popular fiction genres header image

Each reader has individual preferences for the types of books they enjoy most. Some gravitate toward historical romances, while others can’t get enough of suspenseful thrillers.

Publishers and bookstores have categorized these preferences into what we call “genres.” 

What Is a Genre?

A genre is a category or style of music, art, or literature. It affects the theme and style of the novel that you’re writing. Since it describes the focus of the book, it guides you in a blueprint for different kinds of stories. 

Each genre follows a rough set of guidelines as to their length, type of characters, settings, viewpoint choices, plots, and themes. Certain settings work better for certain genres. The author also uses tones and sets the mood according to the genre. 

Why Does Genre Matter?

Readers often choose books in the same genre that they already enjoy, so writing according to the category can help writers set and meet reader expectations.

Writers benefit from genre categorization as well: the boundaries of each genre serve as models on which the author can craft his stories. 

What Is the Most Popular Genre of Fiction?

According to Statista, the most popular genre of fiction among U.S. readers in 2015 was Mystery/Thriller/Crime.

Although that particular study chose to group those genres with thrillers, for the purposes of this post we’ve chosen to cover them separately, since the thriller genre has several distinct characteristics that we thought you should know about.

1. Mystery / Crime

Mystery/Crime novels usually center on a crime that either an amateur or professional detective needs to solve.

The story usually starts with the discovery of the crime, and then a pursuit for the identity of the criminal. Readers often enjoy trying to solve the mystery before the main character does.

The possibilities are endless, as long as the story line revolves around something that stirs up the reader’s curiosity and thirst for mystery.

The New York Times Best Seller list for Mystery include the following authors: James Patterson, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz.

What Are the Different Fiction Genres?

The following are more of the most popular genres in adult fiction:

Note: Some books cross over several different genres, and the categorization may not always be clear-cut. The following list serves as a rough guide for the most common categories.

2. Suspense or Thriller

The suspense / thriller genre revolves around a main character in constant jeopardy. Much of the story will be about his or her escape from these dangerous situations, and much lies in the balance if he fails!

Cliffhangers fill the storyline, with one or more “dark” characters that the protagonist must face, overcome, or escape from.

Sub-genres can include action thrillers, crime thrillers, legal thrillers, medical thrillers, political thrillers, eco thrillers, psychological thrillers, and military thrillers.

Popular authors in the suspense/thriller genre include Robin Cook (medical thrillers), Tom Clancy (military thrillers), and Ian Fleming (action thrillers). John Grisham’s novels may be classified either as mystery or legal thrillers, illustrating a cross-over between genres.

3. Romance

Romance novels focus on the relationship between two or more people, often featuring a heavy dose of desire and sensual tension.

The author throws challenges at these characters along the way, but they generally end up together. The romance genre can be further categorized into Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, and Mystery & Suspense.

Bestselling authors in the romance genre include: Carolyn Brown, Robyn Carr, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, and Nicholas Sparks.

4. Action Adventure

The action adventure genre revolves around a fast-paced storyline, in which the protagonist faces and overcomes dangerous situations.

The tension increases with every turn of the page, ending in a satisfying climax.

Bestselling authors in the action adventure genre include: Robert Ludlum, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler, and Tom Clancy.

5. Science Fiction

The science fiction genre focuses on scientific ideas and technological concepts that are conceived to be possible. It may be set in the past, present, or future.

Time travel is a very common concept for science fiction, and can be set just about anywhere: on the Earth, a different version of Earth, underground, underwater, or in another galaxy entirely.

Bestselling authors in the science fiction genre include: H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Crichton.

6. Fantasy

The fantasy genre includes myths, magic-based stories, and otherworldly tales. When you write in the fantasy genre, you create whole kingdoms and worlds for your supernatural characters.

Although both science fiction and fantasy deal with scenarios that are not real, science fiction deals with ideas that are believably possible, while fantasy deals with those that are truly impossible.

Well-known fantasy writers include: J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K Rowling, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, T.H. White, Rick Riordan, and Madeleine L’Engle.

7. Horror / Paranormal

The horror genre involves scary stories, usually with pursuit or escape as a main goal. The main character usually faces and must overcome demonic or supernatural beings. Satanic-type antagonists are common in the occult subgenre. 

