Fiction genres are much debated and revised, but they’re crucial to providing logical order to the storytelling arts. We took it upon ourselves to compile the most comprehensive guide known to humankind.
Before we jump into some subtopics and explore the world of fiction genres in both detail and macro, feel free to use the table of contents below to quickly jump to a specific genre listing.
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Let’s jump in.
Overview: Fiction Genres
Before we dive right in, let’s take a moment to review the concept of fiction genres. If this is all old news, feel free to skip ahead to the section of your choice.
How to Use This Guide to Genres of Fiction
Contrary to how it may appear, this is not a list of movie genres or a rundown of the myriad types of genres in literature. Instead, this is a guide to fiction genres. That means it’s all-encompassing: movies, TV, books, comics, games, and more.
Feel free to jump from genre to genre, save this page in your bookmarks for repeated reference, or simply read end-to-end. If we’ve forgotten a genre, please give us a heads up in the comments down below.
This resource will be updated continually and considered a living document. So, we’d love for you, the reader, to take an active part in its creation and shape.
What Is A Genre of Fiction?
Many may feel like they have a good grasp of a genre of fiction, but there is actually a good deal of debate about this topic. Especially in academic circles.
For some, a genre of fiction is what others might consider a medium. For example, novels versus short stories. Others still consider a broader medium of creative writing as a whole to be a genre, such as prose versus poetry.
But for the vast majority of common folk and many academics, fiction genres are a category of narrative entertainment with similar themes, elements, and motifs. That’s how we’ll be using the term “genre” in this article.
Hybrid Genres of Fiction
We’ve all seen or read a work of fiction that’s hard to classify. Hybrid seems to be the only way to describe them collectively. Individually, we string together a series of genres to show the elements that blend together.
Generally, hyphens reign supreme in genre classification. It can seem like a never ending daisy chain of conjoined sub-genres and crossover genres. Looks ridiculous and, frankly, it is ridiculous. But that’s basically what we’re left with doing.
Here, for the most part, we’re foregoing hybrid genres. Meaning, we’re not separating them out and classifying them as a new whole. Instead, we’re defining each genre separately and leaving you, the reader, to place hyphens as you please.
There are exceptions, of course. Primarily when the hybrid genre has risen to the state of subgenre because of its prevalence in mainstream culture. Examples include supernatural romance.
Genre Fiction vs Literary Fiction
In general, genre fiction (also known as commercial fiction) is what “sells.” It appeals to a wider audience because it’s created for entertainment value. Literary fiction, on the other hand, is generally created to convey a message or meaning. This is not to say that genre fiction cannot have a broader message or literary elements, or that literary fiction cannot be entertaining, but these are the broadest general terms that can be used to convey their meaning.
Commercial Fiction Genres
The first section is dedicated to commercial (genre) fiction. These are the titles that generally encompass the more entertaining aspects of fiction that tend to be consumed by the masses at large.
Adventure is an incredibly broad genre that encompasses elements of action and suspense. The protagonist is forced to go on a journey, often by chance encounters or problems beyond their control. Along the way, problems arise that prevent the protagonist from continuing the journey, and these must be dealt with using wit, skill, or force. Adventure can be mixed with practically any other genre to form a cohesive sub-genre.
Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Treasure Island, Onward
TV Shows: McGyver, Black Sails, Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure
Literature: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, King Solomon’s Mines, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
Games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Shadow of Colossus
As the name suggests, the children’s genre is made for the purpose of entertaining, and often educating children. Elements of this genre include morality, poetry, simplicity, and artwork. A work of children’s fiction must be understood or readable by children of ages 3 – 7.
Movies: Zootopia, Spirited Away, Jumanji
TV Shows: Amazing Stories, Carmen Sandiego, Steven Universe
Literature: Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, Aesop’s Fables
Games: Minecraft, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Super Mario Odyssey
The classic genre is a bit strange as it isn’t a collection of similar themes and subject matter like the other genres. Instead, classics are works of fiction and non-fiction that define or contribute to other genres. Every genre has “classic” works that make up that genre’s substance.
Movies: Casablanca, Psycho, The Wizard of Oz
TV Shows: Star Trek, The Golden Girls, The Simpsons
Literature: Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, 1984
Games: Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda
The purpose of the comedy genre is mainly to entertain and offer levity. Comedy isn’t always humorous, though that is a staple of the more modern version of the genre. Classically, a “comedy” simply has a happy ending. Since then, the genre has expanded to include all manner of tropes, themes, and plot devices.
Movies: Idiocracy, Blazing Saddles, Little Miss Sunshine
TV Shows: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Office, Arrested Development
Literature: As You Like It, The Conscious Lovers, The Importance of Being Earnest
Games: South Park: The Stick of Truth, Jazzpunk, Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Historical fiction deals with historical events, and time periods either real or imagined. The genre strives to include specific details dealing with customs, manners, social conditions, and other details of the period it depicts. Historical fiction generally requires more research and creativity than some other genres due to its attention to detail and use of historical context respectively.
Movies: 1917, The Favourite, Schindler’s List
TV Shows: Marco Polo, Downton Abbey, Outlander
Literature: War and Peace, The Things They Carried, The Gettysburg Trilogy
Games: Assassin’s Creed, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Call of Duty: WWII
Middle grade is a genre that typically appeals to children ages 8 – 12. It is different from children’s fiction in that it typically relies on more mature themes (though decidedly less mature than young adult fiction) and focuses on the protagonist’s friends, family, and the immediate world around them.
Movies: Holes, Inkheart, Freaky Friday
TV Shows: The Magic School Bus, Heartland, Dear America
Literature: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Fish in a Tree, George
Games: Portal, Yaga, Broken Age
The mystery genre is a very broad category that includes elements of suspense, and intrigue. A classical mystery presents a problem with no clear answer, then proceeds to solve it over the course of the story. Ultimately this ends with revealing the source of the mystery. The ultimate goal of the mystery genre is to demystify an event or reveal truth. This category has multiple sub-genres.
Movies: The Davinci Code, Memento, Primal Fear
TV Shows: Dark, Psychopass, Murdoch Mysteries
Literature: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Woman in White
Games: The Wolf Among Us, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Disco Elysium
The amateur sleuth is a mystery subgenre that focuses around a protagonist that is usually an everyman with no connection to the police that regularly solves crimes, generally murders. This could also branch into other genres like children’s creative variations of the protagonist like “the kid detective.” Most importantly–they do not receive monetary compensation for their work.
Movies: Frantic, The Lady Vanishes, Murder on the Blackboard
TV Shows: Scooby-Doo, Castle, Grantchester
Literature: Murder at the Vicarage, The Name of the Rose, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Games: Kathy Rain, Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower, Painscreek Killings
Another mystery sub-genre, this one focuses on comedy and a protagonist that is incompetant, inexperienced, or simply oblivious to the dangers they regularly put themselves into. They confusingly slog through their cases until they arrive at the correct conclusion without knowing how they got there.
Movies: The Pink Panther, Get Smart, The Naked Gun
TV Shows: Inspector Gadget, The Detectives, Year of the Rabbit
Literature: The Manual of Detection, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
Games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Sam & Max
This is a subgenre of mystery or crime fiction, and generally involves the main character or characters, usually a rag-tag group of criminals, becoming embroiled in a crime that they either have already pulled off, or are planning to pull off. Most caper stories involve humor, adventure, and cleverness on the part of the protagonists.
Movies: Oceans 11, Topkapi, Baby Driver
TV Shows: Leverage, Firefly, The A-Team
Literature: The Hobbit, Six of Crows, The Great Train Robbery
Games: Empire of Sin, Sly Cooper, Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
Also known as “Paranormal Romance,” this is a hybrid subgenre that combines romantic plots with elements of the supernatural. Typically the protagonist is embroiled in a relationship with a member of a supernatural group such as a werewolf, a vampire, an alien, or a ghost. The themes are almost always centered on romantic love.
Movies: Ghost, Stardust, Meet Joe Black
TV Shows: Teen Wolf, True Blood, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
Literature: A Discovery of Witches, Conversion, Twilight
Games: Monsters of New Haven High, The Vampire House, The Wayhaven Chronicles
Child in Peril
This genre focuses on elements of action, adventure, horror, thriller, and others while using a child or a group of children as the protagonist(s). This genre most often involves supernatural or horror elements, but it is not a defining feature.
