main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
True Art Is Angsty

"It isn't gloomy, it's profound."

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 boring commercial tripe or even propaganda.

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 a ultimate triumph. No, they've got to be traumatized for life, or even killed off, along with their friends. 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.

Related to Comedy Ghetto, Oscar Bait, Maturity Is Serious Business, Death by Newbery Medal and Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!.

Contrast Angst Aversion, Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, and Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

  • Watchmen. A dark, cynical Cold War drama dealing with some the inherent flaws of leadership. All of the main characters are flawed, and only one has true superpowers. 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 and Watchmen 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 Comics!) 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. Despite this, you'll still find critics praising gritty comics for being gritty and calling everything else escapism.
  • 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.
  • Discussed in Flex Mentallo. The villain of the story states that happy endings are for children, but the Hoaxer retorts by saying its just as childish to want everything to be dark for the sake of seeming "realistic" and deep.
    • Writer Grant Morrison also discussed it in the final issue of his Animal Man run, when the title character ask that he bring his family back to life Morrison refuses due to this trope, although ultimately does.
  • This is now a DC Comics mandate. According to Dan DiDio, superheroes can't have normal lives, that they must be 100% committed to their heroic work and that anything else is doomed to fail. A very good example of this is Batgirl2011: in the span of 25 issues, Batgirl has: had her returned mother mutilated by the madman who mutilated her, her psychotic brother attack and seemingly killed by her hand, her father going nuts and organizing a manhunt for her, abandoning her identity, watching her "surrogate family" crumble apart, her surrogate brother killed and her boyfriend in a coma (though he wakes up an issue later). This is on top of the fact that Batgirl just cannot win at all.
    • This explains why the first Lantern Corps to be decimated to such a degree as to be effectively wiped out was the one powered by Hope.
    • Nightwing in particular seems to be a target of DiDio's wrath, with the character getting, in order: Betrayed by his love interest and having his circus destroyed, having it destroyed again by the Joker, being responsible for a super villain causing chaos in Chicago, losing his adopted brother, and having his Secret Identity revealed to the world. The character is the nicest guy in the DC universe, so of course, he must be broken down Daredevil: Born Again-style.

