What’s up, punks! As with fantasy, sci-fi has seen many different genres over the years. Hard sci-fi, space operas, time travel, the list goes on. However, when it comes to worlds, there have been various genres using the suffix “-punk” to describes themselves. Potentially, a user can find dozens of these subgenres, and most will probably be unfamiliar. Here are a handful of the most prominent “-punk” subgenres of science fiction.


Cyberpunk refers to a world where the digital age has evolved to become all-encompassing. This genre usually refers to high-tech worlds with a decidedly dystopian edge. Common issues include urban decay, corporate takeovers, and people losing their humanity to cybernetics. One of the key giveaways is a city where every surface is plastered with blaring advertisements.

For example, some works such as Black Mirror question how these new technologies will add to injustice instead of solve them. Common themes of cyberpunk include income inequality, cyberspace taking over the real world, and the rise of artificial intelligence. Fortunately, the idea of living in a dystopia controlled by cyberspace and big tech companies is only a fantasy. Examples include Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, Altered Carbon, and Cyberpunk 2077.


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When the average geek hears “steampunk,” they probably think of top hats, goggles, and valves on everything. Steampunk refers to an anachronistic world where energy never moved on from steam power and it became all-encompassing. Because of the more “fantastical” nature of this technology, steampunk ususally comes tells more idealistic stories. Fittingly, these works will also have a Victorian aesthetic in its technology, dress, and themes.

Given how much people are drawn to classic Victorian literature, it make sense people would try to meld it with sci-fi. However, other steampunk works such as Bioshock Infinite expose the more poorly aged aspects of the era. Some of the most common elements of steampunk are airships, pipes everywhere, and clockwork motifs. Steampunk goes beyond a genre of sci-fi and is an entire fashion movement. Examples include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Atlantis: The Lost Empire Wild Wild West, Arcane, and Howl’s Moving Castle.


Compared to its sibling steampunk, dieselpunk tends to get far less attention. Whereas dieselpunk takes from the Victorian era, dieselpunk usually takes from WW1 or WW2. As such, dieselpunk tends to be much more grim, and follow in the “noir” genre. Furthermore, the “art-deco” movement of the Roaring Twenties, which emphasized elegance and glamour on an architectural scale, is used in the aesthetic. A typical dieselpunk story will either focus on either grandiose military conflicts or urban crime dramas. Easily the best example of dieselpunk one will find is the cult classic Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Other examples include Captain America: The First Avenger, Bioshock, Skullgirls, and Sucker Punch.


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Atompunk- often confused for raypunk – is an aesthetic that once again draws upon a dated vision of the future. The time period that influenced this particular subgenre is the Cold War and space race, as these were influential to science fiction. Each of these three genres draw from “retrofuturism,” imagining a future using an aesthetic of a past era. Because of how bombastic and fantastical this aesthetic is, these stories will more likely than not be campy and satirical. However, works such as Fallout have deconstructed the “Red Scare” present in this era. Examples of Atompunk include The Jetsons, The War of the Worlds, The Iron Giant, and Meet The Robinsons.


While the rest of the genres are fairly cynical given their respective time periods and our modern concerns, solarpunk is an exception. Solarpunk is a much more recent movement that imagines futuristic worlds that live in harmony with nature. Because of growing concerns over climate change and deforestation, it is important to keep these ideals. Solarpunk is usually built on the use of sustainable energy and greenery overtaking cities, combining nature and human ingenuity. While these works can often be naive regarding the meaning degrowth, they remain an optimistic vision. Because it’s fairly novel, examples are rare, but include the works of Studio Ghibli, Tomorrowland, and Strange World.

Of course, sci-fi fans have come up with many other “-punk” subgenres beyond these. However, these should give readers a sense of the major ones.

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1 Comment

  • Meg
    Posted March 4, 2024 5:47 pm 0Likes

    Nice article! Steampunk is my favorite genre, but I like the newly evolving Solarpunk. That’s pretty dope!

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