Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on futuristic worlds where technology has advanced but society has become dystopian.
Some of the key themes in cyberpunk include high-tech advancing while human nature stays the same, mega-corporations with more power than governments, and the blending of humans and machines. These themes combine to create dark yet fascinating stories that explore humanity’s relationship with technology.
Anime is a medium that lends itself well to cyberpunk. The imaginative animation and visuals allow cyberpunk worlds to come to life in vivid detail. Some of the most acclaimed and influential works in anime have been cyberpunk classics.
If you’re interested in this genre, here is an overview of some of the best cyberpunk anime series and films.
10. Paprika (2006)
Paprika is an influential cyberpunk anime film directed by Satoshi Kon.
It revolves around a new psychotherapy technology called dream therapy that allows entering people’s dreams. When prototypes are stolen, a dream avatar named Paprika must find who’s responsible by exploring dreams herself. As dream and reality begin merging, Paprika confronts warped projections created by her clients’ psyches. With incredible fluid animation, Paprika uses its sci-fi premise to dive into surreal questions about identity and the human mind. Its stunning dream sequences cemented it as a visually groundbreaking cyberpunk anime.
Paprika stands out for its imaginative, introspective take on reality-bending ideas core to the genre.
9. Heavenly Delusion (2023)
A more recent cyberpunk anime worth mentioning is 2022’s Heavenly Delusion. This sci-fi thriller is set in a futuristic Tokyo isolated from the devastated outside world. Citizens spend their time in a virtual reality network called Babylon.
Protagonist Kirin is a detective recruited to investigate a serial killer who live streams their gruesome crimes in VR. The search for the killer forces Kirin to move between the virtual and real world, making him question his own fractured identity and past.
Backed by gorgeously detailed animation, Heavenly Delusion crafts a creepy cyberpunk future where VR offers escape at the cost of truth and humanity. Its genre-bending mix of sci-fi, psychological thriller, and philosophical themes makes Heavenly Delusion a modern cyberpunk anime not to miss.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
On the topic of influential anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion deserves mention for its apocalyptic storytelling. Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion first aired in 1995, right as cyberpunk anime was entering its peak.
In a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo, 14-year-old Shinji Ikari is recruited to pilot Evangelion, a giant humanoid bio-machine. He joins others in battling enigmatic invaders known as Angels who seek to destroy humanity.
Evangelion subverts expectations, deconstructing the popular mecha anime genre by focusing heavily on its characters’ internal psychology. Shinji and other pilots suffer severe mental strain from constant combat burdening humanity’s future.
Evangelion meticulously crafts a futuristic setting that feels worn down after an apocalypse. Humanity depends on biomechanical technology that blurs machines and is organic. The show’s meditations on depression, social isolation, and loss ultimately resonate beyond its cyberpunk backdrop. But Evangelion remains one of the medium’s most compelling visions of a dark sci-fi future.
7. Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990)
Produced in 1990, Cyber City Oedo 808 tells a cyberpunk-infused crime story in futuristic Tokyo, now known as Oedo. The anime follows three criminals who have been given cyborg enhancements. They must now assist law enforcement in difficult cases, with the promise that success will earn their freedom. This detective noir plotline combined with violent action sequences gives Cyber City Oedo 808 appeal beyond just cyberpunk fans.
While shorter and lesser known than some others on this list, Cyber City Oedo 808 deserves recognition for its cyberpunk setting that would inspire later creators. Along with depicting cyborg augmentation, the anime portrays societal issues like violent youth gangs and interactions between humans and AI. Cyberpunk visuals and themes permeated anime in the 80s and 90s, with Cyber City Oedo 808 among the best representations of the movement.
6. Bubblegum Crisis (1987)
Bubblegum Crisis is a cult classic that was initially released in 1987 but found a dedicated following through the booming straight-to-video anime market in the 1990s. Set in 2032, it follows the Knight Sabers, an all-female vigilante group fighting against rogue robots produced by the megacorporation Genom.
