Allow Us To Help The Differences Between Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Cyberpunk, Post-Apocalyptic and More

With the huge box office success and critical acclaim of Mad Max: Fury Road, it is no wonder it is so often coming across our news feeds. However, there has been some misinformation passed around that we wanted to addressthe vehicles in Mad Max are not badass steampunk vehicles with weird and wonderful modifications and weapons (this article has since been edited to be correct) as reported by Mirror. Nor is Mad Max Dieselpunk, as DailyDot tried to publicize. While Mad Max has gotten everyone talking about some of our favorites genres, we figured now would be a good time to help the uninitiated understand the differences sometimes subtle between them all. The fact that sometimes a film, comic, video game, or band can encompass more than one of these themes only makes it more confusing, so lets look at the individual parts (but realize that most things will have elements of and influence from more than one genre and thats ok!) Any of these genres can also have components of fantasy, sci fi or magic, although these arent usually present in the purest forms of the genre.

First, lets examine the -punk suffix. Punk rock as a music style developed in the 70s and quickly came to represent political anti-establishment and anarchism, also developing a unique DIY aesthetic with distinctive clothing, hairstyles and adornments. It was dirty, raw, edgy, underground, and heavily influenced by those who were self sufficient most people not only made their own clothing, but produced and distributed their own records as well.
Using -punk as a modifier in this manner has come to mean much of the same thing a breakdown in social structure, an alternative, normally self-made variation of a traditionally historical aesthetic, a parody that examines the atrocities of our society through a fantastical lens. It normally has strong Dystopian connotations but more on that later.
Since all of the -punk genres share these similar components, its easy to see why folks get them confused. Lets look into what separates the individual subgenresand sub-subgenres. What gives cyberpunk, dieselpunk, steampunk and post-apocalyptic their unique flair? What -punk genres are the mainstream news sites not even covering?


We will start with Steampunk, as it is the most visible, most commonly talked about, and the number one way characters are re-imagined within the cosplay community. Steampunk is most often set in the Victorian era, when steam-power was at its peak. It most commonly has a color palette of browns, ivories, golds, brass and copper, although anything can be used successfully in Steampunk especially lush velvet and brocade fabrics. Most often it has an air of the aristocratic; high tea and polite society. Corsets are common, as well as top hats, monocles, mustaches, vests, goggles, pocket watches, tailored jackets and suits. It is not always set in Victorian era, as Steampunk blends equally well with other time periods turn of the century, as well as Western Steampunk ensembles are common.
But really the important thing to remember in Steampunk is that everything is steam powered. Really, it is an alternate history where during the Industrial Revolution steam was the ideal source of power, but steel seems to have not been discovered.. Its pretty common to see aspects of clockwork and intricate mechanical details (although sometimes people refer to this aspect as clockpunk) Steampunk has lots of independent moving parts. Most things are overdesigned the tools have a very Rube-Goldberg vibe about them. Of course, Steampunk doesnt only have the high society of the aristocrats, there are also the mechanics and tinkerers, the mad scientists and alchemists that represent the grittier aspects of the genre these are the folks who keep the world moving. The fine artists in the League of S.T.E.A.M. are a great representation of the many different types of costuming Steampunk can encompass. Steampunk tends to be the most comical, most beautiful, and most delicate of the genres.


Since Steampunk and Dieselpunk are the two most commonly confused, lets head there next. Dieselpunk, similarly to Steampunk, also takes its name from its power source- in this case, diesel fuel. Dieselpunk is most commonly set in the 1920s up until the World War II era of the 1940s and is marked by the aesthetic of the time. Because of this, it often has a strong military influence in the costuming and look of the vehicles, which are generally slow, clunky, massive, and powerful. Unlike Steampunk, function trumps form in Dieselpunk they are often crude things, meant to be machines of war rather than luxury vehicles used on your way to tea. Rivets, steel, iron and coal replace the brass and copper and delicate workings of Steampunk.
Clothing often consists of military style dress, most commonly from American and German WWII regalia. There is less variation in the traditional clothing of the time in Dieselpunk then youll find in the other genres, although you will find some exaggerated helmets, goggles, and robotic enhancements. Think of old wartime propaganda posters, the pinups of Vargas, and the Art Deco, Worlds Fair and industrial revolution eras and youll be going the right direction. Everything was much grittier, darker, but with the promise of a better, brighter future. Dieselpunk is all about fighting to build the world of tomorrow.
Atompunk is the most similar to Dieselpunk, being set in the aesthetic and power source of the 50s B movies, diners, and the atom bomb.


