Discussion: Fantasy- Not All Created Equal

September 4, 2017     erinthebooknut     Discussion, Feature

Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE fantasy. It’s the genre I pretty much live in and I sprinkle in other genres as my mood demands. The thing is FANTASY is an all encompassing term people use for a bunch of different kinds of stories under that banner, but they are not all the same.

So let’s discuss these kinds of fantasy and what all the different terms are talking about.

When someone talks about Urban Fantasy they’re talking about real world settings, usually in cities. Sometimes used interchangeably with Low Fantasy or Contemporary Fantasy, they’re not quite the same thing. Low fantasy is a a lesser used term for any fantasy set in a real world setting, while Urban is city focused. Yes I’m aware this is semantics, but it’s semantics I will stand behind. I don’t consider magical stories set in farmland urban fantasy.

Next you’ve got Paranormal Fantasy which is fantasy focused on paranormal creatures. These are your vampires, your werewolves, your fairies, usually still in contemporary or sometimes historical settings. As you may notice some of these subgenres of fantasy bleed into one another, but hardcore fantasy fans will insist on using one term over another. Admittedly I am guilty of this.

High or Epic Fantasy encompasses fantasy set in completely new, and often medieval style worlds. These are your sweeping stories with lots of characters and epic battles. You may also hear the term Sword and Sorcery in the adult sections of fantasy, referring to sword handling badasses, romance, and the supernatural. The difference in these two kinds of fantasy is is: S&S are more individualized stories where your high/epic style fantasies concern the well being and fates of who countries or worlds.

This is the point in this discussion where I realize how much of a raging fantasy nerd I am. And yet I’m really not sorry. ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH!

Portal Fantasy is kind of a mashup of two fantasy subgenres. These are your Narnia type stories, where characters in a contemporary or historical setting largely unaware of magic and the supernatural end up in a new fantasy world via some sort of magical travel (portal, spell, whatever). Sometimes this is reversed, where the fantasy character is transported to the real world setting.

Lastly you’ve got your Historical or Alternate Fantasy. These stories are set in real world historical times but incorporate magic and other fantastic elements. Within this genre lives Steampunk , an alternate fantasy in which steam powered tech is mixed with Victorian style things such as fashion, architecture, etc.. There’s also “Gunpowder Fantasy”, steampunk’s little brother set in Western style settings with guns and railroads mixed with the fantastic.

So now, a few examples!

Epic Fantasy

Historical Fantasy 


Low/Contemporary Fantasy

Paranormal Fantasy

Urban Fantasy

Certainly there are plenty of other kinds of fantasy, but these are probably among the most common, particularly in Young Adult. So the next time you’re looking for fantasy recommendations, try using one of these subgenres to pick your next read.

What’s your favorite kind of fantasy? Share your pick in the comments!


From my shelf to yours,





One response to “Discussion: Fantasy- Not All Created Equal

  1. This is such a great post! I’m so glad you explained low/contemporary fantasy — I’ve only heard the term “urban fantasy,” which doesn’t fit a lot of books that seem to fall under that category. What’s my favorite kind of fantasy? I’m tempted to say high fantasy, but when I think about my favorite books, they’re kind of all over the place!

    Serena | poetree

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