Offbeat Literary Genres To Get Lost In

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Beyond the ordinary written word

Sure, you know the basics: fiction and nonfiction. And, chances are you know plenty of the traditional genres that fit in those categories, too (science fiction, romance, memoirs). But, there are strange book genres out there that many of us don’t know about. Join us in a look at some of the most offbeat genres in the literary world and discover your next must-read!

Bildungsroman

Similar to a coming-of-age story, bildungsroman fiction relates to the emotional awakening of a character. As the reader, you follow along with the protagonist, watching them grow into adulthood, both morally and emotionally. Many of the classics hold true to this genre style, but you might not have known it, including Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and even Harry Potter.

Bangsian

Bangsian is a fantasy-type genre, consisting of great literary or historical names of the past. But this isn’t a biography—it’s fantasy after all. These well-known, respected individuals are seen in the afterlife, socializing or trying to figure out what’s next after death. This genre was stemmed by author John Kendrick Bangs. Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned follows suit with a young girl who is trapped in hell.

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 include the offbeat Sweeney Todd, Buffalo Bill, and Deadwood Dick.

Wuxia

This historical-fiction subgenre focuses on the warriors of 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 include Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, Xiagu Danxin, and the hilarious Kung-Fu Panda (referring to that expansion to film we were talking about).

Hard-boiled

No, we aren’t talking about how you like your eggs. Hard-boiled fiction is essentially crime fiction . . . but on steroids. You’ll find cynical detectives, dialogue that consists of street jargon, and some extremely vivid sexual and violent acts. Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel, The Maltese Falcon, is classic hard-boiled fiction . . . a detective trying to track down a dame before someone else gets to her first.

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 include Kim, Tropic of Cancer, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Cyberpunk

If you’re a high-tech nerd, this is a good genre for you. A mix of futuristic science fiction with a collapse in society, this is classified as dystopia in the truest form. It can contain anything from cyber-hacking to artificial intelligence, making for a thrilling but slightly technical read. A good example is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which deals with virtual reality and a computer virus that needs to be stopped. The earliest recorded use of this term is in Bruce Bethke's short story "Cyberpunk," published in 1983.

Bizarro

As the name suggests, bizarro fiction is well, bizarre. It’s a combination of satire, ridiculousness, and just plain twisted human behavior. And, as you can imagine, it’s incredibly entertaining. A prime example is the novel, This Book Is Full of Spiders, by David Wong, where spiders live in brains and alter the way people think and see. Sounds terrifying, but thankfully it’s playful sarcastic tone makes up for the ick factor.

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 are The Laxdaela Saga and The Grettis Saga.

Climate

Climate fiction (or cli-fi) is a genre that deals with, you guessed it, the climate. But, more importantly, global warming. And, don’t expect these types of books to be closely related to science fiction, either. Many take place in a real-world setting and focus more on humanity. Nathaniel Rich does this well in his book, The Odds Against Tomorrow, which is about New York in the future and a mathematician who tries to save civilization.

Grimoire

Though perhaps not exactly a literary genre, grimoiresmanuals 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 manual (for Hogwarts?) of sorts.

Epistolary

The term epistolary, meaning “consisting of letters,” entered English in the 1600s from the Greek term for “message” or “letter.” An epistolary novel is a story told exclusively through fictionalized letters, emails, newspaper articles, and other primary sources. The form experienced a popularity surge in the mid-1700s, and it has since structured some of the most beloved books in the English language, such as Dracula and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Slipstream

For those who crave surrealism . . . but with literary prose, slipstream has you covered. This genre meshes imaginative worlds (sometimes with magic and/or technology involved), but it doesn’t skimp on serious, high-quality writing. While reading, you might question what is real and what isn’t—and that’s ok, that’s kind of the point. Take Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, for example. Talking cats might not seem real, but somehow this author makes you question that.

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