28 Book Genres and Why They’re Crucial

10 Jun 2024 Fiction, Nonfiction

Guest blog by Vanessa Tym

Mary Shelley didn’t intend to invent a new book genre when she wrote Frankenstein in 1822 but now, over 200 years later, every library and bookstore has a science fiction section.

Since the inception of categorizing literature, dating back to ancient Greece, we’ve been updating, expanding, and rethinking what genre means.

So, let’s take an in-depth look at the most popular book genres.

What is a Genre of a Book and How Many are There? 

A genre is a category characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter found in an artistic composition.

How many book genres are there? That’s hard to say, as publishers and authors ever expand the market, but most agree there are roughly 50 book genres.

I know what you’re thinking. Fifty is a rather small number when you consider all the books that have been written. Keep in mind that many books fall under more than one genre.

A subgenre is a smaller, more specific genre inside a broader genre.

For example,  Apocalyptic Fiction is a subgenre of Science Fiction—which is itself, of course, a subgenre of Fiction.

28 Book Genres Explained

Genres fall into two major categories: Fiction and Nonfiction.

Fiction Book Genres

Fiction is the overarching category for books that contain imaginary plots, characters, and settings.


Castle surrounded by fog

This genre features supernatural, mythological, or magical elements and characters.

Fantasy can be further divided into High and Low. In High Fantasy the setting is at the forefront of the plot. Low Fantasy involves magic or the supernatural but is set in our familiar world.

Fantasy examples:

Game of Thrones by George Martin

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Science Fiction

In the same vein as Fantasy, Science Fiction is a massive book genre. Science fiction explores futuristic and highly technological societies while dealing with classic themes and concepts while addressing big “what if” questions.

Many readers first think of science fiction with “hard sciences” set in the distant future, such as advanced AI, time travel, and space exploration.

Many books in this genre however deal with the “soft sciences” such as sociology or ecology to speculate about the future of the human race.

Science Fiction examples:

Dune by Frank Herbert

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin


Usually, but not always, considered a subgenre of Science Fiction, Dystopian novels have emerged as their own genre in recent years.

These stories are set in a bleak, grim future often following a tragic event or disaster. The characters then face oppressive governments, technology gone bad, or environmental ruin in pursuit of cultural or social justice.

Dystopian examples:

The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Action & Adventure

Action and adventure novels feature a main character on a quest to achieve an ultimate goal.

The protagonist encounters a series of high-stakes situations, and, by the end of their journey, they’ve overcome these challenges and undergone a personal transformation.

Action & Adventure examples:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Detective & Mystery

Woman with flashlight investigating spooky house at night

This genre’s plots revolve around a crime or mystery that must be solved or foiled by the protagonist.

While many genres include a mystery or a bit of detective work, this one features the solving of the crime as its main driving force.

Mystery and Detective examples:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Thriller & Suspense

Thriller and Suspense go hand in hand, including scary elements like Horror. However, the objective is to maintain tension until the resolution.

While they involve elements similar to the Mystery genre, the protagonist primarily attempts to save their own life, or someone else’s, rather than solving a crime.

Thrillers & Suspense Novels examples:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


Love serves as the focal point of the plot in this book genre. While other plot elements may be present, the entire story develops the main character’s romantic relationship and usually ends happily.

Romance novels examples:

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


The Horror genre relies on theme, plot, or setting to scare, startle, shock, and wreak discomfort and even revulsion until the hero defeats the threat.

Horror subgenres can vary broadly from more light-hearted Comedy Horror to heady Psychological Horror to the more villain-centric Slasher Horror.

Horror writers, like Stephen King and Dean Kuntz, are experts in eliciting such responses and often include elements from the Thriller, Suspense, or Mystery genres.

Horror Genre examples:

Carrie by Stephen King

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Historical Fiction

Vintage, black and white. Cowboy on horseback in desert

This book genre is set in a specific time period, location, or around a specific historic event. The prose provides historically accurate details relevant to the period.

While the plot may be based on an actual event, such as the Civil War, the characters and their actions are fictitious.

Historical Fiction examples:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Young Adult (YA) 

The Young Adult genre is fiction geared toward readers aged 13 to 17. YA often overlaps other genres, such as Fantasy or Dystopian with a coming-of-age storyline.

Young Adult genre examples:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Children’s Fiction

Little girl with fairy wings

Whereas Young Adult caters to those 13 and above, Children’s Fiction is for readers aged 13 and below, and many subgenres comprise this category.

You can find a post dedicated to this genre on Jerry’s site—check it out here: How To Write A Children’s Book.

