Coming-of-age stories have never been more relatable.
Traditionally, the coming-of-age genre has focused on the teenage experience, capturing the tumultuous journey from adolescence to adulthood. However, the genre has recently shifted the spotlight to showcase female protagonists who are unequivocally lost in their 20s.
This new subgenre now spans literature, television, and film, capturing the hearts and minds of audiences from all demographics. Works like Fleabag, The Worst Person in the World, Shiva Baby, and Normal People—both the novel and the TV show—have gained mass popularity, especially amongst women in their early to late 20s.
The allure and gravitation towards the genre can be largely attributed to the overall relatability and authenticity of the characters portrayed in these works, who are navigating the sometimes terrifying journey through adulthood, while reminding people they’re not alone.
Consider Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character in Fleabag. As the namesake of the series, Fleabag embodies the quintessential lost 20-something. Struggling with grief, love, and a multitude of existential crises, Fleabag mirrors the anxiety and humour present in all our lives.
You don’t have to own a guinea pig-themed café to relate to her. Audiences connect with her journey because, in one way or another, they’ve felt as lost as she does onscreen.
The relatability of these characters lies in their depiction of the universal challenges and complexities of navigating one’s 20s. They accurately reflect the inevitable dilemmas and confusions we experience during this transitional phase, from finding love to pondering success and identity.
Along with being relatable, the protagonists are extremely authentic—which makes up a large part of their appeal. They’re unapologetic and unafraid to showcase their deepest and darkest insecurities and desires. Although the chaos that ensues in their lives is often played up for dramatic purposes, their authenticity allows audiences to see themselves in the characters’ unfiltered emotions, resulting in a profound emotional connection.
In Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the protagonists Connell and Marianne navigate mental illness, societal expectations, and complicated relationships. The overall candidness when it comes to emotional struggles and vulnerability strikes a chord with readers and viewers alike.
Marianne’s journey is an unapologetic exploration of her self-worth and agency. Like anyone else, she’s flawed, and her imperfections are demonstrative of an integral part of the human experience. Connell, on the other hand, experiences a deeper struggle, and attempts to reconcile with his identity in the face of social expectations and mental illness. His struggles with anxiety, depression, and loneliness remind us these are shared experiences and serves as a catalyst for conversations about mental wellness.
Marianne and Connell’s chaotic relationships resonates because they reflect the often-erratic nature of love, encouraging audiences to examine their own romantic experiences and evaluate the complexities of their relationships.
The authenticity of such characters is undeniable and a refreshing departure from the picture-perfect versions of life often portrayed in mainstream media. It allows the audience to embrace their own imperfections and challenges.
Such narratives defy societal expectations and challenge the status quo. The female protagonists portrayed in this coming-of-age subgenre aren’t confined to traditional gender roles like their younger counterparts. Fleabag boldly addresses female desire and agency, empowering viewers to explore their own desires when it comes to sexuality and intimacy.
In the 2020 film Shiva Baby, Danielle, a young woman fresh out of college is forced to attend a Shiva, where she is accosted by relatives and family friends about what she wants to do with her life. Faced with her ex-girlfriend, sugar daddy, and questions about her career, she forges her own path while encouraging audiences to find the courage to embrace unconventional life trajectories.
The appeal of this new coming-of-age genre is it encourages audiences to reflect on their own lives and experiences. The characters’ imperfections undeniably act as mirrors to our own lives, prompting us to question our choices, desires, aspirations, and inspire change.
The popularity of the lost in your 20s subgenre exceeds the regular coming-of-age genre, and is a testament to its relatability and authenticity. The genre challenges traditional norms and inspires change.
With each character’s journey, we’re reminded it’s okay to be lost in our 20s, because often it’s during this confusion that we truly find ourselves.
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