Cosmic Horror Story

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"Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large."

Imagine a universe where even the tiniest spot of hope for the future is blindness in itself, the insane nihilist yelling about The End of the World as We Know It in the asylum is actually the only one with a clue, and too much curiosity about the true nature of the world is a precursor to a Fate Worse Than Death. A universe where humanity is preyed everywhere by inconceivable horrors, and all our ideals are a cruel illusion; a universe which was once ruled by eldritch abominations that seeped down from the depths of space long ago.

Nor are they dead; they merely wait, and soon they shall wake. They shall return to rule this world, and all our grandest achievements shall have been in vain. For all our blind Hubris we are but mice in the wainscoting, making merry while the cat's away—but even today, the world is more dangerous than we may know.

Take one step away from the comforts of home, and you will find terror and madness on every corner—dark cults, hideous monstrosities, truths so terrible that none may comprehend them and remain sane. Demons gibber in the tunnels beneath your feet. Parasites crawl in your food, drink and stomach. Ghosts hover unseen and unheard around you. The vile essence of an alien disease lurks in the recesses of your own family tree, a genetic time bomb just waiting to go off....

Such was the vision of H.P. Lovecraft, pioneer of the Cosmic Horror Story. Our victories are hollow and our doom is certain, for we struggle not against ordinary monsters, but something else entirely. It's possible that they don't even notice our value; they're simply so unstoppable that their mere passing obliterates worlds, or worse, and we happen to be the world in question.

A Cosmic Horror Story doesn't just scare you with big, ugly monsters—though it can certainly have them—it depresses you with the fatalistic implication of being insignificantly powerless before such vast, unknowable and fundamentally alien entities. On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, it sometimes lies near the cynical Despair Event Horizon.

If you aren't sure if a work is a Cosmic Horror Story or not, ask yourself these questions:

Answering "No" to more than two of these means that the work is probably not a Cosmic Horror Story, although it may share tropes with the genre.

The genre is sometimes called "Cosmic Horror", Lovecraftian Fiction, or Weird Fiction. Very likely to use Paranoia Fuel. A Despair Event Horizon or a Downer Ending can be used to add to the depressing atmosphere. Compare/contrast with Gothic Horror (on which prose the first Cosmic Horror Stories, like those from Lovecraft himself, borrowed) Crapsack World, Mind Screw and Through the Eyes of Madness. Most Eldritch Abominations do not derive from folklore. That said, there are quite a few of them that created folklore accidentally.

Tropes associated with this genre appear on Cosmic Horror Tropes.

Note that while the Cthulhu Mythos Shared Universe originated in the Cosmic Horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, a Cosmic Horror Story need not refer to the Mythos or borrow from its imagery. Lovecraft Lite goes a step further than that and does not expect us to take Lovecraft's vision seriously in the first place.

Examples of Cosmic Horror Story include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Hellstar Remina, features an enormous sentient planet coming to Earth and wreaking indescribable horror upon it. Then it EATS the Earth as if it was an appetizer before continuing on its way, presumably to eat more celestial bodies.
    • Also Uzumaki, by the same author. A town is built on top of an impossible spiral structure, which proceeds to cause increasingly horrible things to happen before absorbing the entire town. It has done so countless times before and will do so countless times again.
  • The whole Berserk-verse is supervised by the Godhand who are themselves servants of The Idea Of Evil, a godlike entity that manipulates destiny through the rules of Causality in order to give the people of the world what they wish for. However, the Idea isn't about making people happy, it's about being responsible for their suffering. Because humans want something to be responsible, and it's actually that desire made sentient.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: While it mainly focuses on Existential crisis, the setting has archetypes of cosmic horror stories in it. A post-apocalyptic Crapsack World where, because man meddled with the underlying order of creation and other Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, half of the population has died and the remainder are in the process of being annihilated by the Angels (Quite a few old super robot shows did feature mysterious, alien villains with very lightly defined motivations; cue the relentless attacks of the Angels, alien (or not) assailants on whose motives, constituents or psychology we have a little idea of, simply malevolent Mac Guffins to enable the story to play with 'giant robot' tropes. They also happen to get progressively creepier, and more unexplainably eldritch as the show progresses. Most importantly, there is an emphasis on showing the fear and uncertainty that comes with fighting an enemy that is just plain undefinable).

