A Guide to 8 Fantasy Subgenres: Exploring the Enchanting Realms

Explore the 8 fantsy subgenres and how they came into existence.

hand holding glass ball in forest

Fantasy literature is a captivating genre that transports readers to magical worlds filled with extraordinary creatures, powerful wizards, and epic adventures. The beauty of fantasy lies in following characters through arduous adventures, exploring unique worlds, and escaping to alternative realities where anything is possible. 

From classics like J.R.R. Tolkien to the modern-day novelists, fantasy allows us to explore nuances in ethics and morales and push characters to make new discoveries that are often reflected in ourselves. 

As George R.R. Martin said perfectly, “I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read”. Do we really need any other reason than that to dive into the fantasy genre? 

How Did Fantasy Originate as a Genre?

To understand fantasy literature, it’s essential to explore its roots. Fantasy fiction has a rich history that dates back centuries, with its origins deeply embedded in folklore, mythology, and ancient legends. From the epic poems of Homer to the mediaeval romances, fantasy elements have always fascinated storytellers. 

Despite these influences, pinpointing the exact inception of the fantasy genre proves challenging due to the blurred boundaries between fantasy and other literary forms, particularly before the 19th century. 

Fantasy novels gained prominence in the 20th century, with iconic works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” shaped the modern fantasy landscape.

What Are the Common Elements of Fantasy Genres?

There are a few key elements we see arise in the fantasy genre that set them apart from other categories: 

  • Magic or magical elements
  • Adventure
  • Fictitious creatures
  • Complex characters 

These four elements often make an appearance in general fantasy literature, but to dive into more common tropes and components, we need to look at the subgenres of fantasy books. 

The 8 Most Common Fantasy Subgenres

While fantasy books all share central themes such as the battle between good and evil, by taking a look at the sub genres within the fantasy genre we can take a look at their defining traits that set them apart. 

High Fantasy

dragon on buildings epic fantasy

High Fantasy, also known as Epic Fantasy, transports readers to expansive and meticulously crafted secondary worlds with rich histories, diverse cultures, and grand civilizations. These narratives often revolve around epic quests, mediaeval fantasy, where protagonists embark on perilous journeys to confront dark forces and save the world. Epic Fantasy immerses readers in a realm of magic, mythical creatures, and overarching battles between good and evil.


  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”
  • Brandon Sanderson’s “The Stormlight Archive”
  • Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time”
  • Darryl King’s “In All Jest”

Sword And Sorcery

knight in armour and sword with horse

Sword and Sorcery is characterised by its focus on action-packed adventures featuring skilled warriors wielding magical weapons. These tales often centre around individual heroics, with protagonists navigating treacherous landscapes, engaging in quests, and encountering mythical creatures. Sword and Sorcery emphasises the personal journey of the hero, punctuated by encounters with supernatural elements.


  • Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian”
  • Nicholas Eames’s “Kings of the Wild”
  • R.A. Salavatore’s “The Legend of Drizzt”

Dark Fantasy

man with face makeup in fantasy style

Dark Fantasy takes a grittier and more ominous approach to the fantastical. It explores themes of horror, fear, and the supernatural, often blurring the lines between good and evil. Dark Fantasy worlds are characterised by their eerie atmospheres, morally ambiguous characters, and narratives that delve into the depths of human nature.


  • Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”
  • Rachel Gillig’s “One Dark Window”
  • Mark Lawrence’s “Prince of Thorns”

Fairy Tales

woman dressed in fairytale style

Inspired by folklore and mythology, Fairy Tales feature magical beings, enchanted lands, and moral lessons in a fantasy world. While often associated with children’s literature, many fairy tales carry deeper, universal themes that resonate across all age groups. With new adult book trends, there is a rise in the amount of fairy tale adaptations in the fantasy genre, allowing us to explore favoured classics in a new light. 


  • Sarah J.Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses”
  • Gail Carson Levine’s “Ella Enchanted” 
  • Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted”

Superhero Fantasy

Superhero Fantasy combines fantasy elements with superhero tropes such as science fantasy. These stories often feature characters with extraordinary abilities engaged in battles to save the world. Superhero Fantasy explores themes of heroism, identity, and the consequences of power.


  • V.E. Schwab’s “Vicious”
  • Carrie Vaughn’s “After the Golden Age”
  • Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” 

Romantic Fantasy

Romantic Fantasy or Romantasy intertwines love and relationships within a fantastical setting, crafting enchanting narratives that explore the complexities of love in extraordinary circumstances. These stories often feature strong emotional arcs and character relationships at their core. These fantasy stories can include other genres such as historical fantasy tropes or contemporary fantasy genres.


  • Amanda Bouchet’s “A Promise of Fire”
  • Rebecca Yarros’ “Fourth Wing”
  • Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander”

Paranormal Romance

Paranormal Romance blends fantasy with romantic storylines, often involving supernatural beings such as vampires, werewolves, or witches. These stories explore love amidst magical and otherworldly challenges, creating a unique blend of fantasy and romance.


  • Ali Hazelwood’s “Bride”
  • Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels Series”
  • Karen Marie Moning’s “Fever” 

Urban Fantasy 

urban courtyard and statue

Urban Fantasy seamlessly blends fantastical elements with contemporary, real-world settings, often in urban environments with magical realism. Magic coexists with the mundane, and protagonists navigate through cityscapes where supernatural creatures and mystical phenomena are integrated into everyday life. These stories explore the intersection between the magical and the modern, presenting a unique fusion of fantasy and urban life.


  • Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”
  • Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files”
  • Leigh Bardugo’s “The Ninth House”

Takeaways for Fantasy Literature

The allure of fantasy literature lies in its ability to transport us beyond the limits of reality, inviting us to dream, imagine, and explore the depths of our creativity. Whether you find solace in the epic quests of High Fantasy, the thrilling adventures of Sword and Sorcery, or the modern enchantments of Urban Fantasy, the genre offers a refuge for all seeking an escape into the extraordinary.

Thanks to the myriad of fantasy stories available, there’s plenty to add to your TBR (To Be Read) list. With the Authors benefits and expense of books available online or even at your library, fantasy is more accessible than ever. 

Fantasy and science fiction, with its myriad subgenres, remains an ever-evolving genre, weaving new stories that captivate the hearts and minds of readers, ensuring that the magic of fantasy literature endures for generations to come.