Follow TV Tropes


Diesel Punk

Go To
Because Steampunk isn't dirty enough. Dieselpunk hovercraft by Alexey Lipatov.

Dieselpunk is a Punk Punk genre of Speculative Fiction based on the 1920s-1940s period, spiced up with retro-futuristic innovations and occult elements. The Dieselpunk narrative is characterized by conflict vs the undefeatable (nature, society, cosmic powers), heavy use of technology, and Grey-and-Gray Morality. The protagonists are often Heroic Neutral and have low social status.

Generally, Dieselpunk can take inspiration from 1920s German Expressionist films, Film Noir, 1930s Pulp Magazines and Radio Dramas, Crime and wartime comics, period propaganda films and newsreels, wartime pinups, and other entertainment of the early 20th century. As this covers a broad spectrum, the precise sources of inspiration can vary greatly between dieselpunk works. Like Steampunk, Dieselpunk is a genre dictated primarily by its aesthetics rather than by its thematic content. Both grime and glamour have their place in dieselpunk.


Dieselpunk overlaps with Two-Fisted Tales and Raygun Gothic, but differs mostly in its Punk Punk themes. Two-Fisted Tales explore settings such as Heroic Fantasy and Space Opera that are not properly a part of Dieselpunk, and Raygun Gothic tends to reference a period both chronologically and technologically more advanced or just shinier and more optimistic. Typically, Dieselpunk roots itself in urban and wartime settings of the 1920s to the late 1940s, both literally and figuratively "down to earth".

If a Dieselpunk setting is presented as an Alternate History, a common point of divergence from our timeline is that The Great Depression never happened, leading to further economic and technological growth and less of the warmongering typical of the inter-war era. World War II may still happen in some Dieselpunk settings, though; see below.


The term Dieselpunk was popularized by Lewis Pollak and Dan Ross in 2001 as the genre for their RPG Children of the Sun. Pollak stated that it was intended to be on the "darker, dirtier side of Steampunk" and should be considered a "continuum between steampunk and Cyberpunk." (On the other hand, noted reviewer Kenneth Hite described Children as "Not really diesel, and not really punk.")

To be noted: unlike the 2000s, the Diesel-powered car in the 1930s was a rare curiosity, only a single model being put into small-scale production in Germany during that age (and almost exclusively used as a taxi), but on the other side the vast majority of the population could not afford cars back then. The life of an ordinary citizen was far deeper influenced by the oil-burning locomotive, bus, ocean liner or neighborhood power plant. Still, during this period steam engines were gradually being replaced by diesel engines in many areas.

Dieselpunk Variations


Vastness is key. This was the age of the Zeppelin, the modern battleship and the ocean liner, the flying-boat airliner, and the skyscraper. It also saw the first multinational corporations (in the modern sense), large-scale social engineering, and mass political movements. World War I was still fresh in memory as the Great War, the most colossal conflict in the history of mankind. Man is dwarfed by his creations and things are subsumed into abstractions.

Period technology encompasses everything found in Steampunk, but internal combustion and electric power in combination with new materials (better alloys, plastics, etc) makes machinery lighter, stronger, and more versatile. The airliner is the prime example of this, but cars, trucks, tractors, and diesel-powered electrical generators are even more important in reshaping the world. Armored vehicles and usable submarines are less common but still important innovations. Wireless radio leads to the rise of broadcasting as an information medium. Anachronistic super-advanced technology, often of the Awesome, but Impractical variety, such as Giant Flyer, Spider Tank, Disintegrator Ray might occur. Such technology might be secret super weapons of a villain, or Homemade Inventions by the hero or his friends.

Although the Dieselpunk aesthetic can overlap with Raygun Gothic, and though Dieselpunk is known for featuring Tesla technology and Wunderwaffen-style super-weapons, Dieselpunk typically does not include transistor-based technology, other electronics or atomic power. In fact, another Punk Punk genre label, Atompunk, was coined to describe fiction in this mode. Atompunk (such as the Fallout series and the comic book Fear Agent) takes inspiration from 1950s-era aesthetics and fashions such as Googie architecture and Jetsons-style technology, which typically lie outside the bounds of Dieselpunk. The analogue sci-fi of Metropolis and Things To Come are closer to the Dieselpunk tradition as it stands.