Children’s Fiction examples:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Brown

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Women’s Fiction

This book genre obviously targets a female readership and typically reflects upon the shared feminine experience or the growth of the female protagonist. This often pairs well with Contemporary Fiction or Romance.

Women’s Fiction examples:

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Contemporary Fiction

This genre is so broad that it involves almost all genres set in the present.

Plots revolve around a character’s everyday life such as work, politics, relationships, and the struggles of the modern era, but of course with challenges and twists intended to keep readers engaged.

Contemporary Fiction examples:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Literary Fiction

Works of Literary Fiction are character-driven and introspective. They evoke deep thought through personal or social commentary on a particular theme.

Literary Fiction examples:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Graphic Novels

Graphic Novels are defined not by their content but by their form. This genre is presented through narrative art with illustrations and typography in a panel layout like that of comic books, but have evolved into their own genre.

They can cover content as broad as memoirs, historical accounts, and adaptations of other media.

Graphic Novel examples:

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The World of Edena by Moebius

Short Story

Collections of short stories, usually sharing a theme or narrative thread are self-explanatory.

For more information, check out How to Write a Short Story.

Short Story examples:

Legoland by Gerard Woodward

The Best Christian Short Stories by Brett Lott

Nonfiction Book Genres

The second category of book genres on this list fall under Nonfiction.

While storytelling is still vital in these genres—and Jerry constantly promotes using fiction techniques in nonfiction—the books in these categories have events, people, and concepts based entirely on fact and reality.

Memoir & Autobiography

Old scrapbook with black and white photos

These two types of nonfiction books fall under the same genre because, in both cases, the author also serves as the narrator.

The difference between a memoir and an autobiography is that an autobiography is a chronological account of the life of the narrator, while a memoir uses defining moments in one’s life to buttress a self-help theme.

For more information, check out How to Write a Memoir here on Jerry’s site.

A popular memoir example is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

An autobiography example is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


Biographies tell the story of the life of a notable person, most often someone well known or anyone whose story teaches valuable life lessons.

These differ from autobiographies in that they are written in third-person by someone else, rather than by the subject in first-person.

Biography examples:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


This genre aims to educate and entertain the reader by chronicling a historical event.

History examples:

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Food & Drink

Salad with seared tuna in a bowl

Food and drink is one of nonfiction’s hottest markets as its titles cater to a variety of diets, lifestyles, and cultural cuisines. Photographs often accompany recipes and personal stories for food lovers.

Food & Drink examples:

Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein

Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Kristen Miglore and Amanda Hesser


Often organized into collections or anthologies, this genre includes free verse, rhymed verse, and a variety of other types of poetic expression.

Poetry examples:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

The Wilderness by Sandra Lim


This book genre is devoted to empowering readers to realize their potential so they can become the best version of themselves.

Self-Help examples:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

The Power of Letting Go: How to drop everything that’s holding you back by John Purkiss  

True Crime

True Crime books examine real crimes and events, usually with alarming detail. Many books in this genre focus on infamous murders, kidnappings, or other felonies.

True Crime examples:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara


Boat on river between mountains

These books take readers all over the world, featuring reviews, budgeting tips, travel hacks, and advice on where to eat and what to see.

Travel examples:

The Journey Matters by Jonathan Glancey

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Art & Photography

This genre is home to books that showcase an artist’s work, a specific style of art, or the history of art.

Art & Photography examples:

Wonderland by Annie Leibovitz

On Photography by Susan Sontag


This genre often follows a unifying theme. These essays—or speeches transcribed—cover the writer’s personal experiences, usually told in the first person.

Essay examples include:

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Humanities & Social Sciences

This academic genre explores issues related to social sciences such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, language, religion, or music.

Humanities & Social Sciences examples:

How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do—and What It Says About You by Katherine D. Kinzler

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Science & Technology

Books in this genre delve into current scientific and technological developments from technology such as Artificial Intelligence and coding to medical research.

Science & Technology examples:

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive by Carl Zimmer

What’s Your Favorite Book Genre? 

While this list was extensive, it was not an exhaustive list of all the genres and subgenres.

Book genres can serve as powerful marketing aids, directing potential readers to subjects of interest. Your agent or a publisher’s acquisitions editor wants to know the readership you’re targeting.

You should read dozens of books in your genre before attempting to write in it.

Need a push in the right direction for your next steps as a writer? Jerry’s free writing assessment can help unlock your potential.

Writer Bio:

Vanessa Tym is a copywriter and Customer Success Specialist at Leverage Brands. She is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnae with a BA in English and is currently writing a novel. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading or spending time with her orange tabby, Louis Myra.