All the Types of Book Genres to Know and Read – Best Book Genres – Cosmopolitan
When it comes to book genres, you probably already have an idea of what you like. Maybe you’re all about cute romance novels or maybe you’re trying to make sense of the last few years (lol, good luck) with lots of buzzy nonfiction reads. And readers of every age can get down with YA books—after all, you want to be ahead of the curve for when Netflix turns this year’s best YA books into a movie or limited series next year.
But even if you already know what type of books you like, it can be fun to expand your horizons and check out some new ones. If you mostly read mystery books, why not pick up a sci-fi book or a graphic novel to mix things up? Or get in touch with your witchy side by picking up a fun historical fiction read of the history of witchcraft in America. I basically always stick with contemporary fiction (what can I say, I love Sally Rooney), but lately, I’ve been reading nonfiction self-help books and memoirs that are *fascinating*.
But book genres can def be confusing. Like, what is the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? Are mystery books and thrillers the same thing? Luckily, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about different fiction and nonfiction book genres so you can start smashing that “add to cart” button. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or looking for the perfect gift, this info about book genres is sure to come in handy.
Fiction Genres, Explained
Action and Adventure
In action and adventure books, the main characters typically go on, well, an adventure of some kind (duh). They usually have a lofty purpose, like saving the world from evil and going through several heart-pounding situations to make it happen. The characters are almost always required to use their brains and think creatively to bail themselves out of a risky situation. If you’re looking for something you won’t be able to put down, even when you really should be in bed, action and adventure books might be your thing.
Okay, you probably had to read some of the classics in your high school English classes and found them super tedious, but hear me out—they’re read widely for a reason. Classics are novels that were culturally significant when they were published, often because they introduced a new genre or writing style to the public. Odds are, a classic laid the groundwork for whatever your favorite book or genre is. Plus, you might be surprised at how relevant the themes continue to be today.
While other genres like fantasy and sci-fi create imaginary settings and creatures, contemporary fiction occurs in the real world. These stories are fiction, but they are usually things that could happen to real people in real settings. They usually revolve around personal experiences and topics—think falling in love, struggling with illness, moving to a new place, raising a kid, arguing with family members, navigating friendships…you get the picture. Basically, if Reese Witherspoon is starring in the TV adaptation, it’s probably contemporary fiction.
A graphic novel is a book made up of illustrated content. Think like a comic book, kinda, except a lot longer, and it tells a whole story in one go (versus a comic book, which tells pieces of a story issue by issue). Anyway, a graphic novel can also include elements of other genres, like fantasy, action, and history.
If you’re obsessed with witchcraft (hello), or you stuck with Game of Thrones all the way until the bitter end, you probably enjoy fantasy books. Fantasy novels take place in magical or supernatural settings and contain totally unrealistic and fun things like characters with mystical powers and talking animals. TBH, we could all use an escape from the real world now and then.
In historical fiction, the setting is rooted in real-life history, BUT the plot or characters are often fiction, although real-life people or events might inspire them. Think, like, Bridgerton. London’s Regency era did occur, but everything else in that show and the book series was pretty much made up (sorry).
Spooky szn is the perfect time to read a horror novel, but they can, of course, be enjoyed year-round. Like with a horror movie, the whole point of a horror novel is to scare and shock the audience. They often draw inspiration from folklore and tend to incorporate common fears like demons, death, and the supernatural.
Literary fiction refers more to a writing style than anything else. While many other genres are very plot-driven, literary fiction is mainly about the characters. According to NY Book Editors, literary fiction “wants to make sense of the world around us by exploring the human condition.” That said, there are definitely books that incorporate elements of literary fiction and other genres.
Mystery books are super hard to put down once you’ve started reading them. They usually open with some kind of crime or crazy event, which the main character then has to solve by zipping around and asking LOTS of questions. Of course, there are always tons of twists as they uncover new evidence and get closer to solving the mystery. Basically, if you liked Only Murders in the Building or are obsessed with true crime TikToks, you’ll like mystery books.
Of course, we love romance novels—this is Cosmo, after all. In romance novels, the plot is all about the relationship between two people as they fall for each other. There may be some obstacles in the way, like a competing love interest or a major secret, but the nice thing about these books is that there’s almost always a happy ending—for the most part.
Science Fiction (also called Sci-Fi)
Like fantasy, science fiction takes place in an imaginary world. But what distinguishes sci-fi is that it’s usually futuristic and incorporates elements like space travel, time travel, and technological advances that maaaaybe go too far.
If you prefer bite-sized stories to lengthy novels, there are plenty of short story collections you can dig into. They span sooo many different genres, including many of the ones we mention here. Sometimes, they’ll revolve around a central theme or idea the author wants to explore.
Suspense and Thrillers
Suspense and thriller novels can be similar to mystery books. They’re usually plot-driven and kinda dark with plenty of twists and turns. Suspense and thriller novels aim to make readers feel nervous and uncertain about how things will progress and often jump between different points of view.
When people refer to YA or young adult books, they’re usually talking about books written for teenagers, where the protagonist is also usually a teenager. But honestly, plenty of grown-ups love YA books. They’re fun, engaging, and approachable. What’s not to like?
Nonfiction Genres, Explained
Biographies and Autobiographies
These books are usually marketed as the *official* true story of a person’s life. Biographies are stories of a person’s entire life written by someone else (often including interviews with that person’s family, friends, and collaborators) while autobiographies are written by the individual themselves.
Yes, cookbooks are mostly recipes, but they’re so much more than that, srsly. They often include stories about how the cook/writer learned or invented the recipe, what it means to them, and the cultural background of the dish. Everything tastes better when you have a cool story to go with your 5-star worthy dinner.
Essay collections often explore certain themes, combining the writer’s personal experiences with research and other writing around the topics. One of my favorites is Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, which explores topics like internet culture, feminism, and identity.
Historical nonfiction might bring to mind your dad’s collection of World War II books—but there are sooo many books that go beyond that topic. Whether you are fascinated by the roles women have played in major scientific events or want to dig deep into this country’s history of racism, historical nonfiction is the genre to go with.
Unlike an autobiography, which explores a person’s whole life, a memoir is a book that explores a specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. Memoirs can be about anything from addiction and recovery to adoption to family bonds, high-profile careers, romantic love, and anything in between. But that’s not to say they’re always super-serious—celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Issa Rae have written some truly lol-worthy memoirs.
This genre includes books about political systems and how they work, but it can also cover books about climate change, racism, gender, and how these topics play into the political landscape.
We all need help from time to time, and no one knows you like you, bb. Self-help books can help you identify patterns you’re bringing to your friendships, romantic relationships, career, finances, and even your relationship with yourself. Once you can understand your own patterns, you can start taking action. Think of these books as part of your self-care routine.
If you can’t go on a jaunt to an Italian villa or a beach in Bermuda, at least you can read about it. Travel books can include things like travel memoirs as well as guidebooks—so you can start planning for all the travel you’ll be doing in 2022.
If you got teary watching Amanda Gorman at the inauguration in January, first of all: same. And second of all, you should check out her book to get you started with reading more poetry. Poetry books can be considered either fiction or nonfiction but often tend to be about the writer’s personal experiences.
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