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Sunken City

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"Damn it, who kept the water running?!"

One of the easiest ways to indicate that a major, Earth-changing event has taken place is to show a city half-sunken, with buildings at unsafe and possibly nausea-inducing cants. This is sometimes the result of a Green Aesop about Global Warming, but more often it's just used to show that something is not right in the story's setting. Given the natural fears that arise in an island nation, this happens to Japan a lot. These cities may be empty, abandoned ruins, but can often be seen draped in plant life or inhabited by Disaster Scavengers.

These cities are staples of Flooded Future Worlds. The quintessential example is, of course, Atlantis.

May be the result of California Collapse. For ancient examples see Underwater Ruins. Contrast Underwater City when they're still functional underwater.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, due to an environmental shift whose details are largely unrevealed, a great many coastal cities are completely covered by the ocean. At least one chapter revolves around exploring one such city, Yokosuka, whose street lights still come on even though the city is completely submerged.

    Comic Books 
  • For a time, Aquaman was based in Sub Diego: a portion of San Diego that was submerged in an attempt to convert humans into subaquatic beings. The population consisted of a mix of these altered humans and Atlantian refugees.
  • Tangent Comics: the city of New Atlantis was founded atop the ruins of Atlanta, Georgia, after the Florida peninsula was destroyed in Earth-9's version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • In Drowntown, future London has a lot more water than it used to. It's still fully inhabited, however, and has actually gained population as people seek refuge from places that have it worse off. Among other things, the flooding means that water-based transport is now considerably more common — one of the main characters is an aqua-courier, riding through what used to be streets.
  • Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales, set a few thousand years in the future after apocalyptic cataclysms, has New York City now named the "City in the Sea" (the name "New York City" forgotten long ago), with most buildings now standing in the sea with the upper levels poking above the surface, but still a fully populated city.
  • Young Diana: Diana goes looking for one of the missing Themysciran history texts in a sunken city in the waters around Themyscira.
  • In Brian Wood's comic series The Massive, many coastal cities have been submerged as a result of seismic activity and sea level rise brought about by the Crash. Hong Kong has somewhat adapted by building floating platforms between the tops of skyscrapers, but others haven't been so lucky. New York is largely abandoned, while Boston Harbor has been burning for months after vandals ignited an oil slick.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kevin Costner's Waterworld had underwater ruins... which turn out to be the city of Denver.
  • American films have a particular fondness for showing New York City become flooded and submerged.
    • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) had underwater ruins of the submerged parts of New York City.
    • In The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a superstorm strikes New York and floods Manhattan. When the freezing storm hits the city, it is flooded up to quite a few floors.
    • Before those, Deep Impact (1998) had an asteroid impact into the Atlantic and cause giant tsunami waves and flooding over the East Coast, Western Europe, and West Africa, though New York is the only city shown.
    • And long, long, long before any of the previous, Deluge (1933!!!) had first an earthquake destroy New York, then raging waves and flooding.
  • In Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, Tokyo’s district of Shibuya gets flooded by the meganulons.