Humanity does try to do something to defeat them by creating Humongous Mecha which are actually duplicates of said abominations, but the chosen pilots are mentally ill to begin with. Various factions within the series vie for the opportunity to take down the Angels in the way they deem most appropriate, with the winner being the one that causes the most collateral damage, and the battle only makes things worse in increasingly horrifying details. There's also a conspiracy of cultists who discovered and awakened these eldritch abominations in the first place and plans to use them (especially the one whose ichor was actually the primordial origin of all life spilled in a cosmic accident never meant to happen) to bring about The End of the World as We Know It In Their Own Image. In the end, the apocalypse is so incomprehensible it even also makes us real life humans go mad from the revelation.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Grant Morrison's Zenith mainly fought the Lloigor, shapeless body-stealing beings from beyond time and space who can consume reality. Turns out they're actually the first-generation superheroes who "self-evolved" into Reality Warper Gods and subsequently went mad with power, but were forced to live outside normal space-time since their own universe was too fragile to hold them. And they want back in. Badly.
  • A Donald Duck comic features this as its story. Donald tries out for a singing competition organized by a renowned musician, and gets successfully recruited by having his voice altered by an apparent twin of said musician. It’s revealed that the entire world is actually the dream of an ancient cephalophoid monster which slumbers in a city at the bottom of the sea, and the two twins are manifestations of the monster’s conflicting subconscious desires to continue sleeping or wake up, which Donald’s voice will make it do. When the creature does just that the rest of the world vanishes as it no longer creates the world-dream, and everything in its vicinity shapes itself into its image, resulting in Donald and his nephews growing tentacles and stick eyes. It’s eventually put back to sleep, but the story ends on a rather dark note as Donald contemplates everybody's existence as mere parts of the creature’s imagination.
  • The Filth, also from Morrison, arguably. But Secret Original is living in this: A Captain Ersatz of Golden Age Superman, he discovered his world had no free will and went to change this, by coming into reality. And the reality is: He is just a comic book character...
  • El Eternauta, anyone? The aliens called "Hands", who are smarter and more evolved than human beings, are actually unwilling puppets of higher entities that they only dare to call "Them", and they even define "Them" as the "cosmic hate". "Them" are never shown.
  • The notorious work of indy comics artists Al Columbia and Hans Rickheit and, at times, Edward Gorey.
  • It's still uncertain whether Hellboy and BPRD are this or Lovecraft Lite. It appeared at first to be the latter, but the monsters are getting nastier, and Hellboy is getting increasingly desperate.
  • Leviathan shown in Hellraiser II was described in supplementary graphic novels to be the true Eldritch Abomination.
  • There was an Anthology Comic series from Vertigo called Flinch. In one story, a massive fan of Lovecraft eventually grows up with the realization "We don't deserve monsters" and loses all wonder of creatures out there.
  • Fall of Cthulhu by BOOM Comics.
  • Cthulhu Tales, also by BOOM Comics; however, being an Anthology Comic, a lot of individual stories fell into Lovecraft Lite instead.
  • Both Marvel and DC have elements of this. For Marvel, anytime Galactus shows up, and for DC, anytime Starro shows up. Many Crisis Crossover events are this.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Sapphire and Steel took place in a universe threatened by formless evils. The (presumably) non-human "Elements" Steel and occasionally even the more sympathetic Sapphire, could, on occasion seem alien themselves.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Bayonetta, Heaven is a white-and-pink patterned version of Hell. That doesn't mean Heaven is all good, nor that Hell isn't all evil. No, they're both equally evil. Which means humankind is screwed the moment they give their last breath.
  • Fractional Games specializes in this, with their games Penumbra, and the more popular Amnesia the Dark Descent.
  • The Survival Horror game Eternal Darkness (cheerfully subtitled "Sanity's Requiem") for the Gamecube. This one takes one of the most interesting twists:the most powerful Eldritch Abomination, Mantorok the Corpse God, is actually mildly fond of humanity, even serving as a fertility god in a small village in Cambodia. He's ultimately responsible for the main character's destruction of the "evil" abominations, and he's probably the only abomination even close to being good. Ever. Or is he?
  • In 1987, Infocom made an Interactive Fiction text adventure called The Lurking Horror loosely drawing on the themes of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Another IF example: Anchorhead is an award-winningly well-regarded example of a text adventure set in the "slowly unraveling horror" Lovecraftian milieu. Look here for download and information on the game.
