Mankind has always had a morbid obsession with the end of the world, but over time the sheer number of apocalyptic scenarios has caused the once exhilarating genre to become overly familiar and positively cliche. Luckily, all hope is not lost, and we’ve selected ten of the most unique pieces of post-apocalyptic fiction, over various mediums, to reignite your excitement for the end of days. Light spoilers follow.
10. Tokyo Jungle (Video Game)
This downloadable PlayStation title imagines a futuristic Tokyo devoid of all human life. The city has become an urban jungle, with animals of all shapes and sizes running wild in competition for food and water. It’s a suitably brutal example of survival of the fittest.
Since the game doesn’t contain any dialogue, you might be surprised to discover that it contains a surprising amount of story, following various animals as they fight to defend their family or pack. At the heart of the story is a domesticated Pomeranian, who must negotiate the deadly cat-run streets of Tokyo after his supply of pet food runs out. Though the narrative is mainly concerned with each individual animal’s story, hidden throughout the world you’ll find various archive files that provide some explanation as to what happened to all the human beings, and later in the game – when playing as an AIBO-style robotic dog – you’ll be faced with an impossible choice. It really is a dog eat dog world in the Tokyo Jungle.
9. Snowpiercer (Movie)
Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, this South Korean sci-fi/action movie is perhaps one of the most outlandish – and therefore totally brilliant – post-apocalyptic premises we’ve ever heard. In 2014, an attempt to combat global warming using geo-engineering goes disastrously wrong, resulting in a new ice age that kills off all life on earth. All life, that is, except those lucky enough to be passengers on the Snowpiercer, an enormous train that’s able to indefinitely circle its globe-spanning tracks.
The film features a somewhat clumsy analogy of the 99% versus the 1%, with those towards the end of the train living in squalid conditions, forced to live on protein blocks, while the elite at the front of the train enjoy sushi-fueled luxury. Despite this, the film features some memorable characters (most of all, Tilda Swinton’s Mason) and a genuinely unique take on how humans could survive the end of the world.
8. Dead Set (TV Series)
This very British armageddon is brought to you by Charlie Brooker, the genius behind Black Mirror, and it’s very much a predecessor to the dark anthology series. Dead Set takes the “standard” zombie apocalypse scenario and places it within the confines of reality show Big Brother. For those unfamiliar with the genre, Big Brother sees a number of strangers living together in a house and filmed 24/7, kind of like The Real World with less sex and more cheesy games. Since one of the show’s major rules is “no contact with the outside world” and the house/studio is self-contained and surrounded by barbed wire, the Big Brother House becomes the last safe place in Britain.
By merging the reality and horror genres, Brooker is able to subvert them both, resulting in a playful yet often harrowing televisual experience. It’s fascinating to see how the conventions of the two disparate TV genres compete and converge, creating something truly special. Even if you don’t like reality television, we know you’ll be gripped by Dead Set.
7. Children of Men (Movie)
Though based on a book of the same name, we prefer the film adaption by Alfonso Cuarón for its immediacy and the way it seems to resonate more with contemporary audiences. Children of Men takes place in a world of human infertility. It’s been 18 years since the last baby was born and, understandably, the world is falling apart. Britain is the only stable nation left, so people from all over the world want to enter its borders. This has resulted in a terrifyingly draconian approach to immigration, which sees immigrants herded like cattle into refugee camps.
The film focuses on Clive Owen’s character Theo as he becomes embroiled in the fight for immigrant rights, eventually resulting in him encountering Kee, a pregnant refugee he swears to protect. Along with some stunning single-shot sequences, the film highlights the importance of basic humanity as well as the fragility of civilized society. Though triggered by fantastical circumstances, the reactionary events shown in the film seem horribly possible. This truly is a stunning film.
6. Y: The Last Man (Comic Book)
This estrogen heavy apocalypse imagines a world where only the fairer sex have survived a “gendercide” which killed all the men. Well, all of the men except for one, that is. Yorick Brown and his pet capuchin monkey Ampersand are the last remaining males on earth. Obviously this means that the countries still functional enough to care are after Yorick, looking to capture him for their own gain, though all he cares about is being reunited with his girlfriend in Australia.
The comic features an extremely likable protagonist, full of great one liners and completely in touch with his emotions. You’ll really feel his panic and pain at being the only one of his gender remaining, and the unimaginable pressure and responsibility that this entails. It’s refreshing to see a text so (necessarily) full of strong, complicated, and exciting female characters, and Y: The Last Man will really teach you the meaning of Girl Power.
