A Brief History of Urban Fantasy

5 January 2022

The modern-day setting has its share of monsters. However, in the urban fantasy setting, these monsters take the form of the supernatural. Whether a ghost, vampire, werewolf or something equally frightening, it is up to the main character to find out what is happening and why. A good bit of this setting lies heavily in the horror realm, while some authors take it into the genre of romance.

What is Urban Fantasy?

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, usually set in or near an urban environment. Urban fantasy has often drawn on the tropes of detective novels, with stories populated by humans and non-humans solving mysteries, fighting crime, and solving other problems. Urban fantasy can be a setting for magical realism, where the supernatural world is present but not fully revealed. The genre originated as "urban horror" because of its focus on the dark reality of life in cities. Some authors are creating new settings rather than rehashing old ones while still drawing on traditional magic.

Traditional Definition of Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a genre of popular fiction that includes tales of magic, occultism, and other supernatural occurrences in an urban setting. This genre typically features a city-dwelling protagonist who possesses supernatural powers and/or is the descendant of a human and a deity. The urban fantasy genre can be traced back to the 1890s.

What makes it different from other genres?

Urban fantasy, the genre that incorporates elements of both urban and fantasy fiction, is a captivating and imaginative genre that has grown in popularity in recent years. It encompasses stories with settings like San Francisco (Lev Grossman's The Magicians) and New York (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke) and those that take place in worlds with their own logic, such as the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Also, my series, The Midnight Agency. How's that for a shameless plug?

Monsters in Urban Fantasy

Monsters thrive in the genre of Urban Fantasy, with vampires and werewolves being the most predominant beings. However, witches, warlocks, wizards, the Fae, angels, demons, and other magical beings are making a growing presence in the genre. However, one of the many underlying themes is that humans are the worst type of monster. Even with the evils of the supernatural running amok, humans have always held the darkest evil. They seem to scare their victims the most.

Examples of Authors in this Genre:

There are a significant number of writers in this genre. Some of my favorites are: Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Charles De Lint, Lilith Saintcrow, Kevin Hearne, Rob Thurman. There are more, but this list would be pretty exhaustive.

Why You Should Read Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a genre that magically incorporates the real world. The typically human protagonist comes to terms with their newfound powers and uses them to solve problems or circumvent obstacles. Urban fantasy has been around for centuries and is an integral part of culture today. With magic and monsters galore, you may find that many use these themes as an allegory for social debate that echoes what is happening in the real world. This also brings up a point about what makes a good monster. While some have proven to be better than others, bringing out a character's inner darkness has proven to fuel many series. It has added complexity when you find out that the protagonist is a monster themselves or an antihero.

Many authors have caused quite a stir and a lot of conflicts by making their main character one monster who is equally capable of doing evil as the bad guy. However, the hero always makes the right choice, even if it proves detrimental to them.

The urban environment provides an excellent location for monsters and magic!