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Bangsian Fantasy

What is Bangsian Fantasy?

Bangsian Fantasy is a sub-genre primarily concerned with the afterlife and specifically with the exploration of the afterlife. The sub-genre gets its name from author John Kendrick Bangs. Bangs wrote stories about the afterlife and the supernatural, but with a humorous style. Bangs is not the first writer, nor the last, who wrote stories like these, but his work gave the sub-genre shape.

A common feature of Bangsian Fantasy is the inclusion of dead famous people and mythological characters. These stories tend (though not always) to have a genial tone. There are three main categories that Bangsian stories fall into: ghosts stuck in the living world, living people stuck in the world of the dead, and people who have died in a Heaven (or Hell). All Bangsian stories try to answer the question of: “So I'm dead, no what?”

These kinds of stories can be seen starting with the ancient tales of Hades. An interesting, though recent, development of this sub-genre is its visual representation—comics, animes, and movies have all begun to create Bangsian stories.


Characteristics of Bangsian Fantasy

  • Level of Magic

    Low. Magic is not a part of most Bangsian Fantasy.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    High. These are exploratory stories about life and about death and so the implications can be far reaching

  • Level of Characterization

    High. Characters are the driving force of a Bangsian story. Indeed, there are some common characters (grim reaper, angels, demons) who frequently haunt the pages of a Bangsian story. The use of well known people/characters, like Shakespeare, may be construed as a cop-out, but it requires a great deal of skill and character understanding to craft a story around characters who may have been actually living once.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. Many Bangsian stories are unconcerned with plot development and instead focus on character interactions and philosophical musings. While other stories have very clear cause and event stories with action.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Bangsian stories that are more like thought experiments tend not to have much violence. However, others are stories about hunting demons and ghosts down who are causing problems in the living world. While the stories are all about what happens after death, scenes of death are inevitable.

Related Fantasy Subgenres




    Christian Fantasy. With topics like Heaven and Hell, Christian Fantasy is a strong crossover sub-genre with some Bangsian stories.


  • Portal Fantasy. Sometimes the portal is to the afterlife.


  • Allegorical Fantasy. Allegory and stories about death are natural partners.


  • Historical Fantasy. Bangsian Fantasy is not Fantasy set in an historical time, but it does often borrow historical figures and cast them as characters.

Bangsian Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If death makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel icky in any way. Anti-heroes casually using violence and rough language don't appeal to you. There also tends to be violent sex in this form. In addition, the world inhabited by the main characters can be pretty distasteful—if you like peaceful, philosophical, harmonic environments, you probably won't be comfortable in this one.

Popular Bangsian Fantasy
  • 1 A House-Boat on the Styx

    By John Bangs. A kind of literary thought experiment where multiple literary and other famous figures are put together in a series of short stories.

  • 2 Riverworld series

    By Philip Jose Farmer. This series can also be considered Science Fiction. Humanity is resurrected (from across all of history) on the banks of a constructed world.

  • 3 The Lovely Bones

    By Alice Sebold. A story narrated by a teenage girl who has died and comes to terms with her own death.

  • 4 Bleach

    By Tite Kubo. This manga series turned anime, at it's simplest is about characters who help souls reach rest and keep balance between the living world and the world of the dead.

  • 5 Rest in Peace Department

    By Peter M. Lenkov. A comic book about undead officers. The protagonist is the victim of murder who signs on to the R.I.P.D in exchange for finding out who killed him.

  • 6 The Divine Comedy

    By Dante Alighieri. This epic poem is a canonical text that presents an imaginative and allegorical vision of the afterlife and of the soul's journey.

  • 7 God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian

    By Kurt Vonnegut. A collection of stories where Vonnegut as an interviewer is granted access to heaven for short periods of time and meets a range of people like Shakespeare, Hitler, and one of Vonnegut's own fictional characters Kilgore Trout

  • 8 Heroes in Hell

    By Janet Morris, Chris Morris, and C.J. Cherryh et. al. A series of short stories written by various authors is a modern take on Bagsian Fantasy. The premise of this shared world series is that people die, go to Hell, and then pursue whatever they did while living

  • 9 Everlost

    By Neal Shusterman. The souls of children (aged 5-15) who die become afterlights and wander the Earth eternally.

  • 10 What Dreams May Come

    By Richard Matheson. A novel about a husband who is sent to heaven, but descends to hell in order to rescue his wife. A stunningly visual movie of the same name was based on this novel.