Best WordPress Starter Themes for Developers with Gutenberg Support in 2019

For years I’ve been starting WordPress theme development using barebones templates like Eddie Machado’s Bones, Todd Motto’s HTML5 Blank, or Automattic’s own Underscores. However, Bones hasn’t been updated in five years and Machado’s Github appears to have been hacked and removed (a fork lives with Stephen Fisher); it’s been five years since HTML5 Blank version 1.5.0 was released and the promised version 2.0 is still unavailable; and Underscores hasn’t had any meaningful updates in nearly a year.

That being the case, all three are missing recent add_theme_support flags for WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg’s new features like align-wide, responsive-embeds, editor-font-sizes, and editor-color-palette (I highly recommend Bill Erickson’s Gutenberg Theme Development guide for an introduction to these features). It’s easy enough to add that stuff myself, but before rolling my own new boilerplate from scratch I wanted to see the current WordPress starter theme landscape and found WP Beginner’s 21 Best WordPress Starter Themes for Developers in 2019.

Perfect! I thought, only to see their list has Underscores as #1, Bones as #3, and HTML5 Blank as #21. Looking at the comments, I assume they edit the title of old posts every January 1st for SEO juice, but for my own purposes I’m going to condense and re-order their list to be truly developer friendly for 2019.

First of all, since I want a well-maintained and developer-friendly theme, I’m going to remove everything that doesn’t have a GitHub repository.

Goodbye Bootstrap Four, WP RootStrap, CyberChimps, Klasik Framework, and StartWP.

Next, I’m going to remove everything that hasn’t been updated in two years or explicitly states it’s no longer being maintained.

Goodbye Components, Bones, A11Y’All, WP-Flex, _tk, and HTML5 Blank.

That leaves me with 10 themes left from the original 21, but how many of them are actually Gutenberg ready with new WordPress 5.0 theme support features?

A quick search says it’s time to say goodbye to Underscores, Sage, Generic, Blank Slate, Cornerstone, JointsWP, and Quark.

Now I only have three themes left from the original list, but in checking for Gutenberg support I discovered StartWP includes it too, so despite lacking a GitHub repository, I’ll bring it back into the fold. Four hardly seems like enough, so through further research I found some additional starter themes with Gutenberg support that look promising. Without further ado, I present:

The Six Best Gutenberg Ready Starter Themes for 2019

  1. FoundationPressThe ultimate WordPress starter-theme built on Foundation 6 by Zurb.
  2. UnderStrapUnderStrap combines the Underscores starter theme (by Automattic) and the mobile-first, responsive grid framework Bootstrap 4 (by Twitter) into a perfect open source foundation for your next WordPress theme project.
  3. MythicMythic is a next-generation starter theme designed from the ground up to help theme authors write elegant, intelligent, and modern code. Mythic is built on top of the Hybrid Core framework.
  4. NebulaNebula is a WordPress theme framework that focuses on enhancing development. The core features of Nebula make it a powerful tool for designing, developing, and analyzing WordPress websites consistently.
  5. EA Starter [A] fork of underscores … updated to include hooks from Theme Hooks Alliance. 
  6. StartWPStartWP is a clean, bloat free and highly customizable WordPress theme. Best of all it’s 100% FREE.

Are there any other great starter themes or frameworks I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Update 10/2/19: In a recent twitter thread, some other great recommendations came in to check out:

  • Lumberjack[A] powerful MVC framework for the modern WordPress developer. Write better, more expressive and easier to maintain code.
  • WP Rig [A] modern WordPress starter theme and build process bundled into one convenient package. It helps you create beautiful, lightning-fast WordPress themes with exciting user experiences that meet the latest web standards.
  • Tonik WordPress Starter Theme which aims to modernize and organize some aspects of theme development.
  • WP EmergeA modern, MVC-powered WordPress as a CMS workflow.

Update 3/5/21: Come see what I have to say about the Best WordPress Starter Themes for Developers with Gutenberg Support in 2021


Leave a Comment

  1. Josh Winn says:

    Nice work rounding these up and weeding out the ones that are out of date. Did you end up picking one or rolling your own?

    It looks like there is a need right now for a new bare bones theme. Something not based around a CSS framework or trying to do too much. After looking through the options, I’m probably going to create my own and try to pick a few of the best pieces. Personally I’d rather stick to a simple NPM build script and keep PHP functions namespaced, while not trying to engineer another framework around WordPress.

    • topher says: (Author)

      Thank you! I ended up going with UnderStrap since I knew I was going to end up using Bootstrap for the project I’m working on anyway. It does have npm support out of the box so could help inspire your own custom theme. For a really lightweight, fully-Gutenberg enabled theme, I think I would’ve gone with Erickson’s EA Starter instead.

      While working in UnderStrap, I’ve missed some of what Bones had to offer, namely in that it included full sample templates for custom post types and taxonomies that could easily be modified or copied and pasted as needed without having to search the WordPress docs first.

  2. Thank you for this. Spent the last month fighting with “page builders” and they are so finicky and bloated. An old-school WP guy, I longed for an update to _S, never had heard of UnderStrap. Happy to head there now. Thanks!

  3. Jamie Schmid says:

    Great post Topher! I used to use Underscores but it got bloated and yeah was missing a grid system, so then I moved to Understrap which I actually really like and is still well-maintained. Did you ever check out WP Rig? Granted it’s more of a WP development system that generates a starter theme but it’s worth a mention because I personally I feel like it has a bright future and a real place in modern WP dev, especially for developers looking to level up their dev process.

  4. Gary says:

    I have been tasked to bring my local church website up to 21st century. It was built in WP on a WP theme. I want to use the Foundation framework with WP. Your site came up on my search and I’d like to know what has changed in your opinion since you posted this in 2019.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Aleksandr says:

    I am surprised that you don’t have a comment on Genesis theme framework from Studiopress. The reason I am asking is because it is a well known theme framework focused on developers. I have been using it for a few years, but am now revisiting the question in light of Gutenberg. It seems that on paper Gutenberg support is present in many themes, but in reality the implementation makes a difference, and leads to a lot of custom work for even moderate non-default layouts.

    If you looked at Genesis, can you comment on it. Also, can you comment on your experience with how user-friendly the themes are toward Gutenberg customization (eg. full-width/wide-width settings, margins, etc.).

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