Grimdark

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It's totally the opposite of this.
Inspector Gadget, reimagined with a grimdark feel.
Grimdark versions of the TMNT. Their mentor is a Skaven.

"They say, Evil prevails when good men fail to act. What they ought to say is, Evil prevails."

Grimdark is an adjective derived from the tagline for Warhammer 40k, which states that "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war." It is generally used to describe a dilapidated, dystopian "crapsack world" setting which it would really suck to live in, as say Somalia, Venezuela, North Korea, or the setting of Warhammer 40k itself (in fairness, this is because the published material primarily focuses on war and cults and other horrible things. There are supposed to be many pleasant and peaceful worlds and sectors in the Imperium, but they are mostly ignored as they are boring -- and when they DO appear in lore or fluff, they're usually to go from "0 problems" to "totally fucked", very quickly. Unless, of course, we're talking about planets in the Macragge system. It can also be used to describe artwork that has a grimdark feel, even if the setting itself would not normally be considered grim or dark, or something sinister or uncommonly threatening/intimidating in real-life.

Depending on your own personal tolerances for grim darkness of course, it can be taken to the extreme, just like with all descriptive traits. There is a point in which it becomes more ridiculous than anything else, because everything is indefeasibly tragic all the time - the term for this being grimderp, which is explained further below.

This is an accusation often leveled at Warhammer itself, and leads some to rail against "Grimdark" as a whole, decrying the concept as ridiculous attempts at edginess (typically by teenagers), and using the expression to refer solely to such over-the-top settings in a strictly pejorative manner. Others actually embrace this ridiculousness and run with it (including Warhammer 40K itself, due to being a much more obviously comedic setting in early editions), insisting that the detractors who take it seriously (or the creators who take it seriously) are making a mistake. Some people embrace the grimdarkness and mix it up with some humor (like painting Necrons with bright colors to make them look like edible candy figurines), especially if they are Ork players. But the schism between taking Warhammer's grimdarkness seriously or not is mostly visible with races such as the Tau, who are noticeably less grimdark than most of the other races and are either loved or absolutely hated for it (when they're not hated for being overpowered as shit). Meanwhile, another sizable percentage instead postulate that Grimdarkness lends greater moral and ethical complexity to a setting, based on the fallacy that darkness always equals depth). Such people usually cite the works of Dan Abnett and many other Warhammer 40K writers to lend credence to such suppositions; these people are clearly ignoring that fact that most writers tone the grimdark WAY down. What, you didn't think the fact that the Imperium being an effective government, civilians having normal happy lives on par with the Scandinavians, Commissars who never *BLAM* their troops was odd?. Needless to say, grimdark is a rather polarizing subject whose discussion often leaves little room for a middle ground.

Speaking of, the polar opposite of grimdark is Noblebright, a deliberate inversion of grim and dark nature where honor, chivalry, happiness and high adventure rule the day, as opposed to dying in a ditch from a supernatural plague as you run out of potable water and can no longer wait for the logistics department to process your dead comrades into something slightly more palatable before you start eating them. Oh, and being *BLAM*ed by a Commissar for even starting to look a little sad from these thoughts.

Common grimdark themes[edit]

Stuff considered Grimdark[edit]

