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Fantasy Subgenres Guide

Fantasy Defined: Genres and Subgenres

This has been updated May 2015 with 30 more entries, matching the same number of subgenre guides we have.

Navigating the fantasy genre can be difficult.

There's a simple reason for this: 'fantasy' is not a single definite genre, but a cohesion of many diverse, often wildly different, genres. We call these distinct genres with tangible elements we can label 'subgenres'. These subgenres, for better or for worse, help to categorize fantasy into different, distinct collections of elements.

The fantasy genre as a whole is STILL growing with new subgenres forming every few years and old ones updated, combined, and mashed in with other genres.

This master list of all the fantasy subgenres is our effort to help you find out what makes each subgenre distinct and a cheat sheet guide to the best books that fit into those subgenre categories. It's our hope you will use this guide to easier find the books you want to read.

We define each of our 58 (and growing) subgenres of fantasy into a nice small paragraph. If you want more details about each subgenre, click on the the link under each to go to the dedicated subgenre page, in which we give specific elements that define that genre, help you assess if you would like books from that subgenre, and of course present a list of our best picks for books that best fit that genre. We also show a crowd-ranked (and submitted) list of books in that genre, as voted on by the public.

The State of Fantasy in 2015

A lot has happened since I first wrote this subgenre guide, five years ago. Let's look at the state of things as they exist in 2015.

The fantasy genre has become popular the past few years. Once a genre restricted to a few Tolkien fanatics and literature freaks, Fantasy has now gone mainstream in a big way, from the mega-popular Harry Potter series capturing the world's attention for a decade,the Twilight craze, and now the HBO Game of Thrones series that's shattering all TV records the fifth season in.

Fantasy is here to stay folks. And it's mainstream in a big way.

One of the hottest new subgenres right now is the Flintlock Fantasy, in which authors like Brian McClellan's A Promise of Blood and Sanderson's Alloy of Law made some serious explosions.

Epic fantasy is and has been perennially popular, diverging into two distinctly different veins: realistic gritty with the likes of Martin's A Game of Thrones carrying the torch and big, fat, magic heavy epic fantasy like The Stormlight Archive.

We also have a continual trend of the military gritty fantasy with feature antihero, morally gray characters, and depressing worlds. Works by the likes of Abercrombi (The Blade Itself), Lawrence (The Broken Empire), and the Salyards (Bloodsounder's Arc) are leading the market in this style of fantasy.

Of course, there are other subgenres that are getting some attention too and new authors (and old authors) pushing the envelope.

The bottom line is that it's a great day to be a fantasy reader. Fantasy is getting a lot more sophisticated and a lot better written than it was ten years ago.

Note: If you want an overview on WHERE to start on this site when it comes to finding your next book by subgenre or category, then look our how to find your next fantasy book on our lists guide which may help you. Or you can always start with our Top 25 or Top 100 lists for general recommendations.



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The most popular type of fantasy today. Usually associated with High Fantasy. Epic fantasy usually includes a life or death struggle between good and evil, a large cast of characters, and multiple books. Most modern fantasy books are considered epic fantasy.

Epic Fantasy Examples...

Some of the more recent popular epic fantasy books include Jordan's The Wheel of Time , Martin's A Game of Thrones , and Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn . Epic fantasy has been around for decades in the form of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings .

...Read our detailed Guide to Epic High Fantasy Book Genre

...Read our Top 50 Best Epic Fantasy Books list

 

Fantasy with a lot of focus on the journey from youth to man. A VERY common aspect of the epic fantasy subgenre, but this motif is found in many different literary genres.

...Read our full Guide to Coming-of-Age Fantasy Books and genre

 

Always focuses on the development of a hero and usually involves a quest of some sort. Strong elements of good and evil often present in Heroic Fantasy, though the 2000's update on the heroic fantasy now merges in grimdark elements (morally gray protagonists, gritty settings, depressed heroes, anti-heroes, etc). Because of this, you really can break down heroic fantasy into 'classic heroic fantasy' and 'modern heroic fantasy' with the modern represented with works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Jeff Salyards, Scott Lynch, and George Martin (to give some of the more popular examples).

