There are many reasons to know the various genres of books. As a writer, you should know which fiction genres or nonfiction genres your writing falls into. As a reader, you should know which is your preferred book genre or book genres so that you will know where to find the books that interest you most in bookstores and online. You can also utilize an understanding of genres of books to deepen your reading and writing experience and try new things.
How many book genres are there? Many. Most writers and publishers recognize about fifty different genres, but once you start to delve into niche genres and sub-genres, you will learn that there are many more.
While some are better known than others, it should be noted that there are many critically acclaimed bestsellers among nearly all of the genres. This article will cover some of the more popular and well-known book genres and give you a description of each.
22 Genres of Books Explained
These are the stories and books that are not based on fact. They include invented characters and plot, and are meant to entertain the reader. From critically acclaimed classics to fan fiction, every story has a genre.
Science fiction relies on science-based storylines and is usually set in the future. It is realistic enough that such a thing occurring isn’t outside the realm of possibilities. Sci-fi is often set on other planets, in space, and in space ships and features a lot of advanced technology, weaponry, and space exploration. War of the Worlds is one such well-known example in this genre.
Fantasy and science fiction are both considered genres of speculative fiction. It’s a “what if” type scenario in fiction where the author plants in the reader’s mind that if such a thing could happen in real life, the story that follows is how people would deal with it. Fantasy stories like Harry Potter also tend to include magical creatures as well as things like sorcery.
Literary fiction is a genre that, like contemporary fiction, has no clear distinguishing features aside from the fact that it is composed of books that have no clear genre. This literary genre’s only specific identifying feature is that these books often include thoughtful literary prose.
They’re deep books that ponder at things, delve deep into a philosophical theory or question, or are lofty of a subject. To Kill a Mockingbird is one such well-known novel of this genre.
This book genre has a foundation in fact but then derails from fact and becomes a fictional story for entertainment. Historical fiction uses real historical events and actual historical figures, and this genre becomes creative in building characters and a plot around real history. One of the better-known examples of this genre is War and Peace.
Sometimes called detective fiction, mystery fiction revolves around solving some sort of mystery, as you may well have guessed. The protagonist is always the one in charge of solving the scandal or crime or getting to the bottom of a lie or secret to uncover the truth. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and almost all of Agatha Christie’s books are examples of this genre.
Horror stories depend upon the ability to scare the reader. These are the stories best read in the daytime, and there is more than one kind of horror story. Gothic horror, for example, includes paranormal elements and an unsettling setting. Think creaky old houses, castles full of cobwebs, and a cemetery at night.
There is also gore, which relies heavily upon blood, injury, and brutality. If you have ever read anything by Stephen King, referred to as the Master of Horror, you have probably read horror. Another famous writer of this genre is Shirley Jackson.
Thrillers are often mistakenly thrown in with horror and mysteries, but this fiction falls into its own category. Thrillers typically put the protagonist in danger, and the plot revolves around this character desperately trying to save his or her own life.
Although they often have horror elements to them, not all thrillers are horror. Gone Girl is one such example of a thriller.
Like science fiction (sci-fi), this book genre is often set in the future. This genre, however, is usually dark and fairly hopeless. Readers’ attraction to dystopian fiction lies in our morbid curiosity to find out what happens to humans after the apocalypse occurs or after society breaks down and folds in on itself. This is just one reason why the novel The Hunger Games has such a following.
Contemporary fiction is a sort of grab bag of the fiction book genres. Usually set in the present time, these books and stories don’t fit into other genres neatly, so this is the genre they end up in.
These are books that are about the protagonist’s everyday life and don’t have any huge unbelievable events. One example of a book from this genre is The Lovely Bones.
All romance stories have one thing in common. They revolve around a romantic relationship. Although any genre can have a love story in it, what separates romance novels from other genres is that the romantic relationship is the plot. These stories also always have a happy ending. It is one of the things fans of romance have come to expect.
The romance genre does have some crossover subgenres that are mixed with other genres. These include paranormal romance, young adult romance, and historical romance. Pride and Prejudice is a well-known example of romance.
An offshoot of fantasy, magical realism is fiction that is written that includes imaginative material full of magical elements. It is often sophisticated writing that is deep and usually includes personal or social commentary.
Although it has fantasy elements, it is often given its own genre due to its massive popularity. One Hundred Years of Solitude is an example of this genre.
