An Overview of the Fantasy Sub-Genres

As discussed previously, fantasy typically contains elements of magic and the supernatural. It can be set in “our world” with magical or supernatural rules applied to it, or it can be set in a fictional world as different from our world as the authors likes.

Fantasy has many sub-genres. The following list is far from comprehensive, but it should give you a better understanding of the more common fantasy sub-genres out there.

Contemporary Fantasy is set in our current reality and deals with contemporary issues, but in this reality magic exists.

Dark Fantasy is a blend of fantasy and horror. It uses common elements of the horror genre to set the tone but relies heavily on fantasy elements for the story’s plot.

Epic Fantasy is set in a secondary world and deals with large-scale stories with high fate-of-the-world stakes.

High Fantasy is very similar to epic fantasy. It is set in a secondary world but the stakes are smaller and focus more on the characters and setting. Magic and fantastical elements are abundant in high fantasy, therefore these stories contain a lot of worldbuilding.

Historical Fantasy is set in a recognizable historical time period of the real world but the story is infused with magic. Historical Fantasy mixes the Historical Fiction and the Fantasy genres to give us an alternate and more magical/supernatural version of real events.

Low Fantasy places less emphasis on the fantastical or magical elements of the story. It can be set on a secondary world that is similar to our world or in our world. Low fantasy focuses on the characters and their quest.

Science Fantasy is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. It has a futuristic setting with magical or supernatural elements, or it uses science or technology that is impossible in the real world given what we know.

Sword and Sorcery is similar to high fantasy but it focuses more on action as opposed to setting. Typically populated by sword-wielding heroes and damsels in distress, sword and sorcery stories are full of adventure, magic, battles, and moral ambiguity.

Urban Fantasy is a fantasy story in an urban setting. Typically they are set in our world but with magical rules applied to it. This is very similar to contemporary fantasy but tends to be darker, grittier, and always in an urban setting (whereas contemporary can be anywhere in our world).

Those are some of the most common sub-genres of fantasy. If you have any questions about the sub-genres of fantasy or why it is important to know which category your writing falls into, leave them in the comments.

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