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Skyscraper City

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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.



Anime & Manga:

  • Sternbild from Tiger & Bunny is so tall that has been divided into levels.
  • The Field Spell Card "Skyscaper" in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX builds a city made entirely of skyscapers 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.


  • Gotham City from Batman. Even more so in The Dark Knight Trilogy and taken Up to Eleven in the posters.
  • Mega City One in the Judge Dredd comics. An establishing shot in an early issue showed the Empire State Building, now an abandoned historical relic, dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it.
  • Asgard is depicted this way in The Mighty Thor, and in any Marvel comic taking place there.


  • Blade Runner appears to be set in that version of Los Angeles.
  • Manhattan in The Fifth Element is so high that we see its ground only once, when Korben flees from the Police. Other than that, the endless rows of flying cars make it look like a bottomless city.
  • Meanwhile City in Franklyn.
  • 1927's Metropolis may be the Trope Codifier for visual fiction at least. (Seen here and here.)
  • Coruscant from Star Wars takes this to a whole new level. 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.


  • Isaac Asimov's Trantor. (Seen here; the tall objects are retractable cooling towers above the main buildings of the city.)
    • Ironically, most of the citizens of Trantor as also afraid of heights, as they never encounter enough open space to be able to judge how high up they truly are. When they actually encounter a window into the void, they can get a bit weak kneed.
    • Actually, in later works (such as Prelude to Foundation), Asimov retcons the idea that Trantor is a Skyscraper Ecumenopolis. This is true of central business district-type areas, but most of Trantor is supposed to be suburban. (Asimov presumably did this to reconcile the fact that Trantor was an Earth-sized planet with "only" 40 billion people or so, while a planet covered entirely in Hong Kong-like urbanization would have a much larger population.)
      • It also appears to be mostly covered by opaque domes of various sizes.
  • The eponymous city from John Twelve Hawks' novel The Golden City is actually just three gigantic, terraced towers.
  • In Robert Silverberg's 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.
  • In Updraft, there's 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.

Live-Action TV:

  • In Stargate Atlantis, this is the overall look of Atlantis (which isn't just a city but a starship).

Tabletop Games:

  • Sharn from the Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons 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.
      • Much like Coruscant above, Warhammer 40K cities are 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 it. 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:

  • 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:
  • Isla del Sol in the late chapters of Bayonetta is hundreds of huge towers with a gigantic tower in the middle. When you get on top of that tower, Scenery Porn ensues.
  • Aeropolis in F-Zero GX.
  • The Dark City of Kingdom Hearts II definitely counts.
  • Taris from KOTOR.
    • Until Darth Malak orders his fleet to level the entire planet.
    • Also Nar Shaddaa, AKA the Vertical City, in Jedi Outcast.
  • In 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 opening level of Ninja Gaiden II, aptly named "Sky City Tokyo" is exactly this. Your destination in 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.
  • You can build a city like this in SimCity if you so choose.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog series 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.
    • Stardust Speedway in Sonic CD 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.
    • The district of Station Square near Speed Highway in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Generations contains solely of buildings hundreds of stories tall and has no visible ground.
    • Grand Metropolis, Casino Park, and BINGO Highway in Sonic Heroes 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.
    • Future City in the Sonic Riders subseries 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.
  • Hengsha in Deus Ex: Human Revolution 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.
  • The city of Anor Londo in Dark Souls 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.
  • Rapture in the BioShock series 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.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo especially visible in the chase scene and finally levels that there are hardly any short buildings in the city.
  • Harbor Prime in Dex has a population of 13.8 million people and its architecture is consequently dominated by skyscrapers and other tall buildings.
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 has the premiere field of Episode 4's planet Earth: Tokyo.
  • Rhythm Route in Kirby: Planet Robobot is a musical metropolis.
  • Thrill City in Forza Horizon 3's "Hot Wheels Expansion". While the ground is perfectly accessible, much of the racing is done on tracks high in the air.
  • Super Mario Odyssey has New Donk City, capital of the Metro Kingdom, that is heavily based on 1930s New York City. The city itself appears to be on top of an even larger skyscraper.
  • The Kingdom Hearts series has Quadtratum, a world on the other side of reality (fiction, if you will).

Visual Novel:

Web Comics:

  • Homestuck: Dave lives in one of these. Here's a link (end of the flash)
    • Dave canonically lives in Houston TX, 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 perhaps not quite as many as suggested by the flash.
  • Southland in Familiar Territory.

Western Animation:

  • In 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 which is used to build these structures.
  • The Jetsons. You never see the ground throughout the whole series. The exception is in "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.
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack frequently finds himself in cities like these. 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.
  • In 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.

Real Life:

  • New York City, especially Manhattan, has had this as its reputation since the 1930s.
    • Lampshaded by Jimmy Fallon in one of his "Thank you" notes.
      "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!"
  • 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.
    • Hong Kong and Singapore are especially noteworthy. As Lands of One City their possibilities of expanding horizontally are restricted by the limited amount of suitable land available. Hong Kong particularly, 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Paris averts and at the same time applies this trope. When the Montparnasse Tower was completed in 1973, it was immediately considered by locals as such an ugly and disgusting eye sore, 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 du 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 less 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 90es, skyscrapers became economically viable, and even then they are often criticized as built more for prestige than out of genuine necessity.
    • Another Notable Aversion is Washington D.C. which had a height restriction on buildings that make 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 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 Capital Building in the West to the Lincoln Memorial in the East, 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.
    • San Antonio Texas is another 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.
  • The skylines of developing countries are quickly growing with more tall buildings added each year, including Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Wuhan, Southeast Asian ones such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and South American cities such as Sao Paulo.


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