A list of my favorite WordPress themes and why! I also include my most hated themes(for better context). If you’re looking for pagebuilders, go here.
WordPress “themes” (as they are called) are individual extensions that give your site a different look. Some themes are simple and come with one standard look right out of the box. Other themes have a few basic settings allowing you to change the colors or fonts. And then other themes are labyrinth of options, allowing you to change almost every little detail (colors, fonts, animations, even switching up layouts to make it look like an entirely site altogether). Obviously: the more options, the more complicated.
WordPress (PREMIUM) Themes & Frameworks:
- GeneratePress – great performance theme and well supported with many dev features. Cult favorite among coders and DIY’ers. I love their “elements” feature for replacing pagebuilders (but without the bloat of one).
- Artisan Themes – love the unique designs and ease-of-use of this little known company. Incredible “modules” feature without the bloat of pagebuilders.
- ElmaStudio.de – from Germany. If you love that European minimalist Bauhaus design, Ellen and Manuel’s work are incredible.
- ThemeBeans – beautifully coded, lean and sexy minimalist designs.
- Marketer’s Delight – beautifully-coded theme for “internet marketers”. Highly recommended over the better-known Thrive. Is this generation’s Thesis.
- Genesis Framework – my old “best” WordPress framework (used by respected developers). Well-coded, fast and easy-to-use with many great themes. Great community of A-level devs.
- Thesis Theme – clumsy UI, tricky to customize (for beginners AND developers). Popular theme back in the days and still many loyal users familiar with it.
My personal recommendation:
Premium themes cost money and while they aren’t always better than free themes, it’s usually the case. It’s no surprise that free themes tend to be simpler with fewer options while paid themes are fancier-looking with more customization options. The free themes don’t usually come with support and are made to help the theme developers market their paid themes. If anything, their feature sets tend to be castrated a bit to encourage you to upgrade.
Paid themes have not only more features but also more support. As the years go by, these themes are also more likely to be updated to keep them compatible with newer servers, WordPress updates, and other plugins. And while not ALL paid themes are quality, they are a much safer bet for future-proofing your site. Updating themes takes a lot of work, so how do theme developers make money with only one look? Trends come and go, with users chasing a new “cool look” elsewhere the moment a theme gets too popular and it used everywhere.
The worst theme developers, IMO, are the ones that stop supporting their old themes when creating new themes. The best theme developers use what is called “frameworks”. Instead of building a completely new theme and rewriting the code from scratch each time. They use the same base code and then change only the design. This was formerly known as “parent theme” (the main theme) and “child themes” (the customizations). But now the term has been changed to “framework” and “child themes”. If you’re going with a premium theme, try getting a framework or at least a paid theme that has many users and lots of ongoing development & support.
WordPress (FREE / FREEMIUM) Themes:
- GeneratePress – my current favorite framework at the moment. Has a beautiful free version as well, and the premium version is only $59! Incredible support and thriving community of newbs and pros. Highly recommend this one!
- KadenceThemes – nice UI and awesome template library. They also have a KadenceBlocks plugin. I like their clean design vibe that doesn’t have that generic stock look.
- Blocksy – awesome theme. Great coding, super fancy starter designs, awesome header/footer builder. Officially now a top player with big user base.
- Neve – nice designs and UI, all trendy features, nice cloud library, amazing customer support. Big company with resources to really support newbies.
- Astra – very customizable free theme, lightweight and runs fast, good for those using pagebuilders. The most popular free theme at the moment. Only problem is many bugs, slow support, autoloads in their other plugins!
- OceanWP – free starter theme, beautiful and comes with a pagebuilder. I like their area where you can granularly disable all scripts/styles (but I wish it had more explanation). Requires paid plugins to get full functionality. I personally dislike their aggressive pricing for every little add-on and it’s no surprise Astra is more popular. :/
- WordPress default themes – yes, they look like every other theme out there but they aren’t bad. Nicely-coded, just personalize the look a bit and you’re all set!