A world where the only way to beat grimdark is by introducing something even grimmer and darker
  • Warhammer 40,000 (Naturally).
  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle, but less than you'd think.
  • Dwarf Fortress.
  • End of War.
  • Most of Shakespeare's iconic plays, especially Macbeth and Hamlet.
  • 1984.
  • Paranoia (though used for parodying 1984).
  • The majority of the tragedy genre of stories.
  • RIFTS.
  • Blame!.
  • Berserk.
  • Kingdom Death(Makes 40k's setting seem pleasant and cheerful).
  • Eastenders (especially at Christmas).
  • Grimdark Songwriting.
  • Don't Rest Your Head.
  • SLA Industries.
  • World of Darkness.
  • CthulhuTech.
  • Call of Cthulhu.
  • Everything from H.P Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Playing mortals in Exalted.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion. Especially the movie.
  • Midnight setting for D&D.
  • FATAL.
  • Rebecca Black.
  • I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream: The Game (just the title itself should give you a clue on how horrific the game is.The book is even worse).
  • The Medieval Dark Ages that Warhammer 40,000 was originally based on. If you disregard China that is.
  • The Witcher (racism, genocides, dozens of monsters that want to eat Your face whenever You enter the random forest. Or cave. Or ruins. The third installment of the video game adaptation even features a medieval Hitler running the Witch Hunters, a fanatical order of racist scumbags dedicated to wiping out both mages and non-humans in the name of the Eternal Fire).
  • Dark Souls (the entire world is dying. That is all you should probably need to know. If you want to be specifics, then in the setting, most of the population are undead, you die constantly, and you have to fight enemies larger and filthier than you are, including a naked bitch with a spider vagina. Also, FAKE TITS. Again: one of those series that makes WH40K look like a sweet stroll in the park in comparison).
  • Gears of War (decades of civil war, genocide and weapons of mass destruction has turned your home planet into a quasi-dead world. The human race is close to extinction, women are reduced to birthing machines, your government is an uncaring fascist scumbag, the weather is often rain consisting of razor sharp ice crystals that could cut you into ribbons, you're fighting a never-ending war with genocidal monsters from the underground and the world is literally dying from super fuel.)
    • To make matters even worse. Even before the Locust War, humanity was locked in a near 80 year war between two rivaling super powers over the aforementioned super fuel. The COG and the UIR. Both governments are ruthless, imperialistic, fascistic, communistic bastards of a government whose war crimes will make the likes of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany look like amateurs. When even the Locust have a point by calling us out for being exactly the same genocidal monsters as they are, you know Gears of War is fucked. Oh and the planet is called Sera, or Ares when said backwards. Yeah, even the planet is named after a god of war.
  • Hellgate London.
  • Most of David Bowie's songs about 1990.
  • The first two Hellraiser movies and also Event Horizon.
  • Cyberpunk 2020.
  • Hellsing... just all of Hellsing... Though it can easily slide into grimderp. (A little girl seeing her mother killed while hiding in a closet? Yeah thats intense. In a moment of desperation, shove a rod into the guy's eyeball, only for him to not be mortally wounded? That's pretty unfortunate. Said guy deciding to fuck the corpse as his smashed eyeball hangs from the socket? Okay now that's just silly.)
  • Bioshock (as well as Bioshock Infinite, though it comes hidden behind a smiling facade of barbershop singing and the Fourth of July).
  • Anything from the Xeelee Sequence.
    • The Interim Coalition of Governance for example, is such a grim-ridden shit-hole that they make the Imperium of Man look like pussies filled with sun-shine and rainbows in comparison. In fact, they are so Grimdark, that they would make even the Adeptus Custodes shit themselves in collateral fear. In fact, despite achieving time travel, conquering the entire Galaxy Universe through xenocide that would make the Necrons look like children and shooting Neutron Stars at .99c at the speed of light. The ICoG is still a minor nuisance compared to the scale between the Xeelee and their enemies, the Photino Birds. If anything, Stephen Baxter was able to construct the insignificance and petty malevolence of Man in a few books better than GeeDubs more questionable authors did in decades. tl;dr the IoM wishes they would be as cool as the ICoG.
  • North Korea which is essentially "Real Life Oceania".
  • The Goon comic series by Eric Powell (because circus hillbillies, werewolves with midget hand phobias, and the Zombie Priest are the least of it all).
  • [1]Children of men: a future where humans are no longer fertile and going extinct, and then someone finds a pregnant woman and nearly everyone in the world fights over her.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Good guys screw up monumentally or never win, the only people who get ahead are amorally manipulative assholes and everyone is going to be massacred and enslaved by the evil ice elf necromancers in the end. And if they somehow survive, then another war for the Iron Throne will happen after the winner gets their revenge-boner satisfied and later, their kids would need to clean up the wankstains.
