So I know I said last week that we were going to dive into some of the small, specialty genres of fantasy today, but actually we’re going to talk about another fantasy subgenre giant. (Don’t worry, we’ll still get to the specialty subgenres at some point.) What giant is this, you ask?
This is a relatively new genre, only cropping up in the last 2-3 decades. For one of the newest subgenres, it’s one of the fastest growing. It’s also somewhat tricky to define because while it has a technical definition, in common use it has evolved to become something rather different and specific. I’ll discuss both for your convenience.
Fantasy set in an urban area, i.e. the chief setting is a city. Any time period: past, present, future. Any world: real or fictional.
Common use definition:
Urban setting, our world, magic added, mythological and folkloric beings present
Thus, in common use, urban fantasy has to a degree replaced the designations of ‘low fantasy’ and ‘magical realism’; from simply being ‘a story with an urban setting’ to now meaning ‘a story set in our world but with the addition of magic’.
Some elements and tropes you’re likely to find in Urban Fantasy:
- A more gritty atmosphere than other genres of fantasy, including heavy influence from the genres of horror and mystery
- Folkoric creatures such as vampires, werewolves and other shape-shifters, witches, doppelgangers (in a large part thanks to American phenomenons Twilight and The Vampire Diaries)
- Mythological beings such as fae or elves
- Romance, often between humans and ‘inhumans’ or between ‘gifted’ humans and ‘ordinary’ humans
- Law enforcement or surveillance agencies
- Organizations that watch over and protect folkloric or mythological creatures
- Organizations whose mission is to hunt down and/or eliminate ‘inhuman’ beings
- Humans with paranormal or supernatural abilities
- ‘Gray’ storylines, where there are few actual villains or heroes and the focus is more on everyone just trying to survive and make the best of bad situations
So there you have it: the who, what, and why of urban fantasy. Stop by next Friday for a breakdown of the differences between paranormal fiction and urban fantasy (a common confusion).
Have you read or written urban fantasy? What do you like/not like about the genre?
Until next time… Merry Writing!