Fantasy is easily one of the biggest and most popular genres of anime. Many, many anime every season fall into the blanket term of “fantasy.” But did you know that fantasy anime has a lot of sub-genres within it? Each of these sub-genres is still fantasy, but it has an even more specific label! Without these labels, it would be hard for anime fans to find the anime that is exactly right for them. After all, not all fantasy anime are the same; actually, they can be quite different from one another! So let’s explore fantasy anime together and learn a bit more about some of its biggest sub-genres.
For starters, let’s lay out some ground rules about what makes an anime a “fantasy” anime. Fantasy anime are usually, but not always, set in a fictional historical setting. Often-times this is medieval, both Western and Eastern. Fantasy anime typically feature magic, elves, gods, sword fights, monster hunting, nobility, and other similar themes. They’re more than just historic anime; something about them must be imaginary and beyond what could really happen to land them in the fantasy category. Today, we will be looking at some of the most famous and common sub-genres of fantasy anime - fantasy-action, fantasy-comedy, and magical girl anime.
Fantasy-action is one of the most common sub-genres of the fantasy anime category. After all, even in other forms of media from movies to games to live action tv shows, the action genre is one of the most popular kinds of fantasy stories to tell. And why not? Fantasy stories allow for plenty of sword fights, magic spells, dragons, horse chases, knights, pirates, and more! It’s the perfect recipe for crafting an exciting action story. From duels to full-scale wars, adventures on the high seas to exploring mined deep within the earth, fantasy-action can take the viewer all kinds of places and keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time.
It’s hard to pick just a few fantasy-action anime to try, but we will do our best. We will preface by saying that there are a lot of fantasy-action anime out there to pick from if you aren’t satisfied or just want to keep devouring more. In saying that, we recommend three of the most famous anime of all time as a great place to start exploring the sub-genre. First, there is Fairy Tale, a more light-hearted story about a boy who joins a guild of wizards on his epic quest to find a legendary dragon. Next, for something with a modern twist, we recommend Sword Art Online. It follows a group of people who get stuck inside a fantasy RPG virtual reality game and their real-life hinges on their survival in the game. Finally, for a turn-of-the-century, industrial revolution feeling fantasy-action, you can try Fullmetal Alchemist. It follows a young man who will do anything to try to restore what he has lost through using alchemy and finds himself in the middle of a world at war. Those are just jumping off points though; trust us that you won’t be running out of fantasy-action anime any time soon.
Another sub-genre of fantasy anime that is also popular in other forms of fantasy media is fantasy-romance. Between knights and nobles, peasants and royalty, elves and humans, servants and lords; there’s no shortage of ideas for a romance plot. Romance is a popular part of most genres of anime, and fantasy is no exception. And since fantasy is one of the most common genres of anime, that means fantasy-romance is also one of the most popular. Thus fantasy-anime are stories that are full of all the best parts of fantasy stories, like magic, sword fights, and monsters, with a love story to tell as well.
Our previous section on fantasy-action anime mentioned Sword Art Online; it also fits into the fantasy-romance category, too! In addition to its many cool fights, it has a love story to tell between the two main characters, too. Two more popular and well-known fantasy-romance anime are actually filmed by Studio Ghibli. Howl’s Moving Castle tells a Western-inspired story about a girl with a curse on her that makes her appear to be an old woman, and she has to save a handsome young wizard to lift her own spell. The second is Spirited Away, taking an Eastern approach to fantasy when a young girl finds herself trapped working at a Japanese bathhouse for spirits and yokai, and can only escape with help from her friends. They’re all great jumping off points for exploring the fantasy-romance sub-genre!
While fantasy-action and fantasy-romance are also popular categories of all fantasy media, our third subcategory is unique to anime. Of course, we are talking about magical girls! One of the most well-known sub-genres of anime, magical girls have been around for a long time and are going nowhere. They always retain their popularity. And a few magical girl anime are seemingly timeless, just as popular and beloved now and they were when they released in the 1990s. Magical girl anime came from fantasy anime because they have, well, magic! And sometimes, the girls are fighting mythical monsters or using fantasy-esque weapons.
We can’t talk about magical girls without recommending the most famous series of all time - Sailor Moon. Spanning many seasons and released across the globe, Sailor Moon followed a group of girls named after the planets in their fight to save Earth - and the rest of the universe - from evil. Another popular magical girl anime from around the same time is Cardcaptor Sakura, the story of a girl who accidentally releases a magical set of cards and must find them before the wrong people do. Catching up to more recent anime, you can’t watch magical girl anime without checking Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Much darker than our previous two recommendations, we will leave you with the simple description of it being about a group of girls that need to save the world from black magic. Its an anime better left to surprise you with the details. Whether set in historical or modern time, magical girl anime aren’t going anywhere; they’re likely here to stay as a popular part of fantasy anime for many years to come.
Of course, with just these three sub-genres, we have barely scratched the surface of the huge world of fantasy anime! There are so many more sub-genres out there that make this genre special and beloved by so many different people. But hopefully having a look at the action, romance, and magical girl anime to start has helped you explore the fantasy genre at least a little bit deeper. Use this as a jumping off point, and go on your own epic quest to keep exploring fantasy anime! You never know what kind of magic you might find.
What is your favourite fantasy anime sub-genre? Why do you like that sub-genre? What makes fantasy anime special to you? Is there another genre of anime you would like to see explored in a similar fashion? We would love to hear from you in the comments!