Cool or Cringe? A first look at ‘edgy’ characters

Hello everyone! Today we’re gonna take a look characters with troubled pasts, questionable motives and sometimes questionable actions, or ‘Edgy’ as they’ve been branded within the past two decades. We’re gonna cover the basics, share some examples, and briefly discuss what makes a good or bad edgy character. Next week we’re gonna take a deeper look at the qualities as well as discuss some edgy characters in great detail. The term edgy used to refer to characters that make you feel uncertain about them, like their balance on the edges of good and evil. They also tend to be slow to trust, more solitary in nature, have darker color themes, and tend to be brooding. Typically that’s what they are, often coming from a horrible life or backstory and often willing to do horrible acts, yet still holding fast to the belief that what they’re doing is right. They often take on the role of ‘anti-hero’.

However lately it’s been used to quickly devalue characters, and even used to describe characters that don’t really fit its intended definition. People will write a character off as ‘edgy’ to justify hating them, and use it as an excuse to ignore looking critically at characters. Funnily enough, I’ve had a lot of experience with this in Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve seen many players joke about how someone else is playing an edge-lord, or how a certain NPC they met was so edgy. Whilst I understand this is meant in good faith, I don’t agree with writing off someone else’s character with generalized terms; often times people put a lot of care and thought into their characters and it can feel like a personal attack if someone writes off something you’ve worked hard to give a dynamic or personality that isn’t clearly good or evil.

Easy their Hot Topic Falco, you’re weirding out octopus Kakashi

So that was a long winded explanation as to what I’m going to discuss today, but given that I’m discussing what is essentially slang it’s important we’re on the same page. Whilst nowadays ‘Edgy’ is used to write off a character as bad or cringe, I do not at all subscribe to that idea. You can find many examples of really great edgy characters and really bad ones too. There are also a plethora of edgy characters to choose from, with some being well received and many being poorly received.

Imagine Sonic but he’s violent, angry and speaks in monotone

So what makes these characters so poorly received? Well it’s really quite simple, and it’s something that applies to any characterization blanket. Poorly written edgy characters don’t really feel like full characters because they settle for having character traits rather than having characterization. In other words the only traits they have are the ‘edgy’ ones, yet we’re given no other information about them or justification for why they have those beliefs. They also tend to act generically edgy without any nuance or thought put into the reasoning behind their actions. A general rule of thumb to follow when writing characters that act strangely is that the audience needs to have a reason to care about why they act that way, and that you as the creator should have a clear reason for them to act that way. Without these steps their actions will come across as fabricated or unbelievable and your audience will write them off. We need to empathize or understand what makes them act the way they do, otherwise they seem less like characters and more like tools for the author.

So then a good edgy character would be one who acts questionably but has other good traits, and is a character we get to intimately understand so we know the reasoning behind their actions. They also act with clear intention and are made edgy with a clear goal in mind that amplifies the medium they are shared through. Next week I’m going to take a deeper lake at edgy characters, however I’d like to share what an edgy character can be when done right now so that you understand that some of the best characters from their respective stories are edgy, and that it shouldn’t be used to disqualify or discredit characters from being great.

Dark, Brooding, Badass and….. yes, Edgy

Batman is arguably the most popular and famous edgy character of all time. Now now, put down your pitch forks, I’m not insulting or devaluing him at all when I say this. Remember the point of this article; to get people to see edgy as a descriptor and not an insult. Looking objectively at Batman: he’s a dark, brooding serious character with a trouble past that does morally questionable acts for good. Yet he is a great and well beloved character, and this is for several reasons. He has clearly defined character beyond the surface level traits. His will is indomitable, he has a code he unerringly sticks to, he believes in the good of people almost to a fault, and we understand perfectly the events that lead him to become the Batman. Many of the ‘cool’ things about Batman come from the embrace of his edgy character. The darker color themes he uses as well as the menacing appearance to many of his costumes and inventions. His darker theming also allows for his stories to cover extremely dark and serious topics in a digestible way for the audience without overwhelming or disgusting them. There’s also the way he contrasts the lighter-hearted characters in his team-ups that makes his interactions with them really engaging like with the Justice League. You can find endless clips and snippets of panels with Batman’s amazing and often humorous interactions with the other members.

Some people just don’t know how to accept a thank you…

And… that’s a wrap! Edgy characters have always been such a divisive character trope, however I believe that many people that dislike it are more or less fixated on the poor characterizations we see frequently and haven’t seen or thought much on the great ones. I started writing this and realized I had to do some work to split up the things I wanted to discuss so that I don’t make an article too long and intimidating to read, so next week I’ll be finishing my thoughts on the edgy character archetype/trope. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, and until next time I hope you all stay healthy!

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