Follow TV Tropes


Skyscraper City

Go To
Excuse me sir, do you know where I could find the ground?

"New York is vertical — all skyscrapers."

In a fictional and futuristic world, there is a certain way to show a city's prosperity and ambition: build it high. The city will contain almost or even literally nothing but buildings that dwarf the Burj Khalifa. The issue of these towers' financial cost, environmental impact or mere usefulness will never be brought up. Nor will be the question of how many people the city must have to need such huge buildings. There are freaking big towers everywhere, that means you are in an absurdly rich city, that's all you need to know.

If the issue of population is brought up, it will usually be in a dystopian setting where overpopulation plagues the planet or at least big cities, with the juxtaposition between the lower areas of town and the rich in their towers serving as a contrast between rich and poor.


A Skyscraper City may also be designed to give the viewers a "dreamy" feel by having the inhabitants evolving near or above the clouds. Or simply to give them a feeling of gigantism that disrupts their sense of proportions.

Common in Cyberpunk settings, and a Sub-Trope of Mega City. Compare City Planet, Star Scraper, Crystal Spires and Togas, and Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. Layered Metropolis is a subtrope. Not to be confused with a Hive City, which is a city comprised of only one building.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Emphasized in Ghost in the Shell, albeit with many skyscrapers looking somewhat dilapidated and unpleasant to live in. One famous scene focuses on showing the claustrophobic view of the skyscrapers from street level (including many skyscrapers under construction and covered with unsightly girders) while other scenes show it from above (the ground seemingly covered with brightly-lit roads and highways). Uniquely, many of these tall structures look quite bulky and mass-produced rather than slim and sleek architectural masterpieces, possibly alluding to the budding industry of mass-produced artificial people. Nevertheless, the city (presumably Tokyo, as per the Manga, or possibly Hong Kong) is shown to have some under-developed areas (e.g. the open-air marketplace) which would seem very familiar to anyone born/living in an East Asian city during the last century.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: The Field Spell Card "Skyscraper" builds a city made entirely of skyscrapers in the field. In a second season episode, Judai's friend Hayato (who's now a card designer for I2) gives him a new Field Spell called "Skyscraper 2 Hero City," which builds a far bigger, futuristic city of skyscrapers. Also, Edo Phoenix has an equivalent for Destiny Heroes called Dark City.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: Mega City One. An establishing shot in an early issue shows the Empire State Building, now an abandoned historical relic, dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Fifth Element: Manhattan's buildings are so high that its ground is seen only once when Korben flees from the Police. Other than that, the endless rows of flying cars make it look like a bottomless city.
  • Metropolis may be the Trope Codifier for visual fiction. The city in which the film takes place consists of pretty much nothing but skyscrapers and elevated freeways on the surface, dominated by the gargantuan Tower of Babel. The Underground City where the workers live on the other hand, consists of nothing but shabby mid-rise apartments.
  • Star Wars: Coruscant takes this to extreme levels. The entire planet is encrusted with giant skyscrapers... built on top of older skyscrapers... built on top of even older skyscrapers. Oh, and a few of the skyscrapers are actually the giant construction droids that build more skyscrapers. Most visits to the planet remain comfortably in the highest floors at the tip of the skyscrapers, or only dip down a ways to areas where the sunlight starts to be occluded but which are still far, far above the ground.

  • In the Bounders series, the Youli live in crystal towers miles above the surface of their homeworld. Instead of using elevators or walkways, they get from room to room by bounding. The surface of their planet was rendered uninhabitable during the war a millennium ago. It will be another millennium before they can live outside their skyscrapers again.
  • The Fourth Realm: The eponymous city from The Golden City is actually just three gigantic, terraced towers.
  • Honor Harrington: The combination of super-durable construction materials and counter-gravity tech means most cities built by advanced cultures are built this way. It's noted in Cauldron of Ghosts that residential towers intended for "seccies" (second-class citizens) are limited to a mere 300 stories tall so they'll always see the full-citizen towers looming over them.
  • Updraft has a fantasy version; the city consists of a cluster of living towers made of bone, high above the clouds (and slowly rising as the towers "grow"). Some are connected with bridges, but the fastest way to travel is by strapping on wings. People don't go down to the ground at all, and barely even acknowledge that there might be a ground.
  • The World Inside: Much of the world is covered in vertical cities called Urban Monads, where people are born, live, and die without ever having to leave.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eberron: Sharn is one of the few fantasy (well, Dungeon Punk) versions. It's built on an area where flight magic is enhanced so the architects incorporated levitation spells into the structural supports. It's even a Layered Metropolis.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Hive Cities are more accurately described as a kilometers-tall skyscraper the size of a city. They're said to be built in layers, with new levels being built on top of older ones, with the oldest even becoming buried by the weight of the buildings being added to the whole. In the hive cities these buried layers are generally where the outcasts live; mutants, psykers, heretics, xenos, and possibly even genestealer cults.
    • Commorragh, the home of Dark Eldar, is an impossibly large city composed largely of enormous scyscrapers, many of which are tall enough to serve as docking spars for starships.

