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Arcanepunk Fantasy

What is Arcanepunk Fantasy?

Magic and science exist in the world simultaneously—they are two separate fields, but complement each other and are used together. Magic is wondrous and when its combined with technology, absolutely revolutionary.

WUnlike Steampunk, Arcanepunk is not limited to Victorian-era London. Stories of this sub-genre can take place in alternate histories, futuristic societies, contemporary worlds, or even secondary worlds. The key, is that the world has to have reached industrialization.

Some people use the term Arcanepunk interchangeably with Dungeon Punk and even Magepunk. Arcanepunk is a more useful term, however, as the 'arcane' refers to magic that is not divine. This detail is very important to world-building, because magic is incredibly functional in the Arcanepunk world and its lack of divinity helps give it an everyday quality. The 'punk' part is what gives the sub-genre its edge. These stories dabble in noir, they have underworlds, they can sometimes be a dystopia. There is something broody and dark in the characters. This sub-genre has attitude.

It is also worth noting that the Arcanepunk world is different from worlds where magic and science exist but are disparate forces or, where magic is hidden. Magic and science are an integrated part of the Arcanepunk world and they are both accessible to the many people (not just mad scientists and crazy wizards).


Arcanepunk Fantasy Characteristics

  • Level of Magic

    Moderate. Magic is distinct from science and technology, it is a force all its own, but it is also used in conjunction with technology. Magic is incredibly functional and its power can be harnessed. In the Arcanepunk world magic and science have evolved together and are generally at least at the late 19th century level. The world then is filled with people who have access to both magic and science—though not all are scientists and wizards.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Moderate. Arcanepunk isn't exactly full of grand and philosophical ideas that will transform your soul—but it is highly imaginative and it does expose readers to new possibilities. 

    There is usually something dark, or sinister, or not quite what it seems lurking beneath the surface of the Arcanepunk world (dystopia alert!). And you can bet that its revelation will accompany some pretty serious social implications. 

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. Arcanepunk is defined more by its setting than its characters. But, the most widely used character is the broody, anti-hero who usually has a snarky wit. Otherwise, authors have free range with their character types and development. One type of character that sometimes features in Arcanepunk is the spunky heroine type.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate-High. Arcanepunk has a tendency to take the form of thrillers or mysteries—stories that are jammed with plot twists and startling reveals.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. There is likely to be some level of violence within the story—somehow violence seems to popup whenever that punk attitude is present. The degree of violence can vary quite widely though, ranging from the relatively PG to the incredibly graphic.

Related Fantasy Subgenres




    Science Fantasy. Magic and advanced technology are the same in Science Fantasy, but in Arcanepunk the two fields evolve together and magic soon begins to look like and work with technology.

  • Hard Fantasy. Both sub-genres have a practical approach to magic—Hard Fantasy gets into the  nitty gritty details of the magic system, while Arcanepunk is just gritty.

  • Steampunk. Similar in that both genres have that 'punk' attitude, but differ in setting (Arcanepunk is not limited to Victorian London) and technological power sources (steam vs. magic).

Arcanepunk Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you think magic systems should be separate from technology because combing them takes away from that amazing sense of wonder.

Popular Arcanepunk Fantasy Books
  • 1 Shadowrun

    By Stephen Kenson et. al. These books, of which several authors have contributed, are based on the popular RPG game, Shadowrun. The series combines cybernetics, magic, and fantasty creatures.

  • 2 Allie Beckstrom

    By Devon Monk. In this world, magic comes with a cost. This series follows Allie, who hunts down people who use magic, and offload its cost onto innocents.

  • 3 Bas-Lag Cycle

    By China Miéville. The cycle blends multiple genres, including Steampunk, Sci Fi, and Horror. Magic is commonplace and practiced by skilled professionals.

  • 4 Metropolitan

    By Walter Jon Williams. The world has been encased in a barrier that seems to be both scientific and magical—there is no night or day, or even seasons, people divide time into shifts. There is a magical substance that has some very practical applications.

  • 5 Too Many Magicians

    By Randall Garrett. Alternate history, a Sherlock Holmesian character, and some pretty practical magic, all taking place at a wizards' convention.

  • 6 Darkness

    By Harry Turtledove. This series is the story of WWII, only in a completely different world where magic is very functional and has advanced alongside technology and even includes a storyline about the magical version of the Manhattan project.

  • 7 Magic Inc

    By Robert A. Heinlein. Magic, Inc. Magic is just another mundane part of the world, and there is a whole bureaucracy surrounding it.

  • 8 The Iron Dragon's Daughter

    By Michael Swanwick. This is a dark story about a girl who slaves in a dragon factory, building monsters that are part magical and part cybernetic.

  • 9 Thraxas

    By Martin Scott. The protagonist is a private investigator, failed sorcery student, and skilled swordsman with a comedic attitude. The world features other races (orcs, elves, other magical creatures).

  • 10 The Death Gate Cycle

    The Death Gate Cycle

    y Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. A nuclear war mutated humanity into several new, and powerful races. Ships are powered by rune magic, elves use magic to enchant armor and household appliances.