Movies: The Witches, Stand By Me, The Goonies
TV Shows: Stranger Things, Goosebumps, The Hardy Boys
Literature: The Girl in the Red Hood, Lord of the Flies, M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales
Games: Little Nightmares, Costume Quest, EarthBound
Also known as “Cozies” or “Cozy Mysteries” this genre most often focuses on an amature sleuth that solves mysteries in a small community where suspect lists are short because everyone knows everyone. Sex, profanity, and violence are prohibited.
Movies: Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery
TV Shows: Murder She Wrote, Father Brown, Hamish Macbeth
Literature: The Regatta Mystery, Elephants Can Remember, The Christie Curse
Games: Nancy Drew (series), Eagle Eye Mysteries, Persona 4
This sub-genre of mysteries is focused on a protagonist, antagonist, or victim that is or was a chef or cook.
Movies: The Gourmet Detective (series)
TV Shows: Murder, She Baked
Literature: Too Many Cooks, Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, Dying for Chocolate
This is a sub-genre of mystery that focuses on a protagonist that is in the medical field. The protagonist can be a doctor that solves medical mysteries, a detective that uses medical knowledge to solve crimes, or some combination of these elements with a twist.
Movies: Pathology, Extreme Measures, Malice
TV Shows: The Good Doctor, House M.D., Diagnosis: Murder
Literature: The Silent Partner, Striving With Gods, Symptoms of Death
Games: Emergency Room: Real Life Rescues, Trauma Center: New Blood
A subgenre of mysteries that focuses on a protagonist that is an anthropomorphic animal, or solves crimes with the help of an animal.
Movies: Sherlock Hound, Zootopia, Scooby Doo
TV Shows: Scooby Doo, Cuticle Detective Inaba
Literature: Cat on the Edge, Sneaky Pie For President, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers.
Games: Blacksad: Under the Skin, Backbone, Detective Pikachu
This subgenre of mystery is categorized by a protagonist that is disabled that must overcome or use their disability to solve crimes.
Movies: Silver Bullet, The Bone Collector
TV Shows: Monk, Ironside
Literature: Refusal, The Suspect
The subgenre of mystery focuses on a tough, gritty, cynical male protagonist that is a private investigator. These tales tend to be darker, or edgier than other mysteries.
Movies: The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Chinatown
TV Shows: Spencer for Hire, Mike Hammer, Kamen Rider Double
Literature: Farewell My Lovely, Put the Sepia On, Gun, With Occasional Music
Games: L.A. Noir,Under a Killing Moon, Discworld Noir
The subgenre of mystery focuses on a tough, gritty, cynical female protagonist that is a private investigator. It is the feminine version of the hard-boiled subgenre.
Movies: V.I. Warschawski
TV Shows: Our Miss Brooks, Jessica Jones, Bones
Literature: “A” is for Alibi, Hungover and Handcuffed, Asshole Yakuza Boyfriend
Games: A Case of Distrust, Detect Occult, Black Closet
A subgenre of mystery where the audience witnesses the crime at the beginning, and the plot centers around how the perpetrator will be caught.
Movies: Dial “M” For Murder, Oldboy, Knives Out
TV Shows: Columbo, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Criminal Minds
Literature: The Wishing Spell, Dr. Thorndyke, A Kiss Before Dying
Games: Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy), The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
A subgenre of mystery that focuses on a protagonist that is a lawyer or court official that solves the case themselves while the police are baffled.
Movies: A Few Good Men, Anatomy of Murder, Michael Clayton
TV Shows: Perry Mason, Matlock, Ally McBeal
Literature: The Lincoln Lawyer, Miracle Creek, Saving Max
Games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
As the name implies, this subgenre of mystery revolves around the conundrum of a crime being committed with very few possible scenarios as to how it happened. Use of extreme perception and logic are used by the protagonist to solve these “impossible” crimes.
Movies: The Verdict, Under the Evil Sun, Shutter Island
TV Shows: Jonathan Creek, Banaek, Murdoch Mysteries
Literature: Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Light Fantastic, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Games: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, Ghost Trick, Deadline
In this subgenre of mystery, the plot usually follows normal genre procedures, but the culprit is usually found to be some form of supernatural being or force such as a ghost, monster, or a vengeful spirit.
Movies: The Facts in the Case of Mr. Hollow, The Changeling, Angel Heart
TV Shows: The X Files, Supernatural, Twin Peaks
Literature: Ghosts, The Woman in Black, Falling Angel
Games: The Dark Pictures: Little Hope, Until Dawn, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
This is one of the broadest subgenres of mystery that is characterized by a detective, or team of detectives that must work together to identify and catch killers that are beyond normal means.
Movies: The Blue Lamp, Detective Story, The Guilty
TV Shows: Law & Order: SVU, Dragnet, Narcos
Literature: Cop Craft, Rivers of London, 87th Precinct
Games: Blue Force, Police Quest, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller
A subgenre of mystery focused on the protagonist that is a private detective. What separates this from hard boiled is the variance of setting, tone, and protagonist.
Movies: Gone Baby Gone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shaft
TV Shows: Magnum P.I., The Rockford Files, Psych
Literature: The Purloined Letter, Shadow of a Broken Man, The Genesis Code
Games: Dangonropa, Kona, Detective Grimoire
In this subgenre of mysteries, the setting and characters are drawn from exotic, underused, and unfamiliar countries and cultures.
Movies: The Last Hour, Zero
TV Shows: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, No Man’s Land
Literature: Inspector Ghote, Wife of the Gods
As the name implies, this subgenre of mystery centers on the protagonist finding the culprit of a crime. Often the protagonist is a clever detective who was either present, or moves to the crime scene where there are already obvious suspects.
Movies: Clue, Gosford Park, Once Upon a Crime
TV Shows: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Luther, Jonathan Creek
Literature: And Then There Were None, Ten Little Indians, Wolf Lake
Games: Caper in the Castro, L.A. Noir, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
In this subgenre of mystery, the protagonist and the audience have access to the same clues throughout the story. This gives the audience the chance to solve the mystery before the protagonist.
Movies: Hot Fuzz, The Last of Sheila, Murder by Death
TV Shows: Jonathan Creek, Psyche, Sins for Father Knox
Literature: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Poet, The Caves of Steel
Games: Heavy Rain, Super Solvers: Midnight, L.A. Noir
Woman in Peril
This subgenre’s plots revolve around a woman in danger from varied sources, and aren’t necessarily “mysteries” in the traditional sense, but may have elements of the mystery genre. This is much like Child in Peril.
Movies: Opera, The Ladies Club, Eyes of Laura Mars
TV Shows: Killer Instinct, Supernatural, CSI
Literature: The Shining Girls, Girl in the Box, The Poisonwood Bible
Games: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Beyond Good and Evil, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
This is a broad genre that includes elements of many other genres, but the themes focus on love, attraction, romantic feelings, sex, idealism, fantasy, and emotional tension. Generally the plot revolves around the romantic relationship of two protagonists, and the ending is emotionally satisfying.
Movies: Casablanca, Call Me by Your Name, Lost in Translation
TV Shows: Bridgerton, Emily in Paris, Sex and the City
Literature: Jane Eyre, The Notebook, Indego
Games: Dream Daddy, Florence, Life is Strange: Before the Storm
In this subgenre of romance, the love interest is very wealthy, either from family money, or from some kind of well-known business enterprise. Commonly, but not essentially, the protagonist is poor.
Movies: Crazy Rich Asians, Maid in Manhattan, Pretty in Pink
TV Shows: Jane the Virgin, Destiny Love, Inocente de ti
Literature: Bared to You, Beautiful Bastard, In Flight
Games: Fall in Love: My Billionaire Boss, Love Story Games: Kissed by a Billionaire
Contemporary romance is the largest subgenre of romance wherein the social moors of the time in which the work is created are impressed upon the audience. This generally means that the work as a whole reflects the times in which the author lived.
Movies: Love Actually, The Big Stick, Brokeback Mountain
TV Shows: Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives
Literature: September Ends, The Bronze Horseman, Broken Homes Gardens
Games: The Uncharted Series, Dream Daddy, Florence
Fantasy romance is essentially a romantic plot that is set in a fantastical world, or that incorporates fantastical elements into its plot, and setting.
Movies: The Princess Bride, What Dreams May Come, Stardust
TV Shows: Once Upon a Time, Merlin, Misfits
Literature: Stormsong, The Wicked Fox, Silver in the Wood
Games: Final Fantasy X, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Arcana
This is a subgenre of romance that incorporates elements of fantasy romance, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance, but its themes and settings tend to be darker. The typical gothic romance revolves around conflict and mystery.
