The “formal” definition of a dystopia according to Merriam-Webster, is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Although this is correct, perhaps a better way to look at a dystopia is the opposite of what one would include in a utopia, which is why the definition of dystopia is open to interpretation.
“Utopia,” written by Thomas More dating back to 1516, created the ideal society of perfection–for the year 1516. Over time, our values and policies have changed, and with it, what we view as an “ideal” society. In fact, with this change in ideologies came the existence of the “dystopia,” and as such, authors utilize the concept of dystopian society to express their personal views on the worst version of society and humanity.
Although classic dystopian novels do exist (e.g. Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, etc.), most modern day novels are written in the young adult genre. A simple Google search of “young adult dystopian novels” will yield 33 different titles, all written within the past decade. In modern times, dystopian novels seem to reflect the fears that the current generation may anticipate for the future–hunger, depression, end of the world, etc.–so most current dystopian novels are written in the young adult genre to reflect growing concern and appeal to the audience that would relate to it the most. Furthermore, combining dystopian literature with young adult content allows for a larger fanbase of young adults that can take their appreciation with them as their generation grows older.
Most dystopian novels have another genre combined with them–horror, sci-fi, romance, apocalypse–that allow for an appeal to a certain audience. Some readers enjoy romance, so having a dystopian world where everything goes to hell except for the love of a couple is appealing and appreciated. For example, the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins holds many themes, but the overarching characteristic of it is the love between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, and we follow their ups and downs as lovers which seems to be the only aspect of the dystopian society that remains consistent. Other genres combined with dystopias allow for the double-appeal to young adult readers: 1) the appeal to a generation with fears of a dystopian world, and 2) the appeal to fans of other, more specific book varieties. In general, the success of a dystopian novel rides on its ability to appeal to the audience it was intended for.
Definition of a Dystopia: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.