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City Noir

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As gray as the souls that live in it.

"When the darkness fell, New York City became something else, any old Sinatra song notwithstanding. Bad things happened in the night, on the streets of that other city. Noir York City."

The localized, urban version of a Crapsack World. Apathetic Citizens shuffle though a maze of overbearing black skyscrapers and Sinister Subways as sirens wail constantly in the background. Expect a very limited color palette, a palpable air of decay and depression, and an unbelievable crime rate.

Usually, cities like this will consist of a downtown area full of Corrupt Corporate Executives surrounded by one giant slum.

It will often be informed by Taxi Driver-era New York (sinister clouds of steam emerging from the sewers, prostitutes on every corner, depressive Knights in Sour Armor moaning about how crappy the place is, etc.), though the origins of City Noir are actually in German Expressionism. It may take these things to surreal lengths.

If our story takes place in the future, it will be a Cyberpunk dystopia full of hideous dark Star Scrapers (symbolizing class oppression) and other signs of a future gone wrong. If it takes place in the past, the City Noir of choice will probably either be industrial revolution-era London or a fantasy counterpart version of it. Facsimiles of cities like New York and Chicago during the Great Depression might alternately pop up, although for American audiences they may well be shot through the Nostalgia Filter.


Cities Noir enjoy twenty hour nights and constant cloud cover. The remaining four hours of daylight consist of two hours of rain, one hour of thunderstorms, and one hour of sunsets. Sunrises usually mean the story is ending.

These places are a staple of Film Noir and Darker and Edgier shows.

A sister trope to Soiled City on a Hill, Vice City, Wretched Hive and Gangsterland. The Shining City is the antithesis. A Neon City may verge on a City Noir if enough of the signs are broken. See also The City Narrows and The Big Rotten Apple which is what you get when you cross City Noir with the Big Applesauce trope. See Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain for the Cyberpunk City Noir weather forecast.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Neo-Tokyo in AKIRA is a classic and influential example in the genre. It is interesting the compare the colour pallet: Neo-Tokyo evokes the sinister vibe while being much more colour-rich than the typical western example.
  • Zig-zagged by Tekkonkinkreet's Treasure Town. It doesn't really look like a City Noir during the day — on account of all the sunshine and life. It is much less depressing than most examples, but it's definitely run-down, dangerous, and filled with people who can't stand living there. Ironically, the villain's plan is to turn the whole place into a family friendly amusement park by flat out murdering any hoodlums and street kids who don't follow the program.
  • The Big O gives us Paradigm City, which combined Gotham's gothic noir look with a sci-fi domed city, where everyone is recovering from a collective loss of their past due to mass amnesia and the entire city may not even be real.

  • Batman: Gotham is an influential example, although it wasn't always portrayed this way. The criminal element runs rampant in this city, and the law enforcement seriously cannot deal... Lucky they have Batman.
    • Batman: The Animated Series is especially notable in this regard. The animators even developed a new kind of Art Deco dubbed "Dark Deco" to make Gotham look as sinister and oppressive as possible.
  • Sin City: The venal Basin City (known as "Sin City" to the people who live there) and the seedy inhabitants who lurk in its alleys and doorway. It's almost exclusively set in and around Basin City's criminal underworld. Exaggeration unto high art.
  • Hub City from The DCU is Gotham turned Up to Eleven.
  • Watchmen's New York, especially when viewed from Rorschach's perspective.
  • Central City in The Spirit.
  • Indigo City in Tomorrow Stories' Greyshirt feature, which is heavily inspired by The Spirit.
  • New Old Detroit, the setting for the Doctor Who comic strip "The Deep Hereafter" in Doctor Who Magazine.
  • New York City has its crime rate turned Up to Eleven when The Punisher's around (both petty criminals, gangs, and mafia / Mafiya), otherwise there'd be nothing left for him to do.
  • Mega City One in The Simping Detective, a spinoff of Judge Dredd. It's not really an example in its parent series since Dredd is one of the super-cops actually running the city, but Simping's protagonist Jack Point is a hardboiled detective who navigates the strange underworld of MC-1 and happens to dress like a clown.

