It’s easy to find lots of fonts with gothic in their names. But what makes a typeface a “gothic” typeface?
A gothic typeface is not like medieval lettering at all. It actually comes from grotesk or grotesque which began around 1900. It’s basically a synonym for sans-serif and it is a movement that originated in the Scandinavian area and was widely applied by the Bauhaus.
Hence Akzidenz-Grotesk, hence Century Gothic, and pretty much any typeface with that name in it.
The question has been appropriately answered but I felt I could demystify this ambiguity between "Gothic" referring to Sans-Serif or Blackletter typefaces. It really depends on the context of the word being used throughout history.
Historically "Gothic" is often used as a derogatory term, a sort of linguistic shorthand for barbaric. Often times if you see the word Gothic being used to describe something that has nothing to do with the actual tribal Kingdoms of the Goths, it's being used to describe something in negative terms, as was the case for the early Sans Serifs. The same sort of principle applies for the term Grotesk which of course translates into grotesque (absurd or bizarre).
Gothic was used to describe Sans Serifs initially because they took a fairly severe departure from the then current trend of Roman type traditions with very humanist forms based on centuries of perfection throughout antiquity & their revival during the Italian Renaissance. That and early Sans Serifs were rather unrefined and illegible.
Same story as well with Gothic architecture. Gothic Cathedrals had nothing to do with the "barbarian" tribes of the Goths, but historians such as Giorgio Vasari pioneered the trend of insulting Middle Aged European culture and the terms have sort of stuck ever since. This Gothic "spirit" mentioned by Brown is an apt approach when considering the term because it refers to a certain sort of style or characteristic that was evident in Middle Age European cultures, although more apt terminology could be more specific by using "Blackletter" & "Sans serif" instead of lumping the two together. One might say taller, more imposing Sans Serifs could have that Gothic spirit (as a Cathedral is tall, open & imposing), but again you could be more specific to the features of the type by referring to it as condensed.
They are based off actual scripture from the Gothic period in history. See Letters and Lettering by Frank Chouteau Brown, Chapter 3, which covers Gothic.
Ryan's suggested article really is excellent: LETTERS & LETTERING: A TREATISE WITH 200 EXAMPLES. Here are a few quotes to summarize the definition of "Gothic" fonts.
The name "Gothic" applies rather to the spirit than to the exact letter forms of the style. The same spirit of freedom and restlessness characterises the architecture of the period wherein this style of letter was developed; and Gothic letters are in many ways akin to the fundamental forms of Gothic architecture.
So... Gothic fonts can be recognized by their free and restless spirit.
medieval scribes used the Round Gothic as an easy and legible handwritten form, and linked many of the letters.
And Gothic fonts should all be legible, containing some interlinking forms.
In lieu of any detailed analysis of these letter shapes, it may perhaps be sufficient to say that they were wholly and exactly determined by the position of the quill, which was held rigidly upright, after the fashion already described in speaking of Roman lettering; and that the letters were always formed with a round swinging motion of hand and arm, as their forms and accented lines clearly evidence
Bracchial gyrations and erect quill posture appear to be critical factors as well.
But the best advice is to just look at the samples.