Short Literary Composition
Also known as short stories, their length sets these stories apart from other literary genres. Much shorter than novels, they are often able to accomplish as much, if not more, as a full-length novel with their strong protagonists, a short cast of characters, and a single conflict plot.
The short story is a genre of its own due in part to their massive popularity and because it takes more than experience with writing fiction to master this bite-size story. The Mist is an example of this genre.
These are stories that are more commonly called myths. This book genre encompasses fiction writing that is done to explain something about human nature or nature itself. This well-crafted fiction is often deep and reveals human behavior in creative ways.
Humor fiction, often included in national or folk hero stories, includes the use of actual events in history, but with imaginary characters like Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. This also includes publications like joke books.
The graphic novel has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. Like comic books, they are mostly visual stories. They can tell the story of any genre, including classic literature, while comics tend to center around superheroes.
These types of literature have generated more buzz than ever with publications such as The Walking Dead and Locke and Key.
Adventure stories can be any genre of story. The book’s genre doesn’t really matter. If the protagonist is going on a journey or is setting out for adventure, then the story also falls under the adventure book category. Books like Lord of the Rings qualify for this fun and often long-winded sort of novel.
Books for Children
The age for the fans of this genre range from birth to about twelve years old. Children’s books range from picture books meant to teach colors and first words to toddlers, all the way up to retelling modern classics like The Iliad to grade school children.
Young adult novels are written with people ages 12-18 in mind. Often, these include coming-of-age stories that make the reader feel seen in a vulnerable stage of life, such as puberty and growing up.
This genre tends to be inclusive of many different types of young people, making it a literary safe space for teens. One classic example of this genre is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
What Is General Fiction?
General fiction is a genre that does not suit any of the given fiction genres above because they have diverse characteristics that make them outliers. It crosses between three or more genres. For example, a general fiction book may contain the traits of romance, comedy, and horror simultaneously. Any genre combination is possible with general fiction, as long as the story flows progressively and logically.
General fiction usually concentrates on an adult protagonist’s life, along with their struggles. The characterization is often comprehensively done, with the character’s background allowing the reader to truly connect and empathize with the character. Due to general fiction’s nature, they are often designed for mature readers as they are more adept at comprehending the plot’s intricacies.
Is Nonfiction a Genre?
Nonfiction is considered a broad genre; it is further divided into more specific sub-genres. All literary pieces that are reality-based fall under the nonfiction genre. Nonfiction explains the history of people, places, and things. It also features instruction manuals, guides, observations, and commentaries relevant to the past and present. Furthermore, it traces back, examines, and explores philosophical thoughts in the most objective ways possible.
Popular Nonfiction Genres
Nonfiction books, while rooted and based in fact, are still entertaining, humorous, and popular. The following are a few of the most popular types of nonfiction.
Covering everything from technology to human diseases, the science genre of nonfiction is very broad. This can read a bit like a fantasy story at times, especially when reading about new procedures and advances that we weren’t able to do previously.
Humanities and Social Science
An eclectic genre, these are books written in an academic mind frame. It can be about nearly anything: art, music, literature, humanity. It’s a very broad category, and perhaps because of this, very popular.
The books in this genre lay down methods and ideas for how to better yourself. Full of inspiration, and ideas for emotional and psychological growth, these books strive to improve each person who wants help.
History books that are nonfiction are created to teach us the past. History books ditch the storytelling that fiction thrives off of to tell us simply what has occurred in years past. These include school textbooks, compendiums, and hefty literature to educate people rather than entertain people.
There are also sub-genres of history in nonfiction, such as art history, music history, and theater history.
Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies
These nonfiction books are the true story of someone’s life. Often a famous person, these books tell the personal stories of events that helped to shape the life of someone well known. These are often relatable books that make their writers seem more personable, as though they are actually human rather than just a name and face.
Why Knowing Genres of Books is Important
Understanding what makes a book fit into a specific category can help you find the right material to read. Challenge yourself to dive into a new type of literature you wouldn’t have previously considered or to write within or outside of the genre you are most comfortable with.
It is also beneficial to understand genres of books if you have completed a novel and you’re trying for publication. You have to be able to tell a literary agent or publisher what genre your book falls into, and with so many book genres available to choose from, it’s best to have a firm understanding of as many of them as you can.