Low Fantasy vs Urban Fantasy: What’s the Difference? [2024 Edition]

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If you’re wondering what the difference is between low fantasy vs urban fantasy, you’ve come to the right post!

With an ever-growing number of fiction works in the world, it can be helpful to break down this huge genre into smaller sub-genres.

Of course, one of the most popular subgenres of fiction is fantasy.

But even fantasy is large enough that it’s helpful to break it down even further.

One of the largest subsets of fantasy is low fantasy. This is in contrast to high fantasy, which is another popular subgenre of fantasy.

(If you want to learn more about this distinction, check out the high fantasy vs low fantasy post on this blog!)

And even low fantasy itself can be broken down further into subgenres such as urban fantasy. Urban fantasy may be a genre that you haven’t heard of. And it is also somewhat hard to define. However, it is an ever-growing genre that you may be interested in. So it is helpful to have an understanding of it. 

If you need some assistance in understanding low fantasy vs urban fantasy, you have come to the right post. This article will define each subgenre and give popular examples of each.

After reading, you should have a better understanding of both genres, and how to identify the difference.

What is Low Fantasy?

Low fantasy is fairly straightforward to understand. It is also called “intrusion fantasy,” which can be helpful in understanding the definition. The most important aspect of a low fantasy story is the setting. Low fantasy takes place in a fictional version of the real world, also known as the primary world. The setting of a low fantasy novel is a fictionalized version of a real place, or a place very similar to our own world. 

Because it is fantasy, however, there are elements of magic throughout a low fantasy novel. These magical elements can be anything from talking animals to flying cars. The important thing about low fantasy is that it is all happening in an otherwise normal world. 

The key to low fantasy is the fact that magic is part of an otherwise normal world. And while magic is present, it may not even be a focal point of the story. This is in juxtaposition to high fantasy in which stories occur in their own magical world with no relationship to our own world.

Examples of Low Fantasy

Countless examples of low fantasy exist in the world. It is a genre that has been around for a long time, and it continues to grow in popularity each year. Almost every fantasy novel can be categorized as either high fantasy or low fantasy. And as I mentioned in the introduction, these two subgenres can be split further into many more subgenres.

So what’s an example of low fantasy?  

One low fantasy novel that checks just about every box for the genre is Tuck Everlasting. In this novel, a magical spring exists with water that will make the drinker immortal. It takes place in the primary world, and the spring is the only element of magic that exists in the story. The characters in the novel react with wonder to the spring. And though the spring is a major important element to the story, there are also many other plot points and events that take place. The magic element is not the main focus of the story at all times. 

This is different from high fantasy that takes place in a secondary world unlike our own world that is entirely the creation of the author.

For instance, Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy story taking place in a world totally unlike our own.

What is Urban Fantasy?

Urban fantasy is a smaller subgenre of low fantasy with many similarities to each other. The difference is that urban fantasy takes place in an urban and typically modern setting anytime between the 19th and 21st centuries.

Other than the setting and the time period, urban fantasies contain many of the same elements that we see in other subgenres of fantasy. Magic is always an aspect of urban fantasy. Much like low fantasy, magic is not necessarily the focus of the story. 

The urban fantasy genre is said to have started with a similar genre of occult detective stories. These stories were popular in the 1940s. In these stories, supernatural beings are a danger to the ordinary world. They cause problems and create fear. In urban fantasy, the same thing can happen, but it is more likely that a supernatural being in an urban fantasy is not something to fear. There may or may not be a mystery to solve in urban fantasy while an occult detective story always has a mystery to solve. 

Some common aspects of urban fantasy stories are protagonists who are professional heroes or vigilantes. The protagonist may also be an inexperienced young person who is forced to join a paranormal situation. While romance often exists in these stories, it is not the main focus. Romance is of secondary importance to the main storyline.  

Examples of Urban Fantasy 

Hundreds of new urban fantasy books are published each year. One of the most popular urban fantasy series is the Percy Jackson series. These fantasy books take place in the mid 2000’s, meeting the criteria of a modern urban setting. 

This series contains elements of Greek mythology, another popular element in fantasy. The protagonist discovers that he is a demigod, and the story continues from there in settings like New York City. As stated above, the protagonist of an urban novel is sometimes an inexperienced young person. And this is the case with Percy Jackson. In the novel, he meets many other inexperienced young people who hone their skills and venture out on epic quests together. 

How to Know the Difference 

low fantasy vs urban fantasy

Urban fantasy is usually considered a smaller subset of low fantasy. Thus, it’s generally safe to assume that an urban fantasy story is also low fantasy. However, not all low fantasy is urban fantasy.

For instance, a medieval fantasy story set in a non-urban primary world would not fall into the urban fantasy genre because it is neither urban nor modern.

Knowing the difference between these two genres is not always simple, as they do have many similarities. That said, the time period and setting should provide sufficient clues to help you know which is which.

Why it’s helpful

You may be wondering why it is helpful to know the difference between two genres of fantasy, especially when they are so similar.

In short, it’s helpful to know which genres you like and dislike.

Perhaps after reading this post, you know that you love low fantasy but aren’t crazy about urban fantasy.

This knowledge should be helpful when looking for your next book!

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t venture out and try new genres; just the opposite. Learn a little bit about many genres that sound interesting and go from there. You may just find your new favorite book in a genre you hadn’t considered reading previously.

Low Fantasy Vs Urban Fantasy: Conclusion

I hope this article has clarified some of the differences between these two genres!

And if you want to read more articles in this genre comparison series, check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another fiction literature-related topic!

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