Movies: Crimson Peak, Let the Right One In, The Woman in Black
TV Shows: Penny Dreadful, Anne With an E, Arang and the Magistrate
Literature: July Thunder, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca
Games: Ravenherst, Doki Doki Literature Club, Gray Matter
This subgenre of romance is characterized by its history-based context, and attention to detail when describing the setting, characters, and social constructs of the time period in question. Many of the best pieces of historical romance were once considered contemporary romance until they aged out of the category.
Movies: Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The Favourite
TV Shows: The Tudors, Poldark, Victoria
Literature: Jane Eyre, Slightly Married, The Bride
Games: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, The Lady’s Choice, Attentat 1942
In this subgenre of romance, the story takes place during a holiday–especially Christmas. The protagonist is usually a female with kids, and the romantic interest is usually a man who has had some tragedy in his life. Through the story, the two end up together just in time for the holidays.
Movies: Christmas With A View, Snow Bride, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish
TV Shows: Santa’s Squad (TV Movie), Naughty & Nice (TV Movie), A Holiday Romance (TV Movie)
Literature: One Day in December, Holidate, Wrapped Up in You
Inspirational romance is a subgenre focused around faith, generally the Christian faith. The protagonist is usually a person of faith, or is looking for their faith. The author may also use faith as a plot device.
Movies: I Still Believe, Fireproof, Forever My Girl
TV Shows: When Calls the Heart, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Finding Love in Quarantine
Literature: Redeeming Love, A Passion Most Pure, The Negotiator
Games: Adam’s Venture, That Dragon: Cancer
A subgenre of romance in which the hero or heroine are active duty or former military. If the protagonist is not part of the military, then the story takes place during a war, or in or around a military base.
Movies: Cold Mountain, Pearl Harbor, Atonement
TV Shows: Army Wives, The Night Shift, The Last Ship
Literature: Fighting Redemption, Vivid, Making Faces
Games: Gears of War, Xenogears
This subgenre of both romance fiction and speculative fiction focuses on romantic love and includes elements of fantasy, science fiction, or horror that go beyond normal understanding.
Movies: A Ghost Story, Beauty and the Beast, The Love Witch
TV Shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A Gifted Man, Pushing Daisies
Literature: A Queer Trade, A Discovery of Witches, Bitter Spirits
Games: My Magical Divorce Bureau, Demonheart, Rose of Winter
This subgenre is not merely historical romance, but focuses on a specific period of time between 1811 – 1820 (The British Regency period), and has its own rules such as courtly manners, intelligent dialogue, and very little, if any, explicit sexual dialogue or depictions thereof.
Movies: Bright Star, The Courage to Love, Beloved Sisters
TV Shows: War & Peace, Reign, Mr. Sunshine
Literature: Sense & Sensibility, Midsummer Moon, For All Eternity
Games: Regency Love
This subgenre of romance incorporates elements of mystery and thriller genres.
Movies: Siberia, Rebecca, Basic Instinct
TV Shows: The Protector, Vagabond, The Innocents
Literature: Nine Coaches Waiting, The Fearless King, Hush
Games: Kill or Love, Happy Valentine’s Day
Science Fiction Romance
This subgenre uses elements of science fiction and fantasy to convey its plot that focuses on romantic love.
Movies: The Shape of Water, Alita: Battle Angel, Passengers
TV Shows: Dr. Who, Sword Art Online, My Love From Another Star
Literature: Grimspace, Bolt, Finders Keepers
Games: Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, To the Moon
This romance subgenre focuses on a protagonist that is either in professional sports, was in professional sports, or has a job related to the field. Alternatively, the love interest of the narrative is or was in professional sports, or has a job in the field.
Movies: Love & Basketball, Bend it Like Beckham, Jerry Maguire
TV Shows: Friday Night Lights, One Tree Hill, Make It or Break It
Literature: Furia, The Right Player, The Bromance Book Club
Games: Aokana – Four Rhythms Across the Blue, Date Night Bowling
Time Travel Romance
This subgenre of romance relies on some element of time travel to support or drive its narrative, usually the protagonist or the love interest has been transported through time, and the main conflict arises when they must decide whether or not to stay in the current time, or return to their own. While it can be classified as sci-fi and/or supernatural, this subgenre has become popular and enumerated enough to gain its own subgenre.
Movies: Somewhere in Time, Your Name, When We First Met
TV Shows: Outlander, Dr. Who, The King: Eternal Monarch
Literature: The Dancer From Atlantis, Love and Gravity, A Knight in Shining Armor
Games: Steins;Gate, Last Day of June, Area X
This subgenre of romance incorporates setting elements of the “old west.” In particular, the American Frontier. Though often set in historical periods, this subgenre is not restricted to history, also including contemporary romance that prominently feature cowboy culture. This genre is also known as “cowboy romance.”
Movies: The Misfits, Down in the Valley, Quigley Down Under
TV Shows: Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, When Calls the Heart, The Young Riders
Literature: Mackenzie’s Mountain, Bane, A Promise of Roses
Games: Red Dead Redemption (Series)
Young Adult Romance
This subgenre of romance features a teenage protagonist, a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying ending. The content of this genre is geared toward readers aged 12 – 18, and varies in depictions of sex, use of violence, gore, and profanity based on its intended target audience.
Movies: 10 Things I Hate About You, The Fault in Our Stars, A Walk to Remember
TV Shows: Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks
Literature: Fire, The Upside of Unrequited, American Panda
Games: There is No Game: Wrong Dimension, Gone Home, Emily is Away Too
A genre of fiction that is categorized by eliciting emotions of suspense, anxiety, excitement, surprise, and anticipation. Thrillers often rely upon villains that a protagonist must overcome, and utilize plot devices such as red herrings, unreliable narrators, and cliff-hangers to achieve their desired emotional responses.
Movies: Misery, The Last House on the Left, Dressed To Kill
TV Shows: 24, Thriller, Mirzapur
Literature: The Magus, The Secret History, I Let You Go
Games: Evan’s Remains, The Occupation, The Inner Friend
This subgenre of thriller incorporates elements of action in order to advance the plot.
Movies: Tenet, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Project Power
TV Shows: Chuck, Alias, Mission Impossible
Literature: Killing Floor, The Bourne Identity, Patriot Games
Games: Sleeping Dogs, Heavy Rain, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
In this subgenre of thriller, the protagonists are usually amature detectives or journalists who find some kind of inconsistency, and, as they investigate, they uncover a conspiracy that exposes powerful people.
Movies: Flashpoint, The Capture, Edge of Darkness
TV Shows: Burn Notice, Kidnapped, The Prisoner
Literature: The Grotto’s Secret: A Historical Conspiracy, The DaVinci Code, The Manchurian Candidate
Games: Assassin’s Creed II, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, XIII
In this subgenre of thriller, the plot revolves around a crime that must be stopped, or a criminal that must be apprehended by law enforcement, military, or some kind of vigilante.
Movies: 21 Bridges, Joker, The Mule
TV Shows: Prison Break, Breaking Bad, Fargo
Literature: The Missing American, The Majesties, The Moonstone
Games: A Way Out, True Crime: Streets of LA, Hitman (Series)
In this subgenre of thriller, the plot revolves around a dangerous natural (or man-made) disaster such as a volcano, a flood, a tornado, a virus, or a nuclear event.
Movies: Armageddon, The Wandering Earth, 2012
TV Shows: 10.5: Apocalypse, The Colony, Chernobyl
Literature: American War, Issac’s Storm, The Worst Hard Time
Games: Disaster Report, Left Alive, Disaster: Day of Crisis
Also known as “spy fiction,” espionage thrillers incorporate elements of action and adventure with a plot that revolves around secrets, spies, and intelligence agencies.
Movies: Atomic Blonde, Spectre: 007, Kingsmen: The Secret Service
TV Shows: Homeland, The Bureau, Nikita
Literature: The Scarlet Pimpernel, No Cloak, No Dagger, American Spy
Games: Perfect Dark, Dishonored, Alpha Protocol
In this subgenre of thriller, the plot revolves around terrible murders or other crimes that must be solved by the use of forensic technology by a single investigator or a team of interdisciplinary operatives before the situation worsens.
Movies: Hannibal, Cut Off, Chasing Ghosts
TV Shows: CSI: Miami, Quincey M.E., Stranger
Literature: Body of Evidence, Bones are Forever, The Midwife Murders
Games: L.A. Noir, CSI: Deadly Intent, Condemned 2: Bloodshot
In this subgenre of thriller, the plot has all the elements one would expect from the thriller genre, but the setting is in an earlier time period.