  • Bruce Almighty: Deleted scenes showed that God was trying to invoke this with a bullied school child. The child would use the torment he received as a child to become the next great writer. When Bruce became God, he granted his prayer of athleticism, which turned into a bully, which would lead his life to a dead end as a fast food joint manager.
  • 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 extremely 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.
    • 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.
    • Part of it also has to do with the stigma against comic books and superhero narratives in general. A lot of the positive reviews for The Dark Knight referred to it along the lines of "a superhero film for adults" or "a crime drama that just happens to have a masked protagonist."
      • While we're on the topic, Batman: The Movie (the campy 1966 Batman: The Movie starring Adam West) is often treated as inferior to the later Batman movies because it is not sufficiently dark and gritty.
  • The spectacular failure of Speed Racer was blamed on the film being "too campy" and colorful. WB decided that in light of the film's failure and the massive success of The Dark Knight, the Lighter and Softer Shazam film that was in the works at the time was no longer worth making. Though it never got off the ground, WB intended to do a Darker and Edgier Shazam movie more in line with the popular, darker superhero films being put out.
  • It looks like producers and creators of the Spider-Man Trilogy 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 Michael 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.
  • Subverted with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however. The movie contains one of the darkest moments in any superhero movie ever, with Spidey being unable to save Gwen Stacy from falling to her death, yet is considered the worst Spider-Man movie. One of the major complaints is that the film suffers from complete Mood Whiplash, going from colorful and Campy to dark and melodramatic without warning.
  • While still talking about the genre of superhero movies: Bruce Banner was more angsty than angry in the 2003 film Hulk. It was well-received by critics, but its box office records plummeted as audiences shunned it.
  • Stan Lee has publicly stated that he disliked Daredevil precisely because of how gritty and devoid of optimism it was.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier was explicitly touted as being Darker and Edgier than Captain America: The First Avenger, and was not only better received by critics, but did much better than its predecessor at the box office as well, with many Marvel fans calling it one of the best (if not the best) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie never reaches The Dark Knight Saga levels of bleakness, but it does away with the Camp of the original film in favor of a much more grounded tone and aesthetic and is arguably the darkest film in the MCU.
    • The Marvel Cinematic Universe in general gets criticism for not falling into this by some groups, notably fans of DC's recent live action works such as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel, and Arrow. A common sentiment from these groups is basically 'DC is dark realism for adults, Marvel is silly escapism for kids', which is pretty ironic considering how their source material are often known for falling on the opposite side. Of course, it raises the question on if they've even watched these films considering some of the things that happen in the MCU films.
  • Pixar Animation Studios tends to avert this.
    • 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. And while Singin' in the Rain wasn't nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in its year, unlike the others, that was an issue of Academy politics — the filmmakers' previous effort, An American in Paris, had been the big winner the previous year.
    • The trope is also lampshaded in Singin, when R. F. announces that Monumental Pictures is being retooled for sound:
      Cosmo: Talking pictures, that means I'm out of a job. At last I can start suffering and write that symphony.
      R.F.: You're not out of job, we're putting you in as head of our new music department.
      Cosmo: Oh, thanks, R.F.! At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony.
  • No Country for Old Men. Really, anything by Cormac McCarthy can be put in here to some extent.
    • Subverted by The Counselor, however. While the film is just as grim as Mc Carthy's previous works, it received nowhere near the level of good reviews such as No Country or even The Road did.
  • 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" 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."
    • Out of universe as well, as some viewers felt the ending would have been stronger if Harold had actually died.
  • 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.
    • Not only Biutiful but also the other movies directed by Alejandro González Ińárritu (Such as Babel or 21 Grams )tend to be incredibly depressing, and most of them were highly praised by the critics.
  • 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."
  • Many people have criticized Schindler's List, despite its vivid depictions the depravity of the Nazis and the horrors of the death camps, for ending on a triumphant and optimistic tone.
    Stanley Kubrick: "Think that's about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't."
  • Lars von Trier was working on treating his depression before making Melancholia, and it shows. While there is some happiness in the beginning, it is very short lived, and there's not an ounce of hope afterwards. The main character, Justine, has a major case of depression, and talks about how life is so short, the earth is evil, how we're all alone in the universe. Though the surviving characters do spend their final moments together, everyone on Earth still dies when the planet hits Earth.
  • Some viewers criticized La Piel Que Habito for its ending, where Vicente/Vera gets even with Ledgard for having surgically transformed his body into a woman's and kills both him and his maid/mother/accomplice, then managing to return home and prove to his mother and friend that despite the physical appearance, it's actually him invoking an ending where Vicente actually becomes Vera psychologically as well, which is the ending of the book the movie is based on, missing the point of the movie.
  • Some people feel that Jill should've gotten away with it in Scream 4. These people didn't understand a thing about the movie.
  • Two of Martin Scorsese's films, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, are regularly included in lists of the best films of all time, especially the latter. Both of them are among the darkest and bleakest films in Scorsese's oeuvre, if not in cinema in general.
  • The Dutch thriller The Vanishing was released in 1988 and was a surprise international hit, with critics worldwide praising its innovative structure and dark storyline. The film was remade for an American audience five years later, and was greeted with critical derision and outrage. The two films were practically identical (as one might expect, considering they were made by the same director) except that the ending was changed from the original's bleak, horrific Downer Ending to a much happier, upbeat one. Many critics (including Roger Ebert) wrote that this not only made no sense in the context of the film, but was also a massive insult to the American audience the remake was aimed at.
  • Platoon is arguably one of the most angsty and depressing films about The Vietnam War, edged out just barely by Apocalypse Now.
  • Inverted by Man of Steel in a complete reversal of the attitude shown to most superhero films above. One cause of the division over the movie is how much darker and angstier they made the film in comparison to all other Superman adaptations. Detractors say that the increased darkness was just an attempt to appeal to the Batman crowd and/or that the atmosphere doesn't gel with Superman at all.
  • Star Wars examples:
    • The Empire Strikes Back features a major defeat from the Rebellion, focus on Han and Leia's budding romance as well as his capture by Bounty Hunters, Luke being tempted by the Dark Side and leading to one of the most iconic reveals of cinematic history, and a Downer Ending above it all... yet it's widely considered to be the best of the original trilogy and a contender for the best Star Wars film.
    • Revenge of the Sith centers on the Clone Wars at their most violent peak; and the Fallen Hero storyline of Anakin becoming Darth Vader as well as the mass slaughter of the Jedi Order... it's also the only one of the prequels to have a roundly positive critical and audience reception (Rotten Tomatoes places it at 80%).
  • Parodied in The LEGO Movie with punk-goth Wyldstyle and her boyfriend Batman, who wrote a rather vapid song about darkness and angst entitled Untitled Self-Portrait.