- JohnnyTheme – just kidding, hehehe 😉
My personal recommendation:
Free themes are almost never a good option for serious websites. You’ll always get to a place where you want a design-change or feature that isn’t provided in the free theme. And now you’re stuck at the crossroads deciding whether to install bloated plugins, custom-code this extra feature or migrate to a premium theme that does everything you want and more. At the very least…if you’re going with a free theme, pick one that has a “premium” version you can upgrade to.
Be careful with overly minimal themes. Minimal may be fast, but that’s sometimes because it’s “unfinished”. There’s no point in choosing an unfinished theme that requires a dozen more plugins to really do the job, essentially nullifying all your speed savings.
BAD (or mediocre) WordPress themes:
- AVADA – bloated, slow, poorly-coded, many issues. The designs can appear incredible to beginner website owners but actually very gimmicky and generic-looking to professional designers.
- Electro – crazy bloated! Don’t use it. Requires a lot of processing and many queries (1000+ compared to under 100 for other) even without anything on the page.
- Envato theme market – lots of junk themes with a few goodies in between.
- Flatsome – it’s not bad looking, just still too bloated. Sorry!
- Jupiter X Theme – slow and bloated!
- MyThemeShop – lots of generic mass-produced themes. Some are obvious ripoffs. Their latest “Schema” looks like the GeneratePress default child theme (which I think Astra ripped off as well). Even some of the showcase sites in their testimonials look very amateurish
- ThemeForest – The7, BeTheme, Enfold, X. These are all the same junk as AVADA. While truly professional sites are working hard to cut down on non-essentials and cleaning up their sites more and more, these junk themes are piling on more and more features to be everything to everyone. They will always be a poor fit for your site for that reason. But yes, you can buy it for the sexy generic out-of-the-shelf look!
- Qode – bloated!
- Redux framework – anything with Redux framework.
- Thrivethemes – I’m especially turned off by their gimmicky marketing that does so well with “internet marketers”. They’re not bad, but simply not how I would recommend serious internet marketers to build their sites. (FYI: just about everyone on the internet is an “internet marketer”.)
- ZigZagPress – nice look, but not so nice coding. Or at least that’s what many programmers say.
My personal recommendation:
I think these themes are great if you’re just wanting to learn WordPress and play around with options. But realistically speaking, they are an absolute waste of time and money, orrrrr…there’s way better options out there. If you planning for a serious website and want to have thousands of users, you’ll soon throw these themes away and pick another. Why? They are slow, cumbersome, and have many compatibility issues with other plugins that you’ll need in the future as website owner.
Oh, and I’m not done yet. They are awfully difficult for professional developers to work with. I hang out with developers on a regular basis and everyday, they’re mentioning about yet another “client that had an AVADA/X/DIVI theme”. And they all laugh because they know what the inside joke is. The funny thing is clients soon find out as well. The reason why they chose the theme in the first place was because it “looked cool”. But you soon realize the “cool look” isn’t cool at all, and in fact is extremely generic, because you now look like the million other amateur sites with the same look. That theme was marketed to the masses for a reason.
Still not done. The themes are also not that easy to use. They CLAIM to give you this amazing look out of the box but guess what, try to change anything or shift things around and you’ll see how hard it can get. Simple changes are ok but doing anything more than a minor change will require either a programmer or help from the developers or community. The developers will be slow to answer because guess what, they’re buried under thousands of other beginner requests and the community won’t be much help either because very few professional developers will be using these themes. So while they might be popular and have many users, they have many BEGINNERS users that won’t be much help to you.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THEIR LOOK?! “But these themes look so cool!” you say? You can copy any look you want with any other framework, almost even without coding.
What WordPress theme should you choose?
TRUTH #1 – you need to go with a popular theme.
Why? The true support for a theme comes from the community, not the official theme developers. The more popular it is, the more support you can find for it (written guides, video tutorials, etc). It’s easier to get free tips from people who’ve used it before and also easier to find professional developers who know how to work with it efficiently. There’s also more 3rd-party extensions. And also continuing development for the theme to keep it alive, updated with trends, and compatible with future plugins. The theme keeps getting better and better with time when the community for it grows (and developers are rewarded for ongoing development).
Going with some obscure theme from some unknown company will always cause you problems (no matter how much “support” the official theme company claims to offer). Nobody will know how to fix problems or make customizations. Developers will be unfamiliar with it and take twice as much time to make simple changes. Does this mean you should NEVER try a new theme or theme company? If you’re on an important production site, I wouldn’t take that chance.
