The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.
So the essence of grimdark is that everyone’s inherently sort of a bad person and does bad things, and that’s awful and disheartening and cynical. It’s looking at human nature and going, “The glass is half empty.”
Hopepunk says, “No, I don’t accept that. Go fuck yourself: The glass is half-full.” YEAH, we’re all a messy mix of good and bad, flaws and virtues. We’ve all been mean and petty and cruel, but (and here’s the important part) we’ve also been soft and forgiving and KIND. Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion.
Hopepunk says that genuinely and sincerely caring about something, anything, requires bravery and strength. Hopepunk isn’t ever about submission or acceptance: It’s about standing up and fighting for what you believe in. It’s about standing up for other people. It’s about DEMANDING a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can, with every drop of power in our little hearts.
Going to political protests is hopepunk. Calling your senators is hopepunk. But crying is also hopepunk, because crying means you still have feelings, and feelings are how you know you’re alive. The 1% doesn’t want you to have feelings, they just want you to feel resigned. Feeling resigned is not hopepunk.
Examples! THE HANDMAID’S TALE is arguably hopepunk. It’s scary and dark, and at first glance it looks like grimdark because it’s a dystopia… but goddammit she keeps fighting. That’s the key, right there. She fights every single day, because she won’t let them take away meaning from her life. She survives stubbornly in the hope that one day she can live again. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” is one of the core tenets of hopepunk, along with, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Robin Hood and John Lennon were hopepunk. (Remember: Hopepunk isn’t about moral perfection. It’s not about being as pure and innocent as the new-fallen snow. You get grubby when you fight. You make mistakes. You’re sometimes a little bit of an asshole. Maybe you’re as much as 50% an asshole. But the glass is half full, not half empty. You get up, and you keep fighting, and caring, and trying to make the world a little better for the people around you. You get to make mistakes. It’s a process. You get to ask for and earn forgiveness. And you love, and love, and love.)
And THIS, this is hopepunk:
Here I am with more addendums to this post: Seems like a lot of people are saying the word “noblebright” at me, and I just want to be really clear about this: Noblebright is not hopepunk. Noblebright does not espouse the same ideals that hopepunk does. They are two distinct, separate, coexisting things.
Noblebright is Arthurian legends. The world is a good place, people are essentially good. The codes of chivalry are in full effect. People in positions of authority are there because they are wise, prudent, caring leaders. They rule because they deserve to rule. They protect the weak, they uphold their ideals, there’s people practicing chaste courtly love in every bower and garden. Things are fine, and people have adventures in which they triumph because (see: all of the above).
Hopepunk is (as many wonderful people in the comments have pointed out) Discworld: The world is the world. It’s really good sometimes and it’s really bad sometimes, and it’s sort of humdrum a lot of the time. People are petty and mean and, y’know, PEOPLE. There are things that need to be fixed, and battles to be fought, and people to be protected, and we’ve gotta do all those things ourselves because we can’t sit around waiting for some knight in shining armor to ride past and deal with it for us. We’re just ordinary people trying to do our best because we give a shit about the world. Why? Because we’re some of the assholes that live there.
Examples of hopepunk media include:
Guardians of the Galaxy: “Why do I want to save the galaxy? Because I’m one of the idiots who lives there?”
Thor Ragnarok: “Asgard is not a place… It is a people.”
Leverage: “Right now, you’re suffering under an enormous weight. We provide… leverage.”
The Librarians: (“I have seen you all die so many times when it didn’t matter, I can’t let it happen now that it does.” “What do you need us to do?”)
Scorpion.: (”If you try to tell me about the greater good one more time, I will hit you.”)
Star Wars: (”There is good in him still.”)
Star Trek (the original universe): (honestly, there’s no one single quote, but like, the entire damn thing is solid hopepunk.)
Wonder Woman: (”It is not about deserve, it is about what you believe.” also “Who will sing for us, Charlie?”)
Also, Mad Max: Fury Road. Angharad is a hopepunk queen, and Furiosa and Max get pushed and pulled on to that path by the end of the movie through their connection to each other and the people they fight with.