Sometimes you want to dive deeper than the traditional mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy books. If you like any of these five major literary genres but have nonetheless grown tired of them — or you just don’t know the difference between all these literary labels — it’s time to branch out with some niche subgenres…and there are many to choose from. Here are some of our favourites.
If you want to explore romance novel subgenres
Maybe plain-old “romance” doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Many of the romance subgenres are rooted in a specific time or context, so the story will include more niche themes and imagery.
- Erotic romance: This is going to be uh, sexier, than your average fare. Do you want more descriptive, or — dare I say — graphic language coursing throughout the page? Then this might sate your thirst for imagining two fictional characters bumping uglies. Here’s a list of some favourite erotic fiction.
- Western romance: Got at thing for rugged cowboys and damsels in distress? Western Romance is set in the wild west (or maybe the contemporary west, if that’s more your speed) and might dabble in the occasional rodeo or shootout. Here’s a list of western romance novels to get you started.
- Paranormal romance: Talk about a niche. Looking for a story about finding love in a haunted place? This should fit the bill. There might be ghosts and demons, spirits and the like, but there will also be, uh, romance. Here’s a list to choose from.
If you want to explore mystery novel subgenres
Mystery novels are always about solving some sort of puzzle or crime, but the various subgenres involve different methods of investigation, and often different types of law-folk and sleuths.
- Historical mystery: Try a mystery based in a time long, long ago. You might find tracing the footsteps of Jack The Ripper a bit more fascinating than a criminal investigation set in modern times. Here’s a list of examples.
- Cosy mystery: If you like mysteries but don’t like blood, guts, gore and psychopaths, then this is the kind of PG content you’re craving. A cosy mystery is kind of like watching an episode of Murder She Wrote instead of a more gruesome thriller. Here’s a jumping off point.
- Private investigator mystery: If you like the rogue sleuth who’s got their own penchant for solving crime, then you might want to opt for a private eye mystery. Sherlock Holmes is a classic example that also fits into the historical classification, given its original publication in 1893. Here are some characters to choose from.
If you want to explore thriller novel subgenres
Most thrillers revolve a race against impending doom. But it’s the context of said doom that defines the type of thriller you’re reading.
- Legal thriller: Do you like high-stakes court room drama? Do you not mind legalese? Legal thrillers are going to ground you in suspense, which is often a constant in the narrative until a verdict is delivered. Here are ten to choose from.
- Horror thriller: It’s more horrific than most thrillers, but more thrilling than most horror novels. A good example, Writers Relief points out, is Silence of the Lambs, which is grounded in some pretty horrific context but involves a detective’s search to capture a killer before it’s too late. There are a ton of options.
- Political thriller: High-stakes drama but between the most powerful leaders of the free world is this category’s M.O. If you want an example that might be easily recalled, think of House of Cards. Here are some popular ones.
If you want to explore sci-fi novel subgenres
Science fiction subgenres are a pretty broad church, so let’s gloss over a few of the more popular varieties.
- Steampunk sci-fi: This genre is largely about aesthetics, and draws much of its inspiration from 19th century steam-powered technology. The technology presented in this subgenre is just as modern — if not more so — than that of contemporary society, but it’s all powered on steam. As Steampunk Avenue notes: “Steampunk technology takes on a retro look reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution era.” Here are some defining titles of the subgenre.
- Alternate history sci-fi: What if the United States hadn’t prevailed in World War II? That kind of drastic reorientation of the world as we know it is the general premise of alternate history. If you’re looking for an intro that uses this theme from WWII, then try Phillip K Dick’s Man in the High Castle.
- Military sci-fi: All out epic battles ensue in space. It’s less like Star Wars — that’s technically a saga that aficionados call a “space opera” — and more like Starship Troopers, which is more singularly focused on interstellar warfare and all that comes with it. Here are some options to get you started.
If you want to explore fantasy novel subgenres
Fantasy is always about magic and magical settings, but not all of this magic is portrayed the same way.
- Low fantasy: These novels blend the mystical with the mundane and normal, like when a normal human character strikes up a friendship with a wizard or fire-belching dragon. As Book Riot notes: “[M]agical elements are intrusive in the known world, rather than indicative of a whole other imagined world.” Reddit offered this list of recommendations.
- Epic fantasy: Big, expansive tales come to mind, such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. These are set in entirely different worlds and often involve characters whose actions decide the fate for their immediate surroundings and often everyone they know.
- Dark fantasy: This is fantasy, either grounded in the real world or a fictional world, where darkness and morbid themes prevail. You might think of Stephen King as a master of this style (though a many of his books are just straight horror tomes). Here are some options.