Check out this great article by Kai Wai Cheah, readers!
A Pulp Perspective on Urban Fantasy
What is urban fantasy?
A fantasy story set in a city.
A simple definition. With that, you could have a story of jinni and magi in late 19th century Istanbul, an occult detective solving supernatural crimes in 1920s New York, a half-elf mercenary working a corporate contract against a clan of dragons in the Hong Kong of 2121, and they would all fall under the rubric of urban fantasy. What they all have in common is that the interpretation of fantasy through the eyes of a modern-day city-dweller. A fantasy in which an urban lifestyle plays a significant role. It is a modern genre, a modern fantasy.
And in many cases, too modern.
What does your typical urban fantasy look like today? A strong, sexy woman surrounded by stronger and sexier males of various non-human but not-too-non-human species. Elves and dwarves and goblins and other fantasy creatures living in human cities designed to the human scale carrying out human jobs and obeying human cultural norms. Humans pursuing their ambitions and vices and occasional virtues, but with loads of magic. Monsters and demons out of myth and legend skulking the mean streets, and humans destroying them with magic, superior firepower, or both.
Many stories like these suffer the curse of modernity. They are fantasies without fantasy, described in more detail here. Stories written with a modern mindset for modern tastes are grounded not in cultural canons and cachets, but in contemporary ideologies and fashions. They are disconnected from the very culture that gave rise to the creatures and magic they borrow liberally from. Without being anchored in the source tradition, these stories are fleeting and ephemeral, transient things to be consumed and quickly forgotten.