  • In Drakengard, The World Is Always Doomed because the gods are not just evil, but also composed entirely of Eldritch Abominations. There are not slithering masses of tentacles that cause insanity by their very sight, but something very morbid.
  • The events of Persona 3 ultimately leads to the The End of the World as We Know It, complete with a doomsday cult and brain-dead people uttering prophetic warnings. This is all due to the subtle influence of the reawakened Nyx, a vast and ancient being and who apparently is the moon, being called down to the earth. Her presence causes people to explode into puddles of black ooze and random organs. In all likelihood, she doesn't care in the slightest. Oh and she's mainly summoned by the Anthropomorphic Personification of the malice and despair in the hearts of humanity.
    • What's more despite your best efforts, you do not punch it out. The best action taken was a reverse seal; the protagonist makes a Heroic Sacrifice to keep said personification of malice and despair away from Nyx.
  • The premise of a Sugar Bowl world with Cosmic Horror Story influences is almost as brain-breaking as Cthulhu himself is, but the Kirby series pulls it off in the last few levels and bosses of each game. With Alien Geometries for levels, Eldritch Abominations for bosses, and Nightmare Fuel ahoy. The anime actually implies that Kirby is a good Eldritch Abomination.
  • Shadow of the Comet, Prisoner of Ice and the better-known Alone in The Dark, by Infogrames, are all in the same Cthulhu Mythos-haunted world, with several direct Lovecraftian references, including the Necronomicon and De Vermis Mysteriis. The name of the mansion from the first Alone In The Dark, Derceto, is revealed in-game to be an alias of Shub-Niggurath, the Mythos' equivalent of a fertility deity...
  • Eversion gradually reveals itself to be a game of this kind. It starts out as a cute Sugar Bowl of a world, but as you progress further and use your Reality Warper powers in order to get the gems you need, the game gradually gets darker and darker. The Let's Play by Deceased Crab in particular reads like a Lovecraft story towards the end of it, right down to the rejection of the Sugar Bowl world's "cheery lies."
  • Earthbound morphs into one of these for the final boss fight.
  • System Shock 2 fulfills almost all above tropes (minus Tome of Eldritch Lore and The Unpronounceable) but on a fortunately contained scale (less fortunate for those who lived there.) However, Shodan is still out there...
  • Whether or not Lavos qualifies is up to the player's imagination, but as of Chrono Cross...
  • Mass Effect is a Cosmic Horror Space Opera. The Reapers are a race of sentient machines that wipe out all advanced life in the galaxy every 50,000 years or so. And they have been doing it for millions of years. Sovereign has been described as Mecha-Cthulhu.
    • And then Mass Effect 2 pushes this to even more horrifying levels. The point of the cycle of extinction is to turn all conquered species into the raw materials that go into constructing new Reapers.
  • The Shadow Hearts series takes place in a universe where nearly every monster is an Eldritch Abomination, especially in the first game.
  • Pokémon. In the early generations, it didn't really have that feel to it, and legendary Pokémon seemed to be more akin to Physical Gods than anything else. The fourth generation takes off all gloves; the Big Bad enslaves Pokémon who are the origins of courage, knowledge, and emotion, and uses them to awaken two others, who are masters of time and space, with the intention of creating a new universe that lacks free will and emotions. He in turn pisses off another Pokémon, which is master of the Distortion World. Other gems from the fourth generation include nothing less than the creator of the Pokémon universe and a Pokémon that infects the nightmares of humans and takes them to a sinister island that even makes itself known by possessing a boy named Eldritch.
    • The fifth generation introduces Kyurem. A frozen zombie alien dragon that was once part of another dragon before being split into three different beings (Kyurem representing Wuji/Nothingness whearas Reshiram and Zekrom represent Yang/Truth and Yin/Ideals rspectively). Even worse,. Even worse, Kyurem is said to have a taste for human flesh. No wonder the citizens of one town absolutely refuse to go outside at night.
  • In Phantasy Star IV, it's revealed that the planets of Algo are the seal on the Sealed Evil in a Can, the Profound Darkness, that Dark Force is a fragment of the Profound Darkness' power that is able to force its way out of said seal, which was flawed from the beginning, and that the sentient races of Algo exist for no other reason than to produce heroes who can defeat Dark Force and prevent it from destroying the seal and releasing the Profound Darkness back into the universe. Meanwhile, the Great Light has considered its work done, and has gone off to do whatever someplace else. Chaz doesn't take well to this news.
  • While it doesn't really have the atmosphere, Freelancer certainly has shades of this, what with horrifically advanced alien parasites bodyjacking humanity's leadership to prepare it for outright slaughter. And that's just the Nomads. Imagine what the Sufficiently Advanced Alien Daam K'Vosh are like!