TRUTH #2 – you need to go with a framework.
Frameworks allow theme developers to re-use functional code while staying flexible with design code. Aside from aesthetics, themes needs to be coded for compatibility with plugins (shopping, multi-lingual), Google search engines, social media sharing, accessibility, WP customizer integration, DNS prefetch, and many other areas beyond my awareness. To re-code this for every new theme would be time-consuming and probably overlooked!
But if you’re going with a company that uses a framework, you can bet their themes will always be coded well and supported since they all share the same base code. You could be using one of their older themes but still have the updated base code and maximum compatibility/security. Not only that but if you build your theme design off a framework, you’re free to update the framework as often as needed without worry that your design may break or lose compatibility one day. It’s an incredible idea!
I never liked theme developers that keep jumping from one theme to another, cashing out each one for a short period before abandoning it to chase their next cash cow. This contributes to a wasteland of abandoned code…leaving a trail of vulnerable sites full of issues that other developers have to clean-up. It’s unethical wasteful coding and cheating customers out of a more futureproof solution.
TRUTH #3 – when in doubt, pick something more neutral.
This is the hardest part. Many beginners see a billion different themes, each one super cool-looking in its own way and they know longer know what they or what their brand should be. When in doubt, remember that it’s about the content and not the theme. What text do you have, what images do you have? Where will your stuff go?
Don’t waste your time trying to pick the coolest design and then later trying to stuff your content or even worse—creating content to fit your design. There’s an even worse possibility than that, that the design is distract users from appreciating your content. That bold red theme looks great on the previews but throw in your content and now it feels like that red is all over the place, clashing with your images, and you get sick of it. The more exciting your content and logo, the more neutral your design can be (to let your content shine). And the more simple your content is, the more bold your design can be.
Pick a theme that won’t bore you out so quickly. Strong colors get annoying after awhile and become a branding dilemma later when you want to switch to another color. Unique layouts can also get boring when you want your site to just function like a normal site. Side-scrolling might be fun for artsy portfolio sites but not for daily blogs, shopping, business when readers just want to get to your content!
Why are some themes so slow?!
Haven’t you noticed many themes on Envato, ThemeForest, or Code Canyon are slow as hell?
Why do you think that is?
It’s because they’re coded for newbies/non-coders. They load every CSS/JS library ever invented, so that people don’t have to learn how to code.
Think about it like this:
- DEVELOPERS prefer to work on blank sheet of paper…drawing up only what they need.
- NEWBIES are different, they buy the whole store…buying every song on every CD even when they only like a few. And then they spend the rest of their lives trying to unload/prevent unwanted items from loading.
It also helps A LOT to not have a pagebuilder. If all you need a pagebuilder for is just the homepage, you can custom-code it for like $300-1000. So worth the money. Design it in Elementor first if you want, then show a programmer and say “I want you to hardcode this”.
We build so many custom themes/plugins in house because of this. We want it to load ONLY what we need and nothing more. That’s why our sites break speed records. We have fancy WooCommerce sites loading in 200ms.
Now maybe for smaller clients, they only have a few thousand dollars…not a big budget. That’s fine, pick a clean theme, and custom code the home page. and you should be able to get under 1 sec pretty easily with only a few thousand spent.
Thanks for this guide. I am using GeneratePress on my blog and it’s blazing fast though
Happy for you! I’m a huge fan of their work.
My best experiences so far with several different themes of the same company are those found here: http://www.cssigniter.com
Great design, useful custom post types and excellent (really qualified) support that replies fast and really helps customize your theme further.
PS: I never use page/theme builders.
I also love cssigniter and wpzoom
I am using Flatsome. Seems ok but not great. I could definitely use some more speed but a dont know that theme is my biggest issue.
Nice review, thanks for that 🙂
Just being curious: When GeneratePress is your 2nd favorite, which one is your first?
Genesis is my favorite!
Nice article. Can I ask something ?. I guess you are using Genesis framework on your site. What is the child theme that is used ?. What tool did you use to customize the site ?.