  • 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.
  • The Cold Equations is esteemed as one of the most important science fiction stories ever written, despite the fact that its central dilemma makes very little to no sense from an engineering standpoint and the author's editor basically forced him to make a Downer Ending happen. But since an innocent young woman dies horribly at the end, it's a well-regarded classic.
  • 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 angsty; 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 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.
  • Though the works of J. R. R. Tolkien aren't exactly all bunnies and butterflies either. The whole The Lord of the Rings series has an uplifting ending, but that doesn't change the fact victory came at great cost and ultimately the regression from a nobler, more mythical age into a more mundane world was irreversible, and Arwen's final destiny arguably counts as a Downer Ending. The Silmarillion is worse in that regard, where the protagonist factions actually are slowly losing the war against the Big Bad with all their heroes and kings dying like flies, and ultimately need the help of the gods of the setting to bring him down (and turn the world upside down in the process). The story of The Children of Húrin, finally, is a tragedy of the bleakest kind.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Although many object out of the valid view that a series about a youthful Chosen One breaking under stress and responsibility would have been more interesting than a purely magical personality change.
  • Les Misérables. It's right there in the title but the ending is ultimately happy and uplifting.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by the same author, is more angsty than Les Mis. At least Les Mis had a Bittersweet Ending.
  • 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. Although it has 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 wrote 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 in 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 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.
  • One book in The First Law series has who initially believes this trope but changes their mind. In a Lampshade Hanging, this character (a washed up actor) comments toward the end that while he used to think that only tragedies were serious works of merit, he can now see the benefits of a work with a happy ending.
  • Chuck Palahniuk's advice to writers is to write about things that upset them. His own books are largely in keeping with this trope (albeit with plenty of Black Comedy).

    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. In particular, where the old series had many companions who left the Doctor voluntarily and on good terms, every companion departure in the new series so far has been overpoweringly angsty and often permanently destructive to the character. This goes back to the Expanded Universe of novels and audios that launched in The Nineties, after the original show's cancellation, subscribing to this trope — quite a few new series writers, and ultimately a producer, came from it. In particular, the poor Eighth Doctor's life was one big Break the Cutie.

