The Western is a genre of fiction typically set in the 19th or early 20th century in the Western United States, commonly referred to as the "Old West" or the "Wild West" and depicted in Western media as a hostile, sparsely populated frontier in a state of near-total lawlessness patrolled by outlaws, sheriffs, and numerous other stock "gunslinger" characters. Western narratives commonly concern the gradual attempts to settle and civilize the untamed and crime-ridden American West, often in service of wider themes of justice, freedom, Manifest Destiny, and the national history and identity of the United States.
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Originating in penny dreadfuls and American folk tales, the Western genre was popularized in the early days of cinema in the United States and Britain. Western films quickly resonated with a broad audience and have since come to form a major tentpole of modern popular culture both in the US and abroad; in particular, several other countries have also cultivated their own cinematic traditions analogous to the American Western, creating genres such as the Spaghetti Western or Dacoit Western, while other writers and filmmakers have continued to reexamine the core ideas of the Western with subgenres like Epic Westerns or Revisionist Westerns. Still other Western-style stories may not be set in the Old West at all, but heavily feature narrative themes and ideas typical of a Western, such as neo-Westerns, Space Westerns, or Fantasy Westerns.