My theme is custom-coded from scratch. It’s not publicly available for sale or any of that. 🙂
Congratulations for your website. very great!
I will like to know what you thing about My theme shop themes? and the schema theme or other
Hey Johnny, I just wanted to thank you for including the “beautifully-coded” part about Marketers Delight on your list—that’s one of it’s best hidden features!
MD is a gem.
Glad you like it. It’s this generation’s Thesis, IMO. Can’t believe it’s still under the radar after all these years.
First of all: Thanks a lot for all your insightful articles, the last 2 hours I read like half of all your posts 😉
I also love GeneratePress. Really refreshing after working a lot with those bloated “multipurpose” themes like Avada.
Question: How would you compare GeneratePress and Genesis? When and why would you choose one over the other? Or is it more a question of personal preference?
Thanks a lot and best regards,
If the site is being developed be A-grade developer, use Genesis. If it’s being done by low-grade developer or a DIY non-programmer, go with GeneratePress. It’s not personal preference…depends on skill, comfort, familiarity. Both can work either way…since Genesis does have some incredibly polished child themes, and likewise GeneratePress can be worked on by A-grade developers as well…this is I’m speaking on it from today’s current workflow trends. I should put a quick article out on this!
Thanks a lot for your answer! That makes perfect sense. I have used both GeneratePress and Genesis, but I simply didn’t have enough experience with them for that subtle distinction you made.
And yes, I really like to see an article from you about this 🙂
Here is is!!! GeneratePress vs Genesis – theme review
Another question 🙂
What do you think of the Storefront theme as an alternative for WooCommerce projects?
I assume GeneratePress and Storefront are kind of the same “level” (meaning good basic themes/frameworks)? Would you say it is worthwile to use Storefront, coming from GeneratePress?
And probably again, for really serious and big WooCommerce projects is Genesis still the “best” choice for serious developers?
Maybe that’s a topic for another “Best WooCommerce Themes 2019” article 😉
Thanks a lot and best regards,
I haven’t tried Storefront or audited its code but I don’t take it as a serious theme. It’s not built by a theme-house and isn’t maintained by a community. It’s just a free community offering for people who don’t know where to start with WC.
Storefront is not in any way whatsoever comparable to GeneratePress. I don’t know why you keep asking me if Genesis is the “best choice for WooCommerce”. It is my opinion THE BEST CHOICE regardless of what kind of WordPress site you want to make. Themes are related to design, not functionality.
Thanks a lot, that’s again very helpful. Thought there could be more behind Storefront, as they promote it as a framework with “deep integration with WooCommerce”.
Oh, I didn’t want to question Genesis, that was just meant like “if you are an experienced developer and know how to use it” 🙂
I think there might be some truth to Storefront in that it likely won’t break or cause problems every time WooCommerce updates. But then you have to think about how it achieves that (via quality control or simplification?). Storefront is far away from being the best WordPress theme available and also doesn’t have much of a helpful theme community. I think for serious “theming” purposes, you should stick with a theme that’s made by a theme company and has a theme community to truly support it.
Could you talk about WordPress theme development? How do you build your workflow?
Do you use any starting themes for development? Now, for example, the Sage Starter Theme based on the Laravel’s Blade template is very popular.
I like Genesis framework as my #1 choice. Yes, some people like bare frameworks like Underscore and what not but I find they require way too much coding to have all the features of a truly finished theme.
just found your site and am reading, reading, reading. Very often on the point! Like that!
Took my fingers away from WP Rocket the last second and confirmed my thougt about the marketing of wpmudev, which superiors their plugins 😉
I develop for web since 1997 – HTML from scratch, Flash, Frameworks, WordPress and finally since three years using the Uncode Theme from Envato.
Yes, it has a PageBuilder, but it finally put me away from spending my time with JS and bulky CSS Demos which to a better concentration on presenting the content in a better way.
Maybe you’ll have a look to this special theme – it’s definitely not the Jupiter Crap and has Designers in mind. There developing since years and fun to solve specific problems with them.
Hi Torsten, I’ve definitely worked with that one and it’s still quite heavy to me. If you like it, that’s all that matters.