    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, self-hatred 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.
    • The above, it perhaps should be noted, is said in a rather cheerful tone, and Sally is in many ways a rather happy-go-lucky and light-hearted character (albeit one in a rather dark episode) who ultimately gets a happy ending with the man she loves, thus suggesting a certain amount of irony is in play here. Word of God is that this is not Steven Moffat's own view of life.
    • In "Vincent and the Doctor", this is the view held by the museum's art expert in the episode's extremely heartwarming ending, in which Vincent receives a pep talk he would never forget.
      The Doctor: I just wondered, between you and me, in about 100 words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?
      Art Expert: (flabbergasted) Well... Um... Big question, but... to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular of the great painters, the most beloved, his command of colour was magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world... No-one had ever done it before. Perhaps no-one ever will again. To my mind, that strange wild man of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men to have ever lived.
  • 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).
  • One In Living Color! sketch has a punk rocker paying a street performer to teach him about The Blues. The punk makes various assumptions about the blues musician's hard life, which the musician corrects until the punk hands him another wad of cash, at which point he invents tales of being dirt-poor and drug-addicted. At the end, he "informs" the punk that his girlfriend cheated on him with Axl Rose, so that the punk can now go make angsty blues songs of his own.
  • 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. 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. Though it is immensely hilarious very often, and there is plenty of heartfelt discussions between the main characters on how much they mean to each other, you know teary eyed chick flick crap. "Im all out of love"
  • Mash 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.
  • 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.
  • On The George Lopez Show, Carmen gets advice on her poetry from a friend, who tells her the poetry needs to be more angsty and she needs to draw from her Mexican heritage of being raped and pillaged.
  • Defied by Bob Ross on The Joy Of Painting, as you might guess from the title. Ross remarked, "We want happy paintings. Happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news."
  • The penultimate episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look contains a lengthy discussion about this trope. The two leads argue back and forth as to whether or not the show's Grand Finale should be dark and somber for the sake of winning awards, specifically citing the Kill 'em All ending of Blackadder Goes Forth.
  • Breaking Bad is one of the most critically acclaimed television shows in history. It's also one of the darkest. This stretches into the show itself. The first season was more Black Comedy in nature and is considered the weakest season. As the show went on, the stakes and tension got higher and higher, and the story got darker and less comedic, and the critical acclaim shot up with it. The final season is a display of how far Walter White has fallen as a human being and eventually facing the consequences of his decisions he's made throughout the series, and it is widely regarded as the best season of the show and one of the best final seasons ever aired. In particular, the antepenultimate episode, "Ozymandias" is the Drama Bomb showing the collapse of his empire and family. It's been called both one of the most emotionally-draining episode ever aired, as well as one of the best television episodes ever made.
    • That said, in the end, Walter dies with a smile on his face. Take that as you will.
  • Vince Gilligan, the guy who created Breaking Bad, also worked on X Files, so he ascribes to True Art Is Angsty.

