Contemporary Literary Genres

A Select List of Contemporary Literary Genres

(Complied by Students in ENG 340 Contemporary Literature, Spring 2020)

NOTE: the class worked on this list collectively as a “wiki” and updated the sections accordingly. Some of the genres remain incomplete, but suggest areas that the users of this reader’s guide may want to explore on their own.

Young Adult:

Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age. While the genre is targeted to teenagers, approximately half of YA readers are adults. The subject matter and genres of YA correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist. That does not mean that it is only for young adults though. Many themes for the 21st Century are identity, relationships (familial, romantic, etc.), and fantasy adventures, many times this means the protagonist is a fantasy realm and battling tasks we could not even dream of. Below are some of the major voices of the 21st Century for YA and some of their most popular books.

  • John Green – Looking for Alaska, Turtles All the Way Down, Paper Towns
  •  Jason Reynolds – Long Way Down, All American Boys
  • Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
  • Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games Series
  • J.K Rowling – Harry Potter Series
  •  Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give, On the Come Up
  • Scott Westerfeld – Uglies
  • Lisa Samson – Hollywood Nobody series
  • Alice Oseman: Radio Silence
  • Rainbow Rowell: Fangirl
  • Becky Albertalli: Simon vs the Homosapien Agenda

Graphic Novel

  • Stjepan Sejic: Harleen
  • Emil Ferris: My Favorite Thing is Monsters
  • Kieron Gillen: The Wicked + The Divine
  • Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis 
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley: Scott Pilgrim
  • G. Willow Wilson: Ms. Marvel vol. 1: No Normal

Science Fiction

Science fiction, often called “sci-fi,” is a genre of fiction literature whose content is imaginative, but based in science. It relies heavily on scientific facts, theories, and principles as support for its settings, characters, themes, and plot-lines, which is what makes it different from fantasy.

  • World War Z- Max Brooks
  • Old Man’s War– John Scalzi

“Cli Fi” (climate science fiction)

  •  Oryx and Crake-Margaret Atwood
  •  The Road– Cormac McCarthy

Fantasy

Fantasy is a form of literary genre in which a plot cannot occur in the real world. Its plot usually involves witchcraft or magic, taking place on an undiscovered planet of an unknown world. Its overall theme and setting involve a combination of technology, architecture, and language, which sometimes resemble European medieval ages. The most interesting thing about fantasies is that their plot involves witches, sorcerers, mythical and animal creatures talking like humans, and other things that never happen in real life.

  • The Kingkiller Chronicles- Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Wheel of Time Series– Robert Jordan
  •  Discworld– Terry Pratchett
  • Mistborn– Brandon Sanderson
  • Forgotten Realms– R.A.Salvatore
  • Andrew Peterson – The Wingfeather Saga

Nature/Ecology

Nature writing, or Literature of the Environment is a category of fiction and nonfiction writing that focuses on our physical and philosophical interactions with the natural world and all our co-inhabitants. Nature writing often expresses themes of concern for how humans’ mis-treat our resources, and the need for careful consideration of conservation and preservation. These stories often explore what might have been, or what may lay ahead if certain political or ethical guidelines are not enforced. Enjoy!

  • Robin Wall Kimmerer: Braiding Sweetgrass
  • Helen Macdonald: H is for Hawk
  • Peter Wohlleben: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World
  • Michael Braungart and William McDonough: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
  • Roderick Frazier Nash: Wilderness and the American Mind
  • Kathleen Jamie: Sightlines
  • Emma Marris: Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
  • Bonus: Jeremy Wade: (Yes, from River Monsters) How to Think Like a Fish: And Other Lessons from a Lifetime in Angling
  • Cheryl Strayed –  Wild

Drama/Theater

A play is a work of drama, usually consisting mostly of dialogue between characters and intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. Although plays are much easier to watch it is okay to read like a book and analyze the same as you would a book. Many don’t consider play when thinking of literature, but it has many of the same elements, it’s just in a bit of a different format. Some themes for plays of the 21st Century are exploring social conflicts, immigration, race and identity. Here are some of the most well-known authors and their plays of the 21st Century.