Popular writers in horror, paranormal, and ghost include: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, Jonathan Maberry, Mylo Carbia, and Ramsey Campbell. 

8. Speculative Fiction 

Speculative fiction authors create worlds different from our real world in certain ways. This genre tends to overlap with science fiction and fantasy subgenres. 

Speculative fiction writers include: Margaret Atwood, Jules Verne, Terry Pratchett, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. 

9. Young Adult

Young adult novels are written and marketed to young adults, including adolescents. The target age group typically ranges from 12 to 18, making coming-of-age stories a mainstay in the genre.

For example, the young adult novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor follows the growing pains of Cassie Logan and her brothers in the midst of racial unrest in the history of the United States.

Popular Young Adult authors include Judy Blume, Stephenie Meyer, J.D. Salinger, Philip Pullman, Meg Cabot, Lois Lowry, and Mark Twain.

10. New Adult

New Adult books revolve around college-aged characters and plots. They serve as the next-age category after Young Adult.

Main themes involve leaving home and the challenges of living independently. New Adult writers also include romance scenes that are more serious and intense than YA. 

Authors in the New Adult category include: Jamie McGuire, Cora Carmack, Tammara Webber, and Samantha Young. 

11. Historical Fiction

Historical fiction novels take place during a significant period in history. The protagonist may be an actual person that played a key role in history, or it may also be a fictional character.

This genre requires in-depth research for accuracy in relaying the given time period.

Popular writers in the historical fiction genre include: Philippa Gregory, Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Umberto Eco, Jane Austen, Isabel Allende, and Alexander Dumas.

12. Family Saga

The family saga genre follows the lives of its characters over two or more generations. Common plots include business, properties, family curses, and adventure.

Primarily historical, these books tend to reach a resolution in the contemporary time. These books usually include a timeline or family tree for the readers’ reference. 

Well-known family saga authors include: Isabel Allende, Colleen McCullough, Jeffrey Archer, Amy Tan, Min Jin Lee, and Barbara Kingsolver. 

13. Women’s Fiction

This genre focuses on female characters and the specific challenges and difficulties they face.

Common conflicts may include conflict with men, but may also involve family, economy, society, politics, religion, and art. 

Popular women’s fiction writers inclue: Jane Austen, Jodi Picoult, Danielle Steel, Virginia Woolf, Nora Roberts, and Charlotte Brontë. 

14. Western 

Western fiction books are specifically about the old American West. The characters often involve people in the time period, such as cowboys, Indians, frontiersmen, miners, and mountain men. Common plotlines include romance, survival, and adventure. 

Some Western authors are Elmer Kelton, Alfred Bertram Guthrie, Elmore Leonard, Jack Schaeffer, Willa Cather, and William Johnstone.

15. Biography

The biographical novel, or fictional biography, documents the real life of one person through the writer’s imagination.

This genre requires more research. Because of its emphasis on historical truth, it shares characteristics with the historical novel, except that characters in a historical novel may be fictional.

In contrast, characters in a biographical novel are real persons who lived at a specific time in the person’s life. 

Famous biography writers include: Plutarch, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Carlyle, Martin Gilbert, Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Gaskell, Carl Sandburg, and Thomas Moore. 

16. Psychological Novel 

The psychological novel deals with the emotional and mental aspects of its characters. The story focuses on mental activities and motivations instead of external events.

These books frequently employ literary techniques like stream of consciousness and an interior monologue. 

Examples of writers of psychological novels are Judith Guest and Mary Gordon. 

17. Literary Fiction

Literary fiction focuses more on the inner lives of its characters, instead of external events in the plot. Some call this genre “serious fiction.”

This genre also values style and technique as much as the theme. However, this genre is becoming less popular and more difficult to sell. 

Writers of literary fiction include: Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Gabriel García Marquez, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. 

Writing Fiction

Want to try your hand at writing fiction? First, decide which genre appeals to you most—or, try fun cross-overs, like romantic fantasies or sci-fi thrillers.

Then, check out our guide on how to write a novel and get started on your story’s outline today!

Do you have a favorite fictional genre? Share it with us in the comments below!



If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like: