What is Dark Fantasy?
Dark Fantasy is a popular subgenre in literature that often has grim and blood-soaked themes. It can be scary or disturbing and sometimes it may even feel more like a Horror than a Fantasy.
What is a subgenre?
In literature, many genres can be broken down into categories. Many of these categories exist within primary genres that have been mixed with others. For example, when Fantasy is mixed with horror, it is often called Dark Fantasy.
For of this, see our post on anime genres and demographics!
We can’t speak for everyone, but Dark Fantasy is one of our favorite genres in all forms of pop culture. These 90s anime are all good reasons why.
Side note: In Dark Fantasy the protagonist could be an anti-hero, and they might like to scream a lot.
Second side note: There’s gonna be blood. Lots of it.
The Best Dark Fantasy Anime of the 90s and what makes them so Dark (see what I did there?)
Berserk is a well-known series for 90s anime fans. It’s often used as an example, outside of anime, as a perfect sample of Dark Fantasy storytelling. Killer, right?
(Pretty cool, right? Didn’t sound Dark Fantasy enough for this article)
Berserk is the story of a legendary swordsman people call The Black Swordsman. His name is Guts (I guess Blood was taken).
The show begins in the present but then flashes back to when Guts was young. Guts is a skilled fighter but is bested in combat by Griffith, the enigmatic leader of a group of mercenaries called the Band of the Hawk. After his defeat, Guts joins them and rises through their ranks over the years.
Berserk aired on Nippon TV from October 1997 to April 1998 with 25 episodes in total. But what makes it a Dark Fantasy?
Well, it’s easy to refer to this animation as brutal and at times disturbing. If you ever needed to visualize the word “visceral,” pairing it with this show will help. I can still hear the screaming, hours after I have rewatched the first couple episodes. So much screaming…
Reviews for Berserk are often favorable and refer to the characters as well-written. We agree and quite enjoy how static manga art is mixed into the animation during battle scenes, it sorta punctuates the violence. Not that it needs to be driven home any more than it already is, lol.
Now and Then, Here and There
Dark Fantasy comes in all shapes and sizes. For example, Now and Then, Here and There is a blend of Post-apocalyptic, Sci-fi, Isekai, and Fantasy genres and more. It’s what we more commonly refer to as multi-genre.
Now and Then, Here and There may look cute at first, but it’s the furthest thing from cute. If you have delicate sensibilities, you may want to avoid this one. We don’t want you screaming, “I am far too sensitive!” like Stu from a certain 1996 American slasher film, after watching it.
This story follows Shu (not Stu) after he’s transported to another world when attempting to protect a girl. This world is a waterless wasteland filled with despair.
Brace yourself, gentle viewers, as there are a lot of elements of physical and mental torture. What makes this fantasy story so dark is the additional themes of slavery, child exploitation, and rape (thankfully most of which is implied graphic content).
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the reviewers really enjoy the masterful storytelling and top-notch voice acting.
We find ourselves once again mentioning the highly regarded 1993 Ninja Scroll. Set during the Tokugawa Shogunate, this 90s ninja anime film is everything 90s kids wanted dipped in chocolate syrup and drenched in a blended mix of corn syrup, corn starch, and red food coloring!
Ninja Scroll is the brutal story of Jubei, a Ronin/Mercenary Ninja. Jubei is neck-deep in a nasty assortment of demons and devils, and he hacks and slashes his way through them all over the course of the 94-minute movie.
It’s an understatement to say that Ninja Scroll is filled with action-packed graphic violence. It’s gloomy and morose and feels like it has a dark cloud hovering over it the entire time. Wow, it’s great!
What makes it a Dark Fantasy? Outside of basically defining the subgenre by just glimpsing the cover art? Well…
A. It’s a fantasy tale set in an alternate history.
B. It’s filled with horror and supernatural elements (like demons…just saying).
C. Your iPad, smart tv, or monitor will literary be dripping with blood by the end of the film.
Need we say more?
Often listed in the top anime movies of the 90s, Ninja Scroll is a great film to watch, and if you liked Guts from Berserk (listed above), then you will likely love Jubei too.
Record of Lodoss War
If Dungeons and Dragons of the 80s was a Japanese Anime, it would be the 1990s release by Madhouse.
Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, all the classes are there and represented by the classic RPG’s races such as Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and more!
It goes without saying that a show that fits perfectly into the Fantasy genre, like Record of the Lodoss War, would touch upon the Dark Fantasy subgenre. However, it’s more strongly seated in the Sword and Sorcery category.
Demonic possessions, evil spirits, vicious warlords, and monsters galore fill the minutes of each episode of this thrilling show. (Yes, there are demons)
Parn, the main character is the son of a disgraced knight, and he’s seeking to return honor to his family while on quests against the lord of the rival land, a demon god, and an evil necromancer.
Dark, right? Well, not quite as dark in the story, violence, or characters as Ninja Scroll, Berserk, or Now and Then, Here and Now. While it has those grim themes, Record of Lodoss War balances them carefully on a foundation built on colorful environments and a much larger love story.
Reviews are good, with most people pointing out good animation and a great soundtrack.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli, Princess Mononoke is a blockbuster film that made its studio a household name.
This movie fits the Fantasy genre, and then blends across many subgenres like Historical Fiction, Epic Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy.
Can you guess one of the reasons why it can be labeled a Dark Fantasy? (hint – malevolent supernatural entities)
Ashitaka, the last prince of a village is cursed by a demon. The curse awards superhuman strength but also creates a great deal of pain and will kill him in time.
He’s told by a wise woman that he must leave his lands and begin a journey in search of a cure. It’s on this trek through the wilderness that he encounters more gods and spirits. He also meets San, a human girl who rides a giant wolf.
San and Ashitaka start off on different sides, but soon join forces and face lots of danger as they fight against a town that’s clearing the forest and making iron weapons.
The movie gets brutal at times when we see innocent townspeople slaughtered. Limbs are hacked off; bones are exposed, and blood is splattered about. Sadly, many animals are killed, but not as graphically as the people are.
While not pure Dark Fantasy it has some great elements of it.
Hey! Don’t let that stop you from watching this masterpiece with a massive 93% approval rate at Rotten Tomatoes.
Let’s end strong.
Bastard!! is entirely Dark Fantasy. The description of it often throws out the word “dark” like it’s free! Lol.
Bastard!! has a dark age, a dark army, and a dark wizard! This show lives in a Dungeons and Dragons-style dystopian world, and it does not take itself too seriously.
Bastard!! tells the story of an evil wizard who has possessed a young boy. This wizard’s name is…wait for it…wait for it…Dark Schneider! (mic drop) (guitar riff)
Released in the early 90s, Bastard!! blends pop culture with popular music by naming lands, spells, and people after popular heavy metal artists. Think about it, what other music could be more perfectly matched with Dark Fantasy?
Swords and sorcery, devils and demons, wicked wizards and damsels in distress, Bastard!! has a Conan feel to it at times and we think that rocks!
Prepare yourself for lots of yelling in this one!!!
What have we learned? Dark Fantasy can be blended with a lot of things. It’s often set in dystopian worlds and focuses on the suffering of a people or person.
Expect stories full of excessive violence, moral ambiguity, apocalyptic storylines, and on occasion some fun anti-hero characters.
One last thing to note. Like the mystery genre has rain, Dark Fantasy seems to have demons.