True Art Is Angsty

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"The butterfly had an abortion as a teenager." "Oh, okay."
"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?"

In the given story, the experts have spoken! Only the grimmest of tragedies can effectively explore the fragility of human life, the crushing agony of love and regret, and other life-defining themes, such as why mommy never really loved you and the ultimate futility of happiness. Anything with an unambiguously Happy Ending is a piece of cheap commercial tripe.

Naturally, nobody's really the good guy in these stories. If there is a sympathetic viewpoint character, don't expect their suffering to be the prelude to an ultimate triumph. No, they've got to be traumatized for life, or even killed off, along with their friends. And heck, if there is a bad guy, why not let 'em win and get away with it scot-free while we're at it? That ought to drive home the message that life is suffering.

See also: Angst Aversion, Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy and Death by Newbery Medal.

Related to Comedy Ghetto and Maturity Is Serious Business.

Examples of True Art Is Angsty include:

Anime and Manga

  • Pretty much all 1970's shojo, like Kaze to Ki no Uta. Extra points for being an award-winning manga.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nuff' said. End of Evangelion takes it Up to Eleven. Let's see...
    • Asuka's mum committed suicide, leading to Asuka hiding her true personality behind an outgoing and egotistical behaviour. Her Mind Rape scene in episode 22 is chilling.
    • Shinji, after finding out that the only person who he made friends with is the last Angel. After being forced to kill Kaworu, he retreats back into his mind for the last two episodes.
    • In episode 23, Rei sacrifices herself to try to contain an angel. This results in a considerable portion of Tokyo-3 being annihilated.
    • Almost every single character gets some sort of existential crisis at one point or another.
    • Shinji repeatedly tries to run away from the responsibilities of piloting a Humongous Mecha, due to the stress involved.
    • In The End of Evangelion, Angst levels reach an all time high as Anyone Can Die. Listing every character that died would be pointless. If a character isn't killed, they're assimilated with the Human Instrumentality Project. By the end of the film, Shinji and Asuka are the only characters left on Earth.
  • Like Watchmen, it was a deconstruction of the then major tropes. And just like Watchmen it got relentlessly copied by people who missed the first sentence.
  • While Yoshiyuki Tomino is the man whom is named Kill'Em All for good reason, Tomino's idea of art being angsty is sometimes had a bit of silver lining, trying to show the beauty of humanity in spite of the blood and carnage. While writers like Whedon and Kitoh would gladly just give you a totally dark angsty tale to show only the worst parts about almost everything, Tomino surprisingly gave Be Invoked a somewhat optimistic epilogue as the now deceased spirits prepares to celebrate the rebirth of the universe.
  • Gundam ZZ and Turn a Gundam, which had more or less happy endings. And the Zeta Gundam compilation movies actually have an alternate Bittersweet Ending, instead of the Downer Ending one of the original series. Even then, Kamille gotten better by the end of Double Zeta, if it was not done by Tomino, Kamille would have suffered much worse.
  • Studio Ghibli almost always consistently proves this trope to be false. Choose a random film like The Cat Returns and there is no angst. Choose a film like My Neighbor Totoro and the trope is inverted, being "True Art is Happy". Stray too far into the wrong territory and go to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Princess Mononoke, then the angst storm starts.
    • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind deals with humanity struggling to survive in an After the End scenario, with massive conflicts, and a vast, spanning toxic jungle. The film keeps the angst mild, but the manga takes it to Neon Genesis Evangelion levels, dealing with massive God Warriors, vast waves of human extinction, and war. Humanity fighting in a post-apocalypse wasteland is bad enough; doing so with biological weapons and going full scorched earth to any living beings makes it worse. The God Warriors themselves are terrifying beings of mass destruction, Ohma, the God Warrior we are shown, is chilling, with beams that can ravage cities and radioactive light that makes any creature sick.
    • In Princess Mononoke, we have strong, overarching themes of war and anger, all backdropped by strong violence and zero levity. Blood and gore are common.
    • Although both works have a happy ending, the journey to get there is convoluted and filled with angst.
    • These are two works out of Ghibli's catalogue of twenty. The former isn't even a Ghibli film, being animated by Topcraft, produced before Ghibli was founded. Don't let these examples fool you! Everything's happy in the land of Totoro and Ponyo. Be aware of the Survivor Bias.
  • Mohiro Kitoh of Bokurano and Narutaru fame bathes in this trope and then some.
  • Clamp, Clamp, Clamp, Clamp, CLAMP. Oh God, CLAMP. Their still unfinished series X is particularly known for this, and every single other series they've written (even the adorably sparkly shoujo ones) have some form of soul-tearing angst in them to some degree.
  • Code Geass is also stuffed with Woobies, Fallen Heros, a Trauma Conga Line, Break the Cutie, and Tear Jerkers, with one or two Star-Crossed Lovers thrown in for good measure. And it comes complete with a Bittersweet Ending! But Your Mileage May Vary vastly on that.
  • My-HiME is, oddly, bashed for this trope. Not because it avoids angst (it doesn't, by a long shot), but because the end of series enables Mashiro to press the Reset Button and restore all the HiME harmed by the Festival. Fan reaction was apparently intensely negative because they saw this as betraying the emotional intensity of rest of the series.
  • Saikano is a one giant angst parade.
  • One complaint lodged against Overman King Gainer was that characters didn't angst enough, the anime itself shows that angsting is nothing more than closing yourself off from people, but who cares about that he should whine about everything because that's what True Art does.
  • Invoked by Drosselmeyer in Princess Tutu. By his standards, you can't call any story decent unless everyone dies tragically and entirely in vain by the end. His characters beg to differ.
  • Clannad. Some people complain that hitting the reset button and making it a happy ending ruined the message of "accepting your losses and making the best of what you have" (basically that Tomoya learned to come to terms with Nagisa's death and decides that being there for their daughter is what he should be doing). Others feel that they were cheated out of their tears only to have it become a happy ending. The thing is, even if Key made it a bittersweet ending like they did with AIR, many fans will still complain about how depressing it is.
  • So there is no middle-ground and it is also not allowed to like the show for NOT falling into Fantastic Aesop territory?

