The Cyberpunk genre is a classic, and since its humble beginnings, has evolved into an always compelling inspiration for anime. Western and Japanese cyberpunk artists, alike, have each offered their own interpretations that peek into the not-too-distant dystopian future.
As seen in Blade Runner’s Hong Kong-like inspired Los Angeles and William Gibson’s Chiba City, Asian high-tech urbanisation has already played a significant part in the aesthetics of Cyberpunk. As a result, it was no surprise that Japanese artists and animators took to the concept, injecting their own distinct cultural signal into the sub-genre.
Despite its roots in the 1980s, it was not until the early 1990s that Cyberpunk tropes became widely seen in anime and manga, even fashion, in Japan.
“Modern Japan simply was cyberpunk. The Japanese themselves knew it and delighted in it. I remember my first glimpse of Shibuya…all that towering, animated crawl of commercial information…It is Blade Runner town.” And it was. It so evidently was.”
We’ve compiled a list of the ten best cyberpunk anime to watch as a tribute to the genre. Without much further ado, let’s get started!
What is Cyberpunk?
Before we step into the world of Cyberpunk Anime, let’s take a look into where it all started.
Bruce Bethke’s book “Cyberpunk” introduced the word & concept to the world. Bethke coined the term “Cyberpunk” back in 1980 and used it as the title of his short story. By combining Cybernetics (the science of replacing human tasks with computers) with “punk,” the chaotic music and nihilistic worldview of the 1970s and 1980s, he creates the term we know today.
Upon its publication in 1984, William Gibson’s groundbreaking novel Neuromancer would go on to help establish Cyberpunk as its own distinct genre, taking inspiration from both punk subculture and early hacker culture. Neuromancer takes place in a dystopian Japan where technology has taken over the control of society.
The themes covered in Cyberpunk typically contain futuristic technology features such as artificial intelligence, Megacities, and advanced cybernetic technological developments. Cyberpunk narratives are often set in dystopian futuristic worlds that juxtapose gritty urban decayed worlds and high-tech advances. Main characters are often shown in societies with sophisticated artificial intelligence and cybernetics, against the backdrop of societal instability or revolution.
The beauty of Cyberpunk is its ability to build worlds and stories based on one specific technology that can be extrapolated to an extremely sophisticated level.
In the vast city of Metropolis, strict communal structures and discrimination predominate in a world where humans and machines coexist. With each passing day, there is more unrest and bloodshed. The story revolves around Japanese investigator Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi coming to Metropolis searching for Dr Laughton, who is accused of violating human rights by harvesting and trafficking organs.
Kenichi finds a girl with no recollection of her previous existence in the scientist’s laboratory. He agrees to assist her, and the two flee together. His uncle pursues him, penetrating the city’s dark secrets searching for Duke Red, the man controlling from the shadows.
Meanwhile, Kenichi frantically attempts to defend the mystery girl from the individuals after her. Duke Red and his adopted son have compelling motives for pursuing the girl. These motives are linked to her actual origins and the quest for the dominance of Metropolis.
The artwork in this anime is spectacular. Each background artwork in Metropolis has been painstakingly produced, and there is seldom a shot in which the characters are not moving. Even minor characters are picking up bottles, hurling money, and smoking cigarettes in the background, creating an immense level of detail.
Zuru, a little girl, embarks on a desperate quest for sustenance in a post-apocalyptic city governed by robots. Things go wrong when her team accidentally activates the Safeguard, the city’s AI protection mechanism. Her comrades end up on the edge of annihilation after being attacked by the robots until a strange guy called Killy appears and exterminates the hostile units.
Despite his heroism, Zuru remains sceptical of Killy and doubts his motivations. He discloses, to her, that he came from hundreds of levels under the city in search of people with the Net Terminal Genes—a characteristic that would enable humanity to reclaim control of their society and shut down the Safeguard. After hearing this, Zuru and the rest of her squad accompany Killy on a trip to find the Genes that might be humanity’s final chance of survival.
