The originator of the "Punk" genres, Cyberpunk is a Speculative Fiction genre centered around the transformative effects of advanced science, information technology, computers and networks ("cyber") coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order ("punk"). A genre that is dark and cynical in tone, it borrows elements from Film Noir, hard-boiled Detective Fiction and postmodern deconstruction to describe the Dystopian side of an electronic society. It is often used as a synonym to the related trope "Techno Dystopia".
The plot will more than likely take place 20 Minutes into the Future in some City Noir, Industrial Ghetto or Crapsack World that tends to be marked by crime, cultural nihilism and bad weather, where cutting-edge technology is abused by everyone for the sake of selfish profit and pleasure. ("The street finds its own uses for things.") There is a very good chance it will take place in New Neo City.
Heroes are often computer hackers or rebels, antiheroes almost to a man. These characters — "criminals, outcasts, visionaries, dissenters and misfits" — call to mind the private eye of detective fiction. This emphasis on the misfits and the malcontents is the "punk" component of cyberpunk. On the other hand, major villains are almost inevitably Police States or multinational conglomerates led by powerful businessmen with a number of gun-toting Mooks and corrupt politicians (or even an entire nation) at their beck and call.
If the work dates from The '80s, there's a good chance that there will be a theme of East Asian economic dominance, with the evil corporations being sinister Zaibatsu (possibly collaborating with or even run by the Yakuza) and Asian-sounding advertisements, consumer products, brand-names and anime influences liberally scattered around. Since the Turn of the Millennium, it's become commonplace to swap out the Japanese influences for Chinese — though, given the impact that this era had on the genre as a whole, as well as writers' unwillingness to offend China (or else they can get kicked out), a retro-style Japanese aesthetic isn't uncommon even today.note
Expect the scientific philosophy of transhumanism to be a feature, what with Artificial Limbs and cable jacks in the skull that allow access to artificial realities. Artificial intelligences and artificial humans (sometimes corrupted) are everywhere, while Everything Is Online. This leads to a theme of "loss of distinction between real and artificial" on which philosophical and existential conflicts about transhumanism can arise, such as questions on the nature of identity and "What Measure Is a Non-Human?"
The genre's vision of a troubled future is often called the antithesis of the generally utopian visions of the future popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but keep in mind that it is not a term that should be applied to every Speculative Fiction dystopia or Bad Future ever in the history of the genre, and does not need to always have an anvilicious Science Is Bad message to it.
Cyberpunk is one of the more realistic genres of sci-fi, but also makes older stories be very prone to Zeerust. William Gibson himself, considered the godfather of the Cyberpunk genre, has said that he was massively shortsighted on the advances in technology that would occur over the next three decades. The infamous "three megabytes of hot RAM" in Neuromancer are laugh-inducing to a modern audience who consider eight gigabytes of RAM cheap and low-end — and even moreso to mid-2010's audiences who've already eschewed outdated MP3 players in lieu of smartphones that now integrate music playback features into their core systems, along with hundreds of gigabytes (of hard storage, with RAM "merely" in the 32gb range) now considered routine. Technology marches on, indeed.
Cyberpunk is also quite distinctive in its focus on Social stories in Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction. It certainly has Gadget and Adventure stories within the genre as well, numerous in fact, but Cyberpunk is a genre that focuses heavily on the impact of technology on society itself, possibly more than any other genre of sci-fi. Given that it's a more cynical genre than others, it particularly focuses on the negative impact of technology on society, but with the emergence of Post-Cyberpunk, portrayal of societal impact of technology has become more neutral and sometimes even positive. It's hard to condemn speculative technology when it becomes actual technology and we realize that, hey — it's not all bad.