...Read our full Guide to Heroic Fantasy books and genre

 

A broad classification for fantasy. High fantasy sometimes refers to epic fantasy, but it can be it's own subgenre.

The classic definition for High Fantasy is a story that includes a well drawn world where magic follows a very specific set of rules. Those rules may be different from the real world, but they are consistent.

High Fantasy can include many themes like Coming of Age, Quests, and may be serious in tone or epic in scale.

Because High Fantasy is such a broad definition. Lord of the Rings would be considered the classic definition, but other works such as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are also High Fantasy. The 'opposite' of High Fantasy is the Low Fantasy genre.

High Fantasy Examples...

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is a good example.

...Read our full Guide to High Fantasy Books

 

Fantasy where traditional elements are not present (or emphasized). The fantasy world might not have magic (or if magic exists, it's not important in the context of the story) and the focus tends to be on the characters and/or plot rather than the fantastical elements. Low fantasy is fairly active fantasy genre these days.

...Read our full Guide to Low Fantasy

 

A subgenre that focuses on the soldier's life or the day-in and day-out of a group (small or large) of soldiers. There is a difference between fantasy books with military elements (many fantasy books feature this, especially epic and heroic fantasy) and military fantasy in that military fantasy is ABOUT the military life and people in the military.

Classic examples of military fantasy are Glen Cook's Black Company and Steven Erikson's Mazalan Book of the Fallen.

More modern examples (post 2010) would be The Prince of Nothing by Mark Lawrence and Jeff Salyards The Scourge of the Betrayer

...Read our FULL Guide to Military Fantasy Books and genre

...See our Best Military Fantasy Books

 

A genre that includes plenty of hand to hand action and was one of the first 'fantasy' genres to emerge nearly a hundred years ago.

The sorcery aspect usually centers around the antagonist or villain character. The prototypical classic sword and sorcery are exhibited in Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian and Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar Book 1: Swords And Deviltry. Another old classic that's considered among the best would be Karl Wagner's Kane books.

This genre is in a state of flux as new modern takes on the classic sword and sorcery are being penned. The genre has gone through different updates over the past 100 years.

Sword and Sorcery in the 70's and 80's went through a revitalization with works by Micheal Moorcock's (Elric) and author's like Poul Anderson (The Broken Sword) and Fred Saberhagan's Sword books.

Moving into the 90's and onward, Sword and Sorcery tales combined with other subgenres such as epic and military fantasy -- combining the gritty undertones of military life with the sword heavy style of the classics and emphasis on complex antiheroes. This modern take on this old genre stable includes heavy uses of magic and sword play but with a gritty, dark undertone.

Modern S&S works with a gritty, dark undertone would be J.V. Jones' Sword of Shadows

Modern S&S works that feature heavy inclusion of military fantasy elements: Miles Cameron's recent The Red Knight. Erikson's Mazalan Book of the Fallen, and Glen Cook's The Black Company, and Mark Lawrence's The Prince of Nothing.

...Read our Guide to Sword & Sorcery

See our Best Sword & Sorcery Fantasy Books list

 

A fantasy subgenre that combines elements of fantasy with horror. Dark fantasy is often used to refer to horror fantasy and include stories about demonic creatures, mummies, vampires, and the like.

Dark Fantasy Examples...

If you like vampire fantasy, you may want to read Anne Rice's (Vampire Chronicles ). One of the best dark fantasy series is C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy. You may also want to check out Clive Barker.

...Read our full Guide to Dark Fantasy Books

 

Often features Celtic elements such as forests, druids, and ancient magic.

Examples of Celtic Fantasy...

Juliet Marillier's Seven Waters Trilogy is a popular Celtic fantasy. Mythago Woods is a urban Celtic fantasy tale that you will want to check out.

...Read our Guide to Celtic Fantasy Books

 

A fantasy where traditional mythological elements are woven into the story. Neil Gaiman (as in American Gods) is an author who includes elements of Myth in his fiction. Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood fits this as well.

