Dark Fantasy

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"I can't remember the last time I saw a wizard casting spells with a fucking smile on his face. It's always a grim, half-hooded scowl of disgust, like he's shaking off some stubborn ear-wax instead of the manifested power of the Fire Spirits. 'Ooh, I had to fight in a war because I've got mastery of time and space; meh meh meh'. Why don't you magic yourself cheerful, you gloomy spod?"

Dark Fantasy is, generally speaking, a Darker and Edgier subgenre of fantasy. These kind of stories can be pretty much described as Standard Fantasy Setting meets Crapsack World, as opposed to the usually-lighthearted regular fantasy setting. Oftentimes common fantasy elements are deconstructed or played in the darkest way possible, and the best you can hope for is Gray and Gray Morality. Wikipedia goes a step farther, saying it's Horror meets Fantasy. It may have been originally, but now every fantasy set in a Crapsack World can now be listed as a Dark Fantasy.

Darker and Edgier Science Fiction isn't recognised as a subgenre as Dark Fantasy is; however, dystopic fiction often has markings of SF and thus gets an honourable mention here.


Politics and society

  • The Horde vastly outnumbers civilization. The Fantasy Axis of Evil is there, and is either even worse than you'd expect, or the "good" guys aren't really better than them. Expect a lot of Rape, Pillage and Burn when they go raiding. Good chance someone (on either side) will say "The Women Are Safe with Us."
  • Of the Five Races, the elves are all stuffed-up jerks who have either sneaked off, devolved into fancy-eared humans or gotten enslaved (the only kind who may thrive are the Dark Elves), the Hobbits were the first to be subjugated or are just plain evil in the first place, the dwarves don't care about anyone else and thus shamelessly nickel-and-dime the other guys, and the Humans Are the Real Monsters and actively persecute the rest. Abusive Precursors, if any.
  • Wretched Hives of cities and The Dung Ages in the countryside is what you should expect of society. The lower classes are Medieval Morons, while the upper prove that Aristocrats Are Evil. The slave trade is the main source of income, both in terms of taxes and population. Expect the cute, fuzzy, Weak-Willed ones to be targeted, such as Petting Zoo People or Hobbits. Conscription into the army may be present, overlapping with an Army of Thieves and Whores. Often, Hobbes Was Right.
  • If Fractured Fairy Tale is being used, the darkest Alternative Character Interpretation possible will be used. Forget three little pigs building houses out of questionable materials because mum kicked them out, it'll be a horde of Orcs trying out new fortress designs so they have somewhere to store pillage from the village vs. a werewolf knight, or perhaps Puss in Boots is a shameless Con Artist Femme Fatale Humanoid puma or cat-demon, or Little Red Riding Hood and the Woodsman are a serial killer husband and wife team.
  • There is a high chance that there is an evil, expansive and genocidal empire, which nonetheless is a seemingly better alternative to the rest of the lot, if only for the fact that everyone is too afraid of the Emperor to try anything funny. Which means that if the emperor is weak or ill, then all bets are off. When democracies and republics exist, they are corrupt and profit driven. Kingdoms and theocracies don't even need a description, and The Magocracy uses magic to Mind Rape the people into obedience.
  • In terms of politics, often there's an endless conflict between the civilizations. Wars of extinction are not uncommon and entire Worlds[1] are often put to the sword to ensure victory. Otherwise it is a fight to be the new figurehead of the old empire that had fallen eons ago.

Religions and deities


Sibling trope to Dungeon Punk, which can be just as grim and gritty, but Dungeon Punk has Magitek. May be the result of a disruption in, or Evil's turn, on the Balance of Good and Evil.

Examples of Dark Fantasy include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

Video Games

Tabletop Games

  • The aforementioned Warhammer games are just as dark as the video games based on them.
    • As of 8th edition, the only thing on the list Warhammer lacks is organized religion comprised entirely of evil cults. Sigmar and Ulric have reasonable priesthoods.
  • Some Dungeons & Dragons settings (Ravenloft and Heroes of Horror spring to mind), and it really depends on the player's Character Alignment and the DM's mood when he cooked up the campaign whether it stays Heroic Fantasy too.
    • The overall theme in Planescape is its moral ambiguity, and the bizarre settings only increase grim mood.
    • The Midnight setting takes place in a rather generic fantasy world where the Forces of Evil won the final war and the protagonists are guerillas or simple folk trying to delay the inevitable. Imagine Lord of the Rings if Sauron had won.
    • The Dark Sun setting takes place in a desert fantasy world where the Forces of Primordial (or whatever bad, bad guys the writers feel like throwing in an edition) won the war and the heroes (if you can call them that) fight out of necessity, not idealism.
  • Gemini is set in dying world that succumbed to eternal twilight and the people are harassed by the demonic forces looking for hiding Prophet believed to be a Saviour of Man.
  • Don't Rest Your Head: A group of insomniacs are slowly losing their minds, and gain access to a city built out of insanity, and populated by corporeal nightmares, which they fight off with Power Born of Madness. And, as the title suggests, if they do ever get to sleep, they are in deep shit (If they live long enough to wake up again, they lose their superpowers untill sleep deprivation drives them crazy enough to use them again).
  • Kult
  • The World of Darkness games are practically the trope codifiers for urban, Dark Fantasy.
  • Atmosfear