"I have nothing but contempt for the deceitful thing men call 'happiness', and find myself with no choice but to push my characters, whom I pour my heart and soul out to create, into the abyss of tragedy."

  • And even then he is merely poking at the threads of angst and tragedy, despite Puella Magi Madoka Magica being an extremely dark Mahou Shoujo series. It is Gen's way of trying to redo his other most famous work Fate/Zero in his own image. A tale about how in other to have true absolute hope, there would despair that is equal to it.

Comic Books

  • Watchmen. A dark, cynical Cold War drama dealing with some the inherent flaws of leadership. All of the main characters are flawed. It is a Deconstruction of the Superhero genre, and often cited as one of the first instances of comic books growing up. It received unanimous praise from critics both inside and outside of the comics industry. It was the only graphic novel to be included in Time magazine's 100 Best Novels list. Not only do our heroes arrive too late to stop the "villain's" plans, but most of the main characters in the end agree with the "villain", including the godlike Dr. Manhattan. It's the "villain" of the novel who ends up "saving" the world. This however countered by Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic within the comic where the protagonist commits a deepening series of atrocities to save his family and hometown from the titular ship. By the time he reaches home, he's well down the road to madness and almost beats his wife to death by mistake. He runs out of town, realizing the freighter was never headed to the town where his family lived, and the only person the ship wanted was himself.
  • Sortly before Watchmen, Frank Miller rebooted Batman back toward his Golden Age Darker and Edgier form again with The Dark Knight Returns. It spawned a host of reimaginings over the next decade of nearly every comic book character into similarly self-doubting, misanthropic protagonists set in a Black and Grey Morality. (Even Archie!) By the late-90's, darkness apathy set in, sales plunged, and some heroes that had no business being so dark were retooled again away from this trope.
    • To this day, however, critically acclaimed titles tend to be the grittiest. No matter how popular other titles are, most comic critics refer to them as lighthearted escapism. Literary and art critics tend to split down the middle, since angst averts incomprehensibility.
  • The Batman comic Fortunate Son seems to espouse this attitude as a rock musician complains that his music isn't "real" because he came from a normal household and had a normal upbringing, compared to an Elvis Expy who grew up in a shack and "knew real pain". Linkara mocks the attitude as moronic and unrealistic.


  • The Dark Knight: A noble, heroic man is twisted via Deus Angst Machina into a psychotic murderer, while the villain who's responsible for it tries to systematically prove that all morality is a joke; though he doesn't entirely succeed, his efforts still lead to an exteremly Bittersweet Ending (Batman saves the day...the cost being that damn near all of Gotham HATES him now). The critical praise for the bleakest live-action Batman movie yet, though, was near-unanimous, garnering it eight Oscar nominations and two wins.
    • It should be noted that the film's actual Aesop, that people can be principled and noble (which is precisely what the Joker wants to disprove), is idealistic and heartwarming. Sure, the movie itself was dark, but it had an uplifting message.
      • While we're on the topic, Batman: The Movie (the campy 1966 Batman film starring Adam West) is often treated as inferior to the later Batman movies because it is not sufficiently dark and gritty.
        • To be fair, it is based upon a story whereby a boy fights crime as his parents were killed in front of his eyes. One must imagine that there wouldn't be a whole lot of campiness after an event like that in someones life.
        • Sure, but don't tell that to DC Comics: Adam West has pointed out more than once no matter how goofy the show got, it was still a lot more restrained and mature than the comics being released alongside it. Some fans feel that the Batman TV show is the best encapsulation of the Dick Sprang era we'll ever get.
  • It looks like producers and creators of Spider-Man movies think that way. Movies are full of angst, especially if you compare them with comics (Though, starting in the mid-80s, more angst was added into the Spider-Man comics, most of them are now deep in Dork Age). Spider-Man doesn't even make his trademark wisecracks in the movies.
    • Brian Bendis, writer of Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers tells an anecdote about how he and Stan Lee were asked to write some lines for first movie. He agreed and was wondering why Stan didn't. He found out when he wrote a few jokes about Green Goblin's costume and one of the producers looked at him like he should be burned alive at the stake. None of his lines were made into the movie, of course.
    • Ironically, the director, Sam Raimi, may be one of the few involved to not hold this view, as he is fond of adding a lot of comic relief in the movies (Bruce Campbell, anyone?) In fact, many criticized him for not making Spider-Man 3 (the film with the black costume) dark and serious enough.
    • Then again, the Spider-Man movies do have so moments that are pretty goofy if you think about it (Doctor Octopus' tentacles talking to him in the second one, the over-the-top evil voice of the Green Goblin in the first one and the part where he sings "itsy-bitsy spider") and these didn't seem to stop critics from liking the first two.
  • While still talking about the genre of superhero movies: Bruce Banner was more angsty than angry in Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk. It was well-received by critics, but its box office records plummeted as audiences shunned it.
  • Pixar Animation Studios tends to avert this.
    • Not to everybody's tastes. There's the WALL-E example mentioned down below, some people believe that |Andy's toys should have died in the incinerator, there's even a few who think that Up should have ended with Carl dying of old age. Look, we all want the Animation Age Ghetto to go away, but we have to set boundaries somewhere.
  • Casablanca makes a point of having a main character who grapples with angst... then does the right thing, inspires another character to find a hidden reserve of human decency, and gets away with shooting the bad guy. Proponents of True Art Is Angsty would have shot all of them, or at least have forced Blaine to sacrifice his life.
    • Rick throws away his one chance at true love, although a critic notes that it's a "flaw" in the ending that he doesn't seem terribly torn up about it.
  • Singin in The Rain. The Wizard of Oz. To a lesser degree, even Lawrence of Arabia averts this trope, in spite of beginning with the protagonist's funeral. And, like Casablanca, all three are on the American Film Institute's top ten list. (However, note that Singin' in the Rain wasn't even nominated for Best Picture of 1952.)
    • The oversight of Singin is due to Academy politcs: Gene Kelly already got one.
  • No Country for Old Men.
  • A common complaint about WALL-E was that the second half was somehow inferior to the first. This quickly becomes a bit of a misnomer when everyone refers to their favorite scene as either "Define Dancing" or the art history credits, which both occur in the final third of the film. But you see, there is an obvious reason for this hypocritical set of circumstances. These people aren't allowed to admit they liked the second half of the film because it is ... colorful, and it has a -- gasp -- happy ending. Pixar just didn't keep up the angst level enough for the True Art Is Angsty crowd.
    • There have also been complaints specifically about the ending. Some people think WALL-E should've lost his memory for good, which would of course subvert the entire message of the film.
  • Subverted when Agatha Christie revised the ending to And Then There Were None so that not everybody dies in the end. This was subsequently used for all film adaptations, except one. Played very straight when modern fans of the book tend not to be at all impressed.
  • Many of the professional critical reviews for the latter Harry Potter films praise them for being "Darker and Edgier" as though this were an automatic virtue. Roger Ebert is a notable holdout, rating the earlier films higher and questioning this view. Aside from him, very few critics seem to be able to wrap their minds around the idea that just maybe the early installments were light-hearted children's adventures for any reason beyond making lots of money. What's that, you say? It's supposed to get darker as it goes along? No way! It should have been grim and mature from the start! The early ones only weren't because they were directed by that hack Chris Columbus. How dare he make kids' films which appeal to kids! He should have skipped that whole wondrous new world thing and divided straight into the deep, meaningful angst! The quality of the earlier movies versus the latter ones is a legitimate issue which has divided fans, but it's a lot more complicated than the critics are willing to make it.
    • Having four directors, three during the development and introduction of the magical world to the characters and audience, making for inconsistent art direction and narrative, haven't helped.
  • Subverted with All That Jazz, in which the main character Joe Gideon suffers a deteriorating heart throughout the movie due to his lifestyle. In the end, his heart finally gives out, and the film ends with Gideon's Dying Dream in the form of... an upbeat (and kick-ass) musical number.
  • In-Universe example: Stranger Than Fiction. The story revolves around a novel written by a critically-acclaimed novelist, which by some unexplained reason directly affects the life an actual character in the film, and will end with his tragic death. Upon discovering this, Dustin Hoffman's character, supposedly a prominent professor of English literature, commented that it is a masterpiece. But since to finalise the book that way would kill the poor man, the author changed the ending, making it a Happy Ending instead. The professor's review is now: "It's...okay."
  • The Spanish film Biutiful, a film about a man who is separated from his bipolar wife, struggles with raising their two children (particularly their troubled son), makes money off of desperate illegal immigrants in the underworld, and to top it all off, can see the souls of the recently deceased, who are incapable of moving on. Oh yeah, and he has terminal cancer. And he accidentally kills a warehouse full of illegal workers by buying cut-rate heaters for them. Became subverted when some critics and viewers called it out for being too depressing.
  • This post on the "Children of the 90s" blog about the film Edward Scissorhands seems to imply that only dark films can be deep.

