Witch Lit for Young Adults: Here's how to craft magical coming-of-age stories - Uncharted

Witch Lit for Young Adults: Here’s how to craft magical coming-of-age stories

By Jessica Evans

Ah, witch lit, that sublime subgenre of fiction where broomsticks aren’t just for sweeping and a full moon means more than a cloudless night. For readers of this enchanted genre, and certainly for its architects, the term “witch lit” evokes a rich tapestry of magical realism, occult traditions, and—most importantly—a celebration of feminine power. Though the term might be relatively new (it surfaced online in various literary circles in the late 2010s), the archetypes are as old as the hills—think Morgan Le Fay, Baba Yaga, or even the witches in Macbeth.

 On the other hand, young adult (YA) literature is a narrative expanse where teens navigate the labyrinth of adolescence, often stumbling upon the trifecta minotaur of identity, sexuality, and mental health. Now, marry the arcane richness of witch lit with the relatable struggles of YA fiction, and you’ve got something truly spellbinding. It’s akin to blending Hawthorn berries into a cup of freshly brewed Earl Grey—a synthesis of flavors that’s unexpectedly delightful but also deep and complex. 

In this endeavor to blend the mystical and the mundane, how does one craft witch lit that speaks to young adults? How do we draw on the genre’s roots in feminine strength without veering into clichés while making it accessible and poignant for younger readers? Gather around the cauldron. We’re brewing something potent here.

 The Essence of Growth and Self-Discovery

If the Bible of YA fiction has a commandment etched in stone, it’s this: thou shalt focus on growth and self-discovery. And it’s not just about a Gatsby-esque reach for the green light across the bay or a Salingerian glimpse into the abyss of human suffering. It’s more immediate, more visceral. The stakes are different when you’re sixteen, and your entire world is the circumference of high school hallways and house parties.

In the realm of YA witch lit, growth often comes in the guise of mastering the Craft—be it the incantations, potions, or even understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of wielding such power. Think about the lessons laced into Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” series or the ethical quandaries explored in Franny Billingsley’s “Chime.” The magic serves as a metaphor, a narrative lens through which we can examine complex issues such as ethical choices, self-acceptance, and societal expectations.

Yet, growth and self-discovery are not solely the providence of the protagonist. Secondary characters, too, must evolve, for a cauldron that brews only one potion is a limited tool. Remember, the Craft is often communal, passed down through generations, or learned in covens. How do the characters’ journeys contribute to a shared tapestry of growth? This is where your narrative can do some real spellwork.

Crafting Authenticity and Representation

Once upon a time, witches were depicted as evil crones with gnarled fingers and warty noses. Thanks to the feminist movement and the rise of Wicca in popular culture, the modern witch is a far cry from this stereotype. But we must tread carefully here. Authenticity is key, especially when dealing with cultures and traditions that come with a heavy tapestry of folklore and historical context.

If you aim to weave a rich tapestry in YA witch lit, don’t shy away from the threads of moral complexity. When including male witches or non-binary characters, delve into their unique experiences and challenges within a predominantly feminine magical realm. This adds layers to your story and avoids the trap of tokenism. Magic is rarely a matter of simple dualities; it’s not solely light or dark, good or bad. A nuanced approach to magic reflects your characters’ external battles and internal moral quandaries. For example, Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” series incorporates themes of power dynamics and ethical choices, adding shades of gray to the often black-and-white notion of magic. 

Don’t just stick with a single magical system, either. Using elemental magic may fit one character, while another is drawn to necromancy or shamanic traditions. By diversifying occult practices within your narrative, you make your world richer and create space for dialogues around ethical uses of different kinds of magic. In short, let your magical system serve as a stage where characters can grapple with their own ethical and moral development. 

Moreover, while witch lit often centers around feminine power, let’s not forget that magic knows no gender. Male witches, non-binary, and gender-queer characters can add layers of complexity and inclusivity to your tale. However, representation for representation’s sake, without the scaffolding of genuine character development, is a mere illusion—a parlor trick rather than true magic.

