First let me do some quick definitions.
According to Wikipedia: Paranormal romance is a subgenre of both romantic fiction and speculative fiction. Paranormal romance focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the speculative fiction genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.
Comparatively Wikipedia says this about urban fantasy: Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Urban fantasy exists on one side of a spectrum, opposite high fantasy, which is set in an entirely fictitious world. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.
Even with those explanations, it is super hard to separate the two since a lot of sites or bookstores put the two together. I’m in a group on Goodreads that meshes them both. I’m constantly getting recommendations from one subgenre when I want another. I get it. They do sound like they should be interchangeable. They really aren’t.
Let me start with saying I have nothing against paranormal romance. PNR is where I started! With Maggie Shayne and her Wings of the Night series which to some is the original Twilight series because most of the books had “twilight” in the title (with way less sparkles). They were romance novels with fangs. Each book is about the heroine finding the love of her life (which from here on out is lohl). There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re fun romances with a shadowy side. Also the series usually run a bit differently. Generally, urban fantasy series follow one protagonist through their (sometimes mis) adventures until the over reaching arc is concluded whereas paranormal romances usually follow maybe the same group of people, but each book has a different couple to focus in on. It still might have one “Big Bad,” but each couple gets a shot at fighting/solving it.
Urban Fantasy tends to be a little grittier as well. More death and destruction. Also the supernatural element isn’t described as being something you want to meet up with in a dark alley. PNR tends to have a habit of portraying vampires for example as just “people with pointy teeth” whereas UF usually makes them scary and dangerous. Even if a couple hook up, the human is almost always aware of her/his lover’s “dark side” or “primal nature.” See Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series. She does this particularly well.
My first urban fantasy series I found out about was Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake. I offer this one up a bit tentatively. If you are familiar with LKH, you’ll know why. The Anita Blake books started out with a vampire hunter/animator (she raised corpses from the dead to sort out legal matters like a will being contested) who gets tangled up with voodoo queens, the fae, vampires, lycanthropes, and other things that go bump in the night. The first few in the series really had very little to do with romance at all. That’s changed. The books have more of an erotic flavor now. I’m not throwing shade on LKH at all, she’s actually a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The first book Anita didn’t even HAVE a love interest, unless you count the vampire she didn’t even like who was kind of stalking her. And then she’s had a few relationships since then. I’m not current on the series, but last time I checked in she was in a polyamorous relationship with a few fellas. It does have Anita managing her men and having romantic moments, but usually the main point is the individual book’s antagonist and the Big Bad that is going on to threaten the world that is the arc to the whole series. To be honest, the last one I read focused a lot more on the erotica than the action parts, but one or two books out of a series doth not a paranormal romance make.
Then there’s the Hollows series by Kim Harrison. The main character, Rachel ended up with someone she HATED by end of the series. She dated several guys through out the book and it never felt like we were just waiting for the lohl to show up because they weren’t really the point. They were just part of her life while she dodged hexes, battled demons, and avoided hits. Like the Anita Blake series did more strongly at first, the action took center stage.
All in all, I just have a problem with these being put together just because both might have non humans in them. They’re not the same. You can like both, no one is saying that. It just gets confusing when I say hey I really liked Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires what should I read next? Then someone recommends Christine Feehan’s Dark Saga which yes, has vampires, but is about different couples in each book and the end.
What other genres have this problem? Scifi and Fantasy is one that jumps to mind. Should they be always shelved together or apart? I know space in bookstores is a factor so let’s say in an ideal world.