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Steampunk was originally a term for a sub-genre of speculative fiction that imitated 19th Century "scientific romances" like the work of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Later, the term was applied to a general aesthetic involving styles that would be "futuristic" from the perspective of the 19th Century.

Steampunk is so popular that it has its own fan conventions. It is a popular style for cosplay, costuming and crafting; anything can and will be steampunk-ified. There are individual media fandoms for which the canon is steampunk, e.g. The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. Outside of steampunk fandom, it is used in fanworks like fanfic and fanart, often in AUs for non-steampunk canons.

History of the term

The term steampunk was coined in the 1980s, though many important early steampunk works were written in the 1960s and 70s, and these works showed the influence of 19th Century authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The literary/media genre later expanded to include works set in worlds with advanced steam-powered technology, not just those recognizeably set in the 19th Century.[1]


The core of the steampunk aesthetic is futuristic/sci-fi styles from a 19th Century, usually Victorian or Edwardian, perspective: clocks, gears, springs, steam power, analog computers, typewriters, airships, etc. This has also been described as "retro-futurism".

The influence of the fashion, architecture, technology, and interior design of Victorian London have a huge impact on the steampunk aesthetic. However, some people have expanded the style to include the same kind of retro-futurism from a non-Western perspective.

Japanese media are particularly known for steampunk themes and styles, particularly in the Final Fantasy games and in many anime and manga series. How universally these are considered steampunk and how available they are in English varies widely. Some Japanese steampunk seems to draw from the same Victorian roots as Western steampunk. Other Japanese steampunk draws heavily from Meiji, Taisho, or early Showa Japan.

Steampunk fashion often involves corsets, bustles, top hats, pocket watches, goggles, vests, and aspects of 19th Century military uniforms. It has ties to various forms of Neo-Victorianism, Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat styles in Japan, and many Goth styles elsewhere.

Steampunk objects frequently feature polished brass, inlaid hardwoods, decorative gears, and clock parts.

Steampunk Canons

Steampunk is a common genre and/or aesthetic in certain types of role playing games and in anime and manga. It is often hard to find in live action media (especially ongoing tv series) due to the high costs of the costumes, props, and set design, but many examples do exist. Many of the most common steampunk canons don't have fanfiction-producing fandoms associated with them, and a fair amount of non-English steampunk has yet to be translated into English. The examples below are all steampunk or have elements of steampunk, but opinions on whether they count as "fandoms" may differ.

Live Action:

Anime & Manga:

Other Comics:

  • Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio
  • The original comic of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Games (tabletop, console, computer):

Crafts and Costuming

This article or section needs expansion.

totally bigger as a crafts/costuming thing than an English-speaking fanfic thing--this section should be a lot more significant

  • those awesome keyboards


  • Steampunk Magazine

Criticism of steampunk in fandom

There is some criticism of steampunk (of fan- as well as pro-works) in fandom because it sometimes wallows in the Victorian era, even valorizing it and certain of its narratives (like of the scientist explorer) without examing the colonialism, imperialism and racism underpinning it:
"In celebrating the figure of the adventurer and explorer, steampunk buys into certain assumptions. One: that there are places to explore and discover - the idea that a land can only be discovered by your culture, and has been previously unexplored even if people have been living there for centuries. Two: that, as naraht points out, "deep down, or perhaps not so deep down, there's a sense in steampunk that having an empire must after all have been rather fun". [...] And perhaps this is the crux of My Thoughts on Steampunk: it's a superficial understanding of the Victorian age without wanting to understand the anxieties of the age."[2]

"Steampunk is paradoxical in that it claims to be all post-modern yet is all about the uncomplicated triumph of objective, uber-cool science. In fact this is a very modern notion, for which "modern" read "bright and shiny and wonderful right around 1880 or so." No wonder geeks are nostalgic. For a while there scientists really did believe that they were going to rule the world. Indeed, "scientific" theories of race did a great deal to prop up the imperialist project."[3]

(this needs expansion/explanation by someone who knows more about steampunk and its issues)

Example fanworks

Harry Potter








Star Trek

Fan Film:

Star Wars







External Links


  1. ^ For more on the literary genre and steampunk outside of fandom, see the wikipedia article on steampunk. (Accessed September 28, 2010.)
  2. ^ forthwritten. steampunk: my issues, let me show you them (accessed 30 Mar 2010)
  3. ^ Naraht. Steampunk redux(accessed 30 Mar 2010)