  • Dishonored - Grimdark, and steampunk. Only in the "Kill fucking everyone" ending though.
  • X-Com (The remake, and the original, as a parody of the G.I. Joe Badass stereo type, you're struggling with funding and even your gods in human form, some of whom make certain chapters of Astartes weep, can get fucked over by Sectoids!)
  • Madoka Magica.
  • Adventure Time's backstory.
  • Path of Exile.
  • Pokemon Tabletop Adventures (optionally).
  • Spec Ops: The Line (Because no one felt like a hero after all this).
  • Original fairy tales ("Hansel and Gretel", for example).
  • Alien (as in the biomechanical, parasitic, acid-blooded brainchild of Ridley Scott and the late H.R. Giger).
  • Halo (the setting of Halo is one grand scale of a Cosmic Horror Story centered around absolute hopelessness and bleakness of a Universe governed by hyper malevolent gods. Our good guys, the UNSC? Well it's a semi-authoritarian 'Big Brother is Watching You', fascistic style government that have no qualms in dumping a barrage of nukes on a civilian population if rebellion is sighted. The UNSC also have no problems dicking over their only alien 'friends' just so it could benefit humanity, while also being bogged down in a political quagmire. The Covenant are much, much worse, while anything from the Forerunner trilogy is just a high concoction of Nightmare Fuel inside a depressing milkshake.
  • Battletech.
  • Factorio. Subtle, but, lone human, aliens want to kill you, everything you do makes smog, and your goal is to cover the world in industry, concrete, machines, and gun turrets. The world isn't dead when you arrive, but you're damn well going to kill it yourself or die trying.
  • Attack on Titan (You cannot win, ever. And if you do, you've probably lost all your friends, who've been eaten by giant freaky humans, who don't even need food. Yeeeah).
  • Metro series (both the books and games, but mostly in the books, where the last known humans are hiding in underground subway tunnels, and when they're not trying to finish each other off, they are fighting endless hordes of mutants and other, much worse things. Also, let's not forget that if you're one of the stalkers, the few brave ones that head to the surface to loot anything they can find, you risk being eaten by flying daemons. Hell, it even has the same "abandon all hope" vibe in the intro, just like 40k. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.)
    • Note as the books go on the grimdarkness does tone down by showing the areas outside of the city to be in much better living conditions and other metros.(allthough not all the books are written by the same author).
  • Madness combat - no regret, no remorse, no reason, only madness.
  • LISA the RPG.
  • The Darkness videogames.
  • The first two Hyperion books.
  • Elfen Lied (where the next step of the evolution of mankind is a group schizophrenic homicidal mutant girls with invisible tentacle hands and a hair-trigger temper who will either kill you in the worst way possible or else infect you with their gene to increase their numbers.)
  • Most of Stephen King's works.
  • Crossed (Most of the world is dead or turned into murder-raping sadists á la the Reavers from Firefly. Showing any courage will get you killed or turned into one of the aforementioned murder-rapists, and there are survivors that are just as fucked up as the infectees.)
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (You travel in a desolate landscape, filled with mutants in all the horrific varieties, failed science projects (courtesy of the USSR), anomalies that you often can't see and kill you instantly and a lot of renegades/bandits/fanatics/zombies. Your gear breaks all the time, resources are scarce and your goal is to get to the highly dangerous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Why is the Nuclear Power Plant dangerous? Because it blew the fuck up back in the 80's (in real life, no less) and is protected by lots of fanatics with the best gear you can get. If you make it through that hellish place that is The Zone, you'll most likely get one of the 5 really grimdark endings, and if you payed a lot of attention to certain seemingly useless items along the way, you may get one of the other two endings which are also grimdark. The rest of the world also largely ignores what's happening inside The Zone, aside from a few scientists that study the deadly phenomena and the Ukrainian military that maintains a cordon around The Zone so the nasty stuff doesn't get out.)
  • The Slenderman Mythos (HE ALWAYS WATCHES).
  • The Old Testament.
  • Dante's Inferno. For example : sins of Greed and Gluttony are punished by being eaten alive by Cerberus, who then proceed in transforming ye corpse into slowly regenerating shit mud ; after being whole again, thou art eaten while trying to flee in despair, and it start anew. For ever. Because some old dude called Minos decided so.
  • The F.E.A.R. series (even the third vanilla-by-comparison game is fucked up).