"I don't know about you, but I was big into happily ever afters, which doesn't tend to happen a lot if a film is trying to make a statement in the way that Edward Scissorhands was."


  • The Great Gatsby provides both a straight and a meta example of this trope, being that it's a crushing refutation of the American Dream, and has been called by many critics "the definitive American novel".
  • The first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina -- "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."—says something similar to Whedon's quote, with the observation that conflict equals drama, and that unhappiness tends to breed conflict. Of course, Anna Karenina, like much of Tolstoy's work, is not entirely a happy work itself.
  • Parodied oddly in C. S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress: Victoriana's poetry is not particularly angsty, except perhaps in a "the good times are over" nostalgic way. Victoriana, however, is; she assumes everyone is persecuting her (which therefore makes her a great artist, because all great artists are persecuted) and slaps, then whines at, anyone who isn't effusively complimentary about her work.
  • The final chapter of A Clockwork Orange (the original Anthony Burgess novel) ends with Alex contemplating how he has outgrown the urge to be a delinquent, but he worries that if he has a child in the future, the child will be like he was at that age. Burgess' American publisher insisted the final chapter be left out, because the book would be better if ended "on a note of bleak despair".
    • This is also why the film adaptation ends on a decidedly bleak note, as Kubrick was basing his screenplay on the American edition. Even when the existence of the British ending was brought to Kubrick's attention, he disregarded it, as he preferred the "tougher" American ending.
  • Some fans of Darker and Edgier High Fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire and The Malazan Book of the Fallen will use some form of this argument to lambaste The Lord of the Rings. Richard K. Morgan marketed The Steel Remains in this exact way.
  • This idea seems to be the basis for A Series of Unfortunate Events, though in this case it's played for laughs.
  • Paradise Lost manages an upbeat ending, and it ends with Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden! Of course, a lot of people consider the first third, crammed with Satan angst, to be the best part.
    • This may vary a bit depending on who you are rooting for. Satan has some upbeat parts, and genuinely seeks to find happiness and purpose without the grace of God, but in the end he is shown failing miserably—for those who identify with him, it's a bleak ending indeed. Meanwhile Adam and Eve are so shallow characters that it's much harder to appreciate their hopeful ending.
  • Anything by Cormac McCarthy. Anything.
  • Played straight by Alan Dean Foster (even as he subverts Most Writers Are Human), each time his pre-Amalgamation thranx poets, Wuuzelansem of Nor Crystal Tears and Desvendapur of Phylogenesis, seek out contact with the "alien monsters"—i.e. humans—because such a disturbing encounter will provide morbid inspiration for their poems. Writing about day-to-day life doesn't do it for either: they want to creep their audiences out, with accounts of freakish soft-skinned mammals. The Downer Ending in one of these two novels suggests the author is subject to True Art Is Angsty, too.
  • Most recently, all you have to do is look at the various web forums for the Wheel of Time. In the wake of the release of The Gathering Storm, you will see a sizable minority who insist the book is now juvenile and childish because after about five books of spiralling angst by Rand and in the most recent book him turning into an outright sociopath, the end shows him reintegrating his personality and laughing and crying on Dragonmount as he realizes there are things to live for. Only pain and angst and darkness are adult, you see.
  • Les Misérables. It's right there in the title.
  • Of course, oddly enough, this trope flies in the face of the fact that the first ever modern novel, believed by many to be the greatest novel ever written is essentially a comedy/ Though it's not without its Mood Whiplash and it features a Downer Ending, there's plenty of light-heartedness all over the place.
  • The Bell Jar is about a young woman that attempts suicide; admittedly, it is a bit optimistic in the ending and can actually be comforting to some people.
  • The works of Franz Kafka make this work really, really well.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest heroic epic that survives to this day. The hero goes through numerous ordeals in a journey to try to achieve something, but he fails, through a really stupid and pointless sequence of events. Finishes with a Bittersweet Ending when he realizes that the only way to defeat his own mortality is to make sure that people remember his story after he's gone.
  • Gently played with by Agatha Christie in her Miss Marple novels, in which the title character's nephew Raymond West is a cosmopolitan, avant-garde novelist with this attitude... only to have dear old Aunt Jane repeatedly show him up by solving brutal murders using insight gained from life in her bucolic small country village.
  • Well known Russian and Eastern Europe authors usually writes rather dark/depressing stories, especially in the field of science fiction.
  • Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, about a F-to-M transgender teen named Grady who transitions during high school, recieves some criticism because it avoids this trope. Grady receives a lot of support from his family, and some reviewers felt that was unrealistic.
  • Reviews of the Warrior Cats series have noted that the large amount of conflict and Dysfunction Junction is what ultimately makes the series deep.
  • John Steinbeck qualifies big time. His bibliography, which deals with the hardships of life, loneliness, cynicism, and the pointless and depressing loss of innocence has received almost unanimous praise from literary critics around the world. He received both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “realistic and imaginative” themes.
  • Sadako And The Thousand Paper Cranes is a young book about a real life girl named Sadako Sasaki who was a Hiroshima bombing victim and folds paper cranes up until her death. Naturally, this has found itself onto required reading lists partly because it doesn't feature a happy ending.
  • The classic Taiwanese novel, Orphan of Asia, detailing the protagonist's failing attempts to struggle against the colonial regime in Taiwan and lead a peaceful life before he went completely insane, fits into this category extremely well.
  • Man's Fate is a French novel detailing the Chinese Communists' failed attempt to assassinate Chiang Kai-Shek in Shanghai in 1927, leading to the Shanghai Massacre.
  • Many critics consider The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to be a dull-ish predecessor to Mark Twain's full display of literary chops in the sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Never mind that Tom Sawyer is absurdly clever, tackles deep characters and themes and has a far tighter plot--Huckleberry Finn has slave angst!
  • Literary Fiction as a genre has been perceived to have taken this stance in modern years with many of the stories (especially the short stories) being horridly depressing. The full-length novels tend to have some uplifting moments and are more likely to have a Bittersweet Ending as opposed to an all-out Downer Ending or No Ending.