5. The Last of Us (Video Game)
Considered by many to be one of the greatest gaming achievements of all-time, the story takes place 20 years after the daughter of playable character Joel is killed in the first outbreak of infection. He now finds himself having to smuggle teenager Ellie to a rebel group known as the Fireflies.
While the story of the game is magnificently cinematic, with complicated and diverse characters, our favorite thing about The Last of Us has to be the infected enemies. What makes the world of the game so unique is the choice to not adhere to the usual zombie tropes. In fact, these aren’t zombies at all, but humans infected by a mutant strain of Cordyceps – a real-life species of fungus that attacks its host (usually insects) and takes over its body, influencing its activities. By creating such unique enemies, The Last of Us ensures it stands out from its peers, presenting a grotesque and unique zombie apocalypse of the like we’ve never seen.
4. Predator Cities (Books)
Definitely one of the most ambitious post-apocalyptic worlds you’ll ever come across, the Predator Cities series is made up of four books, each taking place centuries in the future in the so-called Traction Era. Following a “Sixty Minute War,” the earth has been decimated and nations cease to exist. They’ve been replaced by Traction Cities – entire cities or towns able to move around independently – taking part in “Municipal Darwinism.” That is to say, they hunt and devour each other for resources and survival.
The story of the quadrilogy follows a number of characters spread across “The Great Hunting Ground” as they attempt to survive the battle between the Predator Cities and the Anti-Tractionist League. It’s surprising these books aren’t more popular, considering they’re so full of monumental world building and original ideas. They really can’t be recommended enough. Peter Jackson had been attached to adapt the series in 2009, but all seems pretty quiet on that front.
3. Fallout (Video Games)
This famous, retro-futuristic video game series examines the aftermath of a 1950s-style United States destroyed by nuclear war in 2077. Sensing that disaster was coming, the US government began to build self-sufficient “Vaults” all over the country to protect citizens from attack. Unfortunately the Vaults were actually a series of unethical social experiments, seeing how humans would react in a number of insane circumstances.
As if the treachery of the government wasn’t enough, those “lucky” enough to leave the Vaults and explore The Wasteland will find a world bereft of all greenery, and full of mutated humans and animals, not to mention slavers and reavers. Bleak as it is, the world of Fallout feels alive, bursting with character and terror in equal measures, and there are few experiences more intimidating or breathtaking than when you first leave Vault 101 in the series’ third game. The latest in the series,Fallout 4, is due out this fall.
2. Shades of Grey (Books)
This imaginative take on the end of the world is quite literally one of the most colorful post-apocalyptic societies you’ll ever experience. Not to be confused with the recent erotic book series, the world of Shades of Grey takes place centuries after the “Something That Happened” and now, for some unknown reason, humans are only able to see a single color. This has resulted in a hierarchy being established, with those seeing the more prestigious colors like purple and blue having higher positions in society. Unfortunately this means that “Greys,” who are unable to see any color, have been forced into servitude.
The book sees “Red” Eddie Russet falling in love with a Grey called Jane in a vivid world that will stick with you. Rules are everything in the society of Chromaticia, and some of the over the top laws will have you howling with laughter. Shades of Grey is without doubt one of the most original post-apocalyptic worlds you’ll ever encounter, equal parts inspired, dark, and brilliant.
1. Adventure Time (TV Show)
Believe it or not, this popular cartoon show actually takes place on a heavily changed, post-apocalyptic Earth. No, seriously. The show’s creator, Pendleton Ward, has even confirmed our suspicions. The show has discussed “The Great Mushroom War” a few times, and it’s not hard to see this as a euphemism for nuclear conflict. In one episode we even see a hologram of Earth, with a huge chunk missing from it, presumably from the aftermath of the Mushroom War.
Adventure Time is one of the most surreal things on television, which likely explains its significant adult fan base. Full of color and whimsy, this is easily the most upbeat post-apocalyptic scenario out there, though that’s not to say there aren’t significant threats from The Lich or one of Finn and Jake’s (the main characters) other adversaries. The sixth season sees Finn experience some minor existential doubt, but just think how he’ll feel when he realizes he might just be the last human on earth. This show is famously brilliant, but looking at it as a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction adds a whole new layer of intrigue and ingenuity.