  • On soundtracks of TV shows/movies/video games/etc., the darker and more dramatic/angsty songs tend to be better-received by those who have listened to them than the more light-hearted ones.
  • 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.
  • Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle"
  • 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 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.
  • The entire subgenre/genre of Visual Kei owes much to this. Most of the Visual Shock bands (the first iteration of the scene) such as X Japan, Luna Sea, Kuroyume, Buck Tick, and others, created a large body of very angsty work, even in their Power Ballad pieces as well as in their more Heavy Metal or Hard Rock or punk songs. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that early Visual was mostly about angst, sex, violence, and angst, with the occasional Ode to Intoxication to lighten the mood.
  • 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.
    • Many Heavy Metal fans hold a similar mindset: Anything that might be considered upbeat or positive is immediately dismissed as commercial tripe. Nevermind that bands like Dream Theater and Helloween have written more than their fair share of "happy songs."
  • Kareeminal, a high school Welsh rap artist, invokes this trope for the under-18s. His music highlights the insecurities and troubles of the average teenage boy as can be seem here.
  • Somewhat averted by Animal Collective, as their discography consists of some extremely weird and experimental music, yet a lot of it is much happier and up-tempo than what a lot of pop musician would ever dare writing or performing.
  • 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.
    • As for Bowie's work itself, it manages to have a lot of angst, but it isn't the only reason it's acclaimed. Yes, it generally runs from 4 to 8 on Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness — even in his Let's Dance mainstream stretch in The Eighties, which tends to be regarded as his big Dork Age — and the prospect of the apocalypse is part of his Creator Thumbprint. Yet, due in part to his sense of humor, love of Spectacle and Camp, and his empathy for and eagerness to celebrate outsiders of all stripes, even his darkest work feels cleansing/cathartic rather than needlessly angsty. As well, sunny numbers like "Changes" and especially "Rebel Rebel" are among his most beloved, as is the merely bittersweet ""Heroes"".
  • 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 atypical "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 quietly 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).
    • Also inverted with Michael Jackson. When the child molestation accusations brought against him in 1993 resulted in a massive Creator Breakdown, the result was the second disc of 1995's HIStory, which consists mostly of songs about persecution, loneliness, injustice, greed, lost childhoods, and man's inhumanity to man and the planet. Music critics and casual listeners were not impressed by all the angst, and in the U.S. the album quickly fell off the charts. Tellingly it's never been made available as a standalone release, while the Greatest Hits Album that made up disc one was in 2001. The remix album followup Blood on the Dance Floor, which is just as dour where the original numbers such as "Morphine" are concerned, wasn't given a significant promotional push in North America and reviews weren't much better.
  • Par the course for much industrial, darkwave, and goth rock music.
  • The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers. A dark, intense and draining punk rock album, with lyrics encompassing the Holocaust, eating disorders, racism, isolation, prostitution, depression, serial killers and political correctness. Considered their finest work, not least by the band themselves.
  • Joy Division, most notably its frontman Ian Curtis. Some of the praise runs along the lines of "Well, it's depressing but at least he meant it."
  • An angry rather than angsty variant: Punk Rock came of age amidst the discontent of 1970s London and New York.
  • In general this trope seems to have a close relationship to Three Chords and the Truth, "the truth" being almost invariably miserable.
  • Adele's 21 album is one about coping with heartbreak and needless to say, it was an award winner.
  • While Korean Pop Music has always had sexy concepts, when the video is meant for adults only (19+), it has to depict the artist as a "tortured artist" or face the wrath of dislikes and slut shaming.
  • Meredith Brook's song Pollyanne both averts this and undermines it by stating that angsty people aren't really tortured geniuses but are just immature and lack imagination. In one part of the chorus she demands to know "who said dark is deep?".
  • Though Fleetwood Mac's 1977 Rumours album was at one point the biggest selling album in the world (before being displaced by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack), getting Grammys and some critical acclaim, its critical stock increased, and much of the marketing behind the album was built around, the Reality Subtext of the songs being driven by the breakup of guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks, the divorce of keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie to the band's bassist, John McVie, and the marital strain and later divorce of drummer Mick Fleetwood (who would later date Stevie for a time), which lent poignancy to the album.

    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.

  • 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, which one got the most critical praise for the composer (and even from Sullivan himself)? The Yeomen of the Guard, their only collaboration with a Downer Ending.
  • 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.
  • Cirque du Soleil shows like to avert this; even in the more seriously-toned shows (Alegria and Quidam come to mind) the sadder, crueler aspects of existence are counteracted, if not conquered, by the better aspects of it.