  • A pretty good example comes from the Chzo Mythos. Well, it just so happens that there's another world next door, a world ruled by the VERY EMBODIMENT of PAIN, and he can't wait to get his hands on our world. Don't worry that he has an intricate web of followers that are helping him to succeed, but thanks to his non linear view of time, he already has.
  • While the Zerg of Starcraft are not a cosmic horror themselves, we have yet to have seen their creators, the Xel'Naga. Kerrigan and her insane extermination/assimilation war may yet be the lesser evil in this story.
    • The sequel only makes things worse. Not only are the main factions unsure about the Xel'Naga, but now their ancient enemy seems to have his own plans for the galaxy. It does not help that his first appearance was in a strongly Lovecraft inspired comic.
  • The indie Survival Horror / Adventure Game Pathologic achieves this in a very minimalistic, Psychological Horror fashion (no darkness or monsters, just a surreal tale set in a town hit by a mysterious plague).
  • Surprisingly, the quirky cult hit Deadly Premonition ends up with elements of this genre. Throughout the game the protagonist seems to be dragged into an alternate reality and elements of his everyday life seem unnervingly surreal, yet his nonchalant attitude to it all paints him as an Unreliable Narrator whose grip on reality is seemingly quite weak. However, the Big Bad is ultimately revealed to be an immortal Humanoid Abomination from another plane of existence that has warped the hero's life since childhood and thrives on torturing humans For the Evulz. The story is just vague enough to make every detail questionable, making for a wonderful Psychological Horror experience.
  • The MUD Lusternia features a lot of different genres, but this is one of the most prevalent. There was even a war between the Precursors of mortalkind, the Elder Gods, and the resident Eldritch Abominations, the Soulless Ones. (Also known as the Heralds of Magnora, Magnora being the personification of destruction.) Nowadays they're largely sealed away, but there's a world-spanning event every real life year or so where one breaks free...
  • From a gameplay perspective, The Breach is closer to Lovecraft Lite, but in narrative terms, it's more like this. At no point is there any hope of permanently defeating the Yellow, just pushing it back where it came from, and Sergei firmly believes that if hyperspace experiments continue, humanity is doomed.
    • In the new ending, the 'Lite' is officially gone. Sergei's luck runs out.
  • Metroid's backstory doesn't have Eldritch Abominations (they come later) but does have X: Microscopic organisms in large colonies that seek out and devour all that lives. X never stop eating and reproducing, can reproduce exponentially in seconds, fly, turn intangible, project large amounts of energy and survive any trauma less than planetary explosions or prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space before they decide to turn to any abilities of previous life forms they ate to hunt you down. To hunt X came Metroids, which feed on life itself. Scientist note Metroids rarely puncture or damage their prey's body and they extract no matter but take in energy. The energy hasn't been identified or traced to an origin, yet when Metroids get it, prey dies. The only safe way to kill X is to suck life in a way scientists can't explain.
    • While Samus shows up Late to the Party and saves the day the logs left by the first to encounter Gorea, the Ing and Phaaze read very much like cosmic horror stories in the Metroid Prime series.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is an alternate viewpoint retelling of Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth with the main character going irrevocably insane in the end, thanks in part to the knowledge that he has, at best, only slightly postponed the inevitable downfall of humanity.
  • Star Control and the... erm... whatever it is from *below*. It is some kind of extradimensional being that can annihilate anything that learns about it. If you know enough about it, it can hurt you. If you're ignorant, you're safe. Well, mostly. The Orz are heavily implied to be a "piece" of this being that has managed to sneak into Normal Space (the Orz at one point seem to make reference to "*chasing*" a race of aliens who were -presumably- killed thousands of years ago). And then there's Quasi-Space, the background music of which contains sounds that sound suspiciously like screaming.
  • Alan Wake's premise seems to be for the titular author to prevent his world from falling into this trope.
  • The primary antagonists of the Silent Hill series are a human cult who worship bizarre supernatural beings with inscrutable motives (assuming they have any at all). The plot of the first and third games involve said cult trying to birth their God into our world from..... somewhere else through a human vessel. It is implied that this wouldn't be a good thing. The games involve a hefty dose of Psychological Horror and how much of this is being generated by the character's own minds isn't clear.


