What Are 27+ Popular Genres of Fiction? A Guide For Writers

a man in a library, showing many genres of fiction

Key Takeaways:

The most popular genres of fiction include literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery/thriller, science fiction, and fantasy. Read on to see examples of each, and many more genres!

Are you a writer, looking for some inspiration for your next story or screenplay?

Sometimes we writers have fantastic story ideas, but we’re not sure exactly which literary genre we should write them in!

I know I’ve been there, especially with some of the horror/thriller/sci-fi books and scripts that I’ve written – which genre should I focus on? Which should be primary for the story that I’ve started in my head?

Join me as we explore 27+ popular fiction genres that every creative writer and storyteller should know!

What Are The Most Popular Genres of Fiction?

Let’s look at the most popular fiction genres!

1. Literary Fiction

Genres of fiction literary fiction

Literary Fiction or Mainstream Fiction is the genre where characters’ internal landscapes are as vast and complex as the worlds they inhabit!

Told in contemporary settings at the time of its writing, this specific literary genre is a treasure trove for those who enjoy deep, introspective character studies and profound themes based on everyday life. Think of it as a journey into the heart of the human condition, exploring our hopes, dreams, fears, and failures.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a stellar example of this genre. This iconic novel takes us into the 1920s world of Jay Gatsby, a man consumed by his dreams and illusions, offering us a poignant commentary on the American Dream.

As you read literary fiction, you’ll find it’s less about what happens on the surface and more about the undercurrents – its characters’ thoughts, emotions, and motivations. This is the essence of literary fiction: a mirror reflecting humanity’s beauty and brokenness.

2. Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction

The historical fiction genre masterfully intertwines factual historical events and settings with fictional narratives, giving readers a blend of education and entertainment.

A great example is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Its historical setting is World War II, and the story follows two French sisters as they navigate love, loss, and resistance.

Through stories like this, historical novels offer a window into our past and a reflection on timeless human emotions and experiences.

3. Mystery/Thriller

Mystery Thriller

Ever found yourself flipping pages feverishly, heart pounding, as you’re pulled into a web of suspense and intrigue? Welcome to the pulse-quickening world of mystery and thriller novels.

These narratives are written with one main goal: to keep you on the edge of your seat, constantly guessing and second-guessing. They dangle a puzzle in front of readers, urging them to piece together the clues and unravel the enigma.

A prime example of both the thriller and mystery genres is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Through its twisted plot and unreliable narrators, Flynn crafts a chilling tale of love gone awry, making even the most astute readers question everything.

4. Science Fiction

Science Fiction

Science fiction is the literary genre that lets our imaginations soar, painting pictures of futuristic settings, groundbreaking technology, and, oftentimes, the vast expanse of space.

Take Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, for instance. Here, Huxley presents a dystopian future where society is stratified and controlled through advanced technology and psychological manipulation.

In essence, science fiction novels don’t just speculate on what might be; they prompt readers to reflect on the implications of our advancements and the very nature of humanity in the face of the unknown.

RELATED: If you want to write your own dystopian novel or screenplay, check out my article with 99+ unique dystopian story ideas!

5. Fantasy

Fantasy genre of fiction

Ever wished you could open the door to another realm filled with magic, mythical beings, and grand adventures? Fantasy novels are your ticket to these enchanting universes!

This type of speculative fiction sweeps readers off their feet, plunging them into worlds where dragons soar above castles, elves, and dwarves tread mystical lands, and epic quests beckon at every turn.

A great story in the realm of fantasy fiction is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Through the tale of a young wizard discovering his powers and destiny, Rowling invites readers into the spellbinding world of Hogwarts, complete with magical creatures, dark villains, and friendships that defy the odds.

6. Romance

Romance Genre

Is there anyone who hasn’t experienced the exhilarating rush of emotions brought about by a meaningful love story? The Romance genre has the power to tug at our heartstrings and looks at the enchanting narratives of love, passion, and the obstacles that often come hand in hand with the intertwining of two souls.

A classic emblem of romance fiction with a historical and fantastical twist is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. In this sweeping tale, Claire Randall, a 20th-century nurse, is transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland, where a passionate romance blossoms with the dashing warrior Jamie Fraser.

Through such stories, a romance novel reminds us of the timeless nature of love, loss, heartbreak, and hope.

7. Horror

Horror Genre

Ever felt that spine-tingling chill, the creeping sensation of being watched, or the jump of your heart at an unexpected shadow? That’s the realm of horror fiction, a genre created to tap into our deepest fears.

Horror novels are not just about shock value. Instead, they often speak about the human psyche, unearthing our universal anxieties and magnifying them through tales often laced with the supernatural.

