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Planetary Romance

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Welcome to Barsoom. Better known as Mars.

"I wanted to write about imaginary worlds. Now that our whole planet has been explored other planets are the only place you can put them."
C. S. Lewis, A Reply to Professor Haldane.

Stories, nominally Science Fiction, set on an alien world described in lush detail. The world can be Earth in the far distant future, or an alien planet, but it is reached by science-fictional means, not magic.

However, the science is largely handwaving. Visitors may arrive on the world by spaceship, and there might be items of Lost Technology present, but overall the world will feel like Low Fantasy — a feudal society with small-scale magic but no Big Bad — and it will share most of the same tropes. Sometimes the genre is even called "Sword and Planet", in reference to Sword and Sorcery, although other authors have this as a different if often overlapping genre. Because the "romance" in the title stems from Chivalric Romance, a Love Interest is not in fact required.

May involve Weird Science. Schizo Tech may occur. Even if the planet has futuristic transportation, expect, however irrationally, large parts of it to be unexplored, and it to be easy to be out of contact with one's home, allies, and government. Prone to use Medieval European Fantasy tropes, or feature a Feudal Future. Overlaps heavily with the Dying Earth subgenre pioneered by Jack Vance's eponymous novel. Examples set in our solar system tend to involve now-discarded hypotheses about the environments and histories of other planets, such as Venus Is Wet and Once-Green Mars.

Space Opera is a closely related genre, but the action and adventure tend to take place more in space and on differing planets. Usually it is set within the context of a galaxy-spanning civilization and involves at least some travel between planets. One distinction is that Planetary Romances are essentially Jungle Operas in space whereas Space Operas are essentially High Fantasy in space.

Contrast with Single-Biome Planet. See also Pulp Magazine, Swashbuckler, Two-Fisted Tales. The natural environment for an Alien Princess.

Not to be confused with Mars Needs Women.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • ARIA: The series is set in the 24th century on a terraformed Mars, now named Aqua, and follows a young woman named Akari Mizunashi as she trains as an apprentice gondolier (known as Undines).
  • Last Exile is set on the fictional world of Prester, where its inhabitants use aerial vehicles known as vanships as a means of transportation. On this world which is divided in eternal conflict between the nations of Anatoray and Disith, sky couriers Claus Valca and Lavie Head must deliver a girl who holds the key to uniting the two factions.
  • Simoun takes place on the earth-like planet Daikūriku. The people of Daikūriku are all born female. The theocratic nation of Simulacrum has a monopoly on the helical motor technology and as a result grew to prosperity. The two nations Argentum and Plumbum wage war against it in an attempt to steal the technology.
  • Trigun: Set on a fictional planet known as No Man's Land, the plot follows Vash the Stampede, a famous gunman who is constantly fighting bounty hunters seeking to obtain the immense bounty on his head.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne: Though it initially appears to be fantasy, all examples of "magic" in the series turn out to be highly advanced (read: reality-altering) technology, and no wizards or sorcerers appear, only super-scientists.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City:
    • A major part of Starfighter's past adventures involve Illula, Seven-Fold Empress of Jarranatha.
    • Also a good part of the Astro-Naut's adventures, with Xalzana the space princess.
  • Den: A disenchanted office worker builds a machine that opens a portal to another world where a "deposed queen" beckons him to enter another world. Turning into a muscleman on the new world, he fights several monsters.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • The Planet Hulk storyline was essentially a planetary romance.
    • World War Hulk: After the Hulk returned to Earth, his son Skaar received his own title, also a planetary romance... at least until Galactus showed up to eat the planet.
    • This wasn't the first time the Hulk had got a planetary romance; there were also his adventures in the Microverse in the 70s. The Hulk's other son, Hiro-Kala, visits the Microverse in a 2010 miniseries.
  • The Magnificent Ms. Marvel: The first plot arc drops Kamala into a classic Flash Gordon-style planetary romance story, complete with a Raygun Gothic visual aesthetic, alien hunks with colorful skin and minimal clothing, and a whole load of Schizo Tech.
  • Starlight: Tantalus fits this trope in flashbacks but in modern day it's more like Earth. Most fantasy creatures were wiped out and the population have turned into Apathetic Citizens who sit in front of their TVs while a dictator rules them.
  • Superman:
    • In the Silver and Bronze ages, Superman, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes often travelled around the galaxy and visited and explored other planets, mingling with their inhabitants.
    • The Krypton Chronicles and the different World of Krypton series delved deeply into Krypton's history, culture and even language.
    • Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom: One of the two main subplots has Superman and Supergirl exploring a remote, strange and dangerous planet.
    • The Condemned Legionnaires: The Legion visit weird and uncanny worlds during their journey: a quarantine world where medical robots take care of people who suffer from rare diseases, a planet hidden inside a humongous cloud of dark matter inhabited by spherical, bouncy aliens, a faraway planet used as a playground by the children of a race of giants from another dimension...
    • Red Daughter of Krypton: Supergirl lives adventures across the galaxy wherein visits different planets and cultures as learning about herself.
  • The Warlord (DC): The Vietnam veteran and SR-71 pilot Travis Morgan passes through a hole in the Earth's crust while flying over the North Pole and lands in the underground world of Skartaris, a Lost World strongly reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar. There Travis, wielding his .44 AutoMag pistol and joined by scantily-dressed female barbarian Tara, becomes the Warlord and fights villains such as the Evil Sorcerer Deimos and various kings.
  • Warlord of Mars, the comic book adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars by Dynamite Entertainment. The books were also adapted by Marvel at some point.
  • A lot of the early, world-hopping stories in X-Men and Excalibur are like this, usually written by Chris Claremont and/or Alan Davis, and usually centering around Nightcrawler (and sometimes Shadowcat or Wolverine).