Dieselpunk often focuses upon air travel and combat, including such ideas as literal "flying fortresses", air pirates, dirigibles, early UFOs, hotshot flyboy pilots, etc. Fascination with military hardware, weaponry and uniforms of the early 20th century is also often in evidence and a great amount of Dieselpunk media is concerned with war, especially the Second World War and fictional variations thereof. Owing to its pulp roots, Dieselpunk is often very adventure-based, full of exotic locales such as Mysterious Antarctica, The Shangri-La, the Hollow Earth, etc. Some Geographic Flexibility is to be expected.

Dieselpunk fiction can encompass the supernatural as well. In dieselpunk adventure, occult practices are Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, and maybe Magicians Are Wizards. The works of H. P. Lovecraft, tales of Nazi occult research, contemporary expeditions to 'mystical' places such as Egypt, and early research into relativity and quantum physics have greatly contributed to the occult mystique that informs Dieselpunk. This tends to contrast with the 19th-century Gothic themes and spiritualism that show up in Steampunk.

As Dieselpunk is a post-modern look at the past, it is not limited to the tropes and stereotypes that characterized fiction of the day — instead, it can use these tropes to comment upon the past and reinvent it. Dieselpunk (along with steampunk) can encompass a range of authorial voices and themes. Female characters in Dieselpunk tend to be strong, encompassing flappers to pin-up girls and much more, and can include Rosie the Riveter-type action heroines, glamourous femmes fatales, costumed crusaders, archaeologist badasses, dragon ladies, tough-talking reporters and other types common to pulp fiction of the era. Both male and female characters are typically Badass Normals with universal drivers' licenses.

Sub-genres are listed below as possible avenues of exploration, but as these categorizations may only describe one or two works, if any, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Diesel Deco/Deco Punk

Also called "Ottensian" Dieselpunk after Nick Ottens, some guy on the Internet, who postulated it. This is the most optimistic form of dieselpunk. Progress seems unstoppable and the future is bright. Things are designed to be stylish and opulent, ornamental and efficient at the same time. Think Bauhaus architecture and design, Art Deco, Expressionism, the 1939 New York World Fair. A good setting for a Science Hero.

Diesel Noir

Similar to Diesel Deco, but generally Darker and Edgier. Emphasizes the downside of economic and technological progress. Society is plagued by crime and corruption, technology seems to be at its most effective in producing increasingly effective weaponry. The occult basically amounts to Black Magic (including exotic religions), Sealed Evil in a Can might turn up in an archeological dig and subsequently have to be stopped to avoid The End of the World as We Know It.

Diesel Weird War

World War II is being waged (or World War I in some instances), but one or both sides are introducing superweapons, alien technology and/or occult forces into the mix, often with one or more Mad Scientists behind it all. For a less extreme variant, something like the real-life exploits of the nascent Special Air Service in collaboration with the Long Range Desert Group (briefly, Lawrence of Arabia upgraded with blast-incendiary explosives and "gunship jeeps"). (See Weird Historical War.)

Diesel Dystopia

Also called "Piecraftian" Diesel Punk, again named for some guy on the Internet. World War II did start and may still be in progress; if it isn't, either some kind of Cold War is being waged, or a One World Order has been established. Either way, The Government is intrusive and ruthless, ostensibly to protect the citizens. The political ideology might be any kind of totalitarianism, either one of the many real life examples of the period, a mashup of those, or a completely fictional analogue.

Diesel Desolation

World War II did start and ended because there isn't anything left to fight over, and very few resources left to fight with, or even to sustain civilization. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic milieu, and certainly not a very common dieselpunk flavor.

Check here for tips on writing your own dieselpunk story. See also the article How dieselpunk Works.


    open/close all folders 

    Period Works 
Dieselpunk is a modern genre, but some of the films and books of the period fit well, in the same fashion that Jules Verne's books can be posed as Steampunk.

