Urban Fantasy versus Paranormal Romance

You know, despite all the subgenre studies we’ve done here, I still have a hard time differentiating between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I mean, logically, I can spout off definitions but I have a hard time with actual books because a lot of times they read very similar to each other.

Urban fantasy is fantasy that takes place in a city. It isn’t necessarily contemporary. And paranormal romance is just a romance with paranormal elements. There’s a lot of variables on both–time period, setting, types of fantastical/paranormal elements, etc.

But from what I’ve seen, both tend to be modern-day in urban environments. And both tend to have a romance plot/subplot and a non-romance plot/subplot, and often times they seem to be of almost equal importance.

I’ve run into this in other places as well, particularly between cozy mysteries and romance. A lot of it seems to come down to marketing.

Kit, you may be saying, why does this matter?

Well, because me and my publishing team have been a little stumped on Shards. Technically, it’s mythic fantasy, but that’s not normally a nice shelf in a bookstore. And yes, there is romance. But if the major difference between the two subgenres is how important the romance is versus the non-romance plot, well, I guess it slides into urban fantasy. Romantic urban fantasy, maybe? Urban romantic mythic fantasy. Say that five times fast.

What about you, Squiders? Where’s your delineation between the two, if you have one? (Judging by the amount of books listed as both paranormal romance and urban fantasy on Amazon, most people don’t bother.)

4 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, how I want to find a solution to this problem. I think paranormal fiction diversified before it got it’s own umbrella term, so now we have descriptions for niche-like sub-genres, but nothing to describe the whole. Like, say, “paranormal fiction.” Kinda like science fiction. But not.

    If we had a good umbrella term, I think we’d be able to get away from the subgenre designations that make classification so tricky. What if you write a story about a witch living on a small tobacco farm in the 1800s, and instead of marrying the local fire demon blacksmith who helps her evade the witch hunters and vanquish a vengeful ghost, she stays single and focuses on mastering her witchcraft? No HEA, so it’s not a romance. Not urban. Not even modern. But I think it belongs in the same shelf as paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

    Paranormal fiction! Let’s make this happen!


  2. Posted by SleepyDragon1320 on 2013/10/25 at 12:21 PM

    Reblogged this on Sleepy Book Dragon and commented:
    Now, this isn’t something I have thought too deeply about but perhaps I should as a (primarily) fantasy writer who is looking to get published. Especially in recent years, my work has gone from high fantasy to urban to low and, inevitably with me, all them will include a romantic story somewhere along the way. So is my work paranormal romance or is it a fantasy story with a romantic storyline? I don’t know to be honest.
    Whilst reading this, it got me thinking about the Mills & Boon Nocturne books. These seem to straddle the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre line (if there is one) but somehow, I think maybe the two genre’s just go so far hand in hand that they should be classed as one and the same when appropriate naturally. In some case’s it is appropriate to delineate between the two, especially in Michele Hauf’s Wicked Games series in my opinion, whilst I think the M&B Nocturne novel that really holds the two genre’s in balance is Vivi Anna’s The Vampire’s Kiss novel.


  3. I think Urban Fantasy is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t have to take place in a city, I think the juxtaposition of a relatively modern setting (steampunk counts,) even if it’s in a pastoral town like the one in footloose, would count as “Urban Fantasy” (and I’ve at least seen a couple of movies that did that, mostly because it’s cheaper to have a guy with a shotgun shooting orcs and running them over with his truck in the middle of nowhere than to do it in a city.)


    • Technically urban fantasy DOES have to take place in a city. (I might make excepts for modern-minded towns.) What you’re describing is contemporary fantasy. A lot of people use the terms interchangeably, and in a lot of cases you can, because the majority of contemporary fantasy takes place in cities, but they’re not the same. A story set in the 1800s in a city with fantastical elements is still urban fantasy. I actually did a post on this just last month: https://landsquidattack.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/the-differences-between-urban-and-contemporary-fantasy/

      It is easier to just describe all contemporary fantasy as urban fantasy because most people can’t be bothered.


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