•High Fantasy - Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? High fantasy refers to a completely unique world with its own rules. Think LORD OF THE RINGS, GRACELING, and MISTWOOD.
•Reality-Based Fantasy (aka Contemporary Fantasy and Low Fantasy)- Ah here we go. Reality-based fantasy refers to a story grounded in the “real” world with magical elements interwoven as though they exist naturally. Examples would include HARRY POTTER, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, THE LIGHTENING THIEF and SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.
•Magical Realism – Wait – what’s the difference between Magical Realism and Reality-Based Fantasy? Good question. In Magical Realism the fantastic elements are generally accepted as part of the world as opposed to being hidden. Examples of this would be THE KEEPER, THE MERMAID’S MIRROR, SAVVY, and TORTILLA SUN.
•Urban Fantasy – Fantasy that exists in a modern, urban setting. The difference between this and Magical Realism? Think of it this way – if your book takes place in the remote island of Hapakulanani, or centuries prior around Stonehenge, it probably doesn’t belong in this category. What does? Books like TITHE and WHITE CAT, as well as CITY OF BONES and WICKED LOVELY.
•Historical Fantasy – Fantasy elements in a historical setting. Books like BEWITCHING SEASON and BETRAYING SEASON, and A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY.
•Paranormal – If you know me, you probably know that this category has a special place in my heart. Yep, we’re talking Vampires, werewolves, and other fantastic creatures that exist in our own world. And not all paranormals are romances. I would classify books like CRUSADE, SHIVER, and HUSH HUSH as paranormal.
Those are the sub-genres I hear of the most. What do you think? Have I missed something? Miscategorized something? Let me know! What I find most interesting about this topic is the apparent subjective nature of these categories. That so many people disagree on the lines between them is a testament to the complex nature of fantasy.