    Video Games 
  • Bayonetta: Isla del Sol in the late chapters is hundreds of huge towers with a gigantic tower in the middle. When you get on top of that tower, Scenery Porn ensues.
  • BioShock: Rapture is like this (at least from the outside; none of the actual levels look like they could be the actual inside of a skyscraper; either there are too many windows or too few floors or both). It sort of makes sense since it was mostly a planned city in which "ground level" is the rocky ocean floor, useless for building roads on. It's a little trickier to explain how people did get from one building to the next; supposedly they used radio-guided bathyspheres, and a railway system before that, but no rails are ever seen from the outside and each metro station contains docking room for only one tiny sphere.
  • Dark Souls: The city of Anor Londo has several occasions in which you must cross over deep chasms in between buildings. The whole level takes place on the city's rooftops with the ground nowhere in sight.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Hengsha is on the way to becoming this. It's a giant two-tiered city split into Upper and Lower Hengsha. However, despite expectations, Lower Hengsha is not all-slums. It's where people tend to live and go out, while Upper Hengsha is where big businesses are located.
  • Dex: Harbor Prime has a population of 13.8 million people and its architecture is consequently dominated by skyscrapers and other tall buildings.
  • Forza: Thrill City in Horizon 3's "Hot Wheels Expansion". While the ground is perfectly accessible, much of the racing is done on tracks high in the air.
  • Ghostrunner has Darma tower, city size skyscraper and last refuge of humanity.
  • Kingdom Hearts has at least four of these:
    • The World That Never Was, an artificial world created by Xemnas from where he can slowly nurture his own Kingdom Hearts. While the Organization is nested in their floating castle, the rest of the world is littered in dark, hollow buildings and skyscrapers. The world's most iconic location is even called "Memory's Skyscraper."
    • San Fransokyo, which is... basically just a combination of Tokyo and San Francisco. As expected, lots and lots of skyscrapers to be found here.
    • Scala ad Caelum, while not technically covered in skyscrapers, has endless mountain towns that build upon each other like legos, ultimately becoming quite huge, earning its name of "Stairway to Heaven."
    • Quadratum, a city that is almost an exact replica of Shibuya, if not for the fact that its a world on the other side of reality (fiction, if you will).
  • Mass Effect 2: Most cities on the asari colony world of Illium are built close to the poles to escape the heat nearer to the equator. Higher levels of the cities are reserved for residential and commercial property and lower levels are used for industrial greenhouses and factories.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo especially visible in the chase scene and finally levels that there are hardly any short buildings in the city.
  • Ninja Gaiden II (2008): The opening level, Sky City Tokyo, is exactly this. Your destination on the level is one of two twin towers... both built on top of an even bigger tower. Itself built several hundred meters above the ground. In the Updated Re-release Sigma II, you fight a Buddha statue the size of the Statue of Liberty (which you also fight afterwards) at the end of the level: it looks puny compared to the building it climbs.
  • Ratchet & Clank takes this and pretty much makes it its own Videogame Setting! Nearly every game in the series has one, and amazingly they all manage to feel different from each other, even the ones that appear in multiple games. In all examples, the ground is never seen and is treated as a Bottomless Pit. Said levels include: Metropolis from Ratchet & Clank, Up Your Arsenal, Tools of Destruction, Full Frontal Assault via DLC and the 2016 game/movie as Aleero City. It's easily the most well-known and iconic example in the series, and not just through repetition.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog is absolutely full of these, beginning with Star Light Zone in the original game. As far as this trope goes, this series is notable for not needing to look futuristic, with plenty of examples using architecture from the past. Apparently, in the Sonic universe, even ancient people knew how to make extremely tall, sprawling cities.
    • Sonic the Hedgehog CD': Stardust Speedway is a bottomless city in all time periods Sonic is present in, even when it resembled Ancient Grome. The exception is the absolute bottom-most parts of the Ancient Grome time period, where water can be seen at ground level. All of these traits were kept for Sonic Mania''.
