17 Common Fantasy Sub-Genres

The fantasy genre is rich with a myriad of sub-genres, and each has its own conventions and trends. With the different terms floating around out there it can be easy to confuse or overlook key sub-genres. Finding a succinct list of the most notable ones – particularly a list with definitions and examples – is not always straightforward. So I thought I’d put my reading and researching to use and assemble one.

You can click on the links in the menu below if you’d like to skip down to a particular sub-genre:

Fantasy Sub-Genres

Some of the below sub-genres overlap significantly, and the books given as examples may fit into multiple sub-genres, even if they are not listed in more than one. The “typical elements” I list are ones commonly found in books of that sub-genre, but they are not always present. If you would like a definition of the fantasy genre as a whole, see: What is Fantasy Fiction?

High Fantasy / Epic Fantasy

Book Cover: Lord of the RingsPerhaps the most traditional sub-genre, high fantasy or epic fantasy takes place in an entirely fictional fantasy world. The stories are often lengthy and epic, involving multiple characters and large-scale quests where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of the heroes. Some people use the term epic fantasy to specifically refer to more lengthy or large-scale high fantasies, however many (myself included) use the terms epic and high interchangeably.

Typical Elements: lengthy journeys, dragons, magicians, assassins, legendary swords, royalty, medieval societies, battles, a hero or heroine of humble origins, exotic names, a map on the inside cover.

Examples: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Final Empire, Assassin’s ApprenticeThe Lies of Locke LamoraThe Ill-Made Mute, The Name of the Wind, A Game of Thrones, The Fifth SeasonThe Emperor’s BladesSix of Crows, Tigana


Low Fantasy

Book Cover: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneA fantasy that takes place in the real world, or something very like the real world, and includes magical or supernatural elements (“low” does not mean this is a lesser or poorer form of fantasy!). Characters often discover secret magical forces or supernatural creatures within their supposedly normal surrounds.

Typical Elements: supernatural creatures, hidden magical spaces, real-world mythological influences, characters discovering the existence of supernatural forces.

Examples: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneNeverwhereShiverStorm FrontArtemis FowlWar for the Oaks, City of BonesTwilight


Portal Fantasy

Book Cover: The Chronicles of NarniaA fantasy where characters travel from the real world into a fictional fantasy world, often through a portal or gateway. They are usually swept up in the problems and politics of the fantasy world and become important to the course of history there, then return to the real world greatly changed by their experience.

Typical Elements: Magical portals, magical objects, evil kings or queens, problematic family relationships in the real world, time discrepancy between the two worlds.

Examples: The Chronicles of Narnia, Stardust, Peter Pan, Alice in WonderlandThe Subtle Knife, The Neverending Story, Mythago WoodDaughter of Smoke and Bone, The Autumn Castle, A Darker Shade of Magic


Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy

Book Cover: Storm FrontUrban fantasy can be tricky to define as it has been used in many different ways, often interchangeably with other fantasy sub-genre terms such as low fantasy and paranormal fantasy. While it generally describes a fantasy set in an urban environment or society, it has also become synonymous with contemporary fantasy – a fantasy set in the present day real world.

Thus an urban fantasy is generally understood to be a low fantasy set in a real-world, modern, urban society (or something closely resembling one). Many urban fantasies are also paranormal fantasies or paranormal romances.

Typical Elements: cities, secret supernatural underworld, hidden passageways, modern weaponry, interference from human institutions (e.g. police, lawyers), contemporary slang, colloquial language, pop culture references.

Examples:  Storm Front, War for the OaksCity of BonesAngelfall, NeverwhereMoon Called


Paranormal / Paranormal Romance

Book Cover: TwilightA paranormal novel or film is a low fantasy (i.e. set in the real world) in which supernatural creatures or talents exist and are a key focus of the story. This is often seen as a blend of the fantasy and Gothic/Horror genres.

A paranormal romance is a paranormal novel or film where romance is a key focus of the plot. It is usually, but not always, a romance between a supernatural being and a human.

Typical Elements: vampires, fairies, werewolves, angels, demons, witches, zombies, ghosts, psychics, love triangles, supernatural love interest, sex, female protagonist. 

