May 14 2011 5:37pm

Defining Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance: What’s the Difference?

Greywalker by Kat RichardsonIt's a question every paranormal and/or urban fantasy reader encounters in the course of their reading: What's the difference between the two?

For me, Urban Fantasy is all about the paranormal embedded in a modern setting. There might be romance, but the romance is not the primary focus and a happily ever after is never guaranteed.

Some series that come to mind are Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series and the Hollows series by Kim Harrison; these books usually include a love interest and even a boyfriend or another, but the focus of the series is the action, character development, and the plot.

Whereas the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Paranormal Romance is the happily ever after, in a PNR series or novel, you can absolutely expect that there will be a HEA for a couple in each of the books in the series. The books that come to mind are the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward, as well as Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld, Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed and Larissa Ione’s Demonica series.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine HarrisAnother big difference between the genres, I believe, is the narrating voices. More often than not in Urban Fantasy we get the heroine narrating in first person, like in Charlaine Harris's Southern Mystery series:

“As the water pounded on my back, I reflected that I must be pretty simple. It didn't take much to make me happy. A long night with a dead guy had done the trick.”

— Charlaine Harris, Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4)

Of course UF has stories written in third person as well, like Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghost series:

“She doubted he'd take too kindly to her fighting with them, no matter how much he liked having her in his bed.”

— Stacia Kane, Unholy Magic (Downside Ghosts, #2)

On the other hand, Paranormal Romances are usually written in more than one point of view and all in third person. We constantly get to get into the leading lady’s head along with the leading male and sometimes even the villain and other side characters as well.

“He has resisted Temptation for Centuries, A stone cold warrior whose frozen heart refuses to thaw—until her...” —Lara Adrian

And because there is more of a distance between the readers' and the characters' thoughts, it feels like we might not be getting the whole story. I mean, since it’s not first person, we can’t be certain what exactly the character is thinking, since we don’t get the complete thought process.

One of the biggest differences between both genres for me is the character developments. In Urban Fantasy, we usually have one main character who will appear as the protagonist of several novels. The character gets a chance to screw up and make it up to his friends and the readers innumerous times over.

Bad Blood by L. A. BanksJust think how many time you might have wanted to punch Rachel Morgan from the Hollows series, or Sarah from the Crimson Moon series by L.A. Banks. They had time and space to actually make colossal mistakes—but they actually also have a chance to fix them.

At the same time in Paranormal Romance, each couple of protagonists that make up a couple only have one book to make it all work—one single novel to make us care for these people individually as well as for their relationship, all the while dividing our attention between two or more points of view and creating a plot that will make that book do not feel superfluous and fit into a series. Yikes!

Authors such as Lara Adrian, Larissa Ione, and Gena Showalter actually pull that off time and time again for ongoing series.

Some series are in the tiny wriggle room between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance which makes it hard to define them. I have a hard time fitting a series like the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. It’s Urban Fantasy, but it is very heavy on the romance side, so I tend to call it Romantic Urban Fantasy.

What other authors or series would you say are Romantic Urban Fantasy? Do you agree with my definitions?


Larissa Benoliel blogs at Larissa's Bookish Life and is a Brazilian-Israeli living in Rio de Janeiro. She loves to read Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance. If she’s not online, she’s reading. Usually it's both.

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I'm Loving Books
1. I'm Loving Books
Great job on defining these. This is pretty much how I see it too.

Urban Fantasy may have a bit of romance, but it's not the primary focus of the storyline. Also, it's generally one POV throughout the whole series.

Paranormal Romance generally involves a new couple each book and their romance is the primary focus of the story, it being wrapped up with a nice little bow by the end of the story.

What gets confusing for me personally is how to categorize the Young Adult paranormals. Sometimes the romance is the sole focus, but it's not necessarily in the standard PNR format. I usually go the UF route, but it's confusing.

But anyways, great article, I agree with you on your definitions. :)

~ Sarah ? I'm Loving Books
Laurie Gold
2. LaurieGold
I rarely use "paranormal" as a label these days. Urban fantasy romance has replaced it in my vocabulary. On my Kindle I have an urban fantasy category, an urban fantasy romance category (and an urban fantasy erotic romance category), and a young adult category. Interestingly, the YA urban fantasies go in as urban fantasy while books like Sloppy Firsts and the Traveling Pants series go in as YA.
Larissa Benoliel
3. larissa_sarah
@I'm Loving Books

Thanks Sarah!

I totally know what you mean about the YA books... it does get confusing =/

I don't think the line between PNR and UF is that obvious in YA, but for example... The Paranoemal YA series by Alyxandra Harvey can be considered PNR because it focuses on one couple per books, while the Morganville vamps by Rachel Caine is told from Clare's POV from the begining... =)


You definitely make a lot of sense! I like that! but I do like the PNR title for the genre =P
I'm Loving Books
4. Kiersten Fay
Thanks for clarifying: I love descovering the newest terms for these types of books.

I used to say my writing is a mix between paranormal romance and
paranormal erotica, but I never liked the term erotica because it's hard
not to assosiate that word with the darker side of love making. I
recently discovered a new term that I will be using from now on.

Paranormal romantica.

romantica combines a love story with a strong focus on the romance,
with elements of erotic romance, and always has an HEA, whereas erotica
alone does not require a HEA.

Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
Great job defining genres that can get so confussing from the pov of us readers. I pretty much assume that UF doesn't require a hea while I do expect it from PNR.

