I cannot remember a time where I did not enjoy reading fantasy. I have gone through periods of time where my focus had shifted to science fiction, and I will occasionally read a historical fiction, but I always come back to fantasy. For a long time I was unaware that fantasy could be subdivided into sub-genres. It was all fantasy to me. A few years ago a friend of mine gave me his book to read and I loved it. One Right Tricky Bastard was the story of a wizard in the modern world who had to deal with all of the troubles of modern life with the added complication of magic and monsters being real. I was hooked. I asked if he knew any other books like that and he turned me on to Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files series. I tore through those books as well and started hunting for others. I had been pulled into the Urban Fantasy sub-genre.
So what is an Urban Fantasy? The major defining requirement for an Urban Fantasy revolves around the setting. A traditional Fantasy novel tends to include fantastic creatures and/or magic in some sort of a medieval setting. The Urban Fantasy will include the creatures or magic, but the world is modern (or at least post medieval) and usually revolves around a town or city. Whether the fantastic elements are out in the open or hidden from most people does not matter, as long as it exists. This in itself is a rather broad definition of the sub-genre, and it bleeds into a number of other sub-genres (especially horror), but is the most direct definition of Urban Fantasy.
It is almost impossible to avoid Urban Fantasy lately (not that I would recommend avoiding it), so let’s take a look at a few different books, movies and television shows that would fall into the Urban Fantasy category.
Wow, the possibilities here are endless, but as an example I could use Fright Night, Drive Angry, or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as examples. Each of them is a story told in the modern world and involves an element of the supernatural (which is really just another way of saying magic and monsters), but an even more direct example is the 2011 film, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. The main character is a private investigator who works amongst the monsters that lurk amongst every day people. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and magic blend together with a modern world that is all too willing to not notice their existence. The movie itself was mediocre at best, but it is a perfect example of the genre.
Two prime examples of Urban Fantasy on television are the long running Supernatural and Grimm. Both involve monsters, ghosts, and magic in the modern world. Both shows cater to the idea that the world is filled with supernatural entities that people are just not aware of and the heroes do the best they can to keep it that way. Secret Circle and Vampire Diaries are a couple of examples that fall into the genre, but they are also categorized as paranormal romance or even teen drama, but they are set in a modern world and involve magic or monsters (yes, the vampires are sexy, but still monsters). Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and American Horror Story are all examples of Urban Fantasy shows on television.
I could list plenty of books here, but instead I’m going to name two series that fall into the Urban Fantasy genre, even though they are regularly considered part of different genres.
Harry Potter is one of the biggest Urban Fantasy series of all time, though no one ever thinks to call it that. There is magic and monsters in every book and the inclusion of those elements in the modern world definitely qualify the series for the genre. The Twilight Saga, traditionally classified as Romance or Fantasy (as well as Young -Adult), also qualifies as Urban Fantasy with its heavy dose of vampires and werewolves.
As you can see, Urban Fantasy is everywhere, so what other Urban Fantasies have you found hiding in plain sight?
Thanks Eric! Food for thought indeed, as I too had never really thought to split fantasy stories into sub-categories. He is absolutely right, though, and it’s amazing to think how many well-loved books, films and television series fit into this sub-genre. If you’d like to see how Eric puts his love of Urban Fantasy into practice, check out his book Apocalypse Rising, available as ebook or paperback on Amazon.
Eric Swett started writing a story at 100 words a day in the spring of 2011 as an exercise while he worked on his novel. One year later and that exercise turned into his first novel, Apocalypse Rising. He has started another 100 word project (which can be found on his blog here) and the sequel to his first book.
He is the husband of Tracy and the father of Zachary and Connor. He works in the IT industry and is a recent transplant to North Carolina. He loves all things science fiction and fantasy and openly claims the title of geek.
- Storyboarding: Urban Fantasy (jamigray.com)
- Did Urban Fantasy make NPR’s Top 100 Best Young Adult Novels? (urbanfantasyland.wordpress.com)
- Upcoming releases in urban fantasy + new covers! (booksinheaven.wordpress.com)