Fantasy (Sub)Genres

A


Allegorical Fantasy - have a specific purpose: to make truths, morals,  philosophies, or lessons easily understandable. The use of characters and events symbolise a meaning or message that’s important to the author and presumably to the reader - the story and characters are not themselves. This type of story often has a religious or philosophical message. A major criticism of the genre is that it’s black and white - there is no middle ground and no grey. It’s also worth noting they have a deliberate message, it is not the same as a reader gleaning his or her own meaning from the story. 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


Alternate Historical 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


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. Sometimes the story is contained within the alternate world completely and sometimes someone from our world crosses over to the other world. The story presents the world as different from our own, but as completely ordinary to everyone in the story - unless the author employers the stranger in a strange land trope


Anthropomorphic Fantasy - the attribution of human characteristics to something else (usually animals) - language, clothing, housing, food, behaviours, relationships, thought processes. Often used to help convey a message or lesson. 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


Arcanepunk Fantasy - 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’ subgenres, 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


Arthurian Fantasy - 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


Assassin Fantasy Book - 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 romanticised


B


Bangsian Fantasy Book - a bit morbid, a bit comedic, a bit philosophical (or theological). 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


C


Celtic Fantasy - filled with mystery, imagination, myth, and magic - quite atmospheric. 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. Themes for Celtic Fantasy are often related to religion (Christianity and Paganism the most common) and the natural world


Children Fantasy - written with a child audience in mind. Usually ranging between 5 years old and 12 years old


Christian Fantasy - in a literal sense this is a fantasy sub-genre for Christians. In a more general sense it is a sub-genre that utilises 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 revinvents them in a magical and imaginative story. Christian Fantasy also draws on traditions, those of Christianity, and therefore offers a Christian world-view


Comic/Humorous Fantasy - fun, whimsical, benevolent, amusing, comedic, bumbling, ridiculous, ironic, loony. 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 gair game: legendary sword, maybe, but it talks back and makes fun of the protagonist at every opportunity


Coming-of-Age Fantasy - fantasy with a lot of focus on the journey from youth to adult                        


Contemporary Fantasy - set in the present day, or at least it was at the time written


Court Intrigue Fantasy - with a high level of complexity, stories are 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 word-building, and often revolved around life’s grey areas


Crossworlds Fantasyappeals to the imaginative child in all of us. 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


D


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


Dragon Fantasy - whether they’re friends, enemies, or vital forms of transport, dragons play a major role in all works of this subgenre


Dying Earth Fantasy - 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 unrecognisable. 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 


E


Epic Fantasy  - the most popular type of fantasy today. Usually associated with High 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


Erotic Fantasy - predicated on explicit sexual scenarios and tend to include quite a few sex scenes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it eschews plot


F


Fables/Fairytales & Retellings - fables and fairytales that many of us already know, but presented in a fresh new way. Usually contain similar morals and lessons to the original tales, especially if they’re targeted towards a younger audience (includes Folklore)


Fantasy - a form of literary genre in which a plot cannot occur in the real world. Its plot usually involves witchcraft or magic


Fantasy of Manners - stories 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


Flintlock Fantasy - refers to fantasy that incorporates flintlock guns, often taking place in an alternative history version of the 17th or 18th centuries when such weapons were popular


Futuristic Fantasy - 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


G


Gaslamp Fantasy - period of use of gaslamps 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 ambience. It is not dystopian; it is not science fiction; it does not make technology or industry central to the plot


Gothic Fantasy - stories that combine gothic elements of horror, death, and romance with the magic and imaginative concepts of fantasy


Grimdark Fantasy - sub-genre with a tone, style, or setting that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent. The term is inspired by the tagline of the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000: “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war”. Elements include: morally grey protagonists, gritty settings, depressed heroes, anti-heroes, etc.). Often takes place in the “underbelly” of a magical world and contains themes of violence, cynicism, or bleakness. They are grim and dark.


Gritty Fantasy - in some ways, it is a reaction against the light fantasies. It 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, for neither - they are complex in a very real way. This is a darker, edgier version of fantasy for a modern world                  

                                

Gunpowder Fantasy - predicated on the presence of gunpowder in the story. As a result, it more or less encompasses flintlock fantasy, in addition to more modern guns and gunpowder-related weapons


H


Hard Fantasy - 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. 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 work together to create a complex story. Hard fantasy also has a tendency  to the darker and grittier side of the genre


High Fantasy - classic definition 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. Can include many themes and may be serious in tone or epic in scale. Massively scoped out world filled with its own history, mythology, races, ideals, cultures, and more. It exists completely beyond the world we know


High Historical Fantasy - 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


Historical Fantasy - involved the retelling of actual events in human history, with a healthy does of the fantastical or magical thrown in to boot. Takes place in a real historical period. Factual, known elements  of that time period are emphasised, but also blended with alternative, supernatural elements


Heroic Fantasy - always focuses on the development of a hero and usually involves a quest of some sort. Strong elements of good and evil are often present though the 2000’s update   on the heroic fantasy now merges in grimdark elements


Horror Fantasy - stories intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, discuss, or startle its readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror which also incorporates elements of the magical and imaginative


J


Juvenile Fantasy - encompasses both children’s fantasy and young adult 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, with a younger protagonist, features lessons or m messages, and embrace the otherworldly and wonder that the fantasy genre offers. Even though the stories are intended for a younger audience, adult readers can also enjoy them