Visual Novels[edit | hide]


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Thanks in part to Real Life Writes the Plot, Thunderstruck has gained elements of a Cosmic Horror Story world. The city in which most of the action takes place is doomed, period. The primary action focuses on a race of gods for whom all of human history is a single generation - and the action is centered on the scions of the preceding generation's champion.
  • Brawl in the Family has Mario jumping into paintings like in Super Mario 64. He makes a bad choice in deciding to jump into The Scream; we are spared whatever horrors within unlike Mario.
    • Considering that the picture takes on the form of Giygas when Mario jumps through...
  • Homestuck: Andrew Hussie cites Earthbound as an inspiration, and oh boy does it show. Entire universes are created for the sole purpose of recruiting players for a game, one which violently destroys the players' home planets. Victory at the game results in (at best) one's home planet being recolonized, and the creation of a new universe—both of which will eventually be host to new instances of the game. And that's when things go right. The protagonists have accidentally rendered the game Unwinnable, by enabling the Big Bad to obtain the powers of a Physical God. Now, the only way to defeat him is to reset the universe—which will pave the way for the arrival (albeit, in a different universe) of a time-travelling demon who feeds on dead universes. In any case, given the way that Stable Time Loops work in this story, the protagonists may already be doomed to fail. And in case all that's too subtle, the comic takes an acrobatic fucking pirouette off the handle and into the deep end with "Jade: Wake up", where the Lovecraft-inspired Noble Circle of Horrorterrors make their on-screen debut. And then we find out that the Horrorterrors need the protagonists' help, because something is killing them.
    • And to make things worse it's been stated in the comic that the vast majority of sburb sessions are doomed to fail from the start, never producing new universes, but tumors that just to make a big F-U to those who try. So the nearly all of your race is destroyed, and the most of races don't actually ever even win. So um....
  • The premise of Lovecraft Is Missing is that Lovecraft wrote truth disguised as fiction. And now he's missing...
  • The Watcher of Yaathagggu is Post Apocalyptic Cosmic Horror.
  • Ow, My Sanity is a Cosmic Horror Magical Girlfriend / Unwanted Harem story. Word of God is that it most likely won't end well for the protagonist.
    • Actually, Word of God just said that the comic will have a "lovecraft ending"; take that as you will.
  • Necessary Monsters could be considered such, since while the comic itself takes a more Spy Fiction approach, the fact remains that the world is actually controlled by an Ancient Conspiracy of every type of monster possible, from Slasher Movie and Urban Legend-style serial killers to outright eldritch abominations, with a vested interest in preserving humanity—because when you've got a self-perpetuating all-you-can-eat buffet with everything you and your pals like to eat in it, you don't want anybody to go around thrashing it.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the world of the SCP Foundation, the only thing standing between humanity and a legion of sanity-shattering artifacts or implacably destructive monsters is a shadowy organization of Men in Black... whose ruthlessness makes them only slightly less dangerous than the things they're protecting humanity from.
  • The Whateley Universe has a Cosmic Horror Story backstory, and the Sara Waite stories are all centered around one or more eldritch abominations... including Sara Waite herself. Plus, there's an in-universe example, since Sara Waite's previous form Michael Waite wrote a best-seller called "Incongruity" which turns out to be The First Book Of The Kellith, which is now in print all over the world. Oops.
