What makes a Fantasy?



Media of the fantastic. The strange, bizarre, and surreal fictional media that have allowed us to conjure up our wildest imaginations. There is no ‘one word’ that can describe this genre other than ‘fantastic‘ in that causes such a sense of wonder and it is most certainly whimsical.

Flickr image by RL Fantasy Design Studio

Its difficult to describe exactly what every fantasy shares other than what I described above. Many take place in the past, very specifically medieval Europe, where kings sat on  thrones in their castles surrounded by knights and princesses.  This period truly becomes fantasy when dragons and magic, elves and dwarves, wizards and goblins, etc are added to the mix. Where did these concepts originate? It would take several books to uncover and describe the history of it all, so I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

And that’s exactly the point. 

What’s even the point of Fantasy?

In my honest opinion, fantasy serves as an escapism from the troubles of the real world. It allows us to use our imagination to think beyond our little box of a brain, and create spectacular narratives.

It doesn’t have to be realistic.

Nor does it have to make sense. 

It doesn’t have to follow the social nor natural laws of our world. 

But it certainly makes for a good story if it does have some kind of structure and rules we can process and understand. Because while its fun to read and watch stories that normally don’t make sense to us (about things that aren’t real, like monsters and magic), if we either can’t place ourselves in that story or literally can’t comprehend what we’re reading/watching, then is it still enjoyable? 

The Subgenres of Fantasy

I’m not going over the 50+ subgenres of fantasy; I actually just looked that up, that’s insane! But there are certainly common and well known ones. High fantasy, for example, is the most pure fantasy in the sense that there are defined rules and a system of magic, and characters go on both physical and mental journeys, like ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ by J. R. Tolkien or ‘The Wheel of Time‘ series by Robert Jordan; low fantasy is the opposite, sometimes without magic. Epic fantasy is high fantasy on a broader scale, often much longer. Urban fantasy takes place in modern day, like the ‘Harry Potter’ series by J.K. Rowling.

Getting a little heavier are horror and dark fantasy, which often involve a creepy atmosphere, violence, and a blend of realism and fantasy, and just so happens to be my favorite, ‘The Dark Tower‘ series by Stephen King is one example. Grimdark fantasy is more edgy in the sense that it features more antiheros with morally gray personalities, and ‘The Blade Itself‘ by Joe Abercrombie is an example. Lastly I’ll mention steampunk and science fiction fantasy, which often include a great amount of detail of the world and more rigid laws unlike typical fantasy, like ‘Outlander‘ by Diana Gabaldon.

For Example (of Bad (and rarely Good) Fantasy)


This is originally a blog about animanga, so to connect that… I’ve consumed far too many anime with a broken fantasy system. By that I mean… there’s hardly any balance, as if the author/studio had no idea what they’re doing and b@llsh%ting as they write along. Examples include an overpowered protagonist, with combat-abilities learned in a short period of time or immediately.

Might often involves the use of swords and shields, bows and spears. You know, weapons that would used in Medieval times. Guns… not so much. I think handguns and rifles are looked at as overkill, and they probably are. You wouldn’t want to write or read about a fight that ends too quickly, nor would guns make sense in that time period, because they simply weren’t around. To get around this would be to introduce time travel, but I feel like that would be a challenge to write about.

Another trope I find goofy is the sheer size of armor and weapons. For example, ActivisionBlizzard‘s ‘Warcraft‘ is a pc game notorious for its grossly oversized weapons and armor. I love the manga ‘Berserk‘ to death, but the antihero Guts greatsword is so wide and massive (sounds phalic), no man could actually swing that sword, nor cut through people and monsters like butter. But I’m no trashing on it! The trope is so widely popular today in media. Capcom‘s Monster Hunter or FromSoftware‘s Dark Souls also features gargantuan-sized swords, and I can’t fail to mention SquareEnix ‘Final Fantasy 7”s Cloud and his massive sword as well.

and Magic

But I’m getting off track. The size of a weapon is hardly something to complain about, and actually looks pretty bad@ss, just don’t go trying it yourself. Magic is an entirely other monster of a concept. I’m not sure of the origins, but it could very well come from religious texts since those are in fact filled with magic. I’m about to shake the Earth when I say this but… the Christian Bible is a fantasy, whether or not you believe it (literally). It most certainly includes magic, and the paintings conjured up from passages in the holy book are even more whimsical, sometimes even scary.

Typically inspired from alchemy and the Earth elements, or chemistry, specifically the periodic table of elements, magic has come in many forms. Avatar, the Last Airbender is a decent anime that uses a verrry simple magic concept; fire, earth, water, air, and that it. It probably doesn’t get more simple than that. More original and also unique presentations of magic are used in the popular yet now oversaturated ‘Harry Potter‘ series, where spells automate actions humans could do (like stir a coffee or turn on the lights) or fend off monsters, as well as ‘The Lord of the Rings‘, which for me is rather obscure but more whimsical than the rest.

Magic that forms out of thin air and doesn’t take any time or effort to cast (I’m talking about you ‘Wiseman’s Grandchild‘). Dragon Ball Z and Naruto are a couple other popular series that use exotic, sometimes unrealistic systems of magic or what could be interpreted as magic. These are just a couple examples of unique concepts often executed poorly (not that those series do a poor job, they’re just examples I came up with on the spot).


I’ll be honest, I’m not a good judge about the societal laws and governments of a fantasy world. I haven’t personally read too many fantasies with a great emphasis on the laws of a kingdom besides works of Shakespeare and Tolkien, but even those boiled down to who is rightful to the throne and how power changes a man in his ruling. ‘A Game of Thrones‘ is a vastly popular fantasy series I haven’t read nor seen (I know… I’m vastly far behind), but have heard it has a rich narrative involving the different kingdoms and their quarrels. 

