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Art-Style Dissonance

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This is what happens when the story or themes behind a cartoon, comic, or such don't match their art style. It can be intentional (a specific way for the author to get their point across) or unintentional, in which case it is often jarring. It is often used to portray a work of fiction within another, so the audience doesn't mistake it for "reality". In such instances, Stylistic Suck may come into play.

Can be a sub-trope of Mood Dissonance, and is itself the supertrope of Grotesque Cute and Sugar Apocalypse. Compare with Crapsaccharine World.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Shin-chan. This family-aimed anime is drawn in a very crude, "crayon" style reminiscent of children's drawings. However, in the original language and the two English dubs, the series is written to be raunchy in its humor and references, despite airing on various kids' timeslots and channels internationally.
  • Barefoot Gen. It looks like a Saturday Morning Cartoon in the vein of Astro Boy. It ran in the pages of Shonen Jump, the bastion of idealism, for pete's sake. It isn't. It's about Hiroshima.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has characters done in the Puni Plush style of Hidamari Sketch (by the same artist, even) to tell a Cosmic Horror Story that is frequently compared to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Made In Abyss has characters done in a very Puni Plush art style, in stark contrast to the lush backgrounds and visceral horrors. Despite the cutesy looks of the main characters, don't be fooled for even a second, the manga has very frequent graphic content and Body Horror that's realistic.
  • The anime adaptation of Violinist of Hameln, originally a parody manga, removes all the humor and plays the Dysfunction Junction for its full angst value, but keeps the art style.
  • Kaiba; just look at the page picture, then look at the trope list.
  • Gosick has a cute moe-esque style reminiscent of Rozen Maiden and a cheerily-colored opening, but is a murder mystery through and through.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, has a children's cartoon art style with the tone of the story remaining dark and mature.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans employs an art style consistent with most kid-friendly shonen anime, but with a degree of brutal realism and real-life conflicts turned Up to Eleven.
  • Cromartie High School has a very sharp-edged, heavily-shaded style that makes it look like a fighting anime in the vein of Fist of the North Star. It's actually a high school sketch comedy, even if they still react to everything as seriously as an action series would.
  • Now and Then, Here and There isn't quite as cutesy as some of the examples on this list, but it's unusually stylized for such serious subject matter. This works in its favor, softening the blow of the most traumatic scenes.
  • Bokura no Hentai looks like a series aimed at young girls, but the content itself is a rather dark Seinen based around a Dysfunction Junction trio of middle schoolers.
  • Pretty much anything by Hitoshi Tomizawa. His art is cute, which makes sense since his characters tend to be fairly young. As for his manga itself, it's usually very violent and weird. He even did the art for Battle Royale II: Blitz Royale, which is every bit as violent as the original novel.
  • When promotional artwork for the Karneval anime came out, it received a lot of flack by those unfamiliar with the original manga for being another "Bishōnen" or "fujoshi" series. In actuality, it's a rather dark Bio Punk Josei manga set in a Crap Saccharine World and just happens to have a predominately male cast and colorful artwork. The first chapter alone includes the near-rape of a child by a monster woman who then goes on to gruesomely devour a bunch of thieves who break into her mansion.
  • Junji Ito is a noted horror author with a distinctive style that fits very well with the genre of his work. This style doesn't change in the slightest when he writes Junji Ito's Cat Diary Yon and Mu, a comedy manga about his cats.
  • Il Sole penetra le illusioni comes pretty close to being a horror series. The art style is reminiscent of Disgaea.
  • Princess Tutu. A Magical Girl show that takes place in a whimsical town of pastel colors, ballet, and fairy tales. Unfortunately for the characters, their fairytale has not been Disneyfied, and they are the cosmic playthings of an Ax-Crazy tragedy-loving writer.
  • Bokurano looks like a normal shonen mecha series but it's far, far darker than normal and is a seinen.
  • Hen Zemi is illustrated in the Puni Plush style, with a cast of big-eyed, soft-faced characters. It's about an average college girl taking a course abnormal sexuality with a class so jaded they think nothing of giving practical demonstrations of the study material.
  • School-Live! has the normal Moe art style of an early 2010s Schoolgirl Series but takes place in a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Gunslinger Girl draws the girls in a cute, innocent style when they're child assassins. The original anime has an distinct muted art style that fits the noir tone of the series but Teatrino plays it even more straight than the manga. The girls are even more Moe, even the Handlers are adorable, and everything has a bright pastel style.. While still revolving around middle school aged girls torturing and killing people.
