Urban Fantasy vs High Fantasy: What’s the Difference?

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If you want to learn more about urban fantasy vs high fantasy, you’ve come to the right post!

The fantasy genre of literature is absolutely massive. To help discuss this genre more effectively, it can be broken down into several subgenres, two of which are high fantasy and low fantasy. These two subgenres can be broken down even further into several further subgenres. These smaller groupings of novels become very niche and specific, which means a reader can find something that is exactly to their liking. 

High fantasy is a broad subgenre that encompasses many of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. If you’re thinking of wizards, hobbits, and wars, you’re likely thinking of high fantasy. On the other hand, low fantasy can also contain those elements, but they are usually on a much smaller scale. One of the most modern and popular subgenres of low fantasy is urban fantasy. This genre has more realistic elements than what you will find within the high fantasy genre. 

Urban fantasy and high fantasy are quite opposite in many ways. Perhaps you have heard of these two genres, but you’re not quite sure how to define either of them. After reading this article, I hope you will have a much better understanding of the two and how to identify stories that belong to each genre. 

What is Urban Fantasy?

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that seems to gain popularity each year. Originally popular with mostly young adult readers, urban fantasy has also captured the attention of adults and children as well. There is such a broad audience for urban fantasy because there is a huge range of topics that can be categorized as urban fantasy. 

Urban fantasy typically takes place in a fictionalized version of our own world, but there is no hard and fast rule about this. Besides an urban setting, the important thing about urban fantasy is the time period. Urban fantasy is almost always set in modern or near modern times. This usually means the 19th-21st centuries. Although some may argue that the 19th century is no longer modern. Generally, urban fantasies are not set in the future, but again, there is no rule against it.

Urban fantasies contain many of the same elements that you see in other fantasy subgenres. For instance, magic and supernatural beings are often important an urban fantasy. However, in contrast to high fantasy, magic is not always an integral part of the world in urban fantasy. Magic or something supernatural exists in urban fantasy, but it may not even be totally central to the story. 

In urban fantasy, the supernatural beings that exist are not always scary or troublesome. Most often, they are just regular “people” who happen to have supernatural powers.

An urban fantasy often has an element of romance, but it is not the focus. There may be relationships, but it is usually not the central theme of the novel. If it is, the novel is perhaps a paranormal romance.  

Examples of Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a genre that continues to grow in popularity each year. A great example of an urban fantasy series is the House of Night series. This series is fairly new, with the first book being published in 2007. 

These books are an essential urban fantasy series. The protagonist of this series is a vampire who attends boarding school in Oklahoma. Boarding school is a common element in many urban fantasy novels, as it is a great way to bring many supernatural characters together and get them away from the “human” world. This series is set in present day and the boarding school, though fictional, exists in the primary world. There is definitely romance throughout this series, but it is not the main focus. The plot does not revolve around romantic relationships. 

What is High Fantasy?

High fantasy is a much more broad sub genre of fantasy than urban fantasy. It contains a massive amount of books and some of the most famous fantasy novels of all time are high fantasy novels. High fantasy takes place in a totally fictional world typically with no relationship to our own (like Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth). Magic and the supernatural are all essential aspects of high fantasy. These elements help progress the story and move the plot along. 

Because high fantasy takes place in a fictional world, there are no set rules that the characters have to follow. They are not bound to the rules of being human on Earth. The author is at liberty to create their own rules that their characters abide by. These rules, however, are typically consistent. What is true one day cannot be changed the next day. 

In contrast to low fantasy, high fantasy usually focuses more on magic and fantastical elements. To better understand this genre, many refer to high fantasy as epic fantasy. This name gives a good indication about what might happen in the novel. Epic quests, journeys, and wars are common in high fantasy. Whatever is happening in the novel is huge and important. There is very little mundaneness in high fantasy. 

High fantasy novels often require the reader to be familiar with a certain amount of lore. This lore can be anything from Greek mythology to religious texts. Background knowledge is often helpful reading in high fantasy. Sometimes the author will spell out what the reader needs to know, but more often than not, the reader may need to figure it out on their own.

Examples of High Fantasy 

There are so many excellent examples of high fantasy in the world, it is hard to go wrong. High fantasy has been popular for countless years, and it just continues to increase in popularity. One of the high fantasy series that started a revolution is The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This series follows a group of largely non-humans on a journey through a fictional world in an epic fight of good versus evil. It checks all the boxes for being a high fantasy with an epic quest, magic and non-human creatures central to the story, extensive lore, a magical setting entirely of the author’s creation with no relationship to our own, and more.

How to Know the Difference

urban fantasy vs high fantasy

The main similarity between high fantasy and urban fantasy is the existence of magic and other supernatural elements. Otherwise, these two genres are typically quite different. 

As mentioned, urban fantasy usually takes place in a fictionalized version of our own world or a world very similar to our own. There are small elements of magic, and the characters usually lead fairly typical lives. High fantasy is just the opposite. It takes place in a fictional world with huge magical elements and many supernatural beings. There is usually an important quest that the characters go on, and there is very little that mirrors real life. 

How it’s Helpful

Knowing the difference between two genres is very important for a number of reasons. It can help a reader narrow down which books they are interested in reading. It can also help a reader gain more knowledge and understanding about literature in general. And it can create challenges for a reader who is trying to understand some of the many genres out there, and perhaps expose the reader to a new genre they don’t already know.

Urban Fantasy Vs High Fantasy: Conclusion 

I hope this article has helped you better understand the differences between these genres!

And as usual, 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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