8 Offbeat Literary Genres To Get Lost In

Genre classification can be exquisitely specific. There’s a word to describe science fiction that takes place in futuristic industrial dystopias, as well as a term for historical fiction focusing on warriors of ancient China. Next time you’re looking for something to read, consider choosing a book from one of the following subgenres.

1. Bildungsroman


The Bildungsroman explores the education, development and coming of age of a young protagonist. The term comes from the German Bildung + Roman literally meaning “formational novel.” Examples of this genre: The History of Tom Jones, Jane Eyre, and Black Boy.

2. Penny dreadful


Popular in Victorian times, the cheaply made penny dreadful featured serialized tales of adventure, crime and horror. Also called dime novels, these sensationalized stories could be purchased with loose pocket change. Characters from this genre: Sweeney Todd, Buffalo Bill, and Deadwood Dick.

3. Wuxia


This historical-fiction subgenre focuses on the warriors of ancient China. Though wuxia originally came only in the form of novels, it has since spread to film, television and video games. The term comes directly from the Chinese word for “martial artist.” Examples of this genre: Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, Xiagu Danxin, and the Chu Liuxiang series.

4. Picaresque


The picaresque genre showcases humorous tales of adventure, focusing on the antics of knavish-yet-attractive heroes. This genre, originally developed in Spain, comes from the Spanish picaro meaning “rogue.” Examples of this genre: Kim, Tropic of Cancer, and Under the Net.

5. Cyberpunk


Often set in futuristic industrial dystopias, the sci-fi subgenre cyberpunk highlights stories of computing, hacking and large corrupt corporations. The earliest recorded use of this term is in Bruce Bethke’s short story “Cyberpunk,” published in 1983. Examples of this genre: Neuromancer, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

6. Saga


Sagas are medieval narratives hailing from Iceland or Norway. They chronicle the history of Vikings, kings and families of the time. The term saga derives from the Icelandic and Old Norse term meaning “story” or “history.” Examples of this genre: The Laxdaela Saga and The Grettis Saga.

7. Grimoire


Though perhaps not exactly a literary genre, grimoires—manuals of magic or witchcraft—can be found on the shelves of many a witch, sorcerer or amateur spell caster. Grimoire came to English in the mid-1800s from the Old French gramaire meaning “grammar,” and the genre is a grammar of sorts.

8. Epistolary


The term epistolary entered English in the 1600s from the Greek term meaning “message” or “letter.” An epistolary novel is a story told exclusively through letters, emails, newspaper articles and other primary sources. The form experienced a popularity surge in the mid-1700s, and has since structured some of the most beloved books in the English language, like Pamela or Virtue Rewarded, Frankenstein, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

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