Read our full Guide to Mythic Fantasy Books

 

A broad subgenre (arguably even a genre to itself) of fantasy. Unlike Mythic Exploration Fantasy, Fables tend to focus on imparting some sort of moral wisdom to the protagonist the end of the tale. A Fable is often approached from the perspective of a child or youth. Currently, some writers are modernizing fables for the modern adult reader.

...Read our full Guide to Fables

 

A blend between the romance and fantasy genres. The focus of romantic fantasy is the romantic interactions between characters. Elizabeth Haydon (Rhapsody) is one of the more popular romantic fantasy authors.

...Read our full Guide to Romantic Fantasy Books

....Also see our Best Romantic Fantasy Books List

 

Epic fantasy is by far the most popular fantasy subgenre. Plenty of authors are seeing dollar signs this genre represents and it’s becoming the “Catch All” genre for fantasy now. For better or worse, the public’s perception of “fantasy” IS epic fantasy thanks to films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. It’s a bloody shame too because this is only ONE face out of the dozens of faces of fantasy.

Similar to Romantic Fantasy, but the plot exists to funnel the romance and not usually as the focus of the novel. Fantastical Romances tend to be lighter reading and often incorporate Paranormal Fantasy elements.

...Read our full Guide to Fantastic Romance Books

...See our Epic Fantasy subgenre recommendations

 

Fantasy with explicit sexuality. The setting of erotic fantasy take place in a fantastical landscape.

...Read our Guide to Erotic Fantasy

 

A broad subgenre of fantasy. Urban Fantasy is often called Contemporary Fantasy. The setting is contemporary, often taking place in urban settings. Often the magical world hides behind the normal world -- i.e. there is a hidden fantasy world that most people don't know about. May include creatures like vampires, fairies, witches, and werewolves. Urban Fantasy can be divided into even more specific subgenres (or at least include heavy doses) such as Paranormal Fantasy,Fantastic Romance, Mythic Fantasy, and Fable fantasy.

...Read our Guide to Urban Fantasy

...Read our Best Urban Fantasy Books list

 

Fantasy that often includes elements of the occult, vampires, werewolves, and other mythical beasties from modern folklore. Usually (but not always) takes place in an urban setting. May also include Fantastical Romance elements or incorporate the detective genre.

...Read our full Guide to Paranormal Fantasy Books

...see our Best Urban Fantasy Books guide in which some of the recommendations are Paranormal Fantasy

 

Fantasy with strong stylistic elements (In format or language) and more meaning behind the story than is first apparent. Can also include the New Weird elements.

...Read our full Guide to Literary Fantasy Books

...Read the Best Literary Fantasy Books list

 

Fantasy that's completely different from what one considers normal fantasy. Landscapes and peoples present in the novel often bizarre; language is often highly stylized or poetic. China Mieville is the author that most represents this genre (check out Perdido Start Station).

...Read our full Guide to the New Weird Genre

 

A type of fantasy where magic is accepted as part of the system. Magic itself has consequences (you can't just throw fireballs with impunity) and may involve the use of some prop or tool to utilize (spell, amulet, potion, incantation). The main quality of Magic Realism is that magic must follow a set of established rules (i.e. no Deus Ex Machina via magic is allowed). There are often negative effects resulting from the use of magic, overuse of magic, or negative use of magic. Gritty Fantasy /Realistic Fantasy often incorporates Magic Realism as do some High Fantasy works.

...Read our Guide to Magic Realism

 

Fantasy that's combined with Science Fiction elements. Often, Science Fantasies take place far into the future where advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The landscapes may be completely unidentifiable from our own. Quite often, Science Fantasy is combined with the New Weird to create bizarre landscapes and settings.

...Read our full Guide to Science Fantasy Books

 

Fantasy that incorporates the tale of King Arthur in some way or set in the same period (Celtic or period English history) and the courtly romantic elements. Typically, this subgenre tells or RETELLS the tale of Arthur.

The work that quintessentially represents this genre is The Once and Future King.

...Read our Guide to Arthurian Fantasy

 

Fiction set in a world where the world's history has been altered from our own. What sets this apart from merely fantasy is that the history/locations/characters may resemble those present in the real world, though changed.

...Read our full Guide to Alternate History Books

 

My main pick is Ghormanghast, but I've also selected The Magicians AND The Name of the Wind as alternative picks.

Involves the retelling of actual events in human history, with a healthy does of the fantastical or magical thrown in to boot. For example, one could be fighting naval battles with talking dragons instead of ships (as in His Majesty's Dragon) or a great historical leader from the past might be capable of using magic.

...Read our Guide to Historical Fantasy

 

Fantasy that incorporates both fantasy elements and technology. Technology is often steam-powered and may capable of fantastic feats (almost magic like). The setting present in Steampunk Fantasy tends to be industrial.

...Read our Guide to Steampunk Fantasy

...Read our Best Steampunk Fantasy Books list

 

Fantasy that contains science fantasy elements (usually highly advanced technology). The story is usually one with people who have super human powers fighting against evil in a world-saving struggle. The setting tends to be modern.

...Read our full Guide to Comic Fantasy Books

 


Another subgenre of fantasy that melds science fiction and fantasy. The setting takes place on other planets than earth and science/technology plays a part in some way.

...Read our FULL Guide to Sword and Planet Fantasy subgenre

 

Fantasy that targets young adults /teenagers. The characters present in the story are often pre-teen or younger teenagers. YA Fantasy incorporates Coming of Age Fantasy elements.

...Read our Best Young Adult Fantasy Books list

...Read our Best Children's Fantasy Books list

 

A very specific fantasy subgenre where characters "cross over" from one realm to another realm, via some sort of magical portal. Typically, the characters are normal people from earth who cross into a new realm; the realm is usually medieval in nature and magic, in this realm, may exist. The characters crossing into the new realm may gain magical powers or bring with them modern knowledge which is used to challenge some sort of evil which is seeking to dominate that land. 

...Read our Guide to Cross Over Fantasy

 

Allegory has a long literary history. Allegorical stories have a specific purpose: to make truths, morals, philosophies, or lessons easily understandable. The use of characters and events symbolize a meaning or message that’s important to the author and presumably to the reader—the story and characters are not themselves, they are a metaphor. Personification as a literary device is used quite widely in the sub-genre. This type of story often has a religious or philosophical message; for example, Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave or John Bunayn’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

A major criticism of the genre is that it’s black and white—there’s no middle ground and no grey. It’s also worth noting that allegorical stories have a deliberate message, it is not the same as a reader gleaning his or her own meaning from the story.

Allegorical Fantasy conveys the story’s message in a fantasy setting. Fantasy is used as a tool by the author to explore ideas and in a way to make the abstract concrete.

For more information, view our FULL guide to the Allegorical Fantasy Books and genre

 

Get ready to immerse yourself in a whole new world. Alternate World Fantasy takes readers on an adventure through a mysterious other world (or worlds). The alternate world is sometimes a hidden world within our own, in a world parallel to ours, or just a world that’s evolved differently than ours (e.g. history follows a different path). Sometimes the story is contained within the alternate world completely and sometimes someone from our world crosses over to the other world.

This sub-genre also has a spot in the Science Fiction world and often asks a “What if?” question. What if magic were real? The story presents the world as different from our own, but as completely ordinary to everyone in the story—unless the author employs the stranger in a strange land trope.

For more information, view our FULL guide to the Alternate Word Fantasy genre

 

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to something else (usually animals)—language, clothing, housing, food, behaviors, relationships, thought processes. Anthropomorphism has very old roots as a literary device, often used to help convey a message or lesson, like in fables and fairy tales or other juvenile literature. In fantasy we often see anthropomorphic animals as characters, who may even wield magic. Anthropomorphic characters may be protagonists or the companions of a human protagonist, but to really be a part of this sub-genre, they must be key players in the story. The fantasy sub-genre is most often an adventurous one, big quests and even some swashbuckling.

For more information, view our FULL guide to the Alternate Word Fantasy genre

 

In an Arcanepunk Fantasy world magic and science coexist and shape the world—they are complements. Magic and science are interconnected and often used together. Magic is used widely and is continuously being developed, much like science. In fact, in some Arcanepunk non-mages have access to magic, sometimes in the form of magitech.