Hi johnny, i started to love Genesis framework even if i’m not a developper! It’s incredible fast and also easy to understand its style.css. Try to guess which was my first theme? It begins with A…. I also agree with you about Uncode theme ….. Genesis for ever!
Can you tell me the adress of your woocommerce shop that loads in less than 200 ms? Shared or dedicated hosting?
Thanks and good job
Hey Stefano, glad you enjoyed Genesis…it’s certainly much better than “EY-VAD-DAH”, hahaha! I don’t know if I feel comfortable sharing client sites publicly here but I’m curious what you needed to see. They are built well and on my webhosting service.
Hey, great blog, without sounding too dramatic you’ve given me hope! Im a newbie in this world and finding it a minefield getting honest advice. Ive already switched away from Bluehost and moving to Cloudways (I think) as after reading your blog and experiencing issues within a days with them I started to smell a rat! My question now though relates to themes, Ive purchased the Mr Tailor Theme however unsure now thats the best route to go. Now Ive found your blog! Ill be using woo-commerce and at the time of purchasing the theme I was guided to them via various blogs which I now no longer trust. Ive become a paranoid mess! I dont think Ive used the theme enough to fully know if its ok or not but wondered your thoughts about them? You’ve said Theme Forest isnt great however Im not sure if Mr Tailor is linked to them or not? Any advice would be much appreciated as I dont want to spend ours customizing it to find its terrible! Cheers in advance
Thanks for the elaborate article. While I find GeneratePress as a good theme for a blog, I am not comfortable with the same being used in a local news website.
Do you have any theme suggestion for local news websites? Something other than those easily available Themeforest ones like Newspaper, Jannah etc.
I would recommend GeneratePress for you just the same. It’s better than ones you mentioned. I don’t understand your “discomfort” with it for news sites so I can’t help you further.
What do you think of Zeen theme by codetipi. I am also looking for a news theme. I liked GP very much but they don’t have demos for non-coders/techies which are essential for modern news blogging. It will be very helpful if you reply.
I am using Neve theme but it lacks news options and its premium version just offering basic options. Neve is also considered equal to GP. Their News theme demo looks nice but don’t have many features. Before reading your review I was 100% sure to purchase Zeen theme, but your view about Envato currently stopped me. I hope you reply.
The problem with Neve is that they don’t function in their premium version.
We’ve to add plugins and they costs speed of the site.
Important functions included in the Zeen theme is –
Background Takeover Ad Feature
Reading Mode (Daytime and nighttime modes)
Infinite loading and scrolling – Lightning fast Live Search Ajax in two styles: Full-screen modal or dropdown
Unique mega menu system with multiple options to make each menu different
Post Like (Heart) system to show which posts your visitors love the most. Optional.
Sliding Promo Boxes
Top Bar Message
Hope, now you’ll understand me and tell me something about Zeen.
I haven’t tried Zeen and probably won’t unless I heard 1000 people say it was amazing and/or somebody paid for my time to test it.
Perhaps update this article e.g GP prices.
Great article. I used GeneratePress Premium before reading your article. It was recommended by Brian, former CMO of Kinsta. So it’s nice to know that another expert like you also recommends it.
I have a question though:
Does that mean that all of these agencies building themes based off Genesis framework are good?
I’m planning to buy Genesis child themes but a lot of them install their own plugins/engine. Bizbudding for example. Your thoughts about this.
GeneratePress is more for non-coders. Genesis is more for coders. Pick the one that’s right for you. Genesis is good only if you know how to make use of it. If you have to ask questions, it’s probably not the right one for you. I see far more A-level coders using Genesis than for GeneratePress.
Thesis Theme link doesn’t work
It’s working for me.
Please add your opinion about WP Front Gutenberg theme. I bought it.
Is it well coded or bloated?
I haven’t tried that one personally (although most experienced people are wary of anything on themeforest). How do you like it?
I don’t know, i didn’t use it yet. I can send it for testing. Maybe it is also bloating despite of Gutenberg. You criticised his other themes for example Electro
Oh, I HATE Electro!
Hmm Astra is still my love. They are simple, fast and easy customize. And they supports me very well. Click on my name to check my website.
have you heard about the wp-rig framework? Owner of the repo was Morten Rand-Henriksen, very respected dev and linkedin instructor, was passed on to new maintainers.