  • Total War: Attila (Unlike the previous titles in Total War, which were about your faction's rise to power from small backwater city/tribe/country into a mighty empire able to boss around its neighbors into doing your bidding, this one is more or less about the decline of your faction as you desperately try to survive the onslaught of the Huns, who's sole purpose in the game is to worship Tengri by burning, pillaging, and raping their way through the known world. Particularly if you are the Romans. Winning is defined by being the last guy standing who gets to clean up the rubble and dead bodies, trying to rebuild their world after Attila destroyed it. Seriously, even the music sounds depressing and foreboding as fuck.)
  • Darkest Dungeon.
  • The Day After, and its worse Brit counterpart, Threads.
  • Lord Of War. The worst is that it's based on real events.
  • SCP universe.Why do you ask? because above all, secure.contain.protect. Imagine a semi-totalitarian world power, funded by every world government to capture anomalous entities, objects and locations, contain them, so that the rest of mankind can live in a world that makes sense. We're talking animate statues that move when you blink (i know what you're thinking, but this predates that episode of doctor who), a creature that kills anyone that sees its face. And not all of these threats can be contained or stopped,instead the are roaming free to harm innocents.And some of the captured scps are not necessary hostile or evil, but the are still imprisoned in a worse case scenario (witch happens too many times than it should).Oh, and is hinted that the world and humanity is destroyed already sometimes.But still,Secure. Contain. Protect.Just another day at the office.
  • Shisha no Teikoku, the Empire of Corpses. Steampunk, Grimdark, Zombies, Cross-References and Conspiracies everywhere. It has even become possible to resurect the dead, giving them their soul and intelligence back, but only 2 characters profit from it in the end, while everyone else stays a slave.
  • The Eternal War, as the name suggests
  • Dystopian Wars, as the name suggests
  • Clockup Games where you get a firsthand look a sex cult and their destructive side effects.
  • Kerbal Space program. The Lives of Kerbals are Unimportant. All that matters is getting to Space. No matter how many Ships filled with Kerbals Explode.
  • The world war z book (aside that humanity have barely won a noblebright victory, the war itself was disastrous enough:The zombies that were able to "win" the firepower of some of the most powerful countries be mere numbers only,some safe zones that were not overrun were fallen because of common diseases,starvation,or simply because the survivors lost their will to live. The paris catacombs turned into a giant death-hole for the refugees and later for the french military forces who were sent to clear it with nothing more than bals of steel,some unreliable melee weapons and airguns that needed more than one bullet to kill a "zack". And that they had to be careful because if someone would miss,it would trigger a series of explosions wich would bury them alive, much less if they have used a real weapon. And you think being shooted for not following your orders is bad? Imagine how the russian soldiers who rioted for the choice of refusing orders felt when they had to choose wicth one of their own to kill with bare rocks so they don't have to be elliminated to the last.Those and other, more terrible things that have made the previous wars look like a common club fights.And not all zombies were killed, and the governments that remain aren't all good. Russia has become a theological dictatorship that is struggling with underpopulation. The novel ends on the note that while mankind is alive and there is a functioning society, we have been set back decades and unlike in the past, the collapse of society is enhanced by the walking dead, contagion (zombies carry a host of regular diseases and other unhealthy bits).
  • Armored Trooper Votoms, an old-school mech anime. Basically, mankind has been at war for so long that even the computers created to direct strategy don't know what the goal is. War isn't glorious either, most of the first arc is about a squad that goes rogue and raids their own side's armory to find some loot. While the mech designs aren't practical, they are more industrial and utilitarian than many contempoaries, being repurporsed exo-suits.
  • The [Prototype] games.
  • Saw: I just wanna play a game.
  • Most good 'Real Robot' anime/video games. Further discussion will result in skub.
  • Full Metal Alchemist: The World is coated by a side of Noblebright at the beginning but morphs into 1984 the more you watch/read. THe world Amestris starts out as fine and dandy (despite being a fascist military Dictatorship.) then it morphs into a world where the Main Country (Amestris.) is at constant war with almost all it's neighbors commits Genocides Left and right and Murder's anyone who finds out the dark truth.
  • Bet On Soldier/Iron Storm: WW1 got extended by 80 years, leading to a world where war is everything (including a televised past time), peace is considered a horrifically dissident ideal and there is a shadowy cabal behind the scenes plotting to make the war last forever.
  • Noir in general, from Raymond Chandler's novels to games like This is the Police.