Cyberpunk is probably the easiest to tell apart, although there are a variety of subgenres within this theme as well. Cyberpunk also pulls heavily from their power source, although this can vary within the franchise. Cyberpunk has been around for decades and is a very rich genre neon lights, highly advanced technology (especially within the internet and communication highways), androids, and huge advancements in human evolution through often illegal and dangerous bioengineering. Cyberpunk can easily be confused with straight sci fi, since it shares similar elements of advanced technology the difference tends to be heavy use of internet (cyber) and computer technologies. Space travel and things of this ilk can still exist in cyberpunk, but is usually not the main component. Cyberpunk has also spawned biopunk and nanopunk, which focus more on the bioengineering aspect (biopunk being more organic, and nanopunk focusing more on nanomachinery).
There are 2 main factions of cyberpunk the gritty, downtrodden, dirty worlds and gutters vs the ultra futuristic, shiny, neon worlds where net is indistinguishable from reality. Inhabiting worlds that exist exclusively in a virtual space is called Netrunning. Often you will see someone plug or hack themselves to this plane of existence, these people are Netrunners. Cyberpunk wardrobe most often is sleek and stylish; geometric shapes in PVC and latex (often with lights built into the clothing itself, or with see-thru plastic pieces). Many people who inhabit cyberpunk worlds are more-than or not-quite human. People will oftentimes have computer components built into their flesh, not just their clothing gadgets that give them superhuman powers. Technology and surgical addiction is a common theme in many cyberpunk stories. Gothic and Industrial fashion borrows heavily from Cyberpunk for their Cyber Goth sub-subculture, which is distinctive for their bright neon colors against contrasting blacks, dreadlocks built from a variety of materials, goggles, straps, platform boots, leg warmers and 80s style sunglasses.


Now, onto my favorite the post-apocalyptic genre. This one is exactly what youd guess from the name; The world as we know it has ended (whether from nuclear war, natural disaster, social decline, disease, etc) what happens to the humans that are left? What does society look like after the apocalypse has come and gone? This genre predates any of the others by several decades in pop culture, going back as early as the 30s. It has been a popular genre in novelizations for even longer. The nature of the apocalypse generally sets the stage for the story. Most commonly post-apocalyptic films take place in desert wastelands, but there are also dilapidated cityscapes or flooded worlds, or permanently winter landscapes. Even many zombie films (so long as it is a world-wide epidemic) technically fall into the post-apocalyptic setting, although they represent their own distinct fanbase and flair.
The post-apocalypse is marked by its scavengers everything is repurposed, and everything has practical value. Trash is recycled to create fantastic vehicles, costumes, and tools. Since nothing new is being made, everything is worn down, patched up, embellished, re-used. Leather, metal, bones, and fur are commonplace these are modern Barbarians, surviving on whatever they can find. Food, water and resources are scarce, and often wars between survivors break out to control what little remain. Almost anything can be made post-apocalyptic, and anything can be adapted into the costuming so long as you are clever about it. Everything has a purpose in this genre (even if that purpose is most often defense), and nothing goes to waste.


Dystopian works are marked by a place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. Dystopia can encompass any of the other genres and often does. Sometimes Dystopian works will be exclusively Dystopian, although these tend to be most commonly political in nature. Dystopia can be caused by a tyrannical government (Ie, The Hunger GamesBrazil), an outside, aggressive enemy (Ie, AliensDistrict 9), criminal activity or terrorism (DreddDemolition Man), disease, war, etc. It does not necessarily require sci fi elements and is most often used as a tool to examine issues within our own society and predict where we as humans may ultimately be heading.
Wikipedia actually has a pretty good list of things to check out.

Forced/False Utopian

On the opposite side of Dystopia are Forced and False Utopians. These societies appear to be perfect on the surface. However, usually the people have been forced to follow imposed guidelines against their will, or in their ignorance. Freedom and humanity is given up for a chance at safety and equality. Examples of False Utopian works include Harrison Bergeron, The GiverThe MatrixLogans Run and Equilibrium.

Some other -Punks for your Pleasure

Now that you have a good understanding of what the -punk suffix means, why not explore some of the more obscure genres? New ones are popping up all the time and are still developing their fanbase and style. You might check out paleopunk/stonepunk (Caveman-era), Roccocopunk (French Revolution/Marie Antoinette era), Raypunk (most commonly associated with future-past technology), Davincipunk (Renaissance era contraptions and costuming), Teslapunk (turn of the century contraptions that could-have-been)The sky is the limit, and alternate history is a beautiful place to explore.


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