Why Guys Don’t Read Urban Fantasy

Conventional wisdom says men read sci-fi and high fantasy. Women read urban fantasy. And why is that? Has urban fantasy become chick-lit for escapists? Or, as a UC-Davis prof once said, is UF a “post-feminist way of taking on power”? (And what does that MEAN?)

I discovered urban fantasy first through Simon R. Green, by some fluke, then moved on to Jim Butcher. Only then did I discover male UF writers–and protagonists–were rarer than the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. And why is that?

Here are my theories:

1) Guys will pick a book written by a guy over one written by a woman.
That’ll probably get me some boos and hisses, but it’s true, right? Books by men are for everybody to read. Books by women are either “literature” or they’re marketed for women. I don’t know why this is true but I believe it. And there aren’t a whole lot of male UF writers, Butcher and Green notwithstanding. There’s Mark Henry and Mario Acevedo. Classically, Charles de Lint is technically UF, and Neil Gaiman is in a genre unto himself. Alex Bledsoe and Mike Shevdon are up-and-coming. And…running out of steam here. Exactly.

2) Video culture has linked urban fantasy with teenage girls.
Blame Buffy and Twilight. ‘Nuff said.

3. The tattoed chick phenomenon.
Look at most urban fantasy book covers. Chances are you’ll find a scantily clad, fierce chick–often with red or jet-black hair because you can’t be both kick-ass and blonde.  She’ll have tattoos, and often will be pictured from the back so you can see the nice ass and the tat just above the low-slung leather pants. Usually, there’s some smokin’-hot guy hanging around in the background, or else the implicit impression that she’s so tough she doesn’t need one. On first examination, one might think–hey! Guys should love reading a book with a kick-ass girl on the cover. No, they don’t. Because kick-ass girls are scary and, besides, there’s reason #4….

4. Urban fantasies often contain…gasp!….relationships.
And everybody knows only women want to read about stuff like sex and relationships and all that emo crap, even if it’s only a minor plot point. Right? Because even kick-ass heroines come home to whip their men into shape at the end of the day. And, to be fair, even our kick-ass heroines melt at the sight of their wounded alpha male whose life can be saved by their tender mercies. And, besides, as we’ve established on this blog before, the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is often very thin.

Okay, all this has been only partly tongue-in-cheek. Beneath the sarcasm are some dynamics that seem to be at play in urban fantasy gender biases. Do guys read urban fantasy? Maybe I’m wrong. Why don’t they?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

9 thoughts on “Why Guys Don’t Read Urban Fantasy

  1. I agree that a lot of urban fantasy is marketed toward women. My husband looks at those book covers and calls them “vampire sex books” no matter how many times I explain that many of them don’t have vampires OR sex.

  2. Hmm. I hadn’t really thought about this because I know quite a few guys who read and enjoy urban fantasy AND paranormal romance (shout out to Scifiguy! 😉 But your reasoning makes sense. Another thing might be that most urban fantasy is not only written by women but targeted at women and marketed to women AND features a female protagonist. I imagine guys want to experience the story through a male protag, as you find in most high fantasy and scifi. That and the less mushy relationship stuff. Great post, Suzanne! 😀

  3. Well, I’m happy to say that I got my husband to read the first Mercedes Thompson book and he was hooked. He reads pretty much anything I hand him now. Some of it he likes some of it he doesn’t. So far he’s read all the Mercy books and the Kate Daniels series as well as some stand alones I’ve thrown in there. He just started the Grave series by Frost and after that I’m giving him Cassie Palmer.

    The only problem now is that if he gets to the UPS guy before I do I have to wait to read my book till he’s done and he reads so much slower than me.

  4. Elizabeth–I’m all for more vampire sex books! That’s too funny, though.

    Kathy–good job! Since, as Gwen points out, the marketers are all directing UF to women, maybe we need to start a “get a guy to read an urban fantasy” program. The Mercy Thompson books are great ones because there’s romance in there but it’s low-key and not too mushy, plus Mercy is kind of commitment-phobic. Not that guys are, or anything 🙂

  5. I never thought about UF being mainly for women, but I agree. My husband would read more urban fantasy if there were a pair of boobs on each page.

  6. I think guys are more geared towards horror, and that UF today largely contains elements that would appeal more to women (strong heroines, alpha males, beta males, etc, sex, etc.). Not all, clearly, by the comments made, but I just think guys are going to be drawn a bit more to action and scary and killing than inner conflict and should the heroine choose the alpha or beta male 😉

  7. 1) I <3 your song list.

    2) I always thought of urban fantasy as a genre that grew out of women writers who wanted to see more female protagonists. I know I was pretty gleeful when I first stumbled across urban fantasy, and discovered a plethora of books featuring strong female protagonists. I love high fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc, too, but those genres do tend to feature a lot more male protagonists.

  8. A lot of the urban fantasy that I see on the market seem to be geared more towards females. There are exceptions but for the most part I think women make up the biggest percentage of urban fantasy readers.