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Heroic Fantasy
aka: Medieval Fantasy

The exploits of mighty-thewed, sword-wielding heroes and their thiefly, wizardly and/or priestly companions, as they spend their days smiting evil, fighting monsters, recovering treasures and quaffing ale.

Tends to be distinguishable from High Fantasy by its scale — the problems are generally those of the hero, not the world — and moral standards — absolute evil and absolute good make fewer appearances. Also by its tendency to be an endless series of adventure, partly because the smaller scale makes it more plausible, and partly because the heroes are very prone to love being In Harm's Way. On the other hand, it's distinct from Low Fantasy in that explicit magic is much more prevalent (the "sorcery" in "Sword and Sorcery") and, again, it focuses on a hero or adventuring party rather than following kingdoms and societies (except as the hero has an impact on them).

The first story of this type is often considered to by Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" from 1908, but it is 1929's "The Shadow Kingdom" by Robert E. Howard that is responsible for kick-starting the genre proper. Howard himself would later go on to codify the genre with his Conan the Barbarian tales.

Heavily influenced by The Hero's Journey, the Arthurian cycle, the Conan the Barbarian stories and movies, the game Dungeons & Dragons, and classical myth.

Sometimes set in a world that looks an awful lot like medieval Europe, although it can range all the way back to a "forgotten prehistory" such as in Conan the Barbarian, or even the "classical" period (ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, etc.), as found in Xena: Warrior Princess (this variant is sometimes called "Sword And Sandal" and more burly versions are called "Thud and Blunder"). May involve Mythopoeia.

Sometimes it can be found in the future, often in After the End setting; sometimes it comes close to Planetary Romance. Also often features Medieval Stasis.

Also known as "Sword and sorcery", a term coined by Fritz Leiber, one of the genre’s Trope Codifiers, in reply to a letter by Michael Moorcock. There is much debate of the definition of these genres; unkind souls have even described Heroic Fantasy as nothing but an upmarket term for Sword and Sorcery.

Good live-action film and television heroic fantasies can be counted on the fingers of one hand (generally starting with the Conan the Barbarian movie). Dying is easy. Fantasy is hard! On the other hand, roughly half of all RPGs ever written fall under this genre, if not more.

See also Two-Fisted Tales, Pulp Magazine.

Heroic and epic Fantasy of Chinese cultural origin is known as Wuxia.

Contrast Sword And Sandals. See also Medieval European Fantasy.

Not to be confused with Low Fantasy, which is simply Fantasy in a down-to-earth setting.

Nor to be confused with Demythtification, which is Mythology reimagined as Historical Fiction.

Perhaps you would be interested in writing one yourself?

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Crimson Spell combines Heroic Fantasy with the Yaoi genre.
  • Arguably Berserk goes from Low Fantasy to a heroic but dark fantasy at the end of the Golden Age arc where all the demons start coming out and become the main source of conflict.
    • Or it was Heroic Fantasy all along without the characters noticing. After all Zodd the Immortal didn't exactly keep his existence a secret.
  • Rune Soldier is a comedic Heroic Fantasy spin-off of the high fantasy Record of Lodoss War.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist started as this, though it quickly veered into High Fantasy territory. The 2003 anime version, on the other hand, stuck with Heroic Fantasy.
  • Seirei no Moribito: While it later turns out that the fate of the kingdom is at stake, the story follows a lone mercenary on the run, who is trying to hide the prince from assassins send after him by his own father.
  • The Tower of Druaga
  • Queen's Blade. The heroines rarely have magic on their side while the villains do and often the only way to win a fight is through sword battles. While there is a grand plot involving the fate of the land, the heroines are largely unaware of it and just want to fulfill their personal desires.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis was an attempt to make the titular character's comic this genre.
  • Mouse Guard: Heroic fantasy with mice soldiers.
  • Red Sonja.

    Fan Works 
  • Quite averted in With Strings Attached, which is partially set on a continent that was once a place of Heroic Fantasy. However, by the time the four find themselves there, the skahs warriors have long since wiped out any threats, and are going crazy with boredom because they have nothing to do and refuse to become civilians. A major goal of some of the secondary characters is finding a way to restock the continent with monsters, since the gods refuse to do it.
    • Played much more straight on Jim Hunter's world, but that's because it was built by a gamer.

    Film 

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 

    Pinball 

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Though the game system is flexible enough that the enterprising DM can apply it to almost any fantasy subgenre, as printed it tends toward Heroic Fantasy.
  • Barbarians of Lemuria emulates the whole Sword & Sorcery genre.
  • As does On Mighty Thews, which even comes with a list of substitutions to make things more pulpy.
  • Exalted is what you get when you combine this with the tropes of wuxia, ancient myth, and a dash of shonen anime style to taste.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age. While the first game has a "unite the people to fight an army of evil" main plot, the side plots that make up the biggest chunk of the game follow the genre pretty straight. The second game focuses completely on a single protagonist rising in power within the hierarchy of one city, with the main factions being Templar (sword) and Mage (spell).
  • Demon's Souls
  • Sword And Sorcery EP
  • God of War plays it pretty straight, though starting with the second game the scope of the events becomes considerably bigger, as it grows into a full blown war among the gods.
  • Prince of Persia
  • The Reconstruction (Deconstruction, ironically)
  • Fantasy Quest
  • The Witcher: A lone monster hunter hunting a sorcerer who stole the alchemical secrets from the witchers.
  • Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior
  • Monster Hunter is mostly this as well. The levels of mysticism are very slight (down to the special mode of the Longsword in Tri and its derivatives), but everything else is totally straight: minimal overarching plot, for the most part its just a world where people make a living slaying or capturing giant monsters for the chance at building more weaponry with which to slay or capture tougher giant monsters.
  • Skies of Arcadia is a Reconstruction of this setting, with Schizo Tech and Ocean Punk thrown in for flavour. Much of the world is equivalent to the real world 15th/16th Century, but there's also fantastical creatures, adventurers and explorers, myths, and widespread use of magic and magical weaponry. Not to mention the Sky Pirates, of course.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 


Historical FantasyFictionHeroic Pet Story
Dark FantasyLiterature GenresHigh Fantasy
A Hallmark PresentationShow GenresHistorical Fantasy
Fantastic ComedySpeculative FictionHigh Fantasy
Here There Were DragonsDark Age EuropeHorny Vikings
Gotta Catch Them AllImageSource/OtherIdiosyncratic Combo Levels

alternative title(s): Sword And Sorcery; Medieval Fantasy; Swords And Sorcery
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