  • Taxi Driver: It cannot be pressed enough how important this film was for this trope. An insomniac and depressed New York City cab driver becomes obsessed with cleansing the city of human "trash".
  • Coruscant, in Star Wars. Underneath (As in, literally, underneath; ground level up to around forty stories) the bright starships, the shiny skyscrapers, and the epic cityscape lies a planetwide hellhole of slums, filled with crime, despair, mutated monsters, as a result of widespread dumping of waste into the Underworld (as it is called) and general lack of maintenance by city authorities.
  • The titular city of Fritz Lang's Metropolis is the Ur-Example. Fritz Lang was inspired to create Metropolis by New York City. The society is divided in two, the workers on the underground and the wealthy on the exterior. There is Evil Tower of Ominousness — a gigantic, unimaginably huge tower with heliports on top overshadowing everything.
  • Another of Fritz Lang's films, M has a city where a paranoid citizenship have begun to attack anyone and everyone in search of a child killer, and the gangsters and police think dangerously alike.
  • Dark City is this setting taken to surreal heights through deliberate use of Diesel Punk by the city's alien overlords.
  • Every location in The Matrix trilogy, both in the real world and the simulated one, seems to be either one of these or a Wretched Hive.
    • The first movie in particular plays with this trope. While at the beginning of the movie and in all of the "Real World" scenes the scenery is dark and depressing, all of the scenes in the Matrix after Neo is awakened take place in broad daylight with only moderate cloud cover.
  • Se7en's nameless, constantly-rainy city.
  • New York in The Fifth Element uses the setting in an interesting juxtopostion with the rest of the movie which is generally light and playful.
  • Detroit/Delta City in RoboCop. Detroit is deemed as city "beyond saving", they want to tear it down and rebuild it as Delta City. Naturally, the place is a Crapsack World where the police force has been privatized and handed over to a Mega-Corp.
  • The Los Angeles of Blade Runner is the Trope Codifier for cyberpunk versions of this. The film is set in a dystopian near-future City Noir version of Los Angeles and it established much of the tone and flavor of the Cyberpunk genre.
  • Brazil is set in one. The city is an inescapable bureaucratic force hewn from concrete, steel and litter.
  • This is how the year 2024 looks in Highlander II: The Quickening. "No sun, no stars, only heat and humidity."
  • The Spierig Brothers love this trope:
    • Daybreakers has apathetic citizens shuffle though a maze of overbearing black skyscrapers and Sinister Subways as sirens wail in the background. Although this trope is played straight from an audience point of view it is something of a meta-inversion; The city is populated by vampires (of the sunlights burns them to ash variety) so a dark shadowy city is a nice comfortable level of lighting from there point of view. Even if they are apathetically shuffling to their day jobs like us regular human schulbs.
    • Predestination features shady characters with hats and trenchcoats, a mysterious organization and cool smoking.
  • Jim is a violent cop in a violent city in On Dangerous Ground.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends takes place in the ugly, vice-ridden city of New York.
  • The Car: Road to Revenge is set 20 Minutes into the Future in a city so crime ridden that death sentences are carried out in the courtroom immediately after they are pronounced. It is mentioned that this 'innovation' was introduced by D.A. Craddock, implying that the rest of the world is not as bad as this city.


  • Played fairly straight in Starlightover Detrot up until the twist. Of course, any city run by ponies will be full of zany magic, intelligent surveillence "bugs", and corruption spanning a thousand years.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Deliberate according to Word of God in Bron|Broen. The series consciously avoids any well-known tourist sites in Copenhagen or Malmö, with all scenes set in either bland, characterless office buildings or run-down, workaday suburban or rural places.
  • Downplayed in Cases of the 1st Department. Prague is not absolutely horrible and dark here, but the city is wonderfully shabby, gray, rainy or cold. It's noticeable especially if you compare it to Prague's usual idealized depictions set in sunny picturesque streets or beautiful historical palaces. Some murders happened in ghettos and poor neighbourhoods, and even the police building looks almost pitiful compared to high-tech sets of other modern police procedurals.
  • Played absolutely straight in Gotham, it's even lampshaded by Carmine Falcone: "The sun never shines in Gotham."
  • New New York in it's second appearance on Doctor Who. Emotions are bought and sold, driving anywhere takes years, the air in some places is lethal to people. And there are giant crab monsters living in the fast lane. Basically, all the problems of urban life turned Up to Eleven and beyond. This being a British show however, the people are NOT apathetic or cynical, for the most part. Averts The Big Rotten Apple because New New York bears absolutely no resemblance to it's namesake. Rather, it seems to be exceedingly British (despite this supposedly being an alien planet: but then again, this is normal for the show). In particular, the city resembles London following the Second World War.

