Did You Know You Were Reading These Unusual Literary Genres?

Sure, if you like to read, you know the basic types of literature: fiction and nonfiction. And, chances are you know plenty of the traditional genres that fit in those categories, too (e.g., science fiction, romance, memoirs). But, there are plenty of obscure book genres out there that many of us don’t know about.

Join us for a look at some of the most offbeat genres in the literary world and discover your next must-read!

WATCH: Words Bookworms Mispronounce Because We Read Them First


Similar to a coming-of-age story, Bildungsroman fiction relates to the emotional awakening of a young character. As the reader, you follow along with the protagonist, watching them grow into adulthood, both morally and emotionally.

Many popular favorites hold true to this genre style, but you might not have known it. These include Jane Eyre, The Kite Runner, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Catcher in the Rye, and even the Harry Potter series.


Bangsian is a fantasy genre consisting of stories about great literary or historical names of the past. But they’re not biographical stories—it’s meant to be fantasy, after all. These well-known, respected individuals are portrayed in the afterlife, socializing or trying to figure out what’s next after death.

This genre was pioneered by author John Kendrick Bangs, who developed a story that followed a houseboat in Hades visited by famous figures, such as Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. The Heroes in Hell series by Janet Morris is another example of Bangsian books that follow famous characters around the underworld.

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.


This historical-fiction subgenre focuses on “the adventures of sword-wielding chivalrous heroes” of China. Though wuxia originally came only in the form of novels, the genre now encompasses 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).


No, we aren’t talking about how you like your eggs. Hard-boiled fiction is essentially crime fiction … but on steroids. It’s written “in a laconic, dispassionate, often ironic style for a realistic, unsentimental effect.”

So 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. In a more recent example, Ramón Díaz Eterovic uses Chile and life under a dictatorship as the backdrop for his take on the genre in Dark Echoes of the Past.


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.” Lazarillo de Tormes is considered the first picaresque novel, while Don Quixote, Moll Flanders, and more modern works like A Night at The Circus and The White Tiger all make use of elements of this genre.


Whether you think him a bumbling fool or idealist knight, Don Quixote is considered a great fictional hero. Read about what makes a hero, and how that can differ from a protagonist, here. 


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, cyberpunk is classified as dystopia in the truest form.

It can contain anything from cyberhacking to artificial intelligence, making for a thrilling but slightly technical read. Examples of this genre include Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which deals with virtual reality and a computer virus that needs to be stopped, and Masamune Shirow’s The Ghost in the Shell (which was adapted into a film). The earliest recorded use of this term is in Bruce Bethke’s short story “Cyberpunk,” published in 1983.


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, in which spiders live in brains and alter the way people think and see. Sounds terrifying, but thankfully its playful, sarcastic tone makes up for the ick factor.


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 fiction (or cli-fi) is a genre that deals with—surprise, surprise—the climate. But, more importantly and specifically, with 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. Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian Parable of the Sower is another example of the genre.


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.


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 Color Purple.


For those who crave surrealism … in the form of literary prose, slipstream has you covered. This genre might defy definition, but can be described as straddling the line between mainstream fiction and science fiction, meshing imaginative worlds (sometimes with magic and/or technology involved) with literary fiction.

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.


If the strange, outlandish, or whimsical appeal to you, then check out the frabjous words invented by Lewis Carroll.


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