What Is a Sub-Genre?

Jessica F. Black

A sub-genre is a sub-category of a specific genre, and can apply to literature, music, film, theater, video games, or other forms of art. Genres were created to classify artistic works into descriptive categories, and a sub-genre breaks down those categories into more defined subjects. This concept emerged around 300 B.C.E., when Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato organized various written works into three categories. Numerous genres have been added since, and the list of subject matter continues to grow. Due to the amount of artistic material in the world today, sub-categories of major topics make searching material easier because it is a well-organized format.

Horror fiction has sub-genres such as historical, psychological, and supernatural.
Horror fiction has sub-genres such as historical, psychological, and supernatural.

Literature became one of the first topics to be listed into separate genres and sub-genres. Before the sub-genre was introduced there were only a select number of categories to choose from, including romance, horror, thriller, science fiction, and mystery. These broad terms covered the general concept of the written work but lacked the in-depth description of a sub-category. For instance, romance is now separated into a number of categories, including contemporary, erotica, romantic comedy, and young adult. Horror fiction adopted categories such as historical, psychological, and supernatural, and the thriller genre added new subcategories including action, disaster, erotic, legal, and forensic.

Christian country music is a sub-genre of gospel music.
Christian country music is a sub-genre of gospel music.

Music has also been categorized into types, and the sub-genre specifies these types even further. The major genres of music generally include classical, blues, country, dance, rap, alternative, and easy listening, and the sub-genre helps further explain the different types of music in each category. This concept is extremely useful when a person is searching for a highly specific type of music. Blues music, for instance, has added sub-groups that include Chicago blues, country blues, classic blues, and contemporary blues. Most stores as well as Internet sites use sub-categories to enhance accessibility, which also speeds up the search process by allowing the customer to skip directly to the type of music he or she is interested in.

Paranormal fiction is a horror sub-genre.
Paranormal fiction is a horror sub-genre.

Film and theater often have similar types of categories as literature because they are both based on written works. Modern technology has also assisted in the growing popularity of sub-genres, and movies can be easily found by specific descriptions as opposed to very generalized categories. Popular movie sites and machines use the sub-genre as a primary search format in which a customer can choose a category such as dark humor or romantic action comedy in order to find a specific movie.

Psychological horror stories may be set in a mental hospital.
Psychological horror stories may be set in a mental hospital.
Stories featuring superheros are a sub-genre of action stories.
Stories featuring superheros are a sub-genre of action stories.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - I always find sub-genre helpful when I'm looking for new things to read. If I just finished something in one sub-genre, I can look for other books in that same sub-genre.

A lot of online bookstores will make recommendations based on the sub-genre of a book you liked. Also, there are a few websites dedicated to book reviews that do this too. I've found this very handy!


I like the idea of sub-genres. I think it really helps me explain some of the books I'm reading sometimes. If someone asks me if I read any good books lately, I can say I read a science fiction action novel. This is way more specific than just saying "I'm reading a science fiction book." That could really mean so many different things!


@stolaf23- I don't like to think too much about trying to define genre or define sub genre, and like you I try to branch out when I read. It's true though that a lot of people are put off by certain genres, so it really is useful for marketing, for schools and libraries, and just readers in general.


I don't like sub genres myself. They sound pretentious even if they make sense, and I try not to limit what I read to genre anyway. I read recommendations from other people, I read things with interesting titles, and sometimes I read things because they actually look like something I wouldn't read. Genre doesn't mean much to me.


Sub genre is really important for aspiring writers. It's one of the things that publishers think about when they decide whether or not to use a manuscript, especially in terms of how to market your book. I read once that a big problem a lot of writers make is trying too hard to make their sub genre fit a bunch of things, like a romantic science fiction fantasy, or a western adventure mystery, or some combination of that. It just makes stories sound confusing and contrived to publishers, and then your work seems less attractive.

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