The cyberpunk genre has been around for quite some time, and notably, its conception was massively influenced by the technological advancements of Japan. Indeed, though the theme has emerged as one of the most popular facets of storytelling, it is quite safe to state that Japan, just by being the way it is, essentially gave birth to the cyberpunk genre.
Of course, being inspired by Japan, cyberpunk is, in a lot of ways exhibited prominently in anime and manga. Thus, cyberpunk-themed anime have become among anime’s greatest works. This time, we shall focus on the Top 10 Cyberpunk Anime that has emerged through the years.
Let’s get onto the list!
10. Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
- Episodes: 2
- Aired: June 1993 - August 1993
Adapted from the first two volumes of Kishiro Yukito’s 1990 manga, Gunnm, better known as Battle Angel Alita, is one of those perfect examples of an anime that was able to tell a coherent and great story despite having a limited budget. Indeed, despite only running two episodes, Gunnm is largely considered as one of the best examples of cyberpunk anime.
Part of the reason is the fact that its plot follows that of the manga fairly closely; thus, fully exploring and utilizing one of the manga’s strongest suits - its characters, especially Gally and Yugo, two souls destined to struggle only to meet a tragic fate. Indeed, in the cyberpunk genre, there are very few anime that can compare to the raw emotion and pathos that Gunnm was able to induce from its viewers.
9. Bubblegum Crisis
- Episodes: 8
- Aired: February 1987 - January 1991
Bubblegum Crisis is commonly fondly referred to as the anime which ushered in the cyberpunk genre to mainstream audiences. Considering that the anime does feature an advanced, futuristic world and four attractive women in power suits, such assumptions are indeed pretty well-placed. Then again, there is more to Bubblegum Crisis that meets the eye.
Perhaps it is the fact that it was made in the 80’s and it contains so much references to the time that it is hard not to just love it for the fact. Perhaps it is one of the most feminist anime created during a time. Perhaps it simply struck the right cord, effectively trailblazing a genre that would end up as one of anime’s strongest suits.
8. Armitage III
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: February 1995 - November 1995
1995 saw the release of two great cyberpunk anime, one being Ghost in the Shell and the other being Armitage III. Unfortunately for the latter, the hype and critical acclaim of the former eclipsed its popularity significantly during its release. Despite this, however, Armitage III remains one of the best examples of cyberpunk anime out there, with a story that is engaging and a theme that is quite deep.
The plot centers on a world where humans and androids live together on Mars due to severe overpopulation on Earth. After a third-generation android is murdered, Detective Ross Sylibus and his android partner, the beautiful and headstrong female cop, Naomi Armitage are forced into a conspiracy that might very well end both their lives.
7. Appleseed Ex Machina
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: October 2007
This relatively new installment in the long-running Appleseed franchise is one of the most visually captivating anime movies possibly ever made. Featuring the franchise’s iconic characters, awesome female warrior Deunan and Briareos, her veteran-cyborg partner cyborg and lover, Appleseed Ex Machina has remained memorable to both new and old fans of the Appleseed series alike.
Part of this is the fact that the film masterfully uses CGI to its advantage. Unlike other CGI-anime mixes that usually end up in the uncanny valley, the movie actually makes 3D digital renders work with its story and style. As long-running as the Appleseed franchise is, this is probably one of the best times that the technology used in creating the anime actually does the theme of the work justice. Oh, notable action director John Woo is the executive producer too.
6. Serial Experiments Lain
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 1998 - September 1998
One of the most notable entries into anime’s cyberpunk genre came late in the 90s, in the form of Serial Experiments Lain, an avant-garde psychological thriller which delves into the psychology of man and the Internet, with its 14-year-old protagonist discovering numerous facets of herself as she goes deeper and deeper into the online world.
The anime is written by Chiaki J. Konaka, a noted cyberpunk author who has a very strong background into the psychological frameworks of people. If there’s anything that really makes Serial Experiments Lain unique, it is the fact that the story is multi-faceted and deep. In fact, the story is so deep that it has been subject to commentary among literary and academic groups such as the American Philosophical Society.
