Good Words: Genre

Genre: The online Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines this as

a particular type or style of literature, art, film or music that you can recognize because of its special features

This is a pretty good definition. Check the linked word entry for its pronunciation, because this word is still pronounced in a somewhat French way.

The usefulness of this word in ordinary conversations is when you’re talking about your favorite kinds of books and movies. Different cultures have different genres, so it’s useful to know what the categories you like are called in English. In addition, it can be confusing if you don’t realize that what you think of as “romance” is not what someone else thinks of as “romance.”

My favorite fiction genres include science fiction and fantasy. Other common genres include romance, mystery, Western, horror, and historical fiction. My favorite movie genres include historical drama, comedy, and science fiction. Action, romance, horror, fantasy, and thriller are some other film genres. (I’ve linked each genre’s name to its Wikipedia page so that you can see several examples of each genre.)

There are also “sub-genres” (or “subgenres”), which are smaller categories. For example, my favorite sub-genres of fantasy are historical fantasy and contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy. For science fiction, my favorite sub-genre is cyberpunk.

I really don’t like the entire genre of horror books or movies, with a few exceptions. I also don’t like romance books or movies very much, but I have enjoyed a few romantic comedies (that’s another sub-genre). Even though I like some fantasy novels, I find that fantasy movies are often too silly to enjoy. Some exceptions include the film versions of Harry Potter (contemporary fantasy), The Lord of the Rings (high fantasy), and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (a mix of high and contemporary fantasy). I thought all of those were well done.

Genres are interesting because they are different in different countries. For example, Japan has both women’s romance and men’s romance genres within comic books, but the US doesn’t (because there are not enough romance comics in the US to even have such a category). The US has a genre of Western novels (set in the Old West, with cowboys), whereas China has wuxia novels (set in earlier China, with martial artists). When I was writing this post, I found out that in British bookstores, there is a “Crime Fiction” section, which would be called the “Mystery” or “Mystery/Suspense” section in the US.

People within one culture often argue about genres, too. For example, is Star Wars science fiction? Most people agree that science fiction should include speculation about the future, but Star Wars is set in the past and doesn’t really involve thinking about how our society could change. However, it does have high technology and space travel. Because of this, some people place it in the science fiction/fantasy sub-genre of space opera. Some fans will argue about this kind of thing for a long time. Because genres are not officially defined, it sometimes means that a book or movie is not in the section I expect to find it in at the store, and I have to ask.

Sometimes people use the phrase “genre fiction” to refer to books that are highly identified with their genre, such as science fiction and horror. This is to set apart those kinds of books from, mainstream or literary books. Mainstream and literary books are not thought of as being part of a special category. For example, at a Borders bookstore, you’ll find genre sections including Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery/Thriller. These are all genre fiction. The books found in the Borders Literature/Fiction sections are considered not to be genre fiction.

What about you? What are your favorite genres? What genres do you avoid? Are there any genres that you like but can’t find in English?

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