Grimderp[edit]

Grimderp is what happens when a writer takes grimdark so far that it goes DERP. The writer puts something in that makes the setting more grimdark, but it's generally reliant on at least one party involved suddenly abandon all sense of reason and logic, or else caused by a lack of forethought on the implications of how the element interacts with the world. Many long-runner grimdark works will become this sooner or later, as either the setting or the cast's morality (rather a usually extreme lack thereof) will induce complete and utter apathy in the audience and cause them to give up out of sheer pointlessness. Most "dark" anime/manga tend to be more or less grimderp, as attempts to attract mature audiences ends in violence, blood, and sex without consequence (at BEST, mind you. At worst...), all in gratuitous quantities. So... not that different from the West, really.

  • Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons is a fanfiction about magical ponies so grim, dark, and derp that it would almost be comical if it wasn't so fucking horrifying. With characters that get shit on (both figuratively and literally) more than the Lamenters, and with a world so bleak (and missing the point of Fallout, FiM, and the original Fallout: Equestria) that an heroing seems like WOULD ACTUALLY BE the happiest ending (Assuming it will end, it probably never will as long as there's enough cybernetics to keep rebuilding the constantly-dying protagonist) HOLY SHIT IT ACTUALLY ENDED!), it's the prime example of how to make readers stop giving a fuck about the story at all.
  • On that note, 90% of all grimdark fics are grimderp since writers are under the impression that just making things dark makes it good writing. There are exceptions, but they are rare, because Sturgeon's Law is a thing. On the flip side, however, certain examples have reached the apotheosis of Grimderp and become gut-bustingly hilarious.
  • Warhammer 40,000 gets called out as this by some. Certainly it's a valid criticism of certain parts, but as we said earlier, you could argue about what is and is not grimderp in 40k for weeks without conclusion. For example, the Imperium is excessively self-destructive and tyrannical to its own people, but in the hands of a good writer, it's meant to underline how corrupt and desperate the Imperium has become without the Emperor's guidance, and how even those who are neither incompetent nor malicious still have to make brutally difficult choices. In the hands of a lesser writer, it's unnecessary evil purely for the sake of evil. We should call our next book "Darkness of Darkest Dark!"
  • Jeph Loeb's run on Ultimate Marvel: people dying brutally (most well known being Wasp getting eaten by the Blob) and completely gratuitously (Dr. Strange is killed the one page he shows up on and is completely forgotten afterwards), lore rape worst than anything Ward ever did (the heroic Pyro is now a rapist version of the mainline Marvel Pyro with no explanation, Thor going from new age hippie to mainline-style viking with no explanation... at least that last one is kinda cool). Overall it was so bad it effectively made the Ultimate Marvel universe (with the exception of Spider-Man and his cast) completely unusable. Small wonder that years later, Marvel thought smashing it and the main Marvel universe together would be a good idea.
  • Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, an anime with a similar premise to the already-grimdark Attack on Titan: It's set in (presumably feudal) Japan, where people are hiding behind walls and communicate with each others using trains to travel from town to town, and trades the giants and horses for guns and zombies. Several of the characters have moments of team-killing ineptitude that end up prolonging the conflict far longer than it should:
    • The samurai don't bother with armor and generally aren't very combat-savvy when it comes to zombies, and their Lawful Stupid tendencies turn any defense against a wall breach into an utter clusterfuck. The antagonist is an absolute failure AND wanted for crimes against humanity, being a pretentious Che Guevara wannabe with pink hair and wielder of an ugly-yet-somewhat effective sabre. He also has a devoted following despite being thoroughly unable to grasp the basics of warfare and its ethics (he thinks children are cowards for not being able to fight monsters that ambush and run through trained adult fighters with ease, and considers destroying one's own resources and castles to be a viable strategy). Meanwhile, the main protagonist has found not one, but TWO miracle solutions that would allow mankind to fight back against the zombie plague, but no one will listen to him, especially not the main antagonist, both because of the above and because of course they wouldn't, it's grimderp GRIMDARK.
    • Ironically, Ancient Shintoism (a main religion of that period) has the only known anti-zombie deities: Kukuri hime no kami, a goddess of purification (despite being rather sado-masochist) whose followers would bind a corpse with ropes, place a big stone on the chest and bury it (coffins are optional). Insane as it was, it was the most common form of burial in the Jomon period, and never went completely out of date through all the medieval period. Despite the rites being a perfect defense against an undead invasion, apparently they didn't take in this setting. Three guesses why.

