Questioning the ‘Urban’ in Urban Fantasy

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Not all Urban Fantasy novels are set in a city. Several elements help define the genre beyond just the setting. Are you versed in those elements? Let’s break down the basics and see if your UF knowledge is up to speed. 

What is Urban Fantasy?

Merriam Webster defines Urban Fantasy as follows: a genre of imaginative fiction featuring supernatural characters or elements in an urban setting. 

However, this is not entirely true. 

I give you Exhibit A: Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mystery Series, set in the rural South and still considered Urban Fantasy? Hmmm. This takes some explaining. 

You see, there are some misconceptions about UF. Just because it has the word ‘urban’ in the name, doesn’t mean that all Urban Fantasy stories must take place in a city. There’s more to it than that. So what is this more?

Common Urban Fantasy Motifs

There are certain tropes or motifs that define this subgenre and they go beyond the setting. Yes, you still need to have some supernatural creatures, but they don’t have to be in the city. Here’s the rest of the scoop:


Urban Fantasies tend to lean towards a film noir/mystery type of vibe. There’s a slick grime that covers the overall feel of the story, one that is commonly found in crime novels/mysteries. There’s also a whodunit aspect, with characters that are not straight-forward and dire questions to answer–Who killed who and why? What do they want?  

Dark Tone

I just mentioned noir, but it goes further than key-lighting on cigarette smoke. The tone in Urban Fantasy dips its toes into the waters of Horror. There’s usually a shock and awe scene that makes the reader cringe a little bit. However, this is usually only one or two scenes, not a commonplace occurrence. Elements of dark comedy are present, as well. 

Modern and Contemporary 

Another aspect often overlooked when describing UF is the when. Urban Fantasy is commonly a story of old meets new. Nothing says UF more than a werewolf applying for a new home mortgage while worrying if the closing will fall on a full moon. That being said, when the story was written will impact the contemporary nature of the story. One might make an argument that Dracula was UF for its time. It took place in London and, to most of its readers, exotic Transylvania. 

The Known World

This is where the word Urban in UF becomes elastic. As long as your setting is the agreed-upon known world, it doesn’t really matter where the book takes place. As long as your reader can identify with the setting as being something familiar and accessible–for example, the deserts of Arizona–then you can easily set your book anywhere in our known world.

Magic/Fantastic Creatures

Without one or two of these characteristics, there would be zero fantasy in Urban Fantasy. It goes without saying that you need to have some magic undercurrent and at least one character who’s a bit more than human. Centaur, pixie, fairy, vampire, werewolf, orc–take your pick. 

A Character in Two Worlds

Having a character who’s foot is in both the human world and the other world is important. This character serves as a conduit for the reader. Using first-person POV is helpful to reinforce this bridge between the reader’s world and the one that you’ve created. 

A Final Note on UF

In order for any Urban Fantasy to be successful, it needs to have solid planning and excellent worldbuilding. There are lots of posts on this topic to explore on The Inkitt Writer’s Blog. Maybe start with this one, then move on to this one

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

Leave A Reply