Like any of the other ‘punk’ sub-genres, Arcanepunk has a certain feel to it, a kind of mood. It is a bit noir, a bit broody. Unlike other ‘punks’ where time period is very strict, an Arcanepunk story can be told in Victorian era London, in the wild west, in a modern urban setting, or anywhere/when else.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Arcanepunk genre

 

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to something else (usually animals)—language, clothing, housing, food, behaviors, relationships, thought processes. Anthropomorphism has very old roots as a literary device, often used to help convey a message or lesson, like in fables and fairy tales or other juvenile literature. In fantasy we often see anthropomorphic animals as characters, who may even wield magic. Anthropomorphic characters may be protagonists or the companions of a human protagonist, but to really be a part of this sub-genre, they must be key players in the story. The fantasy sub-genre is most often an adventurous one, big quests and even some swashbuckling.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Arthurian Fantasy genre

 

Looking for a dark story about what happens in the shadows? A bit of intrigue in a fantastical world? Just who is that hooded figure? Assassin Fantasy stories are character driven stories set in a grey world. The assassin character is an intriguing person that draws readers into their world—the assassin is highly skilled in dangerous arts, works in a morally reprehensibly (or just grey) profession, and has the potential to shape world events. The assassin is a fascinating and disturbing character that makes a great hero, or anti-hero—a sympathetic villain perhaps—and weaves a complex story for readers to unravel. Indeed these shadowy figures are so intriguing they are often romanticized.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Assasin Fantasy genre

 

A bit morbid, a bit comedic, a bit philosophical (or theological), Bangsian Fantasy stories are a kind of thought experiment about the afterlife. The setting is most often in the afterlife, but the story can also take place in our own plane of existence with some ghosts hanging around. Bangsian characters are familiar ones; they are historical figures, famous fictional characters, or otherwise influential figures readers would be able to identify. The story itself is an exploration of the afterlife and is most often a comedic adventure.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Bangian Fantasy genre

 

#eltic Fantasy has a rich tradition and is filled with mystery, imagination, myth, and magic—quite atmospheric actually. It is a sub-genre inspired by ancient Celtic legends and cultures—Irish, Welsh, Scottish. As a result, the setting is usually a medieval or an ancient world. Recently though, Celtic themes are used in modern settings, like in Urban Fantasy. Themes for Celtic Fantasy are often related to religion (Christianity and Paganism the most common) and the natural world.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Celtic Fantasy genre

 

In a literal sense, this is a fantasy sub-genre for Christians. In a more general sense it is a sub-genre that utilizes and/or explores Christian ideas and themes. The religious elements can be deliberate and overt, but they can also be sub-textual and even allegorical. Fantasy often takes up myths, legends, and history—traditions and reinvents them in a magical and imaginative story. Christian Fantasy also draws on traditions, those of Christianity, and therefore offers a Christian world-view.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Christian Fantasy genre

 

Fun, whimsical, benevolent, amusing, comedic, bumbling, ridiculous, ironic, loony—Comic Fantasy is all of these things. It is a sub-genre that is lighthearted and fun to read. It also has a metafictional tendency and its audience is usually fantasy fans because it makes fun of the tropes and conventions of the fantasy genre and other fantasy stories. Everything in a Comic Fantasy story is fair game: legendary sword, maybe, but it talks back and makes fun of the protagonist at every opportunity. Lots of fun to be had in this sub-genre!

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Comedic Fantasy genre

 

With a high level of complexity, Court Intrigue Fantasy is about power, relationships, secrets, and the conniving characters who make up the high court of the land. The royal castle is filled with important people, traditions, and rituals—a difficult place to navigate surely, but that is what makes this sub-genre interesting. There is much conflict, but not out in the open. The story and the world are detailed and intricate, expect excellent world-building, and often revolve around life’s grey areas.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Court Intrigue Fantasy genre

 

Have you ever searched your closest for a doorway to a magical world? Crossworlds Fantasy appeals to the imaginative child in all of us, indeed there are many YA stories within this sub-genre. Crossworlds stories are most often an adventure built around the struggle between good and evil. The protagonist is usually from our world, or a world similar to ours, who finds a way to cross to another world and uses his or her unique skills to help vanquish evil. Note: characters cross between worlds, not times.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Crossworlds Fantasy genre

 

This sub-genre is the namesake of Jack Vance’s series. Vance standardized a setting that was to become its own sub-genre, though Dying Earth stories predate Vance. Setting: Earth is dying, and often the Sun is also withering away. It is a setting of entropy, fatalism, failure, barrenness, ennui, exhaustion—not a happy place. As the world dies the laws of nature have changed, it is just one way the Earth has become unrecognizable. It is a sub-genre about the end of time—not about the aftermath of a catastrophic event—and a sense of melancholic reflection permeates the story.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Dying Earth Fantasy genre

 

Strong sexual elements define this sub-genre. However, it is difficult to pinpoint the scope of the genre—just how much sex and how much detail makes a fantasy story Erotic Fantasy? Erotic fiction deals with sex and sexual themes and is meant to arouse the reader. The Fantasy genre suspends reality, has an otherworldly setting, and is imaginative—it has few boundaries, which is beneficial to the telling of an erotic tale. With no boundaries and plenty of room for imagination, Erotic Fantasy definitely has the potential to stimulate readers

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Erotic Fantasy genre

 

Fantasy of Manners is a fairly literary sub-genre with a wry tone. The wittiness is found in the dialogue, and also in the narration. A witty tongue, and manners themselves are used as weapons to negotiate the social structures of the world. The plot is fraught with tension, but the events are on a small scale—they are very important to characters but are not world changing, though the events do have effects socially. Indeed, the social aspects of the world are forefront in Fantasy of Manners—class position and hierarchy are very important.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Fantasy of Manners genre

 

The future does not belong to Science Fiction. In this sub-genre a story is set in the future, but draws on the traditions of the whole fantasy genre by incorporating and reinventing common tropes. The sub-genre is defined primarily by its time period—some point in the future. However, the sub-genre also has a certain atmosphere. There is a bleakness to Futuristic Fantasy, a sense of menace, either from the technology or the magic that is present.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Futuristic Fantasy genre

 

Gaslamps were in widespread usage before the advent of electricity, especially in urban settings. The technology was used indoors, but more significantly it was used to light public areas outdoors. The technology was relatively short lived, but its period of use defines the setting of the Gaslamp Fantasy sub-genre: the Regency, Edwardian or Victorian era with heavy British influences. The world of Gaslamp Fantasy resembles our history, but includes supernatural and Gothic elements. The sub-genre has a focus on atmosphere and ambiance. What Gaslamp Fantasy is not: it is not punk; it is not dystopian; it is not science fiction; it does not make technology or industry central to the plot.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Gaslamp Fantasy genre

 

Gritty Fantasy is, in some ways, a reaction against the light fantasies—stories where a band of heroes who have right on their side overcome evil. Gritty Fantasy is dark, it is violent, it is graphic, it is challenging—the grime of the world is present. A defining characteristic of the sub-genre is that the world is grey—there are darker and lighter shades of grey, but there is no innocence and no absolute evil. Characters in Gritty Fantasy are flawed—they make bad decisions, they have vices, they have corrupt worldviews, they die. Each character is complex and has the potential for good, for evil, or neither—they are complex in a very real way. This is a darker, edgier version of fantasy for a modern world.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Gritty Fantasy genre

Also check out our Best Gritty Fantasy Books list

 

Hard Fantasy is highly detailed fantasy. World-building is key to the sub-genre because the world is not only built for the reader to see, but for the reader to understand. For example, readers will understand the complexities of the magic system, how the system works and where magic comes from, all the details have a consistency that readers will understand. The level of detail put into Hard Fantasy creates a deep world and story because if there’s ten pages about the development of magical weapons, they must have significance to the story. All of the details works together to create a complex story. Hard Fantasy also has a tendency to the darker and grittier side of the genre.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Hard Fantasy genre

 

High Historical Fantasy draws together elements of two other sub-genres, High and Historical. This sub-genre takes place in a historical setting (usually pre-twentieth century) and tells a story of epic heroism. It is a world rich in detail and populated with larger-than-life characters (often historical figures). The scope of the story is epic—battles between good and evil are often the driving force of the plot.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the High Historical Fantasy genre

 

This sub-genre encompasses both children’s fantasy and young adult (YA) fantasy and just means that the story is written for a younger audience. There are no hard and fast rules for a Juvenile Fantasy story, but they are often bildungsroman (coming of age stories), with a younger protagonist, feature lessons or messages, and embrace the other worldly and wonder that the fantasy genre offers. Even though the stories are intended for a younger audience, adult readers can also enjoy them. Indeed, the Harry Potter series was so successful because it appealed to all age groups.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Juvenile Fantasy genre

 

This sub-genre is inspired by ancient legends. This sub-genre brings to life, once again, old stories and characters of legendary stature. These are powerful stories with huge characters that offer the reader some kernel of truth. Thus, legends are taken up again and again to be told anew for a new audience. Usually, it is important to be familiar with the legend before reading the retelling, otherwise a bit of meaning can be lost. Retelling a legend means walking a fine line—the author must pay homage to the old legends, but also reinvent them and make them new again.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Legend-Retelling Fantasy genre

 

A large and growing sub-genre with no specific defining characteristics. Books in the Media tie-in sub-genre build on stories from other media (television, movies, games, etc.) in order to create a richer and more engaging fantasy world. These stories delve into the pasts or futures of characters and really let fans of an existing story or franchise immerse themselves in its world. Media tie-in is not fan fiction, it works with the canon of an already created world and its characters and goes deeper.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Media tie-in Fantasy genre

 

The Medieval fantasy sub-genre uses the medieval era as a setting and often encompasses elements of High and Epic Fantasy. Medieval Fantasy stories take up elements of the middle ages, specifically European culture, society and government. Often folklore or a romanticized version of history are used as a basis for the fantasy world. This sub-genre has been around awhile, it has a strong tradition, and easily recognized characters. The sub-genre itself is easily recognizable because it is used so often—even stories that don’t take place on Earth often have a pseudo-medieval feel to them. Knights, sorcerers, wenches, swords, horses, castles, and more all have a home in the Medieval Fantasy sub-genre.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Medieval Fantasy genre

 

Mundane Fantasy contrasts with the High fantasies and the Epic fantasies—it’s smaller in scope, it’s less focused on world-building, it’s not exotic, suspension of disbelief is not a requirement. The mundane can manifest in fantasy in a number of ways: magic and/or supernatural forces exist in our world, but they are a secret or magic is so intrinsic a part of the world that it is itself unremarkable, like traffic lights. This sub-genre takes something fantastic, like the existence of wizards, and makes it logical and rather unremarkable. The world is recognizable, which is quite a departure from the more traditional fantasy sub-genres that are filled with exotic lands. Characters are also easier for readers to identify with because they are more contemporary figures—no cliché knights in shining armor here.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Mundane Fantasy genre

 

Mythic Fantasy is a sub-genre that takes old myths and incorporates them into a world much like our own. The world is infused with the myths—it is magical and mysterious. This sub-genre takes elements of a myth, or retells the myth entirely, in a new story with a modern edge (any mythology can be used, and sometimes a whole new mythology is created). Origin stories are important, if not central, to the story and its characters because it adds depth to the world. Indeed, because mythic fantasy is inspired by rich cultures and mythologies, the stories are imbued with a rich depth.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Mythic Fantasy genre

 

Politics are tricky because opinions are strong and varied. There are lots of sides to a political issue and this provides depth. As a result of this depth and its potential for tension, Politics can be a very powerful device or theme in literature. Politics bring conflict as well as social commentary which enrich the story. In Fantasy, politics can be a huge component to world building, but in Political Fantasy the structure of society, the politics that build it, and the powers that shape it are the focus of the story. Because the world can be wholly imagined, this sub-genre is not exclusive, meaning that Political Fantasy stories often bring in elements of other sub-genres—a combination like Epic Political Fantasy is common.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Political Fantasy genre

 

