The difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are genre names. They help bookstores and websites know where to shelve titles. They give readers a broad shopping label.

But under the hood, they tend to cross over a lot. Like, ALOT.

The ALOT, courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half

So first, here’s a broad-brush definition of each one:

Urban fantasy: A person in a city has a crappy day job, crappy life, etc. They find out they have magic powers, or had them already. They go off to fight black leather-wearing vampires, totally built elves, zombies of various kinds, demons, other wizards, witches, and a few gods of various mythologies. Cthulhu is usually in there somewhere, too. Nobody knows the monsters exist, because the Populace Must Not Know. The fate of the world is at stake if the hero doesn’t stop the monsters.

The hero usually gets to visit the seedier areas of the city in question, taking the reader on a tour of the exotic locales buried in our very own backyard.

In a podcast I watched, a couple of UF authors talked about how the genre is basically updated fairytales. In the old days, the forest was where the monsters lived. If you went in there, the wolves would get you. But today, the city has taken the place of the forest. We all know that there’s places where you just don’t go after dark.

There’s two kinds of UF:

  • Spunky Girl
  • Unlucky Guy

The Spunky Girl also crosses over into Paranormal Romance. She’s the monster hunter, the savvy witch, the werecat, you name it. She kicks butt and takes names. She has family problems and doesn’t need a hawt monster guy, even though she meets one in the first chapter. They get it on. Sometimes frequently.

The Unlucky Guy is also a monster hunter, a wizard, a detective, or so on. Unlike the Spunky Girl, the guy just can’t catch a break. He wakes up in dumpsters. He gets kicked around by monsters. He often runs for his life, chased by magical gangsters. Often he gets a girlfriend, only to find out she’s a monster out to kill him/use him in her political plans. This is my favorite kind of UF.


Next there’s Paranormal Romance.

This usually centers around a female protagonist. She’s either a moody teenager or a jaded adult woman. Either way, she somehow meets a Monster Guy who is Hawt but Dangerous. He usually brings along the Secret Magic/Monster World. The rest of the story is basically Beauty and the Beast, just with lots of different trappings. If it’s a teen girl, there will be a magic high school. If she’s an adult, there will be sex.

There’s a lot of crossover with UF here in the worldbuilding. Usually there will be a city, but small towns feature, too. If it’s a were-creature romance, there will usually be woods somewhere. Sometimes mountains. Rarely deserts. NEVER are there cornfields. Although a werewolf pack battling through a cornfield would be all kinds of awesome.

Twilight is the PNR book that everybody knows, but Anne Rice was writing vampire books long before Meyer was (although it’s arguable that Rice’s books are closer to UF).

Vampires and werewolves are the primary attractions of PNR, although there’s plenty of sub-factions of monsters. Werebears are particularly popular, for some reason. Under vampires, I personally tried out writing liches, which has worked pretty well. (I’m considering releasing the next book at the end of September, if I can get it edited in time.)

Hopefully that clears up the differences between the two genres. I’ve had to read quite a bit before I started teasing out the differences, and I’m not completely accurate. 🙂



4 thoughts on “The difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy

    1. As far as I could figure out, a lich is an evil sorcerer who removes his own soul and stores it in a vessel called a phylactery. The only way he can be killed is if someone destroys his phylactery. My question was, what if someone had their soul removed against their will? And what if this person learned to use all kinds of life magic to keep himself as human as possible?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t think that I read enough Unlucky Guy Urban Fantasy, actually, no, I hate those ones. There was this fae boy who was in the world, and kept throwing up every single chapter from all the metal he was exposed to. That was sickening. Hm. I think mine are more unlucky girl. Interesting post.


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