The Best WordPress Magazine Themes Available

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Now that blogs are being used by groups of people (be it businesses, organizations, even schools) just as much as they are individuals, WordPress theme designers have felt that need and have created a number of quality magazine–style themes in response. Some of them are good, some are better, and some are simple outstanding. What follows is a look at them, free or otherwise, and what you need to know before grabbing them.

A Quick Note

This post is a part of a series called WordPress as a Magazine, a series here at Theme Playground all about how WordPress is being used specifically as—you guessed it—a magazine. See the full post listing in the series announcement post.

Grid Focus: Reminds Me Of…

Magazine Themes - Grid Focus

When I look at Grid Focus I can’t help but think of Khoi Vinh’s site. This is a very clean, strong black and white theme. I especially love the tiny descriptions under the links in the menu and the footer.

Magazine Themes - Grid Focus Small Screenshot

I’m a fan of these short links at the bottom of the page.

The biography box at the top right allows for a nice description of the site’s purpose right from the start. This is good practice, especially when you only have a few moments to communicate what your site is about. Those sizes of images are classy, and pretty popular for some time now—just see Flickr’s buddy icons for proof.

Grid Focus sports a popular three column spread with a fat center column for a search bar and the user’s choice of links. Good to have, and this probably wouldn’t be hard to swap out with a list of popular posts or special archive lists.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of this theme (and a big part of what sets it apart) is how the post date is set apart. Off to the right with a horizontal rule—not that common, very unique. Posts are a cornerstone of any theme, and to have something that stands out, in a simple way like that, is something that could stand out to readers as well.

Positives of Grid Focus

  • Black and white creates a clean blank slate appearance
  • Description of site at the top sets the mood for visitors
  • A unique footer makes great use of usually wasted space

Negatives of Grid Focus

  • The default gray may be hard on some visitor’s eyes
  • Again, on color: not too much of it

Links for Grid Focus

Gridlock: Too Hip to be Square Center Aligned

Magazine Themes - Gridlock

Gridlock caught my eye right away, namely because I was involved in a recent logo design where one of the discussed fonts was this one, which I believe is deemed Asenine by Dafont.

But the font isn’t the only reason to check Gridlock out. I love the use of color, the lime green and sharp blue work well together. There’s enough white to work with a lot of content/text, but the touches of color break it up.

Magazine Themes - Gridlock Small Screen

Can’t really complain about a great bio box, no matter whether your site is a blog or a magazine site.

I have to say I’m not a fan of left–aligned layouts, but that may only be because I’ve tried before and have never been able to get them to work. Grid Focus does a good job, but I can’t say I’m completely convinced of this layout yet.

I do, however, like the post–stacked–on–two–posts thing. It gives a good feel, and may be just the right blend of blog and magazine for the average user. Of course, that has the disadvantage of not appearing quite as much like a magazine to those looking for something very much on that end of the spectrum.

Worth mentioning are the cute In the Present and In the Past headings above the most recent post and the second most recent post. I don’t know, stuff like that is cool and usually grabs me. Personality in a theme is a good thing, since most bloggers have, well, a personality.

Positives of Gridlock

  • Touches of green/blue create a nice balance
  • Cool asterisk for the about box

Negatives of Gridlock

  • Left alignment may turn off some
  • May not be as extensive a magazine theme as some would like
  • Not a lot of use of symbols in the sidebar, something bloggers like

Links for Gridlock

Mimbo: Sounds Like…

Magazine Themes - Mimbo

In putting together this post, I happened across Mimbo and noticed the design because, believe it or not, I sketched out a very similar idea for a future theme just a day or two earlier. Not that anyone will ever believe me, of course. So good work, Darren, and I promise I won’t follow through with thievery.

Magazine Themes - Mimbo Small Screenshot

Works well if you’re working with issues, or a set of posts updating at a time.

