Why do we want a lightweight theme? Besides getting rid of unnecessary visual clutter, they help your website load super fast which is especially important in today’s ADD society and especially important in today’s rising mobile-browsing trend. Fortunately, this trend has forced all themes today to be written with cleaner and lighter code.
NOTE: I’ve tried over 100 themes from well-known established companies to unknown developers. Ultimately, I would say a theme isn’t useful in the long run without a big community to support it. You’re bound to run into issues without any solutions and won’t be as inspired to evolve your theme regularly.
I feature my favorite 5 lightweight WordPress themes, from fastest and lightest to most “full-featured” (but still light):
1. WP ASTRA
The #1 choice if all you want is speed. A damn solid theme, coded beautifully and SUPER lightweight (like multiple times lighter than the next closest “lightweight theme”. All options beautifully integrated into the standard WordPress theme customizer.
The free version is amazing, well-designed and looks great even with system fonts. Pay a little more for the Agency package and you get all kinds of goodies. I love that they have a growing community with lots of developer input. Astra is great if you want just a quick-and-dirty personal site (blog, or not-so=commercial business look).
I could see Astra growing into a really nice premium theme but that’s going to be a few years away and I prefer them sticking to the ultra-lightweight niche as they’ve mastered that perfectly. The moment you start adding a few KB of features here and there, you’ll grow into bloat before you know it.
RECOMMENDED for: beginners or seasoned WP users who want a free lightweight theme with minimal options/clutter and not looking to spend lots of time.
A very respectable choice. Super lightweight, great community, dedicated developer. Not only lightweight but full of hooks and hacks for every possible little customization you’d like. This is a great medium if you still want more features than WP Astra but prefer still lighter than the full-featured Genesis.
RECOMMENDED for: seasoned WP experts who like tweaking everything little snippet of code, feature, and aesthetic. Also good for beginner WP users who want to grow into power users or become a paid WordPress expert. Also good for those who want more of a full-featured theme but find Genesis to be too “expensive”.
3. Genesis Framework
The biggest and strongest community IMO of all 3. Most mature theme with every option you’d want. Their themes are by no means slow or bloated but they do come with many options pre-loaded.
Genesis is best if you’re running a professional site, requiring a more polished look with more functions, and want professional help from time to time. Genesis is well-supported and recognized by many developers.
RECOMMENDED for: beginners who want a professional look with minimal effort, or pro developers who don’t like coding from scratch each time and appreciate mature/polished code.
Runner Ups (and their issues)
Nice-looking theme and also very lightweight but I hate their lack of pricing transparency. The theme starts out free but requires a paid extension for every little “feature” you want to add. I was fooled by their sexy demos at first but then when I tried to recreate the same look, I was shocked by how many add-ons they try to sell you.
Their business model is annoyingly similar to WooCommerce where they give the base for free but charge for everything you need to make it truly functional. I also hate how the admin options make you feel like the entire theme is neutered. I switched over to WP Astra and never looked back. It’s no surprised WP Astra has nearly double the members in their Facebook Group compared to WP Ocean.
RECOMMENDED FOR: if you really like the exact look of OceanWP demo themes and don’t mind paying for their extensions.
2. Thesis Framework
Thesis used to be coolest thing 10 years ago when they were ahead of the times. Now they’re kind of outdated, clunky, hard to work with, and still living off the fumes of their prior success. Most serious developers that used to love Thesis have switched over to Genesis years ago.
Their theme skins are indeed very lightweight but their look may or may not be desirable to you. Maybe good for simple blogs or that “internet marketer” look but pretty much terrible for anything else. The worst part of all is that it’s hard to work with. Customizing Thesis is un-intuitive and unlike working with any other theme. I’m sure I might learn to love it if I dedicated myself to working with only Thesis for the rest of my life…but until then, I’m gonna stick with WordPress themes that act more or less like other WordPress themes.
RECOMMENDED FOR: WordPress-savvy internet marketers who know how or are willing to learn how to work with Thesis themes. I can’t imagine ever recommending Thesis for a newbie user or client.