  • A slight version with Kaiji. Looking at the exaggerated artwork and overdramatic facial expressions one could easily assume that this series is partly comedy. In reality there is almost no comedy to be found in Kaiji, and those high-stakes gambles that Kaiji is making mangled faces over are played completely seriously, making for one of the tensest and suspenseful manga of all time.
  • Dolls Fall. Super-Deformed, cutesy character designs (when they've got their clothes on, at least); sexualized, psychological, gory horror story.
  • Osomatsu-san. While the original manga is a Shonen and the characters in -San are still drawn as wacky and cartoonish as it gets, the anime airs late at night in Japan and most episodes have enough sex/nudity jokes that wouldn't let it pass as a kid's show.
  • Devilman: With the original manga's cartoonish art style you wouldn't think it would be full of graphic and disturbing imagery.
  • Some of the more serious or adult work by Osamu Tezuka can look at odds with his cartoony, Disneyesque style.
  • Code Geass: The art style is very Shoujo-ish with lean, tall and handsome big-eyed male characters (well, most of them), whose designs were made by CLAMP themselves, which would probably make you think that this is a Shoujo series if you only look at the promotional posters. However, the story itself is very dark Shounen, with battles between masterminds that will make Light and L proud.
  • Kantai Collection juxtaposed bright colors, cute girls, and lighthearted fun with an almost jarring dark plot about war with monstrous life forms, senseless deaths of innocents, and the corruption that creates their enemies. In fact, it was so jarring that the series suffered in sales because of the dissonance.
  • With a name like Happy Sugar Life and a pastel art style that looks like it came straight out of a Manga Time Kirara series, you'd almost expect it to be a psychological horror about kidnapping, abuse, and all the nasty complications a loveless life can leave on a person.
  • Fist of the North Star: Strawberry Flavor keeps the gritty, Testosterone Poisoned look of the original manga... and gives it to a bizarre, lighthearted gag series.
  • Heartcatch Pretty Cure easily had the most cartoonish-designed art style out of every series in the Pretty Cure franchise... despite being one of, if not the darkest series in the franchise.

    Comic Books 
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    Eastern Animation 
  • Squirrel and Hedgehog, a North Korean children's cartoon. Cute Funny Animals alternate between frolicking in the idyllic paradise of Furry North Korea and waging war on American Wolves, Japanese Weasels, and South Korean Mice. Even without characters getting shot and killed on-screen, the blatant militarization of Furry North Korea is pretty disturbing.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Ringing Bell looks like a cute children's movie and, while it is a children's movie, it is a very dark film about a lamb seeking revenge on the wolf who killed his mother.
  • Once Upon a Girl is animated in the style of the family friendly Hanna-Barbera/Filmation cartoons, but it is absolutely not appropriate for children in any way, it is a collection of fairy tale parodies in which each segment ends with the characters having sex, with plenty of nudity and foul language scattered throughout.
  • The Animated Adaptation of The Haunted World Of El Super Beasto may look like it was done by Spumco, but its not all appropriate for anyone under 18.
  • You'd be forgiven if you thought Eight Crazy Nights was a kids' movie just by looking at its Disneyesque/Brad Bird/Don Bluth art-style.
  • Born Under Fire is a Colombian animated movie that looks like animated series like Charlie and Lola or Pinky Dinky Doo. It is actually a dramatic documentary about the on-going war conflict in Colombia told from the perspective of children who have witnessed the events, incorporating their drawings into the film.
  • The extremely simplistic and cartoonish character designs from the CGI movie Killer Bean Forever would make any viewer think that is some kind of silly comedy for kids, but is actually a serious action film with almost no comedy (except for a couple of Black Comedy moments) and lots of killings, as the title suggest.
  • Along with the Animation Age Ghetto trope, this could be one of the reason of why some viewers could make the mistake of think that Felidae is a movie for kids due its cartoonish, almost cute characters designs. And also the fact the main characters are talking cats.
  • Sausage Party looks like something one would expect out of either Pixar or Dreamworks Animation, but it's in no way appropriate for children given the films dark humor, rampant profanity, sex jokes, and religious themes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The World of Kanako: Although the story of this movie is infested with cynicism, there are still a lot of bright lights and colors, flash cuts and fast-paced editing that give the movie a unique atmosphere, especially during Kanako's appearances and the narrator's Mushroom Samba.

