Types of Fantasy Books: A Complete Guide to the Fantasy Genre

Fantasy as a genre: What is it, and what does it include? Perhaps the most wide-reaching of all genres of fiction, fantasy encompasses a great many stories and narrative techniques. This blog exists to help you understand the types of fantasy available a little better, as well as the genre as an entity.

Examples of Fantasy

When we think fantasy, we often think of epic tales, swords and dragons, but when it comes to the types of fantasy on offer, the variance is actually quite remarkable. Just take these examples of fantasy. All fall under the genre, but all are utterly different.

  • The Lord of the Rings will likely be the go-to series when thinking about fantasy as a genre. It has defined the ‘epic fantasy’ for decades, and has many similarities to other famous works like A Song of Ice and Fire, but it is not the only kind of fantasy.

  • Twilight is an example of fantasy that you may not consider in the same fictional subset as Lord of the Rings, but given its elements of make-believe and magic, it definitely is a fantasy novel. The same can be said for anything that revolves around myths, legends and folklore, from Dracula to Neil Gaiman’s Mythology.

  • This idea moves us into some of the most popular fiction around, including Harry Potter and Star Wars. These are both excellent examples of fantasy that many might consider falling into other genres. Star Wars may seem like die-hard Sci-Fi, but its reliance on mythic forces and a lack of basic physics make it a type of fantasy story, while Harry Potter’s exploration of magic also places it within the genre, even if it is set within the ‘real world’.

Types of Fantasy Books and Stories

As you can probably imagine given even just these few examples, there are many types of fantasy story to be found.

The genre is split into lots of subgenres that encompass very different types of fantasy; with often very different types of storytelling, too. You will find plenty of crossover, and that they also mix with other genres of fiction, with horror and fantasy being commonly found partners.

Let’s take a look at what types of fantasy stories are available. Where does the genre split into sub?

Dark and Grimdark Fantasy

Rising in popularity in recent years, a lot of the best fantasy books of 2019 include dark/grimdark fantasy elements. Dark fantasy is known for its unsettling themes and unexpected grim turns, usually targeted at adults or at least the upper years of Young Adult. Stephen King is perhaps the best known writer of this type of fantasy, but many others are creating a name for themselves, including the likes of Joe Abercrombie and R.F. Kuang.  

Epic/High Fantasy

The bread-and-butter of fantasy, high fantasy/epic fantasy is your massively scoped out world filled with its own history, mythology, races, ideals, cultures, and more. This is your Lord of the Rings, your Game of Thrones, your Wheel of Time, your Discworld. It has no placement in the real world at all. It exists completely beyond the world we know.

Superhero Fantasy

As you might have guessed, superhero fantasy is very much confined to comic books and comic book movies. This type of fantasy is all about taking the superhero concept and intertwining it with how they acquire their powers. In many of your favourite series, you’ll find that Sci-Fi notions are often the prevailing reason behind their superpowers, but sometimes fantasy comes into play. Take Superman, for example. In the 70s movie, he flies around the planet so fast he turns back time. This is pure fantasy.

Fairytale and Folklore

Fairy tales, legends, myths, these are all examples of early types of fantasy. From fire-side tales of spirits and goblins stealing away children to legendary mazes home to Minotaurs and winged horses that fly into battle, all these sorts of mythic stories fall under this particular subgenre of fantasy.

Low Fantasy

This type of fantasy is effectively the polar opposite of the epic. Instead of being set in its own world, with no connection to reality, low fantasy is very realistic, and houses only a few elements of the fantasy genre. A strong and well-known example of low fantasy is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s engaged in the real world, sure, but it also has fantasy woven into it, such as that magical man Thor.

Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is commonly found intertwined with dark fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be. What really sets this type of fantasy apart is its location. Urban fantasy is quite literally urban, set within cities or towns and following close-knit stories related to the local urban landscape in at least some form. Famous examples include Neverwhere and City of Bones.

Contemporary Fantasy

Given that contemporary is a synonym of the word modern, unfortunately you don’t win any prizes for figuring out what kind of stories are covered by this type of fantasy. Contemporary fantasy is set in the present day, or at least it was at the time it was written. Stories like American Gods, Percy Jackson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Stranger Things are all what you’d consider contemporary fantasy; it’s just a fantasy tale taking place in the modern era.

Paranormal Fantasy

As you might have guessed, this type of fantasy is all about your ghost stories, your demons and what have you. The concept of sixth senses and possession. As a subgenre, it is quite vague and rarely sits alone. You’ll often find paranormal fantasy mixed with other types of fantasy, most notably dark, urban and fairytale.  

Historic Fantasy

Historic fantasy engages in fantasy notions yet is set around a specific period in history that actually took place, often bringing new elements to it. It essentially portrays an alternate version of history. J.K Rowling's new Fantastic Beasts movie series is an example of this type of fantasy, with the series set to cover WW2 from within her magical world. Other examples include the TV series Vikings, the book His Majesty’s Dragon and even the popular game series, Assassin's Creed.

Medieval Fantasy

Not to be confused with historic fantasy, medieval fantasy is set during the ‘dark ages’ of world history and covers a lot of the sword-and-sorcery type of fantasy. This is also not to be confused with high fantasy that is set in a medieval-like world. Medieval fantasy is a type of fantasy that is set on Earth but just not during a defined period.

Science Fantasy

The best example of this type of fantasy is always going to be Star Wars, but others under the science fantasy subgenre include Avatar and Jurassic Park. The basis of science fantasy is that it takes fantasy elements and presents them as science. In Jurassic Park, they put forward the idea that using technology they can replicate dinosaurs. In reality, the way they do this isn’t possible, and never will be, so it isn’t science fiction, but instead fantasy masquerading as such.

What Are The Main Elements of Fantasy? What Makes Fantasy, Fantasy.

There are many fantasy elements that make up your common narrative structure.

For all types of fantasy, you’ll often find the employment of typical tropes and themes. In the epic fantasy, for example, you tend to see fantasy set in the middle-ages with swords, bows, wizards and the like. For urban fantasy, there is usually a focus on dark forces manifesting themselves in the real world, often including angels and demons. Many fantasy books will invest in their own cultures, religions, mythos and worlds as well.

This is what we expect from fantasy, but this isn’t what makes a book fantasy.

All types of fantasy are make-believe. Of course, all fiction is make-believe, but fantasy is make-believe in a way that has no basis in reality. Sci-Fi is not fantasy, as it relies on the idea of future concepts that could actually exist with the development of technology or the discovery of new worlds. Crime is not fantasy as while you are not likely to experience as many murders as Midsomer did, it could potentially happen.

Fantasy is impossibility. The immortal, super-strength of the modern vampire does not exist in the real world, nor does a fire-breathing dragon, and never will it. A story takes on the fantasy genre when it essentially stops being confined by natural law.  

A great example of this is the Tom Hanks movie, The Green Mile. Yes, it’s a type of fantasy. While most of this film is based in the harsh reality of a prison, with little in the way of what you’d call actual fantasy, there is a small magic element to it, which turns it from your typical drama to what is described as a ‘fantasy crime drama’.

Any story becomes a fantasy when something that could not possibly happen in reality comes in. It doesn’t have to be defined as a pure fantasy, as The Green Mile proves by being a fantasy crime drama, but it is at least, in part, fantasy.

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