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Your Preferred Sub-Genre

Philip Overby

Article Team
So, sub-genres were created by publishers and some smaller writing communities to form a specific niche for their audiences. Fantasy is known for having several sub-genres of varying popularity. When writing, do you have a specific sub-genre in mind? Or do you just write and worry about all that later? I think being aware of sub-genres can help a lot when navigating where you want your work published. Some markets will even specifically say what sub-genres they don't want (I see urban fantasy listed a lot for some reason.)

Below I've listed several popular sub-genres in fantasy. Do you feel like your fantasy stories fit in amongst these categories? I can almost 99 percent guarantee your WIP at least partially fits into one of these sub-genres if not several of them. Most of the results paraphrased from Wikipedia.

1. Comic fantasy-typically involves a comedic aspect or can be more light-hearted.
a. Terry Pratchett
b. Robert Aspirin
c. Piers Anthony
d. Monty Python
e. The Order of the Stick web comic

2. Dark fantasy-a broad genre that usually includes elements of the horror genre in a fantasy story
a. The Dark Tower series
b. Clive Barker
c. Karl Edward Wagner
d. Anne Rice

3. Contemporary fantasy
-a sub-genre that usually includes a real world setting that includes elements of fantasy, such as magic or creatures, or uses alternate worlds
a. The Borrowers
b. Mary Poppins
c. Philip Pullman
d. Terry Brooks
e. Night Watch
f. Harry Potter

4. Heroic fantasy-a story in which a hero is put forth on a journey that he may or may not want to go on, in order to save the day/world
a. Lord of the Rings
b. C.S. Lewis
c. T.H. White
d. E.R. Eddison
e. William Morris
f. Evangeline Walton

5. Magic realism-a style of story in which magic is presented as being a real life, normal thing and not something out of the ordinary, usually used in real world scenarios
a. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
b. Toni Morrison
c. Franz Kafka
d. Laura Esquivel

6. Mythic fantasy-a style of fiction that draws from tropes, themes, symbolism, mythology folklore and fairy tales
a. Peter S. Beagle
b. Charles de Lint
c. Neil Gaiman's Anasi Boys
d. Susanna Clarke

7. Paranormal fantasy-usually fantasy that deals with paranormal phenomenon such as ghosts, vampires, time-travel, and psychics
a. The X-Files
b. Supernatural
c. The Exorcist
d. Stephanie Meyer

8. Sword and Sorcery-
fantasy that usually deals with heavy action in addition to a warrior type character battling malevolent forces, usually wizards, warlocks, or demons
a. Robert E. Howard
b. Michael Moorcock
c. Fritz Lieber
d. Charles Saunders
e. David Gemmel
g. C.L. Moore

9. Epic/High Fantasy-usually these two terms are interchangeable, but this style of fantasy relies on a "secondary world" meaning a world separate from our own where the rules of physics may be different due to magic or some other aspect, also tends to be fiction that has world-wide ramifications (save the world, unite a kingdom, etc.)
a. J.R.R. Tolkien
b. C.S. Lewis
c. Robert Jordan
d. Brandon Sanderson
e. David Eddings
f. R.A. Salvatore
g. Terry Brooks
h. Terry Goodkind
i. Ursula K. Le Guin
j. Raymond E. Feist
k. Christopher Paolini
l. George R.R. Martin
m. Steven Erikson

10. Low fantasy-tends to take place in the primary world (our world) and deals with magic as something that is not commonplace, tends toward realism, can be similar to contemporary fantasy
a. The Green Mile
b. Pippi Longstocking
c. Tuck Everlasting

11. Historical fantasy-uses elements of real history to tell a fantasy story
a. One Thousand and One Nights
b. James Stephens
c. Evangeline Walton
d. Katherine Kurtz
e. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
f. Steampunk-uses steam technology based in worlds similar to Victorian and Edwardian periods
g. Wuxia-martial arts blended with fantasy such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
h. Medieval fantasy-fantasy based in the Medieval period
j. Pre-historic fantasy-fantasy based in pre-historic times such as the Earth's Children series

12. Urban fantasy-fantasy that takes place in a city or urban setting
a. Laurell K. Hamilton
b. Jim Butcher
c. Jennifer Rardin
d. Kim Harrison

13. Dying Earth-a genre in which the world is on the verge of extinction, can be SF or fantasy
a. Jack Vance
b. Greg Bear
c. Gene Wolfe
d. Brian Aldiss

14. Weird fiction-
weird fiction is named such because it was around before genres became popular so it encompasses most of what was published in the pulps of the 19th and 20th Century
a. H.P. Lovecraft
b. Lord Dunsany
c. Arthur Machen
d. M.R. James
e. Algernon Blackwood
f. Robert E. Howard
g. Shirley Jackson
h. Thomas Ligotti

15. New Weird/Slipstream-a type of fiction where several different genres seem to cross over together to form a blend of each genre
a. China Mieville
b. Jeff VanderMeer
c. Ann VanderMeer

16. Gritty fantasy-not really a defined genre, but generally has more "down and dirty" type characters and plots, can usually be combined with other genres, no characters are safe, such as life
a. Glen Cook
b. George R.R. Martin
c. Joe Abercrombie
d. Scott Lynch
e. Richard K. Morgan


Where do you fit in? Multiple places? None? Thoughts?
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4, 8, 9, and 11 are my favorite genres. I gravitates towards warrior-type characters in historical settings most of all.


Myth Weaver
Primarily epic fantasy, but I would say that heroic fantasy also fits.

Interesting that some form of romantic fantasy isn't listed. I'm pretty sure that there are people who make a good living writing it; a buddy was telling me about an author just last night. I'm not talking about a romance that has fantasy elements, but a fantasy story that places a lot more emphasis on the romantic aspects; that's kind of what I'm going for.