Movies: Braveheart, Titanic, The Patriot
TV Shows: Marco Polo, Medici, Taboo
Literature: The Terror, Child 44, The Count of Monte Cristo
Games: Ghost of Tsushima, Call of Duty: WWII, A Plague Tale: Innocence
This subgenre of thriller revolves around a lawyer or legal team that seeks to protect their client from the antagonist’s legal team through utilization and study of the legal system. This can also spread outside of the courtroom with elements of action.
Movies: Michael Clayton, High Crimes, The Rainmaker
TV Shows: Law & Order: SVU, For Life, How to Get Away With Murder
Literature: Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Covenant With Death
Games: Ace Attorney (Series), Bohemian Killing, Aviary Attorney
This subgenre deals with the sinister side of medicine, plots may involve medically-minded antagonists who use their skills for murder, or deadly viruses that wreak havoc on a population, or protagonists that deal with medical mysteries.
Movies: The Lazarus Effect, Pathology, Repo: The Genetic Opera
TV Shows: Ratched, Third Watch, Code Black
Literature: Mutant, Mind Catcher, The Surgeon
Games: Plague Inc: Evolved, Outlast, Town of Light
This subgenre of thriller focuses on military objective or techology-based plots that are often global in scale. The protagonist is generally a part of the military, or former military.
Movies: Tears of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down
TV Shows: American Odyssey, The Brave, Strike Back
Literature: The Hunt for Red October, Sub-Sahara, The Third Age
Games: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Battlefield, Wolfenstein: The New Order
In this subgenre, the plot centers on a mystery that must be solved over the other elements that make up a general thriller. The mystery is often, but not always, an internal puzzle the protagonist must work out for themselves rather than a crime.
Movies: Rear Window, Memento, The Body
TV Shows: Lost, Tiny Pretty Things, Utopia
Literature: Truly Devious, The Woman in the Window, Then She Was Gone
Games: Max Payne, Telling Lies, Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders
This subgenre of thriller incorporates elements of horror. Rather than dread and disgust, paranormal thrillers evoke fight or flight responses through action and imagery.
Movies: The Sixth Sense,
TV Shows: The Twilight Zone,
Literature: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Shining, Interview With a Vampire
Games: Fading Visage, Death of Rose, Dogman
This subgenre features a plot set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They usually involve corruption, organized crime, terrorism, or warfare as plot devices. Some are based on actual historical events.
Movies: The Interpreter, All the President’s Men, The Man Who Knew Too Much
TV Shows: House of Cards, Designated Survivor, Bodyguard
Literature: The Three Musketeers, The Secret Agent, The Day of the Jackal
Games: Floor 13: Deep State, Save Koch
This subgenre is closely related to and sometimes overlaps with the psychological horror genre, but rather than focusing on primal fears and frightening scenarios, psychological thrillers create a sense of “dissolving reality.”
Movies: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Black Swan, Jacob’s Ladder
TV Shows: Black Mirror, Damages, Death Note
Literature: The Favorite Daughter, We’ll Never Be Apart, Doctor Sleep
Games: Get Even, Silent Hill, Those Who Remain, Lockheart Indigo
This subgenre focuses on a mystery, conspiracy, or quest that involves religious artifacts, secrets, or fanaticism. The antagonists of religious thrillers are often zealots or supernatural beings from religious texts.
Movies: Mother!, The Ninth Gate, The Wicker Man
TV Shows: Messiah, A Handmaid’s Tale, The Exorcist
Literature: Sanctus, The Sword of Moses, The DaVinci Code
Games: BioShock, Blasphemous, Gray Dawn
This subgenre combines elements of adventure and thriller. These works are often characterised by heroic protagonists and honorable villains (though this is not always the case). Swashbuckler fiction nearly always incorporates sword fighting, heroic stunts, and romance.
Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess Bride, Cutthroat Island
TV Shows: Zorro, Queen of Swords, The Adventures of Robin Hood
Literature: Treasure Island, Scaramouche, Shadow of the Conqueror
Games: Tales of Monkey Island, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, Hero-U Rogue to Redemption
This is a hybrid genre that incorporates elements of thrillers, sci-fi, espionage, and/or military genres. In general, techno thrillers are detail-oriented action/adventure works set in the contemporary world.
Movies: Patriot Games, Swordfish, Jurassic Park
TV Shows: Person of Interest, Biohackers, Mr. Robot
Literature: Dark Matter, A Vision of Fire, Bandwidth
Games: Born Punk, VirtuaVerse, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
Young Adult Thriller
In this subgenre of thriller, the protagonist is a teenager with agency that must solve their own problems, often involving paranormal, psychological, or criminal terror. Special attention is given to the “feeling” of the story rather than the actual plot.
Movies: I Know What You Did Last Summer, House at the End of the Street, Unfriended
TV Shows: Riverdale, Twisted, 13 Reasons Why, The Secret Circle
Literature: Down a Dark Hall, Panic, The Doubt Factory
Games: Detention, The Last of Us, Rule of Rose
A broad genre that generally means any fiction set in the late 19th and early 20th century in the Western United States, also known as “The Old West.” The plots usually revolve around a protagonist that is a cowboy, or a gunfighter. Recurring elements of this genre include conflict with Native Americans, bandits, “law men,” arid or desert landscapes, small towns, ranches, and other staples of “Old West” culture.
Movies: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Red River, Unforgiven
TV Shows: The Son, Wynonna Earp, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Literature: The Ox-Bow Incident, Lonesome Dove, The Gunsmith
Games: Luckslinger, 12 is Better than 6, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
In this type of western, the plot revolves around a protagonist or gang that hunts outlaws for monetary gain.
Movies: Santee, The Hateful Eight, Seraphim Falls
TV Shows: Trigun, Tate, Wanted Dead or Alive
Literature: Yuma Prison Cashout, Epitaph, Firestick
Games: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, Red Dead Redemption, Wild Guns
A subgenre of western fiction where the plot centers around a cattle drive–the act of moving cattle from one place to another, usually for sale.
Movies: Open Range, Red River, Cattle Empire
TV Shows: Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive, Rawhide, Cattle Drive
Literature: Silverhills, Of Peaks and Prairies, The Trail Driver: A Western Story
Games: Railway Empire, Cowboy Life Simulator
A subgenre of Westerns that is aimed at an audience of ages 3 – 7. Plots are simplistic and centered around heroic, cowboy protagonists.
Movies: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Home on the Range, Horse Crazy
TV Shows: The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid
Literature: By the Great Horn Spoon!, Spirit Riding Free, The Gingerbread Cowboy
Games: Cowboy Toddler, Disney Infinity: The Lone Ranger
A subgenre of western fiction set during the California gold rush during the first half of the 19th century.
Movies: The Spoilers, The Call of the Wild, There Will Be Blood
TV Shows: Klondike, Deadwood, White Fang
Literature: Calico Palace, This Golden Valley, Walk on Earth a Stranger
Games: 1849, Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
This subgenre of western fiction revolves around a protagonist that is a lawman, outlaw, cowboy, shooting exibitionist, or a mercenary that makes their living by utilizing a firearm.
Movies: Forsaken, Gallow Walkers, Tombstone
TV Shows: Guns of Paradise, Gunslinger, Westworld
Literature: Shane, Legend of a Gunfighter, Anything for Billy
Games: Gun, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Darkwatch: Curse of the West
This subgenre of westerns is set during a period of mass land acquisition. Generally the setting is either The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 or the Land Run of 1893.
Movies: Far and Away, Cimarron, Tumbleweeds
TV Shows: (None)
Literature: Emma’s Folly, Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, Beautiful Land: A Story of the Oklahoma Land Rush
This subgenre of westerns focuses on a protagonist that is a part of law-enforcement; generally a sheriff of a town, a Texas Ranger, or a U.S. Marshall.
Movies: Hang ‘em High, Lawless, Appaloosa
TV Shows: Lawman, Gunsmoke, Longmire
Literature: Righteous Kill, The Evil Breed, The Lawman
Games: The Gunstringer, Outlaws
This subgenre of western focuses on a protagonist that is a “mountain man,” someone who lives off the land.
