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Heroic Fantasy
aka: Swords And Sorcery

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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.

One of the three typical settings for fantasy literature. High Fantasy usually focuses on the epic struggle between absolute good and absolute evil, and the characters are thrust in the midst. Low Fantasy portrays the struggle of characters to achieve their own personal goals, ranging from questionable to decidedly unsavory.

Heroic Fantasy sits somewhere in between. It tends to be distinguishable from High Fantasy by its scale—the problems are generally those of the heroes, not the world. Kingdoms and societies are portrayed mainly to the extent the heroes have an impact on them. On the other hand, it's distinct from Low Fantasy as well in that the heroes are actually heroic and their goals are morally sound or, at the very least, not overtly objectionable. An Anti-Hero in this setting is more likely to be a Lovable Rogue than a Well-Intentioned Extremist.


The setting differs as well: it is neither fragile and in need of saving, nor a Crapsack World with wickedness Inherent in the System — rather, it's an ambiguous place, characterized more than anything by being an Adventure-Friendly World, with much untamed wilderness to travel through, quests to undertake and dungeons to delve. Therefore, the heroes are very likely to encounter magic and fantastic elements, assuming they aren't prevalent in the setting to begin with.

The first story of this type is often considered to be 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 be set in the more concrete history of our world, such as the "classical antiquity" period (ancient Greece, Rome, etc.) or even earlier (ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc.) as found in Xena: Warrior Princess which merrily mixes the settings up. Stories set in the ancient past are sometimes called "Sword & Sandal" and can overlap with Historical Fantasy. May involve Mythopoeia, the further in the past it goes.

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.

Often lumped together with Sword & Sorcery, a genre coined by Fritz Leiber. Unkind souls have described Heroic Fantasy as nothing but an upmarket term for Sword & Sorcery, though Leiber deliberately created it to set his stories and similar works by other writers apart from the general field of Heroic Fantasy.

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 & Sandal. 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 Demythification, which is Mythology reimagined as Historical Fiction.

Perhaps you would be interested in writing one yourself?


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • Black Clover. The setting we're introduced to is relatively peaceful, thanks to the Wizard King, and everyone in the series has a degree of magical abilities, and our hero's primary goal is to become the next Wizard King, so it qualifies as such.
  • Bikini Warriors: Which involves a group of heroines with typical fantasy roles, and go on an epic quest together, while clad in bikinis.
  • Crimson Spell combines Heroic Fantasy with the Yaoi Genre.
  • Delicious in Dungeon, which is the story of a group of heroes Dungeon Crawling to save the lead's lost little sister.
  • Dragon Ball early on in the series, before its Genre Shift to high-powered Space Opera.
  • Fairy Tail focuses on the eponymous guild of wizard adventurers and the various quests they undertake for fun and profit. As the stakes get higher, however, it graduates into High Fantasy around the point the long-thought-dead Black Wizard Zeref and the Black Dragon of the Apocalypse Acnologia start entering the plot.
  • Frieren: Beyond Journey's End plays in a time after the heroes defeated the Demon King. The world is largely at peace and the protagonist's journey is a journey to learn more about herself and rectify past regrets and mistakes.
  • 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.
  • Hunter × Hunter
  • Legend of Lemnear
  • One Piece
  • 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.
  • Rune Soldier Louie is a comedic Heroic Fantasy spin-off of the high fantasy Record of Lodoss War.
  • Senyuu.. A series with heroes, demons, swords and magic. Actually, more like a parody, but despite loads of gags and jokes remains heroic.
  • The Tower of Druaga, based off of the video game of the same name.

    Comic Books 

    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.



    Live-Action TV 




    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.
    • During 2nd Edition, the "heroic" aspect was an Enforced Trope: Due to concerns about the then-recent Satanic Panic, editorial policy was to ensure that all official modules were about heroes doing good in the world, and support for evil or anti-heroic PCs was dropped as much as possible (for example, the assassin class was taken out).
    • The Dark Sun setting specifically aims to emulate old pulp stories and is heavily influenced by John Carter of Mars, as well as Conan the Barbarian.
  • 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.
  • As does On Mighty Thews, which even comes with a list of substitutions to make things more pulpy.
  • Warhammer generally occupies this league of the fantasy landscape, though it is diverse enough to encompass both High Fantasy (the wars of Aenarion against the Daemons, the Great War Against Chaos) and Low Fantasy (the traditional WFRP millieu, involving cultists and ne'er-do-wells stabbing each other in the dark alleys of Altdorf) as well. Being a wargame, the "heroes" in Warhammer tend to be great military commanders and the conflicts wide-ranging wars, rather than bands of adventurers and their skirmishes, though there are plenty of the latter at work also (Gotrek and Felix, pretty much everyone from the Warhammer Quest spin-off).
  • HeroQuest is MB Games' adaptation of Warhammer in the style of an oldschool Dungeon Crawler.

    Video Games 
  • Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior.
  • 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).
  • The Dragon Quest series, taking inspiration from earlier CRPG titles like Wizardry and developed a distinctive Western Fantasy-inspired world through the lens of famed Japanese media creators.
  • The Elder Scrolls is one of the most prominent video game examples in modern media, at least from the perspective of each individual game. Taking a broader look at the series in its entirety (as well as digging deep into the rich backstory), and its High Fantasy elements come into greater focus.
  • The Fable series.
  • Fantasy Quest.
  • 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.
  • 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 it's 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.
  • Octopath Traveler initially seems a Low Fantasy tale, since while magic and monsters both exist in the game's world, they have little bearing on the story. Moreover, each character's specific quest tends to be very personal (e.g., revenge or solving the mystery behind a missing object) rather than epic in scale. At the end of the game, though, it takes a sharp turn towards Heroic Fantasy upon revealing that much of the game's events were masterminded in part by an evil cultist attempting to bring about the resurrection of the Dark God Galdera, and the final battle of the game takes place in a portal to the netherworld while the party do battle with the Dark God himself.
  • Prince of Persia.
  • The Reconstruction (Deconstruction, ironically).
  • 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.
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.
  • The Witcher: A lone monster hunter hunting a sorcerer who stole the alchemical secrets from the witchers.

    Web Animation 
  • Tales of Alethrion is set in a magical and weird world where people travel and discover for the sake of it, where strange monsters are fought by heroes for glory and where high-tech cities coincide with tribal hovels. Though later shorts expanded on the setting, it can't be said to have been made more solid for it - if anything, it's just been expanded with more characters and more places for them to travel to.
    • Only a single story has been about saving the world, and it that case, it was still more concerned with the relation between the evil creature and Alethrion himself who accidentally created it from his own rampant greed.


    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Medieval Fantasy, Swords And Sorcery


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