  • Stickman Exodus traps hapless stickmen in a Cosmic Horror Notebook (Played for Laughs -- Dead Baby Comedy laughs). Their goal, the Promised Page, the one place the "Great Doodler" can't touch, might not even exist for all they know. We won't either since the series had a No Ending.
  • Most of the stories in The Slender Man Mythos are this in some form or another.
    • As well as those part of The Fear Mythos, of which Slender Man is also a part.
  • H-M Brown's Shell is the prologue to the Geolyth Lore series.
  • The Bionicle serial, Sahmad's Tale, features a plague that robs its victims of their ability to dream, gradually causing them to go completely insane and eventually die. It is eventually revealed that the plague is caused by an Eldritch Abomination that resembles a miniature sun with tentacles, who feeds on dreams for sustenance.
  • The Castle Series, told with stickmen, but not Played for Laughs. The cosmic horror in this series comes from the titular Castles that may or may not be sentient.
  • This comes up now and again in various Creepypasta, most notably The Holders series.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Mighty Max arguably takes place in such a universe. Although over the course of the series we find Max beating his fair share of enemies, ultimately the great Big Bad is shown to be unstoppably powerful, and our hero's only hope to even TIE with him is to let all his friends die and restart the timeline with his own death in the hopes it goes better the second time. Unfortunately, given the prophecies frequently referenced, this cycle has happened at least several dozen times.
  • The premise of Shadow Raiders is that the 4 elemental worlds must band together using ancient technology to fight a great giant planet that wants to eat their homes. It is unstoppable, unrelenting, and unbeatable. The only hope is to run away, or face certain destruction. And they can't run forever. For a child's show this is somewhat jarring.
  • The premise of Samurai Jack is that an unstoppable, endlessly malevolent force of literal evil (the Start of Darkness episodes reveal that Aku is simply a tiny fragment of a creature that formed in the first moments of the universe) has conquered the world and is spreading its influence throughout the stars, and that a lone warrior wielding the only thing in existence that can even harm it embarks on a hopeless quest to defeat the evil and Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • The short-lived 80's Cartoon Show Inhumanoids was heavily influenced by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. It pushed towards this trope as hard as was possible for a Merchandise-Driven cartoon from The Eighties; even the comedy episodes had more than their share of Nightmare Fuel. One can only imagine how they would have upped the ante had it been successful enough to get more than one season (and toy wave)...


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • While the "Human life is meaningless" statement and the philosophy of Nihilism have been discussed before Lovecraft and Gothic Horror, supposedly Lovecraft's own inspiration was contemporary discoveries in astronomy that there really are things out there so enormous so powerful and so mind-shatteringly complex that our entire world is meaninglessly small in comparison. Subsequent discoveries have only added to the strangeness of the universe, but most of the people who know just how weird physics and astronomy can get and how humans are so small find this awesome rather than a total suicide-fuel.
  • This Cracked article lists a few cosmic events that can wipe Earth clean. While none of them are outright inevitable, they can all strike without sufficient warning for us to actually do anything to prevent them.
  • There's also that hypothetical evil red star flinging extinction event comets at us every few million years.
  • No one sleeps better after realizing the ultimate logical extension of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
  • The Higgs Boson might be capable of causing an apocalypse on a cosmic scale.[2] It's not the God Particle, it's the Outer God Particle.

They're coming, they're--