George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series as well as its TV adaptation Game of Thrones has enchanted audiences all over. Rather than the high ideals and wondrous magic of most fantasy, the world of Game of Thrones is a treacherous place where anyone can die at any second, morality exists in shades of gray rather than black and white, nobility and kindness don’t always save you and brutality and corruption run rampant.
This sort of tension keeps readers and viewers on the edge of their seats and they want more! So listed below are some dark fantasies that approach Game of Thrones in terms of darkness, twistiness and tension. Some of them also feature very complex mythologies, worlds and situations just like those found in Game of Thrones.
As you can expect, many of the works feature graphic violence, sexual violence and other gruesome aspects, much like Game of Thrones. If there’s anything that’s beyond your comfort level, I’d suggest looking up warnings about these series before getting into them- consider this a blanket warning.
There’s a lot of dark fantasy out there, so if your favorite didn’t end up on the list, talk about why you like it in the comments!
The writers at Weird Tales magazine, first published in 1923, are often credited as being the originators of modern dark fantasy, so it’s probably a good idea for any dark fantasy junkie to at least consider that work. The short stories in the magazine often combine the fantasy and horror genres and feature subjects like cannibalism and necrophilia. Probably the most famous contribution would be H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulu, a cosmic horror story that depicted the universe as a horrifying place that would drive people mad if they knew the truth. Many famous authors contributed including Robert Bloch (who would later write Psycho), Ray Bradbury (who would later write Fahrenheit 451) and Robert E. Howard of Conan the Barbarian Fame.Advertisement
Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama was a manga launched in 2009. It received a 25 episode anime adaptation by Wit Studio in 2013 and a second season is set to premiere in 2016. The manga is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been driven nearly extinct by skinless man-eating giants.
The world of Attack on Titan is one where survival is uncertain for second-to-second, corruption, crime and brutality runs rampant both in the government and among the people and deaths are rarely pretty or heroic. The main cast of the series are child soldiers who volunteered for what is essentially a suicide mission in fighting the titans. The series features a wide and interesting cast of characters and the dark story combined with both the animation and catchy theme song in the anime made it a big hit.
Robert Kirkman and AMC's The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s The Walking Dead comic book launched in 2003 under Image Comics and received a live action television adaptation from AMC in 2010. Both series are still ongoing and there have been television and video game spinoffs.
The series is set during a zombie-apocalypse and the main cast quickly learns that living humans can be just as dangerous as the zombies that threaten their lives every second. Much like Game of Thrones, this is a story where anyone can die and many characters are complex mixtures of good and bad. Also like Game of Thrones, the series is incredibly popular, receiving increasing ratings each season. It’s also received a great critical reception and been nominated for many awards.
Be-Papas' Revolutionary Girl Utena
The 1997 39-episode anime Revolutionary Girl Utena was created by a group called Be-Papas, which includes director Kunihiko Ikuhara and character designer/mangaka Chiho Saito. The studio that produced it was J.C. Staff and a movie version called The Adolescence of Utena was released in 1999.
The story focuses on a young girl named Utena, who attend the majestic Ohtori Academy in hopes of being a prince, but finds herself quickly embroiled in a dangerous, magically-tinged series of duels.
Utena is the least graphic and most understated of all the series listed, eschewing blood and gore for metaphor and symbolism. However, it is undeniably dark, as it is a disturbing, but complex and well-done, examination of sexual violence and systems of misogyny. It deals with subjects like incest as well. Pretty much every single character is screwed-up and the concept of innocence is deconstructed. The series also dashes apart traditional fairy tale tropes, archetypes and “”happy endings”.
Neil Gaiman's The Sandman
Neil Gaiman’s Vertigo comic book series The Sandman was launched in 1989, running for 76 issues and earning several continuations and spin-offs. It has won several awards, including Eisner Awards and a World Fantasy award.
