Posted by: kshayes513 | March 19, 2010

Handy Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Subgenres

Genre and subgenre definitions can be both confusing and contentious.

Or we can have fun with all our differences. Thanks to game designer Steve Ince for pointing out these two handy guides to genre in his blog:

Handy Guide to Genre Distinctions

Handy Guide to Genre Distinctions in Videogames

These folks have inspired me to create this

Handy Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Subgenres


Science Fiction subgenres

Hard Science Fiction: playing with AI, genetic engineering and matter-energy transference.

Military Science Fiction: playing with ginormous space warships

Colonial Science Fiction: playing on alien planets

Space Opera: playing with blasters and rocket ships

Space Western: playing with sixguns and rocket ships

Steampunk: playing with dirigibles and shiny brass steam engines

Alternate History: playing in the Confederate States of the Third Reich

Time Travel:  playing with the Tardis and the laws of Relativity

Cyberpunk: playing havoc with the Establishment’s computer networks

Dystopian Science Fiction: Big Brother doesn’t allow playing

Post-apocalypse Science Fiction: nothing left to play with


Fantasy Subgenres

Epic Fantasy: playing with heroes, elves and evil overlords

Urban Fantasy: playing with immortal critters in the sewers

Dark Fantasy: playing with magic that might or might not cost your soul

Sword and Sorcery: playing with big swords and tiny garments

Magic Realism: playing with ordinary life through a really warped mirror

Paranormal Mystery and Romance: playing with vampires, werewolves and ghosts

Superhero Fantasy: playing with capes, tights and heat vision (or is that erotic fantasy…?)


For more serious reference, the definition-defying genre books site Worlds Without End has a much longer list of subgenres, with popup definitions (which I have ignored because actual definitions might affect the silliness). I notice their list forgot steampunk!

And please do suggest more subgenres and definitions if you have them!



  1. Hello, there

    Interesting description about generes and subgeneres. However, there’s a serious distinction to be made about the “Paranormal Mystery and Romance” subgenere: now it also relates to teenagers having intimate relationships with vampires, or willing to nonetheless.

    Popular culture is seriously deviating the traditional understanding of fantastic creatures, indeed. And I blame you, Robert Pattinson!!

    Errr… just kidding. Thank you for your contribution in my site, it was very kind of you.


  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I also enjoyed my visit to your site and will visit again soon!

  3. My favorite:

    Sword and Sorcery: playing with big swords and tiny garments


    Urban Fantasy is pretty good, too!

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