Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time and money these last couple weeks on webcomics read on a couple different apps. I found myself sucked into the world of fantasy romance through a variety of different comics, dragged into spending coins to unlock new episode after new episode. It’s an addicting pastime, filled with stories that are designed to play on our fantasies of what it means to have a fairy tale romance filled with magic, dashing knights in shining armor, and the chance to become someone important and powerful.
But while I was reading one comic after another, I noticed some new trends among the fantasy romance genre that seemed to be fairly spread out across the different comics I was reading. It reminded me a lot of how the light novel medium is right now especially when it comes to the isekai genre. Authors are repeatedly working off one another, creating works that are similar but just different enough to be interesting.
I’ve been using a lot of different apps to read from for the past couple weeks: WebToons, Tapas, Pocket Comics, and Manta being the main ones. Each of them have their own fantasy romance sections, but from what I can see Tapas, Pocket Comics, and Manta have the most similar stories while WebToons has a little bit of a different slant in the comics they like to publish and highlight. This may be because WebToons publishes more comics from Western creators while the other three publish more from Asian creators.
In my quest for more comics to read, I collected quite a few on my subscription lists that fall within this genre, and that I think are great examples to look at when discussing the current trends within Fantasy Romance.
- Under the Oak Tree (Manta Comics)
- Amina of the Lamp (Manta Comics)
- My Red String of Fate (Manta Comics)
- The Soulless Duchess (Tapas)
- Just Leave Me Be (Tapas)
- A Talented Maid (Tapas)
- I Was Tricked into this Fake Marriage (Tapas)
- A Tender Heart (Tapas)
- Lady to Queen (Pocket Comics) **Mobile app only
All of these comics have different plots, characters, and settings but from what I have been noticing, they have been using some similar tropes within the stories. The use of these tropes has been common enough that I would say they can be considered trends within the genre.
Trend #1: Abuse as a backstory
This is probably one of the most disturbing trends I’ve been noticing. In a lot of comics I’ve been reading, I’ve been noticing that the main characters often have their good or bad personalities explained as stemming from abuse. Whether it was childhood abuse or abuse by their husbands or lovers, it has appeared frequently.
Take the comic Lady to Queen for example. The concept of the comic is that a young noblewoman is given a second chance to save her family from execution by becoming the next Empress. Only the Emperor is known to be cruel and unloving, favoring a Mistress over his future wife and co-ruler. We find out later in the comic that much of the emperor’s personality and favoritism for his mistress stems from a life of childhood abuse by his stepmother, the former Empress. It just so happens that his mistress also has a past of childhood physical and sexual abuse that corrupted her personality and set her on a quest for power. Their relationship winds up being revealed as stemming from a place of pity and mutual understanding of their upbringings.
In The Soulless Duchess we see another example of abuse used as character motivation. The two main leads each faced their own levels of abuse. The heroine faced a lot of emotional abuse from her former fiancee who used her as a way to strengthen his own reputation, claiming her magical abilities as his own. His demands eventually pushed her to her limit and she found a way to break their engagement. The male lead also faced a past of child physical abuse from his mother who felt he wasn’t meeting her high expectations. The abuse left him with scars, an emotionally stunted personality, and a sense of shame for these scars.
Abuse in and of itself isn’t an issue, it’s when it is commonly used as a motivation or explanatory tool for a character’s motivations or personality that it becomes an issue. In the end, abuse should never be downplayed as less than a severely damaging experience for anyone. I also don’t like when it seems like it is being used as a way to make the comic darker or more edgy, as it should never be trivialized. I’m not necessarily saying the two comics above belittle abuse, in some senses they don’t, but it is becoming enough of a trend that I’m worried it is going to be overused.
Trend #2: A Second Chance at Life
Similar to the way isekai stories are told, where the protagonist either dies in a tragic accident and is reincarnated in another world or they are simply transported there, the fantasy romance genre has started implementing ideas for a second chance at life as well. There are instances of isekai, which I’ll get to in a moment, but here is a different trend I have seen coming up again and again: time travel. Creators have begun using a plot scenario that involves throwing their characters back in time, to childhood or back only a few years, to allow their heroines a second chance at life. Often, the heroines have full memories of their previous timeline in order to give them knowledge to change this new timeline.
