"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.
"My name is Not Important; what is important is what I'm going to do. I just fucking hate this world, and the human worms feasting on its carcass. My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred, and I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance, and no life is worth saving, and I will put in the grave as many as I can. It's time for me to kill and it's time for me to die; my genocide crusade begins... here!"
- – The Crusader, aka Not Important
- – Joss Whedon giving a nice example on how to avoid being edgy even while creating a dark world
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 for whoever "the establishment" is, 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 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 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 knack for violence who hate authority/"the establishment" (a sentiment common among real-life edgelords) and have a troubled past (shit, they might also wear sunglasses at night) but without the nuance or 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 of a predicament with nothing in context. Or he will simply fill the comment of any NSFW picture with his own sick fantasies, surely 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 connotations marketing execs desired and closer 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 off of some vague recollection of the military variants, unaware that making the shape alone does not get you the functional item.
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 necessary to NOT end up with anything other than a multiple-personality-disordered mess. Someone with (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 with gothic/emo tendencies, commonly embody this - all too eager for "adult" things (eg: violence, sex, etc.) 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 (they draw the line at commercialized chattel slavery, but un-unionized indentured servitude is fair game), 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 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 dæmon 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 (and they're still the nice space elves despite that, as their webway dwelling cousins are even worse - murdering entire planets just because they like the sound of millions of people screaming), 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.
At the level of narrative, the fact that things are very very bad is a core thematic element of this world. As pointed out there are reasons why things are so miserable in this world which flow logically and despite this there can be points of contrast. Imperials still have the same potential to love and be kind like modern real world humans do. The Tau are hopeful despite the evils of this world. Occasionally pragmatism can overcome the deep seeded prejudices to overcome greater evils, if only for a while. And even if it is preformed by Conscript Guardsmen, Commissars or Space Marines, each the product of horrendous military institutions, can fight to achieve acts of genuine (if still typically brutal) heroism.
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.
- The Punisher (pictured above), depending on the writer.
- The ultimate example of "pointless edge" with this character is writer Garth Ennis' (and Ennis himself is quite the edgelord) professionally published Hate Fic "Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe".
- The Joker, depending on the writer. In particular, look at Heath Ledger's and Joaquin Phoenix's takes on him.
- It should be added that both are also held to be examples of "Edge with a point"; both are explorations of human evils, if completely different ones (for Ledger's: Terrorism and the various morality problems in dealing with it, and for Pheonix's: The origins of Evil). That being said, there are plenty of examples of pointless edge associated with the Joker; Jared Leto's Joker is particularly notable for being almost textbook "Edgelord".
- Drizzt clones with extreme Alignment leanings, either towards good or evil.
- Some World of Darkness characters, particularly Sabbat or Baali.
- Various fan-made and canon Sonic 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: An edgy game about a cartoon hedgehog shooting enemies, yet ESRB rated for Everyone 10 and up.
- And in the game Sonic Forces, which actually lets you play as your OC through a custom avatar, the villain Infinite possibly is a parody of edgy villain sue characters.
- Several in World of Warcraft. Character-wise the worst offenders - in ascending order - are Illidan Stormrage (in "Burning Crusade" and the second half of "Legion"), Deathwing (in "Cataclysm") and Sylvanas Windrunner (the entirety of World of Warcraft). Others include several Death Knights and lots of the Demon Hunters and Forsaken (even their faction names are edgy).
- Several characters from A Song of Ice and Fire, depending on the books or the TV adaptation. Examples from both include Euron Greyjoy, Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton.
- Half of the Animu protagonists in existence. Bonus points if the genre is Isekai, triple points if there's a harem involved.
- Goblin Slayer. Goblins' characterization is based solely on the fact that they rape (in the sexual and the "defile the land" sense), 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 - the titular "Goblin Slayer" - is obsessed with killing Goblins so much that it's all he could think of because they destroyed his hometown and raped his sister to death in front of him when he was a kid.
- Reaper from Overwatch
- Warhammer 40k has so, so many there's entire edgelord factions, such as the traitor marines, the Black Templars and Dark Eldar (who get extra points for their love of selfishness, dark colors and torture). Character examples include Rogal Dorn, Konrad Cruze, Angron, Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra and Drazhar.
- Warhammer Fantasy, similar to above but to a lesser degree. Notable examples here include Valnir the Reaper, Nagash and most Dark Elves.
- Malal. As if the Chaos gods' emotional tantrums are not enough, there exists this guy who out-hates everyone, including himself, with servants who are tougher and stronger than theirs.
- Caesar's Legion and Caesar himself in Fallout: New Vegas (along with some of their fans and the writer who created them).
- Kylo Ren AKA Krylo Ben AKA Ben Swolo. The writers were doing it on purpose, to play up the First Order's dogmatic North Korea in space schtick, and to that end made Kylo an incredibly unsubtle Darth Vader pastiche. 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. Also his edge is undermined by fact that he never won a fight against Mar-Rey Sue Palpatine which doesn’t help things either.
- Lord Edgelord, later Lord Edgegod from Slackwyrm Keep. He's aware, and
he's loving it***CLANG!*** There's no love in edge, only chaos!
- Not Important aka The Antagonist aka The Crusader from Hatred. Imagine every trope related to edgy nihilistic spree shooters, push them to their uncomfortable extremes and then plop the result in a monochromatic mess of a game. What you get is the story about a very unlikable man with dialogue written by less likeable people (including an edgy as fuck death metal band) going around and killing everyone because...fuck you, it's edgy.
- The whole "*teleports behind you* Nothing personal kid. *stabs you*" meme originated as a parody of edgelord characters.