    Literature 
  • The covers of the book series Phenomena tend to be colorful and bright. But they're about two chosen children who eventually have to kill to protect themseves, slavery is a major theme that is not never played for laughs, horrid betrayls, suicide, a character kills his brother, and the story indirectly refers to rape. Despite this is most of the artwork colorful and seems lighthearted. The spin-off picture books are much worse with happy colors and soft lines but are about scalping, murder of innocent slave children, insanity, and more, and are meant for even younger children than the main books.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Henshin Hero branch of Tokusatsu is mostly geared towards children and usually looks the part, too. Don't be fooled, it often crosses into What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? and the goofier the graphics are, the darker the story may be to balance things out.
    • Power Rangers RPM shares the goofy graphics like bright colors or cartoonish zord design of its source material, Engine Sentai Goonger. Unfortunately, its setting is a cross between Terminator and Mad Max and it starts with Robot War wiping out most of humanity.
    • Kamen Rider OOO: Animal themed, bright colored Idiot Hero fighting monsters that feed on human desire should be enough of a family friendly set up, right? Yeah, it would be if (presumed) Idiot Hero was not traumatized by civil war, which he indirectly caused while trying to help local people. And that's just a single backstory.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: You would be forgiven to think it's happy, family-friendly show judging by the fruit-themed design and the protagonists being dancing teams. The Cosmic Horror Story part comes up only later anyway.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Video game fighting mechanics, cartoonish effects and hot pink colored design of the main hero can easily detract from the fact that Ex-Aid is a medical drama that takes ethics of care, value of life and What Measure Is a Non-Human? extremely seriously.
    • Kamen Rider Build doesn't have a dissonance between designs and story because of the design being bright and cheery (they are not for most of the time anyway), but because of how it questions identity, use of violence and governmental corruption. Not to speak about Dehumanization and war that breaks out early into the story.

    Podcasts 
  • The caricatures of the two hosts of Fat, French and Fabulous have a distinct, cutesy animesque art style that belies the dark, disturbing comedy of the podcast itself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Transhuman Space is widely considered by fans to have suffered in its early days because the artist then responsible for all the illustrations apparently perceived more Body Horror in the high-biotech setting than the writers quite intended.

    Video Games 
  • Harvest Moon:
    • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It's probably the darkest game in the entire series, dealing with some fairly deep thematic stuff (like aging, losing one's friends, cheating, etcetra). But it still has the same cuddly, puni plush aesthetic as the other games (albeit with more muted colors than other games).
    • Harvest Moon 64 qualifies. It has simplistic, childish character models and cutesy anime character portraits. But the game deals with alcoholism, implied abuse, stagnating marriages, Parental Abandonment, and death among other things.
  • Hometown Story has a Generic Cuteness art style but the story can be pretty dark. A character dies, for example
  • The whole Tales Series is like this:
  • Just about all the above also apply to Valkyria Chronicles, on top of it being a fairly dark War Is Hell story where Anyone Can Die. (yes, even your squad members)
  • Similarly, Chrono Cross. Brightly-colored, often hand-painted visuals, and come on, Chrono Trigger was so fun! *cue Darker and Edgier Mind Screw storyline featuring copious Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! and Fantastic Racism, which also retcons the ending of CT into something a lot darker*
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has a bright, anime-style aesthetic with chibi sprites that look like your favorite PlayStation JRPG. The protagonist is a Genki Girl with her grumpy adopted brother helping people and making friends. Its themes match said art style at first...sure the first game has a backstory of war and the heroine once recounts how her mother died protecting her under a pile of rubble as they were bombarded with shells, but it's only briefly described, much less shown. Then the ending completely changes everything you were led to believe with the threat of darker things to follow. Come its two sequels, it delves into very dark territory for an RPG, such as betrayal, manipulating friends for the greater good, government conspiracy, brainwashing children through repressed trauma, the merciless slaughter of a community as a political scapegoat, survivor guilt, psychological dependence on addiction and the collapse of a civilization, and the hardships of two child soldiers. The worst offender is the reveal that one of the aforementioned children was driven to murderous insanity when her parents sold her into prostitution at the age of 5 to cover their debts.