This being said, cyberpunk has also seen a general increase in popularity and interest in The New '10s and into The New Twenties, especially toward the former decade's back half (which, ironically, makes it Post-Post-Cyberpunk, and possibly signals a Cyclic Trope). This was spurred on in part by many older, influential works in the genre getting new releases that brought them back into mainstream attention (such as Shadowrun Returns and Cyberpunk 2077), but also the ever-evolving sociopolitical environment; some people feel that a lot of the genre's predictions about how society would change with technological progress have proven to be eerily accurate, and a surprising number of social issues that early cyberpunk stories grappled with are very much still topical in modern times, prompting re-examinations of the movement that questioned whether it was truly outdated and what it still had to say.
See Cyberpunk Tropes and SoYouWantTo.Write A Cyberpunk Story for Cyberpunk's characteristic tropes and what sets it apart from other dystopias. The story may fall on the Romanticism end of the Romanticism Versus Enlightenment scale.
As a movement, it was the successor in some sense to the New Wave Science Fiction movement of the sixties and seventies. Related to Post-Cyberpunk and Cybergoth. Cyberpunk for Flavor is when a work includes elements of cyberpunk, particularly its aesthetics, without going all-in on it. Of course, several works fit on a continuum between these tropes. See also Cyberspace, Dungeon Punk, Punk Punk. Compare also with Steampunk, which shares some similarities with cyberpunk, and Techno Dystopia, which can have overlap on the futurism side. See also Afrofuturism. For the Tabletop game series of the same name, check out Cyberpunk.
- Alternative Gods is a Death Note cyberpunk AU. It has a strong emphasis on hacking and technology. You've got an evil corporation (Yotsuba) doing unethical experimentation, a noirish tone, colliding conspiracies, and "heroes" that are hackers, misfits, antiheroes, criminals, and visionaries (sometimes all at the same time; exhibit A—Light Yagami.)
- The SpongeBob darkfic Cyberpunk: An underwater dystopia, as its name may suggest, has many elements of this genre due the setting takes place 4014 and thanks to humans using their location as nuclear testing site.
- An entire trope with Cyberpunk Is Techno as the two genres have strong cross-influences.
- Amaranthe loves this trope. The Nexus is a Concept Album about technological transhumanism and has this written all over it, particularly in "Mechanical Illusion" and "Electroheart". "Trinity" and "Digital World" on MASSIVE ADDICTIVE echo this.
- Berlin "digital hardcore" (i.e. a fusion of Hardcore Punk and Hardcore Techno) band Atari Teenage Riot can be described as this fairly easily. The fact that they broke up in 2000 and reformed in 2010, by which point many of the themes of their music actually coming to life lead to their comeback album being entitled Is This Hyperreal?. See also: Cyber Punk Is Techno
- Billy Idol's infamous 1993 album Cyberpunk was an attempt to capitalize on the genre and mainstream interest in the internet. Actual cyberpunk fans and computer geeks mostly found it more funny than anything, while his fanbase was extremely puzzled at best.
- Much of Celldweller's work. It involves industrial metal and techno-beats with cyberpunk artwork on its covers.
- Klayton's synthwave side project, Scandroid, leans hard into this trope.
- The soundtrack for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon by Power Glove was made as one long homage to Eighties cyberpunk and action movies with scores drawing from The Terminator, Robocop, and synthesizer scores to help invoke the tone of both while you tear up the Tron-line and cyborg filled island.
- Some of Electronicore band Crossfaith's work could be placed in this genre: harsh, angry music making heavy use of electronic and synth elements, videos containing large amounts of glitched-out and high-tech aesthetics, a song directly challenging the Japanese government for covering up the Fukushima nuclear disaster (aptly named "Only the Wise Can Control Our Eyes") and one video, "The Evolution", which outright depicts an underground resistance fighting against some sort of oppressive government or organisation which employs soldiers that resemble the Helghast from Killzone.
- Cult of Luna's album Vertikal is based on Metropolis, so it naturally has this feel. The concept album incorporates robots, classicism, and megatropolises.
- Death Grips: Their debut album, The Money Store, deconstructs hip-hop tropes ((violent lyrics, distrust of police, and namedropping of websites and contemporary subjects) and pairs them with computer-y, glitchy beats, giving the whole thing a bleak, dystopian, cyberpunk kind of feel.