    • Sonic Adventure and Sonic Generations: The district of Station Square near Speed Highway contains solely of buildings hundreds of stories tall and has no visible ground.
    • Sonic Advance Series: Ice Paradise Zone in Sonic Advance 2 combines this setting with Slippy-Slidey Ice World; it appears to be set in such a metropolis during a snowy winter. Sonic Advance 3 opens with Route 99 Zone, which is the setting applied to a city with architecture resembling that of the mid-20th century United States.
    • Sonic Heroes: Grand Metropolis, Casino Park, and BINGO Highway are set ridiculously far up. Oddly, Power Plant and Grand Metropolis always has a visible floor not far below. Hang Castle manages to give this feel to a Transylvanian castle. As Cryptic Castle in Shadow the Hedgehog uses most of the same assets from Hang Castle, it gives off this feel too.
    • Sonic and the Secret Rings: Night Palace applies this feel to an Arabian palace, with its extremely tall and abundant spires, numerous ramparts, a large number of buildings and hallways visible from the outside, and no visible bottom.
    • Sonic Rush Series: Night Carnival applies this theme to a city whose appearance is somewhere between Las Vegas and New Orleans.
    • Sonic Riders: Future City has a ground floor far beneath but is generally not visible.
    • With the exception of the hub stage, Skyscraper Scamper in Sonic Unleashed is like this. A dense fog envelops the lower levels. Some areas of Savannah Citadel and Rooftop Run also have this appearance, despite the former resembling a Saharan mosque constructed of mud and wood and the latter resembling a centuries-old northern Italian town.
    • Sonic Forces has the appropriately named Metropolis location (which appears to be unrelated to Metropolis Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2), one of the few cases where the city actually has a futuristic appearance. In this case, it's a very clean, bright place with flying cars and a white-and-cyan theme.
  • Super Mario Odyssey has New Donk City, capital of the Metro Kingdom, resembles 1930s New York City but with a greater emphasis on tall skyscrapers, among which Mario ends up doing primarily vertical instead of horizontal platforming. At the tops of the buildings, the ground level becomes difficult to see due to distance fog largely obscuring it. The city itself appears to be on top of an even larger skyscraper.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 
  • Homestuck: Dave lives in a city seemingly consisting only of tall, spindly grey apartment buildings with no visible ground. He canonically lives in Houston, Texas, which really does have a lot of tall buildings (it has the third highest skyline in the US, after New York City and Chicago), though not quite as many as suggested by the comic.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman Beyond: Gotham has grown even more massive, to the point where it seems to be nothing but superstructures. Rooftop parks, vertical commuter trains, and elevated neighborhoods are common. The opening shows Gotham's old skyline, which is positively dwarfed by the new skyline behind it. One episode centers around a robot called the G.L.M. (Galvanic Lifter Machine, aka GOLEM) a fifty-foot tall monstrosity that is used to build these structures.
  • The Jetsons. You rarely see the ground throughout the whole series, with the only exception being the seventh episode, "The Flying Suit," where George flies down to the surface. It is bright, grassy, and populated by birds who took to the ground now that the humans are in the sky, though there is a hobo or two walking around as well. On the flip side, the theatrical film implies that most people live in the sky because the Earth had become dangerously polluted: the clouds below these elevated buildings are mostly smog.
  • Kong: King of the Apes: When Kong is being given a medal by the UN, New York is shown as almost entirely mile-high glass skyscrapers. As a Mythology Gag, when Kong is swinging through the buildings, his friends point out the relatively small Empire State Building, far below them.
  • Samurai Jack: Jack frequently finds himself in cities like this. It's most apparent in "Jack and the Hunters," when hunters chase Jack up the buildings to the rooftops. Aku seems to put his lairs only in these super-tall cities too, which may be why Jack seems to be in these megalopolises half the time he's wandering the planet.

