Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to contemporary fantasy

A woman in modern clothes with magical powers.

Contemporary fantasy is a storytelling subgenre that blends modern, real-world settings with fantastical elements. As part of the reality genre, contemporary fantasy provides an engaging way for writers to explore societal issues and themes through a fantastical lens.

This article provides an overview of the reality genre, examines the history and key elements of contemporary fantasy, offers techniques for compelling contemporary fantasy storytelling, and guides writers in choosing contemporary fantasy as their reality genre of choice.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre includes a variety of storytelling styles that share an emphasis on realistic, true-to-life narratives. This genre can be divided into subgenres like factualism, realism, and contemporary fantasy. Each subgenre has unique characteristics that appeal to different reader preferences. Choosing the appropriate reality subgenre depends on the writer's interests, the story's focus, and the intended audience.

When to choose contemporary fantasy as your reality genre

Contemporary fantasy is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Are interested in blending fantastical elements with modern, real-world settings
  • Seek to explore societal issues and themes through a fantastical lens
  • Aim to create stories that resonate with contemporary audiences

The origins of contemporary fantasy

Contemporary fantasy has its roots in earlier works that incorporated modern settings and themes. Over time, it has expanded to encompass various forms of storytelling, including novels, short stories, films, and television.

Notable contemporary fantasy authors and works:

  • J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series
  • Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere"
  • Holly Black's "Tithe"

Key elements of contemporary fantasy

Contemporary fantasy stories often take place in familiar settings, with magical or supernatural elements blended into everyday life. These narratives explore topics such as identity, technology, and societal change, examining them through a fantastical lens. Characters in contemporary fantasy stories are often well-developed and relatable, enabling readers to connect with their struggles and triumphs. Moreover, contemporary fantasy stories often challenge the limits of genre conventions, providing new and innovative narratives.

The key elements of contemporary fantasy:

  • Modern, real-world settings infused with fantastical elements
  • Exploration of contemporary themes and societal issues
  • Engaging, relatable characters navigating a fantastical world
  • Dynamic plots that often blend genres and subvert traditional storytelling tropes

Techniques for compelling contemporary fantasy storytelling

  • Balancing realism with fantastical elements in modern settings: Strive to create a seamless blend of the real and the fantastical, ensuring the story remains grounded in relatable human experiences while incorporating magical or supernatural elements.
  • Creating vivid and immersive world-building that feels grounded in reality: Develop detailed, believable settings that enhance the story and provide a rich backdrop for your characters' journeys.
  • Crafting multidimensional, relatable characters that resonate with contemporary readers: Create characters with depth and complexity, allowing readers to empathize with their struggles and celebrate their successes.
  • Developing engaging plots that explore contemporary themes and societal issues: Design plots that draw readers in and keep them invested in the characters' emotional journeys and the story's exploration of contemporary issues.

Examples of contemporary fantasy in storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" - A trilogy of novels that blends elements of coming-of-age stories with the fantastical as a group of students at a magical academy navigate power, love, and responsibility.
  • Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" - A lyrical and enchanting novel centred around a magical circus and a fierce competition between two young magicians destined to be rivals but fall in love.
  • V.E. Schwab's "A Darker Shade of Magic" - A novel set in a world with four parallel Londons, where a young magician named Kell serves as a smuggler and messenger between the realms, becoming entangled in a dangerous plot.

Popular films and television series:

  • "The Chronicles of Narnia" - A film series based on C.S. Lewis's classic children's books, following the adventures of the Pevensie siblings in the magical world of Narnia.
  • "Once Upon a Time" - A television series that interweaves classic fairy tales with modern-day storytelling, exploring the lives of storybook characters in the fictional town of Storybrooke.
  • "American Gods" - A television adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel, chronicling the brewing conflict between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of modernity.

Challenges and criticisms of contemporary fantasy

  • Striking a balance between contemporary themes and fantastical elements: Writers must walk a fine line between grounding their stories in reality while maintaining a sense of wonder and enchantment.
  • Navigating the line between contemporary fantasy and other reality genres: Writers must be mindful of their chosen genre's conventions and expectations to avoid confusing or disappointing readers.
  • Addressing the potential for oversimplifying complex societal issues: Contemporary fantasy stories should strive to offer nuanced explorations of contemporary themes rather than providing overly simplistic solutions to complex problems.

Contemporary fantasy storytelling provides a unique and engaging way for writers to explore contemporary social issues and themes through a fantastical lens. Understanding the history, essential elements, and techniques of compelling contemporary fantasy storytelling can help writers create captivating stories that resonate with readers.

Choosing contemporary fantasy as your genre allows you to push the boundaries of traditional storytelling and blend the real and fantastical in imaginative and thought-provoking ways.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.