Examples: TwilightThe Scorpio RacesVampire Academy, Shiver, Angelfall, FallenWarm BodiesHalfway to the Grave


Fantasy Romance / High Fantasy Romance

Book Cover: GracelingA fantasy romance is a high fantasy (i.e. set in a fictional world) in which romance is a core element.

Some people use the term to refer to any fantasy story with a romantic plot. However, because low fantasy with romance is usually dubbed paranormal romance, the term fantasy romance tends to be reserved for high fantasy romances. I often call it high or epic fantasy romance to make it clear what I’m referring to.

Typical Elements: medieval societies, royalty, politics, warrior-like female characters, romance, sex, magic, betrayal, cruelty.

Examples: GracelingKushiel’s Dart, Lord of the Fading Lands, Daughter of the BloodThrone of GlassBound, Shadow and Bone, Daughter of the Forest, A Poison Study, Strange the Dreamer


Young Adult Fantasy (YA Fantasy)

Book Cover: Vampire AcademyA fantasy that is primarily aimed or marketed at a young adult (teenage) readership, usually with young adult protagonists.

Typical Elements: orphans, young adult characters discovering hidden powers/skills, coming of age dilemmas, first romances, high school or school-like settings, adult mentors. 

Examples: Vampire AcademyDaughter of Smoke and BoneThe Scorpio RacesSabriel, Angelfall, TwilightGracelingThrone of GlassSix of Crows


Children’s Fantasy

Book Cover: Neverending StoryA children’s fantasy (sometimes called a juvenile fantasy) is one primarily aimed at children, usually with child protagonists. Sometimes novels are considered to be both YA fantasies and children’s fantasies, particularly if they appeal to an age group that bridges late childhood and the early teenage years. Interestingly, portal fantasies are also often juvenile fantasies (something I learned through putting together this list!).

Typical Elements: orphans, unhappy children, cruel or absent parents, princes, princesses, monsters (both friendly and unfriendly), fairy-tale influences, secret portals, tests. 

Examples: The Neverending StoryAlice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, Howl’s Moving CastleMatildaCoraline, The Northern LightsArtemis Fowl


Fairy Tale Retellings

Book Cover: Daughter of the ForestA fairy tale retelling, sometimes called a “modern fairy tale” is a fantasy that is based on or inspired by a fairy tale, or draws heavily on fairy tale tropes.

Fairy tale retellings are distinct from actual fairy or folk tales in that they are contemporary, novel-length or series-length stories with complex plots and characters. For more on the difference between a fantasy and a fairy tale, see the discussion of fairy tales below.

Typical Elements: curses that need to be broken, witches, wild forests, princes and princesses, evil queens or kings, monsters, wolves, romance.

Examples: Daughter of the Forest, Uprooted, The Wrath and the Dawn, Cinder, Ella Enchanted, BeautyBeastly, The Bear and the NightingaleEver After [Film], Maleficent [Film], Frozen [Film], Tangled [Film]


Sword and Sorcery / Heroic Fantasy

Book Cover: Conan the BarbarianHeroic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery are terms used to refer to high fantasy stories that focus primarily on “swashbuckling heroes”, swordplay, exciting battles and violent conflicts.

The term sword and sorcery was originally coined to describe (and often still refers to) the kinds of tales that appeared in the fantasy and science fiction magazines of the 30s and 40s, specifically those in the style of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

Typical Elements: mighty heroes, damsels in distress, battles, magic, swordplay, romance, moral ambiguity, action, conflict.

Examples: Conan the BarbarianElric of Melniboné, Swords and Deviltry, Jirel of Joiry, Legend > for more see this BestFantasyBooks.com article


Medieval Fantasy / Arthurian Fantasy

Book Cover: The Mists of AvalonA medieval fantasy is one with a setting strongly inspired by medieval society, or set during the medieval period. These stories often draw heavily on myths and legends from this period of history.

Arthurian fantasy is a subset of medieval fantasy that focusses on the legend of King Arthur or its elements, involving characters like Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, Uther, Mordred etc.

Typical Elements: Royalty, arranged marriages, patriarchal societies, battles, dragons, wizards, quests, knights, legendary swords.