  • Cave Story features mentions of war (with implications that the protagonist was one of the "killer robots" involved), a Big Bad whose experiments are somewhat reminiscent of Mengele, and a boss fight that forces you to kill one of the cutest characters in the game. But just look at the robots! The in-game graphics just make it even more jarring.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day could best be described as the video game equivalent to South Park. Death, sex, drunkeness, scatalogical humor, swearing...not a kids game. But Rare made it with the same adorable art style that characterized their family friendly fare like Banjo-Kazooie (which itself has some occasional dark humor and jokes, more so its sequel). This is because Conker: Twelve Tales was originally going to be a family-friendly game, not too dissimilar from Conker's Pocket Tales for Game Boy Color, but then Rare caught on that it would've been too similar to their own Banjo Kazooie, so they turned it into the more adult final version, while keeping the art style intact.
  • The MOTHER series is colorful, cartoony, and filled with beautifully subtle details. The battle screens suggest you're fighting during a psychadelic trip-out, and the characters almost look like they're from a stylized Peanuts comic. And, implicitly and thematically speaking, it's probably the darkest Nintendo has ever gotten.
  • MOTHER 3. For the first 15 minutes, it's averted, but after that it takes a swan dive into the depths. Compared to the art style, the story gets so dark, you would need the light of a thousand suns to be able to see three feet ahead. Though, admittedly, there are comic relief sections, it's still one hell of a contrast.
  • Intentionally done in Yggdra Union, where Kiyuduki Satoko's Puni Plush art style helps to conceal the dark nature of the game until the player gets whacked in the face with it.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker introduced a cartoony and very brightly colored art style very different from the Ocarina of Time era's more realistic art. However, its storyline has many dark undertones: A Great Flood that reduced the world to a handful of islands that were once mountaintops, and the final battle culminates in Ganon being stabbed in the forehead. There are also various dark elements like the destruction of Greatfish Isle and the subsequent curse of the Great Sea, and the presence of dangerous creatures like Seahats and Big Octo.
    • Zigzagged with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While not as consistently cartoony as The Wind Waker, it's still very brightly colored and cheery-looking compared with Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, even though the setup involves the Kingdom of Hyrule having been destroyed by an Eldritch Abomination incarnation of Ganon and the land still being threatened by him and his minions. However, it's also a bit of a Cozy Catastrophe, as a century later many of the surviving settlements are flourishing and most civilians don't seem to care that an apocalyptic event has occurred beyond wistful longing for the good old days when the Kingdom was still around. The fact that Ganon was sealed away during that century, and is only now starting to break free when Link reawakens, is a major factor. Plus, Ganon himself and the Blight Ganons he uses to control the Divine Beasts have Non Standard Character Designs that do look like the kind of gruesome monstrosities that could cause such carnage.
  • Raze's Hell features mostly cutesy art... since you play as a monster bent on fighting the cuddly Evil Army bent on destroying ugly creatures.
  • Bastion looks like a Sugar Apocalypse at first, but it eventually becomes clear that the world (or at least the main character's nation) was pretty messed up even before the Calamity.
  • This is one of the criticisms often aimed at the Battalion Wars games: Their art style is a little too cute for the combat involved, but not quite cute enough for the characterization of the units and commanders.
  • Pokémon, especially Pokémon Platinum and Pokémon Black and White. With the cutesy look and the bright colors who would expect such a series to be so darn right horrific and depressing? The Mystery Dungeon spinoffs are especially bad, as they center around the incredibly cute Pokemon in an apparently idealistic land but are in a league of their own.
  • Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has a surprisingly cutesy art style for a game about people being murdered in gruesome ways.
  • The Binding of Isaac mimics Thick-Line Animation, and has a protagonist who looks very baby-like despite apparently being at least kindergarten-age. Edmund McMillen has said this was a deliberate design decision—the grotesqueness of what Isaac goes through would not be bearable if drawn realistically. And even with the art-style used, some of the bosses are still flat-out disgusting and horrifying, such as Blighted Ovum, The Wretched, or Super Lust.
  • The bright and colorful visuals of Odin Sphere belie the very dark and serious story that effectively explains The End of the World as We Know It and how The Magic Goes Away.
  • Gretel and Hansel features very cutesy, childish drawings undergoing horrible twisted Fairy Tale torments.
  • Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is about a very idealistic little girl, and the art style reflects how she views things. This makes it all the more jarring when her illusions begin to slip, and she starts to see blood and dead bodies.
  • The Professor Layton series, which has a cute and quirky art style... and yet often features topics such as revenge, government coverups, tragic pasts, implied murder, and the loss of loved ones. In one of their games for the iOS, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, isn't even implied murder anymore. All their cases deal with homicides (among other things) but it still remains its cheery, bright art style though at least it has a 12+ age rating.