- Fear Factory. In fact, most of their lyrical content is about struggling against the dangers of technology and surviving it.
- Front Line Assembly: Songs like "Arbeit" come with cyberpunk music videos of dystopian futuristic hellholes to accompany the harsh industrial sound.
- The video for George Michael's "Freeek!" takes place in this kind of setting. In a dystopian future city, women are manufactured as sex slaves for the rich and powerful. They also used in advertising.
- Harumaki Gohan's "Aster", featuring Hatsune Miku, takes place in a cyberpunk virtual world reminiscent of the '80s. It follows a teenaged Artificial Intelligence living in an abandoned, computerized city, wishing that she could meet with her absent parents (possibly her creators) again.
- Information Society's "Mirrorshades" is about Molly Millions from Neuromancer.
- mind.in.a.box's discography forms a connected plot of The Agency operative, Black, as he hunts down a group of rebel hackers. The Agency works to break into the rebel's creation, the Dreamweb, doing not particularly nice things in the process. The album covers and music videos employ a Deliberately Monochrome color palette, Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain and feature run-down buildings and industrial zones.
- The Protomen. When you're a Rock Opera about a dystopian version of Mega Man (Classic), it's rather unavoidable.
- While Scar Symmetry has written songs with cyberpunk-like themes before, the first entry int he concept album trilogy The Singularity covers the rise of artificial intelligences and the social strife their emergence causes, along with transhumanists who implant the technology directly into their bodies, further sowing chaos. Considering the final track of the first (and so far only) album is named Technocalyptic Cybergeddon, one can draw their own conclusions as to how well the story ends.
- Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Mixing punk and electronic music in the style of Suicide, this band takes its inspiration from movies like Blade Runner, The Terminator, A Clockwork Orange, and Mad Max. The band members dress in an outrageous fashion involving brightly coloured hair and lots of fishnets and involve dystopic and post-apocalyptic themes in its songs, as well as many references to violent video games, high-tech sex (not necessarily with a human) and the suggestion they are from the future. They also play the evil corporation completely straight, by effectively being it.
- Synergia has a separate soundtrack from its main game that is a bunch of techno songs and synthesized music in order to underscore the digital world that has been created within the game.
- The music videos for Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" and "...Ready For It?" have this sort of theme, the latter specifically homaging Ghost in the Shell (1995).
- Warren Zevon's album Transverse City is set in a very cyberpunk-influenced future. Life is cheap and death is free. Join us in this neon vistas. Ravaged tenaments and laser hologram equipped shopping centers. Dominated by the clergy of the mall.
- Yellow Magic Orchestra's Solid State Survivor is widely considered an Ur-Example, being a Concept Album about the rapid advancement of technology and greater integration of it in everyday life at the time, examining both the initial excitement towards this technological evolution and the negative consequences of allowing the new technology to become misused. Analysts have called YMO "the original cyberpunks" because of how heavily this record predicted the basic tropes that would become hallmarks of the genre, shortly before its western rise in the 80's.
- From Lil Nas X:
- The video for "Panini" takes place in a metropolis which wouldn't be out of place in Blade Runner, featuring neon-colored hologram ads (many of which are of Nas X himself), robots, and hovering vehicles.
- The video for "Holiday" has a similar feel, crossed with a Christmas aesthetic.
- Centaur has a predominant Heavy Metal/Cyberpunk feel, with its half-human half-motorcycle creature and bleak black-and-white artwork.
- Like the movie itself, Johnny Mnemonic is about surviving in a cyberpunk world with uplifted dolphins and cyberspace.
- The "X-ile Zone" table in Obsession Pinball is based on a female hacker fighting against a dystopian future.
