This discussion post is written for the fantasy month Wyrd and Wonder.
I am a big fantasy reader and though I try to read various books that fit with the subgenres I am quite honestly more of a high fantasy reader than anything else. And I will be honest and admit that I do not look too closely into a lot of the subgenres like portal fantasy of grimdark fantasy. But on occasion I do come across the naming of these subgenres and one of them stuck out to me.
Isn’t that just Urban fantasy though?
The name Contemporary Fantasy seems like a contradiction. Contemporary is the real world and Fantasy isn’t. But that is the thing. Contemporary Fantasy is Fantasy set in present time (or the present time of the author) and in our own world. Urban fantasy is the same with the difference that it is specifically set in a city or a densely populated area.
This is why it is also seen as a subgenre to Contemporary Fantasy. And that is the difference between the two subgenres that I can discover. Yet I see people saying that Twilight is an Urban Fantasy. I would not consider Forks to be a city or a densely populated area. Would you?
Everything Has Become Urban Fantasy?
However Urban Fantasy is more commonly known amongst Fantasy readers. Rarely do you hear someone talking about Contemporary Fantasy. But I hear a lot of people talk about Urban Fantasy. Why is that?
My best guess in this would be that a lot of these kind of books are set in cities. Just looking at a few that pop to mind. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is set in New York. The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs is set in Washington. When it comes to fantasy set in our world there are not many that I could name that are not set in a city or a densely populated area these days.
But the term of Urban Fantasy has also been stretched beyond the original meaning. A lot of people see it as fantasy set in modern times and in our own world. If you compare Goodreads lists of both you will see a lot of the same titles. Contemporary Fantasy has been shoved to the side. I can’t quite say why that is. Perhaps it is because the term Contemporary Fantasy felt contradictory to others like I felt it was when I first heard of it.
So yes, there is a difference between Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy. Fact is that Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy are more often than not lumped together under the name urban fantasy. While in most cases I would say that genres and subgenres can cross over, I would say that when it comes to Contemporary Fantasy and Urban Fantasy it is more of an either or the other case. Because when books only briefly go into a city or a densely populated area it is still Contemporary Fantasy.
Should you lump them together? That is completely up to you I feel. I think the differences between the two these days are little enough that it doesn’t necessarily have to matter.