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! :)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
The most well-known examples are The Lord of the Rings &