Examples: The Mists of Avalon, The Once and Future KingA Game of ThronesAssassin’s Apprentice


Historical Fantasy

Book Cover: His Majesty's DragonA fantasy set in a historical period of the real world. These stories often offer an alternative version of history where magic and/or supernatural creatures exist and place a strong emphasis on historical accuracy (with regards to the elements that aren’t supernatural). They essentially blend the historical fiction and fantasy genres.

Typical Elements: Dragons, magicians, mythological influences, key battles/events in history, time travel.

Examples: His Majesty’s DragonJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Daughter of the ForestOutlanderThe Mists of Avalon, The Golem and the Djinni


Comic Fantasy

Book Cover: The Colour of MagicComic fantasy, also sometimes referred to as comedic fantasy, is a blend of fantasy and comedy, where the prime purpose is to amuse the reader and the tone is humorous. Typical fantasy elements and conventions are often satirised or subverted.

Typical Elements: Ridiculous or pathetic characters, quirky settings, absurd magical rules and creatures, subverted fantasy clichés, witty writing. 

Examples: The Colour of Magic [and all the Discworld Novels], Dark Lord of Derkholm, Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold, A Spell for ChameleonWarm Bodies


Science Fantasy

Book Cover: The Knife of Never Letting GoA blend of science fiction and fantasy, where advanced technology and the supernatural both come into play, or tropes from both genres are used. Often fantastical and impossible things occur under a thin guise of scientific credibility.

Steampunk sometimes falls into this category, though it is generally regarded as a sub-genre of science fiction.

Typical Elements: fantastical planets and alien races, magical technology, grand divine or supernatural forces at work, victorian era influences.

Examples: Dragonflight, CinderThe Knife of Never Letting Go, BlightbornPerdido Street Station, Shadows of the SelfSenlin Ascends, The Fifth Season


Grimdark Fantasy

Book Cover: The Lies of Locke Lamorahigh fantasy with a gritty or grim setting, often focussing on characters with less-than-impeccable morals, anti-heroes, or on criminal underworlds within fantasy societies. This sub-genre provides a contrast to more traditional fantasy worlds and their moral heroes, quaint medieval villages and resplendent cities.

Typical Elements: thieves, assassins, torturers, organised crime, filthy cities, torture, murder, rape, violence, corrupt rulers, anti-heroes.

Examples: Prince of ThornsThe Lies of Locke Lamora, The Blade ItselfA Game of ThronesDaughter of the BloodPerdido Street Station, The Black Company


Gothic Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

Book Cover: SabrielGothic fantasy is a blend of fantasy and horror, where elements of the latter (such as ghosts, the undead, haunted castles and monsters) form a key focus of the story or set its tone. It often aims to unsettle, chill or horrify the reader as well as to entertain.

Gothic fantasy is sometimes referred to as dark fantasy, however the term dark fantasy is a little ambiguous as it is also occasionally used to refer to grimdark fantasy.

Typical Elements: Ghosts, graveyards, crypts, tombs, zombies, monsters, necromancers, ruins, haunted castles, abandoned buildings.

Examples: Sabriel, Grimoire, The Graveyard BookCoralinePerdido Street Station, Something Wicked This Way Comes


The New Weird

Book Cover: Perdido Street StationThe new weird is a genre defined in Ann and Jeff Vandemeer’s anthology of the same name: “a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy.”

It has strong ties with the Gothic and horror genres and grimdark fantasy, as well as science fantasy, and is seen as a revival of classic weird fiction like that of H.P. Lovecraft.

Typical Elements: gritty realistic fictional settings, squalid cities, science fiction and fantasy tropes, non-typical story structure, horror and Gothic elements, morally ambiguous characters, dystopias.

Examples: Perdido Street Station, Annihilation


Related Genres

There are also some genres that are generally not considered part of the fantasy genre, but are closely related:

Speculative Fiction

This is a supra-genre, rather than a sub-genre. It’s a term generally used to encompass the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, superhero fiction and dystopian fiction. As the name suggests, these stories centre around speculative elements – characters, places or things that do not currently exist in our present-day world, but can be invented or imagined by humans. It’s a useful supra-genre as the genres it encompasses are very inter-related.


