How Many Fantasy Subgenres Are There?

Welcome to this guide on fantasy subgenres. The fantasy genre is like a giant oak with many roots, each one a subgenre. Sometimes they overlap, fuse together and spawn new subgenres of their own. Keeping up with the experimentations of fantasy writers isn’t easy. 

As a writer, it’s important to identify your subgenre. For one, you can better target your readers, and two, it helps you aim more precisely at publishers and agents. Not only that, it’ll help you make useful comparisons to other, well-known authors and books in that subgenre which may, with luck, help you sell more.

Here’s a rundown on some of the most popular fantasy subgenres.

(note: new sub-genres are coming out all of the time as authors experiment with different elements of sub-genres to find their own niche. This list covers the main types of fantasy sub-genres and is in no way exhaustive, nor in any particular order. Many of these sub-genres have sub-genres of their own).

  1. High fantasy

fantasy sub-genres
Fantasy sub-genres

A close relation of Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy encapsulates a tale set in a rich and unique world where magic exists with clearly defined rules. No drugs involved, sorry. It’s arguably what most people think of when they hear the term ‘fantasy’. Lord of the Rings and such. Plots tend to be complex, characters go on journeys not just physically but mentally too.

This -subgenre has probably influenced every fantasy writer in one way or another, some deciding to go in a different direction, others extracting elements of it and using it in their own way.

Coming of Age, Epic, Sword and Sorcery, Heroic, and many more sub-genres are all linked to High Fantasy.


The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

  1. Epic fantasy


This is perhaps the most popular sub-genre, involving a struggle between good and evil spanning several books or series with a significant cast of characters. Epic Fantasy encapsulates gritty, realistic tales as well as those filled with magic and creatures such as dragons, orcs, or white walkers. The distinction between this sub-genre and High Fantasy lies in the scale of the story.


The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Riftwar Cycle, Raymond E. Feist

A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin

Chronicles of The Raven, James Barclay

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan

Shadows of the Apt, Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy

fantasy sub-genres

This sub-genre, the name of which is used interchangeably, takes place in real world or present-day settings such as those in built-up areas like cities. Usually, the fantasy world is hidden amongst the normal one. It’s a broad sub-genre, but the key ingredient is magic within a real-world setting.


Fevre Dream, George R.R. Martin

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

  1. Low Fantasy


The opposite of High Fantasy, though it’s title is no reflection on its standing. It involves a real-world setting with magical or supernatural features, like contemporary fantasy. Stories tend to involve a character who discovers this secret, magical world. There is less emphasis on the traditional High Fantasy features. In some cases, magic does not even exist. Low Fantasy stories tend to be grittier with more focus on characters than the world.

Themes explored include social and political upheaval, questionable morals, and flaws in human nature.


Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

  1. Sword and Sorcery / Heroic Fantasy


Both of these sub-genres find their roots in High Fantasy. They tend to involve competent heroes who cut and blast their way to glorious victory. They’re linked because in the classic hero’s tale swords and sorcery tend to feature.


Chronicles of The Raven, James Barclay

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Riftwar Cycle, Raymond E. Feist

  1. Historical fantasy

fantasy sub-genres
Fantasy sub-genres

Stories of this type tend to be set in our own world, though with fantastical twists. They can also be set in other worlds which share similarities to our own. There tends to be a balance between realism and fantasy. Plots are complex and the levels of violence are pretty high. Related genres include Steampunk, Alternate History Fantasy, and Celtic Fantasy.


Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

The Falconer, Elizabeth May

  1. Dark Fantasy / Horror


Horror and Dark Fantasy are terms used interchangeably to refer to this sub-genre, though dedicated fans can distinguish between the two (I won’t go into the differences now). Dark Fantasy tends to focus on creating a creepy, intense atmosphere. It can feature fantastical creatures like werewolves, or supernatural elements too.


The Dark Tower, Stephen King

Coraline, Neil Gaiman

The Black Company, Glen Cook

  1. Grimdark


Grimdark has its roots in High Fantasy, though takes a different path. Featured characters may be anti-heroes or have moral flaws, with the setting being quite grim and gritty, hence the name.


A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie

  1. Steampunk


One of the key characteristics of Steampunk is Victorian-era technologies, such as steam-powered machinery and equipment. Settings range from Victorian England to made-up worlds and the American Wild West. Victorian-era fashions tend to feature in these stories. It does not tend to feature much magic, though a few stories do include it. The detail in such stories tends to be quite high, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular.


The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers

Perdido Street Station, China Miéville

Shadows of the Apt, Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. Science fantasy

fantasy sub-genres

This sub-genres sees something of a fusion between Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Technology tends to feature heavily, as does magic. The biggest difference between Sci-Fi and Science Fantasy is the lack of an obligation on the latter to set out the laws of the world according to science. Settings can be real-world or another world.


The Stone Sky, N. K. Jemisin

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

What’s apparent from this non-exhaustive list is that Fantasy is more of an umbrella term for a whole host of subgenres, just like the term Speculative Fiction encapsulates Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror etc. The Fantasy genre is huge! Bigger than any other, I’d say. And it’s expanding all the time, which just goes to show how much of a vibrant and popular genre it is. It also shows it’s a genre constantly evolving. What could the next sub-genre be?

Further reading on fantasy subgenres

I said at the beginning that the list above is non-exhaustive. You might be reading this thinking your story fits into none of these. Well, there may be other fantasy subgenres or sub-sub-genres which better define it. Checking out some of these other guides may help you out:

A guide to fantasy worldbuilding

Using the five senses in writing

A list of 200+ fantasy magazines and journals

A list of fantasy writing groups

Thank you for reading this guide to fantasy subgenres. If you found this post helpful, why not stay in touch? As well as staying up to date with more posts like this, you’ll be kept abreast of any news and articles I think you may find helpful, as well as any new resources I release.

Speaking of resources, have you checked out my freebies? There are lists of publishersa free ebook on the craft of creative writing, and a list of book reviewers.

26 thoughts on “How Many Fantasy Subgenres Are There?

      1. Thank you! Of course let me know what you think. I have a few short stories you can read for free on my short stories page. If you’re in a generous mood there’s one you can buy too. All the proceeds donated to charity. I see you do book reviews. I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for them!

  1. Hi Richie
    Second attempt [Wordpress suddeny decided NOT to recognise my (allegedly) “too weak” password!!]
    My planned series of childrens’ books (starting with “Rocking Horse Droppings” seem to fit nicely with the Fantasy genre. Do you think perhaps ALL childrens’ stories deserve to be given their own “sub-genre” classification?

  2. Hi Richie
    Second attempt [Wordpress suddenly decided NOT to recognise my (allegedly) “too weak” password!!]
    My planned series of childrens’ books (starting with “Rocking Horse Droppings”) seem to fit nicely with the Fantasy genre. Do you think perhaps ALL childrens’ stories deserve to be given their own “sub-genre” classification?

    1. A lot of newer novels seem to be using bits of all types of sub-genres. I’ve just finished Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky and that was a terrific blend of steampunk, high fantasy, and epic fantasy. Experimentation is encouraged I say! What do you reckon?

  3. Reblogged this on Richie Billing and commented:

    For Fantasy Friday this week, I’m revisiting an old post: The Many Sub-Genres of Fantasy.

    In identifying your sub-genre you can better target your readers as well as publishers that look for that type of tale. It’ll help you make useful comparisons to other, well-known books in that sub-genre too which may, with luck, help you sell more!

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