The Confluence of Witch Lit and Dark Academia

 Before we close the grimoire, let’s pay homage to an aesthetic cousin of witch lit — dark academia. Picture the dim corridors of ancient libraries, tweed jackets’ romanticism, and old books’ heady aroma. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Incorporating elements of dark academia into your YA witch lit can offer a captivating setting where young witches may study ancient spells, debate ethics, or wrestle with the angst of immortality during Philosophy 101. 

While dark academia often revolves around classical literature and philosophical conundrums, consider introducing an element of the occult as an academic subject in your narrative. Imagine a school where young witches aren’t just mastering spells and delving into the philosophical roots of magic, referencing historical grimoires, and debating the ethics of spellcasting in a modern world. 

Consider the environment in Libba Bray’s “The Diviners” series. Set in the Roaring Twenties, it combines historical settings, the study of magical artifacts, and a nuanced look at American folklore and superstitions. This approach elevates the story beyond mere magical instruction to a more intellectual exploration of magical history and ethics. 

To marry witch lit and dark academia in the context of YA fiction, consider establishing an educational framework that doesn’t just teach magic but also teaches about magic—its history, its ethics, and its cultural implications. It offers an academic setting for your characters and a conceptual space for readers to ponder more existential questions. To harmonize witch lit with dark academia, consider the text your characters are studying. Is it an ancient grimoire that poses moral quandaries? This creates an atmosphere ripe for philosophical debate, true to the genre’s ethos.

The Alchemy of Crafting Magical Coming-of-Age Stories

So, you’re eager to put pen to paper and weave a story that melds the intricacies of witch lit with the relatable struggles of the YA genre. The question remains: how do you actually craft such a narrative? Let’s roll up our sleeves and break down some enchanting strategies. The balancing act between the magical and the mundane is where YA witch lit truly shines. Your young witch might be able to summon fire with a flick of her wrist, but that doesn’t mean she’s immune to the awkwardness of a first crush or the anxieties of impending adulthood. The key is to integrate the magical elements organically into your character’s coming-of-age journey. In other words, let the supernatural struggles serve as a metaphorical mirror of the mundane challenges. For instance, a character might learn a complex spell while navigating the complexities of friendship, mirroring her growth in both arenas. 

Design a Rite of Passage

What does adulthood mean within the magical universe you’ve crafted? Design a rite of passage that serves as the axis on which your character’s development turns. It should be as much about acquiring wisdom and self-knowledge as it is about gaining magical prowess. This rite can be the pivotal moment where the story converges, the event that triggers the climax and subsequent resolution. Authors like Tamora Pierce in her “Song of the Lioness” series use this concept effectively to mark the protagonist’s transformation into adulthood. 

Introduce a Magical Mentor—With Caveats

Ah, the classic mentor trope—a wise, seasoned wizard who guides our young sorcerer. But don’t let this character be a mere trope. Let them be flawed, or perhaps their teachings come with unintended consequences. The mentor’s imperfections are a lesson in wisdom for your young protagonist and a more relatable character for your readers. It’s a reminder that even in a world of magic, humanity—with all its complexities—reigns supreme.

Make Every Spell Count

In witch lit, each spell, potion, or magical item must serve a purpose, whether revealing character traits, advancing the plot, or offering insight into your world’s unique magical system. Always ask yourself: How does this magical element drive my characters’ growth or the story forward? In Angie Sage’s “Septimus Heap” series, every spell or charm reveals something new about the characters and their relationships with each other.

By embracing these methods, you’re not merely writing a magical story; you’re adding layers of complexity that resonate with the emotional and psychological realities of coming of age. You’re crafting a tale that’s not just bewitching but profoundly human, providing young readers a lens through which they can explore their own labyrinthine path to adulthood. When crafting YA witch lit, think of your story as a pentacle—a symbol of earth, water, fire, air, and spirit. Just the same, your narrative ought to have these elements, too:

  • A bright spark of magic
  • Fluidity of emotion
  • Genuine dialogue
  • Grounded in the reality of the teenage experience
  • Spirit of growth and self-discovery


Bray, Libba. “The Diviners Series.” Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012-2019.

Taylor, Laini. “Daughter of Smoke & Bone Series.” Little, Brown and Company, 2011-2014.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. “Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature.” University of Iowa Press, 2000.