  • The Witcher cycle, particularly in the later books of the Saga, when it began accumulating grimdark. The game and earlier stories are quite gritty, but lighter than late Saga.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • The Black Company cycle. The military kind of dark.
  • All novels written by Feliks W. Kres, especially the Szerer cycle.
  • Michael Moorcock's Elric saga, focusing on a doomed albino emperor with the mother of all Evil Weapons.
  • The Eye of Argon, and not just because of the shoddy writing.
  • The First Law series and really anything by Joe Abercrombie
  • The Gentleman Bastard Sequence series is this applied to Sword and Sorcery thief protagonists.
  • The Children of Hurin could be one of the earliest examples, if only Professor JRR Tolkien had't held it in Development Hell until his death.
  • Above Ground
  • The Cthulhu Mythos have evil cultists galore, and a whole plethora of Evil Gods. Magic is generally not used, as one wrong word gets you eaten by an Eldritch Abomination. Success will usually either drive you insane(r) or get you eaten by an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Miserere an Autumn Tale: the purpose of the Woerld is to hold off Hell
  • In The Acts of Caine it's one half of the setting. The other half if classical Dystopia.
  • The Second Apocalypse series begins with about half the known world being destroyed by the No-God, and things continue in the same general tone from there.
  • Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson has a powerful story and beautiful description as befits the author. But it is set in a world where Dark Things walk the wild, chieftains are obsessed with their feuds, commoners are treated like dirt, no woman can walk safely alone, and the best anyone can hope for is that one warlord will beat up a bunch of others and then run his conquest generously. Oh yes and the gods are all jerks as well. And this apparently was the world Norsemen really believed they lived in. Probably at least the behavior of humans was fairly close to that described in the book.
    • Hrolf himself, one of the most likable characters, is cursed by Odin, not for any particular wrong but for being a good king. Odin cannot have someone who would "put an end to war". That tells what kind of setting it is.
    • Actually the beginning is happier then most of the book including the ending. Britain has been united under a fairly decent ruler, Saxons and Danes are learning to work together, and a feast is being held. During the feast a tale is told by a visitor to King Athalstane's court and this is the tale we read.

Live Action TV

  • Grimm Uses fairytale characters and incorporates said characters into stories associated with serial killers and rapists, along with other crimes such as stealing, contraband, corruption and drug associated themes such as drug addiction and drug dealing. The way that these kind of subjects are dealt with is in a fashion much like that of a fairytale.

Web Comics

  • Drowtales. Murder and Demonic Possession are very common. One character whose life is in danger comments that she doesn't want to end up Undead. Cannibalism is completely legal due to a resource shortage, as is rape, incest, paedophilia, and Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. Schools don't mind the students killing each other, as long as they do so quietly and dispose of the bodies themselves. And those are the "good" guys. On the surface world, nobles bathe in elven blood because they think it'll make them immortal. Magic is fairly neutral though, but some are allergic to Blood Magic.
  • Ark The Improbable. The main characters are an Elf and a Frankenstein's Monster belonging to a Bounty Hunters guild, fight hideously mutated creatures, developed from The Virus working it's disgusting magic on mundane animals, plants, humans, and fantastic creatures, including Werewolves and Zombies.
  • Parts three and four (and possibly part 5, we're not sure since it hasn't been posted yet) of A Modest Destiny, although they manage to inject some humor. It also seems to be getting better (due to one character, a frost-elf Vampire/ Necromancer, being stuck in the Heel Face Revolving Door.)

Web Original

  • Demon's Due: An illustration based web series where an evil sorceress unleashes all kinds of evils upon a local lordship. Magic is fairly neutral here, too, but dang is it can't be misused for all kinds of horrors in this one.
  1. world, in this context, means both planets and planes of the multiverse