Topics/Discussion

Urban Fantasy vs Contemporary Fantasy: Is There a Difference? (Wyrd and Wonder)

wyrd and wonder

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.

Contemporary fantasy.

Isn’t that just Urban fantasy though?

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The Difference.

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.

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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.

Some Books.

Contemporary Fantasy: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling / The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman / The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater / The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Urban Fantasy: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare / Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs / The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher / Fever series by Karen Marie Moning

Discuss away.

How do you feel about Urban Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy and the differences? Do you think Twilight is an Urban Fantasy or a Contemporary Fantasy? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves in the comments as well.

38 thoughts on “Urban Fantasy vs Contemporary Fantasy: Is There a Difference? (Wyrd and Wonder)

  1. Honestly I wasn’t really familiar with the term contemporary fantasy and just used urban fantasy to describe any fantasy book set in modern times, regardless of a city setting or not. I guess the term urban fantasy is just so much more used than contemporary. That said, now I know there is a difference and it’s really rather simple so I’ll be using the correct terms from now on. So in that view, Twilight should definitely be contemporary fantasy. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah I hadn’t heard much of contemporary fantasy either and it is going to take a while to adjust my head around calling books contemporary fantasy haha.

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      1. In 2017, when I first published my contemporary fantasy book, the only label I could find for it was urban fantasy. I refused to call it that since it was set in a little town back in the Ozark Mountains. I called it “contemporary” without finding much guidance on what to call it. I see this post is from almost a year after I went searching for a genre niche, so in that year maybe progress was made in naming. And now, it’s 2020 and I’m getting reading to publish Book 4 in my “Contemporary Fantasy” series. But even now I see little use of the term among the writers on Twitter.

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  2. To be honest I’m not sure I’ve heard of contemporary fantasy, so it’s definitely not a term I’m familiar with. Everything seems to get lumped into urban fantasy, even if it’s not technically in an “urban” environment, or at least that’s how I’ve seen it. So when I saw this post I was keenly interested!

    UF has definitely been stretched as a category, and I’ve never really liked the term for that very reason-does it only apply to cities? What about a modern day fantasy that’s set in a small village lol? that’s not very urban. 🙂 But at the same time I don’t have a better solution!

    As for Twilight, I haven’t read it so can’t really say, but from what little I know contep fantasy seems like a more accurate descriptor?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Small villages are not urban fantasy. 🙂 But with so many subgenres and overlap it is so hard to keep track of them.

      And yes I agree. Contemporary fantasy seems to be the best fit of those two.

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  3. Well, urban means city, so to say Fantasies that are not set in cities are Urban Fantasy to me is wrong. I think another thing they are doing with Contemporary Fantasy is calling it Magical Realism, but most of the time that’s a misnomer, too, because in true Magical Realism you don’t know for sure if the extraordinary thing, or things that happen are real or magical. It’s like readers calling the Practical Magic books Magical Realism just because it is set in the real world, but they aren’t because they are definitely doing magic, there is no question. Now, The Luster of Lost Things is MR because you can’t tell if the happenings are magical, or the MC’s overly active imagination. ✨

    This is a wonderful discussion post! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, arent Fantasies about ghosts, werewolves, and vampires considered Paranormal Fantasy? I would call Twilight Paranormal Fantasy before I would call it Urban Fantasy. I think people are getting their subgenres mixed up. Ha!

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    2. I think twilight is Contemporary fantasy and paranormal fantasy because as someone else said, paranormal is a subgenre of contemporary fantasy. Just to make it easier haha.
      And I agree. A lot of things are called magical realism when it is not.

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  4. Hahahaha Annemieke my head just hurts now 😉 Really I never thought there was a difference but I get your point.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post, and I love the way you explained it and then divided popular series into the categories! You’re definitely right; I would consider Twilight to be contemporary fantasy as well. I feel that (and I’m guilty of this too) that a lot of the contemporary fantasy I have seen around is categorized into ‘paranormal’ because they fit the parameters of the genre, even though paranormal is technically a subset of contemporary fantasy. Haha, genres and subgenres are always a jumble of overlap! 🙂

    💫 Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks

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  6. I actually wasn’t aware things were categorized as Contemporary Fantasy! I thought it all fell under UF, but that’s be being unaware. There’s a genre for everything, lol. I’m happy you brought this to my attention. ❤

    Do You Dog-ear?

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  7. Honestly, I just call any fantasy set in our world urban fantasy. Whether it takes place in a city or a rural area or the present or the past. It’s all urban fantasy to me lol. There are too many subgenres and subgenres within subgenres for me to worry about all of them!

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  8. I didn’t even know Contemporary Fantasy existed! 😂 That’s terrible of me haha. I just call all “modern” fantasy either urban, paranormal, or magical realism, LOL. I’m horrible at subgenres, they all smush for me. Like what’s the difference between paranormal and urban?!

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    1. Me neither until I came across it earlier this year. I think paranormal is more vampires, werewolves and urban is just it taking place in the city so in reality a book can be both.

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  9. Like others, I didn’t know Contemporary Fantasy was a subgenre, but yeah, I can see the differences now. And as LaLa said, I think Twilight is more Paranormal than anything… but sometimes fantasy and paranormal get mixed together and that can be confusing.

    -Lauren

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I actually thought that contemporary fantasy was a newer term that meant the book was a blend of contemporary and fantasy (more of a portal book). In fact, I’d used that term to describe my MG, but I guess maybe that isn’t a correct classification. Thanks for educating me!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oops, ik leer hier een nieuw boekgenre kennen. Een paar jaar terug heb ik eens een lijst met een aantal fantasy-subgenres (én hun omschrijving) gedeeld maar Contemporary Fantasy kan ik me echt niet herinneren. Ik ben het trouwens met je eens hoor. Zelf beschouw ik Twilight niet als een Urban Fantasy. Langs de andere kant is het soms wel zo dat boeken in meerdere vakjes tegelijk passen. De boeken van J.R.Ward spelen zich af in een hedendaagse stad maar ze voldoen evengoed aan de omschrijving van een paranormal romance. Meestal begin ik dan te twijelen en hou ik het gewoon bij de algemene term fantasy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ik denk dat je boeken ook gewoon in de verschillende hokjes kan plaatsen. Twilight is een contemporary fantasy maar net zo goed een paranormal romance. Ik denk dat je ze dan ook gewoon allebei mag benoemen. 🙂 Net zo goed als dat wij niet in een hokje hoeven te passen hoeven boeken ook niet maar in een hokje te passen. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for your post. I landed here while researching the best category for my fantasy novel Awen Rising. It’s a toss up bw contemporary and urban, and after reading the comments, I’ve decided to go with Urban. Thanks for your insight!

    OJ Barré

    Liked by 1 person

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