    Anime and Manga 


    Comic Books 
  • Dick Tracy (1931-), even at the time of its creation, included sci-fi elements that made it influential on dieselpunk.
  • Several comics by Dean Motter including:
    • Mister X (1984-1990)
    • Terminal City (1996-1998)
    • Electropolis (2001-2002)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre (1993-1999) brought us a Grimdark pulp superhero fighting serial killers and bizarre menaces in a 1930s City Noir.
  • Hellboy (1993-) and its spinoffs such as Lobster Johnson. And B.P.R.D. (2002-)
  • Astro City (1995-2010)
  • The Nevermen (2000, 2003) features mechanically enhanced '40s-era fighters keeping the city safe from crazed supervillains.
  • Iron and the Maiden (2007)
  • Atomic Robo (2007-) is a walking incarnation of this trope who's matured over the decades (he's been punching all kinds of strangeness in the face since the 30's) into an all-around Science Hero.
  • Ignition City (2009)
  • First Wave DCU (2009-2010) is a cross between Diesel Noir and Two-Fisted Tales, with many of the Pulp Magazine heroes crossing over with newspaper comics' The Spirit and another guy from the Thirties.
  • The Doom That Came To Gotham is Batman as written by Mike Mignola- our caped crusader in a shadowy 1920s setting. With Cthulhu.
  • Marvel Noir:
    • Iron Man Noir (2010), featuring Tony Stark's "repulsor pump" pacemaker, the Iron Man armor itself, and Baron Stucker's lightning-hurling Power Fist — not to mention background stuff like the sleek super zeppelins. It's unique among the Noir stories for not even trying to be realistic.
    • X-Man Noir is the least fantastic of the Marvel Noir settings, but introduces one dieselpunk element in the story Mark of Cain, the Office of National Emergency's Dirigi-Carrier.
  • Carbon Grey (2011-)
  • Dust by Paolo Parente, the inspiration for the Dust series of Tabletop Games below.
  • Rork (1984-2012)
  • Tyson Hesse's Diesel (2015)
  • Chassis (1999-2000): The story is set in an alternate universe circa 1949, complete with flying race cars and villains clad in zoot suits.

  • The Polish film Hardkor 44, currently in development, is heavily dieselpunk. Set in Warsaw in the summer of 1944, as the Soviet army bears down on Warsaw, it recounts the Warsaw Uprising by the Polish Resistance, to liberate the city before the Russians get there. Then things get weird. As in "The Nazis have cyborgs and mecha" weird.
  • An upcoming Hungarian film starring Mark Hamill, Thelomeris, is a mix of dieselpunk and clockpunk.
  • The live-action adaptation of Casshern (2004) takes place in an effectively-portrayed Diesel Weird War/Diesel Desolation setting.

Films not specifically dieselpunk, but which are related or inspirational to the genre:

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? does to the interbellum/Depression period what other dieselpunk films do to the deco and war periods.
  • Sin City doesn't actually include dieselpunk tech elements (although an incredibly high-tech medical science is at least hinted at), but as a revisionist neo-noir, it's definitely got a dieselpunk attitude.
  • Elements of Up, especially the younger days of Carl and his hero, explorer Charles F. Muntz.
  • Inglourious Basterds gives WWII an alternate history ending with some serious punk attitude.