    Real Life 
  • The most developed cities often end up having a rather high ratio of tall buildings to land area, although most would be puny in a typical sci-fi setting.
  • United States of America is perhaps the Trope Codifier of this trope in Real Life.
    • New York City (especially Manhattan) and Chicago are arguably the Trope Makers and have had this as their reputation since the 1930s.
      "Thank you...New York, for being the only city in America with enough tall buildings for Spider-Man to do his thing. Could you imagine if Peter Parker was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico? LAAAME!"
    • An Aversion is Washington, D.C. which had a height restriction on buildings that makes the Washington Monument the tallest building in the city. A popular myth is that the law specifically restricts any building from being taller than the monument, but this is not the case as the law grandfathered all buildings taller than the restricted height... the Washington Monument was the only structure that qualified at the time of the law's enactment. The fact that the most common buildings in D.C. Establishing Shots are all on the National Mall (a park running 1.9 miles from the Capitol Building in the East to the Lincoln Memorial in the West, with the Washington Monument in the center (in front of the White House). Additionally, the White House is notably one of the smallest State Residences in the entire world and doesn't have much in the way of room for long walking conversations as is common in many TV shows set in the building. There are plenty of skyscrapers in the edge cities that make up the D.C. metropolitan area, with Arlington, Virginia (right across the Potomac from DC proper) and Tyson's Corner, Virginia being two notable examples.
    • San Antonio, Texas is an interesting subversion because the ground is perfect for building skyscrapers, and the ones that are there are fairly impressive, but the city has mostly grown outward, rather than upward. The Frost Bank building is the first skyscraper to go up in thirty years. These are known as "sprawl cities" where there simply isn't that much of an incentive to stay confined.
    • Philadelphia provides an interesting Double Subversion: Its City Hall was the tallest pre-skyscraper building in the world (and remains the world's tallest masonry building), but after that actual skyscrapers in the city studiously remained shorter than City Hallnote  under a weird developers' gentlemen's agreement. The result was that for the better part of the 20th century, Philly's skyline was weirdly flat for an American city. However, after Liberty Place (deliberately built way taller than City Hall) was built in the 1980s, Philadelphia developers built taller and taller in Center City basically without limit. The result is that the skyline is dominated by postmodern and neomodern buildings built since 1985, even though Philly is one of the oldest big cities in the U.S.note 
    • Other examples of American Skyscraper cities include Las Vegas, Seattle, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Denver.
  • Ever since China's economy started to rise rapidly in the The New '10s, it has now become a second trope codifier. Examples of Chinese cities full of skyscrapers include Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Beijing, Nanjing, and countless others.
  • Rest of Asia:
    • Before there was China, there was (and still is) Japan. Of course, Tokyo is a quintessential example of a skyscraper city, lending its likeness to countless fictional skyscraper cities in various fictional works across Anime, Film, and others.
    • Hong Kong, due to its mountainous terrain, is considered the tallest city in the world, having more skyscrapers than New York, and the most in the world at 355.
    • Singapore is especially noteworthy. Its strategic location and tight land space means that much of the global trade passes through its ports, giving it tremendous amounts of money, leading to a skyscraper city.
    • Similar to Hong Kong in that it's a port city with a lot of mountains limiting horizontal expansion, Busan in South Korea also has a lot of skyscrapers, even more so than the capital Seoul which has more than twice as much population.
    • However Seoul is unparalleled in the amount of high-rise building it has, far outstripping Moscow, the city with the second most high-rises, by a whopping 20,000 buildings.
    • Really any city in the Asian Tigers. Don't forget Taipei and Macau.
    • Another notable region in Asia is the Gulf. Money gained from Oil and Natural Gas has given the countries of this region a massive boost in building infrastructure, leading to the building of impressive cities at breathtaking speeds. Examples include Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama, Kuwait, Riyadh, and Jeddah.
    • And now with increasingly rising economies in South and Southeast Asia, countries in these regions now also have examples of skyscraper cities. Notable examples include Kuala Lampur, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Mumbai.
  • Europe is notorious for being mostly an aversion of this trope, with only a few exceptions who play it straight:
    • A noteworthy aversion is London, which has a similar population to New York City note  but only has the same number of skyscrapers (defined as buildings over 150m in height) as relatively tiny Boston. This is because of an issue that fictional examples of this trope often gloss over: The suitability (or lack thereof) of the terrain to hold a building's weight. London is on marshy, low-lying ground that couldn't support a Manhattan-style skyscraper until architectural technology caught up, and the first true example wasn't started until the '90s. Politics also play a part in this, as each London borough has different height restrictions on how tall buildings can go (this is why Westminster is skyscraper allergic despite covering a large portion of Central London). But with more and more skyscrapers being built recently, London has become a straight example of this.
    • Paris Zig Zags trope. When the Montparnasse Tower was completed in 1973, it was immediately considered by locals as such an ugly and disgusting eyesore, that when the local politicians proposed a maximum height limit on the city's construction codes, the people's approval was nearly unanimous. However, this only applied to the department of Paris, not to the departments outside of the Beltway, skyscrapers are most definitely profitable, and there were lots of people willing to build lots of them; as a result, if you walk from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and then continue walking straight until you leave the department of Paris, as soon as you cross the Beltway you'll enter the Skyscraper District of La Défense.
    • Another notable aversion is Moscow, which is in the same bailiwick population-wise, but has even fewer skyscrapers than London, if for a different reason. Moscow sits on sturdy clays underlain by stable basalt plate, so geology was no object. The reason was simply economical: back in the Communist era, when all land belonged to state that enforced strict building and zoning regulations, there simply wasn't much incentive to build up aside from the occasional prestige project — free land was a commodity Russia never had a shortage of. Only in The New Russia, after the land market appeared in The '90s, skyscrapers became economically viable, and even then they are often criticized as built more for prestige than out of genuine necessity.
    • Other European cities with a sizable number of skyscrapers include Frankfurt, Milan, Warsaw and Istanbul.
  • As for the rest of the world, look out for São Paulo in Brazil, Panama City in... Panama, and Sydney, Melbourne, and Gold Coast in Australia.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: