Urban fantasy is, at its root, a mishmash of a variety of genres. The typical urban fantasy author often combines one or more genres of fiction with fantasy in their story. The fun of urban fantasy stories often lies in the contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Wizards duke it out with magic and bullets, Police investigate supernatural crimes, and elves drink Miller Lite and watch Nascar. The possibilites are limitless, especially when the stories can be told in so many ways. Supernatural Romance, Paranormal Investigation, Zombie Apocalpyse, even Superpower Crime Noir novels are all under the broad catagory of Urban Fantasy. As a market, the genre has been extremely successful, from the Harry Potter series to Twilight, there has been far more mainstream appeal to Urban Fantasy than other aspects of Science Fiction or Fantasy.
Why is that? Well, there’s a number of reasons. Honestly, one of the big ones is that it’s easier for the average person to get into. They don’t have to try to memorize funny names for people or places, they don’t have to figure out some other world. The setting is someplace they’ve heard of, maybe even lived in. The events and history, while different in the particulars, are the same history that they learned in school. Sure, magic might be a smaller or greater effect in that history, but these little changes often are part of the charm. What if the Kaiser used necromancers in World War I to raise zombie hordes such as in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles? What if the Red Vampires secretly seduce and abduct thousands of people across the country as in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files? It doesn’t change how the main course of history went, and society, places, and events are still the same. This makes it easy for the average person to pick up a book for casual reading.
Another reason that Urban Fantasy novels tend to be so popular is that they’ve gotten their hooks into this generation. Many kids grew up with Harry Potter, and now that they’re adults, urban fantasy seems relatively mainstream. They read these types of books, they’ve seen the movies, they are ready to suspend their disbelief that magic exists in secret. The resurgence of general media such as Warehouse 13, Doctor Who, and others has also encouraged this. These are shows that amplify the paranormal, and put out logical reasons for the existance of the supernatural. These shows are also extremely popular because they encourage such imagination and questions of ‘what if.’
Another reason for the popularity, urban fantasy stories often provide characters that the readers can easily identify with. A soccer mom makes an easy person to relate to, she drives a minivan, picks her kids up from school, films her daughter’s softball game, and happens to channel the powers of light to slay demons such as in John Ringo’s Princess of Wands. It is an easy buy-in for a reader. A private investigator who helps out the police now and again could be the character in almost any standard fiction story. When that story’s character happens to be best friends with a twenty thousand year old vampire who is the lone survivor of Atlantis such as Ryk Spoor’s Digital Knight, the story becomes interesting to say the least. Yet everyone has the odd friend or two, so this isn’t something that would totally confuse a new reader.
Of interest to me, both as an author and a reader, urban fantasy often acts as a gateway genre to more traditional fantasy books. Readers sometimes really like the ideas and concepts and so they’ll dive a little deeper into the overall broader fantasy genre. Also, writers who have made their break in urban fantasy often branch out into other areas, such as Jim Butcher with his Codex Alera series. Sometimes it works the otherway, such as with John Ringo, who wrote Princess of Wands after he established an extensive science fiction bibliography.
Overall, there are a number of excellent books that I’d recommend. Urban Fantasy is an exciting and fun genre of books to read, and there are plenty of books to check out. Off hand, I recommend: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series, John Ringo’s Princess of Wands, and a few others in the Books I’d Recommend section.