List of Thriller Subgenres

While looking back at my drafts, I found this post, made to complete a series I wrote on science fiction and fantasy subgenres. Originally I was going to include adventure subgenres in this post, but on further thought I decided they will get their own post.  Thrillers have some general characteristics: focus on plot, non-stop pace, high stakes; but this is enough material for several subgenres.  Until I did my research for this post, I had thought of thrillers under a general category, and wondered “How many divisions could there possibly be?” Silly me.

My post on science fiction subgenres.
My post on fantasy subgenres.

Thrillers are usually defined by the mood they elicit (hence the name). “Sensational and suspenseful” stories and stories creating “fearful excitement” are two definitions I found. Because of this, thrillers are crossed with almost every other genre. I’ve tried to only include mash-ups when their combination falls under my definition of “interesting.”

Action Thriller
Take any other thriller subgenre, give it’s defining elements a back seat, and focus on the action, and you have an action-thriller. This is more common in movies than novels because of the visual appeal of explosions and violence.

Conspiracy Thriller
In this subgenre the protagonist must confront a large, powerful organization whose threat only he sees. Usually he must do so alone.

Crime Thriller
This subgenre focuses on crime, and is usually from the criminal’s point of view. Physical action and eluding the police take the place of gathering evidence and trying to discover the criminal.

Disaster Thriller
In this subgenre a (usually) natural disaster is taking place, and the antagonist is either trying to stop the disaster, the extent of the disaster, or just save themselves before time runs out and the disaster has run its course.

In this subgenre the protagonist must stop a threat to the environment (man-made or natural) that will have consequences for society if left unchecked. The damage could be local, but nation or even world-wide stakes are more dramatic. 😉

Forensic Thriller
In this subgenre the protagonist(s) are forensic scientists whose involvement in an unsolved crime threatens their lives.

Legal Thriller
This subgenre takes place in and around the courtroom. Usually the protagonist is a lawyer who has found their case threatening death for either them or their client.

Medical Thriller
This subgenre involves something usually used for medical purposes becoming a deadly weapon. Often it is a virus that is leaking out to the public. The protagonist or antagonist or both are doctors.

Mystery Thriller
This is a subgenre of both mysteries and thrillers. It differs from a regular mystery by being much more fast-paced, with the protagonist on the run and the threat of another crime serving as the “ticking clock.”

Political Thriller
In this subgenre political relations or the whole government is at stake, and the protagonist is employed by the government to stop the decline. The protagonist may have been low-level before having attracted attention.

Psychological Thriller
A personal favorite. In this subgenre a lot of the conflict is mental, rather than physical. The protagonist has become involved in a dangerous situation which literally threatens their sanity. They must use mental prowess to overcome their opponent, whether the battle is inside their own head or it a battle of wits.

Religious Thriller
This subgenre uses the history and myths of religion. Usually a religious artifact or historical secret is discovered, and different people and groups vie for control.

Romantic Thriller
This is a subgenre of both thrillers and romantic novels. The plot line follows a typical thriller’s tension, suspense, and excitement, but a main element is the growing relationship between two characters.

Spy Thriller
It’s hard to call this a genre mash-up when spy novels almost have to be thrillers. At any rate, this subgenre focuses on the high adventures of field agents. It is usually set against the backdrop of some war.

Supernatural Thriller
In this subgenre otherworldy elements are introduced, usually as an antagonistic force, but just as in the romantic thriller, the plot line and feel or distinctly that of thrillers. Some characters may have psychic abilities and other supernatural novel elements may be present.

This genres is a cross between near-future science fiction and thrillers. Cutting-edge technology plays an important role, either as something to obtain, or working for or against the protagonist.

What types of thriller subgenres do you enjoy most?  Have you ever dabbled writing thrillers? Anything I missed? Many thriller subgenre lists I found on the internet were incomplete, and I’ve done my best here, but I’m always open to additions.


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 September 12, 2011, in Adventure/Thriller, Posts by Genre and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. All your subgenre lists are fun to read, but since thrillers are my favorite genre, this one was particularly fun to read. 😀

    Action thrillers are my favorite subgenre, though I like most of the subgenres to some extent.

  1. Pingback: Sub-Genres Of A Thriller — MarcHindmarch

  2. Pingback: Sub-Genres Of A Thriller — MarcHindmarch

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