  • Portrayed perfectly in the New York of Afrika Baambaataa and Leftfield's "Afrika Shox" video.
  • The Protomen: "Don't turn your back on the city"
  • The futuristic metropoli described in many Judas Priest songs, especially "The Sentinel" ("Along deserted avenues, steam begins to rise....")
  • The music video for Bush's "Greedy Fly" is City Noir mixed with Mind Screw. For added points, it was filmed in the same building as Se7en.
  • Machinae Supremacy's "Dark City" evokes this feeling, though (perhaps curiously, given their inclination toward sci-fi themes) without specifically invoking the film of the same name.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Hudson City, the "Dark Champions" default setting for Champions, is a troubled setting based strongly on the old "urban jungle" perception of New York City. The most obvious crime and grime are in the Southside neighborhoods (south of the Stewart River), but thanks to organized crime and corporate corruption, even the nice neighborhoods of the Northside often have dark secrets hiding behind the facade.
  • Night City, the default setting of Cyberpunk 2020, has all that defines a Cyberpunk-style City Noir.
  • City of Mist has this trope as its setting, or at least the half of the setting that most people can see...

    Video Games 
  • Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto IV exemplifies this trope.
  • Max Payne gave us one of the best and most original video game example. There is nothing like New York, a winter storm, and some Norse aesthetics to get the noir blood running...
  • Midgar from Final Fantasy VII.
  • Nightshade's Metro City is about as old an example as you're going to get. (Even if it's mostly a spoof of the genre.)
  • Metro City of Condemned: Criminal Origins is somewhat of a deconstruction of this trope.
  • Infamous' Empire City, a fictional stand-in for smaller New York. The city is quarantined due to an apparent plague, and there are three enigmatic gangs known as the Reapers, the Dust Men, and the First Sons who begin a turf war over the city. Empire City has areas in its sewer systems that can fit entire underground communities of homeless citizens.
  • Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit's Empire City (Wonder why this name is so common?)
  • [PROTOTYPE]'s New York
  • Rapture in BioShock, especially in its state of decay. Going one better than constant rain, it is underwater. Even better, its leaking in a lot of places.
  • The city from Thief called... The City. Oookay.
  • The first level from The Punisher game from 2005 begins with a monologue about how even though the politicians have tried to clean up the city, all they succeeded in doing was pushing crime to other neighborhoods.
  • City 17 in Half-Life 2 was this on concept art in early stage of development, and it picked up a strong Eastern European inflection in the final work.
  • Detroit (again) from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, along with Hengsha in Shanghai, in somewhat different styles. Detroit is very obviously based on Blade Runner's LA, and Hengsha looks more like Midgar. New York from the original might have counted, too, but we don't get to see much of it, and it's too poorly-rendered to tell. The developers had big plans for the Montreal level, but time constraints forced them to cut out the entire thing in exchange for a single mission level.
  • The urban locations in Kingpin: Life of Crime. Features everything between desolate ghettos and classy, but equally vile Radio City with it's Art Deco architecture (bearing a suspicious resemblance to some places in Payback). Also noteable for a weird mix of modern as well as 20's, 30's and steampunk-scifi styles (Cypress Hill music, Tommyguns, and thugs with cybernetic facial modifications all in the same setting!)
  • Halo 3: ODST's version of New Mombasa evokes this in the nighttime sections, though the city was brighter and more welcoming before the Covenant invaded.
  • The City of Steelport in Saints Row: The Third has art deco and industry seemingly running everywhere, and half of the time the game spawns you at night. Or in the rain. It gets even more noir in Saints Row IV, where it (or rather, its simulation) is taken over by alien invaders, who ramp up the police brutality and apparently turn off the sun, so the entire city is permanently surrounded in dusky gloom. And then it gets explicit, when upon completing the main storyline and gaining full control of the simulation, you can change its color scheme to the Deliberately Monochrome "Noir Mode".
  • Bezoar City of the obscure Cyberpunk shooter Hard Reset is perhaps the vastest, most towering example to be found on this page. When we say towering, we damn well mean it too; at certain points the wind whistles by fast enough to suggest you are a very... appreciable distance from the ground that you most definitely can't see. Yet, when you look up? There's still a lot more city to go. At least once you will go down the street through an industrial complex, only to find yourself on the ledge of a skyscraper.
  • Bear With Me: Paper City seems to be a Lighter and Softer version of a Noir city, everything is black and white and it always rains, the local politicians are corrupt and the police are incompetent.
  • Los Angleles in the Blade Runner video game. It's dark, rainy, and dirty.
  • The four nightmarish, Cog-swarming, gigantic Cog Headquarters in Toontown Online are very good examples, especially the Lawbot HQ, which appears to have an entire, New York-esque, city in the background.