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2012 - March 2013
Psycho-Pass is one of anime’s most recent offerings in the cyberpunk genre. Just like the other entries in this list, however, it is a title that does not fail to deliver. The plot of the anime involves a world where it is possible to effectively quantify a person’s state of mind and tendency to commit crimes. The focus of the story is in a group of policemen who are tasked with maintaining public order in a world where a person’s “psycho-pass” determines his or her fate.
What makes Psycho-Pass such an admirable piece of work is the fact that its background, as well as its details, are meticulously done. Indeed, through the course of the series, themes from philosophical works and classic literature are referred to. One must be warned when watching this anime, though, since it is famous for being not for the weak-hearted.
4. Ergo Proxy
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: February 2006 - August 2006
Ergo Proxy is arguably one of the most intellectually and emotionally intense cyberpunk anime that has been made in recent years. What makes this anime very notable is the fact that its plot is just so intricate, featuring well-rounded characters and exploring numerous themes such as man’s ultimate choice and whether or not life should be led in a predestined manner.
The anime is admirable in the sense that it does not try to sound and look intelligent. It simply is. Indeed, however, the anime is not for everyone, as the intricacies of the plot itself, as well as the philosophical and psychoanalytical undertones of the story, takes a lot of commitment from its viewers. Fans who put in the effort to understand the anime, however, were rewarded with one of the best stories to come out of the cyberpunk genre.
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: May 2001
What do you get when you combine elements of a 1927 sci-fi classic film and one of the most notable written works of a man called the God of Manga? 2001’s Metropolis is just that, integrating aspects of its plot with that of the 1927 German silent film of the same name and elements from Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis manga in 1949.
What eventually came out was one of the most beautifully-rendered, existentialist anime films ever made. Thought-provoking and heartfelt, Metropolis earned accolades both in Japan and internationally. It was so successful that it became one of the first anime films to ever be nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars. It also earned a perfect 4/4 rating from acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert, who called it “one of the best animated films I have ever seen.”
2. Ghost in the Shell
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: November 1995
Widely considered to be one of the best anime films to ever be made, Ghost in the Shell is one entry in the cyberpunk genre that is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing serious, thought-provoking anime to mainstream Western audiences. Focusing on the exploits of the iconic Major Motoko Kusanagi, it is a title that has served as inspiration for filmmakers such as The Wachowskis, director of the Matrix Trilogy.
Intense, intelligent, philosophical and psychological, this cyberpunk thriller holds one of the most respected places in all of anime. It is also a title that, for all intents and purposes, immortalized the name of Mamoru Oshii as one of the most notable anime directors that are still active today. It is also both a commercial and critical success, with the film being named as, according to the consensus in film critic site Rotten Tomatoes, "a stunning feat of modern animation, Ghost in the Shell offers a thoughtful, complex treat for anime fans, as well as a perfect introduction for viewers new to the genre."
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: July 1988
If there is one anime that effectively defined cyberpunk anime, it would be Akira. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian Tokyo, the film mainly focuses on teenage biker Tetsuo Shima and the psychic powers he was found to have. The film is notable for being such a massive project, it required a collaboration of numerous production companies to raise the film mammoth budget of 1 billion yen. Such as unheard of during the time, yet when the film was released, every bit of the budget indeed became well spent.
Gritty, violent and even jarring to a point, Akira is widely considered as a landmark in animation itself. In fact, film critics have pointed out that the film, especially since it was made at a time when CGI was not utilized for films yet, is one of the examples of just how much an animated film is capable of doing. Eventually, the film earned a cult following, as its legion of fans has continually admired the sheer work that came into bringing such an epic story into a film of equally epic proportions.
Just like Ghost in the Shell, the film holds a pretty good rating in Rotten Tomatoes as well, with the site’s critics’ general consensus stating that "Akira is distractingly bloody and violent, but its phenomenal animation and sheer kinetic energy helped set the standard for modern anime."
Cyberpunk anime is indeed one of the best, yet most challenging genres out there, usually featuring memorable characters and plots that are intricate and uncompromising. Just like the stories they tell, anime of this genre requires a certain level of commitment from the viewer to be fully enjoyed and thus, are best approached with an open, alert mind.