter x Hunter does this brilliantly. It shows time and time again that being a powerful fantasy protagonist doesn’t make you immune to falling; it actually means you crash harder. And why wouldn’t you want to see that explored?


4. Intimate Friendships

Frodo and Sam

This is again something I would like to see in all genres, but with fantasy, there’s the added benefit of the phrase, “I will walk to hell and back for you,” being very literal. Romance in fantasy is nice, but nothing gets me going like depictions of friendships that stick a middle finger at our society’s rule book for platonic relationships (“Clasping hands at a perpendicular angle is a-okay for friends, but once you start interlacing those fingers, you’re moving into romantic territory, so watch out! And kissing is a definite no-no.”)

I could go into a rant about the arbitrary lines that society draws for various relationships and how they hinder emotional development and foster fear of intimacy. But I’ll abstain. Just please give us more Frodo and Sam, writers.


5. Protagonists With “Feminine” Occupations

I kind of mentioned this in my post about “Strong Female Protagonists.” Like, I love rogues–they’re my second favourite RPG class–but I’m a little tired of seeing female characters in high fantasy trotting about in assassin/thief gear. The same goes for the male characters. I want to read about men who are midwives or nurses and young girls in training to be ladies-in-waiting. Rowenna Miller’s Torn features a female protagonist who happens to be a seamstress, and it annoys me how that’s considered uncommon.


What are some things you would like to see more of in fantasy? And throw me recommendations for books that feature any of these 5 topics!

57 thoughts on “Top 5 Wednesday – Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy

  1. Alex @ Alex Reads and Blogs says:

    Ok so… what we need is a story about a Stay at Home Mom with post partum depression who has a single, childless best friend that is worried about her deteriorating mental health and introduces her to a secret group of highly powerful witches…. she makes a bad decision inadvertently sacrificing her family to gain power and has to correct it by rescuing her children from some dark magical realm. LOL I think that covers all your 5 topics (Being a stay at home mom counts as an occupation!!!!believe me!!!). Now who do we get to write that?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. acupofcyanide says:

    I definitely want to see more female characters in feminine occupations. I read Ace Of Shades recently and one of my remarks was that I realized how feminine the female character was and how unusual that was to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Literary Lion says:

    I agree with all of this.

    I love seeing heroes fail, especially if their greatest strength is also sort of their greatest weakness. Family relationships are so overlooked in most media, but especially in fantasy. I don’t mind an orphan hero now and then but I love stories with sibling/parental love.

    Most of all though I want more heroes with feminine hobbies. If I see one more heroine who hates dresses because she’s strong I’m going to scream. When we do get them often times they end up being looked down on, like poor Sansa.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. briharmon says:

    I’m with the masses – #5 is what it’s all about. I’d love to see more focus on strong women being WOMANLY. What’s that quote about: “women have spent so much time proving they can do what a man does, that they’ve forgotten what makes them special as a woman”? Something along those lines. I love a badass heroine as much as the next reader but that doesn’t necessary mean they have to be weapon experts or know 5 ways to kill a man with their pinky finger.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Norrie says:

    I haven’t read many fantasy stories, but you are spot on!
    I’d think being surrounded by dragons, sword fighting and sorcerers would stress most people out, but they seem pretty chill about it 😀
    Characters are usually evil just because… not behaving oddly because of mental illness or something.

    And the amount of orphans… omg.

    I read The Name of the Wind and really liked it, and I think the main character Kvothe is a good example for character who does screw things up. But then again, he’s like 14 years old, and an orphan… 😀


  6. Rachana says:

    Yes, we definitely need books that explore mental health issues! I agree that it’s empowering to see characters face down their fears and I think it’s also somehow comforting to know that these are issues that everyone struggles with, whether they’re fighting dragons or in the real world.


  7. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    Hahahha, hi Kathy! I didn’t realize Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game until I looked it up on goodreads… it sounds amazing! I also would love mental health to be incorporated more into fantasy. And it doesn’t have to be deep and dark things but just like your examples, she characters more as human with contrasts and emotions beyond falling in love and being strong. ❤


  8. auroralibrialis says:

    Wonderful post! I’d love to se more of all of these things in fantasy. Especially parent-child relationships and intimate friendships, I’m a sucker for romance but it makes me sad that romantic relationships are often the only ones explored with nuance and depth.


  9. Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

    I adore this post and agree with everything that you have said. For me I think the fantasy genre is ripe to talk about mental health issues, I mean c’mon… do we really think that after experiencing trolls or orcs or fairies that some people aren’t going to develop PTSD or anxiety?

    You (hopefully) know my thoughts on number 5 and women in fiction especially in fantasy fiction!

    Again, great post. Love it so much!


  10. Alyssa Grace says:

    Preach! I agree with all the topics on this list. Definitely love seeing explorations of parent-child relationships and platonic relationships in fantasy, especially YA fantasy which tends to focus on romance. Family dynamics are so underused, you can write such great interactions with them!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ashleyinwonderland says:

    I love this post! I think everything you mentioned is really important, especially number 4. I LOVE reading about deep personal friendships. It’s almost so much more impactful than romantic relationships. Sam and Frodo are the best example of this, I’m glad they got a shoutout! 🙂


  12. Papertea and Bookflowers says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything on your list!! I’m a sucker for great, intimate friendships (especially between boys, I see that so seldom, like they can touch each other, hug etc without being in love!! Just like girls!)
    Oh and as much as I love an assassin etc I agree, we need more strong female characters who are very feminine and are in occupations coded as feminine.
    (Also I loved the relationship between Meggie and her father!)
    And for the first point, that’s why I loved Heir of Fire so much. You could feel Celaenas struggle with depression, self doubt, guilt etc and it helped me so much to read about that in a fantasy setting. Would love to see more of that in books.
    Long story short: I agree and great post!! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thank you!! And YES to intimate friendship between boys. Seeing more of it would do so much to combat toxic masculinity in society.

      And oh wow, I was kind of iffy about picking up Sarah J Maas’ series, but now I’m definitely sticking it in my TBR. I didn’t know it had that kind of mental health rep!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Papertea and Bookflowers says:

        Exactly! It is so needed and important.

        Yeah, her series isn’t perfect and has a lot of flaws, but she does emotions very well imo. It’s been a while since I read it but I remember relating a lot to Celaenas struggle and it helped me loads. So I’m a bit biased when talking about the series. I barely see that aspect talked about in reviews and I’m always a bit confused by that. Maybe because it’s not explicitly stated? I don’t remember. But it was quite obvious… at least for me.
        Well, if you ever pick that series up (the first book is very cliche but it gets better after that) I hope you enjoy reading it ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Susy's Cozy World says:

    That’s a great post and I agree with you on all of them! 🙂 Also, in fantasy I’d love to see more magical creatures who are original and not taken from the folklore (or, at least, some not so known creatures from folklore) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. snowlyramble says:

    Oh wow, this is a fabulous post! It’s definitely got me thinking, 🙂

    I think all your ideas are amazing! It’s not 100% to do with mental health, but I would love to see Chosen Ones be more vulnerable, especially where they put on an act, and suddenly break down when they’re alone (but maybe I’m a bit sadistic to the poor protagonists. I feel like some anime/manga does this particular emotion very well, but it would be great if this (and more mental health in general) was incorporated more into fantasy!

    Liked by 1 person

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