A master of this domain is Stephen King, and his novel It stands as a testament to the genre’s power. In the town of Derry, a malevolent entity preys on the town’s children, manifesting as their worst fears, while the adults remain oblivious to the danger.

Horror stories serve a purpose beyond just providing scares. They reflect our deepest fears and reveal the monsters and darknesses that exist not only outside of us, but within us as well.

8. Action/Adventure

Action Adventure stories

Action and Adventure novels cater to the thrill of the unknown, whisking readers away on high-octane journeys filled with quests, exploration, and heart-pounding action.

These tales are the epitome of escapism, offering a break from the mundane to venture into uncharted territories, whether they be wild jungles, vast oceans, exotic cities, or even the Arctic!

A timeless example of this genre is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Through Huck’s eyes, we’re taken on a riveting journey down the Mississippi River in a pre-Civil War world – a voyage that is as much about external exploration as it is about internal growth.

9. Dystopian

Dystopian fiction genre

Dystopian movies and stories beckon readers into grim futures for our own world. They paint vivid, often cautionary tales of societies that have spiraled into oppression, surveillance, and unyielding control. It’s a genre that not only entertains but also serves as a mirror, reflecting the potential consequences of our actions and choices.

A masterpiece in this domain is George Orwell’s 1984. Within its pages, we’re introduced to a world where individual speech, expression, and thought are a crime, and Big Brother’s ever-watchful eye ensures compliance with the Party’s dictates.

One of the key lessons of dystopian genre fiction is to examine how the world of today could become a worse place if societal concerns – war, resources, pollution, technology, etc. – aren’t addressed in a positive way before it’s too late.

10. Crime

Crime Genre

Dive into the shadowy alleys of the crime genre, and you’re immediately plunged into a world of intrigue, danger, and moral ambiguity.

This genre gets into the intricate dance between lawbreakers and those sworn to bring them to justice. From heists to hits, and detectives to dons, crime stories meticulously dissect the motivations behind criminal activities, the chase, and the often-blurred line between right and wrong.

One great example is The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Through the tale of the Corleone family in post-WW2 New York, Puzo crafts a riveting exploration of power, loyalty, and the underbelly of the American dream. Crime fiction offers us an introspective look at society’s definition of morality and justice.

11. Gothic Fiction

Gothic fiction is a genre that masterfully melds elements of horror and romance, wrapping them in haunted landscapes and shadowed corridors. Often set in Victorian times, these narratives are steeped in emotion and often unfold within eerie settings, such as a crumbling mansion or a fog-laden moor.

A quintessential tale in this genre is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Amid the bleakness of the Yorkshire moors, we witness the tormented love of Heathcliff and Catherine, a romance as wild and untamed as the winds that sweep the landscape.

12. Magical Realism

Magical realism invites us into a world where the mundane and the magical coexist seamlessly. In this enchanting genre, everyday life is sprinkled with elements of the fantastical – whispers of magic that feel as natural as breathing.

Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits beautifully embodies this. Within its pages, we view the lives of the Trueba family, bearing witness to their loves, losses, and the ethereal moments and supernatural elements that intertwine their destinies.

13. War Fiction

War fiction sheds light on the valor, the heartbreak, and the complexities of human conflict during wars. This genre doesn’t just present battles; it looks into the psyche of those caught in the crossfire. It offers a multi-faceted view of the horrors, heroism, and human dynamics at play during wars.

A monumental representation of this genre is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Within this magnum opus, Tolstoy doesn’t just narrate the Napoleonic wars; he crafts a tapestry of lives, love, loss, and the intricate dance of society against the backdrop of vast historical events.

War fiction takes us beyond dates and battlefields to the human stories that shape and are shaped by the throes of warfare.

14. Western

Western fiction is a genre that encapsulates the raw spirit of the frontier. It’s a world of cowboys and outlaws, of Native Americans sharing ancient tales, and of the untamed beauty and danger of the Wild West. These stories echo with the sounds of galloping hooves, the twang of a guitar around a campfire, and the clash of ideals in a land where survival often hinges on wit and grit.

True Grit by Charles Portis perfectly embodies this ethos. Following the relentless Mattie Ross in her quest for justice following her father’s murder, this tale serves as a gripping adventure and a reflection on courage and tenacity.

15. Paranormal/Supernatural

The Paranormal and Supernatural fiction genre brings us into a mysterious realm, where the rules of reality bend and creatures of legend come to life. Here, we encounter vampires with brooding gazes, werewolves howling at the moon, and restless spirits haunting the corridors of the living.

