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.
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.
Game of Thrones by George Martin
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
This genre aims to educate and entertain the reader by chronicling a historical event.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Food & Drink
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.
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.
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 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
These books take readers all over the world, featuring reviews, budgeting tips, travel hacks, and advice on where to eat and what to see.
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.
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.