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14 Most Common Fantasy Subgenres Explained by a UK Book Editor

14 Most Common Fantasy Subgenres | Fantasy Book Editor

Professional book editor in the UK, who specialises in fantasy fiction, explains 14 of the most common fantasy subgenres and what they each entail!

Fantasy is such a magical genre, literally and figuratively, and a wonderful escape for many readers, viewers, and players (if you love video games like me!), but sometimes, even for an avid fantasy fan, all the different fantasy subgenres can get confusing.

Not only are there upwards of 50, but many of them are similar to each other, making it difficult to tell them apart. Others are just so out there that you just think, What the hell is that? like with Science Fantasy or Magical Realism, for example.

BUT...because I love the fantasy genre so much, I thought it could be fun and helpful to write a post about the most common fantasy subgenres to help you distinguish each one with ease. Some of them you'll already know, so feel free to skip to the ones you're less familiar with or have never heard before.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decide to make a purchase through the products and services I recommend. I only recommend things that I truly love and use, so I hope I can recommend something to you that you can love too! :)

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Arthurian Fantasy

Needless to say, Arthurian fantasy stories are inspired by the famous characters, settings and tales in Arthurian Legend, from King Arthur himself, Merlin and Guinevere to Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, and Excalibur.

It's difficult to have an Arthurian novel without the fantasy due to the likes of Merlin, Morgana and the various mythical beasts the characters encounter, so a lot of Arthurian stories will automatically fall into the fantasy genre. For example, The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, and the BBC drama called Merlin.

Arthurian Legend continues fascinate me and is one of my favourite topics to read about, so if you've written a manuscript that focuses on King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot, or anything remotely to do with Arthurian Legend, I'd LOVE to be the book editor you choose to make your novel even more magical! Get in touch here if you'd like to see your Arthurian fantasy story in book shops sooner than you've hoped!

Dark Fantasy

Technically, dark fantasy could be subjective as different people will have different definitions of 'dark', but generally, dark fantasy involves elements of horror or even crime.

For example, a standard fantasy novel could be something as simple as an elf who goes on a heroic journey to defeat the evil goblin king, but a dark fantasy version could be that the beginning shows a female elf being enslaved and abused before she escapes into the dangerous world in which she resides.

For instance, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series and the film Pan’s Labyrinth have all been described as ‘dark’, to name a few.

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Dragon Fantasy

Like Arthurian fantasy, dragon fantasy goes without saying – it’s all about dragons! Whether the dragons are the main characters, the primal villains, the creatures your heroes discover in a new magical land, or your protagonist’s best friend, if dragons often appear in your novel, your story likely falls into dragon fantasy.

For example, the Eragon series, How to Train Your Dragon, and A Dance With Dragons are all considered dragon fantasy.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Before studying English at university, I had no idea that people like you and me had the legal freedom to write fairy tale retellings – I thought they were strictly meant for established authors after acquiring agreement from the original creator’s estate.

You may have believed the same at one point, but either way, everyone loves a good fairy tale. However, fairy tale retellings are all about recreating our favourite fairy tales and giving them a unique twist, and many that are written for younger audiences continue to keep their original morals and lessons – Disney are pros at this!

Besides Disney though, Geekerella, To Kill a Kingdom and Maleficent are all popular fairy tale retellings.

Folklore Fantasy

For us to understand folklore fantasy, we must understand the meaning of ‘folklore’, which is similar to myths and legends. In laymen’s terms, folklore is a collection of traditional or cultural stories that have been passed down through the generations of a community or group of people.

Some well-known folktales you may know include Robin Hood, Arthurian stories and Beowulf. However, folklore isn’t just limited to the famous tales, many lesser-known towns and villages have their own folklore – yours may as well. Folklore paired with fantasy elements therefore creates the folklore fantasy genre.

As well as Arthurian Legend, folklore and fairy tale retellings are also on my "favourites" list, so I'd be honoured to work with you as your book editor to increase your chance of author success! Click here to get in touch with me so we can get started asap!

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High Fantasy

The opposite of low fantasy, high fantasy is also known as epic fantasy and is usually characterised by its setting, characters and plot.

For instance, high fantasy is commonly set in an imaginary world completely different to our own; the subgenre includes a large number of characters who may be magical beings or creatures such as elves, dwarfs and wizards; it has a complex plot that boils down to the hero versus the villain, and quite often a medieval structure of living.

Historical Fantasy

Again, this subgenre is self-explanatory – it’s the exciting mixture of historical and fantasy elements, which is incredibly thrilling to read, write, watch and play.

For instance, you could set your novel in London during the 1700s, making it historical fiction, but your protagonist could be a mage who has to hide their magical abilities from society to protect themselves from execution while forming an army of mages to fight back, adding fantasy to the mix.

Examples of historical fantasy include Fawkes, The Embroidered Book and A Plague of Swords.

Historical fiction is my second favourite genre, after fantasy of course, so historical fantasy is the perfect escape for me, as a reader and a book editor. If you've written a historical fantasy, or even just a historical novel without the fantasy, it'd be my pleasure to delve into your story and help you to improve it! Get in touch here if you want to turn your novel into a worthy masterpiece!

