We all know what fantasy is.

However, we use more specific terms such as ‘paranormal’. or ‘high fantasy’ to describe 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 Rowling’s ‘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 they can write about contemporary issues with a fantasy slant.

The author Neil Gaiman has produced many contemporary fantasy works. A favourite of many is “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 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 unpleasant aspects of the genre. You can expect frightening themes of supernatural creatures such as ghosts and vampires. And 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.


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. For example, Beauty And The Beast teaches us that there is more to a person than their looks.

Adding onto that, a fairytale tends to have 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 uses fantasy for imagery. After all, the focus in magical realism stories is based on character and story as opposed to magic systems.

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 is 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. However, science fantasy is one of the most heavily enjoyed subgenres of fantasy. And it’s 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 captures the hearts of readers across the globe.

I recommend the film “Wings of Desire.” It’s a great example of romantic fantasy, and as an indication of what the genre is capable of.

What are your favourite fantasy subgenres? Comment below!

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