- Battletech: In the distant Feudal Future, corporations owned by full-blooded aristocrats use gigantic fusion-powered robots built with quadrillions of C-Bills of resources to murder entire worlds in an orgy of Dark (and Darker) Age space wars. Billions of humans are slaughtered by trampling mechs and the occasional nuclear bombardment while technological progress backslides too fast to recover from and too slowly to get this nightmare over with. If you're not a decadent ruling-class noble, a ruthless mechwarrior mercenary, or a bloodthirsty bandit / bandit-like Clansman, you're screwed. There's also a major stigma against cybernetically augmented individuals, to the point that most nations hunt them down like animals, which is partly to blame for driving the secret cyborg ruler of the Word of Blake completely insane and a threat to the galaxy.
- Cyberpunk, naturally. American society has broken down, the government is ineffectual, and anything resembling a good life must be obtained by doing dirty work for one of the numerous corporations that quietly control the world. It's become trendy to heavily modify one's body with any number of cybernetic augmentations, whether it's designer eyes, replacement limbs, or combat-ready military gear, but stacking up too much "cyberware" causes a person to enter "cyber-psychosis" and go full-tilt insane. It'sCyberpunk 2013, its second (Cyberpunk 2020), and (to a lesser extent) third editions are "traditional" cyberpunk games.
- The third edition's shift of focus from gritty future-noir to transhumanist adventure actually makes it closer to Post Cyber Punk, which is one of the main (numerous) problems fans of the previous editions have with this version.
- Magic: The Gathering's Neon Dynasty set (a return to the formerly feudal Japan-esque plane of Kamigawa) has been advertised as this. Besides the extremely advanced Magitek there are some elements of Cyberpunk's more grim side, such as the oppressive Imperials, Mad Scientist Futurists, yakuza-like Reckoner gangs and Evil Luddite Order of the Jukai, but for the most part it is a rather optimistic setting and edging closer to Solar Punk.
- And of course, Rifts. It mixes elements of pretty much every genre in the world, Cyberpunk not least.
- In the introduction of the original Rifts core book, there's a paragraph remarking on how when the game was being developed, it would be Palladium Book's answer to Cyberpunk. Kevin Siembieda admits that there are quite a few Cyberpunk elements.
- Iron Crown Enterprise's Cyberspace RPG. The primary setting of Cyberspace is the urban sprawl around San Francisco in the year 2090.
- Netrunner by Richard Garfield is basically "Neuromancer: the card game". The reboot by Fantasy Flight Game is set, as other cyberpunk games they produce, in their Android universe, but it stills look a lot like Neuromancer.
- Reality's Edge, published by Osprey Publishing, is a Neuromancer inspired skirmish game following Showrunners and their mercenary bands clashing in the rain-slicked Sprawl as deniable muscle for Mega-Corps.
- Shadowrun hits all the tropes, like the heavy use of technology and all-powerful MegaCorps, but mixes in magic and fantasy races like elves and orcs. It is essentially half cyberpunk, half Dungeon Punk. It borrows shamelessly from William Gibson's work, right down to a big chunk of the terminology used (Matrix, Street Samurai, etc.). Gibson reportedly dislikes Shadowrun due to the magical aspects.
- Savage Worlds, being a universal system, has Interface Zero as it's cyberpunk setting. Set in 2088, the game follows humans, both enhanced and not, bioroids, robots, and mutants.
- The Earth in The Splinter is a cyberpunk setting. The natives of The Splinter - taken by Players as their Avatars - donít know itís an ultra-violent spectator sport for Earth. To them, The Splinter is the True Realm: an ever-expanding, ever-changing mega-dungeon labyrinth. The inhabitants of the Splinter are as strange as their environment: powerful shapeshifters gifted with the power to alter reality through will alone.
- Baldr Sky is set in a futuristic cyberpunk world jumping between two storylines, a present one and a past through the main characters memories. Things such as the internet have becomes pretty much as normal as breathing for many people, especially those called "Second gens", people with neurojacks allowing them to connect to the web through their minds. Additionally, the conflict between Pro-AI (People in favor of cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence's and similar technologies) and Anti-AI people (People in favor of the natural body as well as genetic engineering) is a central and recurring theme throught the narrative.