While the three feature stories on the right of the header may seem static, they are very much dynamic and how to work them up (along with other features of the theme) are worked out in great detail in the author’s detailed instruction post. Like many advanced theme authors (The Morning After, below, utilizes this method) Darren here is using custom fields to tuck extra information into posts—in this case, images.

Everything called on the front page are dynamic, including a list of the year’s posts, multiple spots of single posts from categories, and a piece of the about page.

Oh, and you have to love the name Mimbo. Kind of like mambo, sounds like bimbo. Anyone know the story on that? Edit: Come to find out it’s pulled from an episode of Seinfeld. It’s a bimbo who happens to be a man. Thanks, Darren.

Positives of Mimbo

  • Prominent search bar up top
  • Consistent and modest color scheme throughout
  • Awesome author box on single post views

Negatives of Mimbo

  • Lots of empty space—not sure the best use of resources
  • Lacks personality (tough one to verbalize!)

Links for Mimbo

The Morning After: Playground Tested, Playground Approved

Magazine Themes - The Morning After

To be honest, I have a bit of an affinity for The Morning After. After all, I’m using it for this blog. That in itself should be a review in itself, eh?

Magazine Themes - The Morning After Small Screenshot

This is one of the cleanest featured post boxes I’ve seen.

The Morning After features a beautifully sophisticated color scheme and subtle design decisions which add to the overall package. One of my favorite aspects is the search bar prominently at the top—similar to the one in Gardner’s Revolution Theme (see below). I like this technique, and paired with the tight menu items underneath.

There is one downside to the current version of TMA, and that is it doesn’t support widgets. This can be a big downside, especially with anyone uncomfortable with editing code. If that’s you, you may need to have someone who can help you out.

Speaking of code: this code is excellently organized and thought through. After using TMA for a couple of weeks now, I have been able to add and adapt this theme to my needs. I’ve heard a bunch of other bloggers praising it, and I can’t imagine letting go of it any time soon.

Positives of The Morning After

  • Clean, professional design
  • Feature posts and aside lists
  • Flexible code structure and expandability

Negatives of The Morning After

  • No sidebar widgets
  • Some trouble with WordPress 2.3
  • Somewhat small text and light link colors

Links for The Morning After

Nautica–Magazine: Blue Like Water

Magazine Themes - Nautica-Magazine

Nautica stands out for it’s strong use of blue, but it clashes in my eyes with the image that was chosen for the header. Simply changing that to a more neutral image would help this theme leaps and bounds.

Magazine Themes - Nautica-Magazine Small Screenshot

Spotlights and feature stories get an especially clean treatment, as you can see.

The large width buttons for navigation is cool, and the highlighting works, and is reminiscent of Grid Lock (above) and that method of styling links. But then the potential sleek qualities of the theme which begin with the menu are lost, to me, when we get to the main content areas.

The content only has room for around 5–10 words per line, which isn’t quite enough to avoid my feeling crowded while reading it. I will say that the single post view opens it up a bit, but all that makes me want is to have more space on the homepage even more.

That, and the links in the sidebar on the right don’t seem to be styled much; kind of boring.

Positives of Nautica–Magazine

  • Blue color is nice (I’m a fan)
  • Gross image in header— change it right away

Negatives of Nautica–Magazine

  • Definitely more crowded than the rest covered here
  • Poorly–styled sidebars

Links for Nautica–Magazine

Revolution Theme: Couldn’t be a Ballsier Name

Magazine Themes - Revolution Theme

It’s not possible to write about magazine themes for WordPress without talking about Brian Gardner’s Revolution Theme. Brian has caused waves with his theme, and his success can be seen on the showcase page of his site. A lot of people have purchased his theme.

Magazine Themes - Revolution Theme Small Screenshot

Feature pages can be highlighted with the boxes on the lower half of the theme.

That’s right, Revolution Theme costs a few dollars. But if the alternative is paying a designer to work for you, I could see the advantage in dropping a few bucks. Each installation of Revolution will cost $59.

Revolution is a very simple, highly customizable theme. The front page has a welcome and a short sidebar, plus small feature sections with very attractive wide images. Four page templates come packaged with it, including a feature page, two single post pages, and a three column news page.

