Best WordPress Starter Themes for Developers with Gutenberg Support in 2021

I last wrote in 2019 about the state of play in WordPress boilerplate starter themes that are Gutenberg/Block Editor-friendly, but it’s time to revisit.

My first three loves are still mostly missing in action. Eddie Machado’s Bones hasn’t been majorly updated since 2015 (there is a fork from 2018), Todd Motto’s HTML5 Blank has a fork that bumps jQuery but not much else, and Automattic’s Underscores has finally seen some updates (none of which seem to be Gutenberg-related, however. What the hell, Automattic?).

If you’re looking to go it completely alone, Bill Erickson’s Gutenberg Theme Development guides are invaluable for adding customizations yourself, and if you’re not using Advanced Custom Fields Blocks yet, what are you doing?

Since starting at my new agency in late 2019, I’ve been using an in-house custom framework with a pretty intense Gutenberg parser that rewrites block markup to be Bootstrap friendly,* but even so I’m still on the lookout for a good, modern boilerplate that’s aware of the major changes that have come to WordPress in the past three years since the launch of 5.0.

With the desire to only include well-maintained and developer-friendly themes, these are my criteria for inclusion:

  • Public GitHub repositories
  • Updated in the past two years
  • Free and preferably open source
  • Acknowledge the existence of Gutenberg / the Block editor through CSS or add_theme_support

The Twelve Best Gutenberg-Ready Starter Themes for 2021

  1. Air-lightAir-light (or simply Air) is designed to be a ultra minimal starting point for a WordPress project at Digitoimisto Dude Oy, a Finnish boutique digital agency in the center of Jyväskylä. Theme is originally based on _s.
  2. AstraFastest, Lightweight, and Highly Customizable WordPress Theme
  3. EA Starter [A] fork of underscores … updated to include hooks from Theme Hooks Alliance. 
  4. Lumberjack[A] powerful MVC framework for the modern WordPress developer. Write better, more expressive and easier to maintain code.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. SageWordPress starter theme with a modern development workflow that includes Webpack. Includes Bootstrap but can be substituted with ulma, Foundation, Tachyons, Tailwind, or a blank slate upon installation.
  8. Tonik WordPress Starter Theme which aims to modernize and organize some aspects of theme development.
  9. 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.
  10. WP Bootstrap StarterThe Bootstrap WordPress theme that is lightweight, uncluttered and very easy to customize. WordPress starter theme based on Twitter Bootstrap v4.x.
  11. WP EmergeA modern, MVC-powered WordPress as a CMS workflow.
  12. WP RigWP Rig is 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.

Are there other great starter themes or frameworks I missed? Let me know!

*This is a brief overview explaining how to parse Gutenberg blocks in PHP for those of you who are React-averse like myself, but this simple code breaks down upon any sort of nesting. Look for a blog post once I finally crack this recursive nut.

Update 8/26/21: WordPress 5.8 was released on July 20th, 2021 which included the rollout of the new theme.json framework, which adds a whole new level of complexity and customization to what should be included in a “good” boilerplate theme.

WordPress has a git repository devoted to theme experiments which includes a starter theme generator script. I need to play around with it since it might not do anything more than just create an underscores theme, but there’s a ton of good code samples in the repository either way.

Update 10/22/21: Added Astra, which has a giant ecosystem of add-ons for no-code customization, full Gutenberg-compatibility, and developer hooks to allow for more complex extensibility.

Update 9/22/22: Come see what looks good in the starter theme space for Gutenberg in 2022!

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