Subgenres of fantasy

Published by Caroline Lamarque on

Fantasy is a literary genre in which the action takes place in a world populated by supernatural, mythical or legendary beings. It is subdivided into different classifications and sub-genres that we will discover or rediscover together.

There is no official classification of fantasy subgenres for several reasons. First, scholars, critics, publishers and authors themselves do not necessarily agree on the subject. Second, the fact that many fantasy works fall into several categories makes it difficult to classify these sub-genres. There are, however, some recurring classifications.

Classification by tone

The tonality classification differentiates the genres according to whether the book has a more or less dark or optimistic tone.

  • Light fantasy brings comedy, humor or absurdity. Discworld is of this sub-genre, as well as Destinée de cristal (in french) that we publish.
  • Dark fantasy is the darkest genre, of which The Black Company Cycle is a part. The plot often ends badly and the atmosphere can approach horror.
  • Gritty fantasy, sometimes called dynastic fantasy, features political intrigues revolving around morally ambiguous characters, as in A Game of Thrones.
  • Romantic fantasy or paranormal romance is softer and closer to the genre of the marvelous as in the Lux saga.

Classification by theme

Thematic classification differentiates genres according to the subjects, environments or characters that the plot presents.

  • Epic fantasy includes heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery. The first one puts in scene one or several heroes who evolve in a kingdom in conflict and who manage to defeat their enemies thanks to their particularities. The Lord of the Rings is a major example. The second type is characterized by the presence of barbarian warriors, Amazons or evil sorcerers, as in Conan the Barbarian.
  • High fantasy takes place in an imaginary world as in The Lord of the Rings and is opposed to low fantasy where real and imaginary worlds co-exist, often thanks to a passage. Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia are examples of this sub-genre.
  • Mythical fantasy updates mythology and Percy Jackson is part of it.
  • Fairy tale fantasy reappropriates the codes of fairy tales, which can be done in a parodic or dark way, like The Witcher saga.
  • Urban fantasy exposes a magical world that takes place in an urban environment, sometimes in contemporary times. American Gods illustrates this sub-genre.
  • Animal fantasy presents a majority of anthropomorphic animal characters, as in The Wind in the Willows or Redwall.
  • Bit-lit, of which Twilight is a major example, features biting creatures such as vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters.
  • Science fantasy takes place in a science fiction universe, sometimes futuristic but always with the use of technology. Dragonriders of Pern is a good example.

Classification by temporality

The classification by temporalities differentiates the genres according to the time in which the story takes place.

  • Historical fantasy can be divided into different sub-categories. One of them is Arthurian fantasy. The fantasy uchrony is also part of it and describes a world where the course of history has been deviated by supernatural beings, like the Bartimaeus Sequence. The Cardinal’s Blades is a good example of cloak-and-dagger fantasy.
  • Ancient fantasy is a story set in antiquity, as in Lavinia.
  • Medieval fantasy or med-fan, of which Royal Assassin is a major example, takes place in the Middle Ages.
  • Steampunk fantasy features Victorian worlds. Works representing this sub-genre include The Parasol Protectorate.
  • Contemporary fantasy tells a story set in the 20th or 21st century. There are many examples of this sub-genre, including The Fowl Adventures.

Finally, let’s not forget that a literary work can belong to different sub-genres. The Inheritance Cycle, which we have not yet mentioned as an example, is notably part of high fantasy because the action takes place in Alagaësia, which is an imagined world. It is also a work of medfan because the story takes place in a medieval universe. The main character’s mission is to save his world from a tyrant, so it is also heroic fantasy.

On this note, a good reading to all!

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