If Revolution has you thinking, maybe even your eyes wide, I would highly suggest you read about Revolution News Theme below as well.

Positives of Revolution Theme

  • White and black give lots of people ideas
  • Plenty of template pages for interesting sites
  • Top–notch designers willing to customize it

Negative of Revolution Theme

  • Costs a few bucks

Links for Revolution Theme

Revolution News Theme: New and Improved


Magazine Themes - Revolution News Theme

Okay, so after reading about the Revolution Theme your first question must be What’s the difference between these two? First of all, I think it’s nice to see a rendition of Revolution with some color—just to show Brian’s capable!

Well, I’m one of the lucky few who has had hands on experience with Revolution, and from what I can tell (and what Brian has explained to me!) the generic Revolution Theme is meant for all people, especially for the means of customization. However Revolution News Theme is meant to work much easier straight out of the box for those running a news outlet of some sort. Key features include a box that dynamically updates depending on which tab above it is selected (See small screenshot to the right).

And you will definitely feel like the owner of a news outlet, because there is a huge space for an ad above the fold and to the right. I would suggest getting ride o this or moving it. Because otherwise it makes the most important part of your site a den of advertisers. Not quite as bad as one of thieves, but you get the idea.

Overall you get the idea that Revolution could be something for anybody, whereas Brian is set out to make more targeted versions for specific audiences. Just hope you are one of them!

Positives of Revolution News Theme

  • Could benefit lots of different groups
  • Cool blue color

Negative of Revolution News Theme

  • Costs a few bucks (same as RT)

Links for Revolution News Theme

Simplicity: Say no More

Magazine Themes - Simplicity

Probably the best part about Simplicity is that it has potential to be modified to even greater heights than it currently sits upon.

Magazine Themes - Simplicity Small Screenshot

Tabbed navigation is a key indication of a magazine theme.

Only on second glance did Simplicity truly show to be a magazine theme. At first glance it doesn’t seem much more than a standard blog theme. But then again, with a feature post location (with optional image) and a number of places for other posts to sit. The sidebar can hold a paragraph nicely and there are two large places for ads above the fold (with one below). Part of me thinks that’s a bit too much.

It is worth mentioning (since I didn’t catch it at first) that the image right at the fold promoting a website is actually a placeholder for an ad space.

Positives of Simplicity

  • Has good potential for modifications
  • Good spacing for content

Negative of Simplicity

  • Can’t handle a lot of news
  • Rightmost sidebar seems a little lonely below the fold

Links for Simplicity

Victoria

Magazine Themes - Victoria

Victoria has a color scheme that I really enjoy, and the structure excites me (from a distance). I really wish I could catch an original demo site to experience it fully. It is available for download, however, so it’s not that it isn’t available. What would be the point of talking about something not available?

I love brown.

From what I can tell, this blog allows for a blog post over the top of two other blog posts, something I’ve always thought would be cool for a blog. But is it cool enough for a magazine? Honestly, it doesn’ seem cool enough to be a magazine theme quite yet. It should be able to hold and display more content on the front page.

Positives of Victoria

  • Awesome color, stands out in this list
  • Clean style, perfect for certain blogs

Negative of Victoria

  • Doesn’t hold much content

Links for Victoria

Ygo CMS

Magazine Themes - YGO CMS

Ygo reminds me more of a news aggregation site than it does a magazine blog of some sort. I think it’s the four column front page that makes me think that.

Magazine Themes - Ygo CMS Small Screenshot

There are elements at the bottom of the theme that stand out, so don’t forget about it.

Inside pages are only three column, with the large one being in the middle.

The comment styling is pretty unique on Ygo, and was one of the first things I noticed. Sidebars are consistently styled throughout, and you never really have the feeling of leaving the theme’s look and feel. Say what you will of the four column layout, but this one was done pretty well.

