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Genre Guide for Beginners: Chapter 5, Urban Fantasy

Do you know what some of the most commonly asked questions are? Genre questions. Either asking us what genre a certain book or series is in, or what exactly is that genre. After spending so much time immersed in the world of romance, it has become second nature to instantly catergorise books into their respective genre, or sub-genre. Just a glance at the blurb, or even just the cover then I can tell you what genre it will be. Of course, not everything is black and white and not every book is so easy to label, but a majority are.

We have previously done a very concise guide about genres giving an overview of each, but we decided to take each genre and do a more general and indepth guide. In this, we will tell you the definition of the genre, what types of characters you may expect to see, popular troupes within a genre, some of our favourite authors and series within this genre. And anything else we can think of! By the end of the guide you should be able to tell what book is what and have a few recommendations to pick up.

The fifth chapter in this guide is *drum roll please*


Urban Fantasy (UF) can feel like a mash up of a few different genres; mainly paranormal romance and fantasy. But an urban fantasy is set in this world and will have magical and paranormal elements. The book will stick with one main hero or heroine through the series rather than having a different couple in each book. There also isn’t necessarily any romance and if there is, it will generally be developed through the series rather than concluded at the end of the first book.

The Basics

An UF can be defined as a story that has paranormal and magical elements and characters but is set in a recognisable world i.e. contemporary society. The UF will have one main adult hero or heroine who is followed throughout the series. Romance isn’t an essential element of an UF series.

The focus of an urban fantasy will be the main, generally action and adventure focused, story line and world building. If there is a romance it becomes part of the story and not necessarily the most important part. The world itself will be recognisable, it will be set on earth but will generally have a magical or paranormal twist. If it is set in a world made up by the author – thinks Middle Earth – this is NOT an UF, it’s a fantasy.

An UF also tends to have one main hero or heroine and the story is centred around them to the point where the book will be first person POV. Of course here is likely to be returning and important characters but the crux of the story is the main hero or heroine. This won’t change book to book like it does with a PNR.

As for magical and paranormal, there will generally to magic present and people who can wield it or there will be characters (including the main protagonist) who are paranormal in some way, for example being vampires or shifters. If there are no paranormal or magical elements in the book then this won’t be an UF, perhaps it’s a thriller or romantic suspense.

Here’s a basic checklist of all the elements that make an UF:

It’s set in this world. Whether it’s in a historical context or, more likely, in modern day. All urban fantasy will be set in this world. If the story unfolds in a Middle Earthesque type setting, this is more likely a fantasy.

There will be a paranormal element to this world. Perhaps the hero or heroine wields magic or is a vampire/shifter/fae. Perhaps the world itself has paranormal elements in its infrastructure even if the main characters aren’t inherently magical. Either way it will be a world you recognise but with a magical/paranormal twist.

The main characters will be adults. If they are in their teens this is a young adult and not an urban fantasy.

There won’t be a happily ever after at the end of each book. In fact there isn’t necessarily any romance in an urban fantasy, although this is usually an element of the story. However, the main focus is on the story arc and world development. The story will follow one main hero or heroine throughout the series and not go to different couples in each book.

If a book has all of the above characteristic then it you have yourself a UF. If you are missing even one of them you have another genre, maybe fantasy, paranormal romance or young adult to name a few.


There are always exceptions to confuse us. Those series that don’t seem to fit into one genre or another, but instead have become a mash up to confuse us and disrupt our Goodreads shelves. Here are a couple of series that like to confuse the genre definitions and how I have shelved them:

The Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh

I love Nalini Singh and I especially love this series, but it messes with my very strict view on what makes an UF. It started off well and reached all the criterion I stated above. Then she released Archangel’s Blade followed by Archangel’s Storm. A duo of paranormal romances in the midst of an UF series. My head was ready to explode. Then once she had blown me away with that, she carried on with the series, treating it like a UF. Then she brings out another paranormal romance within the series. And so on. So, how do I deal with this? Those books that are paranormal romance as they have a HEA I add to my paranormal romance and UF shelf. Those that are the main UF couple just go on my UF shelf.

Characters you may meet..

Like with all genres, UF has a few character archetypes that you will see in almost every series. It’s not a bad thing, especially when they are done well, but there are some definite character types that are prevalent across the whole genre. Here are a few you are bound to recognise:

The Kickass Heroine

If the book has a picture of a heroine in some kind of power pose…then you have more than likely got yourself a kick ass heroine. She wears leather, wields a sword/some magic/her mighty kung fu with great effect. Chances are that she’s competent, strong and always ready with a pithy comeback. If you love strong female protagonists then you need to give UF a try, you can’t swing a mace without hitting a couple of them (who will hit you back twice as hard!).

Some of my favourite kick ass heroines are:

The Reluctant Hero(ine)

As Shakespeare said “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em“. The reluctant hero(ine) is the latter. They go about their business, and usually have with a modest amount of innate power, and then BOOM something will happen to turn their life upside down. Maybe they are the subject of a prophecy. Maybe something awful happens and they feel compelled to act. Either way, at the beginning of the series they had no desire to be dealing with this shit.

Some of my favourite reluctant hero(ine)s:

The Mysterious One

You don’t know their intentions, they seem to be working to help you and hinder you at the same time. Can our hero or heroine trust them? Who knows? We certainly don’t until it really hits the fan and they finally have to reveal their end game. Although the mysterious one isn’t the main character, they normally become a key player in the series and that added air of mystery just make them more interesting. Oh and if there is a romance…you can guess who might become the love interest!

Why UTC loves Urban Fantasy

UF is one of my favourite genres! For me, it takes the best aspects of paranormal romance and fantasy, the world building and the magical elements, but has that addition of a really strong and hopefully action packed story. And, although romance doesn’t have to be an element of UF, my favourite series always have a strong romantic thread in the story. An UF gives the author the space and time to develop their world and their characters without the pressure of having to squeeze in a HEA at the end. Love. It.

UTC Required Reading List

If you love the UF genre, these series are required reading. They showcase the absolute best of the genre and as I am a romance addict they all have a strong romantic element to them as well. So, take a look and if you haven’t read them…what are you waiting for?


What are your favourite urban fantasies?


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Great explanations! All of your choices are on my favorite UF list as well. Grier from the beginner’s guide to necromancy is a good heroine as well.


and maxine kiss from the hunter kiss series by marjorie m liu


What a fabulous post, Suzanne! I’ve gotten this question a lot but never really knew how to fully explain the ins and outs of the UF genre. This summarizes everything so nicely and with recommendations too? This is the best!

kathy valentine

ty! for this genre for urban fantasy! this is one genre that i havent read very much,but im trying to do better!! shared on all my socials!


Great post Suzanne. The Fever series, Charley Davidson series and Hidden Legacy series


This is a fab definition of UF Suzanne, the only thing I’d argue with is your comment about YA. YA is a category not a genre so you can find YA in all genres including UF. The only difference between adult UF & YA UF is the age of the main character and, because of that, potentially the levels of heat and violence in the story. I don’t read much YA these days but you could argue that the Twilight series is UF heavy on the romance, but my favourites would be Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and of course Harry… Read more »

Dawn M. Roberto

Love the explanations and your selections are spot on with some amazing books/series.

Amy R

Beginner’s Guide to Necromancy and Foundling series by Hailey Edwards and Boundary Magic by Melissa F Olson are great UF series along with the ones you mentioned.