High Fantasy Vs Low Fantasy: All You Need To Know – Jericho Writers
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High Fantasy Vs Low Fantasy: All You Need To Know

High Fantasy Vs Low Fantasy: All You Need To Know

Fantasy is a vast literary genre that can be sub-categorised into many different subgenres including urban fantasy, fantasy romance, paranormal fantasy, and even sci-fi.

As a fantasy author, there is nothing I enjoy writing and reading about more than worlds full of magic and monsters. Yet with so many different fantasy subgenres to choose from, it’s often difficult for writers to know where to start when planning their own fantasy books.

For me, the easiest way to differentiate between fantasy genres, is by looking at where the book is set. This means deciding whether a story is high fantasy or low fantasy.

In this article, I will be exploring the difference between the two.

We will be looking at fantasy world-building and comparing high fantasy vs low fantasy. I will also be providing you with a list of books and shows from each category.

And hopefully, by the end of this article, you will know exactly what kind of world you’ll want to set your own fantasy story in.

What’s The Difference Between High And Low Fantasy?

Any novel that includes a level of the unbelievable (be it magic or monsters) is described as fantasy.

The difference between high fantasy stories and low fantasy is simply the setting. Whereby all fantasy fiction includes characters who are doing unbelievable things (from talking to goblins and flying, to fighting dragons and performing magic) – only high fantasy is set in a make-believe world.

Low fantasy, on the other hand, takes place in a real-world setting – although that doesn’t mean it has to be any less fantastical!

Let’s take a look at each in more detail, starting with high fantasy novels.

High Fantasy

The high fantasy genre is a fun one to read, albeit a more convoluted and complicated one to write.

The defining aspect of high fantasy is that the (usually) epic story is set in an alternative fictional world. A secondary world full of magical elements.

This epic fantasy genre is very much inspired by Greek mythology and Norse mythology; masters of allegorical tales involving scary beasts and valiant heroes.

A lot of high fantasy novels are set in a time that is reminiscent of our own medieval world; ie people travel on horses, drink tankards of ale, and fight with swords. Although that doesn’t mean your high fantasy novel has to remain historically accurate. The beauty of writing fantasy is that nothing is stopping you from adding a modern twist to your world.

10 Characteristics Of High Fantasy

A high fantasy story always takes place in a fictional setting that is very different to our own world. Its defining characteristics include:

  • A fantasy fictional world
  • A map (this helps readers imagine the landscape)
  • A high page count
  • A challenge or quest
  • Many characters (with unusual names)
  • Mythical creatures including monsters and other races
  • Plenty of magic
  • Battles and adventure
  • High stakes (ie good versus evil, defeating the monster, returning victorious)
  • An engaging plots with lots of twists and turns

10 High Fantasy Books You Should Read

High fantasy literature can be enjoyed by all ages and genders. There are some great examples of modern fantasy fiction out there, including high fantasy that is both diverse and original.

When you think of a traditional fantasy story, many automatically think of Tolkein, Greek mythology and fairy tales. But there are some extraordinary modern high fantasy books out there that are better than many classics.

High fantasy also dominates the Young Adult readership market as it gives writers the opportunity to explore themes that are a lot more relatable to young people today.

Here are ten very different high fantasy stories to enjoy:

  1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis
  3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  4. The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
  5. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
  6. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  7. Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  8. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  9. To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
  10. A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

5 High Fantasy Examples On Screen

Many high fantasy movies and shows have been adapted from novels. Because they are set in a fantasy world unlike our own, many of these stories also veer into science fiction, such as Star Wars and Dune.

Below is a list of movies and television series that perfectly capture the wonder and intricate world-building of high fantasy, allowing viewers to witness the wonder of these worlds visually.

Lord Of The Rings

Tolkien’s middle earth has long been seen as the ultimate example of a high fantasy imaginary world. Tolkien not only created an unforgettable fantastical world but also populated it with imaginary races, history and even languages.

In Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation that world is brought to life in an epic way.

The Witcher

Adapted first from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel, then made into a computer game, The Witcher also became a Netflix sensation. Set in a medieval-like world full of humans, monsters, and witches, it follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia – a mutated monster-hunter for hire.

Shadow And Bone

Leigh Bardugos’ Shadow and Bone trilogy was merged with her Six of Crows duology and turned into a much-loved Netflix fantasy series. In this Russian-inspired world Grisha are able to do various types of magic and monsters lurk in the very real darkness.