    Comic Strips 
  • Flash Gordon: The planet Mongo and its various moons are as much characters as the main cast.

    Film — Animated 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The movie begins as a Verne-like story of exploration, but its second half leaves the modern world behind focuses on the characters' stay in the isolated cavern-kingdom of Atlantis, among ancient, crumbling and overgrown ruins as they try to study its mysterious Magitek and the remnants of its society. By the end, most of the cast returns to the surface world, but the main protagonist stays behind as the spouse of Atlantis' new queen.

    Film — Live Action 

  • The Adventures of Tom Rynosseros, featuring a sandship captain in a far future Australia, now reclaimed by the Aboriginal nations.
  • Big Planet: The objective of the mission from Earth to Big Planet was to ensure that the whole world didn't fall under the domination of the tyrant Lysidder. But when the mission spacecraft crash-lands, the survivors are faced with a 40,000 mile trek across the vast and unknown surface of the planet.
  • The Book Of Ptath by A.E. van Vogt: The god Ptath is flung into the far future by a deadly rival and given the mind of a 20th century man. Stranded in this alien world, he must fight to regain his powers before the rival goddess sends the world spinning into chaos and darkness.
  • The Bunduki series by J.T. Edson. James Allenvale 'Bunduki' Gunn and his cousin Dawn Drummond-Clayton should have been killed when their Land Rover plunged into the Gambuti Gorge. Instead, Bunduki woke to find himself in a primeval jungle and armed with primitive weapons. Dawn came to her senses on a game-haunted plain. Guided by subconscious suggestion, they set out to find each other. To do so, they had to transverse terrain populated by many kinds of wild animals and savage people. Before they were reunited, both had to face danger and death many times.
  • Coyote by Allen Steele (though it's technically a moon, not a planet. Lunar romance?). Set several decades in the future, Coyote presents a United States that has become an oppressive, dystopian nation. Its leaders decide to send colonists to a potentially habitable moon orbiting 47 Ursae Majoris, 46 light-years away. But just before the launch of the ship, a group of dissidents steal the ship and replace its crew, bent on starting a new life far out in space.
  • The Darkangel Trilogy is set in the distant future, when the Moon has long since been terraformed into a lush paradise complete with its own animals, plants, and races.
  • The Diadem Saga by Jo Clayton. Aleytys adventures from planet to planet throughout a galaxy equally inhabited by elemental spirits, Insectoid Aliens, rogue psychics, hostile natives, corrupt megacorporations, and Transplanted Humans of every kind.
  • Darkover, by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Although nominally Science Fiction, any of the novels set before the rediscovery are indistinguishable from fantasy.
  • Dragonriders of Pern features dragons on an alien world. At the beginning of the series a prologue introduces the sci-fi aspects, but it is not until much later in the story that they become more apparent. Most novels remain firmly set in the medieval-level society that emerged after the original colony collapsed.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert. The book, while perfectly serviceable as a straight example, is actually a Deconstructor Fleet of the genre's conventions. David Lynch's Film of the Book plays the tropes much straighter.
  • The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance is set in the distant future, at a point when the sun is almost exhausted and magic has asserted itself as a dominant force and has, for the most part, displaced science.
  • Gor: Gor is a Counter-Earth linearly opposed to the sun (essentially hidden by the sun) even while sharing the same orbit as earth. The planet of Gor is populated with cultures not unlike those of the Roman, Viking Greek and even native American, this presence of Earth-like cultures explained by the occasional transplantation of entire population groups from Earth to Gor.
  • Helliconia is an epic chronicling the rise and fall of a civilisation over more than a thousand years as the planet progresses through its incredibly long seasons, which last for centuries.
  • That Irresistible Poison: Set on the planet Calluvia, where the inhabitants are telepaths. This is an LGBT-friendly society, where same-sex couples are common and accepted. We see many technologies on Calluvia, such as transporters, holograms, genetically modified babies, and artificial wombs for same-sex parents. Even their telepathic abilities have neurobiological explanations.
  • Planet of Adventure by Jack Vance, featuring the adventures of Adam Reith, a spacer from Earth, who crash-lands on the newly discovered planet Tschai. Tschai is inhabited by four alien species.
  • John Carter of Mars: One of the genre's definers. Mars is depicted as having loads and loads of alien races and strange life-forms (with a very cheerful disregard for any sort of biological plausibilityŚRed Martians are fully human-like in appearance, including having beautiful princesses, who lay eggs but are nonetheless fully capable of interbreeding with Earthmen) and swords co-exist with "radium pistols" and flying machines. The planet is divided into many independent kingdoms and city-states, along with mysterious enclaves of beings with ancient super-science. The entire setting serves as the arena for swashbuckling heroes to have exotic adventures (and woo the aforementioned beautiful egg-laying princesses).
  • Leigh Brackett's Mars, Venus, and Skaith series (often featuring the recurring character Eric John Stark), which are essentially Low Fantasy Darker and Edgier versions of Burrough's series.
  • The Novels of the Jaran start this way, but become more sci-fi as the series progresses.
  • Old Mars and Old Venus are two anthologies edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois homaging old planetary romance stories set on Mars and Venus.
  • Mary Gentle's Orthe series. Slightly different in that Orthe is an alien world, populated by a race who apparently destroyed the high-tech and highly advanced race who once ruled it, and deliberately regressed to a much less technologically advanced state.
  • In Mark Hodder's A Red Sun Also Rises, a doubting priest and his hunchbacked sexton are taken by a tribe of cannibals and transported to an alien world which starts their adventure.
  • Most of The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, including Out of the Silent Planet (set on Mars) and Perelandra (set on Venus) but not That Hideous Strength, which takes place on Earth.
  • Ray Cummings' Tama of the Light Country is a surprisingly feminist work for 1930. It also zilches the one-culture-per-planet rule. Earthman Guy Palisse lands on Mercury in an experimental rocket. His friend Tama is a very young woman who leads a revolt of "winged virgins" and male allies against a long-established law that women must have their wings amputated (sans anesthesia) upon marriage.
  • Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, is set in the far future on a planet hinted to be a terraformed Mars.
  • Terry Dowling's Wormwood, a compilation of short stories taking place on a future Earth, which explore the place of humans in a world long since conquered by — and modified to suit the needs (whims?) of — a technologically-superior alien race, as well as several client species.
  • Radiance is a combined homage to this subgenre and to the roughly-coincident Golden Age of Hollywood, set in a solar system in which all worlds are inherently hospitable to Earth-like life and colonised by humans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Some stories fit this genre, particularly in the early years when the show was more heavily influenced by Burroughs-like fiction:
    • "The Daleks": The crew land on the post-apocalyptic jungle planet Skaro, and go to explore the gleaming city in the distance to find a vital component for the TARDIS. They accidentally spark war between the Noble Savage Thal race, and the Little Green Man in a Can Dalek race, and lead the Thals into the Dalek city to attack them for good and get the TARDIS back.
    • "The Keys of Marinus", written by the same writer as "The Daleks": The crew land on the planet Marinus, with seas of acid and strange hostile aliens called the Voord. An old man blocks off the TARDIS and tasks them as heroes destined to return four Keys, which they have to explore four different areas of the world to retrieve. There's a Lotus-Eater Machine city, an ice city, a jungle, and a Kangaroo Court culture...
    • "The Web Planet": The TARDIS is ensnared in a web and when Ian and the Doctor leave to investigate, Barbara becomes possessed and the TARDIS console is stolen, seemingly by giant ant creatures the Zarbi under the instructions of their Queen. The Menoptera save Barbara and befriend the rest of the crew, and they set off on a journey exploring their planet, encountering various different kinds of insect people, and battling the Animus (a sinister Plant Alien that has taken control of the Zarbi). Has lots of very dreamlike imagery such as the Menoptera flying in space through an Alien Sky, the surreal sounds made by the Zarbi and their larva that they use as weapons.

  • The Artifexian Podcast features regular worldbuilding segments set in a solar system where the three inhabited planets are based on different worldbuilding paradigms, one of them being a planetary romance. It has .6 earth gravity, meaning that humans who grow up there are much taller, humans who reach there from other worlds are comparatively far stronger, and airship technology is much easier to develop with pre-industrial technology.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blue Planet from Fantasy Flight Games is set on the water world of Poseidon and exploring it and surviving its inherent dangers are major parts of most campaigns. As a twist to its obvious "new colony" setting it's actually inhabited by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • d20 Modern: "The Iron Lords of Jupiter" setting posits that, beneath Jupiter's cloud cover, the planet is solid just like Earth and home to hundreds of alien cultures with Iron Age-level technology, and the player characters are either natives or stranded humans. The reason for Jupiter having the same force of gravity as Earth is left as an exercise for the game-master.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Dark Sun setting has a fair bit of this flavour, with its Dying Earth Subgenre-inspired desert setting, emphasis on psionics over conventional magic, and preference for weird, alien-seeming monsters over the more iconic D&D creatures. This was also the setting most commonly associated with the mantis-like thri-keen race, whose four arms were a common feature of the John Carter of Mars series.
  • GURPS Settings: Planet Krishna adapts L. Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias series, and GURPS Planet of Adventure is based on Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure series.
  • Numenera: Many of the worlds presented in Into the Night are intended as inspirations for this sort of storytelling. Travel to these worlds is difficult, and can happen just as easily as a result of being flung halfway across the galaxy by ancient Precursor tech as by deliberate starship travel. As a result even simply returning to Earth can take most of a campaign and the story is assumed to focus on exploring a new and alien environment, with its own bizarre native dangers and societies. Notable examples include the dying world of Naharrai, once known as Mars, which was terraformed in the ancient past but now grows drier and colder every year; Urvanas, once called Venus, where a society of humans and aliens inhabits ancient, self-replicating floating cities whose origins none now recall; Perelande, where societies of aliens and machines descended from ancient castaways live on a calcareous crust that covers a global ocean; Xeobrencus, a sunless ocean world home to strange aquatic beings; the Swarmstar, where a human culture lives among the vine-like filaments hanging from creatures that swarm around an alien sun; and the Gloaming, an Alderson disk home to a scattered confederation of alien cultures amides worlds' worth of wilderness. In most of these cases, the societies of the alien worlds are similar to the Ninth World Earth's in being largely medieval, with only scattered access to ancient fragments of advanced technology.
  • Pathfinder:
    • The setting is set up to facilitate this. The elves are actually of alien descent, and their ancient portals to other planets still exist. Some creatures such as nightgaunts can fly through space. Spells which allow this kind of travel are listed. The Distant Worlds sourcebook exists to flesh out the rest of the solar system as well, which generally consists of a mix of earlier ideas of the solar system mixed with eldritch horror. Aballon (Mercury) is a sun-baked world inhabited by robots with scattered habitable ice caverns, Castrovel (Venus) is a jungle with dinosaur-riding amazons and is the homeworld of the elves, Akiton (Mars) is a dying world covered in ancient ruins and is home to expies of Green and Red Martians and a colony of Elder Things, and so on. The outer planets are even stranger, such as Tidally Locked Planet Verces, Triaxus and its generations-long seasons, and Nightmare Fuel incarnate Aucturn.
    • Starfinder promotes the setting to a full Space Opera, as it takes place centuries later and involves more advanced technology and frequent space travel.
  • Space 1889 is Victorian colonial adventures on carefully described planets with a heavy dose of Steampunk. Unlike most planetary romances, the science (particularly the one which is based on different natural laws and thus doesn't really work in our world) is carefully described.

  • BIONICLE is ambiguous at first when there is only a single island, then becomes a clear example as an underground alien civilization is uncovered (actually the body of a downed Humongous Mecha). A new planet that's later introduced is an archetypal example of this trope.
  • Masters of the Universe, mostly in the early minicomics where Eternia was an Scavenger World.

    Video Games 
  • Albion kicks off with the heroes crash landing on a planet. They first arrive in an alien world inhabited by cat people who use magic and Organic Technology, but later regions accessed in the game could easily look like medieval Europe, complete with Celts as inhabitants who worship ancient Veltic deities.
  • Dark Scavenger describes the species and cultures of the world in detail.
  • Final Fantasy: While the individual games are mostly just High Fantasy, the franchise as a whole indicates that it is this via its Canon Welding. It has been established that all of the worlds of Final Fantasy are part of a shared multiverse separated by a nothingness called the Void, something that occasionally spawns (or defeats) villains and can be crossed by characters with sufficient magical or technological means. Space travel between the worlds is theoretically possible and has happened once or twice, or has been part of villains' plots (e.g. Sephiroth's plan to use the Planet as a spaceship to find another planet in Advent Children). Final Fantasy V in particular involves travel between different planets via meteorites.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn is an example of this trope set on post-apocalyptic Earth, where a Feudal Future society of Nordic- and Celtic-inspired clans battle enormous robot dinosaurs and each other.
  • Oddworld is set on the titular planet of Oddworld. Oddworld is an exotic planet populated by many bizarre alien species, each with their own unique culture. It is a Dystopian story about the environmental destruction of the planet caused by industrialized species and the effects that out-of-control business excesses with no morals have on the more vulnerable races. There's plenty of Slave Races and Last of His Kind to go around with a heavy Green Aesop.
  • Star Fox Adventures, in contrast to the other games in the series, takes place on a singular planet inhabited by sentient dinosaurs, and relatively few straight sci-fi elements. It does have satellital areas (previously separated from the planet) that stand in for offworld destinations, however.

    Western Animation 
  • Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage), the bizarre, surreal French animated film.