Live Action TV

  • Joss Whedon is well-known for saying "Happy people make for boring televison." While this assertion is not without merit, some fans think he has an unfortunate tendency to go a bit too far with it.
  • This started happening in the new Doctor Who sometime around the end of the first season and has gotten worse since. If an episode isn't intended as a comedy romp, it'll probably be plumbing the depths of Wangst. And even some of the later comedy romps will often have something angsty happen just for good measure.
    • It's also perhaps worth noting that the old series of Doctor Who, which was relatively free of angst when compared to its twenty-first century incarnation (and certainly didn't stress the Doctor's lonely immortality and romantic heartaches quite as frequently or enthusiastically as the new series), ran for some twenty-six years without winning a Hugo or BAFTA or any similar kind of award. Then, the new series comes along with a brand spanking new angsty Last of His Kind Backstory for the Doctor - and immediately started being showered with awards.
      • In "Blink" Sally says she likes the sad ambience of the derelict house:

Kathy: What's so good about being sad?
Sally: It's like happy for deep people.

  • Kids in The Hall's Bruce McCulloch enjoys playing the 'tortured artist' in sketches such as "My Art" (dramatically agonizing over his decision to lend his art to an insensitive friend) and "The Art Collector" (selling his Velvet Elvis to an extremely frugal art collector).
  • Kamen Rider Black had one of the darkest plots of Kamen Rider, needless to say, it was well received. Faiz also had its angsty moments. But what was the most angstiest was perhaps Kamen Rider Ryuki where the Evil Riders are not one dimensional lackeys for some big bad but more like horrible humans with a Rider belt serving their own agendas.
    • One of the reasons Masked Rider tanked was because Saban turned it into a fluffy, vapid sitcom. The parent series Kamen Rider is fairly dark. Although Kamen Rider Black RX, the show it was adapted from, was comparatively light as far as Kamen Rider went, and one of the lightest and most comedic Kamen Rider series ever, Kamen Rider Den-O, is also one of its most enduring and well-liked. Though Your Mileage May Vary. As for Masked Rider, it was disliked for not being good rather than simply not being angsty.
      • Black RX, in fact, is one of the least-liked KR series ever, and it is not coincidence that there wasn't another full series until 2000. The sitcom elements were very much in the original and were similarly not liked. Throw in Kotaro himself getting in on the comic relief and often coming off as quite Out of Character if you liked him in Black. You'd think Saban would have seen the writing on the wall instead of doing exactly what didn't work. Again, though, Den-O is quite funny and quite popular, so there's a right way to do it and a wrong way.
  • On the Super Sentai side, it seems that the love there is for a series is directly proportional to the darkness. It's also seen in Power Rangers fandom due to the distate for the censorship imposed by the networks - what started as a desire to not see good storylines nerfed by the inability to have anything too dark happen has grown into a series only being as good as the number of times we hear "die" as opposed to "destroyed" or "lost," see bullets as opposed to lasers, or have death-death as opposed to Disney Death - nothing else matters. More humorous series like Power Rangers Ninja Storm don't have a chance in hell with the adult fans from day one.
  • Brian from Spaced, a caricature of the angsty artist, and therefore a spoof of this trope. When asked what his work is about, he always answers, "Anger. Fear. Pain. Aggression." When he starts dating and becomes happy, he can't paint anymore. His landlady Marsha reduces him to tears by explaining this in a way that seems mean-spirited and crowing, but she's doing him a kindness: his despair over the cruel irony makes him paint again, which was what he wanted.
  • Supernatural. Very much so.
  • M*A*S*H couldn't stop winning Emmys after it became a serious war drama. And, yes, it won them in the comedy category. Apparently, you win comedy Emmys by doing hard-edged drama.
  • Torchwood: Children of Earth just about epitomizes this trope. On the bright side, 10% of the Earth's children aren't taken by aliens to feed a drug habit, and Gwen is having a baby with Rhys. On the darker side of things... just about everything else.
  • The Wire, merciless in its depiction of the futility of the war on drugs and the endless self-perpetuation of crime and corruption inherent in society. Considered by many to be the greatest show in the history of television.
  • Totally averted by The West Wing. Once John Wells got his claws on the show and started to make it in the model of ER by forcing the characters to be unhappy, introducing lots of personal conflict and dislike, making the tone more cynical, and trying to be "real" by making sure that real victories were rarely achieved without loads of nastiness, the show was almost universally panned by fans and critics alike. This in contrast to the seasons before Wells, when the cast was a cheery, tight-knit group of True Companions whose squabbles were almost familial, the tone was principled and idealistic (which made the rare drops into bleakness and gloom that much more powerful), all tragedies were buffered by the strength of the characters' friendships, and human decency and common sense never completely failed — and The West Wing swept the Emmys for best show, best writing, best acting, and best directing while being hailed as one of the best shows ever written.
    • The goes double for the Stargate, many fans enjoyed the relatively light hearted science fiction experience and how despite going into an impossible situation will always find some way to get out of this. Many fans were unhappy about the darker plot of Stargate Universe when it tries to follow in the footsteps of the new Battlestar Galactica which is an exercise in True Art Is Angsty.
