Genres can be pretty confusing. You probably know major categories like science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, but what about all the other smaller genres? It can be important to understand exactly what genre a book falls under, so you can know what to expect. Here are some great genres you didn’t know you needed to know.
Cyberpunk is a type of science fiction that takes place in high-tech dystopias, usually not very far in the future. These books talk about the dark side of technology, artificial intelligence, and what makes us human. Cyberpunk was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but its themes are still relevant today, especially when it comes to the Internet. Snow Crash, the 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson, is a famous example of this genre, not to mention the source of the idea of the Metaverse.
Another sci-fi subgenre, climate fiction or cli-fi puts climate change and its effects center stage. Climate fiction can be speculative, with stories about how climate change has affected the world in the future, or it can take place in the present and show these changes in action. The genre only got its name in the 2010s, but authors have been writing about climate change for decades. One of these earlier books is Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Butler’s novels all address social inequality, racism, and climate change, and the apocalyptic society she writes about is a perfect example of climate fiction.
Afrofuturism is a movement that tries to use art to describe the past and future of the African-American experience. These books combine sci-fi, history, fantasy, and African mythology to tell unique new stories. The genre and greater movement were named in 1994, but Black artists have been telling Afrofuturism stories much longer than that, like in one of the most famous examples, Black Panther. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is a dark dystopia that won the Hugo Award in 2016 and was the first book in the Broken Earth series.
This genre combines fantasy, history, historical fiction, and mythology to tell stories set in or inspired by Asian cultures. Asian-inspired fantasy, building on the earlier movement of Chinese-inspired fantasy, is quickly becoming more popular. While there are lots of subgenres, wuxia focuses on history and martial arts, and xianxia and xuanhuan add fantasy elements. Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao does all this and more as an alternate history of the only Chinese Empress, Wu Zetian.
Epistolary novels are more of a style of writing than any one genre. However, together they can be seen as a subgenre that makes room for new and different ways to write a novel. Epistolary novels are written in the form of a collection of documents, like letters, emails, or transcripts of videos or audiotapes. The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1985 dystopian novel about a fundamentalist future by Margaret Atwood, was written as transcripts of tapes created by the main character Offred during her attempted escape from Gilead. Judging by how popular the TV adaptation has been, and how often references pop up at protests, it’s safe to say this book is definitely still relevant today.
Portal fantasies take characters, and readers, to a brand new world. Any story where the characters move through a magical door from the ordinary world to a fantasy setting is a portal fantasy. These stories have been popular for centuries, such as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Some portal fantasies, however, take a look at the genre and how the escapism it provides can become dangerous. For example, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire plays on the genre in new and disturbing ways. It tells the story of children who go through portals to magical worlds, only to return home ready to do anything to go back.
Definitely the “weirdest” on this list, slipstream is a genre that defines itself as being “between” types of fiction. Slipstream novels can have magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction elements. They are often nonlinear and refuse to be categorized as one genre or another. The books in this genre are often hard to explain but can use these elements to tell very moving stories. Slipstream is becoming a more popular and more common genre. The Starless Sea, written in 2019 by Erin Morgenstern, tells a story within a story about folklore, fantasy, and a grad student who refused to go through a magical door as a child and now finds it coming back to haunt him.
These examples of literary genres show that there are almost endless types of fiction. From sci-fi and fantasy to alternate histories and surrealist fairy tales, novels can tell stories in so many different ways. You can read more about all kinds of genres and authors right here on Bookstr.