Low Fantasy

Low and high fantasy are often mixed up, which is understandable due to their similarities, but they have different characteristics. Unlike high fantasy that's set in a completely different world to ours, like The Lord of the Rings, low fantasy is set in our world with fantasy elements woven into the plot.

This may sound a little like magical realism, but while the characters in a magical realism novel would treat the fantasy as if it's the norm, the characters in a low fantasy book would acknowledge the fantasy as though it's abnormal, like we would.

For example, a lot of the Percy Jackson series is considered low fantasy as it's primarily set in the modern world with fantasy characteristics becoming apparent throughout the story, such as magical abilities, mythological creatures, and the Greek gods and titans.

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Magical Realism

Before studying Postmodernism during my English course at university, I had no idea what magical realism meant or entailed, and it took me a little while to fully wrap my head around the genre, but now, it's one of my favourites to delve into when I'm in the mood for something a little different.

Most other fantasy subcategories involve typical fantasy elements such as a magical system, an imaginary world different to ours - sometimes incorporating medievalism, a large cast of complex characters, and an evil villain to defeat, but magical realism is completely different; often set in a realistic location with slivers of fantasy elements, which are often viewed as normal within the context of the story.

For example, in the Harry Potter series, the characters are always amazed by magic, as we would be, but in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis - magical realism - it's completely normal for the protagonist to turn into an insect in his house and go about his day as if nothing has happened.

Mythic Fiction

On a broad scale, mythic fiction includes all novels based on mythology, folklore, and legends, but on a narrower scale, the subgenre is mostly associated with the mythological side of things, such as Greek, Norse and Egyptian mythology, to name a few.

For instance, you could write a novel that uses mythological characters, creatures, settings, items and themes - even if you only chose one thing from mythology to use, your book would still fall into the mythic, or mythological, fiction category.

For example, consider the majority of the books written by Rick Riordan, such as the Percy Jackson series, the Kane Chronicles and the Magnus Chase novels, they're all based around different types of mythology.

I've always taken a great interest in Greek mythology - I even wrote a short story based around the Greek myths for my university dissertation - so I'm always happy to edit and critique mythic fiction. If you've written a novel based around any type of mythology, I would love to work with you as your book editor! Click here to get in touch with me and we can get started today!

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Paranormal Romance

Some people may associate paranormal romance with gothic and horror, but technically, it also falls into fantasy due to some of the popular tropes that usually accompany paranormal romance, such as ghosts, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and variations of the undead, which many people believe are fictitious and fantastical, though, that can be debated.

However, unlike many of the other fantasy subgenres explained in this post, paranormal romance focuses more on the romance of the characters in the story rather than the paranormal aspects. For example, Warm Bodies is about a teenage zombie who gradually becomes more alive, but the main plotline concentrates on the love story between R, the zombie, and Julie, his living love interest. As a result, there would be no story without the romance.

Similarly, the Twilight Saga also falls into paranormal romance. Although the books are full of vampires and werewolves, the primal plotline centres on Bella and Edward's love story.

Science Fantasy

We all know and understand science fiction and fantasy on their own, but both genres together can be a little confusing due to their differences and similarities. Instead of trying to explain science fantasy, I'll give you some examples and hopefully, you'll start to make sense of it if you've never come across the hybrid genre before.

For example, you might have a story set in a faerie kingdom, which would be fantasy, but you may decide in the backstory that your fairies are scientific experiments created in an elven lab, adding science fiction to the mix to create science fantasy.

Another example could be a story set in space, which is obviously science fiction, but the witches and wizards found on another planet have magical abilities, therefore turning the novel into science fantasy.

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Sword and Sorcery

The sword and sorcery subgenre can be a little tricky to grasp as it's incredibly similar to high or epic fantasy, however, one of the main differences between the two is the plot.

Unlike high or epic fantasy that involves a high-stake matter, like an evil force threatening to destroy the world, that therefore needs a hero or chosen one to defeat the villain, sword and sorcery focuses on smaller, more personal battles, such as a warrior setting out to conquer the most dangerous giant in the mountains to prove their courage, bravery, and skill.

Consider the famous tabletop storytelling game, Dungeons and Dragons - although thousands of different campaigns can be created for D&D, the quests and missions you can embark on with your characters are low-stake, focusing more on adventuring and teamwork.

Sword and sorcery is also a huge part of fantasy RPG video games, such as The Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls, which offer players a range of side quests that involve fighting as a warrior, archer or mage, alongside the main high fantasy plotline.

Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy sometimes gets mixed up with low fantasy, as both are set in the real world, and while they're incredibly similar, they have their differences as well.

Whereas a low fantasy novel could potentially be set anywhere in the real world, from a seaside town in Cornwall to a peaceful village in Scotland, the setting of an urban fantasy book is usually a lot grittier and set in an urban location.

For example, a lot of superhero movies produced by Marvel and DC fall into the urban fantasy subgenre, or more specifically, urban science fantasy, due to their urban settings, such as the streets of New York.

Final Words

So there we are - 14 of the most common fantasy subgenres and what they mean. I really hope you've enjoyed reading this post as much as I loved writing it - fantasy is my favourite genre and one of my specialties in terms of editing, so if you're a budding fantasy author and need a fantasy book editor, get in touch here and we can turn your fantasy into reality!

Speak soon!

Chelsea x



Book Editors UK

Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!

With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!


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