Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 21, 2015

Fantasy Sub-Categories

Connor-Fuse-ProfileAgent Connor Goldsmith over at Fuse Literary had a very helpful post that you shouldn’t miss. He lists the subcategories for the following genres: Fantasy, Science fiction, and Horror.

Connor says, “These categories are very mutable and there’s tons of overlap between them. This is more meant to be fun than to be didactic — don’t worry too much about categorizing your book into a subgenre. That said, it’s important not to subcategorize wrong, because then I get confused.”

Below is his FANTASY LIST:

  • High Fantasy: Fantasy set in a “secondary world”, or a world not our own, where magical beings and creatures are part of everyday life. The most famous example is The Lord of the Rings, though technically that series does take place on ‘our’ Earth in an imagined past. Dungeons & Dragons, inspired heavily by Tolkien, is perhaps the classic high fantasy setting.
  • Epic Fantasy: This is when high fantasy goes truly massive in scope, with many principal characters and large-scale events taking place that change the face of the entire world. Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time.
  • Dark Fantasy: Fantasy with strong horror elements. Examples: The Vampire Chronicles and Coraline.
  • Portal Fantasy: A type of high fantasy in which characters from ‘our’ world enter the secondary world through some type of magic. Examples: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Time travel stories like Outlander can also qualify as portal fantasy.
  • Urban Fantasy: A fantasy story set in our modern world, where magical elements lurk beneath the surface of everyday life. Urban Fantasy often involves supernatural detective or policing forces that keep those elements a secret from normal humans. Examples: The Dresden Files and Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter.
  • Paranormal Romance: This is a subcategory of urban fantasy that emphasizes romantic storylines over action-adventure. Examples: Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse series.
  • Historical Fantasy: Fantasy stories set in our world in a historical time period. Examples: Sevenwaters and Temeraire.
  • Contemporary Fantasy: This is a bit of a tricky category, and it isn’t precisely defined. I use it to mean stories set in our modern world that do not have the ‘feel’ of urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Use your discretion with this one. Examples, by my definition: Practical Magic and the Harry Potter series.
  • Magical Realism: A very specific type of contemporary fantasy, in which there is usually only one magical element and it is seen by the characters as a normal part of the world. Developed in Latin America, and most prominent in literature from there. Some U.S. examples: Song of Solomon and The Green Mile.

Could you explain the difference between Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopia? Space Opera and Military Sci-fi? Or Gothic Horror vs. Cosmic Horror?

Then check out Connor’s post. It breaks down Sci-fi and Horror the same way with their sub categories.

NOTE: Connor does not represent YA, MG, or other children’s books.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for this! I’ve been writing SFF for several years now (and reading/watching SFF for many decades) and I didn’t know what the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian was (I even took 2 Gotham Writers Workshop classes on SFF…d’oh!). 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on Mandy Eve Barnett's Official Blog and commented:
    Re-blogging this excellent post today as for some reason I didn’t post on Monday – oh no slipping so soon in the new year’s schedule! I hope not…anyway enjoy and take notes.


  3. Reblogged this on A Shot and a Half Pint and commented:
    Great explanation of the sub-genres of fantasy! I haven’t even heard of a few of these!


  4. This is wonderful! I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to classify the things I’ve been writing lately.


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