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High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: A Complete Comparison

POSTED ON Jul 19, 2023

Home > Blog > Fiction, Writing > High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: A Complete Comparison

With mythical beasts and complex spells, the fantasy book genre is incredibly fun to write. But with 10+ fantasy subgenres, it can be difficult to know how to market your book. High fantasy vs. low fantasy. Dark fantasy vs. fairy tales. What on earth (or Middle-earth) are you writing!? 

Using incorrect Amazon book categories could mean no one finds your work, or worse, that readers are upset when your story doesn’t match their expectations. 

Understanding what genre your fantasy tale fits into will help potential readers find your book and let them know what to expect within the pages. 

While there are a lot of fantasy subgenres to cover, today we will discuss the difference between high fantasy vs. low fantasy (because chances are, you’re writing one of them). 

Before we dive into the details of high fantasy vs. low fantasy, let’s briefly discuss the fantasy genre at a glance. 

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First, What is Fantasy?

Fantasy is one of the most popular types of fiction writing. It covers a wide range of storytelling styles but generally contains magical elements. These could be special powers, new species of creatures, or complete fantastical ecosystems. 

What is fantasy? It’s absolute writing freedom

Being a fantasy author allows you to create whole new worlds and ways of life – and write true magic that lets your readers disappear into your pages. 

But what constitutes high fantasy vs. low fantasy? 

Let’s examine some differences between these two siblings in the fantasy book genre

High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy Explained

If we asked the average person: “What is fantasy?” They would probably start describing high fantasy. High fantasy is sometimes called “traditional fantasy” or “epic fantasy.” These books are often quite long, with deeply thought-out magical worlds. 

But low fantasy books can be just as fun to read and write. Instead of whisking your readers away into the magic, low fantasy allows you to bring the magic straight to them. Low fantasy is more closely related to urban fantasy, magical realism, and paranormal literature.

So what divides the two subgenres, exactly? Here are some of the things that set high fantasy and low fantasy apart:

High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: The Setting

The single biggest difference between high fantasy vs. low fantasy is the setting. 

Simply put, high fantasy books are out of this world. Literally. 

High fantasy is set on another planet, universe, or alternate dimension. You may want to learn how to make a fantasy map to help your readers visualize your world. 

High fantasy novels often require a bit more explanation and world-building to help readers understand new types of habitats, species, beliefs, laws, and political systems. 

Low fantasy novels, on the other hand, are set on Earth. Low fantasy helps to infuse the mundane with magic. If there are werewolves and vampires hiding in the city, or a secret school of magic in a nearby forest, these are prime examples of low fantasy. 

High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: The Characters

Writing high fantasy gives you free rein to create new species and races of creatures. There are sometimes a much larger number of characters to be found in high fantasy stories, and they are often given names that would seem unusual in everyday life. 

Low fantasy characters are often inspired by mythology and folklore from around the world. Human-like mythical creatures such as shapeshifters, faeries, witches, and mermaids are all popular in low fantasy stories. Of course, they can be used in high fantasy as well! 

Low fantasy stories usually center around humans, and examine how the humans react to (or use) magic in the world. Which brings us to the plot…

High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: The Plot 

Since high fantasy novels are usually epic in more than just length and world-building – they are also epic in their themes. Think high-stakes plots of good vs. evil and saving the world. There is often an arduous quest involved, or a long, bloody battle. 

Low fantasy, on the other hand, has a more intimate story arc. It tends to be more character-driven and focuses on coming-of-age stories, moral dilemmas, and personal journeys. In essence, it’s magic through the lens of humanity. 

Now that you have a better understanding of high fantasy vs. low fantasy, let’s look at some examples of both subgenres in popular literature. 

Examples of High Fantasy Books

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien is lovingly known as the father of modern fantasy, and no list of high fantasy book series would be complete without the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s incredible prose paints a detailed picture of Middle-earth in strife – with one of the greatest wars of good vs. evil ever put to paper. 

A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) series by Sarah J. Maas

Romance and New Adult writers are creating a popular new “Romantasy” take on the high fantasy genre – and Sarah J. Maas has made her mark on the movement. 

Loosely inspired by Beauty and the Beast, ACOTAR is a fun faerie land romp that takes you on a wild ride, with a love story at the heart of epic battles to save the world from evil rulers. 

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

While the Game of Thrones TV series may have ended in epic failure, there is no debating that George R.R. Martin’s books are plain EPIC. A Song of Ice and Fire is written from the point of view of a whopping 24 characters to date – and George makes you care for all of them. 

Never have politics, action, and fantasy been better intertwined. A Song of Ice and Fire has something for everyone. (If only he would finish the darn series already.) 

The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

Translated into over 37 languages, and spawning several video games and Netflix TV shows, The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski have made a lasting impression on the fantasy book genre. 

Geralt (the White Wolf) of Rivia is a witcher, who travels the globe seeking payment for slaying monsters – but the political intrigues he finds himself in may be even more deadly. 

Examples of Low Fantasy Books 

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling 

Harry Potter needs no introduction. Nothing has swept the globe quite like Hogwarts fever, and whole generations were devastated when they didn’t receive invitations to the school of magic on their eleventh birthdays. The tale of “the boy who lived” simply shouldn’t be missed. 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

If you didn’t grow up on Harry Potter, you were probably raised on Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a fun, coming-of-age adventure series inspired by Greek mythology. Liberal humor, fast pacing, and heartfelt characters make this series an instant classic.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Plenty of people who don’t traditionally read fantasy lapped up The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This novel is the perfect blend of history, art appreciation, dark romance, and fantasy that makes it agreeable to the majority of readers.

High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy: What Is Your Genre?

Deciding whether to write high fantasy vs. low fantasy is a very personal choice. When you’ve worked so hard at self publishing, the last thing you want to do is mislabel your book genre. 

If you’re building an entire world with a high-stakes plot line and even higher page count, high fantasy is your cup of tea. 

If you’re creating a cozy read, exploring a new view on humanity, or sprinkling some magic into your favorite earthly neighborhood, then shoot for low fantasy.

Finding the right niche and labels for your novel gives it the very best chance at succeeding with your readers. But whatever fantasy subgenre you zero in on, you’re sure to add a touch of magic to someone’s day.  

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