One sort of confusion, on the design side of things, has to do with the floral effect up on the right background of the header. I don’t really see this carried into any other part of the design, which makes for a slightly lopsided design. Maybe I should recede my consistency comment?

Positives of Ygo CMS

  • Has lots of potential as a link/aggregate theme
  • Consistency is maintained

Negative of Ygo CMS

  • Unable to post very large images to the front page
  • Four columns may be too much; cuts off text

Links for Ygo CMS

More to Come

This isn’t the end of our coverage of WordPress as a Magazine. Be sure to keep an eye on Theme Playground and subscribe to our feed.

373 thoughts on “The Best WordPress Magazine Themes Available

  1. Pingback: Theme Playground | WordPress as a Magazine

  2. Ryan: Much thanks for reviewing Mimbo in this article. I’ll give you a hint as to the origins of the word ;)

    With regard to the actual design and whitespace, this theme was always meant to be a skeleton that designers would fill in later with color, graphics and so forth. The base installation intentionally features no graphics or colors, just pure CSS.

    A more advanced version of Mimbo should be out in a month or so – keep the feature recommendations coming.

  3. @Darren: Thanks for the input, I corrected the post. I’m a Seinfeld fan too, so I feel pretty silly.

    Let me know when the new version of Mimbo goes up, I’d love to post an update.

    @Charity: Thanks for the link, and the compliment. You’re welcome!

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  5. What if I could provide a post on upgrading TMA to work with 2.3? I know the author has it in her plans to update it, but I could document the changes I’ve made here if you like.

    Let me know and I’ll add it to me To Write list.

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  7. I have a demo of Victoria up at:

    http://www.nautis.com/beta/

    The name of the theme is actually, Shiny. It came from the Digital Photography Blogs by gluedideas.com. I’ve added some additional features like a rotating images (which, btw, disappear with Firefox ad blocker).

    It’s a great theme but it is not configurable. All of the changes are done in the code. You can download the original here.

  8. the morning after gets my dick hard – haven’t used it yet but strongly considering switching from my custom theme to it – if it’s not compatible but you’ve done work to get it to be (and it is an involved process) then by all means, yes, write up what you did – that alone would get me to return to your site

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  17. I would highly recommend thee Futurosity Altera theme by upstart blogger, The demo might look a bit text heavy, but it’s a solid and highly cusomizable theme. Enjoy.

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  31. Morning After: Horizontal scroll at standard screen resolution (800×600), therefore, unacceptable. In fact, that’s the problem with at least 90% of the fluid-width themes for wordpress. I’m not sure who sent out the memo that standard screen resolution had expanded to 1024×768, but the memo is wrong. Over half of my readers view at 800×600.

    Nautica: Fixed-width, therefore too much wasted space.

    Revolution (and R News): Same problem as Morning After. Not 800×600 readable.

    Simplicity: Ditto.

    Ygo: I agree. Four columns is too much, and too crowded.

  32. I’m like a chameleon, changing my colours “theme” every so often. Most of those themes I’ve seen before but there are a few I must definitely try out.

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  43. I just finished switched one of my [pet] projects from Gridlock to The Morning After. (Yesterday was moving everything to 2.3!) Reading this post now made me feel like some kind of theme-assessment savant! Or, actually, like some kind of person who needs to start making her own themes ):

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  66. Thank you for this excellent post. What I am asking may be out of context. But, can you tell how you could get to insert two columns in this post while enumerating the positives and the negatives?

  67. Sure thing Krishna:

    First, I don’t use the advanced visual editor when writing posts. I type the HTML directly in. So I create a div with a class=”inline-list” and then made the ul and li’s within it. Then all it really takes is a float: left in the CSS to make it happen. Does that make sense?

    If you like that, be sure and pick up the feed at my personal blog, ryanimel.com. I usually document any CSS tricks I use over there.

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  76. ryan,
    thanks for your recommendations. i used your list to choose Victoria for my personal blog site. your article was very informative — thanks!

    my personal site is password protected, but if you (Ryan) shoot me an email (to the one i entered); i’d be happy to let you browse and take a look…

    doesn’t much help you to list my site as a “live demo,” since it is pw protected; but thought you might be interested just the same.

    thanks again for your efforts!

