Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre of Fantasy in which the real world collides with the supernatural or magical. Simply put, an urban fantasy is any fantasy book with supernatural elements set in our world during modern times. When you think of urban fantasy your first thought may be vampires and werewolves. Most urban fantasies do include magical creatures of some sort, of which vampires are by far the most popular. Werewolves, fairies / the fey, and witches are also common. Often these creatures and the magical world they represent are hidden from normal people, although in some cases humans have learned of “insert magical creatures” existence and exist together with them in some level of conflict. The protagonist usually straddles the mundane and the magical worlds, navigating the intricacies of the interactions between the two. A lot of urban fantasy is geared towards a young adult audience and the protagonists are often teenagers. The “Twilight” series by Stephanie Meyer might be the archetype of urban fantasy geared towards teenagers. Whether they were on team Edward or team Jacob (protagonist Bella’s two love interests – a vampire and a werewolf) the “Twilight” series introduced the urban fantasy genre to many people who had never heard of it before. While Bella does straddle both worlds, being a human in love with two magical creatures, she is often criticized for being a weak female protagonist. She is in constant need of reassurance and protection from her magical male love interests. This is at odds with many other female protagonists in urban fantasy. The genre is heavily populated with heroic women who are readily able to fend for themselves. Examples include Anita Blake from the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, and Elena Michaels from the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you probably have a good idea of the kind of female heroine popular in the genre.
Of course with all genres, and especially the sub-genres of fantasy and science fiction, definitions can be slippery. Urban Fantasy is often associated with Paranormal Romance. While paranormal romances also feature the supernatural in a modern world setting, they focus more on the romance, which usually remains only a subplot in urban fantasies. There is certainly some crossover here. Consider Sookie Stackhouse and “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” on which the HBO drama True Blood is based. In my opinion the Twilight series also straddles this boundary between urban fantasy and paranormal romance.
Now here is a surprise for you: if you’ve read the Harry Potter books you have already read urban fantasy. While geared towards children and young teens (at least initially), the books contain many of the hallmarks of the genre. Harry straddles the human and magical worlds. There are wizards, witches, and many magical creatures. The magical world exists alongside the mundane, hidden behind secret portals in train stations and other magical illusions. In fact, J.K. Rowling may have been influenced by Neal Gaiman’s Neverwhere in the way in which the magical world is hidden just below the surface of the mundane world. In this seminal example of urban fantasy, the magical world literally exists beneath the streets of London, though only those who “fall through the cracks” can see it.
As you can see, the Urban Fantasy genre is more than just Twilight and sex with vampires, although paranormal romance is often an aspect. Check out the flyer below with links to some of the most iconic and / or popular examples of the genre. Most are series so find one you like and get ready for a long strange trip!