Reading, writing, watching, and playing games inside the varied realms of the fantasy genre is no longer considered the social sin it once was. Once upon a time even the mere mention of Dungeons and Dragons, or Star Trek, or comic books at school would get your head slammed into a locker, or worse. But us fans of the magical, the futuristic, have all grown up and brought our passion for fandoms with us. Now fantasy is everywhere in our culture from rabid fans of Stranger Things, to book-to-show comparisons of Game Of Thrones, to the latest: The Witcher. (Great book in my opinion, awesome video games. I highly recommend the Netflix show too!) Everyday younger fans or typically non-fantasy readers are finding themselves a great book series to sink into, or a new show to binge watch.
With all these fresh eyes it can be confusing to navigate the labyrinth of fantasy subgenres to find just the right book, movie, or video game for you. I wanted to take a moment and discuss the differences between two very closely related… yet sometimes mistakenly interchanged genres:
Paranormal Romance (PNR) and Urban Fantasy (UF).
Urban Fantasy is defined as: A subgenre of fantasy, in which the narrative uses supernatural elements in an urban society. Works of urban fantasy may be set in the real world and introduce aspects of fantasy, or in a fantasy world with operating rules recognizably similar to ours. (Source)
The most famous example of urban fantasy would be the Harry Potter novels and movies. The setting is in the real world, in a real country, and there is a very real and famous train station that you can go visit. (But please don’t try to run through any brick walls with a cart, it won’t end well.) Harry is a normal human being that starts out totally unaware of the fantastical side of life that awaits him.
Other famous examples:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer - A teenage girl from Sunnydale High who learns she has been given incredule powers to protect the world from evil.
Supernatural - A pair of brothers who travel the road in a Chevy Impala to hunt ghosts, vampires, evil spirits, and whatever other big baddies they come across.
Dresden Files novels - A private investigator who fights vampires, demons, werewolves, and all sorts of evil paranormal creatures in the real world city of Chicago.
Paranormal romance is defined as: Paranormal romance focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the speculative fiction genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature. (Source)
Paranormal romance and urban fantasy share a lot of the same elements but in different proportions. The romance plot of the story is first and the paranormal side is second. Unlike Buffy where both of her relationships with Angel and Spike are explored, those plot lines are not the main focus of the overall story. In paranormal romance, you’ll find all the same beasts and magic systems, but they are just used as a means to tell a love story.
I know everyone has their strong opinions on sparkly vampires. I know I do too, but Twilight is honestly the most famous example. Whether sparkly vampires are your thing or not, one cannot deny that Twilight is first, a love story, and a paranormal story second. The main focus is the relationships between Belle, Edward, and Jacob. (I feel like I need a shower for knowing that.) If all of these characters were human and there were no werewolves or vampires, the teen angst love triangle of Twilight could easily still be told.
I hope this helps! Finding your individual niches underneath the vast fantasy umbrella can be a daunting task. If you're into the darker side of urban fantasy, you can come hang out with some fun and crazy folks in The Darkside Of Bacon fan group on Facebook or head over to my Amazon Author Page and check out my work. Thanks, everyone!