What Is Fantasy? Definition & 20+ Examples

Fantasy, a genre of literature that has captured the imagination of readers for centuries, is often characterized by its use of magic, mystical creatures, and otherworldly settings. The stories are built upon elements that transport us into another dimension, where the rules of time, space, and logic can be bent or broken.

The wide-ranging scope of fantasy allows for an immersive experience that, while often grounded in reality, stretches the boundaries of the imagination.

In this article, we will further demonstrate how the power of fantasy sends us to enchanting worlds full of wonder and possibility.

Defining Fantasy

Fantasy is a genre of literature, film, and other forms of media that often features imaginative and supernatural elements, as well as settings and characters that do not exist in the real world.

These works often draw on myths, legends, folklore, and magic to create complex, alternate worlds, and they may involve the use of fantastical creatures, such as elves, dragons, and wizards.

Fantasy works can encompass a wide range of themes, tones, and styles, and they often explore topics such as heroism, morality, and the struggle between good and evil.

How Fantasy Affects Us

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." — Neil Gaiman

This quote perfectly captures the essence of fantasy literature. Fantasy stories allow us to see beyond the mundane world, delving into rich and imaginative settings filled with magical creatures and epic quests.

As Gaiman’s quote mentions, this also provides a sense of empowerment and hope, encouraging readers to believe in their ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

While dragons may not exist in reality, fantasy literature presents them as symbols of overwhelming difficulties or deep-rooted fears we may face in life. The heroes in these tales, although fictional, serve as inspiring examples of the resilience and strength required to combat these challenges.

Some key examples of the fantasy genre include J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which demonstrate the diverse ways fantasy literature explores the human experience and empowers readers.

History of Fantasy

The roots of fantasy literature trace back to ancient myths and legends from various cultures, including Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. These early tales often featured gods, magical creatures, and supernatural events.

In the Middle Ages, stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continued the tradition of blending fantastical elements with human drama. However, it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that the fantasy genre as we know it today began to take shape.

During this time, authors such as George MacDonald, William Morris, and Lord Dunsany pioneered modern fantasy by creating imaginary worlds with their own laws and logic. Their works influenced later authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who popularized the genre with their respective series, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

As the popularity of fantasy literature grew, subgenres such as urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and magical realism emerged to cater to different tastes and preferences. Today, the fantasy genre continues to evolve and inspire new generations of writers and readers.

Subgenres of Fantasy

Fantasy literature encompasses a wide range of subgenres, each with its own distinct characteristics and unique elements.

High Fantasy

High fantasy, also known as epic fantasy, is set in an entirely different, often highly detailed and intricate world, with its own history, geography, and physical laws. These stories generally involve a large cast of characters, complex plotlines, and often a battle against a great evil threatening their world.

Examples of high fantasy include:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series

Low Fantasy

Low fantasy, in contrast to high fantasy, takes place in a world much like our own, with one key difference: the presence of magic or supernatural events. The focus in low fantasy stories is often on everyday people living their lives within this world, where magical events are less likely to occur.

Examples of low fantasy include:

  • Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series
  • Neil Gaiman’s Stardust

Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a subgenre that combines the elements of fantasy with a modern, urban setting. Magic, mythical creatures, and supernatural events are woven into the fabric of urban life.

Examples of urban fantasy include:

  • Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files
  • Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series

Dark Fantasy

Dark fantasy merges elements of fantasy with horror or grim themes, creating a darker, more unsettling atmosphere. This subgenre often explores the darker side of human nature and may include morally ambiguous characters, graphic violence, or supernatural creatures with malevolent intentions.

Examples of dark fantasy include:

  • Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles
  • Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy

Other Subgenres

SteampunkA blend of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction, often set in Victorian-era England or an alternate world with steam-powered technology.Perdido Street Station by
China Miéville
Fairy Tale RetellingsStories that reimagine or reinterpret classic fairy tales in new and inventive ways.The Lunar Chronicles
by Marissa Meyer
Magical RealismA genre that blends elements of fantasy and reality, often set in a world where magical events occur but isn’t considered unusual or extraordinary.One Hundred Years of Solitude by
Gabriel García Márquez

Elements of Fantasy

Fantasy literature often incorporates various elements that help to craft an immersive and imaginary world. These elements are crucial for setting the tone of the story and allowing readers to fully engage with the narrative.

