"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 pushing violent and controversial subject matter in their stories, especially when they're doing it to to try and be popular with tragic, violent or controversial stories. 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 a specific type of self insert or wish fulfillment character; brooding loners skilled at violence who hate anyone else having authority over them, are anti-conformist and have a troubled past - all without the nuance or skill to actually pull it off (with their opponents often being stand-ins for whoever the edgelord considers "The Man™" such as big business, law enforcement or organized religion). The end result is they 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, institutions are the villains unless the edgelord made them and any conflict of interest will have the worst possible outcome. In writing, edgelords 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.
- 1 The Anatomy of Edginess
- 2 How Can I Tell If My Character Is An Edgelord?
- 3 Notable Edgelords
- 4 Gallery
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 or a power fantasy wrapped in propaganda. 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.
Who's An Edgelord?
Who's a cute little Edgelord? Yes, you, you adorable little mass-murderer, you!
"Edgelord" gets applied to two groups: Authors fixated on making edgy material, and the Edgy characters they write. While most of this article assumes the latter definition (as we at least try to avoid authorial mind-reading), it's quite possible for an Edgelord author to create an edgy work without an Edgelord character, and a non-Edgelord author to create an Edgelord character (either unintentionally, satirically, or de-constructively).
There's an important argument to be made about villains and edginess. Frequently, it's necessary to engage in authorial behavior that would be considered edgy in order to properly develop a bad guy. There are a few important questions to ask in this case, the largest ones being "is this a Villain Sue situation?" and "is the author's sympathies clearly with the villain's agenda?"
A lot of edgy characters also qualify as Mary Sues. This is because many writers who aim for "edgy" in their works are terrible at writing, and writing a Mary Sue is a common result of terrible writing. Another reason is the "Power Fantasy" route, where the author uses their work and the character in question to attack something or someone from real-life that they oppose. There are a few important questions to ask in this case, the largest ones being "is this a Jerk Sue situation?", "do the villains represent a work the author hates?" and "do the villains represent a real-life person or group the author is against?"
Be on the look out for plot armor, protagonists who not only share their author's values, but are not challenged on these views in any way, and the other major Sue factors covered in our Mary Sue article.
In some Weeb circles, an "Edgelord" is called "Chuuni", short for "Chuunibyou". This delightful Japanese word combines the concepts of "Sophomoric" ("Chuunibyou" literally translated means "Middle [School] 2[nd Year] Syndrome") and "Edgelord", with an optional side note of "I have supernatural powers". Importantly, the "Stupid and Lame" part is baked right into the word, while "Edgelord" is usually only implies stupidity.
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, and using it as an outlet for personal grievances is the writing equivalent of walking through a minefield.
How Can I Tell If My Character Is An Edgelord?
Every edgelord has at least four qualities; skilled at violence, aggressive, has easy access to weapons and are some kind of non-conformist. These alone or even together do not make a character an edgelord. If the character has these four traits, each "Yes" answer from the list below gives your character a piece of edgelorddom;
- Are they a power fantasy against "The Man™"? Note, while it's possible to have an edgelord who's not targeting "The Man™" (since their targets can be enemies of what is usually called "The Man™", such as criminals, terrorists or foreign enemies), a "yes" answer here - with the one exception below - automatically grants the character edgelord status.
- Bonus points if the writer's idea of "The Man™" is big business, organized religion, education or the legal system. Double bonus points if it is a real-life group or industry, and triple bonus points if the real life group is already frequently targeted this way (like oil companies for industries or the Catholic Church for religious groups).
- The one exception are antagonistic characters who start out as merely mildly edgy, but can later graduate to full edgelord status if other writers are allowed access to them or the current writer gets carried away.
- Do they openly mock altruistic traits like hope and love, compromise or faith or the Powers-That-Be (the latter ranging from openly mocking religious characters to an outright war on the gods)? Bonus points if they do so without suffering negative consequences for it.
- Do they have a backstory full of suffering?
- Are forgiveness and redemption things the character disregards if not actively despises?
- Partial credit is granted if they themselves are seeking redemption... by using the exact same methods they used to use, just against a different set of targets.
- Do they not care if they live or die? Or do they want to die?
- Do they have problems with authority? As in a negative attitude towards anyone besides themselves having authority over them.
- Are they heavily scarred individuals? (physical, emotional, whatever...)
- Do they regularly quote-mine philosophers or works of fiction and spout these quotes to validate their worldview? Bonus points if they alter the original quote.
- Do they share any of the same beliefs as the work's creator and openly express them? (for example, the protagonists of stories by Ayn Rand or Jack Chick). Bonus points if they're a nihilist. 
- Are these views never challenged or refuted in the story? Or, for partial credit, are the challengers clearly strawmen?
- The Star Trek Captain Exception: If said belief is cleanly confined to one speech towards the end of the story/episode, and the author seems to be legitimately trying to just sum up and state the message of the story, it usually doesn't count. (Normally not an issue for edgelords, but it has happened occasionally.)
- Do they always wear sinister-looking attire?
- Do they wear a cloak, a coat or an overcoat that looks like a cloak.
- Does their attire have blades or spikes built in to it?
- Is it emblazoned with insults, profanities, curses or threats of violence?
- Does it come in dark colors?
- Do they wear warpaint?
