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The Guide To Fantasy Subgenres

We all know what fantasy is- yet we use terms such as 'paranormal'. or 'high fantasy' to describe certain books. But what do they mean?

After my post about the subgenres of punk, I have decided to write one about a favourite genre of mine- fantasy! We all know what fantasy is- yet we use terms such as ‘paranormal’. or ‘high fantasy’ to describe certain books. But what do they mean? Let’s discuss fantasy subgenres!

Low Fantasy

A Still From Harry Potter

A mild form of fantasy. It may be set in an alternative world, but magic in low fantasy is more of an intrusion than a reality that everyone engages with. The world in a low fantasy novel is familiar and easier for the reader to digest. Quite possibly, the most famous example of low fantasy is J.K Rowlings ‘Harry Potter‘ series.

Contemporary Fantasy

A Still From American Gods

Set in the time period of the writer and mixes fantasy with real-world aspects. This subgenre is popular amongst young adult writers because it means they can appeal to contemporary issues but still offer a fantasy slant. The author Neil Gaiman has produced many contemporary fantasy works- a well known one being “American Gods.”

High Fantasy

A Still From “Lord of the Rings”

Also known as ‘epic’ fantasy, high fantasy shows a world vastly different to our own. This is fantasy at its most extreme. An example of high fantasy is Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series.

Writing High Fantasy is not easy- most of the books are bricks and full of detail. However, they are often exciting and worth reading because no subgenre of fantasy emphasizes worldbuilding and magic like high fantasy.

Dark Fantasy

Guillermo Del Toro is well known for creating dark fantasy

Tying in with ‘paranormal’ in many ways, a dark fantasy story is an invitation to the more unpleasant aspects of the genre. You can expect frightening themes of supernatural creatures such as ghosts and vampires. And oh yes, there will be blood.

Stephen King has written alot of dark fantasy- a good example is “It.” What I love about Dark Fantasy is that it brings light to the horror genre, but also shows the dark side to the fantasy genre.

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The 2014 French version of Beauty & The Beast

With a history of enthralling children and adding magic to even the most cynical hearts, fairytales are a staple of the fantasy genre. A fairytale is defined by its moralistic take on societal issues (i.e Beauty And The Beast teaches us that there is more to a person than their looks). However, there tends to be witches, wizards and goblins. That may not be the main focus- but a good indicator of what a fairytale may look like.

Magical Realism

The one-shot sensation film “Birdman” is a good example of magical realism.

Magical Realism is when realistic narrative techniques are fused with surreal elements of fantasy. This genre tends to use fantasy for imagery, and most of the focus in magical realism stories is based on character and story, not on magic systems themselves.

A well known example of Magical Realism is “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie.

Historical Fantasy

From “Vikings”

From Outlander to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Historical Fantasy is fantasy that is set before the author’s time. Whether it’s World War II or Biblical Times, historical fantasy promises a magical journey through the pages of history.

I’ve noticed that not many authors dabble in historical fantasy compared to other fantasy subgenres. However, it is gaining in popularity, and offers the author many opportunities to express their creativity. A recent example is Catherynne Valentine’s ‘Deathless.’

Science Fantasy

From the “Star Wars” series

Star Wars. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Responsible for some of the biggest cinematic blockbusters, science fantasy draws on fantasy with soft science fiction. You won’t get epic Asimov explanations here for how the fantasy world operates- but science fantasy is one of the most heavily enjoyed subgenres of fantasy for a good reason.

A common science fantasy book is A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Romantic Fantasy

From the recent tv show “A Discovery of Witches.”

Like how historical fantasy emphasizes historical fiction, romantic fantasy brings romance and desire to the fantasy genre. Whether it’s a heartbreaking romance story, or a more generic one- romantic fantasy has captured the hearts of readers across the globe.

I highly recommend the film “Wings of Desire” as an example of romantic fantasy, and also as an indication of what the genre is capable of.

Buy Fantasy books here at discount rates and get free shipping to over 160 countries!

What are your favourite fantasy subgenres? How do you incorporate them into your writing? Comment below, I’d love to hear!

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