Visually drawing inspiration from Blade Runner, Bubblegum Crisis creates an evocative future Tokyo setting. The hard-hitting armor suits donned by the Knight Sabers also made them icons among anime fans. Bubblegum Crisis balances its dark, moody cyberpunk backdrop with upbeat pop music and light-hearted moments. This contrast gives the show its flavor which earned it a passionate fanbase during the height of the cyberpunk anime movement.
5. Psycho-Pass (2012)
For a modern cyberpunk anime series, look no further than Psycho-Pass. First airing in 2012, Psycho-Pass portrays a dystopian future in which a person’s likelihood of committing crimes is constantly monitored through cybernetic analysis of their mental state and personality. This provides the foundation for an exploration of criminal justice, free will, and acceptance of technology in governing society.
The anime follows investigator Akane Tsunemori as she begins working for Unit One of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division. She uncovers the darker side of brain-scanning technology meant to keep the peace in society. Psycho-Pass captivates with thought-provoking themes about over-reliance on data analytics and systematizing human behavior. Backed by strong writing and slick visuals, the show stands out among modern cyberpunk anime.
4. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
A more philosophical, psychological take on cyberpunk, Serial Experiments Lain focuses on the influence of technology and connectivity. The series follows Lain Iwakura, an isolated teenage girl who becomes deeply involved in The Wired, a global electronic network similar to the Internet. Strange events and connections in The Wired lead Lain to question the boundaries between the virtual and physical world.
Serial Experiments Lain aired in 1998, anticipating some of the ways the internet would transform society. It tackles big ideas about consciousness, perception, and the blurring of reality through a lens that feels prophetic today. The series iconically visualizes The Wired as an all-encompassing network overlaid on reality. Its fractured narrative and avant-garde visuals build an immersive, mind-bending atmosphere that sticks with the viewer long after watching. Serial Experiments Lain has become recognized as a classic cyberpunk anime that was ahead of its time.
3. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Cowboy Bebop seamlessly blends cyberpunk with Western and noir influences to create a beloved anime series. Set in a solar system that has been colonized by humans, the show follows a crew of bounty hunters led by Spike Spiegel. This ragtag group travels across space in the ship Bebop, taking on dangerous missions to capture the solar system’s most notorious criminals.
Along with its unique take on the typical cyberpunk setting, Cowboy Bebop draws praise for its stylish action, stellar soundtrack, memorable characters, and refined animation. While it has comedic moments, Cowboy Bebop also takes occasional dives into poetic melancholy. This balance of fun, excitement, and emotion comes together into a show that transcends genre limitations. Cowboy Bebop has been praised as one of the greatest and most accessible anime series of all time. Its cyberpunk foundation mixed with a dash of Western flair makes it a standout.
2. Akira (1988)
Released in 1988, Akira is widely considered a seminal work in anime history. Set in futuristic Neo Tokyo in 2019, Akira depicts a dystopian city filled with political strife, violent gangs, and revolutionary factions. The story centers around teenage biker gang leader Shotaro Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo Shima. An accident gives Tetsuo powerful telekinetic abilities, sending him on a rampage.
Akira illustrated the capability of anime to tackle serious, adult themes with an epic scale and budget previously unseen. Its revolutionary hand-drawn animation techniques raised the bar for anime films to come. Akira brought anime to an international audience and played a major role in jumpstarting the global fandom. Beyond just anime, Akira is regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time across all mediums. Its cyberpunk vision of a chaotic, sprawling megalopolis has served as visual inspiration across media.
1. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
No list of the best cyberpunk anime would be complete without Ghost in the Shell. This franchise spans movies, TV shows, manga, and more, but it all started in 1995 with the release of the original Ghost in the Shell film.
Set in a futuristic Japan where humans have cybernetic enhancements, Ghost in the Shell follows the members of Public Security Section 9 as they take on technologically enhanced threats to national security. The protagonist is a cyborg named Major Motoko Kusanagi. She grapples with existential questions about her identity and humanity as she tracks cyber-criminals.