Overall, Blame! is has a dark futuristic plot with enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat, as is typical of most cyberpunk games. However, unlike other works in the genre, Blame! ignores the majority of the philosophical & existential questions often connected with cyberpunk. The lengthy in-battle rants/soliloquies that some may find superfluous, in anime, are also absent. Instead, the director Hiroyuki Seshita conveys that actions speak louder than words.
In 1988, an explosion produced by a young child with psychic abilities blasts across Tokyo, igniting the fuse that will lead to World War III. He is apprehended and brought into jail to avert additional devastation, never to be heard from again. In its place today, in the year 2019, rises a renovated version of the city known as Neo-Tokyo—an region filled with gang violence and terrorism against the present government.
Shoutarou Kaneda is the leader of “the Capsules,” a bunch of misfits renowned for riding huge, modified motorbikes and often clashing with their adversaries “the Clowns.” During one of these bouts, Shoutarou’s closest buddy Tetsuo Shima gets involved in an accident with an esper who has escaped from a government facility and is now roaming the streets of Tokyo. Tetsuo starts to acquire his own mystery talents while the government attempts to confine this newest psychic in a desperate bid to keep him from releasing the catastrophic force that may bring the city to its knees once again.
Akira blends visceral, high-octane action with an uncommonly cathartic ending. All the sequential action scenes are not explained as such and left to the viewer’s imagination. Even though it is imperfect, it is a timeless classic that ought to be seen whether you are an anime lover or an ordinary moviegoer. Even as more and more works outperform it in certain ways, Akira stays the Colossus of the cyberpunk anime business, marking a huge creative accomplishment in and of itself and acting as a fantastic gateway anime for many people for years to come.
Ghost in the Shell
In the not-too-distant future, humanity will have evolved to the point that full-body transplants from flesh to machine will be conceivable. This allows for significant gains in both the physical and cybernetic realms, blurring the distinction between the two. Unfortunately, criminals can also take full advantage of such technology, leading to new and often very hazardous crimes.
In response to such inventive new tactics, the Japanese government develops Section 9, a self-contained police unit that deals with such crimes. Section 9, is led by Daisuke Aramaki and Motoko Kusanagi, who deal with cybernetic criminals, with varying degrees of success.
When confronted with a new A level hacker dubbed “The Laughing Man,” the team is forced to play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, following the hacker’s trail that leaves its imprint on Japan.
Ghost in the shell: Stand alone complex is a spectacular audio-visual-sensory experience. In addition to its smoothness and elegance, the art and animation perfectly complement the overall atmosphere. The music and visuals work together to create a remarkable atmosphere.
For example, the city is frequently drenched in gloom and poverty, dotted with towering skyscrapers and a sea of never-ending lights. And the motion and visual design are very sensory.
In 2075, space flight is no longer a pipe dream but a daily reality for humanity. Science and technological advancements have resulted in the colonisation of the moon, the commercialisation of outer space, and the development of enormous space enterprises. Ai Tanabe, a cheerful lady with a keen interest in the universe, joins Technora Corporation as a member of their Debris Section. It’s a division devoted to removing harmful space trash between the Earth and Moon’s orbits.
Ai, on the other hand, quickly realises how underappreciated her work is. The Debris Section is the laughingstock of Technora since it is grossly understaffed and underfunded. It is forced to employ an outdated spacecraft called the “Toy Box” for debris recovery. Undaunted, Ai perseveres and gradually becomes acquainted with the strange personalities that comprise the Debris Section’s staff. Such as the bumbling but good-natured chief clerk Philippe Myers, the mysterious and tight-lipped temp worker Edelgard Rivera. The hotheaded and passionate Hachirouta Hoshino who yearns for his own spaceship.
Planetes is an unorthodox science fiction series that depicts the expanse of space as a background for the daily lives of regular people who were born on Earth but had goals and dreams that lay beyond the stars.
Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu
The story revolves around a 150-year-long stalemate between the Galactic Empire, and the Free Planets Alliance is broken. A new generation of leaders emerges, the idealistic military genius Reinhard von Lohengramm and the fair-minded Yang Wenli.
