While the term steampunk did not originate until the 1980s, there were several works that were precursors to the modern versions of the subculture. These novels tended to be part of the science fiction genre. The stories usually took place in the Victorian era and focused on speculative science inventions and characters. Some of the most influential writers in this regard included Tim Powers and James Blaylock. The impressive sales from these novels expanded the use of steampunk in other forms of modern media. Comic books and movies featured it heavily. A more horror-centric offshoot also emerged.

Eventually, the unique aesthetic created by this fiction inspired real people to dress in a way that conformed to its visual rules. Steampunk festivals gained a rise in popularity during the early 2010s onwards. Attendees would often cosplay as their favourite steampunk characters. It even became common for people to create their own bespoke fashion items and wear them to such events. This lead to steampunk becoming more than just a subgenre of science fiction. It was now a way of life and a thriving community which has continued to endure.

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