It’s a very clean theme built to be fast, accessible, pwa enabled, amp ready, no css framework, optional templates, PHP namespaces, build tools.. Etc.
What do you think compared to genesis?
I checked it out and all looks great. I’m a fan of Carrie Dils as well so it’s nice to see her involved in it. Ultimately, would I switch away from my Genesis workflow? I don’t know that WP Rig is compelling enough for me to switch away but it looks good. Maybe if WPR had a huge community, I might consider it.
Thanks for this great blog post. I’ve got an e-commerce site that I unfortunately built with Flatsome but I find it’s extremely slow and I’ve heard it puts in a lot of custom tags and rubbish, so not looking forward to untangling this mess when I change! What would you recommend I go with? GeneratePress? I’m after something that will make an e-commerce site quick, work well and look nice and clean? Any plugins that you recommend for WooCommerce together with GeneratePress? I know my way around WordPress reasonably well but don’t think Genesis is for me, I’d rather have something a little “easier” to use/customise.
Start with GeneratePress or Blocksy. I can’t recommend plugins since I have no idea what you’re doing. If you can describe your site needs and business in my FB group, I’m sure many can chime in with helpful ideas.
Still waiting for the ‘JohnnyTheme’… please…
Probably not ever gonna happen. I started and then gave up a little bit. Need more dev help to get it done. Maybe I’ll do a GeneratePress child theme one day. I had great ideas but just don’t have enough time and care in the world. Hahaha.
In that case, if I request, would you please share/sell the child theme you created for this and johnnyvps website?
You mean like for free?
Not like totally free. I could pay some fees. Actually I liked the Sanse theme. Then I started reading your posts. I was thinking if Genesis framework were so good then why you didn’t use Genesis framework. Then it was like a magic–I saw you did it!
Oh yeah…doing a custom theme was taking me a while to come up with the design and also to test and decide how I wanted the adjustments. How much did you want to pay for it?
Please don’t misunderstand. I know what you did is priceless. I know I can’t pay enough, that’s why I mentioned ‘JohnnyTheme’ at the very beginning–a lot of people would be interested if you started selling themes.
Hi Johnny, would you be able to do a review or make a comment about the latest popular Hub Theme from themeforest, please?
I have personally deployed three sites based on this theme, I have found the support to be amazing and the theme itself is super fast and really well made in many aspects.
I only just discovered your blog not long ago and I wanted to know if my evaluation and decesion of choosing the Hub Theme was a good one.
Hi, I am looking for a fast and beautiful theme for woocommerce E-business website, can you please give me some suggestions？ Many thanks.
Try actually reading the guide instead of spam-posting your link, and you might get answers.
Try Shoptimizer from commerceguruts … its blazing fast and also have very good support and show u how to get more performance. Even if u use Elementor on it … but dont do it … just gutenberg is enough and maybe a good gutenberg blocks plugin like kadence or what u prefer.
Hi Christoph, Shoptimizer looks great, It meets my needs, I will try it. Thank you very much
Hi Johnny, your content has been very helpful, thank you! I’ve been a solid Genesis user for many years, but they haven’t updated in over a year, and there are some new features (for native blocks) that aren’t appearing on Genesis sites. Do you still recommend it?
I now prefer GeneratePress. But I still use Genesis on sites that are already built with it.
Non-developer here, have been using GeneratePress premium for nearly 2 years now and love it! Really worth the time getting to know how to work with this theme, extremely versatile and fast. Their support team are great, very quick to respond to support tickets. Just purchased the GenerateBlocks premium by the same developer, seems very good so far!
Nguyen Minh Hung
You led me to GeneratePress.
I’ve been satisfied with it for 2 years.
What’s even more amazing is support forum. This is crazy.
Thank you, Johnny
Yes, thee GP community is truly awesome. Solid product backed by solid people.
Hey Johnny, great content as always. Have you ever come across the Enfold theme (Avia layout builder)? Used to be the no.1 best selling theme in Theme Forest for months, back in the day. Would love to see your take on it.
That’s one of the bloated themes I hated. I’ll be sure to add these notes to my list.