In The Soulless Duchess, our heroine is thrown back in time one year before she dies from complications acquired from a dangerous magical spell. She retains all of her memories, including the memory of finding out that her then fiance was cheating on her with her cousin and only using her magical powers to further his agenda to become king. She also remembers that in a year’s time the Demon King will be resurrected and demons will begin to overrun their kingdom, putting them all at risk. With this knowledge from her past timeline, she works to create a better life for herself by breaking her engagement with her fiance and forging a new alliance with another powerful Duke (who happens to be her ex-fiance’s rival). Now with more freedom, acknowledgement of her own magical abilities, and a lighter heart, she goes about making preparations to prevent the Demon King’s arrival and save her people.
In Just Leave Me Be, our heroine finds herself thrown into a political marriage she didn’t agree to in order to fulfill her duty as a nobleman’s daughter. Only, on the way to her wedding, she is ambushed and killed with her attackers admitting they were sent from her father. She finds herself transported back in time a couple years to before her wedding, giving her a second chance to avert her fate. Seeing how her life will end up if she keeps on the same path, she looks for a way to live her life as she pleases without regard to her family’s wishes and winds up making a pact with a powerful Duke who promises to protect her.
There were a couple other stories on the list above who had time travel plots, and all of them are similar to the two I outlined above. Our heroine dies a tragic death either because of betrayal or illness and is transported back in time for a second chance at a happy life. Many of these rest on the betrayal of key male members of their family or powerful male members of the ruling class, giving their female heroines a story of finding happiness by using their knowledge, abilities, and connections. It very clearly screams to me like a feminist critique of tragic romances of the past, where women often died at the whims of the male characters or in order to give male characters motive to act. Here, we see our heroines wrest back control of their lives and seek happiness regardless of what their–sometimes abusive–family thinks.
Trend #3: Literary Isekai
Isekai has been a popular genre all on its own, but we can see elements of it in the plot devices used in many different genres. Here in the Fantasy Romance genre, we see a kind of isekai plot-line that seems to be more catered to its female audience: being transported into novels. Where male focused isekai may see their protagonists transported into video games or MMO’s, it is more common in female-focused isekai to be transported into otome games or novels. Most of the heroines maintain their memories in their past life on earth as well as knowledge of the novel they were transported into. This means they remember where the plot will go in the future, and are often on a mission to change a character’s fate.
In A Tender Heart, a young woman is transported into her favorite webnovel after crying herself to sleep over the fate of her favorite character. She suddenly finds herself transported into the body of a maid working at the home of her favorite character while he is still a child. Stricken by a curse, shunned by his family, and doomed to a role of misery and loneliness, the character of Liandro suddenly finds himself cared for by our maid protagonist for the first time in his life. Determined to at least show him the love and care that he deserves, she winds up breaking his curse and earning his love and devotion.
My Red String of Fate finds our heroine pulled into her favorite novel after expressing her sympathy for one the character’s fates. She finds herself with rare healing abilities and is pulled into working as a priestess in a temple. After healing a dying man on the street, she finds a red string connecting from her wrist to his heart, tying her fate to his. With her knowledge of the novel’s world and her healing abilities, she tries to untangle her fate from his but finds herself pulled closer.
There are many similarities and differences when it comes to this kind of isekai and the isekai you see commonly turned into anime. Here while the heroines do sometimes get powerful abilities, they are also commonly relegated to basic side character roles. They have to find ways to use their wits and normal abilities to change the path of the story rather than becoming an all-powerful protagonist. In a way, I prefer this kind of isekai because it feels like the characters have to do a lot more work and use much more mundane abilities to carve out a life for themselves within the story. Yes, they can be granted abilities like healing or curse breaking, but it’s often framed as divine favor or they are taking the place of another heroine.
There are many more trends I could discuss, but I think these three are the main ones I have noticed so far. I’ve been enjoying my journey through the realm of webcomics for the past couple weeks, and as I’m sure you noticed, have collected quite a few to talk about. I’ll be back next Wednesday with a look at one of the comics I listed above and a full review. In the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’ve noticed any trends in the romance webcomic scene yourself. Feel free to leave them down in the comments below!
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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