  • Buenos Aires in Conciencia y Voluntad, also with many other major coastal cities.
  • In Kim Stanley Robinson’s book New York 2140, New York has become this due to Global Warming. This, however, doesn’t mean the city is abandoned: in fact, it still is a vibrant city, only now with canals instead of streets and boats instead of cars
  • In Dark Life, any city that is coastal in our time has become this.
  • The 1987 novel Drowning Towers (or The Sea and the Summer) by George Turner describes a future in which Melbourne was partially submerged in water. As the tops of sky scrapers are above the water level, they are still inhabited by the cities' poorer classes.
  • Global Warming in The Expanse has resulted in many coastal buildings getting lost in the water.
  • In Firefight of The Reckoners Trilogy, Babylon Restored, formerly Manhattan, is flooded. The Epic Regalia who rules the city did this intentionally to boost up her Making a Splash powers within her domain. Unlike most examples, though, she has to continuously use her power to keep it that way, as the island is still above sea-level; the characters note that the water bends upwards like a hill in and around the city, and when Regalia dies, the water rapidly flows back into the sea without her keeping it there.
  • The Maze Runner: In The Kill Order, Mark often flashes back to living in a skyscraper, because the city was flooded with scorching water after the solar flares melted the ice caps.
  • In The Lord of the Isles, it seems like you can't turn around without running into a sunken city or island. They don't always stay sunken, either, what with all the wizards running around.
  • By Paolo Bacigalupi
    • The Drowned Cities in the novel of that name, set in a flooded and lawless former United States.
    • The Teeth in Ship Breaker. They're completely submerged so are used to shipwreck the Pole Star by the protagonist, who grew up in the area.
    • The Windup Girl. Bangkok ends up like this at the end of the novel, to the delight of the title character as she can bathe in the water to keep herself cool (she's genetically engineered and can't get sick from the dirty water, but suffers from overheating). And as the authorities have evacuated along with most of the populace, she doesn't have to worry about anyone trying to arrest her.
  • In Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, one character has a vivid memory of the floodgates being sabotaged in New York City. Much of the former United States is like this, so much so that the only functioning US government is the US Navy.
  • The climax of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton takes place in an English village that has long since sunken into a quagmire when polar melt flooded the Fenlands. The former dictator of Britain has his hideout there, as the area is useless for fishing or agriculture and so no-one goes there.
  • Joe Golem and the Drowning City features the titular Drowning City, which is a Alternate History New York that was mostly submerged in 1925. Society remains, but the city's functionally lawless now.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Sliders started out with the team stuck in a flooded alternate-Earth San Francisco, clinging to the unsubmerged tip of the Transamerica Pyramid as a refuge from sharks.
  • The Outer Limits (1995) episode Inconstant Moon ends this way. After surviving their hell night as the solar storm impacts the Earth, Sam and Leslie awake to find that the apartment building they're in is basically now an island as the entire city has flooded up to at least about fourth-storey level.
  • Happens a few times in the documentary miniseries Prehistoric, mostly when showing what cities were like at times when their location was undersea, usually when the subject of the segment is of marine life. Hence how you get the giant sea turtle Archelon swimming outside the New York Public Library, for instance.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 50 Fathoms is mainly set in the fictionaal Caribdus, a world that's being swallowed by the waves for magical reasons, so functionally all of its cities are like this.

