What is Power Fantasy?
In literature, we’ve encountered many genres and fascinating plotlines that draw us closer to the author’s world through the immaculate imagining of scenarios or the nail-biting climax that would leave us begging for more. That is the very nature of fiction; imagining inexplicable and intriguing ideas that would leave an impression on one’s life. However, one trope on the rise would shatter the orthodox process of character growth. This trope entices many heated arguments about whether or not the medium presented anything innovative in the saturated fiction market: Power Fantasy.
Power fantasy refers to the sub-genre of the fiction category where the character(s) is given the abnormality or superiority over the rest of the cast in the story setting. This may come in different forms, Ranging from powerful figures with intriguing quirks that destroy the power balance or geniuses who seem to know it all. They act, plan, and predict the situation so well that most readers will deduce the inevitable outcome of a victory for the main cast. Some may say that this type of fiction tends to get boring quickly with how the author repeats the same formula of being weak, then getting strong and getting even stronger with walls of expositions. But why do people love them so much?
When we read books, we will feel attached to the characters. Whether we bend to support them or indiscriminately abhor them for what they do, an author’s goal is to create believable characters. That initial impression reeled us deeper into the character’s world and made us care. For most power fantasy genre titles, the main character’s journey began humbly or harshly. Authors intentionally created relatable situations for us to bond with the protagonist to encourage our empathy. In the famous web novel and serialized manhwa “Solo Leveling”, Sung Jinwoo—our protagonist—presents the world he lived in through the spectacle of the weakest human in the world. This setup is engineered by the author to garner sympathy from the readers and build a stage where Sung Jinwoo can shine. With each passing page delivered with outstanding illustrations, readers cheer on Sung Jinwoo’s life-threatening adventures just so he can pull himself out of the gutter. They cheered on him, and they loved him because they cared. Creating a character worth rooting for is critical for the medium’s longevity. However, some clearly ignore this notion which has raised the genre’s notoriety.
For us, it is a medium for entertainment, but for authors, it is a commercial gold mine. As of 2023, many stories adopt this genre but ignore the character background entirely and focus on its world-building—Which is fine, in my humble opinion. With how easy it is to build a generic middle-aged world full of fantasy aspects, this genre is saturated with half-assed titles with unnecessarily long titles. However, the worst part of it is the cases of blatant self-insertion that, more often than not, are discernable to the reader’s eye. With unrealistic personalities and flawless traits, these characters served as the author’s medium to reflect their ideal self in their own world. Most people find these characters annoying due to their inherent detachment from the readers.
A classic example of this would be Kirito from Sword Art Online; Flawless in the story, attractive to many of his female colleagues, and unreasonably powerful. Many have disliked Kirito as a character for his archetypical self-insertion nature that’s all-powerful with no flaw, which makes sense. Readers are not interested in investing their time and emotion in a character they don’t care about. How would readers enjoy the story if they didn’t care about the protagonist or his supporting cast?
In its mixed opinions among readers, Power Fantasy walks in a hazed line between the believable and the unrealistic. Striking that fine balance of storytelling in this genre is not easy. However, many stories in this genre manage to set their name in the literary world and create lovable characters that many remember. Power fantasy is a fun genre to indulge in with the right books, and if you are interested in this genre, “Solo Leveling” is a good start.