Urban Fantasy: Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Urban Fantasy: What is it?

an urban fantasy drawing, magical creatures such as ogres as well as humans are on a subway train

How familiar are you with the urban fantasy genre? If the answer is not very, this could be because it is a relatively contemporary term, first being used as we know it today during the 1980s. The genre began to gain mass popularity during the late 90’s and 00’s as it gained momentum in the publishing world. Beginning as a niche genre, urban fantasy has matured into one of the most successful genres in modern day publishing.

Though the term urban fantasy is still evolving, several elements establish the core characteristics of the genre. In short, urban fantasy stories need to be fantastical with supernatural elements, set in our world and in modern time. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, combining the worldbuilding aspect of fantasy and science fiction, with gritty real-world urban locations. These settings are typically dense, highly populated, contemporary metropolises. Imagine fantastical reimagining's of cities like New York, Tokyo, and London. These eclectic settings allow authors to manipulate chaotic city culture while incorporating the supernatural.

Why has urban fantasy become so popular in recent years?

Urban fantasy combines familiar settings with our dark fascination with the supernatural, appealing to contemporary readers. Series and genre-crossing, instead of stand-alone novels, allows for sales and marketing along multiple lines. Additionally, many urban fantasy films and TV adaptations have been produced which have a cult following, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, Good Omens, Lucifer, and His Dark Materials.

Urban fantasy books often overlap with the fantasy subgenre known as paranormal romance, which blends this gritty fantasy setting with romantic themes and elements. Picture supernatural creatures such as witches, sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, faeries, zombies, and shifters, with a romantic focus. Despite it being said that urban fantasy and paranormal romance share ‘90% of their genre DNA’, romance is the main plot of paranormal romance, whereas in urban fantasy romance is generally a subplot.

What is the difference between Fantasy and Urban fantasy?

Fantasy is a broad umbrella genre, housing many subgenres including urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is arguably the most popular subgenre of 21st century fantasy. Fantasy can be set in a wholly fictional universe, while urban fantasy specifically is set in real-life. For example, some mistake Harry Potter and Twilight as urban fantasy. Harry Potter can be categorised as low fantasy - when magical events intrude on an otherwise-normal world. Alternatively, Twilight is more complicated as Forks isn’t a densely populated city, although it does merge real-life with the supernatural. Twilight can therefore be considered a paranormal romance.

Tips on Writing Urban Fantasy:

1. Read as many urban fantasy books as you can to familiarise yourself with urban fantasy tropes.

2. Map out what parts of your novel will be drawn from reality and what supernatural elements you will include.

3. Have a strong mystery component. Gradually reveal information about the protagonist or maybe take inspiration from crime noir. Just make sure the reader cannot put your book down.

4. Include a romantic subplot. This typically includes the protagonist having a messy entanglement with conflicting supernatural beings or being part of a love triangle.

5. Utilize the urban setting to your advantage and choose your city carefully. The setting should play a part in your plot. Perhaps it would be best to pick somewhere you are familiar with so that your descriptions are realistic and compelling.

6. Think carefully about the world you are creating. How will the supernatural co-exist? Does everyone live equally or is there a social hierarchy? Are supernatural beings in isolation or are they integrated into society? These are the types of questions you must ask yourself before you start putting pen to paper.

Are you a fan of urban fantasy or looking for a gateway book into the genre? Then our book Storm’s Child by John Ortega is a must-read. Sequel coming soon.

the cover of storm's child by john ortega

Other examples of Urban Fantasy that we recommend:

· The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

· The Moral Instruments by Cassandra Clare

· The Mercy Thompson comics by Patricia Briggs

· American Gods by Neil Gaiman

· Burn by Patrick Ness

· The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

· The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

· The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

· The Alex Craft series by Kalayna Price

· Soulless by Gail Carriger

· The Charlie Madigan Series by Kelly Gay

· The Weather Warden Series by Rachel Caine.

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