While it may seem obvious, tracking novel genres and subgenres can be a tricky feat. For simplification, here’s a handy guide of literary genre terms and definitions.
First, let’s start with the basics:
- Genre—A type or category of literature or film marked by certain shared features or conventions.
- Subgenre—Subdivisions featuring more precise examples of a broader genre (i.e. Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of Fantasy)
Second, a list of the main novel genres out there:
- Action—Similar to Adventure, but the protagonist usually takes a turn which leads to a desperate situation. Action is often linked with Adventure. Common subgenres: Military Fiction; Western Fiction
- Adventure—Includes a protagonist who travels to epic/distant places to accomplish something. Common subgenres: Manga; Superhero Fiction; Action/Adventure
- Comedy—Focuses on funny or comical events. Common subgenres: Parody; Romantic Comedy
- Crime—Is a genre where a crime is or has been committed. It can also be about a criminal’s life. Common subgenres: Detective Story; Murder Mystery; Courtroom Drama; Legal Thriller; Gangster
- Erotica—Focuses on human sexual relationships and accounts with the intent to arouse the reader—may be both fictional and factual stories.
- Faction—Literature where settings or other elements of the story are based on real historical figures. The facts are blended with the story with fictitious elements.
- Fantasy—Includes magic or supernatural forces rather than technology, though it often includes elements of other genres, such as science fiction. Common subgenres: Urban Fantasy; Dark Fantasy; Fable; Fairy Tale; Epic/High Fantasy; Heroic Fantasy; Legend
- Historical—A story about a real person or event. Common subgenres: Biography; Alternate History
- Horror—A story intended to frighten the audience. Common subgenres: Ghost Story; Monster Story; Occult Story; Slasher; Survival Horror
- Mystery—Often associated with the crime genre, but there is a distinction. A mystery novel can be without crime, such as with stories containing supernatural elements.
- Paranoid—Looks at how forces in power can manipulate the subjective nature of reality. The forces can be internal or external (government conspiracy vs. mental illness, for example)
- Political—Focuses on political affairs. Common subgenres: Utopian; Dystopian
- Romance—Involves chivalry and character relationships and/or adventures. Common subgenres: Contemporary Romance; Historical Romance; Romantic Suspense; Paranormal Romance; Erotic Romance
- Science Fiction—Similar to Fantasy, but uses scientific understanding to explain the universe around the characters rather than magic. Common subgenres: Hard Science Fiction; Soft Science Fiction; Punk (Retropunk, Steampunk, etc.)
- Speculative—Fiction that speculates about worlds that are unlike the real world in significant ways.
- Thriller—A story that usually includes a mix of fear and excitement. Common subgenres: Distaster Thriller; Psychological Thriller; Crime Thriller
- Urban—AKA “Street Lit.” Stories are set in a city landscape and usually carries a dark tone. Common subgenres: Urban Fantasy