Movies: The Revenant, Jeremiah Johnson, The Mountain Men
TV Shows: Daniel Boone, Mountain Men
Literature: The Big Sky, Buffalo Palace, Mountain Man
Games: Outlaws of the Old West, Mountain Man: A New Beginning
This subgenre of western fiction centers around a protagonist or group of protagonists that are ostracized or marginalized individuals; fugitives, exiles, or those opposed to the notion of “law and order.”
Movies: True History of the Kelly Gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Young Guns
TV Shows: Godless, Alias Smith and Jones, Outsiders
Literature: The Outlaw Josey Wales, Way of the Outlaw, To Hell on a Fast Horse
Games: Desperados III, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
This subgenre of western fiction centers on a protagonist or a family of protagonists usually set against the backdrop of the Great Plains region of the United States. Common themes of this genre are family, romance, and man against nature.
Movies: Love Comes Softly, Little Women, Love’s Abiding Joy
TV Shows: Little House on the Prairie, Ponderosa
Literature: Little House in Brookfield, One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dedd, Jubilee Trail
Games: Chico, Depraved, Heat: Homestead
This subgenre of westerns focuses on a protagonist who was wronged, and seeks justice by their own means.
Movies: The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, The Quick and the Dead
TV Shows: Have Gun – Will Travel, The Outcasts, The Tall Man
Literature: The Hell Bent Kid, True Grit, The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery
Games: Red Dead Revolver, Wild Guns, Hard West
A subgenre of westerns characterized by a journey from one destination to another by way of covered wagons. The protagonist is either part of the wagon train or becomes part of it after an event or payment.
Movies: The Donner Party, The Way West, Meek’s Cutoff
TV Shows: Wagon Train, Rawhide, Laramie
Literature: Land of the Shining Mountains, Passage West, The Lost Wagon Train
Games: Oregon Trail (Series), Outlaws of the Old West
Young Adult Western
This subgenre of westerns features a teenage protagonist, and content suitable for ages 12 – 18. This subgenre tends to mix themes and genres more than more adult-oriented westerns, and can be set during the past, present, future, alternate timeline, or alternate reality.
Movies: Death in the Saddle, The Dark Tower, Young Guns
TV Shows: McLeod’s Daughters, The Young Riders
Literature: Year of the Horse, Space Cowboy, The Devil’s Paintbox
Literary Fiction Genres/Styles
These are styles for “literary fiction.” Literary fiction is distinguished by its character-driven plots, elevated writing style, exploration of subtleties in language, theme, and symbolism.
Postmodern literature is characterized by its use of metafiction (written in a way that reminds the reader that they are reading something that is fiction), unreliable narrator, self-referential dialogue, self-aware protagonists, and intertextuality (the ability for one work to refer to another.) While there are many other techniques and styles that fit under the broad umbrella that is “postmodernism,” these give the most generalized example of the style.
Movies: Bladerunner, Pulp-Fiction, American Beauty
TV Shows: Family Guy, The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Literature: Breakfast of Champions, Catch-22, Gravity’s Rainbow
Games: Bioshock: Infinite, Spec Ops: The Line, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Stream of Consciousness
This style of literary fiction is characterized by using inner-monologue in a continuous “stream” or paragraph to convey the thoughts of a narrator or character. The thoughts of a character are associated with their actions, and are portrayed in the form of a monologue that addresses the character itself. This is unlike traditional monologue or soliloquy that addresses the audience.
Movies: Mirror, The Tree of Life, Synecdoche New York
TV Shows: Neon Genesis Evangelion, The Eric Andre Show, Scrubs
Literature: Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway, The British Museum is Falling Down
Games: Undertale, SOMA, Dear Esther
Speculative Fiction Genres
Speculative fiction is a very broad category encompassing supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements that exist outside the realm of realism.
This is a broad genre that generally evokes feelings of shock, fear, and disgust. It is intended to frighten the reader or bring about feelings of loathing and dread.
Movies: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th
TV Shows: American Horror Story, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Slasher
Literature: IT, House of Leaves, Dracula
Games: Until Dawn, Silent Hill, Resident Evil
This subgenre of horror utilizes disturbing depictions of the human body in various ways. Aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, extreme violence/destruction, disease, and unnatural movment are all expressions of body horror.
Movies: The Fly, The Thing, Eraserhead
TV Shows: Parasyte: The Maxim, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story: Freakshow
Literature: Books of Blood, Shiver, The Cipher
Games: Bioshock, Resident Evil 4, Clive Barker’s Jericho, Inside
This subgenre utilizes underlying fear of children to unnerve the audience. Precocious speech, psychopathic behavior, and feigned innocence are all hallmarks of a “creepy child.”
Movies: Children of the Corn, Brighburn, Goodnight Mommy
TV Shows: The Haunting Hour, Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark
Literature: Such Small Hands, The Butcher Boy, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Games: Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Lucious
This subgenre of horror is violent, gory, and often sexually explicit or exploitative. It is also known in literary circles as “splatterpunk,” while in cinema it has come to be known as “torture porn.”
Movies: Hostel, Martyrs, The Human Centipede, Saw (series)
TV Shows: Wolf Creek, The Purge, Gantz
Literature: The Woods are Dark, Battle Royale,This Symbiotic Fascination
Games: Resident Evil 7, Condemned: Criminal Origins, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
This subgenre of horror focuses on a single location, usually a house or a mansion, that is pervaded by a spirit or spirits.
Movies: Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, Poltergeist
TV Shows: American Horror Story: Murder House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Ghostwatch
Literature: The Shining, House of Leaves, The Grip of It
Games: Paranormal, P.T., Anatomy
This subgenre of horror is focused on a fear of the unknowable based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, his Cthulu mythos, and other works that have since been absorbed into it. Unknowable, unidentifiable, and non-euclidean, are all words used to describe this type of horror. Nihilism and cosmicism are common themes.
Movies: The Cabin in the Woods, The Color of Space,
TV Shows: Lovecraft Country, True Detective, The Outer Limits
Literature: In the Mouth of Madness, The Ballad of Black Tom, Hammers on Bone
Games: Bloodborne, The Sinking City, Pathologic
This subgenre of horror is characterized by the source of horror being created by human hands. This could be intentional, or a mistake. Often this overlaps with the science fiction or fantasy genres. Rogue A.I., Science Gone Wrong, Nuclear Fallout, Pollution, are all examples of man-made horror.
Movies: Tusk, Splice, Terminator
TV Shows: Jekyll, Elfen Lied, NEXT
Literature: Frankenstein, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Blood Music
Games: Outlast, Metro (series), Galerians
This subgenre of horror focuses on beasts, creatures, and “the monster within.” The plot usually revolves around the protagonists falling victim to, and then attempting to destroy the monster in question.
Movies: A Quiet Place, Wildling, Animal
TV Shows: October Faction, Supernatural, The Mist
Literature: The Fisherman, The Day of the Triffids, Relic
Games: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Hunt: Showdown, Darkwood
This subgenre of horror deals with the esoteric and magickal (with a “k”) that exists outside the realm of religion. Occult Horror is almost always supernatural in that the strange or inexplicable elements are treated as “real” for the purposes of the plot.
Movies: The Blair Witch Project, Apostle, Hereditary
TV Shows: American Horror Story: Coven, Penny Dreadful, Twin Peaks
Literature: The Damnation Game, The Burn Palace, The Ruins
Games: The Dark Occult, Don’t Knock Twice, Outlast 2
This subgenre of horror focuses on a protagonist or an antagonist that utilizes telepathy, telekinesis, mind control, or some other form of mind-driven power to create tension or perpetrate horrific acts.
Movies: Carrie, The Fury, Evil Eye
TV Shows: The Others, The Dead Zone, Midnight Texas
Literature: Firestarter, Doctor Sleep, Carrion Comfort
Games: The Medium, Galerians
This subgenre of horror focuses on mental, emotional, and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle its audience. This frequently overlaps with psychological thrillers, and often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.
Movies: Possum, Green Room, Funny Games
TV Shows: American Horror Story: Asylum, Hannibal, Bates Motel
Literature: Whoever Fights Monsters, Misery, The Deep
Games: Silent Hill, Layers of Fear, Alan Wake, Hellblade: Sensua’s Sacrifice
In this subgenre of horror, the plot centers on a group of protagonists that are murdered by another person, often with bladed weapons. This genre is often lumped in with extreme horror, but tropes associated with the genre such as trauma triggering the killer, a pattern or anniversary date, and “the final girl” establish it as its own separate category.
