Many writers have a difficult time labeling their work or fitting it into specific categories or genres. In today’s popular cross-genre norm, this makes sense. Novels still need to be labeled for marketability, so I want to examine the differences and common traits of two popular modern genres that are often confused: Urban Fantasy and Paranormal.
I read somewhere that the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal is that Paranormal is Urban Fantasy in which the main characters have sex. At first, I thought this was funny. Then I thought about it and decided it’s not as silly a statement as it seems. The description does, however, require a bit more elaboration to be considered anything more than an oversimplified characterization.
First, let’s start by examining the genres individually. Urban Fantasy was once considered to be a subgenre of Fantasy in which the story took place in a major city or town. Nowadays, it’s considered Urban Fantasy if it takes place in a contemporary setting (VS say High Fantasy which often takes place in ancient or medieval times or magical locales). The everyday world is far from “normal” however. It involves magic or characters with supernatural powers or characteristics, though they still interact with everyday mortals—you know, Muggles. Urban Fantasy often has fantastical creatures, too, even those usually found in paranormal novels. The main character(s) are usually battling against supernatural beings, even if they have some supernatural powers of their own.
Paranormal novels contain supernatural beings, such as vampires, werewolves or other shapeshifters. They can take place in any time or locale. The main characters may or may not have actual intercourse, but they have a personal relationship of some kind around which the events and plot revolve.
Urban Fantasy’s main characters may well have a relationship, sexual or otherwise, but if their relationship were removed, the plot and events would still occur. There will be a story present even if the main characters have no personal relationship, whereas in Paranormal novels the story is about the main characters’ relationship and its development.
So, is Paranormal just Urban Fantasy in which the characters have sex? Sort of. Perhaps that’s why most Paranormal is labeled Paranormal Romance…