The comic focuses on Dream, the eponymous Sandman. He is a metaphysical entity and one of the seven “Endless”, who are anthromorphic personifications of various concepts that persist eternally, like Death, Desire and Despair. Our main character is billions of years old, and often cruel- the question is whether he even can change at this point, especially since he sees the darkest parts of the world so very often. The series delves into many haunting, occult tales and supernatural occurences, dealing with high concepts and complex characters. It was extremely influential on much of the dark fantasy comics that followed it.
Kentaro Miura's Beserk
Kentaro Miura’s Beserk manga was first published in 1989 and received both a 1997 and 2016 anime adaptation. The series is set in a medival European-type world where supernatural creatures run rampant. It follows a mercenary named Guts, as well as another mercenary named Griffith.
The series contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual stuff and often questions whether humanity is truly good or truly evil, exploring both the best and worst of what people are capable of.
Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Alan Moore and Kevin O’ Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman was launched in 1997 under the Wildstorm Comics imprint. Publication stopped in 2007 and additional LoEG projects are published under Topshelf and Knockabout comics.
LoEG is set in an alternate-version of Victorian England and focuses on a group of super-powered/supernatural individuals based on pre-existing literary figures. Examples include The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll. The League is assembled by Mina Harker, formerly Mina Murray, the woman who was attacked by Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel. The series has a high death toll, lots of violence and lots of twists and turns.
Gen Urobuchi's Puella Magi Madoka Magica
The 12-episode anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica produced by Studio Shaft and written by Gen Urobuchi was launched in 2011 and received a film follow-up called Rebellion in 2013. It also received several manga spin-offs.
The series focuses on a young girl named Madoka who is asked to become a magical girl and fight witches by a strange, small supernatural animal named Kyubey. The series' cutesy exterior hides that it is actually full of cosmic horror, death, existential despair and questions of whether anyone can truly triumph while clinging to heroism and nobility. Despite being such a short series, the shocking ride full of interesting visuals captured the hearts of many fans.
Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy
The first book of Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself, was published in 2006 and was followed up by Before They are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings. There are also several stand-alone books related to the series.
The books are set in a war-torn medieval European-style fantasy world and focuses on a sprawling cast of warriors, wizards and so-on. It is at the top of many reader’s dark fantasy lists and has received a lot of praise from critics. It has been lauded for its’ grittiness, realism, moral ambiguity, rounded characters, and unsettling bits of violence.
Robert Kirkman's Invincible
Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker launched Invincible under Image comics in 2003. The series at first seems like classic superhero tale, but as can be expected from a series written by the creator of The Walking Dead, things quickly get dark and surprising.
The story revolves around the half human son of the world’s most powerful superhero, an alien named Omni-man. Things quickly get very hard for Mark when The Guardians of the Globe (essentially this universe's version of The Justice League) are brutally slaughtered by the worst person imaginable and everything is thrown into chaos.
Invincible is an alternate take on the superhero genre that often includes intense violence, gut-wrenching plot twists and lots of death. The civilian death toll of superhero fights is also shown in stomach-churning detail that makes Superman vs Batman look small-time.
Glen Cook's The Black Company Series
Glen Cook’s The Black Company was first published in 1984 and Shadows Linger along with many other novels followed it. The series follows a mercenary team who are recruited in the service of brutal, evil empire. The series features complex characters and deadly politics and is full of betrayal and plot twists.
Joss Whedon's Angel
Launched in 1999 as a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon’s Angel follows the eponymous vampire without a soul as he fights the demons of Los Angeles. Angel is generally considered darker the Buffy, with many of its heroes on the verge of moral collapse and the line between good and evil sometimes less clear. There’s also a pretty high death toll for the series- several of the main cast have kicked it by the end.
Norihiro Yagi's Claymore
Norihiro Yagi’s Claymore manga was launched in 2001 and ran 27 volumes. It received a 2007 26-episode anime adaptation that had an alternate ending. The series follows a part-monster, part-human mercenary named Clare as she fights man-eating demons who can disguise themselves as human. The story is set in a world rife with corruption, with even the organization that employs Clare being pretty sketchy. Sexual violence and other brutalities make an appearance and extreme violence and body horror is a common feature. The demons are often horrifying and the warriors in Clare’s organization are considered utterly disposable.