Grim Tragedy[edit]

Naturally in a universe such as 40k, the grimdarkness of the setting would mean nothing if not tied into the ironic tragedy of the lore. This includes:

  • A species so afraid of the dauntless perils of Chaos that they will brutally harass and execute entire populations out of mere suspicion, all to stop the spread of ruin while indirectly strengthening those who seek to destroy them (particularly Chaos). They, as a people, have progressed massively in population, technology and power since their species conception, yet they more than anyone else have lost one vital element: their humanity.
  • A race who was once a zenith of civilization and prosperity, capable of bending the very Gods to their will, but by their own hand reduced themselves to scattered, isolated fleets and colonies always on the run; their pompous and arrogant leaders hide behind a dwindling sense of security based in superiority over other races who are far more successful and perhaps destined to be greater than they ever were. A number among them, after their unholy and insidious near-demise, continue (with oblivious glee) to empower the very being that brought them to ruin in order to save themselves.
  • A race of creatures who possess the brightest potential, with near mastery over the psychic, near-natural physical perfection and almost limitless numbers from their highly successful methods of reproduction... and yet they are restricted by an unquenchable thirst for battle which drives each to idiocy, leaving them hopeless of advancing beyond simple barbarians.
  • An ancient people whom were so envious of their neighbors' power that they were ready to cripple the entire galaxy just for the sake of petty superiority - a superiority neutered by their unwitting transformation into metaphorical and literal automatons. They are now mindless machines who, bar few, care nothing of their past and seek only one thing: war. And those who still have their personalities are either insane, demented, brooding, psychotic, or any combination of these in various proportions.
  • A newborn race who innocently believes that there can be peace and acknowledgement among each other, but unfortunately the sinister methods they employ hoping that it is for something better is slowly, but steadily driving them into the decadence that plagues the other species. In doing so they become proof, both of the fact that anyone, no matter their intentions, can be corrupted, and also of the kindness that the rest have forsaken for damnation and despair...
  • The fact that, despite hundreds of thousands of years of knowing nothing but only war, these peoples are woefully unprepared for what is to come. No matter how many regiments can be raised or Craftworlds restored, what is out there is all consuming, diabolical and numberless... Unless, they are themselves on the verge of extinction, and as such, desperately tries to cross over the great void between galaxies, which implies fighting against invincibles foes and fate weathing cheaters unnaturaly empowered by the greef of an evil entity beyond the cosmos.

See also[edit]

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