    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 an 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 goes back and forth on this, and often uses Ambiguous Endings, which get interpreted in different ways.
    • For example, Final Fantasy VII ends rather ambiguously. One popular 'artsy' interpretation at the time was that the world was destroyed and everyone died. Complicating the issue, the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII later shows the world surviving, at least in the short term.
    • 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. Many viewers went for the darker interpretation. This ambiguity was decided in the sequel, which showed Tidus alive and reuniting with Yuna.
    • Chrono Cross took a much darker take on the ending to Chrono Trigger; whether it was more artistically deep as a result... depends on who you ask.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics is already a dark game, filled with murder, betrayal, and all those niceties you find in war. Some interpretations of the ending are darker still, such as the question of whether Ramza and his whole party died in saving the world at the end; the ambiguity is played up, with Ollan wondering whether he really saw Ramza and Alma, or if it was their ghosts. Unsurprisingly, the original Final Fantasy Tactics is generally viewed as having a deeper and more artsy plot than its (somewhat) more light-hearted sequels.
    • Final Fantasy VI is very depressing in the beginning of the World of Ruin, and has a lot of moments that will just break your heart; it's also one of the most popular installments in the West.
    • 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. The game is also generally less well-remembered than most of the other entries from its era, although it has its fans.
    • Final Fantasy XIII has a dark, angsty story, but ends with the main cast learning to assert their free will and being helped out in the end by literal miracles. The sequel took the ending itself in a darker direction. Again, which is artistically deeper (or whether the series' angst as a whole made it deeper) depends on who you ask.
    • This trope in general might explain the popularity of Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII as opposed to V and IX. Even reviews that praise FFV tend to go out of their way to call the characters flat and the story lacking and opine that the only real draw is the gameplay.
    • 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.
  • Kill Zone 1 had a relatively decent ending but Kill Zone 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?"
    • Kill Zone 3 is a step up from Killzone 2 in this regard. Yes, it is still INCREDIBLY Grim Dark, 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.
  • Conkers 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 almost entirely your fault.
    • Played for laughs in the "Mark of the Assassin" DLC. When offered Anderfels ham said to "taste of despair", Hawke and Tallis question whether that's possible and who'd eat it if it was. The waitress says it's popular with artists.
  • 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. NieR is noteworthy in particular because even though the game's reception was mixed at best, most critics and fans agreed that the storytelling and characters were very above-average and a high point for the game.
    • Notable that Drakengard 2 that was more idealistic and wasn't directed by him there are some fans that like to think that that game never happened.
  • The When They Cry series fell victim to Fan Dumb because of this trope. What makes the series a classic is how it melds tragedy and horror with optimism and lighthearted friendship between the screwed up protagonists. Both are equally important to the plot and characterization, and the storyline's entire point is how a group of damaged, fearful people manage to influence each other for the better and overcome their flaws to build a happy future together. Yet to hear the Fan Dumb talk, it's a good series because it has lots of gore and angst, and for no other reason.
  • 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 actually change people's lives for the better (this game adores Video Game Caring Potential), you can also make up for your crimes. Also, if you pick the good ending you save all your party members who died to protect you, something no other incarnation before could do. Also the ultimate goal is not to die, it's to find out who you are and take responsibility for your actions- even if doing so means death. By the end of it, all the protagonists have changed, and endured torment- but all of them are better people, happier for what they've learned. The plot may have ended on a sad note, but by no means was it a pointless one.
  • 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: 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.
  • Spec Ops: The Line, one of the most depressing games you will ever play, loosely adapted from Heart of Darkness. Critics praised its story to high heaven.
  • Inverted by Sonic the Hedgehog. A great many fans point to the series going Darker and Edgier as one of the biggest problems associated with its Dork Age, primarily because of the poor reception given to the stories of Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