- Do they have body modification, ranging from minor such as tattoos to extreme examples such as horns or wings? Bonus points if the modifications can be weaponized.
- Do they swear like a drunk pirate?
- Do they have a vice, such as smoking? Bonus points if they have an addiction (fantastical addictions count).
- Do they have plot armor? (such as the Punisher being able to go toe-to-toe against superpowered beings who’d mop the floor with him otherwise)
- Are they a protagonist or antagonist written by Gav Thorpe, Garth Ennis, George RR Martin, Pat Mills or Alan Moore? (Note, an edgelord can be written by someone who's none of these people. And Moore and Martin, at least, are quite capable of writing protagonists and antagonists who aren't Edgelords; it's just that a lot of their characters tend to be unnecessarily edgy.)
- The Punisher (pictured above), depending on the writer but especially when it's Garth Ennis; the ultimate example being the professionally published Hate Fic "Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe".
- Billy Butcher from "The Boys", another of Garth's comic series (Garth is quite the edgelord himself), this one an anti-superpowers power fantasy. Billy is violent, racist, often dresses in black and is such a Punisher knock-off he even recycles Punisher's story arc.
- The title character from the Marshall Law comics.
- 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!
- The Joker, depending on the writer.
- Adversary from DC comics (pictured below), as a jab at edgelord characters and perhaps also their fans. In addition to meeting most of the criteria above, he works for a demon named Lord Satanus who gave him his powers and is actually a kid in a wheelchair.
- Jared Leto's Joker in "Suicide Squad" is an almost textbook example of pointless "edgelord".
- The difference can be seen compared to the Joker portrayals in The Dark Knight and Joker (2019), which are both "edge with a point"; the former was about exploring human evils regarding terrorism and the latter was about exploring the origins of evil (and both avoiding ideological baggage).
- Tyler Durden from "Fight Club". While he started out as "edge with a point" trying to give men catharsis from, and criticizing, the growing cultural and familial vacuum of the 90's, he later descended into being a full-blown edgelord.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- Stargate's Sohkar- It's hard to get more edgelord than literally masquerading/cosplaying as Satan.
- 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.
- The villain Infinite from Sonic Forces, as a parody of edgy Villain Sue characters.
- Several characters from World of Warcraft. Prime examples from villains are Deathwing, Sylvanas and Sargeras. A non-villain (debatably) example is Illidan Stormrage (pictured below).
- Special mention goes to pre-retcon Sargeras. Originally, Sargeras was so traumatized by the evil of the demons he fought... he became convinced that good was futile and conscripted those same demons into an army to destroy the cosmos).
- Reaper from Overwatch.
- Caesar's Legion and Caesar himself in Fallout: New Vegas (along with some of their fans and the writer who created them).
- Not Important aka The Antagonist aka The Crusader from Hatred. Imagine every trope related to 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.
- Elric of Melnibone, arguably the first one.
- Euron Greyjoy, Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire.
- Hamlet (yes, THAT Hamlet), possibly an example that predates Elric. After his father dies dies, he starts wearing black, becomes foreboding and dramatic and revenge obsessed for at least 6 months. Has monologues with skulls and murders his friends and the harmless father of his girlfriend.
- Vlaakith, the Queen of the Githyanki. On top of being a callous, violent, paranoid tyrannical lich she hates religion but wants to become goddess of her people, values strength but kills people who might become powerful enough to challenge her... all in all, a textbook edgelord.
- Lolth from Dungeons and Dragons. Started with trying to overthrow her divine husband because she didn't like her job and it all went downhill from there.
- Warhammer settings have too many to list them all;
- 40k is the worst offender in that regard, so let's just say the Black Templars, the Marines Malevolent and most traitor marines for this one.
- For Warhammer Fantasy there's Valnir the Reaper, Nagash and most Dark Elves.
- On that note, Malal among the Chaos Gods.
- Drizzt clones with extreme Alignment leanings, either towards good or evil.
- Various fan-made and canon Sonic characters, particularly Shadow.
- The protagonist of "Ambience: A Fleet Symphony" and the story itself. A Fallout KanColle crossover fanfic that thinks it's a regular KanColle fanfic. It revolves around rape, killing, eugenics and an violent solipsistic protagonist with enough plot armor to make Ciaphas Cain look like a redshirt one day away from retirement. When the story was posted to a forum and scorned, the writer went ballistic against their critics.
- The whole "*teleports behind you* Nothing personal kid. *stabs you*" meme originated as a parody of edgelord characters.
- Half of the Animu protagonists in existence. Bonus points if the genre is Isekai, triple points if there's a harem involved.
- Bakugo from My Hero Academia probably counts as a deconstruction/parody of one. What else do you say about somebody who chooses the codename "King of Explodo-Kills" and later "Great Explosion Murder God Dynamight" while training to be a superhero?
- How? Well, just to start with, picture a modern retelling of The Little Match Girl (the one where the title character freezes to death on the street--looking back on it, Hans Christian Anderson was Edgelord as fuck).
- Not with the villain himself; plenty of villains clearly have the author's sympathy (what TVTropes might call a "Villain Woobie" or "Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds"); what matters here is does the author believe what the villain believes. That may sound odd, but many cases of "The Bad Guy Was Right" involve characters created by another author, or are (usually bad) parody of such.
- This item is more a Mary Sue trope, but there is significant overlap between edgelords and Mary Sues.