- Snatcher, by Hideo Kojima. Everything, down to the main character's design, screams "I wanna be Blade Runner." It even has the Gibson Shout-Out used by Centurions, in the form of a second Deckard-a-like who even sort of looks like Harrison Ford. Too bad this one dies a rather painful death early on, setting the game's events in motion. The game also borrows cyberpunk themes from AKIRA.
- Synergia is a Yuri romance based around a burned out police detective receiving a female android companion that she slowly falls in love with.
- VA-11 HALL-A is a retro-style, cyberpunk-themed Slice of Life story about a bartender just trying to make her way through life and the colorful characters who find their way into her dingy establishment from day to day.
- NYC 2123 is definitely cyberpunk, black and white and red all over. In 2054 a massive tsunami devastates Manhattan. The islandís bridges and tunnels are destroyed. Two years of riots follow. Outlaw barge cities form in the waters around Manhattan, trafficking in body modifications and open source drugs. In 2065 the construction of a 20-meter-high barrier encircling what is left of Manhattan is completed and martial law is declared.
- Aqua Regia: About Daniel and his work as a mercenary, it features a decadent Argentina and South America in 2054, full of crime and being controlled by the military instead of a Mega-Corp, but still fits because they're using their military prowess to move their economy.
- Blood Is Mine is set in a world with robots, cybernetic enhancements, lab-grown genetically modified people, and bioprinters that can create limbs and organs. It also has megacorporations that control everything, including media and law enforcement, the protagonist's home city is segregated into different tiers where poor people from low tiers live in horrible conditions, and mutants and "lab meat" are heavily discriminated against.
- Buying Time (NSFW) is set in a retro-cyberpunk universe where a Mega-Corp has monopolized all social interaction, charging micropayments for any interpersonal contact longer or more intimate than a brief greeting.
- Drugs and Wires is actually set in an alternate version of 1995 where people sport advanced cyberware but still use floppy disks. The comic both uses and satirizes various well-worn cyberpunk tropes and isn't above poking fun at its similarities to Neuromancer.
- The Concrete World (NSFW) contains many cyberpunk staples, including VR as the next frontier for drug addiction.
- The Lightstream Chronicles is a self-described "cyberpunk crime thriller" set in a near-future One World Order.
- Metompsychosis Union depicts a world with highly advanced technology, where the one percent and mega-corperations all but own everyone else, and do engage in outright slave trade secretly.
- The Sunjackers: A My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic AU featuring a futuristic city controlled by megacorporations, and the band of hackers that oppose it.
- Avalon's Reign is a Web Serial Novel set in a world where corporations control almost everything and cybernetic augmentation is becoming common.
- Dimensional Prophecy of Zohar Redux Cybernetically enhanced mathematicians in cooperation with megacorps trying to repair an algorithm which is able to save humankind.
- Fenspace: The space station Genaros (an elongated Bernal sphere) was built with this aesthetic firmly in mind. Itís always dusk-dim inside it — the stationís windows were deliberately tinted to let in little light — and the interior is completely covered with neon, concrete (imported from Earth) and steel, with not a trace of green outside the stationís hydroponic food facilities. On top of everything else, there's sprinklers that simulate rain and holographic displays to make the sky look "like a television tuned to a dead channel". Thereís no practical reason it had to be this way, mind — it's built the way it is because that's how the station's 22,000 residents like it.
- Pokťmon Legends Neo: Ghetsis: Much of the action is centered around Neo-Kanto City, a sprawling region-sized metropolis populated by the descendants of refugees from a cataclysm that devastated the rest of the world. The Guardes of the city sport high-tech uniforms and keep order by patrolling the wastes outside Neo-Kanto's dome and responding to Pokémon-based incidents within.
- ∆on Flux is a Deconstruction of the genre, critiquing its manipulation of the audience's sympathies, the political/philosophical themes behind it, and the repetitive character archetypes within it. Set in an expressionist Bio Punk world, the series depicts battles between an anarchist cyberpunk (who's an Ax-Crazy Failure Hero and sociopathic terrorist) and a fascistic Evil Overlord / Corrupt Corporate Executive (who's an Anti-Villain trying to bring peace and order to the world). The two are in a bizarre Dating Catwoman situation, and the conflict between them may or may not be nothing more than a strange BDSM-esque sex game they occupy themselves with. Neither is particularly concerned with the Collateral Damage of their war, nor does either comes off as better than the other.
