Updated: May 21
It’s hard to get sick of storytelling when there are so many fascinating books, movies, games, and more to sink our teeth into! However, sometimes stories can begin to feel a bit repetitive when we continue to consume ones of the same genre over and over. Here are five unique subgenres for you to explore and hopefully introduce you to entirely new forms of storytelling and worldbuilding you didn’t know were possible…
Cosmic horror is a subgenre of horror that focuses on the insignificance of humanity and the meaninglessness of our existence. These nihilistic stories were popularized by H. P. Lovecraft in the 1920’s whose most notable work was “The Call of Cthulhu”. Aesthetically speaking, these stories tend to include indescribable creatures with slime, tentacles, and weird textures. Common types of characters include professors, occultists, detectives, and more. Many gods tend to appear in these works, although they are seemingly malevolent and far beyond human comprehension. Great works of cosmic horror to check out include “The H. P. Lovecraft Collection”, the video game “Bloodborne”, the book or film adaptation of “Annihilation”, and “The Call of Cthulhu” tabletop rpg one-shot hosted by Critical Role on YouTube. If you’re interested in a form of horror that relies on existential dread instead of overused jump scares, then cosmic horror is the subgenre for you!
The cyberpunk subgenre takes science-fiction and focuses specifically on how humans and technology can be combined into hybrid beings. This genre deals with themes of corrupted capitalism, dystopian societies, and transhumanism. It involves social revolutions and lowlife settings frequently taking place in massive cities. Parts of the cities tend to be dirty and overpopulated while the wealthier sections are clean, beautiful, and have the only hints of the natural world within. While many great cyberpunk works are made by American creators simply because America is known for producing massive amounts of entertainment, there is also a strong collection of Japanese cyberpunk as well as they enjoy playing around with the genre. Many cities in cyberpunk stories appear to be a fusion between American and Japanese cities. Consistent throughout the cities is the technology that is integrated into the people’s lives. Later this year, CD Projekt Red (known for “The Witcher” video game series) is releasing “Cyberpunk 2077” which is projected to sell millions of copies and is even starring Keanu Reeves. Other great works of cyberpunk that are currently available are Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and “Alita: Battle Angel”.
Steampunk is a subgenre of science-fiction that generally takes a seemingly Victorian or Edwardian setting in a real or imagined world and incorporates into it steam-powered machinery. Think gears, cogs, and gadgets! Retro-futuristic inventor's goggles and a top hat are iconic fashion tropes of this subgenre. It tends to deal with the concepts of industrialism and anti-establishment, and thematically it actually has quite a bit in common with the cyberpunk subgenre. Check out the books, movie, or Netflix show of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” for a unique steampunk story. The setting, costumes, and subject matter combine gothic vibes with the steampunk subgenre. Also, Martin Scorsese is known for his epic gangster films, but every now and then he will branch out into other genres. In 2011, he released a children’s movie with a steampunk setting called “Hugo”. “Hugo” is set in a French train station in the 1930’s and the main plot centers around a contraption the characters assemble with gears and cogs.
Low Fantasy or Magical Realism
Odds are when you think of fantasy, your mind goes to “The Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones”. These types of fantasy-themed stories are classified as high fantasy since they contain the typical iconic elements of fantasy such as elves, dragons, and dwarves all living in a fantasy-themed world outside of our own. However, there is another genre of fantasy called low fantasy or magical realism which is when elements of fantasy can be found in our world. It can occasionally be subjective what the difference between high and low fantasy is. For instance, while “Harry Potter” takes place in our world, it mostly occurs in wizard-oriented societies and tends to avoid the muggle world so it is technically considered high fantasy even though it happens on Earth. Also, did you know that “The Lord of the Rings” takes place on Earth? That was the intention of J. R. R. Tolkien, but most would consider it high fantasy anyways as there is nothing to suggest we are in our own world since it took place thousands of years ago. “Pan’s Labyrinth” by Guillermo del Toro is a solid example of a movie that is very clearly low fantasy. It is a mature fairy tale story set in the real world, specifically in Spain during the Francoist period.
Last on this list, we have the weird west which is when westerns are fused with another genre such as fantasy, horror, science-fiction, the supernatural, and more. This subgenre is pretty easy to understand as it takes distinct elements of the western genre and combines them with distinct elements of whichever other genre it is being fused with. “Westworld” by Michael Crichton takes the aesthetic elements of the western and uses it to tell a science-fiction tale. You’ll enjoy this if you’re a fan of his other popular work “Jurassic Park”. “Westworld” has a very similar premise although it is intended for older audiences. Check out the movie from 1973 to see where it all began or watch the masterful first season on HBO which completely reinvents the story and adds in a heavy dose of philosophical fiction. Another excellent example that fuses a western with the supernatural and places it in the setting of HBO’s “Deadwood” is the four-part roleplaying series titled “Undeadwood” from Critical Role on YouTube. It takes the RPG system “Deadlands” and tells the story of four outsiders who have come to Deadwood and start experiencing supernatural phenomena.
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