What Are the Different Types of Fantasy Fiction?

Kay Paddock

Fantasy fiction is a literary genre that includes stories that deal with characters or events that do not exist in the world as we know it. Fantastical settings, creatures, powers, and situations are often found in fantasy fiction, whether it is a modern story or one set in an ancient land. There are more than a dozen different types of fantasy fiction that are categorized according to the type of plot and story. These can be expanded into even more categories, depending on the different types of elements that appear in the plot. Some of the most popular types are alternative history, dark fantasy, modern or urban fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy, paranormal fiction, and sword and sorcery.

Many fantasy readers enjoy paranormal stories.
Many fantasy readers enjoy paranormal stories.

Each type of fantasy fiction usually has certain elements that help categorize it. Some categories blend together and can each accurately describe the same piece of fiction. Sword and sorcery fantasy, for instance, usually involves a medieval setting wherein there may be characters using swords to do things such as fight evil creatures, wizards, or dragons. Heroic fantasy is typically set in a fantasy world wherein the main character may serve as a clear hero who saves other characters or the entire world. These two categories often blend together when the setting clearly fits sword and sorcery and the hero character is the strongest one that drives the story.

Fantasy is a genre of fiction that can include supernatural figures, such as wizards, as characters.
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that can include supernatural figures, such as wizards, as characters.

Alternative history is a popular fantasy genre that typically involves actual history that has been rewritten enough to contain some fantastical elements. World War II being fought with dragons or being won with magic by Germany or Japan would be a good example of alternate history. Urban or modern fantasy, on the other hand, often has a present-day setting but with fantasy elements that are considered a natural part of the world, such as time travel, magic, or vampires. Paranormal fiction is a type of fantasy that can describe a story in any setting that contains elements of the paranormal, such as vampires, ghosts, psychics, or shapeshifters.

Cloaks may be worn by fantasy fiction characters.
Cloaks may be worn by fantasy fiction characters.

Epic fantasy fiction usually describes stories that have a large cast of characters, an in-depth world history, and scope beyond a simple plot or single story. Epic fantasy tales often take an entire series of novels to be told and can span decades, centuries, or millennia. Additionally, high fantasy fiction deals with parallel or completely made-up worlds, and often intersects with epic fantasy. Dark fantasy can contain elements of horror or such literary elements as post-apocalyptic settings that provide a grim backdrop for the characters and events.

Fantasy fiction usually falls into one of the most common categories, but may also be classified according to the general events in the story. A book that has fantasy elements but focuses on the budding relationship between the main character and his love interest, for instance, may be called romance fantasy or a fairy tale. Likewise, funny stories with fantastical settings can be called comic fantasy. More than one genre can also be represented in a fantasy novel, such as a story set in a fantasy world wherein horror elements and romance are both important to the plot.

People with psychic abilities may play major roles in fantasy fiction.
People with psychic abilities may play major roles in fantasy fiction.

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Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - Honestly, I hate it when literary authors or authors who concentrate on a different genre try to write science fiction or fantasy. Writing fantasy fiction seems easy enough and lots of people think they know all about it and can dive into writing it without a care in the world.

But they often end up rehashing ideas that have already been played out years ago. And since the people who read that kind of literary fiction are often not fantasy readers themselves, they think the author is being completely original, but they aren't.

I'm not going to name names or anything, but I really don't think anyone should be writing in a genre they don't read extensively. Otherwise it can just be embarrassing for everyone.


@bythewell - I would branch out into science fiction as well. Fantasy books tend to follow a certain formula because the publishers and authors know what people expect and they cater to it. A lot of epic fantasy is basically a soft version of Lord of the Rings, for example.

Science fiction has a lot more diversity and there are a lot more literary authors dabbling in it, because it lends itself well to real life. Even if you happen to be speculating on something that might happen in the future, it is at least a possibility, rather than something completely made up, like fantasy tends to be.


I love fantasy fiction, but I do wish that there was more literary fantasy fiction out there. I feel like I developed my interest in the genre when I was a teenager and didn't have that much knowledge of what good writing really was.

Now I do know what good writing is and I don't find it very often in fantasy fiction books. Which is not to say that there aren't some wonderful novels out there in the genre, but there seem to be an awful lot of poorly disguised political rants or weak, formulaic plot lines.

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