  • At the end of the last episode of Dinosaurs (a light hearted comedy throughout), everyone dies. They also die in a way that we as an audience can relate to, sort of like nuclear winter except with exploding volcanoes. Sort of a Fantastic Green Aesop.
  • Some contestants on Work of Art, a reality game show, have fallen into this; sometimes the angsty art works, but sometimes it doesn't, for reasons varying from not fitting the challenge to being cliche or showing the artist has little range.
  • Both averted and played straight by How I Met Your Mother: on one hand, the show is unafraid to utterly obliterate a lot of tension and suspense or undercut dramatic plotlines by showing (and allowing Future!Ted to cavalierly drop spoilers on the viewers about) how tightly-knit and happy the gang is years and decades into the future—and in doing so, attracted enormous amounts of critical acclaim for its unapologetically optimistic tone and ballsy approach to television-typical narrative structures, and vastly strengthened audiences' emotional investment in the characters. On the other hand, some of its best episodes and most memorable moments are its saddest and most painful—which they are allowed to get away with despite being a sitcom partly because the audience knows for a fact that everything will be fine in the end.


  • Parodied in "This Song Would Be Better" by Mike Aaron James. It is sung from the perspective of a straight-edge and well-adjusted musician with a good upbringing lamenting the fact that his good environment and mental state prevent him from making great music.
  • Comedian/Musician Bill Bailey's does a similar thing with his song How Can I Feel Pain, a quick parody of a rebelling teenager that has such a pleasant life he has nothing to complain about.
  • Paul McCartney in some ways is a perfect reflection of this trope. As an artist, he is for the most part a notably optimistic, light-hearted performer who writes cheerful, good-natured love songs (see "Silly Love Songs" for what is essentially McCartney's mission statement with these songs). A lot of these songs get dismissed as light-hearted fluff, enjoyable maybe but nothing special. However, every so often, he'll have a Creator Breakdown, such as his first solo album McCartney (written after the break-up of The Beatles) or Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard (written during his bitter break-up and divorce from Heather Mills). These albums get critically lauded.
    • Averted hard, however, by The Beatles; almost universally highly praised and held in high critical regard, the list of their most popular and highly regarded albums and songs contain just as many (if not more) optimistic and life-affirming love songs and ballads as dark, brooding and / or angsty songs.
    • Conversely, John Lennon generally gets a great deal more critical regard than McCartney, generally due to the wide-held perception that Lennon wrote all the angsty 'deep' songs and McCartney wrote all the light and fluffy ones. Which not only does a disservice to the 'light and fluffy' songs, but is something of a myth; whilst Lennon did frequently mine his not-untortured psyche for inspiration, he was just as capable of writing sweet love songs as McCartney was; similarly, not everything McCartney wrote for the Beatles was smiles and sunshine. For just one example from each, Lennon wrote "All You Need Is Love", a song about how beautiful and wonderful love is, while McCartney's responsible for "Eleanor Rigby", the song about the lonely old spinster who dies alone, sad and miserable.
  • This could be said to be the reason for the popularity of Grunge and Post-Grunge/Emo in the '90s and 2000s, respectively, along with the appearance of a cyclic various three chords.
  • David Bowie's 1995 Rock Opera 1.Outside takes place in a 1999 where performance artists take this trope to an extreme and combine it with True Art Is Incomprehensible via self-mutilation, etc. The result is the new craze of "art-crime", a term encompassing such things as "concept-muggings" and, as the story opens, a murder performed and presented as a work of art.
  • Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation embodies this trope, as do quite a few other prog bands.
  • This trope as applied to rock music is directly targeted by Bowling for Soup's "I'm Gay," which treats the happy sort of gay as akin to the other sort of gay, and encourages the listener to be open about being happy even if other people disapprove.
  • Christina Aguilera 's Stripped record features a lot of this trope. (Minus one or two loves songs, which also feature some angst)
  • Pink Floyd's Roger Waters.
  • Johnny Cash, although to be fair, Cash had his share of funny songs, especially when he was working with Shel Silverstein. Yes, THAT Shel Silverstein.
  • Nine Inch Nails. Everything prior to Year Zero.
  • Knorkator's rather attypical "Warum" (why) seems to build up to lampshade this trope in their typical nonsensical fashion, only to redeem it and showing that Tropes Are Not Bad. Asking such questions like "Why travels and endless stream of pilgrims to the prophet who never speaks?", "Why is the lamb born just to be eaten by a wolf?", "Why is the sword drawn where no enemy is left", and "Why did I leave you when we were happy together?", while playing appropriately dramatic music. However, it ends with:

And why does the queen cry on her throne qietly and alone
And why does no one come to her all mute and pale under the moon
Because this great melody demands pain, longing, and poetry
So it can carry these words and touch your heart

  • Inverted in the case of Peter Gabriel, whose album Up is generally regarded as both one of his darkest albums (if not the darkest) and one of his worst (though many fans still like it).

