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Urban Fantasy: What is it, Examples, and How to Write It? (New 2024) - Mastering Arts and Charts

Urban fantasy is one of the most fast growing genres in the internet’s consciousness.

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Urban fantasy is a fantasy story that takes place in a contemporary setting with an urban city being a focal point of the story. Popular examples of fantasy stories include Batman and Gotham, Superman and Metropolis, Harry Potter, and Hogwarts etc. The most recent addition would be something like Percy Jackson and New York City (Camp Half Blood).

Of course, there is a lot more nuance to it than that if you want to use this information to craft a story no one has seen before. If that is what you want to do, then read on…

Table of Contents

    What Defines Urban Fantasy?

    Urban fantasy is the genre where the central conflict is solved through the help of the city/location.

    There are three main parts to urban fantasy: central conflict, the help, and the city/location.

    Central Conflict

    Central conflict is the core question that leads to the conflicts and plots of the story. The central conflict is often called the moral argument of the movie, or the story. It is this central question that leads to the creation of the hero, and the villain. It is because the hero and the villain hold opposite positions as the answer. In urban fantasy, the moral question often involves a communal question. For example, are people inherently self serving, or are they ultruistic?

    The Help

    This leads to the second part of urban fantasy, which is the help comes from the city itself.

    The help is the magic system that the main characters (hero and villain), use to fight each other. In most traditional urban fantasy, the magic system is often literally magic, and it is a magic that the main character received from the city. Perhaps it is a power that only works because of proximity to the city, or it is a power they discovered thanks to the city. In more creative urban fantasy, the powewr can be something like mney, or gang members. The character is dependant on the city in getting the money, or the members for their gang


    Finally, the last piece for an urban fantasy story is the city/location itself.

    In all urban fantasy stories, the city is as much a character in the story as the main character; sometimes even more so. The characters are often trying to find out “is Gotham worth saving” or “why is this city so special”. The point being that the city is the core reason why the hero, and the villain fight, thus it needs to have a unique feature. Maybe the geography, the history, the economy, culture, or even crime.

    What Are The Rules Of Urban Fantasy?

    All urban fantasy follow 6 core rules:

    1. The city is the central character: The primary character in all urban fantasy stories is the city. They are the flat character of the story (If you do not know what a flat character arc is, then check that out).
    2. The magic system stems from the city: The hero and the villain derive whatever powers they have from the city, and thus fight with it. Think Batman and Joker.
    3. The villain and the hero are developed through fata flaws, and false beliefs deriving from the city: The hero and villain are motivated by the city. Again, same example.
    4. The plot revolves around the city: The story usually revolves around the city in some way. Usually saving the city. But it could also be building the city’s wealth etc.
    5. The worldbuilding contains the city as a center: Usually, the worldbuilding will have the city as the core. If there is history, then it ends with the city. Cultures, environments, and governments all revolve around the city
    6. The themes focus on the city: The city will be the one that the theme will revolve around. Some stories may have love as a theme. In this story, the love of the city becomes the theme.

    Examples of Urban Fantasy

    1. “Spiderman, Batman, Superman” – DC / Marvel comics

    2. “Age of Ice: Urban Fantasy Romance” – Mariah Stone

    3. “The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher

    4. “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

    5. “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

    Who Is The Target Audience Of Urban Fantasy?

    The target audience for urban fantasy readers is readers between 13 – 36 years old, or adult minded readers wanting fantasy. it could also be teenage minded fantasy fans who want a more immersive reading experience.

    Fantasy attractis children, and readers interested in virtue.

    This is something that we covered in our fantasy and fiction differences article. For people who ar einterested in fantasy as described in that article, urban fantasy will be attractive. And a lot of those people will be children, while others may be adults more interested in deeper stories.

    The urban part attracts people who are adults, or those who are interested in a psychological exploration (human realism), instead of virtue and myths.

    Due to the fact that urban life is familiar to a lot of people, it attracts people who often read fiction. In fact, some urban fantasy stories may fool people into realizing it is a magical story. This is seen in most comic book stories, which are labelled superhero stories. As if that is any different from fantasy.

    Urban fantasy is a mid point for these two groups of people.

    The urban part often attracts the adult readers (20-36 years old), and those interested in immersion of psychological exploration. Meanwhile, the fantasy attracts younger readers (13-19 years old) who want more realism to be able to immerse their reading experience.

