"As far as I can make out "edgy" occurs when middlebrow, middle-aged profiteers are looking to suck the energy--not to mention the spending money--out of the "youth culture." So they come up with this fake concept of "seeming to be dangerous when every move they make is the result of market research and a corporate master plan"."
- – Daria, Episode [3.05] The Lost Girls.
Edginess refers to people trying too hard (and sometimes too aggressively) to make things more tragic, grimdark, controversial or cool. This often takes the form of senselessly driving a vague argument, a plotline or a scenario to its darkest possible outcome, all the while openly expressing their disdain at rationalizing villains or finding a middle ground in discourses. Like most internet terminology, it has been beaten to death, resurrected hastily, and then beaten some more. Has no relation to Hunter: The Reckoning.
Another far less negative use of the term is to describe something on the 'edge' of what's acceptable, pushing established boundaries of convention. For example, by this definition Batman: The Animated Series was edgy for making an animated series which defied expectations of how true to its base concept and generally well-written a show designed to sell toys could be. Some more examples of this would be Ren and Stimpy (which was crude and vulgar) or Invader Zim (which could get get dark in subject matter, and used a fair bit of black humor); in both cases, a decent bit of the comedy was of the "I can't believe that they'd did THAT on a kid's cartoon show!" variety. A milder version of this was Sonic the Hedgehog in contrast to Mario. In 1989 the Simpsons was the Edgy take on the classic family sitcom archetype and in 1999 Family Guy had slotted itself in as the Edgy version of The Simpsons. For the 1990s and early 2000s Edgy was a favored term of cynical marketing types which drew the attention of the world's sarcastic snarkers, many of which came to congregate on sites such as 4chan.
An "edgelord" is someone who essentially is guilty of serial attempts to be edgy, like that guy at your tabletop role playing group who always, without fail, makes brooding loners with a troubled past (shit, they might also wear sunglasses at night) without the nuance or the skill to pull it off, and thus just constantly makes themselves look silly. "Art" done by edgelords contain characters who are as dark, brooding and as painfully unhappy as possible, conflicts have zero compromise, and any conflict of interest will have the worst possible outcome. An edgelord in writing will go out of their way to make the story extra depressing, and subject multiple aspects of it to an increased shock factor when it's clearly illogical to do so. Needless to say, it can drive a perfect idea to make an entertaining story into the shitter, grating the nerves of even the most jaded audience. When commenting, the "edgelord" will simply push any predicament in the artwork to the darkest, deepest, worst outcome, while describing his fantasies. For example: In an adult and/or bondage predicament picture, edgelords can be found describing a paragraph of horrible fate the captive would suffer, *should* suffer because slaves are shit, and *deserve* abuse, even when the picture was a...predicament with nothing in context. Or he will simply fill the comment of a NSFW picture completely out of the blue, sick fantasies adding "women DESERVE it".
This is not to say that said dark elements like murder, slavery, rape and bodily harm are bad for literature, but rather that their sloppy execution with no regard to their depth is. As shown above, even the most "edgelord" of concepts can be salvaged and even made bearable with proper handling, especially going by the latter definition - but if you do it enough, the boundaries shift and what was edgy becomes the new norm, and there is always the risk of falling over the edge. This is why the old definition has fallen increasingly out of favor as time has gone on - people began seeing the dross sold under the title of "edgy", and the idea of what it meant thus moved away from the positive coronations marketing execs desired to the qualities described above. Plus, this is the internet, and people would rather a word just be an insult or a compliment to reduce confusion.
The Anatomy of Edginess
Edginess is in some ways like a cargo cult. During WWII in the Pacific, the US military set up bases on remote, but inhabited islands, bringing with them a lot of stuff like planes and cars and so forth that was quite amazing to the stone age natives, to whom the world had been a few dozen square kilometers of land surrounded by ocean, with hazy stories of other such islands. When the military left, some of the natives took to making coconut and wooden radios and flight towers based of some hazy recollection of the military variants, unaware that making the shape does not get you the actual thing.
In that vein, most of what comes to mind when people envision "edgy" artworks tends to be the result of people who wanted to make morally grey characters and subject matter, but lack the maturity/experience/focus combo necessary to NOT end up with anything other than a multiple-personality-disordered ruin. Someone of (at best) mediocre creative abilities sees some fiction that makes good use of melodrama, gritty settings, dark humor and such, made by people who know what the hell they're doing and figures "I can do that!", leading to said person haphazardly applying those elements incorrectly. The results of such efforts are either tiresome, unintentionally funny or just painful. The stereotypical teenager, especially one of a Gothic/emo persuasion, tends to embody this - all too eager for "adult" things (eg: violence, sex and so forth) in their limited perception of such, often born of denial. Individuals who pander to said demographic (or are otherwise just downright hacks) will favor this approach over any sense of complexity, subtlety, nuance and some actual understanding of the human condition.