Newspaper Comics

  • The comic strip Funky Winkerbean won several awards over the years for dealing with a character's battle with cancer (which eventually resulted in her death), although it seems a lot of people didn't enjoy actually reading these strips. The long, drawn-out, angsty nature of the whole thing was parodied in the webcomic Shortpacked! with Funky Cancercancer.
    • Tom Batiuk was really annoyed with the insinuation that people weren't exactly enjoying watching him slowly torture his fictional characters to death and expressed this in his other strip, Crankshaft, while the cancer plot was winding down. He did it again in Funky Winkerbean with Les actually echoing the same sentiment and contrasting his words with the image of his dying wife in the hospice bed next to him.
    • September 2009 brought a story arc in which Les and Susan have to defend the choice of Wit (which is about a woman dying of cancer) as the School Play against parents who wanted to see something upbeat and fun instead of True Art. The apparent Take That, Critics! got the strip further mocking at the "Comics Curmudgeon" and "Stuck Funky" blogs.
    • August/September 2010 brought in a story arc in which Les had to decide on a cover for the book he wrote about Lisa's death; Susan defended the somber cover that more or less matches the one to the real book Batiuk wrote on the grounds that Art should remind people of the bleak, pointless agony that is the reality of human existence.
    • An irregular feature on the Comics Alliance site is commentary on the most depressing Funky Winkerbean strips - that month.

Professional Wrestling

  • According to most IWC fans, all faces are bland and generic while heels are interesting. You'll always hear fans calling for wrestlers to turn heel. We even hear the likes of Rey Mysterio and Gail Kim being called to turn heel, despite the clear fact that their style of wrestling is only suited for faces (heels can't do high flying moves in WWE).
    • This is especially grating when fans ignore the fact that heels can be generic as well and that unless they're the top heel, they're going to lose a lot more matches while faces often win a lot more regularly than heels.
  • Fans will claim that a lot of wrestlers were better as heels despite being ridiculously more over with the crowd as faces. Examples include John Cena, Mickie James, Randy Orton, Triple H, Melina Perez etc.
  • Expect to hear complaints whenever the faces win most of the matches at a PPV. You'll almost never hear the complaints if the heels win.
  • During the 90s, WWF/E adopted their "Attitude" marketing campaign, jettisoning the traditional tried and true 80s-style face in favor of violent, rebellious, trash-talking Anti-Heroes, iconized by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Heels often adopted very similar personas, leading to a lot of Black and Grey Morality, although eventually heels that were parodies of traditional faces, such as Kurt Angle, or even of Moral Guardians, emerged. Today this is considered the highpoint of the company's success, and some fans are very vocal about their dislike of the recent decision to tone down the TV fare and make it more appropriate for younger audiences again.
  • Any time a wrestler with a comedy gimmick gets a big push or wins a title they will be slammed by critics, regardless of wrestling ability.


  • Many musical theatre fans are still annoyed today over The Music Man winning the Tony award for Best Musical over West Side Story. West Side Story has scenes of deadly violence, juvenile-delinquent angst and a Downer Ending, so it has earned the reputation as having been "ahead of its time" (despite being a remake of a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet).
  • Shakespeare's tragedies tend to be elevated higher than his comedies. Of the comedies, The Tempest is treated as particularly artistic, and it's one step from tragicomedy, as is Measure for Measure, the bleakest and most unfunny of all his comedies (the main characters don't die at the end, so it only narrowly avoided the traditional definition of tragedy at a time when all theatrical fiction was either "comedy" or "tragedy").
  • Of all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, guess which one got the most critical praise for the composer (and even from Sullivan himself)? The Yeomen of the Guard.
  • This is a core belief of the Nowhaus collective in Passing Strange. When the lead character, The Youth, joins them his music goes from American pop to a dark, brooding number that culminates in his declaration that "I let my pain fuck my ego and I call the bastard art!"
  • Wicked soon goes from a clever little musical about life to a depressing musical revolving around Star-Crossed Lovers which ends with one of them dead. Or so one of them thinks. The source book is almost nothing but angst, but the musical has its fair share too.
  • Ancient Greek Tragedy is all about this trope. The Oresteia is a sample of that genre.
    • Paradoxically, since Oresteia is also a rare example of a Greek Tragedy with a happy ending.