  • The Jak and Daxter series has Haven City, a sprawling metropolis believed to be the last surviving city on the planet. It's heavily polluted, in a severe state of disrepair, and has a mafia that actively works with the city's evil government. By the time of Jak II, it's been under siege for hundreds of years, and the citizenry is impoverished and downtrodden due to the war and the Baron's tyrannical rule. On top of that, the government has secretly worked out a deal with their supposed enemy, the Metal Heads, to supply them with eco in exchange for attacking the city just enough to justify its continued rule. Did we mention that the Baron has a plan to destroy the Metal Heads that would also destroy the entire universe?
  • This is how Emerald City is portrayed in Emerald City Confidential. Because of its Darker and Edgier tone, Emerald City is filled with criminals, corrupt authority figures, and cynical city dwellers.
  • Cloudbank in Transistor is perhaps a slightly more colorful and opulent version, though it's still fairly bleak and Cyberpunk-esque (especially with Killer Robots running amok.)
  • Though downplayed, this trope is undeniably present in Pokémon Black's version-exclusive location, Black City; a shady metropolis dominated by skyscrapers of the color its name would suggest with battle-hungry residents, a market that tries to sell you items for up to fifty times their actual worth, and a mayor who openly boasts that his city is fueled by greed and selfishness. It's a stark contrast to its counterpart, the lush and idyllic White Forest.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • Windhelm is the capital of the Stormcloak rebellion, Riften, capital of the Rift, and Markarth, capital of the Reach. Windhelm is full of narrow, winding streets, racism against the city's Argonian and Dark Elf residents is commonplace, and when you first arrive, the city is being stalked by an insane, necromantic Serial Killer. Since Windhelm is located in the northern reaches of Skyrim however, Windhelm trades the usual rainfall for heavy snow instead.
    • Riften is a perpetually foggy city rife with corruption; it the home to the Thieves Guild (who in a break from previous Elder Scrolls games are not a band of Robin Hood types who protect the poor, but are in fact little more than a collection of thugs, blackmailers, exortionists, and con-men). The local Jarl is incompetent and out of touch with her people, and the real power in Riften is the head of the local mead dynasty, Maven Black-Briar, who has the Thieves Guild at her beck and call, has ties to the Dark Brotherhood, and can actually become Jarl if you side with the Empire in the Civil War. It's not uncommon to see Thieves running loose in the marketplace, and Honorhall Orphanage, Skyrim's only home for orphaned children, is (initially) run by a monstrous woman named Grelod the Kind who regularly abuses her wards and refuses to let any of them actually get adopted. And be warned if you venture into the Ratway, the sewers beneath the city, which is home not only to the Thieves Guild, but also home to a number of other thugs, miscreants and outcasts who dwell down there.
    • Markarth has to take the cake however. Upon entering the city for the first time, you're treated to the sight of a woman being murdered in the middle of the marketplace (possibly) in broad daylight, before her assailant is killed by the guards who assure you that everything is under control and that there are no Forsworn in Markarth. You're drawn into a conspiracy surrounding the Forsworn, the former inhabitants of the Reach, and the powerful and corrupt Silver-Blood family that really rules the city, and by the end of the questline, you'll be looking at quite a number of dead caught in the crossfire. The city is built over an ancient Dwemer city teeming with killer robots, giant spiders, and vicious Falmer that are only kept from sweeping through the city because they're too busy killing each other, there's a haunted house that houses an artifact of Molag Bal, one of the truly most despicable Daedric Princes, and if you do Namira's Daedric quest as well you discover a not insignificant number of Markarth residents are cannibals. It's a pretty miserable place to live.
  • Betancuria in A Dance with Rogues is a fantasy variation of this trope. It has mostly dull, monochrome architecture, and it rains almost every day. Crime is rampant, serial killers and street gangs run riot, so the local Thieves' Guild-slash-The Mafia are actually the good guys by comparison—though, of course, the foreign military force currently occupying the city after a brutal conquest doesn't see it that way.
  • The City with No Name from Blackout shows off the trope from quite a few angles across its four different Hub Levels: the pretty, but somewhat surreal Uptown, the shady and dirty Downtown, the worn Docks where every building is crooked, and the oppressive Suburbs in pristine concrete.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Zozo. Take the blurb and replace "Apathetic Citizens" with "crazy liars, thieves and crazy lying thieves" and you'll get a perfect description of the place. Everything else is here: the dark skyscrapers, the perpetual rain and the crime rate is so high the city is actually a Dungeon Town despite being populated: hunchbacked freaks of nature, sickle-wielding masked thieves, spell-casting prostitutes and towering brutes whose very step shake the ground are all fought here.
  • Part of Chronopolis in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is the aptly-named Manhattan Noir, a Great Depression/Prohibition-era area where the missions tend to focus more on street-level Badass Normal characters like Daredevil and Kingpin. The game even applies a near-monochrome filter when in the area.

    Visual Novels 
  • To quote the description of ClockUp's Maggot Baits' Jahougai, the Heretical City—
    Several years ago, in the city at the heart of Kanto once known as Kajou, a connection formed between this world and an Abyss from whence a vortex of chaotic power swept across the land, unleashing rampant supernatural phenomena and turning the city into a pandemonium.
    Faced with the appearance of immortal Witches shrouded in mystery, the government decreed the complete isolation of the city, declared it an abandoned territory, and erased it from official maps.
    For a while, the place once known as Kajou seemed destined to remain a ghost town, but soon it became a den of criminals and clandestine migrants, a refuge for those seeking asylum from their crushing debts and misery outside society, and a hunting ground for those who feed on misery, such as prostitutes, yakuza, and traffickers.
    After a few years which saw its population grow to 150,000, the unrecognized extraterritorial city had become Jahougai, the Heretical City. There, the meeting of a man and a Witch marks the beginning of this story.
    In this wicked city where no law holds and danger reigns unfolds the cruel fate of a man and a Witch.

    Web Comics 
  • Last Res0rt's City of Wonder. (although at least in terms of being a darkly colored city, they have the excuse of it being located inside a freakin' space station, so any sunlight or other weather that exists there is manufactured anyway...)
  • Greysky City in The Order of the Stick is Haley and Ian Starshine's city of origin; an exaggerated hive of scum and villainy. Its Meaningful Name should tell you something about it.
    Haley: It's a dangerous place where people get killed for having gold in their pockets. Not everywhere on this plane is Happy Sunshine Land, you know.
  • The unnamed city that The Letters of the Devil inhabits is a world of barely-hidden corruption. As the mysterious "L" says in the Prologue, "The city is beautiful from a distance. It hides the Rot well."
  • Nocturne City in Strange Aeons is not only this (right down to the name), it appears to be setting up to be an exaggerated parody of noir cities.
  • Pibgorn: Whenever Nat Bustard shows up, this can't be far behind
  • The ''Noireville'' setting from Cockeyed Comics.
  • Riverside, WA in Riverside Extras.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series relies heavily on this trope for the stylistic views of Gotham City. And yes, it is often night, but that's when the bats take wing...
  • While the daytime shots of Republic City in The Legend of Korra are very beautiful, it turns out that the city hides a dark underbelly of crime and poverty. In particular, the night fight scenes in the streets take cues from this trope.
    • The same can be said to apply to the highly class-segregated Ba Sing Se of the original series, with secret agents of the government conspiring to keep the perfect balance they have created in the city, which also means keeping the hundred year world war secret to the public, and brainwashing anyone who dared to disrupt order.
      • Season Three of Korra reveals that Ba Sing Se, despite its technological modernization, has barely improved in the 70 years in-universe since we last saw it (debatabely worse even), due to its selfish and tyrannical queen; when said queen is assassinated by the anarchist Big Bad, the entire city instantly falls into an orgy of looting and vandalism.
  • Black Dynamite features a very limited color palette when it portrays its city setting. As well the city's palpable air of decay and depression and high crime rate, most action takes place in a ghetto overrun by whores, orphans and corruption, where the cops are crooked and the IRS is psychotic. Played for Laughs.


    Real Life 
  • Kowloon Walled City was an ungoverned, densely populated settlement in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to the UK by China in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the walled city contained 50,000 residents in 14 story high buildings so densely packed within its 2.6-hectare borders that the sun never reached the lower levels. From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was controlled by local triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling, and drug abuse.

His biomechanical texture in full use at this time, we end up with towering forms in this texture, often with deep valleys between units of some giant alien machine and some... NSFW public transport units. The Shaft series also appears to have an element of this trope; though Giger always said they came from dreams of a locked door and dark stairway in his parent's house, the darkness between towering structures is plain to see.