  •  Dennis Kelly – Love and Money, Orphans, After the End
  • Annie Baker – The Flick, Body Awareness
  • Lucy Prebble – The Sugar Syndrome, The Effect, ENRON
  • Neil Labute – Fat Pig, Reasons to be Pretty, The Mercy Seat
  • Anthony Nielson – The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Realism
  • Kate Tempest – Glass House, Hopelessly Devoted, Wasted
  • Stephen Karam – Son of Prophets, Dark Sisters, Cherry Orchard

Romance

Romance often manifests in two types of story, the first involving a hero who goes on adventurous quest or journey, where they will conquer various challenges that will prove to teach them how to be brave or courageous. This story line often includes a love interest but is mainly focused on the hero’s quest. The second type of romance story often sees a romantic relationship at its forefront, where the characters struggle finding Mr. Right or Mrs. Right while juggling other struggles in life. These stories often include some humor, tragedy, sadness, or a mix of all. Stories like these generally end with a resolution to the conflict, where the relationship is saved, or the person finds who they are looking for. In recent years, Romance fiction seems to have strayed from the hero’s journey type story. Romance fiction in the 21st century seems to have delved deep into the romantic relationship with themes moving toward online romance, romantic suspense, love in the workplace, and international love. Here are some of the most well-known authors and their romance works of the 21st Century.

  • John Green – The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns
  • Jasmine Guillory – The Wedding Party, The Proposal, The Wedding Date
  • Nora Roberts – Born in Fire, Bed of Roses
  • Stephanie Meyer – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn
  • Audrey Niffler – The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • Nicholas Sparks – The Choice, The Longest Ride, Dear John, Safe Haven, The Notebook
  • Marilynn Griffiths –  Maid of Honor
  • Tamara Leigh – Splitting Harriet
  • Lisa Samson – Embrace Me
  • Katherine Reay – Dear Mr. Knightley, Izzy and Jane

“Flash” or “Short Form” 

Action/Adventure

  • Marvel Comics
  • DC Comics
  • Catching Fire

Suspense/Thriller

Horror

Horror fiction can be described as fiction whose function is to create feelings of dread, fear, and terror. Horror has had a strong foothold in the world of Literature for thousands of years delving deep into topics and ideas that feed on what frightens and perplexes us. These ideas, focusing on life’s most pressing questions, often have to do with the afterlife, death, and the supernatural. Horror trends seem to follow that of the fears of society as a whole, drawing on themes that create some sort of emotion, physical, or psychological response of fear in the reader. Horror themes in 21st century Literature seem to explore both real world tensions in human nature, madness, the disruption of society, cults, and race relations, as well as the fantastical elements of supernatural creatures, monsters, demons, and zombies. Below are some of the most well-known authors and their works of horror in the 21st Century:

  • Stephen King: Doctor Sleep, Under the Dome, 1922, Into the Tall Grass
  • Helen Oyeyemi: White is for Witching
  • Josh Malerman: Bird Box
  • M.R. Carey: Fellside, The Girl with All the Gifts
  • Max Brooks: World War Z
  • Colson Whitehead: Zone One
  • Neil Gaiman: Coraline, American Gods
  • Joe Hill: Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, Into the Tall Grass
  • ​​​​​​​Carol Clover: Men, Women, and Chainsaws (this was published in 1992 but it is very important reading for the academic and literary side of horror, it is a collection of film criticism essays)
  • Riley Sager: Final Girls
  • W. Maxwell Prince: Ice Cream Man (an ongoing comic series)
  • Grace Kianovich: The Orange Eats Creeps
  • Claire C. Holland: I Am Not Your Final Girl: Poems

Mystery/Crime:

This is a remarkably diverse genre; its main requirement is having an unknown answer that presses readers to do their own detective work while they turn the pages. There is a wide variety of events that can happen but often these novels start with a disaster or crime scene and end with perpetrators in captivity.

  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl
  • Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code
  • Louise Penny: Bury Your Dead
  • Attica Locke: Bluebird
  • Dennis Lehane: Sacred
  • James Ellroy: Perfidia
  • Ruth Ware: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Historical

  • The Book Thief
  • Unbroken

Memoir

  •  Jameson Parker –  Dancing with the Dead, Return to Laughter

Western

Fabulist/Magical Realism

LGBTQ+

  • ​​​​​​​Mark Russell: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
  • Stjepan Sejic: Sunstone (it is also in the category of BDSM)
  • Marc Andreyko: Love is Love
  • Emily M. Danforth: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
  • Stephen Chbosky: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Samantha Allen: Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States
  • Maia Kobabe: Gender Queer: A Memoir

Latinx (or any other ethnic or racial sub-genre)

Novels (otherwise unclassified)