What’s the difference?

If I were asked—as I often am—to name a genre which my forthcoming novel The God Killers fits in, it would be urban Fantasy. I suppose this is mainly because the city in which the protagonist currently resides and the one of her birth, play an integral part in the story and because the protagonist’s ultimate goal isn’t a romantic relationship. However, when it comes to the genres of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, I’ve given some thought as to what the main differences are. As I write, I also read, therefore I’ve read plenty of urban fantasy novels as well as paranormal romance.When I think of the differences between them, I first come to their one and only concrete commonality, PARANORMAL ENTITIES.

Every urban fantasy or paranormal romance I’ve ever read had some form of paranormal creature/being as main characters and/or supporting characters. Whether it is vampires, werewolves, zombies, wizards, angels, demons, mythological deities, etc… something of the sort was present. How they differ is a gray area to be sure, but I’ve thought about it for some time and I’ve come to certain conclusions.




By definition, a paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes paranormal elements. Usually—like in a contemporary romance—the story starts out with the eventual lovers meeting, acknowledging a powerful mutual attraction, yet something stands in their way.Whatever the reason their lives are complicated, midway through the story things change in some way or they decide to live dangerously. Eventually, our intrepid couple determines that they’re hopelessly in love.

Paranormal romances can contain action and also have some graphic scenes of horror, but at its core it is a romance. While many novels in this genre have plenty of action, horror, and suspense these things are not as of great importance as the love story.

Recently, Paranormal Romance has become one of the largest selling subgenres of science fiction and fantasy.

Also, unlike urban fantasies, a paranormal romance isn’t necessarily tied to a large, modern day city. (see below)




In my opinion, urban fantasy must contain something other than the love interest as the protagonist’s main goal. This subgenre is considered steroid addled cousin of paranormal romance. As I mentioned before, paranormal romance is fundamentally a romance, while urban fantasies are fundamentally fantasies.

A large portion of the tale must take place in a city. The urban fantasies I’ve read almost always take place in a large, modern day city where paranormal creatures exist.

That said, there’s no law that says it has to be a modern city, and the timeframe could be one from the past, the future, or possibly on another planet altogether.

Similar to the paranormal romance, urban fantasies must contain one or more characters that have abilities and/or origins far beyond those of mortal men. Vampires, witches, werewolves, oh my!

Unlike a paranormal romance, the urban fantasy can contain elements of romance, but romance is NOT the main focus and/or goal of the protagonist.

In conclusion, while I admit to enjoying both subgenres, there is a difference between them. Something to think about when writing a paranormal novel or choosing one to read!

© 2013 John F. Allen


  1. Good article, John. Nice breakdown of the sub-genres.

    I’ve never known where to file my novels. They mostly fit “urban fantasy” except that they don’t necessarily take place in a city. Road Ghosts mostly takes place on the interstates and back roads, with some stops in towns or cities. Blue Spirit in particular IS in a city (Indianapolis) though one of its sequels will mostly be in a forest outside of all cities.

    But I still think urban fantasy isn’t a bad label for my stuff, since it’s modern day with supernatural elements. I often call it supernatural fantasy, but that doesn’t seem to indicate fantasy that takes place in the here and now.

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