  • Some of the Super Mario Bros. games fall into this. All of the Mario games utilize bright colors and cutesy character designs, but Nightmare Fuel abounds in this series and whenever there's anything more than an Excuse Plot, it tends to be somewhat dark or scary. Especially Super Paper Mario, which has one of the brightest art styles of the series, but one of the darkest stories of any Nintendo franchise.
  • The Touhou fangame Koumajou Densetsu features a very dark artstyle but the story and characters are every bit as nutty as the main series.
  • Team Fortress 2 is a class-based first person shooter where a group of mercenaries (most of whom probably have varying degrees of mental instability) are continually fighting a frankly pointless fight over a worthless piece of land thanks to rather ruthless (and somewhat evil) contractors. The artistic style? It looks like a cartoon. This is complete with ridiculous animations (a building/upgrading Sentry, for starters) and Ludicrous Gibs. This was because during development, Valve was having trouble producing something that would give players a Willing Suspension of Disbelief, so they decided to make it look like a universe where ridiculous things are supposed to happen in it, such as how certain abilities (such as rocket jumping) are possible, or why some seemingly arbitrary rules are in place (like, for some reason, you can't jump over a 3 foot high fence that leads out to a sprawling field), hence the reason why they chose a more "stylized" art direction: So that you won't ask yourself these questions in the first place. This also helps it fit in with Valve's dark, irreverent, and somewhat... silly sense of humor. This sums it all up nicely.
  • Minecraft looks like a harmless children's toy at first glance, until you play Survival mode. Constant threat of starvation as well as brutal undead creatures and otherwordly monsters out for your blood that are far more threatening than their blocky, cartoonish designs could ever suggest are what awaits in this bright and colorful Lego Land. Needless to say, if Minecraft is a playground, it's an evil playground that shows no mercy and wants you dead.
  • Similarly, Terraria takes much the same philosophy and gives it the backdrop of a cutesy cartoon style. Want to build that nice, big 8-story house filled with expensive furniture and decorations and gold bricks? Well then be prepared to face those zombies and skeletons and Demonic Spiders that made Minecraft a living hell, only this time with Eldritch Abominations thrown into the mix.
  • Many platforming games fall into this when it comes to how hard they are, especially the older crop from the 80s and early 90s. One just wouldn't expect the cute cartoon video game to have controller-breaking difficulty!
  • WildStar has Nexus, the bright, colourful, vibrant, and lush planet of wonders and extremely dangerous predators, plants, and predator plants. Not counting the locals who would love nothing more than to kill and/or eat you, you also have the Exiles and the Dominion who are waging an all-out war on each other, plus the numerous criminal cartels and third parties rushing to the planet to get a piece of the "homeworld of the Galaxy's most advanced civilization" pie. There's also what killed the said most advanced civilization, who are still lurking around...
  • Kerbal Space Program is a game about cartoonish Little Green Men who try to launch themselves into space atop rockets. While there's nothing actively trying to kill you in the game, it more than makes up for it by being unexpectedly faithful to actual physics. If you don't know what you're doing or are expecting the game's flight model to be as cartoonish as the art style, your rockets will crash.
  • The Dragon Quest series starts off pretty campy and cutesy, but overall takes itself seriously. This is what makes certain games like Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest VII so unusual, because they're quite depressing and dark (respectively) given their cutesy Akira Toriyama art-style.
  • Yesterday: The artstyle is rather dark and cartoony, in contrast with the game's content.
  • The world of Eversion starts out bright and cheerful, but becomes gradually less so as you evert to higher levels, and it's not long before the game reveals its true colors.
  • Devil Survivor and its sequel, Devil Survivor 2. The cutesy, chibi-style sprites? Prepare to watch as they get incinerated, beaten to death frozen, or more! In fact, in the first few minutes of the second game, you get to see a bloody train crash, WITH the main trio alongside the other corpses.
  • Some of the dream worlds in Yume Nikki fall under this, but the most notable one is the Pink Sea. Pastel colors, balloons, gentle BGM... how could this area - of all the other areas in the game - be so scary?
  • Some of the worlds in Fire Emblem come off as this way. The Game Boy Advance entries mostly being this due to the artstyle being bright and colorful as a result of the SP model not being standardized for most of the runs. (Not so much in 8) Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is interesting, despite being one of the Darker and Edgier titles, the SNES original used very colorful, bright and cartoonish graphics. However the DS remake of the game used a much darker color scheme and less stylized art style.
  • In the [adult swim] game series Candy Mountain Massacre, a virus has turned the inhabitants of a Sugar Bowl setting into trigger-happy psychos with guns and bombs. The second game turns things in this direction, with the Cake Queen having turned her land into one of dread for both the Cupcakes (the only inhabitants unaffected by the virus)and any humans unfortunate enough to set foot in the place — and one level has you blasting your way through what is for all intents and purposes a torture chamber. Yikes!
  • The setting in Naughty Bear. Even before the main character goes on his killing spree, the whole place is populated by tremendous Jerkasses.
  • Phantasy Star II has the darkest narrative in the series while it has the most colorful design and environment. In contrast, Phantasy Star IV's settings are rather barren and darker, but the story is shonen anime-like and characters crack a joke and tease each other frequently.
  • Transistor tells a bleak story of death and devastation, set in a Scenery Porn-laden city and accompanied by soothing music.
  • Child of Light takes place in a gorgeous Fairy Tale land with a host of literally colorful characters. It also opens with a child being murdered, ends with a town being destroyed, and has a whole lot of unpleasantness in between.
  • The bootleg games Mario 3: Around the World and Mario 4: Space Odyssey are odd examples of this. They're styled like the official games, even ripping graphics from some installments, yet they have a distinctly creepy atmosphere: the music is dark and electronic, Mario screams when he falls down a bottomless pit, and the continue and Game Over screens are jarringly morbid.note 
  • Undertale goes the Earthbound route of goofy, childish graphics (one of the big villains of the game is a talking flower for crying out loud) juxtaposed with dark themes such as horrific scientific experiments, killing children, going insane after living life trapped in a body incapable of love and stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and potentially genocide and the destruction of all of existence. In fact, if you go the Genocide route it potentially gets even darker than Mother 3.
  • Lego City Undercover is seemingly just another Lego game. However, it has many references to adult movies and books that children aren't supposed to watch/read (James Bond, Harry Hole, Terminator, etc.), and gets a load of crap past the radar. You get points from breaking things, a crime boss gets frozen to death (he is rebuilt, but still), a mook loses both hands, The Hero tortures a mook through brain freezing, and more. It is nicknamed Lego Grand Theft Auto for a reason and probably would have the same ratings if not for the LEGO style. The fact that the hero is a cop doesn't make it much better. It's a good game but still weird it got past the radar.
  • Cup Head has a fun, colorful art style based off of 1930s era cartoons a la Mickey Mouse or Felix the Cat. That said, the main storyline is a literal deal with the devil and it has already become well-known for its high difficulty curve.
  • Yandere Simulator is set in a brightly-colored school populated with the usual assortment of cute technicolor-hair and eyed anime students... who you can kill in gruesome ways to prevent them from taking your Senpai.
  • From the Depths mixes cartoonish, simplistic voxel-based graphics with advanced ballistic calculations, fluid drag characteristics, naval fleet tactics, and detection equipment to make one of the most complex Design-It-Yourself Equipment engineering games, only being surpassed by the ultra-hardcore space combat simulator Children Of A Dead Earth.
  • Forever Home uses Kaduki and RTP style sprites that are in many other RPG Maker games, which look fairly saccharine, but it still doesn't shy away from showing dead bodies, mangled corpses, pools of blood, and suicide.
  • Video games by Spanish developer Mango Protocol have a cutesy cartoonish art style, vaguely reminiscent of Adventure Time (lampshaded when the protagonist of one of them has a BMO plush on her bed) but their attitude and humor is quite cynical and sarcastic. There are some wildly inappropriate elements as well, such as the girl who made up the "Carnivorism" religion, represented by a crucified pig with its intestines hanging out.
  • Night in the Woods is rendered in a flat, paper cutout style, of the sort used in school decorations and children's books, with Funny Animal characters inspired by the works of Richard Scarry. It delves into depression, mental illness in general, sociopolitical issues, and an Eldritch Abomination that may or may not be real.

    Visual Novels 
  • Long Live the Queen is about an adorable pink-haired magical girl princess... in a world filled with Eldritch Abominations, Villainous Incest and more assassination plots than you can count. The death images take it Up to Eleven, featuring cute Super-Deformed Elodies being shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned, blown up... It tends to be marketed with warnings that this is really, really not meant for kids.