Movies: Candy Man, Child’s Play, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
TV Shows: Slasher, Scream, Scream Queens
Literature: The Killing Kind, The Kult, The Lost
Games: Friday the 13th: The Game, Dead by Daylight, Clock Tower 3
This subgenre of horror combines with elements of supernatural movies such as spirits, demons, humanoid monsters, and depictions of the afterlife. This subgenre is very broad and could include most horror with supernatural elements.
Movies: Eli, Insidious, Let the Right One In
TV Shows: Hemlock Grove, The Returned, Stranger Things
Literature: Hell House, Pet Cemetery, Dead of Night
Games: Phasmophobia, Prey, SCP-Containment Breach
See Supernatural Romance under Fantasy
This subgenre of horror uses subtlety and suspense to create terror rather than an abundance of overt frightening imagery.
Movies: Midsommar, Under the Skin, Rosemary’s Baby, It Follows
TV Shows: Castle Rock, The Third Day, Black Mirror
Literature: Nightscript, The Green Man, The Black Carousel
Games: Doki Doki Literature Club, Theresia, My Father’s Long Long Legs
Fantasy is a broad genre that consists of magical and supernatural elements that do not exist in the real world. This can be the presence of magic, supernatural or mythical creatures, variances in the laws of physics, or the presence of preternatural gods.
Movies: Labyrinth, The Chronicles of Narnia, Life of Pi
TV Shows: Cursed, The Order, The Umbrella Academy
Literature: The Name of the Wind, The Color of Magic, Watership Down
Games: Warcraft (series), Divinity (series), Outward
Contemporary fantasy incorporates fantasy elements into a setting that is appropriate for the time period being created. It is one of the largest subgenres of fantasy and is best known for its sub-genre “urban fantasy.”
Movies: Underworld, Bridge to Terbithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
TV Shows: Witches of East End, Being Human, Hex
Literature: American Gods, The Dresden Files (series), A Wrinkle in Time
Games: Vampyr, Devil May Cry (DMC), Disco Elysium
This subgenre of fantasy combines elements of horror, with an oppressive atmosphere, graphic violence, and mature themes to create a “gritty” feeling fantasy that is grounded, and often brutal.
Movies: Legend, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Crow
TV Shows: Berserk, Game of Thrones, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina
Literature: The Black Company, The Dark Tower, Prince of Thorns
Games: Demon’s Souls, Darkest Dungeon, Grim Dawn
This subgenre of fantasy features succinct stories featuring animals, legendary creatures, inanimate objects, and forces of nature that confer a moral, or lesson at the end. A fable differs from a “parable” in that parables do not use fantastical elements to convey their stories.
Movies: Where the Wild Things Are, Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish
TV Shows: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, The Charmings
Literature: The Alchemist, Aesop’s Fables, The Little Prince
Games: Fable (series), Dragon’s Dogma, The Last Guardian
This subgenre of fantasy is generally intended for children and involves fantastical or enchanting characters, a simple story structure, and generally has a happy ending.
Movies: Shrek, Cinderella, Hook
TV Shows: Faerie Tale Theatre, The 10th Kingdom, Once Upon a Time
Literature: The Juniper Tree, The Snow Queen, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Games: Cinders, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Moonlighter
Fantasy of Manners
This subgenre of fiction is characterized by traditional romances, low magic, high plot complexity, and low violence. The focus of the plot is generally on the characters and their politics. The setting is a fantastical place with a strict hierarchical structure, and its conflicts are within a family or society rather than an opposing force. A typical fantasy of manners tale will involve a romantic adventure that turns on some point of social conduct or intrigue. Some works that are considered “fantasy of manners” could be also considered historical fiction were it not for their almost entirely fictional settings.
Note: This is a fairly new genre, and as such its definition is still being debated upon by the community. The examples below are the closest we could find to provide examples. The literary examples are spot on, and we encourage you to read those if you’re interested in the genre. Movies, film, and games have yet to catch on to the trend.
Movies: The Exterminating Angel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Shamer’s Daughter
TV Shows: Camelot, Faith (Shinui), Ja Myung Go
Literature: Swordspoint, A Natural History of Dragons,The Goblin Emperor
Games: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Suikoden II, The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings
This subgenre of fantasy is centered on the adventures of a single heroic character or group of characters that are perceived as the underdogs in their conflicts. This is the most important distinction between heroic fantasy and “sword & sorcery.” The protagonist isn’t weighed down by a lot of flaws, and their actions come from a desire to do good.
Movies: The Last Unicorn, Willow, The Black Cauldron
TV Shows: Legend of the Seeker, Dungeons & Dragons, The Owl House
Literature: The Lord of the Rings, The Kingkiller Chronicles, The Wheel of Time
Games: The Legend of Zelda (series), Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts
Sometimes called “epic fantasy,” high fantasy is a border subgenre with stories set in a magical environment that has its own rules and physical laws. This subgenre’s plots and themes have a grand scale and typically center on a single, well-developed hero or a band of heroes. Though High fantasy is a subgenre in itself, most fantasy works fall into either “High” or “Low” fantasy, and then into smaller subgenres.
TV Shows: Record of Lodoss War, The Dragon Prince, Camelot
Literature: Mistborn (series), The Earthsea Cycle, The Stormlight Archives
Games: Pillars of Eternity, Baldur’s Gate III, The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt
Set in the real world, low fantasy includes unexpected magical elements that surprise ordinary characters. An alternative definition, common in role-playing games, rests on the story and characters being more realistic and less mythic in scope. The former definition applies to the majority of works.
Movies: The Borrowers, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Constantine
TV Shows: Good Omens, True Blood, Deus Salve O Rei (God Save the King), Game of Thrones
Literature: That Hideous Strength, Tuck Everlasting, The Bone Clocks,
Games: Valkyria Chronicles (series), Risen, Darklands
While similar to low fantasy, magical realism paints a realistic world, and then adds magical elements to make a point about the world. Most importantly, the characters do not acknowledge the magic as strange, or out of place.
Movies: The Fall, Bright, Christopher Robin
TV Shows: Pushing Daisies, Strange Girl in a Strange Land, Northern Exposure
Literature: One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Midnight’s Children
Games: Kentucky Route Zero, What Remains Of Edith Finch, The Darkness
This subgenre of fantasy focuses on themes common to myths, and digs into the milieu. The names and powers of the gods, and the mythical or supernatural creatures that inhabit the fantasy world vary in some way from their more traditional counterparts. Elements of legend and folklore may be included, although they are just as likely to be completely original as to hearken back to some familiar mythical figures.
Movies: Clash of the Titans, Princess Mononoke, Beowulf
TV Shows: American Gods, Blood of Zeus, Merlin
Literature: Mists of Avalon, The Silmarillion, The Red Pyramid
Games: God of War, Darksiders (series), Too Human
This fantasy subgenre combines romantic themes with fantasy elements like vampires, werewolves, shifters, faeries, and zombies. Many contemporary fantasy series blur the line between urban fantasy stories, coming-of-age tales, and paranormal romances.
Movies: Stardust, Twilight, Warm Bodies
TV Shows: Beautiful Creatures, Dream Knight, Phantom of the Theatre
Literature: Halfway to the Grave, Dark Lover, Interview With a Vampire
Games: Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, The Last Act, Tell a Demon
This highly specific subgenre combines the Victorian science and technology of the Industrial Revolution with contemporary takes on robots and machines. As such, steampunk fantasy is, at once, alternate history, science fantasy, and a modern fantasy—although the specifics vary with specific works.
Movies: Mortal Engines, Hugo, April and the Extraordinary World
TV Shows: Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, Carnival Row, Steamboy
Literature: Soulless, Deepgate Codex (series), The Difference Engine
Games: Thief (series), Torchlight II, Frostpunk
Also known as comic fantasy or comic book fantasy, this is a subgenre of fantasy in which the hero acquires special abilities through scientific means, such as exposure to radiation, the protagonists’ powers. In more fantastical superhero stories, the powers are supernatural. Many superhero stories are set in a low fantasy world—one that’s quite similar to our own world.
Movies: Man of Steel, The Avengers, Spawn
TV Shows: Smallville, Titans, The Umbrella Academy, Cloak and Dagger
Literature: Watchmen, Soon I Will Be Invincible, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Games: Crackdown, Saints Row IV, Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Sword & Sorcery
A subset of high fantasy, this subgenre focuses on sword-wielding heroes as well as magic or witchcraft. Events occur in a world where magic is prevalent and modern technology is non-existent. The setting may be entirely fictitious in nature or based upon earth with some additions. Characters in S&S stories are, in general, morally ambiguous.
