Superhero fiction: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

7 years ago | ubersoft (Member)

This occurred to me a few days ago so I thought I'd post the topic in a few places and see what people thought. And since there are experts here, it seems like a great candidate.

Would you consider superhero fiction a sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy? Or does it straddle both?

I can see arguments for all three. Superhero stories are usually rooted in science -- I mean, it's very loosely rooted, and the soil is crappy, and the superhero story tree is liable to blow down in a stiff wind, but it's still largely "radioactive spider" or "gamma radiation" or "powered armor suit" or "genetic mutation." But magic does show up--Doctor Strange, Doctor Fate, John Constantine, etc. and it all sort of mooshes together.

So how would you rate it?

Curveball (Updating)
A Rake by Starlight (Updating)

Read responses...


  1. Shutsumon (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    As I said on Twitter it's primarily a form of Science Fantasy, isn't it? You do get pure fantasy superheroics where the powers are explicitly magical and some is soft Science Fiction where the powers have an at least vaguely plausible techno-explanation, but mostly the explanation is a technobabble handwave to allow the character to have powers and that's Science Fantasy - the mushy area between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

  2. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I think it primarily depends on the story in question.

    I'd say Worm is almost definitely science fiction, if you had to pick one of the two, because magic doesn't really factor in (beyond a few heroes/villians that allegedly use magic, but it could be explained away as sufficiently advanced science/powers). Honestly though, I'd just stick it on the 'Fiction' shelf and call it a day.

  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Whereas it would appear that Legion of Nothing has more overtly magical elements in it--like the vigilante dude who travels around with zombies. But because it's told from the perspective of the Rocket (well, mostly) it still carries a stronger science fiction vibe, yet... yeah. Science Fantasy still fits best but it does seem to lean in one direction or the other from story to story.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  4. Tim Sevenhuysen (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    In Special People I have so far avoided any attempt at explaining the characters' abilities, and I plan to continue to do so. I don't want my stories to be "superhero" stories; I want them to be action, adventure, drama, mystery, etc., with strange/unique special abilities thrown in for flavour.

    Genres are always a blurry phenomenon, but I think most "superhero" fiction deserves to be in a genre of its own. It isn't really a "subgenre", IMO.

    Special People: superhero fiction with a fistful of twists.
  5. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    My current policy is to list superhero stuff under its own genre, or under that and fantasy (depending on the content). I think I've had that policy since we started, but I don't remember. If the super powers are technological, I would consider listing it under science fiction, but it would have to be pretty clear cut.


  6. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Makes sense, Chris, but traditional bookstores (or even Amazon? Not sure) don't tend to be so broad in terms of what they list stuff as.

    Go into a Chapters, Barnes & Noble, whatever, and you'll see that fiction is mainly divided into 'fiction', 'science fiction', 'fantasy', 'mystery' and maybe a small side section for 'horror' or 'suspense'.

    There's no good place for superhero fiction to go.

  7. Chris Poirier (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Oh, I'm not claiming WFG has any real world significance. It doesn't. I'm just stating our policies for the sake of this discussion. ;-)

  8. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    As Ubersoft mentioned, Legion of Nothing is mixed while still having more of a science fiction flavor than anything else. The main character is something of an inventor. The major characters' powers come mostly from genetic engineering. Aliens appear...

    My goal was to have that weird mixed feel of the major superhero universes (DC and Marvel). Thus, I mixed magic and science fiction more or less from the beginning.

    In bookstores, when I've seen superhero fiction at all, it's been in the "science fiction" section. I put science fiction in quotes because the same section usually contains the fantasy too (and sometimes role-playing games and comics).

    One gets the feeling it's really the "I don't understand this stuff, but the same people like all of it, so let's put it all together," section.

    For what it's worth though, I've had to list The Legion of Nothing on websites that don't have superhero fiction as an option. In those cases, I've generally listed it as science fiction and as fantasy (since I've generally bean allowed two categories).

  9. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I would say that "Superhero" has certainly become it's own genre classification, the same way "Horror" might have fantasy elements but be solidly identified as its own thing. Its a blend of different genres into its own gestalt.

    And that makes sense because of the history of comics. There were horror comics (Tales from the Crypt) and adventure comics (Doc Savage) and mysteries, science fiction, war comics... DC had superheroes emerge out of those ancestors. Superman was an alien, so that's sci-fi, while Batman showed up in Detective Comics, which would have had mysteries. Captain America was in war comics that had sci-fi overtones.

    Doctor Strange and Thor seem like magic, but they really deal with alternate dimensions and planets, so they're "really" sci fi.

    That's happening more and more culturally -- the "fantasy" creatures in "horror" like vampires and werewolves have their abilities from viruses and genes in Twilight and Underworld, when they used to be curses.

  10. A. M. Harte (Moderator)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I actually struggled over this as I tried to categorize The Legion of Nothing for its imminent ebook/print release... and I settled on science fantasy. :-)

    Qazyfiction: fantasy fiction with a sinister edge.


You must log in to post.