The cyberpunk genre is known to be very well received outside of Japan, perhaps because it was originally a Western literary movement, or perhaps because its philosophical approaches and uncertainty around technology, transhumanism and identity never cease to amaze and interest the world over.
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that this genre has an amazing body of work, a good number of beloved shows and movies, by fans and critics alike. For that alone it is worth it summary of some of the bestjust in case anyone wants to get started cyberpunk anime or have accidentally missed some of these masterpieces.
10/10 Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
At the bottom, but with a lot of merit, is the last show on the list. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a show based on a video game that is clearly influenced by Japanese cyberpunk, and as expected, it was a fantastic ride for both fans of Cyberpunk 2077 and anime fans who didn’t play the game before.
It may not have as much depth as others on this list, but for only 10 episodes Edgerunners was created to build a captivating story and two characters who are absolutely lovable in David Martinez and Lucy. In addition to the amazing animation work of Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill) and the consequences of tampering with people’s bodies, the result is pretty much a great cyberpunk anime, definitely worth watching. Available on Netflix.
9/10 Ergo Proxy
The next in line is Ergo Proxya much darker and more exciting show than Edgerunners. The series is set in a dystopian future where after and ecological disaster the only way to live is inside dome cities, one of which is Romdeau, where everything takes place. There, humans coexist peacefully with AutoReivs, androids built for various tasks and which are divided between human appearance and robotic appearance. The story follows detective Re-l Mayer, who is assigned to investigate a series of murders committed by AutoReivs, something unprecedented.
Soon enough, more things begin to unravel, the Cogito virus, the Proxy Project, and the behind-the-scenes politics that take the city to ruin, all from the point of view of the Regent’s (major political figure) grandson. Deep philosophical themes surround the action at every step, even with the small cameos like naming characters after Derrida, Lacan and Husserl, Ergo Proxy is an intellectually challenging show that has tremendous value just with his approach, but also succeeds in making it exciting. The only downside of this program is that it has not been published in many places, so access to it can get in the way in a number of countries around the world.
8/10 Akudama Drive
Another show that came out not too long ago, but managed to convince the audience. Akudama Drive excelled at changing the tone with plot twists that were wonderfully executed for a show that was only 12 episodes long. It is set in a futuristic Japan that has been torn apart by a brutal civil war that even left a large nuclear wasteland. Inside the authoritarian regime of Kansai, the most dangerous criminals are known as “Akudama”. A group of them came together for a mysterious job offered by an anonymous contractor that involves freeing a death row prisoner.
However, the job will be much more than that. Akudama Drive clearly reflects the influence of 80s and 90s Hollywood, mainly from films such as Reservoir dogs and Blade Runner.The world building and the use of cyberpunk themes as a cultural critique of a police state make it a fresh and satisfying work, even if the characters lack some depth. Available to watch on Hulu and Funimation in the US.
7/10 Serial experiments are located
Serial experiments are located is a cult classic that brought a unique approach and truly exceptional character development to the cyberpunk genre. It exposes the identity crisis in the digital era like no other and portrays a disorienting atmosphere with truly ground-breaking scenes and images. The story focuses on Lain Iwakura, a 14-year-old high school student who feels “disconnected” from her social environment.
The main point is her relationship with The Wired, a virtual realm that contains all forms of human communication. In its 13 episodes Lain unfolds a dense and thorough commentary on our relationship with technology and digital networks, while telling the story of what this cybernetic world does to a shy student who is at a key point in her life to construct her identity. Available to watch on Funimation.
This absolute masterpiece by Satoshi Kon is the first film to appear on this list. Paprika tells the story of Atsuki Chiba, a psychiatrist who, together with a group of investigators at a large corporation, has developed a device, called the DC Mini, that allows them to consciously navigate through dreams to help detect and treat psychological trauma. Dr. Chiba, while helping Detective Toshimi Konakawa as her alter-ego in the dream world, Paprika, realizes that someone has tampered with the DC Mini and caused events in the real world.
Once again, issues of identity are one of the central themes, while using a setting in a much more near future which gives the film a more relatable nature despite the fictional components. Added to the usual fantastic work with the footage and scenes by Satoshi Kon, this puts the movie in a very good position that could perfectly be above some of the next shows and movies.
5/10 Neon Genesis Evangelion
There have always been discussions about whether or not Neon Genesis Evangelion is cyberpunk, or even if it should be considered mecha, that only speaks to the complexity and depth. What is clear is that Hideaki Anno reinvented the concept of mecha, giving it a story with cyberpunk themes that served as inspiration for other shows, such as the highly acclaimed Code Geass. The futuristic city of Tokyo-3, located in a post-apocalyptic world, must defend itself against attacks from powerful beings known as angels.
The only way for humanity to protect itself is through the use of EVAs, what appear to be giant weaponized robots, in the hands of a select few children. One of them is Shinji Ikari, forced by his father Gendo Ikari to pilot Unit-01. What starts as a simple battle with robots quickly turns into a psychological thriller full of philosophical conjectures that go as far as the idea of cyclical time. Either the original series, or the movies included The end of Evangelion and the reboot is a must-see for anyone interested in the cyberpunk genre.
4/10 Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that hardly needs any introduction. A futuristic space-western with both cyberpunk and neo-noir elements that follows Spike and Jet, a pair of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop, who travel around the solar system in search of a criminal or two to make ends meet.
As the story progresses, more is revealed about the characters past, while adding two more members to the crowd, Faye Valentine and Edward. These four lost souls accompanied by one of the best soundtracks ever made will capture the viewer’s heart, only to break it with one of the best endings in anime history. Available on Netflix, Hulu and Funimation.
No one went as far as Psycho-Pass to use the cyberpunk genre to explore philosophical uncertainties. Starting with their detailed setting that reflects an authoritarian society governed by a system that automatically calculates a person’s crime coefficient, namely their probability of committing a crime, and if it goes above the set maximum, they can be arrested or even executed. It also records their personality traits and their mental health, all of which creates Psycho-Pass, the form of identification in this futuristic world.
Through the eyes of Akane Tsunemori, an inspector of the police force who monitors the population crime rate, they show the holes and contradictions of this supposedly utopian society, which makes it even more interesting given that she is a character with strong utilitarian values. Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
2/10 Ghost in the shell
All that remains to be mentioned are the classics, the films that set an example for the development of this genre and which have been the subject of thousands of analyzes and academic articles. In that category, there is only enough room for two, and one of them is Ghost in the shell. Both Masamune Shiro’s manga and Mamoru Oshii’s film adaptation shaped the whole idea of cyberpunk, not only in Japan, but in every other production.
Set in the year 2029, technology has advanced to the point where almost any part of the body can be switched to a cybernetic component while maintaining consciousness referred to as “ghosting”. The story follows Major Motoko Kusanagi on her journey to discover not only herself, but the essence of humanity, the concept of identity and existence.
The Akira manga gave birth to cyberpunk in the manga/anime industry with its release in 1982. The anime adaptation, which differs in some respects from the manga (it was unfinished at the time the film was made), is rated with Blade Runner the icon and reference for cyberpunk cinema and served to put anime on the map internationally, which continued with Ghost in the Shell a few years later. The story of Katsuhiro Otomo is centered in Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after the destruction of World War III.
Two members of the biker gang, Tetsuo and Kaneda, stumble upon a secret government project intended to create weapons of mass destruction out of biologically engineered children. The themes, design, world-building, and animation presented in Akira remain a major cinematic influence.
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