Some of these components include:

  • Created” worlds: Fantasy stories frequently feature entirely made-up worlds or parallel dimensions, often with unique geography, ecosystems, and political structures.
  • Magic and supernatural powers: Magic and supernatural powers are often a defining aspect of fantasy, with characters exhibiting extraordinary abilities or encountering mystical creatures.
  • “The chosen one”: The central plot of a fantasy story often revolves around a protagonist embarking on a daunting quest, facing numerous obstacles and adventures along the way.
  • Legendary creatures: Unique and mythical creatures such as dragons, unicorns, and goblins are a common element in fantasy narratives, often playing significant roles in the story.
  • Complex characters and relationships: Well-developed characters and the relationships they form are central to fantasy stories, adding depth and emotional engagement for the reader.

Some overarching themes in fantasy literature include the struggle between good and evil, the importance of friendship and loyalty, and the power of love.

While individual fantasy stories may not incorporate all of these elements, a combination of these components helps create the distinct atmosphere and narrative style associated with the fantasy genre.

Examples of Famous Fantasy Works

In this section, we will explore various famous fantasy works across different forms of media, including books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

Books and Series

Throughout literary history, several books and series have captured the imagination of readers, transporting them to fantastical worlds filled with magic and unparalleled adventures. Some notable examples include:

  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
  • A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
  • The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin

Movies and Television

With advancements in technology and visual effects, filmmakers have adapted various fantasy novels and created original screenplays that immerse viewers in magical worlds. Here are some examples:

  • Stranger Things, a hit television series on Netflix
  • Harry Potter film series
  • The Mandalorian, a live-action TV series in the Star Wars Franchise
  • The Witcher, a fantasy drama series on Netflix
  • The Dark Crystal and its Netflix prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
  • Stardust, a romantic fantasy adventure film

Video Games

Video games have further contributed to the popularization of the fantasy genre, enabling players to actively engage in their own epic adventures within fantastical realms. Notable video games include:

  • Final Fantasy series
  • The Elder Scrolls series, such as Skyrim
  • The Legend of Zelda series
  • Dragon Age series
  • World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)
  • Diablo series

The Future of Fantasy

Fantasy as a genre has endlessly evolved throughout the years, taking on new forms and expanding its themes. The future promises exciting possibilities for the growth and development of this beloved form of literature and media.

As technology progresses, we can anticipate a significant impact on how fantasy stories are created and consumed. Virtual reality and augmented reality, for example, have the potential to immerse readers and audiences like never before.

Moreover, AI-driven storytelling could result in more interactive and personalized fantasy experiences.

Emerging Trends

Some notable emerging trends in the fantasy genre include:

Trend Description
Hybrid genresFantasy combined with other genres, like science fiction or romance, can create fresh and unexpected narratives.
Diverse perspectivesIncreasingly, fantasy works feature characters and settings that reflect diverse cultures and perspectives.
Environmental themesMore fantasy stories are incorporating themes of climate change and the relationship between humans and nature.

Evolution of Fantasy: Potential Directions

There are several potential directions for the growth and evolution of fantasy in various forms of media:

Cross-media storytelling

Fantasy narratives that span books, movies, TV shows, and video games can offer rich, interconnected worlds for audiences to explore.

Collaborative storytelling

As online platforms and communities multiply, we may see more opportunities for fans to participate in the creation of fantasy stories, shaping narratives and characters together.

Experimental formats

Fantasy writers and creators might explore new formats, such as multimedia novels, serialized fiction, or episodic podcasts, to tell their stories in unique and engaging ways.

"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." - Lloyd Alexander

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes fantasy from other genres?

Fantasy is often distinguished from other genres, such as science fiction and horror, by its focus on magic and the supernatural and its emphasis on imaginative world-building and often epic, larger-than-life narratives.

How do I start writing my own fantasy story?

Begin with world-building, creating your setting and characters, and outlining a plot or storyline. Take inspiration from your favorite fantasy works but try to create your own unique elements.


Fantasy is a rich and diverse genre that captures the imagination of readers worldwide. It draws upon a vast tapestry of myths, legends, and archetypes to create compelling stories filled with magic, otherworldly creatures, and engaging characters.

The enduring appeal of fantasy lies in its ability to take us away from the mundane and immerse us in new and wondrous realms. It’s a mirror through which we can examine universal human experiences in a different light, and it reminds us of the power and importance of imagination.

If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to lose yourself in the magical worlds of fantasy literature. With countless books, series, and authors to choose from, there’s surely a story waiting to enchant you and draw you into its embrace.

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant. When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.