- Batman Beyond. Gotham City's evolution seems quite natural; still crowded, dirty, and corrupt, only now the cars can fly.
- Perhaps the first Western cartoon to use cyberpunk motifs was the Centurions episode "Zone Dancer". The plot took elements from Blade Runner and Neuromancer, the dialogue actually used the word "cyberpunk," and as an additional Shout-Out, one of the guest star characters was a computer hacker named Gibson.
- Invader Zim is more or less a cynical dystopia set 20 Minutes into the Future.
- Phantom 2040. This futuristic series—based on The Phantom, a Super Hero from The '30s—was a surprisingly thoughtful take on the genre. It is the year 2040, all environmental disasters and the economic Resource Wars from the early 21st century have decimated the fragile ecosystem balance of an Earth once teeming with life. Everywhere, the privileged and wealthy continue to thrive in expensive real estate developments that tower above the suffering masses. The victims of Earth's misfortune have been forced to subsist on scavenged refuse from the past on the mangled streets of forlorn city-states.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): Planet Mobius has seen sudden and extreme technological advancement in the last two decades, so much so that the population's entire way of life has irrevocably changed: replicators, portable computers, Artificial Intelligence, cybernetics, holographic interface technology, the deployment of fully automated warfare and directed energy weapons have all become commonplace.
- During the Mobian Great War, a man named Doctor Julian Robotnik proposed to the King of Mobotropolis that he could win the war by personally leading an army entirely comprised of SWATbots: robotic super soldiers of his own design. This landed him the job of being head of the King's War Ministry. After winning the war in the King's favor, Robotnik used that same army to overthrow the King in a Military Coup - that's when he unveiled the worst of his machines: the roboticizer - a device that transforms a person into a robot, removing the victim's free will and forcing them to serve him. Robotnik immediately started conquering the rest of the planet, with the goal of roboticizing absolutely everything and everyone. The result of this has been years of world-spanning, one-sided conflict, causing extensive damage to all civilization and most of the environment. The series begins ten years after Robotnik won: The native populations have all either been captured or forced into hiding, leaving behind nothing except empty, decaying cites where proud cultures used to stand. Nothing opposes him now but small groups of freedom fighters attacking from hidden bases, conducting guerrilla raids to overthrow the corrupt government... and they don't have it easy: the entire planet is against them.
- Spicy City: An anthology series targeted towards adults which features stories with sexy female protagonists in a cyberpunk setting that contains the standard elements of dystopia, neo-noir, crime, and futuristic technology.
- South Park: Post Covid goes into this trope. It takes place 40 years after the main show, where advanced technology dominates every aspect of life, crime run rampant due to lack of law enforcement, China has become the world superpower, people are forced to eat bugs in lieu of meat and COVID is still running rampant throughout. It gets even worse in the sequel, The Return Of Covid, where the US military has barricaded all of South Park and forcing people there to quarantine for 30-40 years just because one single person isn't vaccinated, while Alexas are revealed to be Killer Robots who will attack anyone who doesn't accept their deals.
- TRON: Uprising Beck is a young program who becomes the leader of a revolution inside the computer world of the Grid against the villainous Clu and his henchmen. A mechanic, he is trained by Tron, the greatest warrior the Grid has ever known. Tron not only trains Beck in the fighting and light cycle skills to challenge the brutal military occupation of the city of Argon, but also guides and mentors him to grow beyond his youthful, impulsive nature into a courageous and powerful leader. Beck adopts Tron's persona and becomes the enemy of General Tesler and his oppressive forces.
- A web-ported version of the seminal Cyberpunk HyperCard work from the early 1990s is Beyond Cyberpunk!
- The United Federation of Charles discusses the genre and its trappings here.