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Dark Fantasy
"I can't remember the last time I saw a wizard casting magic 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 rather than the manifested power of the Fire Spirits. 'Ooh, I had to fight in a big 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 Grey and Gray Morality. Wikipedia goes a step farther, saying it's Horror meets Fantasy. It may have been originally, but now, with some linguistic drift, any remarkably dark fantasy story (it's sometimes enough if it's set in a Crapsack World) is often listed as a Dark Fantasy. While it's often a matter of marketing or abuse of terms, this entry assumes the latter, currently more common, definition.

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.

Also, if you want to write your own, check this out.

Magic

Politics and society

Religions and deities

Heroes

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

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Film 

    Forum Role-Plays 

    Live-Action TV 

    Literature 
  • The Children of Húrin could be one of the earliest examples, if only Professor J. R. R. Tolkien had't held it in Development Hell until his death. The Horde vastly outnumbering human civilization? Check. Isolationist elves and shameless dwarves? Check. The gods passing the popcorn? Check, as this is set before Eärendil's voyage. The God of Evil is the only one not passing the popcorn? Oh yes, check. The main hero is an Anti-Hero in sour armor? Frickin check.
  • Miserere: An Autumn Tale: the purpose of the World is to hold off Hell.
  • In The Acts of Caine it's one half of the setting. The other half is 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.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen takes typical War Is Hell conventions and applies them to fictional wars in a fantasy setting. Some of the atrocities the characters bear witness to (or go through themselves) are genuinely shocking.
  • The works of Stephen King often travel into fantasy territory, depending on how far the supernatural elements are elaborated upon. The Dark Tower series and related works like The Stand, IT and Insomnia are this, full stop.
  • The Zombie Knight: Thanks to a vein of humor throughout, this story might not have the same sense of hopelessness and/or pessimism that many other entries here have, but even so, this story is still very dark. The "magic" in the story comes from grim reapers who resurrect corpses, and while the protagonist is actually quite noble-hearted and wants to protect the people of Eleg, his success is never guaranteed.
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series definitely qualifies as well. A feudal society in which the upper classes scheme and intrigue while caring nothing about the common man and the Inquisition is a very powerful, feared and merciless force...bordered by a vast and totalitarian slave-keeping empire to the South and a barbarian kingdom of savage killers from Grim Up North on the other side. Said Southern empire being controlled behind the scenes by a cabal of crazed cannibal mages...and non-cannibal mages being little better (if not worse...). Oh, the little matter of any form of magic being, at its source, a demonic power in this setting. Lots of violence, grittiness, grime and death. It's saying something that one of the (comparatively) more sympathetic characters is a cynical, crippled Torture Technician for the aforementioned Inquisition.
  • Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues published by Ragnarok Publications gained a surprisingly large Kickstarter following by promising to be nothing but this.

    Mythology 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer. Its more popular spinoff Warhammer 40,000 can be summed up as In Space.
    • As of 8th edition, the only thing on the list Warhammer lacks is evil cults monopolizing all organized religion. 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 it's 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 The 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.
  • Dont 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: Humanity used to be immortal super-entities, but a jealous deity known as the Demiurge took away our powers and sealed them off, and imposed "mundane reality" on us. People who we think to be crazy are actually seeing through this veil.
  • The World of Darkness games are practically the trope codifiers for urban, Dark Fantasy.
  • Atmosfear (AKA Nightmare), which has the players at the mercy of an angry, petty demon-god called the Gatekeeper. The players roleplay his minions, either his Herald, a monster beholden to him, or a "soul ranger" attempting to steal a key from a herald.
  • Palladium Game's Nightbane, where you must save a modern-day Earth that has *already* been taken over secretly by monstrous shapeshifters- often by being one of them.
  • Although the game itself has very little in terms of setting, the rules and artwork in the Lamentations Of The Flame Princess core books present a world filled with sex, black magic and the most gruesome violence imaginable.
  • Exalted: Creation has pretty much been on a declining spiral since it was created, with one or two temporary exceptions. The Gods are corrupt, lazy, and/or addicted to games which are worse than crack, heroin, nicotine, and bacon combined. The world is threatened by no less than three sets of Eldritch Abominations, any of which would be happy to corrupt, unravel, or utterly destroy existence. The greatest weapons with the capability to fend off these enemies are humans stuffed with way more power than humanity was built to handle, suffering from a curse that causes them periodic psychotic breaks. The average mortal can expect either a long life of drudgery and toil or a short life of terror and pain. Oh, and those weapons? Two of the three sets of Abominations have their own versions working for them. Pretty much the only thing keeping the setting from being a Cosmic Horror Story is that the PC Exalted are fully able, if they act with wisdom, to actually confront and, potentially, solve the problems that face Creation.

    Video Games 
  • Path of Exile is set in a continent-sized Corpse Land-cum-Penal Colony (think "fantasy Australia") under siege by Fantasy Nazis. All summoning runs on Necromancy, and even Templars do this.
  • Fallen London and Sunless Sea are set in a version of Victorian London that was "stolen by devils" and is now run by the Masters of the Bazaar. Players can commit murder and cannibalism, go mad, become possessed, have their eyes stolen by spiders, sell their soul and be sank beneath the strange waves of the zee by enemies.
  • The original Quake featured this as the main setting. Eldritch horrors, dark magic, gothic and occult architecture, and an overall bleak atmosphere permeate the entire setting of the game. The major difference? You kill the enemies with More Dakka.
  • The Fall from Heaven mod for Civilization IV is explicitly described as Dark Fantasy by its creators. Convenient, since the mechanics of Civilization heavily encourage a rather brutal and cynical gameplay.

    Webcomics 
  • Black Rose features a grimy corrupted empire with Steam Punk technology versus an underdeveloped country where magic users are being wiped out, a lack of fantasy races other than humans, and a continued emphasis on how while things might seem bad at present, the protagonists will doubtlessly be going through worse. Said underdeveloped magic using country also has magic users capable of Mind Rape, with the military of said grimy corrupted empire being their only true means of protection against them (for a fee)...provided they don't just "vacate" their settlements and take over their land if they don't buy in.
  • 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 (and another has her zombified little sister as a bodyguard). Cannibalism is completely legal due to a resource shortage, as is rape, incest, pedophilia, 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.)
  • Draconia Chronicles, although it's more of the "Society is in the toilet, none of the races can get along or see their so-called "allies" are about to stab them in the back, and there's constant, unceasing warfare, atrocity, and bloodshed" sort of dark.

    Web Original 
  • Demons 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.


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