Grimdark is an adjective used to describe a setting or situation in a fictional work that is considered dark, depressive, violent or edgy, particularly in fanfic literature. The term can also be applied to an artistic style that uses shading and muted colors, if not black and white, often associated with mature themes.
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The word "Grimdark" is a shorthand for ”grim darkness," which initially became popular as the tagline of the tabletop dystopian sci-fi game Warhammer 40,000: “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” Released in 1987, the phrase has been associated with the game online since as early as 2000, when it was mentioned on a page on hobby site Starship Modeler<4> in a review of the Flacon Grav Tank model that appears in the game.
The shorthand term "Grimdark" entered online usage as early as May 2008, when it was used as a descriptor in a blog post on the Wizards of the Coast<5> about the newly released expansion set Shadowmoor. The blog post, titled "The Two-Sided Coin," details the vision of the writers behind the expansion set. The author notes that they wanted to create a dark world without getting too "grimdark," as there is still humor and hope in this game"s world.
In May 2008, the term was used on 4chan"s /tg/ (traditional games) board<6> to describe a potential game that would take place in a school of dark magic. The following month, Grimdark was added to 1d4chan<1>, a Wiki for tropes discussed on the /tg/ board. That October, the term was defined on Urban Dictionary<7> and the single serving site Grimdark.com<8> was registered, containing a picture of an angel seated on a pile of skulls.
The term has been also referenced in TV Tropes’ explanation of “Darker and Edgier,”<2> the tone shift used to make a seemingly innocent fictive world seem more adult. The definition of Grimdark has also been discussed on the RPG.net forums<3>, the Fanlore wiki<9> and the Warhammer 40k message board Warseer.
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<10> Grimdark images and fanfiction are shared on Equestria Daily<11>, deviantArt<12>, fanfiction.net<13> and Tumblr.<14><15>