L


Legends and Retellings - 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 re-telling, 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


Literary Fantasy - fantasy with strong stylistic elements (in format or language) and more meaning behind the story that is first apparent


Low Fantasy - where traditional elements are not present (or emphasised). 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 a fairly active fantasy genre these days


M


Magic Realism - 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 utilise (spell, amulet, potion, incarnation). The main quality of Magical Realism is that magic must follow a set of established rules. There are often negative effects resulting from the use of magic, overuse of magic, or negative use of magic


Medieval Fantasy - 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. This sub-genre has been around awhile, it has a strong tradition, and easily recognised characters. The sub-genre  itself is easily recognisable 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


Media-tie-in Fantasy - a large and growing sub-genre with no specific defining characteristics. 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


Military Fantasy - focuses on 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 and military fantasy in that  military fantasy is about the military life and people in the military


Modern Folktales - types of fantasy that narrators tell in a traditional tale accompanying some typical elements, such as a strong conflict, little descriptions of characters, fast-moving plot with a quick resolution, and sometimes magical elements and vague settings. These tales are popular, as authors throughout history have written them


Mundane Fantasy - contrasts with the High fantasies and 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 word 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 remarkable. The world is recognisable, 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


Mythic Fantasy - 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 rich depth


N


New Weird Fantasy - fantasy that’s completely different from what one considers normal fantasy. Landscapes and peoples present in the novel are often bizarre; language is often highly stylised or poetic


O


Occult Fantasy - stories which explore the mysteries, often in pursuit of or being pursued by Secret Guardians or Secret Masters, in the hope of a revelation. The aftermath of this is usually a conflict between Good and Evil which often serves as the climax. The study of the occult is the pursuit of hidden or secret doctrine. The knowledge that is pursued is thus not unknown, but has been hidden from mankind as being too dangerous to know


P


Paranormal Fantasy - 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. The word paranormal means, essentially “something that exists outside of what we consider to be normal”. The thing that grounds paranormal fiction are the subjects and creatures - werewolves, vampires, ghosts, aliens, time travelers, etc. 


Political Fantasy - 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


Portal Fantasy - 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. 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


Q


Quest Fantasy - 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 encounters 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 the story - the journey, what’s in between, is what makes the story


R


Romantic Fantasy - a blend between the romance and fantasy genre. The focus of romantic fantasy is the romantic interactions between characters


S


Science Fantasy - 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


Series Fantasy - vast - stories built over times, 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

 

Steampunk Fantasy - a highly stylised 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


Superhero Fantasy - fantasy that contains science fantasy elements (usually high 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. Almost all, involve some strange, out-of-this-world (sometimes literally) phenomena occurring


Supernatural Fantasy - includes things that are beyond scientific understanding. Focuses on the supernatural elements that we consider commonplace in our world, like God, Satan, angels, demons, human souls, etc. Is a more common subgenre when dealing with religion and Christianity. Topics like resurrection, grace, afterlife, spiritual warfare, etc. are common concepts


Swashbuckling Fantasy - 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. All about adventure, whether that takes place at sea, on land, or in space. A sense of wildness and daring exploits, with classic hero-types always defeating their malevolent counterparts, usually in a creatively choreographed sword fight


Sword and Planet - melds science fiction and fantasy. The setting takes place on other planets than Earth and science/technology plays a part in some way


Sword and Sorcery - 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 centres around the antagonist or villain character. This genre is in a state of flux as new modern takes on the classic sword and sorcery and being penned. The genre has gone through different updates over the past 100 years. The modern take on this old genre stable includes heavy uses of magic and sword play but with a gritty, dark undertone. Often seen as the pioneer of fantasy, this famous sub-genre centres around sword-wielding heroes who go off  on exciting and violent journeys to save the day. Typically more character-driven and has a greater focus on the character arc


U


Urban Fantasy - 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. Typically, these books have a more gritty, noir feel to them


V


Vampire Fantasy - 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. In much the same way that authors create their own magic systems, authors create their own vampires. Its abilities, weaknesses, habits, and physical forms are redefined with each story. Fiction in this genre has become so vast that it has become its own sub-genre


W


Weird West Fantasy - bringing together elements of Fantasy with elements of the Western, namely the setting. The crossover comes naturally because the frontier brings things together - civilisation 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


Wuxia Fantasy - an old genre of Chinese literature, Wuxia is filled with martial arts, heroes, honour, 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. 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. This heroic martial artist tends to conquer others mostly through sheer physical prowess. Wuxia fantasy naturally tends to take place in Asia, often invoking an alternative history of imperial China


Y


Young Adult Fantasy - fantasy that targets young adults/teenages. The characters present in the story are often pre-teen or younger teenageers



If you can think, or know, of anything else that should be added/included in this list please comment below!



Resources 

http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php#allegorical-fan

https://www.theazrianportal.com/blog/types-of-fantasy

https://reedsy.com/discovery/blog/fantasy-subgenres

https://literarydevices.net/fantasy/

http://sf-encyclopedia.uk/fe.php?nm=occult_fantasy

https://aminoapps.com/c/paranormal/page/blog/paranormal-vs-supernatural/vd7R_v4zfnunrkQ2d7pv3YpJbrEwKvzkzxj


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