  • Some have said that the contrast between the cute moe art and the bloody, psychological horror plot is part of what makes Higurashi: When They Cry so creepy. It's even worse in the original visual novels, whose art style can best be described as "Weird looking chibi-Puni Plush mix". Hard to imagine that cute little style is from one of the darkest series to come out of Japan in The Noughties. The remakes make it looks like a normal romance, possibly harem, visual novel but there's not a lick of sexual content and any romance isn't the focus at all.
  • Corpse Party. Super-Deformed, cutesy character sprites; deep, psychological, gory horror story.
  • My Harem Heaven Is Yandere Hell lives this trope. If you were to check it out yourself, you wouldn't know offhand that a brightly-colored and upbeat novel like this will turn into a horror mystery novel, featuring some gruesome death scenes.
  • Liar Liar is a very cute looking, Puni Plush style visual novel with lots of bright colors. It's also a gory game about a middle school girl trying to kill her boyfriend.
  • Ghost Trick's art style fits it's quirky humor, but is about you being a ghost wondering why he died and save people who might know from dying. It has people being shot, crushed, executed, and even dying from a terrifying and even realistic heart attack. Yet the art style is colorful and cartoony with almost no black and gray.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!'s cute character designs and the upbeat upbeat soundtrack juxtaposes with its morbid scenes and the genre it falls under: psychological horror. You are greeted with a warning upon game startup: "This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed".

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Axe Cop uses a slightly-exaggerated but fairly realistic style à la most mainstream comic books. But since the plots are written by a six-year-old, the actual content of the comic is completely insane.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle is drawn in a cute cartoon style, yet features near constant furry sex. Many readers find this extremely jarring.
  • Sonichu. This incredibly disturbing webcomic has art that looks like it was drawn by an elementary-schooler. Of course, this is because its creator is Giftedly Bad.
  • Kagerou starts out this way, with extremely bright colors and cartoonish art contrasted against the dark plot and tendency towards gore. Eventually, though, the art evolves into a more realistic but still brightly coloured style.
  • Nana's Everyday Life has very cutesy, somewhat chibi-like art. It is also based on Elfen Lied, starts out as a Black Comedy, then gets worse.
  • Purple Pussy is a super cutesy drawn webcomic for girls... featuring an unending supply of Cluster F Bombs and Toilet Humor that will burn your eyes out.
  • Wondermark is a Cut-and-Paste Comic made from sophisticated Victorian art. The jokes tend to be either very silly observations on modern neurotics to very silly poop jokes.
  • Niels has the same cutesy style as Scandinavia and the World by the same author, despite having much darker subject matter. The author's third comic is in a different style, so this is clearly a deliberate choice.
  • Come on. Married to the Sea, anyone?
  • xkcd is surprisingly smart for its limited art style.
  • Romantically Apocalyptic. Its art is frighteningly realistic and grim. The actual comic? A hilarious Black Comedy.
  • Dolan comics are poorly drawn comics with horrible spelling that look like they were made by a three-year-old. But don't let that fool you; they're actually blackly comedic comics about an Ax-Crazy Donald Duck.
  • Unsounded has gorgeous, vibrant art... for a crapsack world filled with casual Fantastic Racism and rampant nationalism. It's all the more horrific for how accepted it is.
  • Kevin & Kell. A cute, quirky world of Funny Animal characters... where fangs are more powerful than ideals and savage instinct triumphs over reason and empathy. By the world's local ethos (it's ok to kill as long as you eat it) ethnic cleansing could just be another name for a BBQ.
  • Skadi is filled to the brim with Black Comedy, Nausea Fuel, and can be surprisingly action-packed in several of its arcs. However, the comic's art style looks like a mix between Spumco and modern day Cartoon Network.
  • The Complex Adventures of Eddie Puss is about a young anthropomorphic cat who has an Oedipus Complex, and it's drawn with a very cartoony art style reminiscent of The Loud House. That last part is justified, given that both works were created by the same guy.
  • Commander Kitty has bold colors, rounded character designs with goofy facial expressions, and is indeed in theory a comedy. This not only belies the occasional outright creepiness and Body Horror, but the sheer amount of Existential Horror to boot. Half the galaxy have been kidnapped and been replaced with robotic doubles who don't know they're any different from the original but can be deactivated at any given time, and that's just for starters!
  • The Order of the Stick has a cartoony, stick-figure art style that befit the joke-a-week Excuse Plot that the early strips had. However, it soon began to develop an actual story, and once it began undergoing Cerebus Syndrome, things got dark fast.
  • Learning with Manga! FGO is a cute chibi gag series with all the brightness and cheeriness such a spinoff would imply, right? It is, if you consider constant complaints about the game, raunchy dialogue, a sociopath Master that cares more about rolling the gacha than taking care of her servants, and so much infighting it actually causes an inter-service Grail War "cheery".
  • Cyanide & Happiness focuses mainly on Vulgar Humor that can be compared to South Park, yet the comics and animations are drawn in sort of a stick-figure style.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • South Park is notorious for its vulgar, black-humored style, coupled with crude, primary-colored cutout animation.
  • Danny Phantom, to a degree. It sometimes wants to be taken seriously as an action cartoon, but its stylized design, reminiscent of the less-than-serious Fairly OddParents note , can make this difficult for non-phans.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The Spectacular Spider-Man is drawn in Sean Galloway's simplistic, yet stylized art direction. As a result, the young-skewing show is often cited to be one of the most fluidly animated interpretations of the webslinger to date. Yet, despite receiving additional praises for its surprisingly dark high school and family themes and combination of past Spider-Man mythos into a tightly-knitted storyline, viewers felt the show's content would have been better reflected with a more serious looking aesthetic.
    • Ironically, its successor, Ultimate Spider-Man, had the opposite reaction from viewers. The show's art direction features detailed character designs and background art, but written far less grounded in reality compared to Spectacular with Cutaway Gags and Silver Age-styled stories. While the show does (occasionally) lent itself to tackling dark themes, its bread and butter deals with kid-friendly tales with minimal continuity.
  • While cartoons aimed at more adult audiences are not really all that unusual today, when The Simpsons first aired in 1989 it raised many eyebrows. This is because audiences were so used to the Animation Age Ghetto that it seemed bizarre and ironic that Springfield is a bright and vibrant town with an Amazing Technicolor Population consisting mostly of yellow people, with idiotic, apathetic citizens, an incompetent police department, a deplorable, low-rate school, a shady and lecherous mayor, and an evil, possibly satanic Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Adventure Time has a simple and childish cartoon design, with generally idealistic and upbeat characters. However, it is also violent, set After the End, and has adult humor and Black Comedy throughout.
  • Similar to the above, Steven Universe is a very bright, colorful cartoon series with simplistic character designs, gentle, pastel backgrounds, and is mostly a very idealistic show from a young boy's perspective. But it doesn't take long for the series to start delving into the nastier sides of its well-meaning characters, sexual imagery is abundant with frank discussions on consent, trust issues, and the difficulties of relationships between its characters, psychological complexity, abuse, parental neglect, and several clear parallels to racism and non-heterosexual orientations and a backstory with war, genocide, and ambiguous morality.
  • Making Fiends has a very simple, childish design but it's about an Enfant Terrible who lives in a bleak and depressing town where everyone is afraid of her and the monsters she makes. It's rather dark for a kids series, though the original web shorts are a bit ambiguous on whether it was even meant to be one.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show uses the angular graphic styles of cartoons of The '50s and The '60s, evoking memories of longtime kid favorites such as Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Flintstones. However it features some of the most graphic violence imaginable outside late-night TV (for instance, skin being ripped off and disemboweling), as well as some horrifying and grotesque facial expressions, tonnes of dirty innuendo, and enough Toilet Humor to clog the New York sewers. Like The Simpsons above, it was all the more shocking when it premiered back in 1991... on a kid's network no less.
  • Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World is a stop-motion series built using LEGO-like blocks. It's also a very adult Dark Comedy themed around gay couples.
  • Teen Titans Go! is a brightly colored, chibi-style cartoon spinoff that seems like a Lighter and Softer reboot to the 2003 Teen Titans... So why the TV-PG rating, especially since the original was TV-Y7? Watch a few episodes and you'll quickly notice it lacks Never Say "Die", thrives on Black Humor, and has a lot more risqué content.
  • Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus married images collated from early 20th Century shopping catalogs and similar found art from the period 1890-1920, with some very distinctly 1960's-70's surrealism. The collision of style and content makes them oddly memorable.
  • Drawn Together has a fairly simplistic art style. However, it is a very dark adult comedy, filled to the brim with content that's not entirely for the faint of heart.
  • Archer is much more lewd, shrewd, and crude than its sleek 60's look would have you believe.
  • The 2003 animated short, Boys' Night Out, is fluidly animated and is drawn in a cartoony art style reminiscent of UPA. The actual short itself, however, involves a man sneaking his underage son into a strip club.

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