Horror / The Gothic

Book Cover: DraculaA Gothic novel is dark in tone, and aimed at giving the reader a sense of menace or “the uncanny” (unsettling them), and typically refers to novels written during the 18th and 19th Centuries when this style came into fashion. Southern Gothic is a more contemporary sub-genre, referring to Gothic novels that take place in the American South.

Typical Elements: endangered heroines, haunted castles, sinister past events, ruins, tombs, graveyards, ghosts, monsters, wild and intimidating landscapes.

Examples: DraculaThe Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein

Book Cover: CarrieHorror is generally seen as the contemporary descendant of the Gothic genre, and describes a story with a dark tone whose primary purpose is to scare, horrify or spook the reader.

Typical Elements: haunted houses, ruins, tombs, graveyards, ghosts, monsters, gore, demons, murderers, psychopaths, witches, zombies.

Examples: Carrie, The ShiningDracula, World War Z, The Passage, Let the Right One In, The Exorcist, Interview with the Vampire

Plenty of horror novels are also considered to be fantasy novels, and could technically be deemed so by most definitions of fantasy (due to the supernatural content). However, because the horror genre is so large, so rife with its own specific conventions, and so specifically aimed at scaring the audience, it is generally considered to be separate. Additionally, the horror genre, with its roots in the Gothic, developed somewhat separately from fantasy novels and traditions historically.


Fairy Tales / Fairy Stories

Book Cover: The Original Folk & Fairy Tales - Brothers GrimmFairy tales are generally considered to be precursors to or influences on the fantasy genre, rather than part of the genre, though some people would disagree with me on this point.

As I see it, fairy tales are short folk tales, often with a long oral history, that can involve magical or supernatural elements. They focus more on plot, have limited character development, and often involve repetition and a simple narrative structure.

By contrast, fantasies are novel-length or series-length stories with complex plots and multiple characters, and don’t usually follow traditional fairy tale structures.

However, the term “fairy tale retelling” or “modern fairy tale” is often used when a novel-length or film-length fantasy work draws heavily on the conventions of fairy tales.

Typical Elements: curses, princes, princesses, damsels in distress, repetition, children, witches, evil step-mothers, monsters, wolves, happy endings.

Examples: Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Bean Stalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White.

Writers and Collectors: see 6 Famous Fairy Tale Writers and Collectors


Dystopian Fiction

Book Cover: 1984A story with a dystopian or post-apocalyptic setting.

Dystopian fiction is generally regarded as a science fiction sub-genre, because the dystopias are usually presented as real possible futures without supernatural elements. However, some dystopian novels and films are also fantasies, if impossible happenings or magic are at play.

Typical Elements: Oppressive societies, secret rebellions, ruined cities, ostracised minorities, tyrannical governments, propaganda.

Examples of Dystopian Science Fiction: 1984The Hunger GamesDivergent, The Handmaid’s Tale, Ready Player One, Red Rising
Examples of Dystopian Fantasy / Dystopian Science Fantasy: ObernewtynAngelfallBlightbornWarm BodiesThe Knife of Never Letting Go


Magical Realism

OneHundredYearsofSolitudeA magical realist story is one where the impossible or supernatural happenings are likely the delusions, fantasies, or imaginings of the character/s (though whether or not they are is often kept deliberately unclear), or where they appear as non-central elements of an otherwise highly realistic setting.

This definition differs to many others out there, however I have personally found it to be the most useful way to differentiate magical realism from low fantasy.

Magical realist stories are generally not considered fantasies, as the fantasy elements are not presented as real or believable elements in the story. However, some would consider it a fantasy sub-genre, and in particular, a blend of literary fiction and fantasy. It is often associated with Latin-American literature because many of its founders and most prominent writers are Latin-American.

Typical Elements: characters trying to escape the harsh realities of the world, cruel authority figures, mental asylums, quirky imaginative characters, important historical events.

Examples: One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Kingdom of this World, The House of the Spirits, Big Fish, ChocolatPan’s Labyrinth [Film]


I’ve put together the above list from my own experience reading, researching and discussing fantasy novels, as well as from research into the genre terms themselves, and have done my best to cover all the important sub-genres. However, if you think I’ve misrepresented or left out an important sub-genre, feel free to mention it in the comments.