While edginess is frequently associated with invoking grimdark for the sake of it and nothing else, it's important to remember that this alone does not edgy make. As an example, WH40K's Imperium of Man has reasons to be fair and kind when capable: though it has plenty of genocide, xenocide (completely annihilating species even when they are gentle and kind) torture, forced labor (though outright commercialized slavery does not exist), witch hunts and militarism that would give Hitler a chubby beyond the grave, said horrors have reasonable justifications. Aliens were buying and selling humans like pets and culling them by the billion, operating slaver outposts even in our solar system before the Emperor came into leading the humanity into a roaring rampage of revenge. And regarding souls and the universe after the Heresy, any deviation from faith in the Emperor will literally send a human to hell upon death, with their soul becoming daemon food (and/or sex toys).
Any mistreated machinery will attract foul entities and corruption that will fuck you up seven ways till Monday and chew you out; any ill-coaxed Machine Spirit will jam and blow up in your face; and any laxity will make Chaos cults pop up by the billion in a week. Then there's the genocidal robots from another age, space elves that would murder a planet on the off chance that their Farseer would break a nail otherwise, the ambulatory (AND belligerent) fungi that plague the entire galaxy in a series of wars, and extragalactic horrors that intend to eat everyone's face. TL;DR The Imperium acts like an asshole Hitler/Hirohito bastard child because the alternative is much, MUCH worse.
Now if you want a senselessly edgy story in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, an example would be the now non-canon Khornate Knights.
There are many paths to success for a storyteller, some of which include going over dark territory in various ways or by innovating and pushing boundaries. However, all of them require care and attention to detail to pull off well. Being dark is not a magic bullet for achieving profoundness without trying.
- Elric of Melnibone, arguably the first one.
- Drizzt clones with extreme Alignment leanings, either towards good or evil.
- Poorly made World of Darkness characters, particularly Sabbat or Baali who don't follow Path of the Hive.
- Some Sonic canon characters, particularly Shadow
- If you want the textbook definition of "pointless edge", go look up Shadow the Hedgehog for the PS2/XBox/Gamecube. For the unfamiliar: Edgy, rated for everyone 10 and up.
- DeviantArt OCs
- Many OCs, really
- The Night Lords Legion
- Rogal Dorn
- A lot of Forsaken characters.
- Half of the Animu protagonists in existence. Bonus points if the genre is isekai, triple points if there's a harm involved.
- Goblin Slayer. Goblins' characterization is based solely on the fact that they rape, to the point where most drama from the already bare-boned story comes from "x character was traumatized by goblin rape" in some way or another. The protag is obsessed with killing Goblin so much that it's all he could think of.
- Reaper from Overwatch
- Every heretic, traitor marine and traitor Primarch in Warhammer 40k. The fact that Chaos Gods are entities made from emotions of living beings should've gave you a clue.
- Specifically Konrad Curze gets a second mention. The edge is strong with him.
- Every Dark Elf and Dark Eldar from their respective Warhammer franchise. It's a miracle their society didn't crumble with their average elves being a bunch of brooding torture addicts with a habit of backstabbing each other. Bonus points for their love for spiky armor, spiky weapon and dark color like dark purple.
- Folks who unironically, and vociferously defend that Caesar's Legion must conquer the world in Fallout: New Vegas when even Caesar himself thinks it's kind of shit and he hopes that if they conquer a less shit society, they'll change into something less aggressively terrible. Of course he is a cuntwaffle himself, though its creator insists he is "morally neutral" while an aggressive female general of NCR is "evil" because she is hands-on. Make of that what you will.
- Valnir the Reaper. Seriously, this guy is like so fucking sad that he has no enjoyment and passion to anything he did that he sworn to make everyone as sad as he is.
- Kylo Ren AKA Krylo Ben AKA Ben Swolo. While "Kylo" may be the worst Skywalker ever, there is no denying that the edge is strong in his family. His mom's side are a bunch of crybaby desert backworlders with an incestuous sex drive and his dad was a scruffy, nerf herding spice smuggler - and all were war criminals, some with body counts in the hundred thousands and some with children's blood on their hands... He probably fits the mold better than we'd like to admit.