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The Many Shades of Fantasy

Not too long ago, I thought that literary categories were fairly simple. You had your fiction, and then you had your non-fiction…

But naturally, it’s not that simple at all. There are so many different types of fantasy alone that going through them all made my head swim. Of course, it does depend a little on just how picky you want to be. I’ve noticed on several websites that some of the listed categories could easily be merged or were mostly the same, save for a couple of small differences.


This list is by no means complete, neither am I saying that the examples I’ve picked are the only popular ones, but they are the ones I’ve come across most frequently. If you’d like more examples, keep scrolling! There are three links near the bottom πŸ™‚

High/Epic Fantasy

This is definitely the kind I read most often. In High/Epic Fantasy novels, magic is a known part of the lives of many people. There are rules regarding magic, specific natural laws that determine how exactly magic works, and the typical struggle between good and evil is also a very common theme. Fantasy novels of this category are best when they come with a world map and rich, well thought out history. Anything that makes a made-up world more believable is a good thing! Also, dragons. Although dragons aren’t necessary, but they are often a part of it.

Sometimes people differentiate between the two or only list one, but more often the two are seen as the same.

It’s easily my favourite genre; or it used to be – over the past year my reading interests have spread out considerably! I blame Goodreads.

Vampire Fantasy

If Twilight or Dracula come to mind, you’re in the right place. Vampire fantasy has changed a lot in recent years. Do you remember when meeting a vampire was not a good thing, or a hot romantic encounter, even? When they were terrifying creatures of the night who needed a stake through their twisted little hearts? When they were more likely to kill you than go shopping for dresses and flowers with you? Well, those classics still count, of course, but the genre itself has drifted more towards the other extreme recently.

I think it’s fair to say that these days, there’s something for everyone in this genre. There’s horror, but there’s also romance and an increase in teen literature.

Paranormal Fantasy

Unlike Vampire Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy isn’t limited to one type of humanoid creature. If we’re being perfectly honest, Twilight leans more into this category since there’s werewolves, too, but if you’re like me and you don’t care about Twilight you’ll likely forget about that quite often, like I did here. Oops.

In this genre, every kind of being is fair game. You’ve got vampires, werewolves, fairies, mermaids, witches, zombies, and any other fantastical creature you can imagine (not necessarily all in the same book). Often ideas are borrowed from folklore and take place in an urban setting – although the latter is not a necessity.

Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy is also often called Contemporary Fantasy, so don’t let the two different terms confuse you. A magical world usually hides behind the world we know, such as in Harry Potter or in A Darker Shade of Magic. When it’s not hiding it’s integrated into an urban, more ‘normal’ setting. Sometimes the magical aspect is accepted as a part of life, but like every other story there needs to be conflict, and in this genre that conflict often comes from the two sides not getting along.

Dark Fantasy

Dark Fantasy has a horror element to it, and is sometimes rightly referred to as Horror Fantasy. It’s similar to Paranormal Fantasy in that there’s demons, vampires, werewolves and all those other magical beings we love, minus the teenage infatuation. It’s more Dracula than Twilight.

I’m not a huge horror fan myself (my paranoid mind isn’t cut out for it) so I can’t think of any great examples, but feel free to add some in the comments.

This is me, every time I start a new book.


It’s important to remember that often, genres cross over into each other. It’s difficult to stay true to just the one category without leaning even a little into a different one. Harry Potter is a great example for that – it takes place in an urban setting, like London, but it has its own set rules for magic, too. (also dragons)

I hope these five examples have given you a better overview of all the possible genres out there. Fantasy is a vast, vast category, and I hope that this has given you a good idea of just how vast it really is. Don’t be like me. Don’t think that you have your fiction, and then you have your non-fiction – because there is so much more to it than that!

For a more complete list, take a look at any of these:

Click me! And me! Me, too!

What’s your favourite fantasy genre, and what’s your favourite fantasy novel? Let’s have a chat and talk about books!


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  1. This is a really great post. Lots of food for thought!

    I can’t tell which is my favourite genre. I feel like I haven’t read enough books to make that judgement, but, then, I always feel like that. :’D

    I do know that I need to stop nitpicking and just give some books a go. If there’s one thing in the blurb I go, nope! And put it back. (Maybe not that extreme). (…OK, maybe yes, that extreme!) I have gotten better at that though.

    • Thank you! I hoped it’d be interesting πŸ™‚
      I agree with you, I can’t settle on just the one genre. I do read High Fantasy a lot but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like other genres, too!

  2. I tried to write a category, but gave up. I suppose I go by authors, currently Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn) Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence (Prince of Fools), Sarah J Maas (Throne of Glass) and Rachael Ritchley (Chronicles of the Twelve Realms).- sort of ‘Traditional’ fantasy?
    One category I have discovered on turning into my 60s was YA, there is some very good work being produced; the latter two authors being prime examples.
    I did try a couple of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, but drifted off not because I thought the work was not any good, but I’m just like that.

    • I do the same thing! If I loved a book by a specific author before I’ll give their new book a try, too, even if it doesn’t sound like something I’d usually read. I already know that I like their style, so why not?
      I agree with you on the YA category. It always sounded like something that would only appeal to teens, until I did some research into it and realised that actually it’s so much more than that.
      I haven’t read anything by Jim Butcher but will look him up πŸ™‚

      • Oh I agree there is some amazing YA I just finished ‘Front Lines’ by Michael Grant (an alt history of WWII in which women are drafted into the US army). Its premise is very clever and the narrative is captivating- first book in a long time where my day has been based around reading a book!
        YA is so much fresher too, because the author has to tread a fine line, they have to avoid clichΓ© style swearing, sex and violence while keeping to an intelligent track, also YA is a very wide audience, so many age groups!
        Jim Butcher’s central character is Harry Dresden as PI who is also a wizard, so the books have a Noir and Raymond Chandler feel- very clever Urban Fantasy.
        Best wishes

  3. My book is Epic/high fantasy. I have dragons, castles, swords etc. But instead of my characters using magic(besides witches which aren’t in it that much) they actually have powers. I always wondered would this make my book part science fiction as we’ll?

    • I don’t think your characters having powers rather than magic would change the genre. It’s your equivalent of a magic system so I’d say it still counts! Unless it’s completely different. It sounds really interesting, I’m looking forward to learning more about it!

      • I’m not that familiar with magic systems. I have only read a few fantasy books and I have played some fantasy video games. My characters abilities do have limitations and can only use there abilities so long before they need rest. Depending on the character, they usually only have one ability but it can be used in multiple ways. I suppose I’ll just stick with the fantasy tag. From what I know about superheros powers, my characters abilities don’t work that way.

  4. A great post πŸ™‚ I’ve always been someone who delves into the micro of things, so subgenres are something I am always aware of. It’s great that you’re sharing the knowledge.
    I sometimes wonder if we humans are too intent on categorizing/labeling every single little thing. Not just within the literary scene, but in our everyday lives…. ooh, veering towards rant territory… course correction…
    I have to agree: epic/high fantasy is my go-to for most reads. Explains why our books are in that genre too πŸ˜‰

    • Thank you! There are so many sub genres out there, I didn’t want to overload this post! πŸ™‚
      When I went through the other sub genres on other pages I wondered the same thing. There seem to be so many which are the same as others bar one little difference, and I wonder if it’s really necessary to create a whole new sub genre for that. One site I went to had three long columns and I think around 50 sub genres in total!

  5. I love all of the ones you mentioned and nice to have a break down! was a good read and gained a better understanding πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, I’m glad it helped you to a better understanding of the genre πŸ™‚

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