    • However, when the games got Lighter and Softer with Sonic Unleashed and onwards, out of the woodwork came people who grew up with Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2, where the games were getting rather dark, and wanted their serious Sonic back. Some even go as far as to praise Sonic 2006, an otherwise universally hated game, as an example of how Sonic can be taken seriously. Nowadays, you will see few supporters of Warren Graff and Ken Pontac, the writers for the Sonic games that put him back on the light and comedic side. There is also a strangely large amount of Sonic fans who write Dark Fics and dismiss anything, from any medium, not as angsty as them or their stories (except for the aforementioned Dork Age, which they consider the pinnacle of the series).
  • Inverted by Spyro the Dragon. The Darker and Edgier, high-fantasy-oriented Legend of Spyro trilogy earned lower reviews than almost any other games in the series and arguably constituted its Dork Age, to the extent that the series has had one.
  • Parodied in Kingdom of Loathing by the character of the Pretentious Artist. Some of his remarks on the outfits you can wear to unlock tattoos from him go on about this, but this perspective really shines in the zone unlocked by using a psychoanalytic jar on him, the Pretentious Artist's Obsession. It involves subduing animated kitchen items representing negative emotions in combat, and using them to defeat Anthropomorphic Food representing positive emotions in order to prepare a "mental breakfast" that provides the Artist with inspiration.
  • Judging by its success, BioShock Infinite plays it awfully straight: the story of a brutal ex-Pinkerton detective attempting to pay off his gambling debts by retrieving Elizabeth from Columbia, the plot not only reveals a great deal of angst and misfortune in the main character's past (including his participation in the massacre at Wounded Knee and the death of his wife and child) but also goes on to pile grief and misery on the kind-hearted Elizabeth, from being imprisoned and tortured to accidentally sparking off a bloody rebellion in her attempt to help the Vox-Populi. Things only get worse when the alternate dimensions are introduce, and it turns out that Booker has been given the job of saving Elizabeth hundreds of times across the multiverse, and has always failed. Finally, it turns out that Booker is actually an alternate version of the game's villain, Father Comstock; worse still, the gambling debt he wants to repay doesn't exist - it's just a garbled memory of him being forced to sell his infant daughter to Comstock in exchange for his debts being paid and the real reason he's in Columbia is to find and rescue his now-adult daughter. The whole story ends with Booker submitting to a multiversal death in the past in order to save the world from the menace that Comstock would become, also resulting in Elizabeth never being born. And then, after the credits, Booker finds himself back in his apartment, with his baby daughter implied to be in the next room, and he'll now have the chance to raise her as his daughter.
  • Criticisms of the Monkey Island series after Ron Gilbert left are mostly centered around how the series has become far too comedic and plays Guybrush as a buffoon. The first two games are quite dark and mysterious. Whilst Guybrush is not the smartest person in them, he is far more cunning in them.
  • Criticisms of Fire Emblem Awakening are over the fact that both choices for how to deal with the Final Boss ultimately give you a happy ending, plus the fact that you can have Emmeryn survive if you download a certain chapter, thus "ruining" one of the most dramatic moments in the game.
    • Fire Emblem fandom as a whole seems to love this trope, actually. There's a very vocal and sizable fanbase for Fire Emblem Jugdral's first game, Genealogy of the Holy War. It's absolutely soaked in tragedy and Dramatic Irony.
  • Fallout 3 is set in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, where people know their world is a shitheap and the most they can hope for is not being robbed and murdered. Unlike many other games, the moral choice system can be downright sadistic, forcing the player to choose between multiple horrible outcomes. Because of all this Fallout 3 has been praised for its immersiveness, especially the weight that the moral choices carry.
    • Fallout: New Vegas is generally agreed to be the better game, but one of the major complaints has been that it isn't dark enough, and the characters are too happy given how awful the world is, especially since, unlike Fallout 3, the endings range from "bad" to "worse".
    • The Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money, a survival-horror expansion with an extremely dark story and tragic characters, is generally agreed to be the best-written and most memorable of the DLC packs, if not the best part of the Fallout canon.
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a particularly egregious example; starts with your mother drowning and your father dying from an Incurable Cough of Death, and ends with your brother getting stabbed in the chest and dying.