Reinhard climbs the Imperial ranks with the support of his childhood buddy Siegfried Kircheis. He must fight not only the war, but also himself. However, he also inherited the shattered Goldenbaum Dynasty in order to save his sister from the Kaiser and unify the world under one true king.
Yang, on the other hand, must stick to his principles as a fervent supporter of democracy. Despite the difficulties, he showed to Julian Mintz, his pupil, that authoritarianism is not the solution. As the two strategic masterminds’ views meet in the midst of the war’s numerous casualties, they must ask themselves what the actual goal of their conflict is.
It’s hard to believe that Legend of Galactic Heroes is over 30 years old. The intriguing art ranged from Ancient Rome to Victorian England to Blade Runner-Esque futuristic set-pieces and costumes. The cast includes princes, generals, prostitutes, and religious zealots. Each character in this cyberpunk anime has a certain part to play, and they all do it according to their duty.
In the year 2071, mankind has colonised much of the solar system’s planets and moons, leaving the now-uninhabitable surface of planet Earth behind. The Inter Solar System Police seek to keep the galaxy peaceful, with the help of illegal bounty hunters known as “Cowboys.” Two such people are the ragged crew of the spacecraft Bebop.
Relaxed and carefree Spike Spiegel is countered by his noisy, pragmatic companion Jet Black, with whom he earns a fortune by hunting bounties and collecting prizes. Thrown off course by the arrival of new members on their journey—Ein, a genetically engineered, highly intelligent Welsh Corgi; femme fatale Faye Valentine, an enigmatic trickster with memory loss; and the strange computer whiz kid Edward Wong—the crew embarks on thrilling adventures that gradually reveal each member’s dark and mysterious past.
Cowboy Bebop is a Space Western masterpiece that pays respect to the smooth and spontaneous music it is named for. It is well-balanced with high-density action and light-hearted humour. A must-see. The Cowboy Bebop Live Action remake should be avoided at all costs.
Kurau: Phantom Memory
It is the year 2100, and a study to investigate new elements of energy is underway on a colonised Moon. Amami Kurau is the project’s head scientist’s daughter, and on her 12th birthday, she joins her father in the lab to see the trials. Something goes wrong, and Kurau is hit by twin lightning bolts. Her father is shocked to discover that his daughter is no longer his daughter. Rather, her body is now home to two energy creatures with incredible abilities.
Kurau phantom memory is a slow burn produced by Bones and directed by Yasuhiro Irie. You’ll discover a handful of fantastic super-powered battle sequences if you come here seeking them in a cyberpunk anime.
As humanity emerges from the ruins of conflict, cybernetically modified arena combatants compete for fame and money… or perish in the attempt. The planet has entered the Era of Rebirth, recuperating from the catastrophic fires of war, in the nineteenth century.
The sport of mechanical martial arts has united the world. Fighters who have been cybernetically altered transform their blood into steam and their bodies into violent fighting and killing machines. Young Levius is one of those arena fighters that is hell-bent on winning only to live.
The show has received some critics due to the CGI. However, the action in this programme was really entertaining to watch. The bouts were well-constructed and had some basic to relentless strategy.
In the distant future, Earth has devolved into a wasteland, and mankind as we know it has perished. All that’s left are sentient robots. They were meant to be immortal—until the one named Luna died and the Ruin began. Their bodies will corrode, and there will be no way to repair them. The robots are now left to consider their fates, only kept alive by the myth that if they eat the one known as Casshern, they would attain immortality.
Casshern has no idea of his background, why he exists, or what he is, but he must find out or endure the perpetual agony of being pursued by robots that don’t want to die. Casshern avoids death everywhere he goes, but he must confront it if he is to discover the truth about this world.
Madhouse created the animation for Casshern Sins. Casshern Sins offers some of the most unique sound effects I’ve ever heard. The show mostly goes at one speed, and that speed is slow.’ There’s a lot of stillness, reflection, and philosophical conversation.