    How To Write Urban Fantasy

    Central Conflict

    The first thing to work on when writing urban fantasy is to write a central conflict that asks a question about the city itself.

    Most people believing plotting is the first part of writing a story, but what is far better is deciding on the core conflict.

    The core conflict – the central question – is going to dictate for you how you write your main character, and villain. Also, it will dictate how to write the setting. Finally, it will dictate how the stories climax will go, giving you a pretty good idea of how the plot of the story goes.

    An example of this is Captain America Civil War.

    At the heart of the story, it is a question of government regulation vs liberty. What is the best way of being a help to the world, or country? We then see this in how Captain America has a character story arc that revolves around liberty. Meanwhile, Iron Man’s character arc revolves around regulation. He fails when he gives in to his rage at the end.

    So start asking yourself questions.

    What is it that you think should be the best way to live in a city? Or to protect a city? Better yet, look at the snippets of the scenes you have in hen ask yourself what the characters are doing. You may find that they are protecting something.


    The second thing you want to do to write urban fantasy is to create a setting from the core question that you have made.

    The urban fantasy location/ setting should perfectly show the conflict, the fighting ability and the solution to the conflict.

    tHE FIRST THING THAT YOU WANT TO LOOK FOR IS THE CONFLICT THAT DERIVES FROM THE SETTING. The first thing you want to look for is the conflict that derives from the setting. There are a number of ways to create a conflict from a setting. You could have wage disparity, or an outside force coming in to destroy the people. You could have people wanting to do the right thing, but choosing to take different ways. Whatever it may be, it will eb easy to find if you have already created that core conflict question. Just write the characters who embody the different sides of that question. Those who aagree, and those who disahree.

    Build your city in a way that shows the core conflict.


    The next thing that you need to do to write urban fantasy is to create characters that are developed within the setting, so that they will ahave a character progression stemmng from the setting.

    Character development is more akin to character design.

    The character development is going to be things like the character’s bibliography (name, surname, nickname, epithets), physical appearance, personality type, abilities of personali, and their backstory. You need to make sure that you character’s development is tied to the city. Show this in as many places as you can.


    The urban setting should create the plot.

    The next thing that you will need to do is make sure that in your story, the plot revolves around the setting.

    In Batman stories, he is often trying to save Gotham. This is the simplest example of a plot that revolves around the setting. A more detailed version takes into consideration the character progression.

    Urban Story Character Progression

    A character progression is the change that a character goes through to overcome their flaw. The first thing you need to do is give you character a flaw that is tied to the city (it is often described in one word such as cowardliness, recklessness, or selfishness- so they are cowardly, thus not protecting their city, or reckless thus destroying their city, or selfish thus stealing from the city). This flaw leads them to have a false belief. Also, this flaw came to exist because of the character’s backstory. This false belief leads the character to behave in a way that causes them problems. Eventually, they see a solution (the main goal of the plot), which they believe will fix their problem.

    So the story begins.

    However, they come into contact with someone else chasing their goal. This person shares the character’s flaw, but their false belief is harsher than the character. This allows this opponent (villain) to defeat the hero over and over again, because they understand how the hero thinks, and they use that to their advantage. Eventually, our hero suffers a defeat so great, they are forced to reassess their flaw. With the help of the city, the hero realizes their mistake, and sees the truth. They go to face the villain for the final time. The villain tries to use the heroes flaw, but the hero now understands the villains flaw, and outwits the villain.

    This ends with our hero’s victory.

    Following their victory, the hero then receives what their set out for, which in urban fantasy is something like the safety of the city. Also, the climax needs to happen through the urban setting. Maybe they use the city to outwit the villain somehow.

    Point Of View.

    The final thing to consider when writing an urban fantasy is the setting. The story needs to be 3rd person limited, or 1st person.

    3rd person limited will give you the room to explore the city you create. Also limiting you so that it is intimate enough in the story.

    The 3rd person part of this point of view style means that you can look around the world, and describe things in better detail. You can use this to show the world, and why it is special whether it is inanimate objects or people. Additionally, it makes the tone setting to be far easier.

    The limited part allows you to show the experience of your main character more intimately.

    One thing that allows readers to experience your world more intimately, is by experiencing it through a person. So by making your view limited, you get to explain what the main character feels; the temperature, the smells, the taste, the weather, and even clothes. This second part allows you to make your world feel more vibrant, and lived in.