Movies: Conan the Barbarian, Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke
TV Shows: Wizards and Warriors, JourneyQuest, Roar
Literature: Elric Of Melinbone, The Axe and the Throne, The Broken Sword
Games: The Banner Saga, Dragon Age (series), The Witcher (Series)
Urban fantasy is a genre in which fantastical characters and concepts are placed in a real world urban setting. Often in the present day. Urban fantasy stories often draw from noir and gritty police procedurals. They also may incorporate fantastical elements and supernatural creatures. These could involve zombies, vampires, druids, demons, wizardry, witchcraft, and other such fantasy tropes.
Movies: Bright, Highlander, Hellboy
TV Shows: Fate/Stay Night, What We Do in the Shadows, The Rook
Literature: Borderland, City of Bones, Fire & Heist
Games: Vampire: The Masquerade, Persona (series), Remnant: From the Ashes
This subgenre is rooted in Chinese culture. It involves elements of fantasy interspersed with martial arts.
Movies: Seven Swords, Forbidden Kingdom, The Legend of Zu
TV Shows: The Flame’s Daughter, Ice Fantasy, Ever Night
Literature: Jade City, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Across the Nightingale Floor
Games: Jade Empire, Gujian 3, Xuan Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament
This very broad genre of speculative fiction is based on imagined future science or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.
Movies: Transformers, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Star Trek
TV Shows: Farscape, Stargate: Atlantis, Torchwood
Literature: The Blazing World, Foundation, The Stars My Destination
Games: Portal, Eve Online, Doom
This subgenre of science fiction deals with extraterrestrial experiences, alien life, and weapons from other planets.
Movies: Arrival, Signs, E.T. The Extraterrestrial
TV Shows: Falling Skies, Nightflyer, Colony
Literature: War of the Worlds, A Princess of Mars, The Left Hand of Darkness
Games: Destroy All Humans, Quake, Pikmin
This subgenre of science fiction focuses on stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually contain “what if” scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural but are sometimes based on fact.
Movies: Red Dawn, Never Let Me Go, Yesterday
TV Shows: The Man in the High Castle, The Plot Against America, For All Mankind
Literature: Fatherland, Bring the Jubilee, The Years of Rice and Salt
Games: Resistance: Fall of Man, The Order 1886, We Happy Few
In this subgenre of science fiction, the story is set in a “universe” or “parallel dimension” that is not the real world in this time. This might also refer to a parallel universe within a fictional universe.
Movies: Source Code, The One, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension
TV Shows: Westworld, Fringe, Sense 8
Literature: The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Future of Another Timeline, The Light Brigade
Games: Chrono Cross, Neir, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction are subgenres of science fiction that are set in a time period where the earth as we know it is coming to an end. Post-apocalyptic novels almost always take place in the future, although some describe the end of past civilizations that no longer exist.
Movies: Mad Max: Fury Road, World War Z, I Am Legend
TV Shows: The Rain, The 3%, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Literature: The Stand, The Road, Station Eleven
Games: Fallout 4, Wasteland 2, Days Gone
In this subgenre of science fiction, the focus is on biotechnology. It is derived from cyberpunk, but focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology. Biopunk is concerned with synthetic biology.
Movies: Repo Men, Antiviral, eXistenZ
TV Shows: Dark Angel, Orphan Black, ReGenesis
Literature: The Ware Tetralogy, Brave New World, The Windup Girl
Games: Prototype, Killing Floor, Terranigma
This subgenre of science fiction is about colonies on other worlds. This also includes colonies set up in artificial environments on orbital satellites. Humans may start a colony for various reasons such as: overpopulation on Earth, the Earth becomes uninhabitable, pure exploration and discovery, search and acquisition of resources, threat of human extinction, or some other reason.
Movies: Alien: Covenant, Titan A.E., The Martian
TV Shows: Lost in Space, Oasis, Earth 2
Literature: The Word for World is Forest, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Dark Eden
Games: Aven Colony, Planet Colonization, Oxygen Not Included
This subgenre of science fiction is set in a dystopian futuristic world that tends to have a lower standard of living for the majority and high tech for all. Advanced technological and scientific achievements such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics are juxtaposed with a breakdown or radical change in the social order.
Movies: Bladerunner 2049, Mute, The Matrix
TV Shows: Ghost in the Shell, Dark Angel, Hotel Artemis
Literature: Neuromancer, Snowcrash, Mona Lisa Overdrive
Games: Cyberpunk 2077, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Perfect Dark
In this subgenre of science fiction, the focus is on the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the end of time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail. Themes of world-weariness, innocence, idealism, entropy, exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources, and the hope of renewal dominate.
Movies: Water World, Mad Max: Road Warrior, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
TV Shows: Defiance, Terra Nova
Literature: Hothouse, The Pastel City, As the Curtain Falls
Games: Death Stranding, NieR: Automata, Phantom Dust
This subgenre of science fiction offers a bleak vision of the future. Dystopias are societies in cataclysmic decline, with characters who battle environmental ruin, technological control, and government oppression. Dystopian stories challenge the audience to think differently about current social and political climates, and in some instances can even inspire action.
Movies: Idiocracy, Snowpiercer, Equilibrium
TV Shows: The Handmaid’s Tale, Into the Badlands, The 100
Literature: Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Hunger Games (series)
Games: Papers Please, Not Tonight, Black The Fall
This subgenre of science fiction deals with a galaxy-wide society that is ruled by a single governing entity known as a “galactic empire.” Characterization of galactic empires can vary wildly from malevolent forces attacking sympathetic victims to apathetic bureaucracies to more reasonable entities focused on social progress, and anywhere in between.
Movies: Dune, Captain Marvel, The Last Starfighter
TV Shows: She-Ra and the Princess of Power, Andromeda, Stargate SG-1
Literature: Flesh and Gold, The Lightship Chronicles, The Foundation
Games: Warhammer 40k, Rogue Galaxy, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
The setting or plot for this subgenre of science fiction revolves around a ship, or other mode of transportation that is a self-sustaining community made to house humans until they reach their intended destination. This usually involves a dying earth scenario where the occupants of the hsip are meant to colonize another world after living on the ship for many generations.
Movies: Interstellar, WALL-E, Battle for Terra
TV Shows: Ascension, The Starlost, Earth Star Voyager
Literature: Aurora, Darkness Beyond the Stars, Riding the Torch
Games: Phantasy Star III, Marathon, Homeworld
Hard Science Fiction
This subgenre of science fiction is characterized by concern for scientific accuracy and logic. Hard science fiction exists inside the realm of scientific possibility. That is, anything that occurs in the story is not outside the known physical laws of the universe.
Movies: Gattaca, Apollo 18, Ex Machina
TV Shows: Men into Space, ReGenisis, Star Cops
Literature: Brave New World, The Mars Trilogy, Murasaki
Games: Hardspace: Shipbreaker, Eliza, Localhost
This sub-genre is about eternal life, existing for an infinite amount of time, immortality. Science Fiction presents immortality as either a blessing and full of limitless opportunity, or as a curse–the end of change and full of restlessness and stagnation. Regardless of outlook, a story about immortality includes both freedom from aging and rejuvenation because immortality is undesirable without both.
Movies: The Man From Earth, Blade of the Immortal, The Fountain
TV Shows: The Highlander, The Old Guard, Immortals
Literature: Holy Fire, The Eden Cycle, The Hollow Lands
Games: Lost Odyssey, Immortal: Unchained, The Turing Test
This subgenre of science fiction involves the discovery of an unknown world out of time, place, or both.
Movies: Jurassic Park III, The Valley of Gwangi, Kong: Skull Island
TV Shows: The Lost World, Land of the Lost, Dinotopia
Literature: Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Moon Pool, The Land That Time Forgot
Games: Lost Planet, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Xenogears
Military Science Fiction
In this subgenre of science fiction, the use of science fiction technology is used mainly for weapons and military purposes. Generally, the protagonists are members of a military organization involved in a war in outer space or on a different planet or planets.
Movies: Edge of Tomorrow, Starship Troopers, Independence Day
TV Shows: Macross, Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse
Literature: The Forever War, Ender’s Game, Valiant Dust
Games: Halo (series), Earth Defense Force (series), Contra
This subgenre of science fiction involves the transference of a mind into another body, a computer, a mechanical object, or an alien body. The mind may be transferred in various ways: via computer, some kind of psi power, the ability of an alien, physical brain transplantation, or by some other means.
