Urban Fantasy: Book Genre Explained – Ultimate Guide

Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that is set in an urban, rather than a traditional fantasy, setting. It is often characterized by its use of contemporary settings, often in large cities, and a blend of both fantastical and real-world elements. The genre has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, with many authors and readers drawn to its unique blend of the familiar and the fantastical.


The term ‘Urban Fantasy’ is often used interchangeably with ‘Contemporary Fantasy’, although there are some subtle differences between the two. While both genres feature a modern setting, Urban Fantasy specifically refers to stories set in a city environment, whereas Contemporary Fantasy may also include rural or suburban settings. The genre is known for its complex, often gritty, narratives and its exploration of social and cultural themes.

Origins and Evolution of Urban Fantasy

The roots of Urban Fantasy can be traced back to the early 20th century, with authors such as Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis incorporating elements of the fantastical into contemporary settings. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the genre began to take its current form, with authors like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull popularizing the genre.

Over the years, Urban Fantasy has evolved and diversified, with various subgenres and hybrid genres emerging. These include Paranormal Romance, which combines elements of romance with urban fantasy, and Dark Urban Fantasy, which incorporates elements of horror. The genre has also seen a rise in diversity, with more authors from diverse backgrounds writing Urban Fantasy, and more diverse characters being featured in these stories.

Key Characteristics of Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy is characterized by its setting, which is typically a contemporary, urban environment. This setting is often a real city, although it can also be a fictional city or a real city with a fictionalized version. The use of an urban setting allows for a unique blend of the familiar and the fantastical, with the everyday world being juxtaposed with elements of magic and the supernatural.

Another key characteristic of Urban Fantasy is its use of supernatural or magical elements. These can range from mythical creatures such as vampires and werewolves, to magic systems, to gods and goddesses from various mythologies. These elements are often integrated into the real world in a way that they are either hidden from or accepted by society.

Notable Authors and Works in Urban Fantasy


There are many authors who have made significant contributions to the Urban Fantasy genre. Some of the most notable include Charles de Lint, whose ‘Newford‘ series is considered a cornerstone of the genre, and Patricia Briggs, whose ‘Mercy Thompson‘ series has been a major success. Other notable authors include Jim Butcher, author of the ‘Dresden Files‘ series, and Neil Gaiman, whose novel ‘Neverwhere‘ is a classic of the genre.

There are also many notable works in the Urban Fantasy genre. These include the ‘Harry Dresden’ series by Jim Butcher, which follows a wizard detective in Chicago, and the ‘Iron Druid Chronicles‘ by Kevin Hearne, which features a 2000-year-old druid living in modern-day Arizona. Other notable works include ‘Moon Called‘ by Patricia Briggs, and ‘Storm Front‘ by Jim Butcher.

Impact and Influence of Urban Fantasy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Vol. 1

Urban Fantasy has had a significant impact on both the fantasy genre and popular culture as a whole. It has helped to broaden the scope of fantasy, demonstrating that the genre can be more than just medieval-style settings and epic quests. It has also helped to bring fantasy into the mainstream, with many Urban Fantasy works becoming bestsellers and being adapted into films and television shows.

Furthermore, Urban Fantasy has influenced other genres and media. It has had a significant impact on the television industry, with shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘ and ‘Supernatural‘ drawing heavily from the genre. It has also influenced the video game industry, with games like ‘The Witcher‘ and ‘Dragon Age‘ featuring elements of Urban Fantasy.

Urban Fantasy in Film and Television

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Complete Series

Urban Fantasy has had a significant influence on film and television. Many Urban Fantasy novels have been adapted into successful films and television shows, such as ‘The Dresden Files‘ by Jim Butcher and ‘True Blood’ by Charlaine Harris. These adaptations have helped to bring the genre to a wider audience and have contributed to its popularity.

In addition to adaptations, there are also many original films and television shows that fall under the Urban Fantasy genre. These include ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘, which is often credited with popularizing the genre on television, and ‘Supernatural‘, which has been a major success. Other notable examples include ‘Teen Wolf‘, ‘The Vampire Diaries‘, and ‘Shadowhunters’.

Urban Fantasy in Video Games

The Witcher

Urban Fantasy has also had an influence on the video game industry. Many video games feature elements of Urban Fantasy, such as the use of a contemporary, urban setting and the inclusion of supernatural or magical elements. Some of the most notable examples include ‘The Witcher‘ series, which features a world filled with mythical creatures and magic, and the ‘Dragon Age‘ series, which combines a medieval-style setting with elements of Urban Fantasy.

Other notable examples of Urban Fantasy in video games include ‘The Secret World’, which is set in a contemporary world filled with supernatural elements, and ‘Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines‘, which is set in a world where vampires and other supernatural beings exist in secret. These games have helped to bring the genre to a new medium and have contributed to its popularity.

Future of Urban Fantasy

The future of Urban Fantasy looks promising, with the genre continuing to grow and evolve. There are many new authors entering the genre, bringing fresh perspectives and ideas. Furthermore, the success of Urban Fantasy in other media, such as film and television, suggests that the genre will continue to reach a wider audience.

One trend that is likely to continue is the diversification of the genre. As more authors from diverse backgrounds write Urban Fantasy, we are likely to see a wider range of characters and stories. This will help to keep the genre fresh and exciting, and will allow it to continue to appeal to a wide range of readers.

Emerging Trends in Urban Fantasy

There are several emerging trends in Urban Fantasy that are likely to continue in the future. One of these is the increasing diversity in the genre, both in terms of the authors writing Urban Fantasy and the characters featured in these stories. This is a positive trend that is likely to continue, as it allows for a wider range of stories and perspectives.

Another emerging trend is the blending of Urban Fantasy with other genres. This includes genres such as romance, horror, and mystery. This trend allows for a greater variety of stories and can help to attract readers who might not normally read fantasy.

Urban Fantasy and Technology

Another area where Urban Fantasy is likely to evolve is in its relationship with technology. As technology continues to advance and become more integrated into our daily lives, it is likely that we will see more Urban Fantasy stories that explore the intersection of the magical and the technological. This could include stories that explore the impact of technology on magic, or that feature magical versions of modern technology.

Furthermore, as technology continues to change the way we consume media, it is likely that we will see more Urban Fantasy in new media forms. This could include things like virtual reality experiences, interactive stories, or even augmented reality games. This will allow for new and exciting ways to experience Urban Fantasy, and will help to keep the genre relevant and engaging.

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Kathryn Taylor