  • Arguably, Atlas Shrugged (1957) which seems to be taking place in an Alternate Universe 1940s where WWII never happened, most of the world went Communist, and someone invented, then destroyed, a futuristic power generator that converts atmospheric static electricity into direct current. The setting qualifies, but the theme is D'Punk inside out, with typical protagonist/antagonist roles reversed.
  • Bone Song (2007) seasons this with heavy doses of Fantastic Noir and Urban Fantasy.
  • The planet Saraksh in Prisoners of Power (1969), one of the Noon Universe novels of the Strugatsky Brothers. There are several dieselpunk Human Aliens civilizations in the series. Practically all of them are Fantastic Aesop attempts at Getting Crap Past the Radar about the state of Soviet society and the military during the Cold War era. One particularly disturbing case was the ironically-codenamed planet "Hope", which suffered from a severely polluted environment for years and was struck one day by a mysterious Depopulation Bomb. It's been a Ruins of the Modern Age Scavenger World ever since.
  • The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad
  • Ian McDonald's Desolation Road (1988) and Ares Express (2001) are a mix of this, Desert Punk and Cyberpunk with the non-city areas being Desert Punk and the cities being a mix of Diesel and Cyber.
  • Doc Sidhe (1995, 2001) by Aaron Allston mixes dieselpunk with Urban Fantasy
  • Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen (2008-) series is this mixed with Ocean Punk. Its titular heroes are the crew of a World War II destroyer that gets transported via a time-space rift to the Pacific Ocean of an Earth where the dinosaur-killing asteroid never hit and evolution took a different course.
  • Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series straddles this and Steam Punk.
  • Though Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld is definitely in the Steampunk genre by how it's presented and what kind of story it is, the Clanker technology is more dieselpunk, as they frequently use gas, oil, kerosene, and diesel, not just steam. Also, the Darwist's "beasties" are a good example of Bio Punk.
  • The novel Bitter Seeds (2010) by Ian Tregillis , which is set during a WW2 where psychic Nazi supers fight demon-summoning British blood-sorcerers. Quite GrimDark.
  • Dreadnought (2010) by Cherie Priest. Thanks to the Republic of Texas discovering oil fifty years early, the Confederates are quite proud of their 'walker' which runs on diesel as opposed to the steam-driven Union mecha. Coal-diesel engines are also used by paddlesteamers and the eponymous Cool Train.
  • The Ghost (2010) by George Mann takes place in a world that is moving from Steampunk (coal driven cars, airships) to this (biplanes with rocket boosters) with hints of Ray Gun Gothic (holographic statues and videophones).
  • Iskriget (The Ice War) (2011) by Swedish SF author Anders Blixt is an "antarctic" spy adventure taking place in an alternate 1940, in which German and Czech republicans rebel against the heavy-handed rule of the Habsburg emperor. It includes, among other genre attributes, diesel-electric Miyazaki-style cloudships and ice juggernauts.
  • Empire State (2012) by Adam Christopher is this taking place across several dimensions and times and combines Noir with Weird War as the eponymous Empire State is in a never ending war with a mysterious Enemy.
  • The flashback segments of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker have elements of this, particularly the train and submarine used by Edie's employers.
  • The Tales of the Ketty Jay take place in a Magitek dieselpunk world of airships and jet fighters.
  • Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles combines this, magic wielding mutants called Actives and Alternate History.
  • A major part of Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell is a MMPORG starring the title character set in a Weird War WWII featuring things like tripod tanks and Nazi ninjas.
  • Victoria gradually develops into a Retro Universe based on this. By the end of the story, the Victorian state uses little "real" technology invented after the 1930s, but has still developed cold fusion, Tesla-tech and various other kinds of Super Science. They also make extensive use of zeppelins, politics and culture have a strong pre-World War II touch (including Nazis), and people dress in 1930s to 1950s fashion.
  • Shattered Continent.
  • As with all subgenres, there is a Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, edited by Sean Wallace.
  • Bruce Sterling's novella, Pirate Utopia takes place in the city-state of Fiume, along the Italian/Yugoslavian border shortly after WWI, an anarchistic enclave where they experiment with death rays and radio guided missiles.
  • The Angaran Chronicles current timeline is set on the continent of Angara during their Industrial Revolution the technological level being at our 1940s. But with elves and dwarves. The novella Hamar Noir is Diesel Noir. Although set during their Victorian era.