Felis amatus
I like all of those.

I have a hard time finding anyone who does fantasy comedy well. I like Monty Python and OOTS, but most of what I've read in the way of fiction doesn't do much for me (as opposed to Douglas Adams, who I think was great). I've tried Pratchett. I tried to read The Colour of Magic when it first came out. I made it about forty pages in and threw the book aside. After being assured by friends that I was just the sort of person who'd like Pratchett, I've tried half a dozen of his other novels with the same result. Recently (a month ago), I tried The Colour of Magic one more time. I made it perhaps 60 pages.

Despite a few smirks, the guy just isn't that funny and furthermore he's boring. Yes, it is my type of humor, and yeah I get what he's trying to do; he's just not doing it very well. Pratchett puts me to sleep.

If I had to pick favorites from the list: 2, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15. I also like science fiction and horror :)


Myth Weaver

4 - my new WIP involving sentient wolves seems to fit this

5 - definitely my main fantasy RP, with crossovers into 9

6 - my Faerie duology fits this quite well

11 - my vampire novel, no doubt, as well as the tie-in and spinoff RPs


I tend to have favorite authors more than favorite subgenres, though my shelves lean in the direction of sword and sorcery, weird, and magical realism more than the others.

I think these preferences come down to questions like how much mystery one likes, the kind of plot devices one prefers (or disdains), and for fantasy in particular, the role we want magic to fulfill. I myself like a setting to be consistent but enjoy the unexplained. I'd rather read about conflicts that are personal or otherwordly and often find political conflicts boring. I generally lose interest if a setting feels too much like Tolkein+, if the plot concerns a hero who finds the villain's convenient weakness in the Sword of Destiny, or if the supernatural feels a bit too D&D (with comprehensible and detailed rules).

Well-written epic fantasy of the last half century avoids all that, of course. But these are the generalizations that make up a genre.


Queen of Titania
My Joan of England Trilogy would be a mixture of Contemporary, Heroic, Paranormal, Historic, Dying Earth and Gritty Fantasy... What an unusual combination!!

I want to create a new Fantasy sub-genre of my own =)

About my other Fantasy series... They do not fit into any of those at all.


9 Epic - not gritty

11 Historical / 4 Heroic / 8 Sword & Sorcery

The Epic I write includes bits of the other 3 cathegories (and probably from the rest as well)


My current work fits in with mythic, heroic, paranormal, comic, epic/high, and sword and sorcery... although he isn't a warrior, he's going to become a pirate... I hope that fits in there? Mine is going to be like steam-punk, but I'm going to use another element, so ima create my own genre... element here + punk. :]


4 and 9 are my absolute favorites, and they kinda overlap for me. Although I have enjoyed some type 11 (Temeraire, Wuxia) and some type 6 (Merlin tv series, Kane Chronicles) specifically. I've read a little bit of type 1 (Enchanted Forest Chronicles), though not much. I have no taste at all for 16.

And I'd put Percy Jackson under Mythic or Heroic rather than Historical. It briefly mentions some historical figures, but it's not really "historical" other than a few cameos.

Philip Overby

Article Team
Most of the examples I've given are just samplings of what I found. Some of these novels or others listed can fit into different types of fantasy obviously. Percy Jackson probably would be considered Mythic first and foremost.

I didn't list Romantic Fantasy, although that's it's own massive sub-genre of romance. And then Romantic Fantasy probably has several sub-genres amongst that category as well.

My tendency is to want to offer something that would be dark, comic, sword and sorcery, weird, and gritty altogether, with maybe some epic thrown in for good measure.


I haven't thought much in to sub genres so this was fun to go through. I think I am a mesh of 2, 4, 6, 15, and 16.


Myth Weaver
Great - a not quite clone of the list that drives me nuts at 'Duotrope' and elsewhere.

Yes, I've read an enjoyed books in most of the listed catagories.

4 and 9 might as well be one and the same. 2, 4, and 16 could probably also be combined (and are, in some versions of the list I've seen).

7 and 10 seem pretty closely related.

My own work, though...depends on the story. Because I draw on Lovecraft, I suppose 14 would be continuous element, though 9 and 16 are also there.

And yes, Romantic Fantasy is BIG: Wattpad lists something on the order of 300,000 fantasy works (depressing), and of those about a third are 'Romantic'. And a lot of the contemporary fantasy on the store shelves these days, is to all intents and purposes, romance.
I'm a punk. Steampunk, cyberpunk, dungeonpunk, biopunk, even splatterpunk--it just needs to have a little grit, a little grease, and a nice mix of the logical and the surreal.

Philip Overby

Article Team
I'm a punk. Steampunk, cyberpunk, dungeonpunk, biopunk, even splatterpunk--it just needs to have a little grit, a little grease, and a nice mix of the logical and the surreal.

I never quite understood what the -punk suffix meant. Does it mean it's grittier? I know what some of those are, but what is dungeonpunk?

Great - a not quite clone of the list that drives me nuts at 'Duotrope' and elsewhere.

I don't think we had this type of list here, so it may be helpful for members that want to find markets and maybe one of these sub-genres is listed. Like I said at the beginning, some markets will list "We don't want urban fantasy." It helps writers to know what classifies urban fantasy so they don't waste their time submitting to a market that doesn't want it.


Myth Weaver
I almost went and started a thread on this a while back.

I don't think we had this type of list here, so it may be helpful for members that want to find markets and maybe one of these sub-genres is listed. Like I said at the beginning, some markets will list "We don't want urban fantasy." It helps writers to know what classifies urban fantasy so they don't waste their time submitting to a market that doesn't want it.

The problem is the numbers and definitions of the sub-genres vary from site to site. Heroic gets merged with Sword and Sorcery. Paranormal gets combined with Contemporary.