I imagine a bad fantasy would have a government far different from the kinds you’ve learned about in school (ex. monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship, democracy, communism), or a very poor depiction of government based around the time period its trying to represent (like feudal Japan or Medieval England).

Not to say that coming up with a new system of law is bad, it should just make some sort of sense (otherwise why would it be formed in the first place!).

Fantasy Creatures and Monsters

I find that the real meat of fantasy is not the might or magic or kingdoms, but the ecosystems of exotic creatures and monsters that inhabit it. We all know what dragons are, but did you know there are several subspecies of them? Like a drake, that’s basically a dragon without wings, or a wyrm, like a Chinese dragon without wings or limbs. Where did dragons come from? From mythology, of course! I actually just looked that up; dragons originated from European and Eastern mythology. And not just dragons, but many of the creatures we read about or watch in fantasy were either inspired or came directly from real world legends and mythology.

I find mythology, religion, and urban legends especially fascinating because they highlight exactly what our ancestors used to believe in. Many have been debunked today of course (except God for some reason, people still worship Him) but its still fascinating seeing where we came from. I find the epic tales of Greek and Norse Mythology especially wild (with their bizarre monsters and moral lessons derived from the endings, and Eastern mythology has some of the creepiest creatures I’ve ever come across. 

Fairies and goblins, orcs and unicorns, trolls and griffins. Like… who comes up with this stuff?

People do. We come up with this stuff.

Fantasy and Reality, Embrace both but know the Limits

Our imagination has only grown since the days of old, and it’s only expanding. We just need to be careful not to get lost in it. Not for too long, anyway.

There’s a clear difference between fiction and reality. Connecting back to animanga, there are a great many fantasy manga and anime out there. And while many of them are fantastic, there’s also a lot of ‘trash’. One subgenre in particular, isekai, is alarming. Its actually a really unique concept where, when a person dies, they get reincarnated in a fantasy world. The one gripe I have with this subgenre is that the way in which these characters are written to die… often involves a premature death.

Very specifically, the protagonist is killed in collision with a bus, or train in particular. Memes galore have spawned, naming these trucks ‘Truck-kun’, as if they were the grim reaper itself. While it is a grisly way to go, it isn’t a terrible plot device. The issue comes when every isekai starts using it. And a lot have used it. There’s a rather recent anime that aired called “The Eminence in Shadow” (which is actually great by the way), but the protagonist purposely throws himself in front of a truck in order to be reborn in a fantasy world.

And that’s messed up.

While I couldn’t find any news articles actually describing people deliberately offing themselves in the hopes of  being reborn in a fantasy world, I would hope nobody would be stupid enough to try it in the real world. Because the irony is that its a paradox. We really don’t know where we’ll go when we die. But I’m not about to find out and neither should you. 

Embrace Fantasy, Live with Reality

Fantasy is such an important genre in media. It invites us to a world of imagination and wonder, and escape the harsh reality that life sometimes slaps us with. I’m currently engrossed in ‘The Wheel of Time’ series, and it lets me unwind after a long day of work. Its not that I’m tired of my life and therefore trying to escape from reality, but reading fantasy helps me relax and destress. Especially if it has a really good plot and narrative. It also gives me something to talk about with others.

There is also nothing wrong with forming parasocial relationships with these worlds or their characters, as long as those feelings are kept in check and don’t become obsessive.

They can be inspiring and encouraging. I know Gandalf inspires me (inspiration for what is unknown), but I don’t act nor dress up like the wizard on a 24/7 basis nor do all my possessions have Ian McKellen’s face plastered on them. Its important to have boundaries, even with fiction. Because life doesn’t have to be all that bad, and it can be even better with some fantasy thrown in.

Get to the Point, Ryan!

I hope reading this far has taught you a sliver of something new about fantasy. If not, thanks for reading this far nonetheless! The entire point of my writing about fantasy today is because it is something that truly fascinates me. Its so fascinating, that I can’t help but feel like I want to contribute to the massive shapeless blob that is the ever-growing world of fantasy media. 

I’m thinking of writing a book series.

I’m still in the very early stages of developing it, and have no idea when I’ll really get going on it. It’ll be the first book I’ve ever written, so of course I’m nervous. I’m confident in my ability to write, and I have a definite story planned, but the little details need to be fleshed out and worldbuilding must be done. 

The rough series title would be ‘The Crown of Power’ and the first book would be titled ‘Ballad of a Failed Knight’. The tagline goes something like this:

A back-talking animal, a witch, a vampire, and… a minotaur? These aren’t the kind of misfit companions Paladin-in-training Dolton Riddari had in mind when given the heavy task of retrieving the elusive crown of power! With the power of resurrection granted by the respected Goddess Eris, Dolton will live, fail, die, and repeat his way to achieve victory, but at what cost? 

Inspired from the souls-like genre of gaming, Ryan will take you on a journey through the hilarity and terrors of a dark fantasy world. 

That’s the gist of it any way. I plan for it to be about 4-5 books in length, but that will very well change as time goes on and I flesh out the story. As the tagline suggests, I’d like to try and make it a dark fantasy, with horrifying monsters and morally gray characters that most certainly develop as the story progresses.

Because of my lack of experience, I am in the middle of reading a few series’ I hope will give me a better idea about how to go about writing the series. And that’s it! Thanks for reading about my rants and please look forward for more content by me! Until next time!


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