Video Games

  • Video games with ambitions to the epic approach this, making plot points out of tragedies.
    • Of course not going over the top with the story helps. There is a difference between making a good tragic story and a excessively dark tale that forces one bad thing after another just for laughs.
    • There's also a balance needing to be struck in making the game dark and angsty and making it worth playing; since (unlike many of the other mediums presented here) at least part of the appeal of a video game is the sense of accomplishment the player feels as a result of successfully playing it, the player is likely to feel cheated if they invest a lot of time and effort into playing a game only for it to result in a downer or leaves them feeling that nothing has been accomplished.
  • Square Enix cannot win on this - when their games aren't being accused of following this trope to a T, the supporters of this trope criticize them for not following this trope to a T.
    • For one example, Final Fantasy VII ends rather ambiguously. This led to an interpretation that the world was destroyed and everyone died, leading some to applaud Square for their gutsy storytelling and others to deride it for being too depressing. Meanwhile, the group of people who pointed out that the world was not destroyed were derided for being unable to face "reality" by people who both loved and hated it. So when Square got around to announcing the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, showing two projects set after the game with a perfectly intact world? They were criticized for "retconning" their game.
    • The same thing happened with Final Fantasy X - while Tidus and Yuna certainly believe he sacrificed his life, a scene after the credits shows him landing in the ocean in Besaid. Again, the same factions popped up - those who loved the tragedy, those who hated the melodrama, and those who pointed out that it was more likely that he wasn't dead at all and were once again derided for not being "realistic". Fast-forward to the sequel and once again, Square following their own plot points is accused of being a retcon because they used the same scene again and simply placed it within the context of X-2 - thus conclusively showing Tidus alive and reuniting with Yuna.
    • This is one of the major points of contention between fans of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Fans who criticize Chrono Cross for implying the deaths of Crono, Marle, and Lucca are told to "grow up" and accept these characters' fates, while praising the game for its "gutsy" and original storyline. Chrono Trigger fans have mostly responded by roundly trashing Chrono Cross and its fans. Oh, and you're not allowed to like them both.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics is already a dark game, filled with murder, betrayal, and all those niceties you find in war. But some fans seem to want to make it even darker and more pointless by insisting that, canonically, Delita ripped a spy's tongue out after sparing her life and Ramza and his whole party died, making his whole quest to safe his sister meaningless. The only evidence of the former case is that said character doesn't talk for all of the one minute she's on screen (during another character's monologue) after her supposed death. The latter case is admittedly a little ambiguous, as Ollan wonders whether he really saw Ramza and Alma, or if it was their ghosts, but you have to ask: Why would ghosts be riding Chocobos, and why would the credits show them stopping to get water at a stream if they were dead?
    • Elsewhere in the series, Final Fantasy VI ends a very hopeful note, but there are a lot of fans that try to argue that the world was destroyed no matter what you did. Even though the ending shows plants growing again and the party flying around the reforming world.
      • For what it's worth, the game is very depressing in the beginning of the World of Ruin and features its share of moments that will just break your heart. Doesn't change the fact that the ending is incredibly visibly uplifting, though.
    • Final Fantasy VIII ends with what is, without a doubt, one of the most unabashedly positive endings in the series. The world is saved, the hero gets the girl, and the Garden sails off into the sunset. Naturally, the game got lambasted for being so upbeat and happy in its ending, and a substantial number of fans started developing the "Rinoa is Ultimecia" theory despite all the evidence to the contrary, up to and including Word of God. Another popular theory is that Squall dies in the end (or, even more nonsensically, at the end of Disc 1, and the rest of the game is a hallucination) which is, again, against all the actual evidence and runs counter to the whole spirit and theme of the game.
    • This trope in general might explain the tendency in the fandom at large[1] to lionize Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII while not extending the same courtesy to titles like V and IX. Notable in that IV is apparently lumped into the angsty pile even though, on its own terms, it's as idealistic as V.
    • How about Kingdom Hearts? First we had these fun adventure games...Kingdom Hearts and II, and Chain of Memories (and, aside from the outright happy ending of II, they had endings that were bittersweet at best, with still alot to feel uplifted about.) And then we had 358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep, both of which have characters who are Doomed by Canon and have the bad guys WIN! WHAT WAS THAT? Not to mention that 358/2 Days contains the only permanent death of a central protagonist in the series. SERIOUSLY. And then they have fans saying that "Square-Enix has grown up". Yes, never mind that there had been darker games made in the past, even before they became Square-Enix and afterwards as well.
    • Dragon Quest has some of this, too, but people aren't as overly critical towards Dragon Quest as they are to Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. You might hear someone trashing Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest IX for being light-hearted, when Dragon Quest VIII isn't really light-hearted compared to Dragon Quest IX.
      • Dragon Quest V is probably the most universally praised game in the series for its plot, which is basically 40 hours of the protagonist getting pushed through a Humiliation Conga.
  • Killzone 1 had a relatively decent ending but Killzone 2 just take this trope and chugs it down. A hopelessly failed invasion from the start made worse as everyone we knew and loved in the first one died horribly with only one survivor and a Downer Ending where now the ISA is going to definitely lose? Critics loved it, as quoted from another guy "What is the point of completing the single player campaign if you are going to get screwed over?"
    • Killzone 3 is a step up from Killzone 2 in this regard. Yes, it is still INCREDIBLY Grimdark, but it manages to squeeze optimism back into the story. that is of course, until the ending. The ISA force of thousands has been reduced to less than sixty soldiers, and the Helghast's home planet was nuked to oblivion. The later is especialy terrible, since Hakha from 1 made it clear that not all Helghast are evil and the intro of 3 even implies the millions of civilians on the planet suffering from the regime. And they are STILL FIGHTING BACK.
  • Similarly, there's a solid chunk of its fanbase that insist that Ico ends with both Ico and Yorda dead, despite Word of God saying they got a happy ending. Or of course it could have been both.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day, while primarily a comedy game, ended on a very dark, angsty note. Conker's girlfriend Berri was murdered, and now he's the King of the Land, surrounded by all the people he didn't like, and only wants her back. Made worse when you remember that he basically blackmailed one of the programmers to give him anything he wants during the final battle, but in the heat of the battle, simply forgot to revive her.
  • Dragon Age, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed western RPGs is a Darker and Edgier setting, and as such can end up very angsty indeed, depending on the choices you make. However, it's almost always possible to Take a Third Option and thus Avert this trope.
    • The sequel plays the trope straight. The plot consists of the balance of power in the Free Marches slowly tipping out of control while your character's family is destroyed, and it's all your fault.
  • Red Dead Redemption, following Rockstar making a trend of darker and more serious storylines.
  • Mother 3, who some have said is the closest video games have come to literature.
  • Original Works by Cavia is pretty much downright angsty. Drakengard, Bullet Witch and NieR are good examples
  • The When They Cry series is full of this. When they aren't being Hot-Blooded fate breakers, goofy children, or suffering from psychosis you can expect them to be angsting.
  • The tagline to Halo: Reach was "From the beginning, you know the end." And how: Reach was glassed by the Covenant even before Halo: Combat Evolved began. The only thing preventing it from being full-on Downer Ending is Noble Six manages to transport Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn and ensures the ship escapes Reach. Because of Noble Team, the UNSC won the Human-Covenant War. It doesn't save them.
  • Part of the reason Limbo received as much recognition and praise as it did. A platform game? Fair enough. An arty platform game set in a grim, bleak Dark World where you play a small boy who will suffer a awful lot of gory deaths in an unremittingly hostile but beautifully rendered landscape? Transcendent!
  • Planescape: Torment is a beautiful piece of artwork with one of the most doomed and depressing plots imaginable. The game has you treading through a miserable immortality, forever being hunted, subjected to endless bouts of, well, torment, and seeing all of the damage and misery you have caused to others in your many, many past lives. The ultimate goal of the game is to die, and go to hell, so you can fight a war for demons, no matter how heroic you may have been while you were playing.
    • On the other hand not only can you actualy change people's life to the better through your actions but also make up for your crimes. Also if you pick the good ending you save all your party members who died protecting you, something no other incarnation before could do. Also the ultimate goal is not to die, it's to take responcibility even if it means dead.
  • Averted hard by Child of Eden. One of the most beautiful games to grace the Xbox 360...and one of the happiest, too. You'd be hard-pressed to find a game that better portrays technology and AI's in a positive light. And does it well.
  • Eric Nylund, the guy who wrote the story of Gears of War wrote several novels on famous FPS franchises which are known for their extreme bleakness.
  • Arc the Lad II: to put things in perpective: the game starts with its protagonist witnessing the genocide of his people: the rest of the game keeps getting worse and every HopeSpots the Heroes, and the Player found along the journey are mercilessly crushed by the end of the game.


