Aesthetics Wiki

Mythpunk refers to a subgenre of mythic fiction in which classical folklore and faerie tales get hyper-poetic post-modern makeovers.

Coined by author Catherynne M. Valente, the term describes a brand of speculative fiction which starts in folklore and myth and adds elements of post-modern fantastic techniques: urban fantasy, confessional poetry, non-linear storytelling, linguistic calisthenics, surrealism, world-building, and academic fantasy.

Despite the term being coined recently, much of it seems to be influenced by 70s and 80s dark fantasy writing, this particularly includes authors Angela Carter and Tanith Lee. Even a few lighter writers like Patricia A. McKillip (see Elfpunk below) helped define the surreal strangeness inherent in this genre.

It is characterized by baroque, multicultural fashion (in the 80s, this was likely inspired by New Romantic style), bold sexuality, bizarre retellings of familiar fairy tales, pervasive anxiety, fear of inevitable change, feminist parables, the brutality of humanity, the dark price of magic, surreal imagery, a twisted sense of humor, elaborate symbolism, and radical reinterpretation.

Aesthetically, it’s extremely closely related to Woodland Goth (although the book genre tends to be much darker thematically).


Mythpunk visual aesthetics feature a strong connection to subverting the various tropes often found in fairy tales (often with a very dark twist), such as what's found in American McGee's Alice in Wonderland games, but can also draw directly from some already-dark fairy tales that exist (such as Hansel and Gretel).

Written and other works[]

Mythpunk was largely defined through literary works like Andrea Jones's Hook & Jill, Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat series and Catherynne Valente's The Orphan's Tales. Novels like The Shadow of Ararat attempt to tell a grand story with magic in a subversive way, since gods do not play a major role compared to humans, unlike in most Roman and Greek epic stories.

The Mythpunk aesthetic occasionally manifests in music (The Decemberists, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc.), films like Pan's Labyrinth, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, and The Company of Wolves (through this is a more a proto-example), cartoons (Over the Garden Wall and The Owl House), video games (The Path and Inscryption), comic books (Fables), fashion, and most other art forms.

Although this subgenre shares many elements with Urban Fantasy and more or less Dark Fantasy, Mythpunk stories tend to avoid linear or obvious story structures, simple prose, and easily-discernible character archetypes.



Elfpunk is sub-genre of urban fantasy in which traditional mythological creatures such as faeries or elves are put into semi-modern, often Punk or Goth inspired urban settings or in surreal, dream-like writing that is a more fantasy-leaning version of Magical Realism.

It has been seen since the 1980s fantasy boom and still exists today thanks to YA urban fantasy writers like Holly Black and Julie Kagawa. (It's noted as a subgenre because Elfpunk tends to be somewhat lighter in tone compared to most Mythpunk works.)

What also differentiates it is the stronger aesthetic imagery. Due to many of these urban fantasy writers in the 80s being musicians, they often filled their books with references to Punk, Goth, and New Romantic fashion but with a fey twist (see Woodland Goth, which discusses this previously unnamed aesthetic).

Writers in this genre include Terri Windling, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Patricia A. McKillip, Will Shetterly, and Neil Gaiman. (Fantasy artists Brian and Wendy Froud, Charles Vess, and Kinuko Y. Craft and legendary puppeteer Jim Henson also helped create this aesthetic.)

Examples in film include the movies Labyrinth and MirrorMask, in TV shows like Once Upon A Time, and in tabletop gaming, the World of Darkness RPG Changeling: The Dreaming.

Chinese fantasy[]

Much Chinese fantasy can be classed as mythpunk. Some cultivation novels have main characters who assimilate whole multiverses and are overall so ruthless, they put the Borg from Star Trek to shame.


Capepunk can be seen as a modern spin on what are modern fairy tales by some definitions: superhero stories. Worm, the first story in the Parahumans fictional universe, has main character Taylor Hebert go through a tragic journey of loss inspired by Middle Eastern folklore and beliefs about the apocalypse. The Endbringers are terrifying monsters named after Biblical beasts, and the characters who can see or know the future get some things tragically wrong in how they plan, similar to how attempts by Biblical prophets to predict the future usually failed horribly.