"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.
- Magic Is Evil, at best relatively neutral. Often The Corruption. There is a good chance it's directly obtained through a Deal with the Devil, powered by Blood Magic or involves Human Sacrifice. Individual wizards tend to go mad with power (or just the possibility of it) and are full of themselves. This is likely why Burn the Witch is a popular pastime of the lower classes.
- Magical weapons tend to be evil, or at least require a very heavy price for their use.
- If Sufficiently Advanced Magic enters play, the following may happen: augmentations eat away at one's humanity (often involuntarily for the sake of war and profit), communication magic creates new and fascinating ways to control people, and sentient constructs have only contempt for their creators.
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 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
- The gods are all jerks who pass the time eating prayer chips and drinking soul-booze while placing bets, and The Legions of Hell are mere days away from digging into the Mortal Realm, or are there already. A God of Evil is probably the only active one, unless the point of the story is that he doesn't need to, because people will jump at any opportunity to do harm anyway. Demonic Possession is quite common. If there are no "gods" per se, the Celestial Bureaucracy/Council of Angels have more red tape than a ribbon factory. May even have Devil but No God, or an outright evil supreme god running the show. Alternatively, the eldritch abominations might be destroying both sides.
- Any organized religion which is not a Corrupt Church or Religion of Evil is a Path of Inspiration. What else there is tend to be cults, paganic Scary Amoral Religions, or even more radical offshoots of the big ones. Often led by a Sinister Minister. Expect The Inquisition to burst in at any given opportunity, and we don't mean the funny kind that wonders why nobody expects them.
- The dead find staying buried a little boring, and resist any and all attempts to keep them buried, short of cremation or dismemberment. There might even be a region so full of undead nothing in its right mind goes there.
- The very best you can count on is an Anti Heroic Knight in Sour Armor. There is a high chance of (likely more than a bit of Well-Intentioned Extremist, or just straight-out bad guy) Designated Hero, who will probably lose or end up as He Who Fights Monsters or a zombie anyway, no matter how hard he may Resist the Beast.
- Even if you don't count in the black and grey morality of the heroes. Most of the respite they spend is mostly on having sex or getting drunk and violent and has a less than amicable working relationship with his comrades.
- The World Is Always Doomed. One may be able to Earn Your Happy Ending, but Evil Only Has to Win Once.
Anime and Manga
- Claymore: monsters run amok devouring the innocent civilians while disguising themselves as their neighbors and the only warriors who can fight them (all psychologically damaged young women) tend to live very short lives thanks to The Corruption which will turn them into something much worse and it's all just a Monster Protection Racket (something that the warriors are just as ignorant of as the terrorized peasants). And for what? To create ideal weapon for an Endless War between another continent bent on seeing them dead.
- Berserk: Take Claymore. Replace the army of hot Demon Slayer chicks with a one-eyed Jerkass with a big-ass sword, a mechanical cannon arm, a sacrificial mark on his neck that draws demons to him, and a pet fairy. Add a Corrupt Church, a Bishonen in white who is on the side of very, very EVIL, and an Evil God who's running the whole show.
- Most Hentai set in a fantasy world, if only because The Women Are Safe with Us and the Sex Slave Fetish is so pandered to. Some don't, but most do.
- Tales of the Dragon Guard. Dragons naturally radiate The Corruption, which only virgin women are immune to. Entire villages are mutated into slavering, insane monsters, and if the dragon knights fail, a Fantastic Nuke is detonated, which turns the countryside into a wasteland. Some peasants are convinced that nailing a virgin vaccinates them against the corruption, so you can guess what happens. The dragon knights are followed closely by prospectors looking for dragon gastroliths and scales, who often won't wait for the dragon to be killed before prospecting.
- Black Moon Chronicles, a French series of comic books is essentially this as the tale is set in the war-torn quasi-medieval world where corrupted priests, misguided paladins, demons and indifferent mercenaries vying for power while an impeding doom looms on (or rather above) the horizon.
- Some albums from Thorgal series are set in definitely bleak and corrupted fantasy settings (especially Three Ancients of the Realm of Aran/Bottomless Lake).