I'm not a very happy person, but who is? Its not like happiness is necesary to create art anyways. Look at how many revered classics are about pain and struggle. I don't want to be a happy person if it means I have to write about insipid happy things. I'd rather be depressed and write something worthwhile, so if you're out to change me then I don't want your help.'"

SOCIETAL MYTH: Artist + sadness = Great Art
THE REALITY: Artist + sadness = Uninspired, sad artist

Web Original

  • Weimar World at invoked this trope with "annihilism", an art form to express beauty in destruction. The in-universe French Jerk Trope Maker christened it Vladivostok, named after the city that's supposed to be nuked during the breakup of that timeline's Soviet Union.
  • Parodied by Joss Whedon (along with a copious amount of self-parody, given his well-deserved appearance in the Live Action TV section) in Commentary! The Musical.

Neil Patrick Harris: An Internet musical is a wacky idea that's zany! Where did it come from?
Joss Whedon: It came from pain.

  • Doug Walker of That Guy With The Glasses once went through this phase during his high school and college years. Occasionally he makes fun of these nowadays.
  • Invoked in-story in Spes Phthisica: Helen's art only becomes popular when the dead landscapes of her Bad Future dreams start entering into it.
  • Parodied by Linkara in his Blue Beetle Tribute with 90's Kid:DUUUUDE! Who needs that kids stuff like hope and joy? No,i want GUUUUNS and lines over people faces...'
  • Inverted in petermullinvideo's rant on high school literature, where he complains that they're too depressing and that "we should read happy books!"
  • Parodied by The Onion, with this (fake) story about a cereal mascot getting a dark backstory.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - the dubious foreshadowing of Energybending aside, a surprising number of fans are unhappy at Aang NOT killing Ozai, and NOT losing Katara at series end.
  • The last arc (and only the last arc) of Moral Orel is considered a masterpiece. The last arc (and only the last arc) of Moral Orel is possibly the bleakest story in cartoon history. Despite that, there are a few bright patches in the episode, and the series ultimately ends on an upbeat note.
  • This trope may explain the benign reaction most 6teen fans had to the series finale "Bye Bye Nikki?", where Nikki moved away to Iqaluit (a real town in Arctic Canada). One of the most bittersweet endings in animated comedy history, and the episode was almost universally praised by the show's fanbase.
  • Your mileage will always vary on DIC's animated adaptions of Sonic the Hedgehog, but this trope does apply in regards to a comparison of the first cartoons; Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Sat AM. AoStH was a light hearted, care-free, and absolutely wacky comedy filled to the brim with slapstick mayhem and mad science of the Silver Age variety. It deviated from the source material a little bit, but was closer to the feel of the games in spirit. The show was also cheaply made, had recycled tired plotlines, one dimensional characters, and is over all considered "funny" but not usually for the reasons for what the show intended. Now Sonic Sat AM on the other hand, was a dark, epic, and scary cyberpunk drama and can be considered a deconstruction of the game's supposed setting and events. While deviating from the games quite a bit considering the spirit of the games, it had lush animation, detailed backgrounds, memorable storylines, and complex characters. Now guess which show is considered a "cult classic" that was Too Good to Last and which is an insipid novelty cartoon that gets mocked and YoutubePooped? It's an easy answer folks.
  • Hey Arnold! "Eugene, Eugene!" goes for this trope along with Writer on Board and Adaptation Decay in-universe: a drama critic is directing their school musical, in which Eugene has been cast as the main character and Arnold as the villain. Eugene's enthusiastic about it... until he discovers that there's been some deviation from the source material, by having Arnold win the leading lady instead of Eugene and having Eugene get run over by a trolley, while replacing the upbeat finale song "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" with a song called "Nice Guys Finish Last". Eugene queries the director about all this and gets what is essentially True Art Is Angsty (with a dash of Writer on Board) in response. After he leaves, we discover the reason behind the Writer on Board part of the change, as he weeps on a photo of his ex.
  • Mocked by The Fairly OddParents, at the end of the episode "Action Packed", when a French kid is given back his fairy godfather: "Now my heart is happy... but my art... will suffer from it...".
  • Family Guy:

People of France! A good-looking, depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a movie!


  • Crops up often in Winterguard, where shows using angsty classical music tend to score the highest.
  • Utsuge in general; whether applied sparingly and with purpose, or generously and without restraint. Viewing something that touches the audience's emotions leaves the impression that by the act of viewing it the audience has participated in something greater than mere entertainment. Where one person's Drama is another's Narm, both still recognize this trope at play in the work.
  • Commenting on the PBS film Imagining America about American artists, Jonathan Fineberg, Gutgsell Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois, book co-author and co-creator of the documentary, equated profound insight with unpleasantness and discomfort on public radio: "The artists who really have profound insight of some kind are often unpleasant to look at." It's supposed to be "threatening" and make viewers feel "uncomfortable".
  1. disclaimer: Final Fantasy is notorious for its Fan Dumb and this only describes a general trend; we know there's dissent and disagreement