    Live Action TV 
  • Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983), a single-season series from The '80s of the Deco and Two-Fisted Tales variety.
  • In a Fringe (2008-) episode, Brown Betty had a world straight out of the 1950s, yet everyone was using (Retraux) cell phones and computers. And Walter's lap took it Up to Eleven.
  • Caprica (2010): Syfy's Battlestar Galactica spinoff is a mix of dieselpunk and cyberpunk. The in-story virtual game "New Cap City", which plays an important role in the series is pure Diesel Punk of the Noir variety.
  • In 2010, Toyota created an ad series for their Avalon series that were decidedly dieselpunk. The first, "Train," was set in an art deco train station (complete with a Twentieth Century Limited-inspired locomotive), where the characters are wearing 1940s-inspired clothes and a cover of Mr. Sandman by Pomplamoose plays in the background. The second, "Plane," depicted men and women in 1940s-inspired aviation uniforms as a Douglas DC-3 flew in the background.
  • A 2013 mockumentary on The History Channel called "The Great Martian War" blended film footage from World War One with CG of Martian tripods. Watch some footage of it here. There was also a video game based on the film.
  • While the original book version of His Dark Materials is generally regarded as describing its heroine Lyra’s world as Gaslamp Fantasy in style, the BBC/HBO adaptation goes for a lot of Art Deco imagery (appropriately enough given all the passenger airships, which belong more in the 1930s than the Victorian age), creating something of a Dieselpunk feel overall.

  • The emerging musical genre known as Electro Swing captures the essence of dieselpunk through remixing vintage jazz-style music and swing with modern technology and house beats.
  • Many modern swing and jazz revivalist bands who either faithfully recreate or apply contemporary twists to vintage music have also been considered part of the dieselpunk genre, such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue and Squirrel Nut Zippers. In 2019, swing-ska band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies released a song and music video entitled "Diesel Pun X", whose lyricism and musical/visual aesthetic draws directly from the dieselpunk genre.
  • The video for Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal was very dieselpunk, set in a speakeasy with flappers and gangsters, but with a lot of punk attitude and fantastic goings-on.
  • The video for Lady Gaga's Alejandro is one-sixth this, one-sixth Ho Yay, one-sixth Those Wacky Nazis, and the rest is you know... Lady Gaga.
  • Postmodern Jukebox creates covers of modern songs in the styles of the 1910s-1950s.
  • Therion's music video for "Initials BB" features dirigible battleships over what appears to be London, with ranks of scantily clad Germanic-uniformed women marching (and inexplicably flashing their breasts).
  • Electric Light Orchestra's music video for "Hold On Tight" is a fourth wall-breaking tribute to pulp serials of the 30s and 40s.

