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Your Guide to the Horror Sub-Genres

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Rabeea Saleem

Staff Writer

Rabeea is a Karachi-based writer. Her two vices are cricket and literature. Book critic for various international publications including Chicago Review of Books, Irish Times and The National. She can be reached at

In fiction, horror is considered a significant genre which is characterized by any story that elicits an emotional response comprised of dread, repulsion or terror. It is one of the oldest genres in literature, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. The oldest horror stories relied on stories of demons, witchcraft, evil spirits, and Satanic presence. Literary experts and writers have categorized horror fiction in a number of tentative horror sub-genres as well. Mind you, this is by no means a comprehensive list. As a genre, horror could do with more diversity since barring the Japanese’s indelible contribution to graphic and surreal horror fiction, there are not many well known works by writers of color. Without further ado, let’s explore these horror sub-genres.

Gothic Horror

We can’t begin without starting out with this cornerstone of horror fiction. The 18th century saw the rise of romanticism and with it emerged the gothic horror genre. This genre evolved into what modern literature now recognizes as horror fiction in the 19th century.

Gothic horror usually combines fiction, horror, death and at times, romance. Edgar Allen Poe is credited as producing some of the most seminal works of gothic horror. He also pioneered combining romanticism with the dark and macabre in his chilling tales. Some notable works of gothic horror are:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Changeling book coverParanormal Horror

This sub-genre includes supernatural stories, dark fantasy and ghost stories. The defining feature is that elements that do not exist within scientific realm drive the plot forward.

These stories usually comprise of ghosts, apparitions, monsters, aliens, zombies etc. Common themes include a haunting, possession, invasion or curse. Examples include:

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

It and Duma Key by Stephen King (or most books by him, for that matter!)

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Non-Supernatural Horror

In these novels, there are no supernatural forces at work. The element of horror comes from “dreading the unknown” and our day to day fears. These stories are scary because they reveal how plausibly the fictional events can occur in our daily lives. Examples include:

Misery by Stephen King

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Horror is a constantly evolving genre and there are many horror sub-genres that I haven’t mentioned, like science fiction horror and survival horror, because their themes overlap with the categories mentioned above.

There are several horror crossover genres that are used to tag commercial horror books. I have highlighted three popular ones.

Uzumaki volume 1 cover - Junji ItoBody Horror

This crossover genre illustrates in vivid details graphic violations or mutations of the human body. This genre usually overlaps with zombie fiction, monster or slasher horror. Frankenstein could be categorized under this category. Other examples include:

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Bunny by Mona Awad

In The Miso Soup CoverSplatterpunk

This genre is categorized by gory, disturbing depiction of violence, which stands in sharp contrast to “the meekly suggestive horror story”. An American writer, David J. Schow, is credited for coining the term “splatterpunk”. Schow’s credits include movies such as The Crow and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which come under the cinematic category of torture porn. Examples of other books in this genre include:

Seeing Red by David J. Schow

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

Erotic Horror

This sub-genre bridges the gap between horror and romance. Vampire fantasy novels usually come under this category, which is also sometimes called dark erotica. These stories usually take inspiration from Gothic horror with elements of stories designed to titillate and reveal the darker side of desire. Examples include:

Cthulhurotica by Carrie Cuinn

NightWhere by John Everson

Desecrating Solomon by Lucian Bane