    Video Games 
  • Absented Age: Squarebound: Every time Karen defeats a Ganger boss, she enters a map featuring several buildings partially submerged in water. The talking flower here allows her to pick one new Enchant skill every time she comes here. After she recovers from her nightmare segment, the flower reveals that this place is Karen's Heart's Core, which can maintain her existence even after the Gangers take her Heart Fragments. The sunken city tileset is also used for the entrance map of the Arcade Driftworlds.
  • In Sonic Adventure, near the end of the game, Station Square gets submerged underwater. With the power of Super Sonic, you have to do battle against Perfect Chaos, who was the cause of the devastation.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Sunken City in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, flooded not by rising seawater (it's quite far from the ocean) but by melting snow from the mountains.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are flooded ruins of several presumably Hylian villages found downstream of Zora's Domain in the southeastern reaches of Hyrule. Considering that the Zora's Domain story arc in this game involves the threat of a devastating flood caused by Divine Beast Vah Ruta's water-generating powers, there's a possibility that Vah Ruta caused some other minor floods in the century since the Great Calamity, especially since these flooded villages don't have the remains of Guardians like most other ruins.
  • Most of eastern New York State is at least half underwater in Superhero League of Hoboken. Global warming is to blame. A good part of the game is figuring out how to get to the flooded parts of the city, then to the open water, to reach new locations.
  • The city of Thor in Tales of Phantasia sunk 2000 years prior to the events of the game due to a meteor crash. It's still, however, relatively dry and functional thanks to Aska's power. The protagonists actually get to rise it back to surface on the trip down there (and get elected as the new president to do this).
  • In Dark Souls I, the city of New Londo is half submerged in water, and mostly populated by homicidal ghosts. It turns out that the city was flooded by the Three Healers when the Darkwraiths (humans feeding on "Humanity" and becoming twisted by the Dark) began to get out of control and the Abyss began to take shape beneath New Londo: flooding the city sealed both of those up and put a stop to the spread of the Abyss.
    • Dark Souls II has a couple: the realm of Heide is almost completely submerged by the sea, with only a couple of towers still habitable above the water. The Iron Keep is likewise sunken... in lava. The Old Iron King became too greedy, and built his castle too high; the castle (suggested to be pure iron) got really, really heavy and partially sank into the volcano the King had insisted it be built on.
  • The Crystal Key has the Arkonian capital city of Suralon, which was almost completely submerged when the evil psychic Ozgar bombarded it with his gravity-altering satellites. Naturally, the people there evacuated the place while it was sinking.
  • In Anno 2070, set after a massive global warming event, has city ruins occasionally located on underwater plateaus. They can be harvested for building materials.
  • In Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, your enemy's capital city, Farbanti, has a submerged downtown full of scorched, tilted skyscrapers (and during the battle, submarines) due to an asteroid impact.
    • Farbanti and its still-flooded districts also feature prominently in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown as the site of yet another massive aerial battle. The Boss Battle in the climax involves a high-speed chase through the toppled skyscrapers that you may partake in if you're so inclined.
  • Given the amount of damage it's suffered after a genocidal civil war, Rapture of BioShock fame probably counts, even if it thankfully hasn't flooded yet. In the sequel, as you're a Big Daddy in a self-contained suit, you can go outside and see what it's like from without.
  • Miku in Submerged explores the ruins of one, searching for supplies and collecting documents that recount what happened to the city.
  • Oakmont, Massachusetts, which is the titular location in The Sinking City. It mysteriously flooded and filled up with monsters, making numerous neighborhoods unlivable. It turns out to be due to Cthylla, Cthulhu's daughter, waking up beneath it.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei I, Tokyo gets flooded by God during the final leg of the game. As if being struck by nukes and subsequently turned into a lawless hellhole earlier wasn't bad enough!
  • In Persona 5, the Big Bad's palace shows Japan as this, with him being the captain of the ark that carries the only ones he deems worthy to survive.
  • In Super Mario Sunshine, after beating each Shadow Mario challenge, Corona Mountain will flood Delfino Plaza with water, and it remains submerged until after the player visits Corona Mountain for the first time.
  • NieR Automata has the aptly named Flooded City as part of its game world. It's a comparatively small coastal zone full of ruined, half-toppled skyscrapers that's curious for being only about a kilometer as the crow flies away from a scorching desert.
  • In Final Fantasy X, at one point you cross a river by way of a shoopuf (basically an elephant-like creature that can tread water) and there are city ruins underneath the surface. Wakka explains that the city was destroyed by Sin, a massive creature said to punish civilizations that become too technologically advanced.
  • In Criminal Case: The Conspiracy, most of the neighborhood of Maple Heights is flooded in sea water after a catastrophic earthquake strikes the city of Grimsborough and sinks it to the ground. Some flooded sections of the district are shallow enough to walk around, while others have entire buildings submerged.

    Web Videos 
  • Mahu: In "Frozen Flame", the seas around the archipelago sometimes hide very ancient cities. Be it for their size, or some other reason, some of the buildings come out of the water, including great towers and gigantic statues of unknown gods.

    Western Animation 
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the titular kingdom's capital is protected by a massive air bubble but the outskirts are exposed to the ocean and in ruins.
  • Neo Yokio: Parts of Neo Yokio are submerged, mainly 14th Street. The top of two skyscrapers poke out of the harbor of Battery Park.

    Real Life 
  • In the UK, entire towns have been submerged over the years for various reasons.
  • As with the U.K., Italy has its share of submerged towns. One in particular is situated in a lake that gets drained periodically, allowing the interested to go visit.
    • Venice is slowly sinking into the ocean because it's so heavy that the land underneath (formerly marsh, so that's understandable) can't hold up its weight.
  • The Brazilian city of Recife finds itself in a similar predicament as Venice: coastal marshland slowly losing ground to the tide, though at a much slower pace than Venice. This has resulted in the city being actually known as "The Brazilian Venice".
  • Many of the most ancient parts of Alexandria, in Egypt, have sunken along with the land under them.
  • Hydro-electric dam projects often force towns upstream to be evacuated and eventually the sites are submerged.