    Tabletop Games 


    Video Games 
  • Tales of Xillia: The world of Elympios that you visit fairly late in the first game and where much of the sequel takes place is a decaying land where the dingy cities are full of skyscrapers, and the background music is heavy on jazzy saxophones. Its largest city (and only city in the first game), Trigleph, looks like it was pulled straight out of a Film Noir hard-boiled detective movie.
  • Nazi Zombies had ended its Call of Duty: Black Ops II DLC line with Origins, a very much dieselpunk World War I setting. Giant Mechas, diesel-powered armor, perk drinks, tanks, and weaponry. All of this makes the return of the original crew from earlier games so much more awesome. And of course, the main appeal, the antagonists.
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth units built by the Purity factions have a definite dieselpunk flair. Take a look at their tanks, their warships and their Airborne Aircraft Carrier the LEV Destroyer.
  • Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic is thoroughly suffused with Art Deco, from the design of the starliner itself to its robot staff. Better still, it actually uses Dieselpunk motifs such as pneumatic tubes.
  • World of Tanks is set in the period in which this genre is set and many of the vehicles never came off of the drawing board.
  • While borrowing more Cyberpunk themes, Jak and Daxter certainly contains Dieselpunk aesthetics, most prominent are the zoomers. Haven City also has some of this aesthetic.
  • The retro-cult Taerkastens from Urban Assault, are a 26th century version of this. Since the Taerkastens eschew electronics and related tech, they use propeller powered war planes and giant zeppelins when the other factions are using more standard futuristic units. But what they lack in the electronics department, they more than make up for by being on the leading edge of engineering and material design. The Taerkastens have the most heavily armored units in the game.
  • Pulp Adventures is a Two-Fisted Tales story set in the Thirties and its Massive Multiplayer Crossover roster of available party members includes the Rocketeer, as well as Nazis with jetpacks.
  • The Valkyria Chronicles series of games is based in an alternate reality continent of Europa, loosely based on WWII Europe. "Ragnite ore" takes the place of petroleum in the game, which is centered on the small country of Gallia, a state rich in said ore, and sought after by the Atlantic Federation and the East Europan Imperial Alliance (roughly, the Allies and the Axis).
  • In the Resistance series, WWI ended differently and WWII never happened. Unfortunately, Asia and Europe got invaded by aliens instead.
  • Parodied in the Metal Slug series, which (although ostensibly taking place 20 Minutes into the Future) are set in a bizarre version of WWII(with some Korean/Vietnam-era trimmings), where propeller-powered planes, railway guns, and zeppelins coexist with Humongous Mecha, Land Battleships (literally a Yamato-class battleship with tank treads bolted on), Zeerust aliens, and Wave Motion Guns.
    • Taken up to eleven in the seventh entry, where the villains are a time-traveling army from the future . . . still driving the same WWII-era vehicles, except now they're painted blue and shoot laser beams.
  • In Somnia, a game being developed in Russia and greenlit for release on Steam, is a dystopian dieselpunk RPG that takes place in a decaying art deco space station.
  • Tower 57
  • Grandia:
  • An upcoming game,The Sinking City combines dieselpunk tropes with Lovecraftian horror.
  • Factorio, an addictive factory-builder, uses a decidedly diesel punk aesthetic, which fits in quite nicely with all the pollution produced by many a factory players end up building. Among the non-period things rendered in the aesthetic include nuclear reactors, laser turrets and the rocket you launch to win the game.
  • Iron Harvest is a Real-Time Strategy game set the same universe as Scythe.


    Web Original 
  • The Mercury Men, recently picked up by Syfy.
  • Running with Rats is a dieselpunk fantasy about a group of rebels against a slave society.
  • Six Chances is a dieselpunk fantasy featuring weapons fueled by vitae and psychic links between individuals who are on opposite sides of war that is on the horizon.
  • The Twilight Histories episode “True Aztec” is set in a dieselpunk Aztec Empire facing off against an equally dieselpunk Japanese Empire. The episode “The Big Turk” includes some slight elements such as airships and high-speed trains.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Britain's failed death ray.
  • Since Doctor Steel was a Steampunk musician who leaned on dieselpunk tropes as well, it isn't surprising to see a lot of dieselpunk fashion sense in the uniforms of the Army of Toy Soldiers.
  • Those Wacky Nazis designed a series of "superweapons" termed Wunderwaffe (German for "wonder weapon") before and during World War II. Many of them were outlandish and never made it past the prototype stage, but in retrospect were heavily dieselpunk in their design. In fact, many dieselpunk aesthetics are inspired or pulled directly from Wunderwaffe designs, such as those featured in Captain America: The First Avenger. Let's take a closer look at a few shall we?
    • The humongous Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte was a proposed massive 1000-ton Nazi land battleship (er...cruiser) armed with dual 280 mm naval cannons as well as various smaller caliber guns which might or might not have been mounted on smaller axillary turrets, all powered by no less than two engines derived from submarines. Allegedly, the main turret of this monster was completed before it was realized that Germany could ill afford to operate such an awesome weapon by its 1943 state, but it definitely deserves a mention by virtue of sheer scale.
    • The Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster. Instead of a pair of naval guns, this bad boy was to be made up of a single Schwerer Gustav railway cannon. To put this into perspective, the cannon this baby packed would have been lobbing shells that were fourteen feet tall and almost three feet wide (a bit over four meters, with an 800 mm caliber).
    • The Horten Ho 229, a prototype German night fighter built towards the end of World War II, certainly qualifies both in design and function. It even makes a cameo appearance at the beginning of Wolfenstein: The New Order. Many a gamer can be forgiven for thinking it was just standard dieselpunk hijinks.
  • The GM Futurliner.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: