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What are the Different Book Genres?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Book genres are a complicated matter because there isn’t total agreement on where some books fit into certain genres. Within each genre, there can be several sub genres. Moreover, some books may fit in several genres at once — a science fiction book with lots of action may be a sci fi book, a thriller or an action novel. It is perhaps best to start with the two main categories of books, which are fiction and non-fiction.

Within non-fiction there are numerous book genres. Some non-fiction books are “how to” books that might teach a person how to cook, garden, or repair things around the home. A few other book genres that are common in the non-fiction category include travelogues, autobiographies, biographies and histories. There are also self-help books and many types that might be considered reference material, like encyclopedias. Books of personal essays, which may or may not be autobiographical, may fit into the non-fiction genre too.

Fiction book genres are numerous and some books fall into subgenres. Main fiction categories include romances, westerns, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, horror, and historical fiction. It can be easy to see why books might fall into different categories at the same time. Gone with the Wind is historical fiction certainly, but it’s also a romance that contains some potent action scenes. However, coming up with a basic definition of each genre, as follows, can be helpful in determining where a book is most likely to fit:

  • Romances tend to be stories that principally focus on love and relationships, and may take as a subject a single love relationship, or an individual looking for love.
  • Westerns can be a branch of historical fiction but may more loosely deal with life in the wild American west, as it was settled.
  • Mysteries often have characters that investigate crimes or various puzzles.
  • Science fiction tends to use some scientific data as basis for stories, and might focus on things like apocalypse scenarios, future worlds, or space travel, to name just a few.
  • Fantasy may deal with various “unreal” or magical things, or things not possible in the real world, and may contain alternate worlds and/or mythical and made up creatures or peoples.
  • Thrillers are sometimes called spy thrillers and might have themes in which spies are involved in investigating various events, often on a global scale.
  • Horror may rely on elements like the supernatural, apocalyptic events, or in some cases exceptionally graphic cases of murder or mutilation caused by humans or other sources.
  • Historical fiction invents characters or deeds for a specific time period and may tell the story of that time period through fictional and non-fictional but fictionalized characters. A variation of this is the period novel, written either during or after a certain time period and particularly emphasizing what it was like to live in that era, with perhaps fictional characters as examples.

The book genres above are not exclusive to long fictional novels. The novel is only one thing that may be bound and read. Poetry, plays, collections of short stories, and even books of mixed media like comic books or graphic novels each belong to their own genre but also may take on the major themes of different fiction categories.

Some people may long for the simplification of genres, as writers and teachers like Aristotle classified them in earlier times. He described two basic types of plays: comedy or tragedy. Others thrill to the various ways in which people can be inventive through book genres. The proliferation of different book categories means there is always something to read that is likely to appeal to someone.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon337102 — On Jun 03, 2013

Is there a specific number of genres, as in book genres?

By anon185363 — On Jun 11, 2011

Not to mention books that don't fit into any of the above genres, books that I like to call ' in-beteween ' books.

By anon166171 — On Apr 07, 2011

Helpful. Is there a list anywhere with the top ten authors for each genre?

By vogueknit17 — On Feb 11, 2011

I think two other genres which might be worth adding are modernism and postmodernism.

Many of the modernist writers, such as T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, wrote with voices very different from the realist ideals of their time and even of realism now, but they talked about realistic surroundings.

Similarly, postmodernist writers like Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard and others turned even modernism on its head, with play and novel writing which had yet another different take on seemingly realistic places.

By accordion — On Feb 10, 2011

@anon122201, I think some publishers and book sellers would classify emotional writing with either thrillers or romances, depending on the sorts of emotions.

By Catapult — On Feb 09, 2011

@anon94163, "vampire" isn't really a genre. It could be a sub genre of science fiction or fantasy, sure, but "vampire" cannot be its own stand alone genre anymore than "horse" or "taxi driver" books could be. Not everything can be a broad genre, or else the whole point of genres would fall apart.

By sherlock87 — On Feb 08, 2011

These days a lot of non fiction is being written which challenges the genres for it listed here; by that I mean non fiction "novels" which, though similar to biographies or memoirs, either change names or otherwise make things more anonymous. You know the events are real, but you don't know the specifics; sort of like the opposite of historical fiction, in which you know the characters are based on fact, but the events of the book might not all be.

By anon134379 — On Dec 14, 2010

What type of criteria do you think i should use for books to read before you die?

By anon128494 — On Nov 19, 2010

you guys are all book worms and should know what a genre is.

By anon124831 — On Nov 07, 2010

What about regular fiction, non-fiction, and realistic fiction? Come on, those are the most obvious!

By anon122368 — On Oct 27, 2010

social issues is another that should be in that list.

By anon122201 — On Oct 27, 2010

what about emotional stuff? What genre is that? Emotional?

By rebalshay — On Aug 10, 2010

what is a genre that starts with the letters of x, y, z?

By anon94163 — On Jul 07, 2010

vampire genre, people? Come on guys!

By anon80704 — On Apr 28, 2010

what about sex thrillers, or titillating, or scandalous books?

By anon77866 — On Apr 15, 2010

good info.

By kasen — On Sep 18, 2009

The genres you picked here are interesting - a lot of bookstores group science fiction, fantasy, and horror together in one group. I'd also probably add literature of particular groups, such as African-American and lesbian and gay, as distinct genres.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
Learn more
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