NOTE: I updated this post in April 2019 to add and edit a few book examples so they better reflect some sub-genres, as well as to add more information about heroic fantasy / sword and sorcery. I made another update in January 2023 to include more information and examples for Magical Realism.

73 thoughts on “17 Common Fantasy Sub-Genres

  1. Pingback: Reflective Journal Week 4: Defining fantasy as a genre – Elisha K Habermann

  2. Nice list. I never imagined considering Portal Fantasy as its own subgenre. By the way, I think you missed the most important example–the originator of the genre I believe– Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” I am reading that one now in preparation for someday writing my own portal story. It is…interesting. But I do like Twain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes you don’t see Portal Fantasy used as much as High and Low Fantasy but it does get the occasional mention. I think it’s a good way to describe those stories that connect real/modern worlds with imagined/past ones, as the stories do have their own particular flavour. And that’s very true about Connecticut Yankee, I didn’t think of it but it’s a classic! I’ve never read the book but plan to some day, I also like Twain.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yes I suppose it could… I guess it depends on how you interpret it. I personally think of Harry Potter as low fantasy because the magical world exists in the same space as real world, often just in deliberately hidden or protected pockets of it (such as Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, The Ministry of Magic, Platform 9 and 3/4 and the various houses of magical families) and the magical elements are simply kept secret. I tend to think of portal fantasy as that where characters travel into an entirely different world (more like Narnia).

          That said, Harry Potter has a lots of separation and portal-like connections between the magical and non-magical spaces, so I certainly wouldn’t say someone was wrong if they called it portal fantasy – just by my personal understanding of portal fantasy I wouldn’t think of it that way.


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  4. Fantastic list! Especially the further subgenres of dystopian fiction and dystopian fantasy. New books to discover and read. Although i do think dystopian fiction like 1984, Brave New World, and the literary works the genre has inspired into film, including Children of Men, that have a sophisticated and complex sociopolitical commentary on the world are actually of a different breed from a further subgenre of young adult fantasy novels, of which the latest are the Divergent, Hunger Games series of heroic young characters in a dystopian setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! That’s true, 1984 and Brave New World are very different books to The Hunger Games and Divergent, even though I’ve heard the term dystopia used for all of them. I suppose I’d probably differentiate by referring to ‘classic dystopias’ and ‘YA dystopias’. Though I do think YA dystopias can provide sociopolitical commentary very reminiscent of classic dystopias, if not always with the same level of realism or in the same style (for example, The Knife of Never Letting Go is quite bleak and explores complex sociopolitical ideas, albeit through the eyes of young adult characters). But yes, generally it feels a bit strange to put a book like Divergent in the same ‘basket’ as 1984!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the wonderful list. It’s a really good piece of work and interesting and insightful to read.

    You left out mythological fiction. I consider it to be an important subgenre (at least it’s important to me as a reader and a writer – it’s the kind of fantasy I love the most). Amazon lists mythology as a major subgenre of fantasy (and fairy tales as a sub-sub genre of mythology), and I feel that’s an accurate way to look at it.

    It’s separate from fairy tales and fairy stories (which I prefer to call folk tales unless, of course, they really are tales with fairies in them) because a lot of mythological fantasy fiction is a retelling or a re-imagining of popular myths and/or characters in myths. Or completely made-up mythologies. There may be (and usually are) fantastic creatures (not necessarily fairies), but there are often (or almost always) deities involved who mess with the protagonist’s lives or who are the protagonists.

    Examples include Morgan Llewelyn’s books that mix historical with Irish mythological elements. And American Gods and Anansai Boys.

    The whole Rick Riordan series of YA novels – there’s just a bunch of them. They’re not fairy stories, they’re mythological fiction.

    Also – made-up mythologies as in Michael Sullivan’s Age of Myth and a bunch of others that I can’t name right off (Kushiel’s Dart works as mythological fantasy, definitely).

    Lord of the Rings is high fantasy with some incredibly strong Norse/Germanic underpinnings.

    Thanks again for doing this work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked the list! And that’s interesting – I didn’t realise that was such a big sub genre on Amazon, but now you mention it I can think of a lot of books with a strong focus on mythology.

      I was actually considering updating this list and adding a ‘fairy tale retellings’ category because that sub-genre has become so big and frequently mentioned recently, but I hadn’t thought of fairy tales/folk tales as being a subset of mythological fiction – that does make sense.

      I guess my one problem is that so much fantasy is based in myth or has mythological elements that I would have trouble distinguishing mythological fantasy from any other kind of fantasy… but that said, there are definitely fantasy books with a stronger mythological basis/inspiration than others, like the ones you have mentioned. Anyway, thanks for commenting, I will be keeping my eye open for mentions of mythological fiction now!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s all just a question of perspective. Since it’s what I love, I notice it more. 🙂 Maybe thanks to Neil Gaiman and the Vikings series and the Marvel version of Thor (which isn’t really a bad take on the Norse myths at all), there’s been a renewed interest in mythology-based fiction – it might be trending. I have no idea since I don’t tend to follow trends in my reading.

        But, hey, it’s your blog and however you see things that’s how you see it. Keep up the good work! And thanks for continuing the conversation.

        Liked by 2 people

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  12. This is an interesting and quite inclusive list. I wonder, though, if some classifications (for instance, sword & sorcery, comic fantasy) could be considered rather as sub-genres, depending on their contents. For instance, I would consider The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, as High Fantasy, but under your classification it would be sword & sorcery; and the humorous fantasy authors (Pratchett, Fforde) would also fall under larger classifications, depending on what they’re writing. For instance, Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer would fall under Low Fantasy, since it’s magic within the real world, while Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men books seem more about world-building and a separate universe.

    One point with which I take exception (being a young adult literature teacher and a teen librarian) is clumping all YA together and making it a genre. YA is not a genre. WIthin YA there is realistic fiction, fantasy fiction, paranormal fiction, romance, dystopian…YA is simply an age group. All those books deserve to be reclassified within their particular genre, with the tag YA added. Considering YA as a genre is an undeserved generalization that I feel disrespects its authors.

    Other than that, I read your definitions and justifications with interest and learned some new terms. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, I’m glad you found the list interesting! Many books could definitely be labelled with several of the fantasy sub-genres above. I actually wrote this thinking of these as non-exclusive genre terms – so a comic fantasy can also be a high fantasy (or a low fantasy, as you mentioned in your example). You could certainly think of some as sub-genres of others, I just tried to keep it simple by avoiding nesting them.

      On a related note, I’ve actually long been of the opinion that we run into problems with genre classification when we try to exclusively categorise (i.e. to say a book is either one genre or another genre, but can’t be both). I’m very aware that this is often necessary for shelving books (especially, I imagine, if you are a librarian!), but so many books blend genres, and genres are so ever-changing, that in trying to see them as exclusive categories with hard edges I feel we are always fighting a losing battle. So I guess when I think of genres I like to picture online ‘checkboxes’ or ‘tags’ (like you mentioned for YA), similar to the way ‘shelves’ work on Goodreads, where one book can tick several at once. That’s not always practical in a physical scenario I know, but it helps me to think about it that way.

      I understand where you’re coming from with YA too – I often find it silly in bookstores when I have to walk between the YA section and the fantasy section to find the fantasy books I want, especially because sometimes the choice of which ones go where seems arbitrary (and disrespectful to the authors – as if a YA fantasy is somehow not pure fantasy so it has to go somewhere else). It’s certainly a target age group, but I guess it’s also a way people describe the kind of books they want to read – i.e. with YA protagonists or aimed at YA readers – so it’s become widely used as a genre term. Again I guess that’s why I like imagining the online tags instead of rigid here-or-there shelves. Books can have a YA tag, but they also get the other genre tags and aren’t lumped into one big ‘YA’ section. Certainly when it comes to my own personal bookshelf I don’t have a YA section – I shelve by sub-genres like high and low fantasy (though I still have lots of trouble deciding where things go!).

      Liked by 1 person

    • That depends on what citation system you’re using but if you want to know the author, that’s me – Nicola Alter (and in your sources list you would usually include the article title, the URL, the website name and the date you accessed it as well). Good luck with your essay!


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  18. A glaring omission: Dying Earth fantasy, invented by Jack Vance, and carried on by Michael Shea. And me.