Game Of Thrones

A Game of Thrones is the first novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels by American author George R. R. Martin. The popular high fantasy series was adapted by HBO and became one of the best-loved fantasy series on TV.

Again, the author chose to create a world that looks a little like ours but is medieval in style… but with dragons and ice zombies!

His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials is a trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman adapted for the BBC and HBO. A coming-of-age story about two children wandering through a series of parallel universes, His Dark Materials is a great example of high fantasy literature for younger readers.

Now we’ve established what high fantasy looks like, let’s take a look at the other type of fantasy genre – low fantasy fiction.


Low Fantasy

As opposed to high fantasy, low fantasy is set in our primary world. Sometimes low fantasy is referred to as intrusion fantasy because the magical and fantastical elements in the novel ‘intrude’ into our real world.

Fantasy genres such as urban fantasy, historical fantasy, time slip, dark fantasy, superhero, contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and paranormal fantasy all fall under the category of low fantasy.

In these stories you have fantastical elements, such as monsters and characters with magical powers, living in the world as we know it (be it the world now or in the past).

10 Characteristics Of Low Fantasy

Low fantasy stories can be a lot of fun to write as you can twist reality as we know it, adding magic to an otherwise normal world.

You also don’t have to go to the trouble of creating a brand new fantasy setting as you can base your magic and mayhem in the same world where we all currently live.

The defining characteristics of low fantasy include:

  • A modern life full of fantasy elements
  • A magic system hidden in our own world
  • Characters with supernatural elements living a modern life
  • Normal human characters who may, or may not, be aware that magic and monsters exist in our world

Unlike high fantasy stories, low fantasy doesn’t need epic battles or big quests as the ‘magic in our own world’ element is often intriguing enough for readers.

10 Low Fantasy Books You Should Read

As a writer of low fantasy I really enjoy injecting magic into our real world, especially when readers say how those fantastical twists help them see very normal things in a more magical way.

Low fantasy books can include mythical creatures (devils, angels, vampires and dragons), as well as time travel, superheroes, and even a distortion of history as we know it.

Here are ten (very different) low fantasy novels you may enjoy:

  1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  2. The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake
  3. Vampires of Moscow by Caedis Knight
  4. Ninth House by Laigh Bardugo
  5. The Binding by Bridget Collins
  6. The Path Keeper by N J Simmonds
  7. No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  9. Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
  10. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

5 Low Fantasy Examples On Screen

Low fantasy is a fun way of pushing fantastical boundaries and stretching reality in a way that makes people believe in the unbelievable.

Popular examples of low fantasy on screen include:

True Blood

Set in the American Deep South, True Blood is an adaptation of The Southern Vampire Mysteries by bestselling author Charlaine Harris. It follows the paranormal adventures of a mind-reading barmaid who navigates a world where vampires have been accepted into everyday society.

The Boys

This dark comedy series (adapted from a comic book) takes a look at what would happen if people lived amongst us with supernatural powers – and how that power could so easily be corrupted.

Harry Potter

Everyone is familiar with the story of Harry Potter, a boy who discovers he’s a wizard. It’s an epic tale for children set in a magical boarding school, where good versus evil, including plenty of fun mythical beasts (both good and bad).


A historical fantasy series of impossible love. Claire Beauchamp Randall, a married nurse from World War II, mysteriously goes back in time to 18th century Scotland where she falls in love with a Highland warrior.

Raising Dion

Another comic book adaptation, Raising Dion is about a widowed single mom who discovers that her son has superpowers. She must figure out how to raise him safely and responsibly in a world full of danger.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is High Fantasy Vs Low Fantasy?

High and low fantasy are the two main categories of fantasy. High fantasy refers to epic fantasy which is set in an alternate world. It typically includes lots of magical elements, fantastical creatures, and unusual technology. Whereas low fantasy is when magical creatures and elements intrude upon the regular world.

What Are Common Fantasy Elements?

Some of the main elements of fantasy are magical systems, world-building, a well-crafted cast of characters, a quest, and the endless battle of good vs evil.

World’s Apart

Writing fantasy stories involves a lot of imagination, time, and research – but creating both original worlds, and magical worlds within our own, can bring a huge amount of pleasure to both writers and their readers.

I hope you have had as much fun learning about high fantasy vs low fantasy as I have had writing this article, and that it has inspired and helped you decide where you will be setting your next fantasy novel.

Good luck and have fun creating exciting and unforgettable worlds!

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