The Morbidly Fascinating Genre of Bangsian Fiction

This edition of Crazy Book Genres introduces a genre many of us have read before, whether or not we’re aware. Read on to learn about Bangsian Fiction!

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A yellowish background with a swirl in the center shows a figure in the distant center. A crack runs along the ground in the center.

Also called “Afterlife Fantasy,” Bangsian Fiction is a sub-category of the ever-popular Fantasy genre. However, many books that are categorized as Bangsian are often lumped into the larger parent genre, making the name itself little heard of. While the tropes of the genre were codified in the 19th century, Bangisan Fiction is not a contemporary creation, and books using its tropes can be traced back to a famous 14th-century poem. But who established the genre? And which books fall into the category? Read on to find out!

The History of Bangsian Fiction

The origins of Bangsian Fiction aren’t clear, but the genre is often attributed to its namesake, John Kendrick Bangs.

Born in 1862 in Yonkers, New York, Bangs was the son of a lawyer. When he was 17, he entered Columbia University and for three years wrote under pseudonyms for the Acta Columbiana, a student news publication. After earning his Bachelor’s of Philosophy in Political Science, he began to work in his father’s law office, although he never took the position seriously. 

Photo of John Kendrick Bangs; Black and white photo of a balding white man in a suit and tie with a mustache.

Starting in 1887, Bangs tried his hand at publishing stories, starting with Roger Camerden: A Strange Story. The following year he took up playwriting, which resulted in his take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with Katharine: A Travesty in 1888. But the most notable of his works were his supernatural fiction stories based on humorous rather than terrifying ghosts. The first of these, A House-Boat on the Styx (1896), created the Associated Shades, an exclusive men’s club in Hades, that included William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, George Washington, Francis Bacon, and Noah of the Bible as members.

Common Tropes and Settings

Broadly speaking, “Afterlife Fantasy” deals with all things involving the living and the dead. So, many of its common elements are:

  • A comical exploration of the afterlife.
  • Use of a famous personality or mythical figure as a main character.
  • Ghosts stuck in the real world.
  • Living people trapped among the dead. (Corpse Bride, anybody?)
  • People who die in a version of Heaven or Hell.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A black and white cover with a sketch drawing of a man as the image. A banner with "Penguin Classics" is just below.

This classic story follows Ebenezer Scrooge, who despises everything about Christmas, as he is visited by three mysterious ghosts of the past, present, and future, who teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

A skeleton-like figure is wrapped in a red, flowy cape as it looks towards the viewer.

This story follows Dream, one of the seven Endless, after his escape from the captors who held him prisoner for 70 years into the modern world. After avenging himself upon his captors, he rebuilds his kingdom, which has fallen into disrepair. As he goes on a quest to recover his lost objects of power, he meets Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

A woman in a golden top lies her head down to the right of the image. Dozens of flowers lie in the foreground with a vine hanging from the left side. Sparkles cover the image.

Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but with her family’s finances in trouble, she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family offers for her to be a “ghost bride” to their recently deceased son. Rarely practiced, a ghost marriage is used to placate restless spirits, and such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home, but at what price? As she spends more time in the shadowy parallel world, she starts to uncover the Lim’s darkest family secrets — and the truth about her own family.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

A man in a red cap with leaves around it and a red shirt stare to the right side of the image.

In this story, Dante is accompanied by three guides: Virgil, representing human reason; Beatrice, representing divine revelation; and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who represents contemplative mysticism and devotion to Mary. Reflecting the medieval worldview of the Western Church in the 14th century, the poem follows the state of the soul after death and toward God.

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

A two-toned cover with a center image showing a figure in a brownish robe starting at a square statue with a cloudy blue sky behind it.

Serving as the basis for the 1998 Robin Williams film of the same name, the story follows Chris Nielsen after he is killed in a car accident and separated from his wife, Annie. As he searches for her in the afterlife, another tragedy strikes that threatens to divide them forever, and Chris must risk his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair.

Bangsian Fiction is quite a common genre and is even referred to as Supernatural Fantasy. Why the name isn’t more commonly used isn’t quite understood, but we hope that you enjoy these five books and the several hundreds of other Bangsian Fiction novels out there! With a cozy reading spot and a hot cup of coffee (or tea!), these books are sure to give you a chill even as the weather begins to warm.

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