Movies: Transfer, Black Box, Avatar
TV Shows: Altered Carbon, A Feladat, Femte generationen
Literature: The World of Null-A, Kiln People, I Will Fear No Evil
Games: Assassin’s Creed, Transistor, Warframe
Mundane Science Fiction
This subgenre of science fiction is typically characterized by its setting on Earth or within the Solar System; a lack of interstellar travel, intergalactic travel or human contact with extraterrestrials; and a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written or a plausible extension of existing technology.
Movies: Children of Men, Moon, Her
TV Shows: Osmosis, Years and Years, Moonbase 3
Literature: The Second Sleep, Titan, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Games: RimWorld, Outpost, Children of the Dead Earth
Mythic Science Fiction
This subgenre of science fiction is rooted in, or drawn from fables, mythology, folklore, or fairy tales. The story may retell the myth entirely or draw from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of the myth.
Movies: Splash, Troll Hunter, Time Bandits
TV Shows: Asur: Welcome to Your Dark Side, Stargate: Atlantis, The Librarians
Literature: Rendezvous with Rama, Queen of Air and Darkness, Watch the North Wind Rise
Games: Too Human, Destiny 2, Assassins Creed: Odyssey
This subgenre of science fiction describes a world where nanites are widely in use and nanotechnologies are the predominant technological forces in society. This is a very new genre that falls somewhere in the middle of cyberpunk and biopunk. Unlike cyberpunk which focuses on “high-tech, low-life,” nanopunk can have either a pessimistic outlook on nanotechnology, or an optimistic one.
Movies: Transcendence, Osmosis Jones, The Day the Earth Stood Still
TV Shows: Generator Rex, Big Hero 6: The Series, Altered Carbon
Literature: Queen City Jazz, The Diamond Age, Nanopunk
Games: Crysis, Anarchy Online, Deus Ex
This subgenre of science fiction deals with robotics, mechanization, artificial intelligence, and the physical, ethical, or existential dilemmas that might arise from each.
Movies: A.I., Terminator, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Chappie
TV Shows: Westworld, Humans, Knight Rider
Literature: Crier’s War, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Midnight Robber
Games: The Talos Principle, Nier: Automata, Detroit: Become Human
This subgenre blends tropes and fantastical elements from the fantasy genre with science fiction. A work of science fantasy can include both dragons and robots, magic swords and aliens.
Movies: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, TRON, Transformers (Series)
TV Shows: Babylon 5, Power Rangers (Series), Tin Man
Literature: Apprentice Adept, Artemis Fowl, The Dark Tower (Series)
Games: Final Fantasy (VII, VIII, X, XIII), Asura’s Wrath, ELEX
This subgenre combines elements of horror with elements of science fiction, often revolving around subjects that include but are not limited to alien invasions, mad scientists, and/or experiments gone wrong.
Movies: Mimic, The Thing, 28 Days Later
TV Shows: Helix, Sapphire and Steel, Black Mirror
Literature: Amina, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Tommyknockers
Games: Dead Space (series), SOMA, Alien: Isolation
Soft Science Fiction
Soft science fiction of either type is often more concerned with character and speculative societies, rather than speculative science or engineering. It explores the “soft” sciences, and especially the social sciences (for example, anthropology, sociology, or psychology), rather than engineering or the “hard” sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry).
It is not scientifically accurate or plausible; the opposite of hard science fiction.
Movies: Predator, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Pacific Rim
TV Shows: Farscape, Firefly, Dark Matter
Literature: The Languages of Pao, Dune, The Last Policeman
Games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Starcraft (series), Half-Life
This subgenre of science fiction revolves around stories of visiting other worlds, investigating strange phenomena, and generally exploring the vastness of space.
Movies: Ad Astra, Lucy in the Sky, Prospect
TV Shows: Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Orville, Away
Literature: We Are Legion (We Are Bob), Revelation Space, Gateway
Games: Outer Wilds, Kerbal Space Program, No Man’s Sky
This subgenre of science fiction emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking.
Movies: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Jupiter Ascending, Star Wars: A New Hope
TV Shows: Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Literature: Hyperion Cantos (series), Fire Upon the Deep, Vorkosigan Saga (series)
Games: Mass Effect 3, Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope, Zone of Enders
This subgenre of science fiction centers around the adventures of a protagonist, or protagonists working as secret agents or spies. The plot usually revolves around defeating a rival superpower or singular enemy bent on world domination, world destruction, obtaining futuristic weapons, or something else. Settings vary from outright fantasy, such as outer space or under the sea, to real but exotic locations. Spy-Fi does not necessarily present espionage as it is practiced in reality but rather glamorizes spy-craft through its focus on high-tech equipment, agencies, and organizations with nearly limitless resources and incredibly high-stakes adventures.
Movies: Quantum of Solace, Tenet, Face-Off
TV Shows: Kingsmen, Mission Impossible, The Avengers (British)
Literature: The Baroness, Crown of Slaves, The Bourne Identity
Games: Global Agenda, Alpha Protocol, Invisible Inc.
(Also see Steampunk, Fantasy) Steampunk is a retro-futuristic subgenre of science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. It borrows elements of many different genres, notably fantasy, horror, alternative history, and other speculative fiction.
Movies: Wild Wild West, Howl’s Moving Castle, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
TV Shows: The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, Carnival Row, His Dark Materials
Literature: Rising Steam,
Games: Final Fantasy IX, Thief (series), Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
This subgenre of science fiction focuses on stories in which travelling to the past or future is possible. Paradoxes are a common trope of time travel stories, and often the protagonist or protagonists must make decisions based on knowledge gleaned from both ends of their timeline.
Movies: A Promise of Time Travel, Primer, Looper
TV Shows: Dr. Who, 12 Monkeys, Travelers
Literature: The Time Machine, A Sound of Thunder, Life The Universe and Everything
Games: Chrono Trigger, Quantum Break, Singularity
In this subgenre of science fiction, advancement of scientific knowledge transforms society into a utopia. The plot usually revolves around the protagonist or protagonists who gain knowledge that shifts their perspectives. Most utopian sci-fi works also include dystopian elements in order to create conflict that drives the plot.
Movies: Tomorrowland, Gandahar, Logan’s Run
TV Shows: Star Trek, Utopia Planitia, Utopia Falls
Literature: The Giver, Looking Backward, The Sunken World
Games: Watch Dogs, Mirror’s Edge, Bioshock: Infinite
Young Adult Science Fiction
This subgenre of science fiction focuses on a teenage protagonist, and the material contained within is easily understood and digested by ages 12 to 18.
Movies: Maze Runner (series), Weird Science, Attack the Block
TV Shows: Star-Crossed, The Tomorrow People, Roswell
Literature: Cinder, Divergent, The 5th Wave
Games: The Longest Journey, .hack//Infection, The Last of Us
This genre falls between speculative fiction and mainstream fiction. While some slipstream works employ elements of science fiction or fantasy, not all do. The common unifying factor of these works is some degree of the surreal, the not-entirely-real, or the markedly anti-real. The three basic characteristics of a slipstream narrative are: it disrupts the principle of realism, it is not a traditional fantasy story, and it is a postmodern narrative. As an emerging genre, slipstream has been described as non-realistic fiction with a postmodern sensibility. It is meant to evoke a sense of “otherness” or cognitive dissonance in the audience.
Movies: Slipstream, The Ninth Configuration, Time Bandits
TV Shows: Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Signal, The Booth at the End
Literature: Ice, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, The Cyberiad
Games: The Stanley Parable, Antichamber, Superliminal
Speculative Fiction is a bit of a catch all or umbrella genre. All fantasy and science fiction can be termed speculative fiction. However, speculative can also describe a story that uses science fiction elements or fantasy elements or elements of both.
Movies: Star Wars, Donnie Darko, The Lobster
TV Shows: The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, The Handmaid’s Tale, Adventure Time
Literature: The Story Of Your Life, Station Eleven, Red Clocks
Games: BioShock, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sid Meier’s Civilization
While no means an exhaustive list of all sources used for this guide–many of which are pulled from their own original sources and analysis of the text–here are the primary citations we used.
Ashland University Library Guides (Link)
Arapahoe Libraries (Link)
The Artifice (Link)
Awayandaway.com (S.C. Barrus’s Blog) (Link)
Best Sci Fi Books (Link)
BookRiot (Link 1, Link 2)
Industrial Scripts (Link)
Toledo Library (Link)
Writer’s Digest (Link)
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