- Requiem Vampire Knight is this in spades, and the world of Resurrection is as crapsack as they come.
- Most things set in either Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40,000
- Dragon Age: Kinda like Claymore, but the Demon Slayers are genuinely trying to win and one can play as a guy. The Grey Wardens are all Death Seekers, because they drink Darkspawn blood and risk becoming one themselves. Magicians constantly fight against the whispers of demons from the Fade trying to take them over (little wonder many of them choose to be lobotomized), and every so often, one succumbs and becomes a Humanoid Abomination, or makes a deal in order to learn Blood Magic. Elves are a Slave Race destinguished from humanity only by their long ears and the fact that they produce magicians slightly more. The Dwarves cower in their two fortress-cities. The local flavour of Orcs -which resemble muscular, horned Drow- called Qunari, are gearing up for an invasion. The Evil Empire is invading. And they're all under attack by Darkspawn, which God cooked up as divine retribution because Humanity tried to invade heaven. (according to the intro cutscene, anyways) Hauntings and undead are common.
- Diablo has elements of it. Moreso in Diablo II, where The Legions of Hell have The Horde of Undead, mutant wildlife, lesser demons, and Deal with the Devil types Vs. a morally dubious Necromancer, a Vain Sorceress, or a Paladin who belongs to a Corrupt Church. And it's all up to that one person, plus any minions s/he may hire/summon. Heaven won't help out because of a strict non-interference policy, except for one Angel who sells goodies and resurrects dead party members to pay rent -- and who, in the third game, finally gets fed up and decides to become a mortal in order to help humanity directly.
- The Dept. Heaven series in general. As if the mortals weren't bad enough by themselves, all mortals are by design stuck in the middle of the war between gods and demons, both sides of which will actively screw you over in the name of their own victory. Defectors from either side generally don't get very happy endings either.
- Drakengard, which later jumps feet-first into a Cosmic Horror Story.
- Overlord series are both a pastiche and a parody of this genre.
- Brutal Legend has elements of it (Humans opressed by demon overlords and both sides under attack from The Undead), but it's mostly masked by the sheer awesome.
- Amea features a world overrun by zombies, yetis, and darkness. And by the end of the game, Amea, Inglor, and Garrik are shown to be the only good guys, and Garrik gets killed fairly early.
- Valkyrie Profile is an example of one. Slavery, war, and general atrocities is the order of the day. More often than not, humans succumb to the worst part of themselves. Not to say that the gods are any better. Ragnarok is just around the corner, and things are falling apart. Your job is to recruit the soul of worthy mortals to fight in that final battle, and there is no shortage of death and despair to make it very easy and guilt-free for you.
- Castlevania. Gothic horror-inspired enemies, and some installments have a magic system.
- Demon's Souls takes place in a kingdom completely overrun with demons, and it's up to you to feebly try to destroy them.
- Meanwhile in Dark Souls, the Fire that lights the word is dying, and it's up to you, cursed to never fully die and to slowly lose your humanity every time you fall, to travel through the undead and demon filled ruins of Lordran to do something about it.
- Avadon totters on the edge of the trope without quite falling off, allowing for both humor and heroism in a totalitarian, ends-justify-the-means society that's one broken treaty away from bloody ruin.
- Dwarf Fortress moved from Low Fantasy into this genre in its 2010 edition. Staying outside at night is tantamount to suicide by hordes of bogeymen, other evil creatures casually kidnap and murder people, and Hidden Fun Stuff occasionally breaks free to take over religions and civilisations.
- Most of the games of Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Crimson Shroud) fall under this category. War-torn lands, oppressive governments, CorruptChurches, and vengeful gods abound.
- Being inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, Eternal Darkness naturally fits into this category, with horror and Urban Fantasy elements particularly emphasized.
- The Under the Burning Suns expansion for Battle for Wesnoth
- 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).
- The World of Darkness games are practically the trope codifiers for urban, Dark Fantasy.
- 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.
- It even inspired its own trope, Cosmic Horror Story.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- world, in this context, means both planets and planes of the multiverse