Two years ago, I would have said to go with LitRPG. In light of Ready Player One, the industry predicted it to be the next big thing and during an agency seminar I took, they were all raving how it’s on top of their wish list. As far as I know, that never materialized. They made some movies on the back end like Alita, but I think apart from that, the genre is dead.
Looking at my own kids, the trend is definitely going toward reality fiction and social media (techno) thrillers. Internet leaks of personal information or pictures, cyber bullying, hacking, apps that take over your phone – that sort of thing. My daughter watched recently Assassination Nation, and while she found the reaction a little overdone overall, she loved it. And the ending summed up the general mindset of today’s youth. They do things “for the lols”.
So if I were to start a YA book today, I would probably go with some type of techno thriller, but with a new twist. I also think paranormal has a future. Yet in the end, the YA market will be harder and harder to break into. Kids these days are simply not into reading the way they used to; it’s all about movies and if they read, it’s on their phone, which means shorter chapters, tighter plots and fast pacing. Their attention span is that of a fly (and I’m speaking from the experience of my own kids and their friends).
In addition, there is a constant stream of distractions. I don’t recall one dinner lately where the kids didn’t sneak on their phones at least for a couple of minutes to check on Snapchat or Discord. My son claims he can’t concentrate without music blasting in his ears. Phones are mini computers and the center of their lives. If you can’t fit a story into that, you are already on the losing end.
As to YA romance, that will always be a thing, but I don’t believe the genre is read by teens as much as adults reading down.
Fun fact: all my research into YA confirmed that teens do not enjoy “clean” reads. They want swearing, some violence, and realistic dynamics. Limited sex, and either fade to black or from the emotional aspect of the character v. the act itself. Considering that some agents will reject your manuscript flat out if you include just one “fuck”, I’m not sure how much they are still in sync with the market.
In the end, I get the feeling that YA books that get published today are more targeted at older readers (adults) who enjoy YA reads than teens themselves, and given that most of my readers for my own YA books are adults, I’m not sure that’s not a viable approach. Hence, your question should probably be what YA books will trend for adult readers a year from now than what teens are actually interested in.