    Also, what I might call Jungian archetypal fantasy, best represented by Robert Holdstock in his Mythago sequence.


  19. I’m totally awestruck by this detailed sub-genre list. You perfectly described a portal fantasy exactly like the one I have coming out in two weeks. People asked me what I meant by a portal fantasy, and they tried to correct me by saying that I meant urban fantasy. Not so. They are different entirely, in my opinion. Your examples were dead-on, and I’ve used them myself to explain this sub-genre. I’m shocked to think that Amazon does not define this genre in their definitions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes I’m a big advocate of the portal fantasy category! I’ve seen quite a few people just slot portal fantasies in with low fantasy and urban fantasy, but I find that problematic, especially if a lot of the action is happening in the fictional “high fantasy” world/s rather than the real one.

      In my mind the easiest thing is to have three main categories – high, low and portal fantasy. Much less room for confusion! That’s a shame Amazon doesn’t agree though.


  20. Not sure if it belongs on the lest, but perhaps worth mentioning anyway:
    Planetary romance, like the Barsoom novels by Burroughs. Often a mix of science fiction and sword and sorcery.

    “Post non-magical world”. Very clumsy description, but for the lack of a proper name, I’ll use it here. In science fiction there is a subgenre called “first contact”, and how the contact with aliens will affect society. Also invasion literature, where aliens invade earth. The story can focus on the actual invasion, shortly after it has happened, or a post-invaded earth when there is a resistance fighting against the invaders.
    The point is that the world went from a copy of our own to an unrecognizable world because of a single and specific incident. What if the same happened in fantasy? Magic is suddenly discovered or rediscovered, or some other fantasy elements suddenly turns out to be real in a world where it used to be just imagination, and it changes society. There is True Blood, but honestly I felt the sudden revelation of vampires and other creatures as something real had a minimal impact on society. Most people continued to live exactly as they used to before they learned about the supernatural beings (at least the first seasons. Later someone decided to go to war against them, but I hope there are other ways society can react than declare war, as there is a risk that it becomes repetitive in the long run.)

    As for fairytales, I feel that everything is possible there. Winds, trees and rocks can be sentient and talk, and nobody cares. There are zero explanations for how magic works (if it is referred to as magic at all), and the locations are not restricted to a specific time or place, only a country far away a long time ago. It usually, it happens in a small bubble and within a limited amount of time. The most important thing is the moral of the story, and all the impossible elements are accepted as real and natural by all the characters.
    There are not much of backgrounds or character development, which is not surprising considering the stories are pretty short.

    Also supernatural horror often happens in a bubble. The rest of the world, which could have been our own, is not aware of the malevolent forces (and or a secret society of demon worshippers) the main characters encounters. It usually have no impact on society, mostly because people are not aware of it.

    My impression of sword and sorcery comes from the essay The Hyborian Age by Robert E. Howard. It is generally not a secondary world, unless it is pointed out as in the stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but happens in our own past in a fictional and long gone era.

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  40. Thank you!
    I’m putting together a semester long Fantasy Literature course and this is a huge help.
    I do have one question, a lot of my students are also interested in what I would call “Eastern Fantasy.” Have you done any research into that subgenera? I know there are some major differences to ours since they deal a lot in cultivation and systems, but I am having to do this research myself.


    • Hi Scott, sorry for the slow reply! No I’m afraid I haven’t researched that sub-genre. I have recently seen the term SWANA used on Twitter instead of Eastern (in a book pitching contest) but I haven’t researched enough to say more about it. There are certainly a lot of fantasy books where I see culture/country/continent-specific terms used to describe them such as African fantasy, India-inspired fantasy and Asian fantasy, but I haven’t done enough research to get a full picture. I imagine it would be quite a large list of sub-genres if you were were looking at cultures/settings, and one that is perhaps changing a lot as people use a variety of terms.


  41. Magic Realism as a literary genre was born out of Latin America. Would highly suggest altering your list to include the most relevant magic realism stories, if you’re going to do so for the others: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Kingdom of this World


    • That’s a good suggestion, I haven’t read much magical realism (since I mostly focus on fantasy fiction) which is why all my examples were films. I also didn’t know about the literary genre’s Latin American origins. I’ll add that info and some examples.


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