While not expecting a hea in UF, I have dropped an author or two of this genre when I've read comments or interviews with them disdaining romance readers and/or vigorously denying that their books in any way could be categorized as 'romance'. As a lowly romance reader, I prefer to spend my budget on authors who are happy and willing to write books for me rather than sully the fan-ranks of those who despise my tastes.
Larissa Benoliel
6. larissa_sarah
@Kiersten Fay

ooooh Paranormal Romantica... I like it! =)

Thanks for that hehe


I can totally relate!

and yeah YF does require romance or HEA... but they do tend to have romance, some much more than others, of course hehe =D
I'm Loving Books
7. Sarawackadoo
I've heard Urban Fantasy described as a series that follows the same hero or heroine from book to book while Paranormal Romance switches with each book. I think that's a pretty fitting description but it's only one checkmark on the list to figuring out the difference.

Strangely enough though, I find that most UF have better romances than PR just because the author spends so much time developing the relationship between the main characters. Kate and Curran, from Magic Bites, are a great example of great romance which I think surpasses PR relationships.
I'm Loving Books
8. Nicola O.
I do agree with you, Larissa, and also with the points that Sarawackadoo (love the moniker, lol) makes. I dearly love a complicated UF heroine with a series-wide romantic arc -- Keri Arthur, Devon Monk, *hopefully* Kim Harrison, I'm lookin' at you-- but I'm not necessarily disappointed if I don't get one (coff Jenna Black coff). But if you want to ratchet up the drama in a series, you can't do better than love triangles and sexual betrayals, come on. The soaps know this, right?

But yes, to be PNR you need an HEA for each book, which makes it hard to keep the same POV character across a series, unless you sort of do what J.R. Ward is with the Fallen Angels series -- where you have sort of a catalyst character that ties the various books together. I think that Michael is sort of like that in Meljean Brook's Guardian series and maybe Acheron from Kenyon's series? (I haven't read that one).
Larissa Benoliel
9. larissa_sarah

I absolutely agree with you and that is a great way to define it as well.

UF tends to let couples as well as characters develop more and better... I really like that about UF.

@Nicola O.

I know what you mean, and yeah, the soaps do know this LOL

I thought the Morgan Kingsley series did get a kind of happy ending, didnt it? I mean, opne, but happy, no? LOL

Interesting point... yeah, and even the BDB series has characters that already got their HEA getting POVs in the recent books and we get a chance to see that the HEA is not the end for the couples.
I'm Loving Books
10. Midnyte Reader
Great post. So well thought out and articulated. I love your definitions and you detailed them so well.
I'm Loving Books
12. roseytoes
I love this post! The definitons are spot on and I love that you have given me some new authors to investigate. I have read many of the series listed, but I was never sure into which category they should be placed.

Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson series is one of my favorite UF. The sceond book in her new Myth and Magic series recently came out and is in my
TBR pile.

Thanks again for the great post and the new authors for me to try.

Larissa Benoliel
13. larissa_sarah

THanks! So glad you enjoyed it =) Also glad to have introduced you to new authors hehe =)

I LOVED the Riley Jensen series!!! it was an awesome mix of UF and sexy romance =D

It was my pleasure!

Rachel Hyland
14. RachelHyland
Great post! I totally agree; UF is almost exclusively first person, and PR always wraps up the relationship in a neat (if bloody) bow at the end of the book.


Urban Fantasy has a chick in black leather on the cover.
Paranormal Romance has a dude with awesome abs and no head on the cover.

Okay, that's simplistic. But it pretty much works, right?
I'm Loving Books
16. Aleksandra
Great post, Larissa! Also, I gotta agree about the covers, too ;)
I'm Loving Books
18. Suzan Harden
Thanks, Larissa! This one of the better decriptions I've seen about the difference between UF and PNR. Though I think RachelHyland is right, too. LOL
Larissa Benoliel
19. larissa_sarah
@Suzan Harden

Thanks! Im so glad you guys are enjoying it =) It was my pleasure to try and make these differences clearer =)
I'm Loving Books
20. Mary Melrose
I believe Urban fantasy to be fantasy that is set here on earth. Either in the past, present or future. The story could involve mythological Gods, humans with extraordinary powers, it could be unearthly creatures that have came to our world to destroy it or take over it.

It's focus isn't on the romance, it is the plot that drives this type of storyline. This is not to say there is no romance, it's just not the main subject.

Paranormal romance, is creatures such as vampires who fall in love with humans. The main subject is the romance.

The defirence in a nutshell:
Urban Fantasy - Unearthly Subjects with a storyline that doesn't involve romance
Paranormal romance - Focuses on unearthly creatures who fall in love.
Teenager Paranormal Stories
I'm Loving Books
21. Sarah S.
"And because there is more of a distance between the readers' and the characters' thoughts, it feels like we might not be getting the whole story. I mean, since it’s not first person, we can’t be certain what exactly the character is thinking, since we don’t get the complete thought process."
I disagree with that to me it is the total opposite in first person we only know what the main character knows which makes dramatic irony impossible because perspectives don't change. For example you don't know that strange hood figure is creeping up behind the character because thay don't. I also have a hard time connecting with protagionist because their feelings and thoughts are so highly personalized I can't relate even more so if I don't like the character. It is also possible that the characters feeling are not described enough and I feel like I'm reading about the life of a card board cut out.
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