    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.
    • However, both Walker and his character of The Nostalgia Critic believe that darkness in a movie or TV show should have a point; and not just exist for the sake of this trope. Though they both believe that everything that can go wrong with it will, they praise proper application of darkness in works such as Sonic Sat AM and The Dark Knight.
  • 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.
  • One of Jimquisition's videos, Crying Through The Laughs, discusses this trope, arguing that a game that balances out happy and sad moments makes the sad moments all the more effective.
  • After the most recent Legend of Zelda games were criticized for being childish and outdated, Something Awful came up with some helpful ideas for how to modernize them.
    It seems the only dungeon he could not clear... was the dungeon of man's soul.
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon Red often whiplashed between absurdly hilarious to bleak deconstruction. When its sequel Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal came about, the Mob became frustrated at the lack of drama and attempted to intentionally kill off their starter Lazorgator, just like they had accidentally done with Abby in the previous game. While they failed and accidentally killed the beloved Prince Omelette instead, the Mob was right in that the storyline quickly took a turn for the tragic, with Lazorgator turning into a Heartbroken Badass who swore to get revenge on the Mob by killing the gods they worshipped: those gods being the protagonists of the previous run.

    Western Animation 
  • The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Legends of the Dark Mite" contains an Author Filibuster where Bat-Mite slams the fanboys who complained about the show's Lighter and Softer tone. He finishes the speech by stating that not all superhero stories need to be dark, and that a campy Batman who smiles and cracks jokes is just as true to the canon as the darker depiction seen in Batman: The Animated Series.
    • Ironically, even the fandom of the show falls victim to this as well. "Chill of the Night!" is not only the single darkest episode in what is normally a very lighthearted cartoon, but would be quite dark even by the standards of Batman: The Animated Series. It's also considered one of the best episodes in the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Thankfully, the kids pull an inversion of Executive Meddling and have Eugene leap out from the trolley-wreck and deliver the original song to raucous applause, disproving the director's opinion.
      • Even better, the directors ex shows up backstage at the end of the play and reaffirms her love for him.
  • 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...".
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants: Squidward wants to evoke this in his sculptures and paintings, though even his angst is rather pathetic.
  • Family Guy:
    People of France! A good-looking, depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a movie!
  • What's Opera, Doc?: Invoked by Bugs Bunny as the Punchline:
    What did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, while not an angsty show, has gotten its immense Periphery Demographic partially because of the increased amount of angst given to the characters compared to previous generations of the My Little Pony franchise. It uses angst effectively to give the characters a very realistic depth and to further conflict in its stories. Not to mention that the Darker and Edgier adventure episodes also tend to be more hotly anticipated and better received and compared to the usual Slice of Life episodes.
    • The franchise's history with this even predates G4. Rescue from Midnight Castle had quite the positive reception, and it was a very dark special.
  • The quality of a Transformers adaptation is considered among fans to be directly proportional to how the adaptation depicts the conflict. With few exceptions; fans consider adaptations that delve into the drama and intensity of the conflict, such as Beast Wars and Transformers Prime tend to be the best-received, while goofier adaptations such as Transformers: Robots In Disguise and the Unicron Trilogy are considered inferior. Even Beast Machines, which was a flop when it was first released, has since been Vindicated by History among Transformers fans for having such a dark and complex story.
  • The Simpsons episode "Brush with Greatness", we see a flashback to Marge as an art student showing her teacher a painting of Ringo Starr. He disapproves it, instead praising a painting of a Sad Clown by another student.

  • 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".
  • The Tumblr RP community lives on this to the point where it reaches ridiculous levels. It's seen as "not normal" there to NOT want to see your favourite character in emotional pain. And people wonder why they're considered a weird site...
  • The trope was criticized by C. S. Lewis in his non-fiction book An Experiment in Criticism, in which he remarks that "funeral bells can be as out of place as wedding chimes."
  • English classes, especially in high school, almost always have a strong preference for assigning and discussing tragedies, the more brutal the better. Several of William Shakespeare's tragedies will inevitably appear, but the many famous comedies he wrote likely won't even be mentioned. Death by Newbery Medal is a related phenomenon.
  • On the writing TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), the people who graded the essays had a preference for the sad, angst filled essays as opposed to the happy ones.

True Art Is AncientTrue ArtTrue Art Is Incomprehensible
True Art Is AncientGhetto IndexTrue Art Is Incomprehensible
Troubled Sympathetic BigotSadness TropesTwisted Christmas
True Art Is AncientArt TropesTrue Art Is Boring
TragedyCynicism TropesTrue Love Is Boring
True Art Is AncientAudience ReactionsTrue Art Is Boring
True Art Is AncientPublic Medium IgnoranceTrue Art Is Incomprehensible
Torture CellarIndustrialTrue Art Is Incomprehensible
Poul AndersonWorks Set in World War IIGrandfather Paradox
Kaleidoscope HairImageSource/WebcomicsYou and What Army?

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy