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Heroic Fantasy

What is Heroic Fantasy?

Heroic Fantasy has been bypassed recently by other fantasy genres, but the affinity of young males for comic book-style heroes pretty much guarantees the longevity of this form, which was once the backbone of the entire fantasy genre.

These are action/adventure stories on as grand a scale as the author feels like cooking up—this world, whether long ago or in the distant future, another planet, another dimension. The hero is typically humble, unassuming, and/or reluctant to take on his role as savior of said world/planet/dimension. He also has noble lineage which makes him uniquely qualified for that role, although he's initially unaware of the glorious fact. His birthright includes magical powers, of course, which he may sometimes prefer to use over weaponry. The hero is  generally pretty kick ass and ranges from a man or woman who’s smarter, stronger (physically or magically), or in some way more gifted than the average person to heroes with almost god-like powers (usually achieved only through great struggle, and if an epic fantasy, after many books and a long quest).

In these stories, “...all men are strong, all women beautiful, all life adventurous, and all problems simple...”, explains L. Sprague de Camp, an author credited with igniting a renaissance of the form in the late 1960's. It's pure escapism, and one of the most fun sub-genres in fantasy. You can be assured of comedy, drama, despair, and triumph in measures that satisfy formulaically, but completely.

Perhaps the best example of High Fantasy we could give would be Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind which is through and through high fantasy (the focus is on the change in the protagonist as he moves through the world) while the quintessential epic fantasy work would be Tolkien or Jordan's Wheel of Time.

Heroic Fantasy versus Epic Fantasy

Many epic fantasy books incorporate elements of Heroic fantasy in them – most epic fantasy features a key hero character. However, epic fantasy is not necessarily Heroic Fantasy while heroic fantasy can be epic fantasy. Some argue that Heroic and Epic fantasy are two sides of the same coin, while others see them as separate subgenres.

Heroic Fantasy versus Sword and Sorcery Fantasy

Sword and Sorcery is often called Heroic Fantasy, though one can argue there are some subtle differences. Sword and Sorcery certainly incorporates many of the Heroic Fantasy traits. The differences are that Sword and Sorcery, in its truest form, tends to be set in a landscape that's not well defined. The landscape is like a play stage where the props are all visible on the stage, but there is nothing outside of the curtain. You won't see well realized peoples, cultures, or even other characters. The focus is not on the surroundings, but on the hero, who churns through the landscape like a force of nature. Sword & Sorcery tends to utilize the pulp format.

Note: you should look at our Best Sword and Sorcery books list and our Best Epic Fantasy Books list for a list of (more) books that fall under this category. Also check out the Epic/Quest Fantasy Books list.


Herioc Fantasy Characteristics

  • Level of Magic

    Magic exists, but the action/adventure angle of these works provides more opportunity for the hero to skillfully wield weapons to overcome villains.

  • Level of Characterization

    Low, with stock good and evil opponents. This is not meant to imply the characters are boring, but that they will not keep you guessing.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    All aspects of plot are straightforward in these stories.

  • Level of Violence

    A high level of violence is featured, and may sometimes be paired with sexuality to some degree..

Related Fantasy Subgenres



  • Some dispute this category as a true sub-genre, for being too closely related to Epic High FantasyGritty fantasy often incorporates heroic fantasy elements, as does Political Fantasy Certainly Sword and Sorcery is a related subgenre.Coming-of-Age fantasy stories are often heroic in nature too, as such stories center about the rise of a hero. In truth, most of the fantasy subgenre's have some elements of heroic fantasy to them. The Sword and Sorcery and the Epic Fantasy genres are the most closely related ones.

Heroic Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

You are left unsatisfied with simple, shallow cliches in characters and morality. There is also generally a good deal of violence in this type, as well as a reliance on stereotypes of a cultural and sexual nature.

Popular Heroic Fantasy