List of Fantasy Subgenres

Originally I was going to post on adventure, science fiction, and fantasy subgenres, but the science fiction subgenres went on and on and suddenly I realized I just needed to divide the post.  I have another three-part series on my hand!

[My post on science fiction subgenres.]
[My post on adventure subgenres.]

I’ve always been annoyed at the various and lengthy lists of subgenres that agree on little.  To solve this problem, I’m combining several sources to create yet another lengthy list of subgenres that defines everything differently from everyone else.  If that sounds good, keep reading.

TheFreeDictionary define fantasy as, “Fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements.”  In my opinion that is an excellent summary of such a broad genre.  Fantasy or divided into two main subgenres:  high or epic fantasy, and low fantasy.

Allegorical Fantasy
High fantasy where anything or everything is allegorical of themes or things in the real world.

Anthropomorphic Fantasy
Animals acting like humans to some extent, or entirely taking their place.  Some or all animals talk, and animals may live in houses, dress, and eat human food.  Humans may or may not be present.

Bangsia Fantasy
Taking place mostly or entirely with the afterlife.

Christian Fantasy
Containing strong elements of the Christian faith, either blatantly or allegorically.

Comedic Fantasy
Either a parody or humorous.

Contemporary/Urban Fantasy
Taking place in a modern, usually urban, setting.  Unlike many fantasy subgenres, contemporary or urban fantasy takes place on Earth, with the inclusion of magic.

Court Intrigue
These take place in a royal court, either in historical fantasy or a recognizable alternate world, and deal with the political developments of a world. Often involving a complex world with many nations.

Fantasy Science Fiction/Science Fiction Fantasy
Differing from futuristic fantasy only in paying science a little more attention, and perhaps carrying some of the deeper science fiction themes – more than “in the future.”

Futuristic Fantasy
A story taking place in the future, but containing characteristic fantasy elements.  Technology is often unexplained or magical.

Heroic Fantasy
Fantasy focusing on the hero and his heroic deeds, but not as epic as sword and sorcery. The protagonist may be deeply flawed and the villain may have redeemable attributes.

High/Epic Fantasy
Fantasy taking place in a world completely created and detached from Earth as we know, have known, or could possibly know it. Contrast Low Fantasy.
As Katie pointed out in the comments below, the other main definition of High/Epic Fantasy is “Fantasy with nation or world wide stakes, an epic.” I prefer the other definition because it is more definitive and, I believe, more widely used. Be aware of both definitions.

High Historical Fantasy
Still taking place in another world, but this other world has the same culture as a historical setting from Earth.

Legend Retelling
Some legends have become known not for their original content, but for their constant retellings and revisions.   This is commonly done with the Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Robin Hood.

Low Fantasy
The contrast of “high” fantasy.  Low fantasy takes place on Earth, in a world otherwise possible expect for the characteristic fantasy elements. Contrast High Fantasy.
As Katie pointed out in the comments below, the other main definition of Low Fantasy is “Fantasy that is character-driven with relatively small stakes.”

Low Historical Fantasy
This subgenre basically asks the question, “What if fantasy elements were present at a given period of history?” Taking place on Earth.

Magic Realism
A setting where magic is part of the culture and everyday life, not just reserved for elitists.

Portal Fantasy
Stories where the real world and a created world both exist, and travel or communication between the two is possible.

The main plot is a quest.  The hero must go on a journey or in search of something that will destroy the villain or the villain’s power or prevent impending doom.  Leading to a climax where the object of the quest it used.

Romantic Fantasy
Containing a plot or subplot of romantic entanglements and love.  As with most romance crossings, the main characters are normally a man and a woman.  Commonly, the two are throw together for a quest, journey, or other task and love blossoms on the way.

Sword and Sorcery
The stable of fantasy. Involving swordplay or battles as well as magic with a strong main character. Plots are intricate, stretching through lands and nations. There is usually a strong good vs. evil element.

Traditional Stories
Myths, legends, fables, fairy and folk tales.  Often cultural in origin.
Cultural stories explaining the world.  Many may feature gods and goddesses, but “Just So” stories and tales following the “How the __ Got Its __” formula are also in this category.  They supposedly take place before written history.
Legends are very similar to myths, but recount the deeds and actions of people and gods or goddesses, and normally have supposedly take place during recorded history.
Short stories usually containing morals and written for children.  The main difference between fairy tales and folklore is that fairytales require magic for the hero to succeed, while in folklore the hero must use his own wits.
Short, cultural tales told with a definite, usually stated, moral.  Fables often contain anthropomorphism of both inanimate objects and creatures.

Martial art adventures. Often the hero is capable of super-human feats supposedly learned through the martial art. Eastern religions may play a part.

Exhaustive, eh?  But to be fair, I should mention the my primary resources, however contrary to each other.  The largest list (which, in my opinion, called every theme under the sun a subgenre) is here: This one,, has charming explanations. Finally, is very basic but covers the general fantasy subgenres well.  If you’re procrastinating, try exploring the rest of these sites.  They’re useful, so you don’t have to call it procrastinating.

If you write fantasy, what are your usual subgenres? Of the fantasy you read, what are your favorite subgenres? Why?


About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on January 13, 2011, in On Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I have never heard of a great deal of those!
    And I like all of them 🙂 I LOVE TO READ!
    Writing, well, right now I’m starting a Court Intrige one, for my WriYe BYB novel 🙂 Going to be interesting!

  2. Nice list, Katty!

    Would portal fantasy be another sub-genre, or is it mixed in with another one?

    I’m a. epic Christian fantasy person, with some quests and swords and magic. Kinda typical. 🙂 One of my stories has a tiny bit of romance, too, but it’s not a main part of the plot.

    And I’ll read anything that’s thrown at me, as long as it’s appropriate. 🙂

  3. ~
    Your new novel sounds fascinating, Louisa!

    You are quite correct, Abby. Thanks! I just added Portal Fantasy. All fantasy settings fit under one of three categories: high fantasy, low fantasy, or portal fantasy. I’d forgotten about the latter.
    That sounds like me with science fiction, reading anything that’s thrown at me. *gets hit in the head with a new novel* Ooh, lookie. . .

  4. I always thought the definition of High Fantasy was what we call ‘epic’, where the world is at stake, and there’s huge armies, etc. Whereas low fantasy would be a simple character driven story, that the rest of the kingdom never hears about.

    • Excellent point. That is also a characteristic of High Fantasy vs Low Fantasy. I’ve done internet research and there appear to be two main distinctions of high vs low fantasy: one is I’ve put in my post, and the other is what you’ve heard. Perhaps I should edit my post to reflect both views. . .

  1. Pingback: Fantasy Sub Genres: Explaining High Fantasy by Anne-Mhairi Simpson | Fantasy Book Review

  2. Pingback: Fantasy Sub Genres: The Finale by Anne-Mhairi Simpson | Fantasy Book Review

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