One tale that captivated a generation is Stephenie Meyer’s contemporary romance, Twilight. Through Bella’s eyes, we’re drawn into a world where love, danger, and the allure of the immortal entwine to reshape her once-ordinary life.

16. Coming-of-Age

Coming-of-Age fiction transports us back to the pivotal moments of our youth. It charts the tumultuous journey of protagonists as they navigate the bridge from youth to adulthood.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a prime example of this raw exploration of adolescence. Through Holden Caulfield’s introspective wanderings, we’re exposed to the confusion, cynicism, and eventual acceptance that mark the winding path to maturity.

Coming-of-Age stories serve as poignant reminders of our own growth, revealing the scars, lessons, and memories that shape our journey into the tapestry of adulthood.

17. Satire

Satirical fiction employs humor, wit, and biting irony to illuminate the peculiarities, foibles, and contradictions in society and human nature. These narratives serve a purpose beyond just amusement; they act as mirrors, revealing our shared peculiarities and prompting introspection and transformation.

Voltaire’s Candide stands tall in this genre, a razor-sharp critique woven with dark humor, charting the misadventures of its ever-optimistic protagonist in a world rife with hypocrisy and calamity.

While not meant to be comedy for comedy’s sake, Satire allows us to examine the otherwise serious world through a humorous lens.

18. Drama

Dramatic fiction presents lifelike characters navigating the complexities of life. Here, the characters grapple with profound emotional themes that often mirror our own struggles and joys. Set against the backdrop of realistic settings, these tales draw us in, making us privy to intimate moments, raw vulnerabilities, and genuine human connections.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a poignant testament to the power of drama. Through the intricate tapestry of Celie’s life in early 20th century rural Georgia, we’re exposed to themes of love, oppression, resilience, and redemption.

19. Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy beckons to the curious heart, infusing our modern, urban landscapes with the allure of the fantastical. This genre is where the everyday meets the extraordinary: think dragons perched atop skyscrapers or wizards catching the subway.

A prime example of this mesmerizing blend is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. As we follow Richard Mayhew’s descent into the shadowy, magical world beneath London on a supernatural quest, we’re reminded of the thin veil that might separate us from the marvelous unknown.

20. Psychological Thriller

In the realm of Psychological Thrillers, the true battleground is the human psyche. These stories don’t just skim the surface; they dive into the intricate labyrinths of their characters’ minds. It’s a dance of shadows and light, where motivations are murky, and the line between sanity and madness blurs.

Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient is an excellent example of a psychological thriller. As we unravel the enigma of Alicia Berenson, a woman who shoots her husband and then refuses to speak, we’re led on a harrowing journey of discovery, deception, and dread.

Psychological thrillers challenge you to peer into the abyss of the human soul, questioning what lies beneath the façade of normalcy.

21. Cyberpunk

In Cyberpunk, the brilliance of advanced tech intertwines with the gritty realism of dystopian themes to paint a future that’s both awe-inspiring and cautionary. Vast digital landscapes, rogue AI, and cybernetic implants are all set against the backdrop of sprawling urban jungles where the divide between the digital and the real often blurs.

A cornerstone of this genre is William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Through the eyes of Case, a washed-up computer hacker, we’re thrust into a world of digital espionage, artificial intelligence, and corporate intrigue – a future where humanity grapples with its own creations.

22. Espionage

The world of Espionage fiction invites you to step into the shadows, where spies weave their webs of deceit, covert operations unfold in hushed tones, and international intrigue pulses at every turn. This genre is not just about action – it’s a chessboard of intelligence and counterintelligence, of allegiances forged and betrayed.

John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy epitomizes this intricate dance. Through the eyes of the enigmatic George Smiley, we’re drawn into a labyrinth of double agents and hidden motives in a Cold War-era tale that unravels the very fabric of the British Secret Service.

23. Noir

The seductive world of Noir is a realm of dark, moody crime fiction where the lines between hero and villain often blur. Set against the backdrop of urban gloom, noir tales feature detectives who, despite their own flaws and moral ambiguities, doggedly chase truths through a maze of deception and danger.

Also known as Detective Fiction, Dashiell Hammett’s iconic The Maltese Falcon is a masterclass in this genre. As we trail private detective Sam Spade through the gritty streets of San Francisco, we’re ensnared in a web of treachery, love, and betrayal, all centered around a coveted statuette.

24. Tragedy

Have you ever felt the profound weight of a story that, no matter how much you hoped, was destined for heartbreak?

That’s the potent essence of Tragedy, a genre that looks at the human condition, pushing its characters to confront immense challenges, often leading them towards sorrowful or disastrous endings. These tales aren’t just about despair; they’re reflections on love, honor, ambition, and the very fabric of fate.