A doorway has opened to a magical world and a would-be hero has stepped through—that’s how almost all stories in the sub-genre of Portal Fantasy begin. The portal is a magical doorway connecting two locations separated by space-time. The hero either passes through it willingly or is summoned to the other world—usually to help save the other world. The hero usually spends the whole story trying to get home. But what draws readers to this near clichéd sub-genre? The portal itself is a powerful metaphor—it forces us to enter the unknown and open ourselves up to its possibilities. Even with its predictable plot, the reading experience this sub-genre offers can be unpredictable, because we never know what lies on the other side.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Portal Fantasy genre

 

“Say it, reader. Say the word ‘quest’ out loud. It is an extraordinary word, isn’t it? So small and yet so full of wonder, so full of hope” (Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux). The quest story has a long tradition with which all readers are familiar. Quests are a satisfying story for readers because the hero is working towards a specific goal that will test the hero, but it is an inspiring story. Despite the obstacles a hero encounter’s on the journey, the hero will overcome them, or recover and keep on trekking. Thus, the arc of the hero is very satisfying, readers will feel all the tension and emotion that quests are fraught with—readers will become invested—and there will be that moment of catharsis. The goal is important, but it’s just an object looming at the end of story—the journey, what’s in between, is what makes the story.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Quest Fantasy genre

 

Series Fantasy is vast—stories built over time, arcs stretching and connecting across multiple novels and short stories. A fantasy world is created and built upon, multiple authors sometimes contributing to its development. New subplots are developed and new characters are introduced to the shared world. Stories that are added to the series after the original stories, the canon, are able to focus on characters and developments rather than world building. Continuity is the core of this sub-genre. Keeping the history of the world straight and the characters from moving into believable roles and directions is key to maintaining the believability of the world.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Series Fantasy genre

 

A highly stylized sub-genre set in an alternate history, specifically a Victorian-era society in which steam technology dominates. The aesthetic of the world is very important in this sub-genre (gears, brass fixtures, imaginative technologies, etc.). However, the story also offers social and political critique, often about the negative effects of technology or industry. Steampunk stories have a gritty edge and a dystopian worldview. The “punk” in Steampunk is this grittiness and social critique combined with an emphasis on individuality—setting oneself apart from the status quo.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Steampunk Fantasy genre

 

Swashbuckling Fantasy is most easily described as a fantastical adventure. Plenty of energy and witty retorts, this sub-genre is meant to entertain. There are action sequences, witty dialogue, camaraderie, the chance for glory, and some romance thrown in. These stories will break you away from any sense of monotony. Swashbuckling Fantasy stories tend to be a bit glamorous—funny and action packed absolutely, but a bit more on the shiny side of life.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Swashbuckling Fantasy genre

 

Vampire Fantasy has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years, especially in the YA genre, but the folklore surrounding vampires dates back more than a century. Since then, vampires have evolved from corpse-like agents of Satan to a human-like figure who is not always a representation of evil. While vampire fiction used to belong to the Horror genre, the newer tales with more romance and YA elements tend to be more Fantasy than Horror. In much the same way that authors create their own magic systems, authors create their own vampires. Its abilities, weaknesses, habits, and physical form are redefined with each story.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Vampire Fantasy genre

 

Weird West Fantasy is a crossover sub-genre, bringing together elements of Fantasy with elements of the Western, namely the setting. The crossover comes naturally because the frontier brings things together—civilization and the unknown, natural and supernatural, tragedy and wonder. The sub-genre has limitless possibilities for storytelling because the Western setting is full of unanswered questions, things unknown, and exploration. The unknown aspect of the Weird West Fantasy is usually where the ‘weird’ comes from—usually supernatural in nature, sometimes scary, and always something out of the ordinary.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Vampire Fantasy genre

 

An old genre of Chinese literature, Wuxia is filled with martial arts, heroes, honor, and chivalry. Wuxia stories are grand stories pitting good against evil. The hero, a martial artist with unsurpassed skill and a strong code of justice and chivalry rights the wrongs of their community, most often with the use of force. So what makes this old Chinese genre fantasy? Most Wuxia stories take place in a fantasy counterpart culture, a re-imagined Imperial China with a mythic, almost supernatural, atmosphere. Magic, magical weapons, demons, gods, sorcerers, and fantastic creatures are all common elements in this imagined world.

For more information, view the FULL guide to the Wuxia Fantasy genre

 

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