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  92. Many of these themes are now charging. Kind of silly considering they’re mostly modifications of themes like Grid Focus and Mimbo. I can’t imagine anyone with even a bit of php knowledge would want to pay for them, unless they’re desperate. Hopefully trying to make a quick buck off something which originally was free won’t become the norm with the WordPress theme community.

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  98. Hi, thank you so much for this great compilation! I am just working on adapting Victoria for my blog. Since I blog in German I will have to spend some time on localisation. I will let you know when I am done. That will give you the Demo-Site you were asking for :)

    Nice Greetings from Germany!

    Eli

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  131. You have an excellent collection of magazine themes posted here. I am personally using The Morning After and I believe it to be the only free theme that has all the functionality of premium theme…

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  149. Where is the Structure WordPress Theme by Justin Tadlock? Check it out, is should be included on this list. Is one of the best out there!

    Luís Reis

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  152. Nicely done templates. I will definitely get one of those or try to make my own. I’m a blogger also and needed something like that. All in all it is great and nicely done.

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  154. This is a great post and have kept it in my bookmarks. Will continue to read it as i’m very new to a lot of the points you mention!

    Thanks though, i’m glad some people share good stuff like this!

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  172. I think its high time this article gets updated with some excellent free ‘premium’ magazine themes out there. Justin Tadlock’s work immediately springs to mine. Google for ‘Hamasaki theme’ or ‘Gabfire themes’ for instance. Just off the top of my head.

    Premium paid themes should include Solostream or LiveWire series too. Lots of excellent addition for an update to this article.

    Stanley
    http://www.SEOAdsenseThemes.com

  173. First of all congratulation for such a great site. I learned a lot reading article here today. I will make sure i visit this site once a day so i can learn more.

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  177. Thanks Ryan,

    As a start up blogger this one has been very informative and gave some ideas on which direction i should go for when installing a template.
    From what i noticed the paid ones got no negative review, so are those the best choice?

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  189. Thanks for the list, i usualy use Google webmaster tools which you have mentioned for checking how google sees my website and i also use Free Seo Tool to give me an indepth report on how i can beat my top 10 competitors.

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  194. I know another nice theme, i’ve downloaded yesterday and its look nice magazine theme, it call BranFordMagazine . Maybe you can consider make review for that theme, it will help the author get more feedback for later theme release.

    Regards,
    James.

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  196. I really like the Revolution theme. Its a nice standard template that can be used on a wide variety of projects and for only $59 an install its a good deal. I also like the Grid Focus layout – nice, clean, and FREE!

    I hope to have some more free wordpress themes on my website http://www.letscounthedays.com here in the near future.

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  199. This is perhaps one of the best list of wordpress themes that resemble a magazine. I think I am going to use one of them for my foreclosure blog. I think with so many news about foreclosures all the time having a blog that looks like a magazine and provides people with tips on how to avoid foreclosure will become very popular.

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  202. I was completely happy with my blog theme, now I looked at this and my heart just sank, I had a go at doing my own, unfortunately it wasn’t pretty, so i found one i was impressed with yours, whats everybody else think?

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  206. I love the trend towards magazine style themes. It really pushes the bar in terms of creativity, especially since most standard blog themes look far too similar. thanks!

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  214. At http://ThemeLabs.com you can find very nice themes for WordPress… now ALL of them are FREE, this includes all the premium themes, previously sold on ThemeLabs shop. Includes several Magazine style themes. On other sites this kind of themes will cost you $$$ but not here.

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  216. Buen post! Un tema nuevo (no tanto, pero hace poco lo conozco) es SWIFT.
    Muy completo y práctico, aunque tiene tantas opciones en inglés, que tuve que adivinar los side y los diseños, para que no queden desparejos.
    Lo uso en pruebadesonido.com
    Saludos!

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