I’ve heard many people ask this question, and the most common answer I hear is that Harry Potter belongs in one of two categories: Science Fiction or Classical literature. Both of these have merit and a right to claim Harry Potter in their corpus. However, I have always firmly believed that Harry Potter falls into the realm of Adolescent Literature. Here’s why…
Adolescent literature is built around the idea of relationships with other people. The genre itself is focused on a group of people who are developing their own identities and, just as importantly, their identities in relation to other people. These relationships are typically key to the genre. In Harry Potter, we find a unique emphasis on Harry’s relationships with his friends, teachers, and even enemies. Few genres spend so much time discussing why the characters feel and act the way they do, and Harry Potter lives up to this standard. For similar examples of novels in this genre showing this attribute, check out Silent to the Bone, The Giver, and The Outsiders.
Coming of Age
This genre typically also discusses the right of passage from childhood to adulthood. Many books in this genre show power struggles between an authority figure (often a teacher, parent, leader, or psychological problem) and the character. Harry’s relationship with Snape is a classic example as is his relation with Sirius. These two relations define the broader spectrum of the Coming of Age story. For similar examples of novels in this genre showing this attribute, check out Deathwatch, Ender’s Game, and Holes.
This genre is also rife with the typical “and they all lived happily ever after.” This concept is so prevalent simply because life is very difficult at this age, and the audience likes to know it is going to be okay. I should note that “happily ever after” does not mean that everyone lives, the problem is solved, or that the world does indeed keep turning. Rather, it means that there is a resolution that you can deal with. Many times, this is encapsulated in an epilogue, although this is not required. For similar examples of novels in this genre showing this attribute, check out Best Little Girl in the World, Seventh Son, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Good vs. Evil
Many novels in this genre also deal with the idea of Good vs. Evil. However, this is such a common theme across many genres that I will not mention it here.
Personally, I think that the books cover a wide range of genres. Like I said, there are many genres that can claim ownership of Harry Potter. However, at the end of the day, these books are firmly and solidly placed in the adolescent genre.