No work captures this intensity quite like William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Through the star-crossed lovers’ journey, we witness passion’s power and the cruel whims of destiny. As Verona’s feuding families ensnare them in conflict, the inevitability of their tragic end is palpable.

25. Fairytale

Fairytales whisk us away to realms where magic is the norm, and every twist and turn might lead you to a castle or a dragon’s lair. These tales are rich with royalty, from dashing princes to resolute princesses, and are often peppered with lessons that resonate through the ages.

Consider the classic tale of Cinderella, a story of resilience, dreams, and the magical transformation of an abused servant girl into a true princess. Now, fast forward to modern interpretations like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, where the age-old tale is invigorated with fresh charm and deeper complexities.

26. High Fantasy

Ah, the call of distant realms, where mountains touch the stars and forests whisper ancient secrets! Welcome to the world of High Fantasy, also called Epic Fantasy, a genre that transports you to alternative, meticulously crafted universes brimming with rich lore and intricate rules of magic, society, and conflict.

These aren’t just tales of wizards and warriors – they’re grand epics that build entire civilizations, cultures, and histories from the ground up.

Take, for instance, George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus, A Song of Ice and Fire. Here, kingdoms clash, and dragons soar above lands where honor, betrayal, and power entwine in a dance as old as time itself.

27. Epic

This genre is characterized by its sheer magnitude, where heroes are not just individuals but symbols of entire cultures, and their quests are nothing short of legendary. These stories are often birthed from the very soul of civilizations, painting pictures of valor, sacrifice, and destinies that shape the world.

An emblematic example of this grandeur is The Odyssey by Homer. Here, Odysseus’s tenacious journey home from the Trojan War, fraught with mythical creatures, divine interventions, and tests of character, becomes more than just a tale of a man. It embodies human perseverance and the ever-burning desire to find one’s way back to what matters most.

28. Erotica

Erotica is a genre that unabashedly explores the complexities of relationships and the exploration of sexual themes, often with a boldness that’s both tantalizing and thought-provoking. While some might dismiss it as mere titillation, this type of fiction has a unique power – it gives voice to our most intimate fantasies and celebrates the myriad expressions of human connection.

Perhaps no book has brought erotica to the forefront of mainstream conversation quite like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. This provocative tale of passion and power dynamics resonates with millions.

29. Young Adult

The tumultuous years of adolescence – a time of growth, discovery, heartbreak, and resilience. The Young Adult fiction genre captures this vibrant phase of life with an authenticity that resonates not just with teens but with readers of all ages.

Tackling poignant themes of coming-of-age, identity, blossoming romance, and the myriad challenges that shape our formative years, YA literature is a reflection of the universal journey of self-discovery.

One such tale that has touched hearts globally is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. In its pages, love and loss intertwine, reminding us of the fragility and wonder of life and the indomitable spirit of youth.

When you dive into YA, you’re transported to that delicate cusp of childhood and adulthood, where every emotion is magnified, and every experience is a lesson.

30. Alternate History

Alternate History centers around pivotal moments – and often real historical figures – in humanity’s existence and asks, “What if?” Through a fictional lens, we can examine what people and places might look like had those moments gone the other way, and by doing so, reflect on our world now for better or worse.

A great example of this genre fiction is Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory series, which follows an alternate timeline following the South’s victory over the North in America’s Civil War, and the aftereffects of a very different Reconstruction, World War I, and World War II. At heart, it’s historical fantasy, but viewed as realistic fiction – often with some valuable lessons along the way.

books on a shelf

Final Thoughts

Well, that’s a pretty good list of the top fiction genres. Were there any I missed? I’d love to hear your favorite genres in the comments below!

If you’re just beginning your storytelling adventure and need a bit of assistance, check out my ebook, How to Start a Story. This book will guide you from an idea to your very first chapter. You can download it free below!

Common Questions (FAQs)

What are genres in fiction writing?

Genres in fiction writing are categories that help define the content and style of a story. They provide a framework for the narrative and can give readers an idea of what to expect.

What’s the difference between fantasy and science fiction?

While both genres explore worlds beyond our current understanding, fantasy often includes magical realms and mythical beings. In contrast, science fiction focuses on futuristic concepts, technologies, and settings that could potentially arise from scientific advancements.

Can a story fit into multiple genres?

Yes, stories can certainly blend genres. This is called cross-genre fiction, and it allows writers to draw on the conventions and strengths of multiple genres.

Love storytelling? Check out these helpful articles!

Plot vs Story: What’s The Difference? [With Examples]

How to Write a Story Outline: 9 Steps for Writers

The Best Writing Tools for Fiction Writers (Reviewed!)

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