Ghost in the Shell’s influence over cyberpunk media since its release cannot be overstated. Its themes of transhumanism – altering the human condition through technology – have remained resonant. The film’s stunning visuals and atmospheric soundtrack also set the bar high for anime films to follow. Ghost in the Shell spawned a phenomenon that remains one of the defining pillars of cyberpunk today.
Beyond the major examples discussed, many other great anime works exhibit cyberpunk elements or influences:
- Texhnolyze (2003) – Dark, slow-paced cyberpunk anime following a man who loses his limbs and gets experimental cybernetic replacements.
- Ergo Proxy (2006) – Post-apocalyptic cyberpunk anime featuring androids called Autoreiv and a domed futuristic city.
- Megazone 23 (1985) – 80s cyberpunk anime with mecha elements centered around motorcycle gangs.
- Appleseed (2004) – Cyberpunk anime film adaptation based on the manga by Ghost in the Shell creator Masamune Shirow.
- Eden of the East (2009) – Mystery thriller anime with cyberpunk themes of surveillance and privilege in modern society.
- Sword Art Online (2012) – Prominent virtual reality “trapped in an MMORPG” storyline with cyberpunk undertones.
The Rise of Netflix and the Rebirth of Cyberpunk
The advent of streaming platforms like Netflix has led to a resurgence in the popularity of cyberpunk anime.
Shows like Altered Carbon (2018) and Black Mirror (2011) have brought the genre to a wider audience, exploring new themes and ideas.
The influence of Western media on Japanese animation has also become more apparent, with series like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2020) and Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (2020) blending Eastern and Western styles.
Since first taking hold in the 1980s, cyberpunk anime has evolved from a niche genre to one of the most influential movements in the medium’s history.
Series like Ghost in the Shell and Akira not only led the way in exploring cyberpunk’s signature themes through animation but reshaped global perceptions of what the anime art form could accomplish.
Modern anime creators still frequently borrow ideas from these classics while crafting updated cyberpunk visions for new generations. As technology continues to weave its way deeper into society, the genre will likely continue resonating.
For those looking to dive into thought-provoking, visually astounding anime, cyberpunk provides a rich well of imagination and insight into our collective future.
FAQs – 18 Best Cyberpunk Anime Series of All Time
What is Edgerunners?
Edgerunners is an upcoming anime series set in the Cyberpunk 2077 universe. It is set to be a standalone story that revolves around a group of mercenaries in Night City.
What is Akudama Drive?
Akudama Drive is a cyberpunk anime series that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world controlled by a corrupt government. The story follows a group of criminals known as “Akudama” who are hired for a dangerous mission.
What is Battle Angel Alita?
Battle Angel Alita, also known as Gunnm, is a cyberpunk manga series that has been adapted into an anime series and a live-action film. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world and follows the journey of a cyborg named Alita.
What makes a cyberpunk anime series the best?
A cyberpunk anime series is considered one of the best when it successfully combines elements of the cyberpunk genre, such as advanced technology, dystopian society, and philosophical themes, with compelling characters, a well-developed story, and thought-provoking ideas.
What is the difference between cyberpunk anime and other anime genres?
Cyberpunk anime is a specific subgenre of anime that focuses on futuristic settings, advanced technology, and dystopian societies. It often explores philosophical themes and raises questions about the nature of humanity. Other anime genres can encompass a wide range of themes and settings, including fantasy, romance, slice of life, and more.
Are there any cyberpunk anime series set in Neo-Tokyo?
Yes, the anime series Akira is set in Neo-Tokyo, a futuristic version of Tokyo that is the backdrop for a story involving psychic powers, government conspiracies, and biker gangs.
Can you recommend some cyberpunk anime series with great character development?
Yes, Ergo Proxy, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Neon Genesis Evangelion are all cyberpunk anime series known for their strong character development and exploration of complex psychological themes.