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20 Best Cyberpunk Anime Of All Time, Ranked

20 Best Cyberpunk Anime Of All Time, Ranked

cyberpunk anime

From Ergo Proxy (2006) to Ghost in the Shell (1995), here are the greatest cyberpunk anime, ranked.

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science-fiction which focuses on the human experience in a technology-dominated, post-industrial, and dehumanised dystopian future. It’s an extension of the counter-cultural and anti-authoritarian view that was prevalent in the 1960s America. It is basically referred to as ‘low-life high-tech’. The word ‘cyberpunk’ was said to be coined by writer Bruce Bethke in 1982 – combination of the words ‘cybernetics’ and the popular youth culture of ‘punk’ rock.

However, as mentioned above, even before coining the term ‘cyberpunk’, the trend was gradually established in the 1960s and 1970s. In those years, cyberpunk didn’t develop as an artistic or cultural movement. Hence, one can argue about its origin points. But in the early 1980s, after Bruce’s own coinage, came author William Gibson’s use of the word ‘cyberspace’. Most importantly, in 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner perfectly served the visual outlook and atmosphere of the cyberpunk world. Though the film failed at the box-office, it became an instant cultural phenomenon.

In the same year of Blade Runner’s release, Japanese manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo released his first manga series Akira. Unlike the Western cyberpunk, which has its roots in sci-fi literature, Japanese cyberpunk drew inspiration from the 1970s Japanese punk music scene and from underground films by directors like Gakuryu Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto. In 1988, the anime adaptation of Otomo’s Akira firmly established the Japanese cyberpunk cinema. Interestingly, the biker gang in Akira was influenced by Ishii’s Crazy Thunder Road (1980). From then on, manga and anime strengthened the cyberpunk subgenre, and soon became one of Japan’s most coveted cultural exports.

Here’s lining up the best cyberpunk anime to acquaint you with its themes, aesthetics and genre conventions:

 

20. Angel Cop (1989)

Image Source: pluto.tv

This six-episode ultra-violent cyberpunk anime is set in a futuristic Japan that has become the most economically powerful country in the world. However, Red May, an extreme-left terrorist group, organizes various attack to initiate Japan’s economic collapse. In order to fight Red May, a Special Security Force is created. Donning armoured outfits and carrying specialized weapons, the law enforcement agency take extreme measures to curb the terrorist activities. One of the newly recruited agents and a very efficient member of the force is Angel. She is a ruthless, trigger-happy cop.

Soon, she faces an enemy she can’t easily overcome using only her combat abilities. Angel Cop is a gruesome, action-packed anime though some of its plot developments are predictable and clichéd. The animation quality and its style may look dated. Yet it’s good enough to engage us. Angel Cop was written by Sho Aikawa, who was involved in the making of numerous classic anime including FullMetal Alchemist. 

Related: 20 Best INFP Anime Characters

 

19. Appleseed Alpha (2004)

Appleseed is a four volume manga series created by Masamune Shirow, who is also the author of Ghost in the Shell. Like most of the manga series of the era, Shirow combines both cyberpunk and mecha (sci-fi featuring giant robots) genre elements. It’s set in the 22nd century, where the Third World War has wiped out the majority of the human population. In this new world order, Olympus is the most powerful state, and is protected by a special force known as ESWAT. The manga revolves around two supremely skilled ESWAT members, Deunan and Briareos.

There have been many anime adaptations of Appleseed including a series. The manga was first adapted in 1988. However, almost all of the adaptations have turned out to be mediocre. Appleseed Alpha is entertaining enough for its sleek and impressively detailed CGI animation. In this anime, Deunan and Briareos embark on a journey through the ruins of a city to take down a group of rogue drones.

 

18. Blame! (2017)

Manga artist Tsutomu Nihei’s 10-volume Blame! series earned him an army of fans. While the serialisation of the manga began in 1998, it was only two decades later that a proper anime adaptation was made. The anime offers an introduction to the vast scope of Nihei’s universe. The story as usual unfolds in a dilapidated futuristic city. A virus has caused the city’s automated system to fail, and subsequently the human population is hunted down. The protagonist is a silent and brooding guy named Killy. He is on a quest to find surviving humans with a particular gene type, which may hold the key to defeating the robotic entities.

Director Hiroyuki Seshita does a brilliant job immersing us into the cyberpunk world of Nihei. The plot structure is a little odd and the characters under-developed. It’s a problem encountered by most of the anime that’s adapted from expansive manga series. Nevertheless, Blame! is undeniably engaging due to the profound, doom-laden aesthetics and top-notch action sequences.

 

17. Neo Tokyo (1987)

Running around 50 minutes, Neo Tokyo is an anthology of three short stories that are heavy on style and don’t have any character development or plot. The first one, Labyrinth is a strange, experimental short directed by Rintaro. It shows a little girl finding a clock that’s actually a portal to a labyrinth. The second short Running Man was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri who later made Ninja Scroll (1993). This story revolves around a renowned race car driver using telekinetic abilities to overcome his opponents.

The third, Construction Cancellation Order by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) is clearly the best and my favourite. This story focuses on a young, low-level executive ordered to travel to a South American country. His mission is to shut down the self-sufficient plant that’s run by a robotic crew. Otomo’s short is full of brilliant visual ideas and enjoyable character quirks. It’s also the most meaningful of the three as it contains a strong subtext regarding human dependency on AI.

 

16. Battle Angel (1993)

The two-episode cyberpunk OVA (Original Video Animation) was based on the manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. Though the manga series was published in nine volumes between 1990 and 1995, the anime only featured a few story-arcs from the first two volumes. In fact, the OVA was supposedly made to promote the manga series. Hence, the 54-minute Battle Angel doesn’t develop the characters much. Nonetheless, it has a spellbinding story set-up and stellar animation.

A cyber-doctor named Ido finds a half destroyed body of a female cyborg. He quickly restores her and finds out that the cyborg named Gally has no memory of her past. Gally navigates her way through the strange planet, which has literally become a garbage dump for Zalem, a colossal city floating in the sky. She soon becomes a bounty hunter and rediscovers her identity. In 2019, the manga series was adapted into a big-budget Hollywood feature, directed by Robert Rodriguez.

 

15. Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990)

cyberpunk anime
Image Source: animaxmagazine.com

Created by Juzo Mutsuki, this cyberpunk action/thriller is set in the year 2808. Crime is rampant in the hi-tech metropolis of Oedo. In order to curb the chaos in the city, Cyber police recruit criminals as bounty hunters. Chief Hasegawa, an unorthodox and manipulative law enforcement officer, brings in three felons – Sengoku, Benten, and Goggles – to track down criminals and in exchange promises to reduce their sentence. They wear explosive collars to remind them who’s the master. 

The anime unfolds in three episodes. Each focuses on one of the three central characters and their distinct backgrounds. The story set-ups also widely vary in each episode, including a haunted skyscraper and a clever killing machine. The animation presents a bleak and grey world where the complexities of modern life have deeply changed humankind. The nicely paced three episodes also perfectly balance between action-filled sequences and character development aspects. Overall, it’s a vintage cyberpunk anime that still possesses the power to entertain us.

 

14. Metropolis (2001)

Rintaro’s Metropolis was based on a 1949 Japanese manga by Osamu Tezuka (who also created the Astro Boy manga series). Tekuza himself was clearly inspired by Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis (1927). The adaptation was done by Katsuhiro Otomo. Both Otomo and Rintaro have borrowed some visual cues and themes from Lang’s original film. The anime is set in a mesmerising futuristic city that has strictly delineated its citizens according to their class.

Duke Red, the powerful corporate leader who runs the city controls everything through a huge structure called Ziggurat. This tower controls all the machines and information. Duke Red hires mad scientist Dr. Laughton to guard everything. The scientist also builds for the Duke an ultimate weapon in the form of a robotic girl named Tima. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Rintaro strikingly mixes traditional animation style with CGI. Metropolis may not be in the league of cyberpunk anime classics, Akira and Ghost in the Shell but comes close. 

 

13. Mardock Scramble Trilogy (2010-2012)

Susumu Kudo’s underappreciated cyberpunk anime is based on Tow Ubukata’s novel series of the same name. Set in a futuristic city, Mardock Scramble is an exploration of decaying social structures that perpetuate injustice and criminality. The film series also presents a world of advanced technologies where a comatose patient’s consciousness is transferred to a synthetically created body. Mardock city is known for its high crime rate. Hence, the government introduces a law called ‘Scramble 09’ in order to revive crime witnesses.

That is how teenage prostitute Rune Balot, who’s killed by a devious serial-killer and money launderer named Shell, is brought back to life as a cyborg by Doctor Easter. However, what ensues isn’t a simple journey to seek revenge. The three movies focus enough on Rune’s trauma and how she gradually finds autonomy in her new cybernetic body. What’s even more interesting about this cyberpunk noir is Rune’s complex dynamics with Oeufcoque, a self-aware, shape-shifting entity who becomes her only true ally.

 

12. Memories (1995)

Memories is one of the most fascinating anthology anime which perfectly integrates a solid story-line with a bewitching animation style. The three stories were based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s own manga. The first Magnetic Rose was not only the best in the anthology, but also one of the most brilliant short anime ever made. Koji Morimoto directed it and the script was written by future visionary anime filmmaker Satoshi Kon. Magnetic Rose revolves around a space crew of garbage collectors. They receive a sos call and arrive at a wrecked spaceship to investigate. Gradually, they’re pulled deep into a bizarre anomaly.

The other two shorts are titled Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder. One is about the funny misadventures of a scientist, and the other looks at a family life in a world that’s incessantly waging war. Cannon Fodder was directed by Otomo himself and it’s an extraordinary visual feast. Its underlying message says a lot about human perseverance and conditioning.

 

11. Akudama Driver (2020)

The 12-episode cyberpunk anime Akudama Drive is set in futuristic Japan that’s torn by the civil war. A nuclear wasteland separates the region between Kanto and Kansai. After the war, Kansai is ruled by an authoritarian regime, which labels the dangerous criminals of the city as ‘Akudama’. Six of the most skilled Akudama come together for a mysterious job. A young and ordinary-looking girl also joins them. What follows is a set of wonderful twists and brilliantly done tonal shifts.

Akudama Drive takes visual cues and pays a lot of homage to Hollywood films from the 80s and 90s, including the cyberpunk classic Blade Runner (1982). Moreover, the anime series has deeply entrenched cyberpunk elements into the story’s framework rather than using it to create a specific mood and imagery. The anime unfolds in a police state and showcases how outcasts and dissidents can be easily framed as dangerous criminals. The characters do lack depth, but the culturally relevant critique alongside the world-building skills makes it a satisfying experience.

 

10. Megazone 23 Trilogy (1985-1989)

cyberpunk anime
Image Source: otaquest.com

Created by Noboru Ishiguro, Megazone 23 is an influential and highly entertaining cyberpunk anime that says a lot about corruption of power and authority. The first two parts of the trilogy are set in the 24th century, where environmental pollution has made Earth uninhabitable. This forces humanity to survive in a giant colony ship called Megazone. However, the populace believes that they are living in 1985 Tokyo. The protagonist of the tale is Shougo Yahagi, a teenager with a passion for motorcycles. He comes in possession of a strange and powerful prototype bike. This leads him on a path to discover the false reality of his world, and he comes across an artificial intelligence, known as EVE.

Megazone 23 is often credited as the anime that inspired the narrative premise of Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999). The idea of a simulated reality also influenced films like Dark City, eXistenZ, and Ready Player One. Overall, Megazone 23 offers a dark and cynical look at humans and their technology.

 

9. Bubblegum Crisis (1987-1991)

The 8-episode anime series chronicles the adventures of the Knight Sabers, an all-female group of mercenaries. The Knight Sabers patrol the dystopian cyberpunk streets of 2032 Mega Tokyo, fighting against serious crime. Their major challenge is encountering the rogue cybernetic beings. In 2025, a powerful earthquake dubbed the Second Great Kanto Earthquake – wreaks havoc on the Japanese economy. In the wake of this tragedy, a mega corporation named Genom creates cybernetic entities and gains immense power. The artificial life forms called ‘Boomers’ help in Japan’s recovery.

However, the Boomers too malfunction and commit crimes. Bubblegum Crisis was heavily influenced by Blade Runner (1982), Streets of Fire (1984), and The Terminator (1984). The writer of the series Toshimichi Suzuki was also passionate about mecha designs. Bubblegum Crisis was one of the first anime series to gain popularity in the West. Apart from the original series, there are also spin-offs, prequels, and reboots set in the Bubblegum Universe. 

 

8. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

Mamoru Oshii’s sequel to the 1995 anime features an oblique plot. But it offers a feast of jaw-dropping images and gradually reveals its philosophical core. Batou, the mechanised detective who works under the command of Major Motoko Kusanagi (in the original) plays the central role in the sequel. He is assigned a human partner named Togusa. They investigate a series of murder cases where the female sex droids have murdered their owners.

Japan’s obsession with dolls is deeply incorporated in the nation’s cultural history. And Oshii uses the traditional roots of dolls to fascinatingly explore the theme of self-awareness and spirit within humans and mechanised cyborgs. Oshii makes us swallow the dense philosophical musings through his enthralling visuals. Similar to Appleseed, the animation is a blend of computer-generated and hand-drawn animation. This offers a more nuanced visual texture and deep-focus background. Overall, the hybrid imagery and intellectual component of Innocence get even better in the repeat viewings.

 

7. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005)

The complex sociopolitical framework in the first Ghost in the Shell anime might be a little hard to comprehend in a single viewing. Thankfully, the resounding success of the anime made possible the follow-up series and features. Created by Kenji Kamiyama, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a 52-episode anime series focused more on Major Kusanagi’s Section 9. The series has better story arcs for the characters and gets deep into this world’s politics. There are also plenty of cool and memorable action sequences.

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The series sees Section 9 clashing with many enemies, including the intellectual terrorist The Laughing Man and Hideo Kuze, the hacker of cyber brains. The anime series also juggles different tones for each episode, and is set in various places in the cyberpunk future. The second season is more introspective and less fun than the first. Nevertheless, the former features more relevant and thought-provoking political story-lines.

 

6. Texhnolyze (2003)

Cyberpunk genre, in general, deals with complex storylines and themes that can be initially confusing. But if you stay with it, things will gradually start to make sense, and the payoff is worth it. This is the truth with most cyberpunk classics from Blade Runner, Akira to Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix. Of course, there are cyberpunk movies with perplexing beginnings and even worse follow-ups. However, the experimental and very mature anime of Yoshitoshi Abe starts off as opaque, leads to a fascinatingly dark set-up, and culminates with a profound ending.

Unlike Abe’s Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze is set in an underground metropolis called Lukuss. The place is ruled by rival factions of yakuza, and it is beyond the reach of law. These gangs trade illegal cybernetic limbs, and this process of bionic replacement is called Texhnolyze. It’s an unorthodox anime series, both in terms of storytelling and imagery. Strongly recommended for fans of the cyberpunk genre interested in expanding their horizons.

 

5. Akira (1988)

Japanese cyberpunk anime
Image Source: IMDb.com

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is an iconic anime that perfectly realised the cyberpunk themes after Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). It’s an adaptation of Otomo’s own manga series. This cyberpunk action extravaganza is set in the year 2019 in Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after the devastation of World War III. The general populace is dissatisfied with modern life, and the youth immerse themselves in hedonistic pursuits. The narrative revolves around two biker gang members named Tetsuo and Kaneda. They come across a secret government project that’s involved in developing a new weaponry through biological means.

Like any story that unfolds in fresh territory and deals with complex themes, Akira can be perplexing to comprehend in the first-viewing. Though the central plot is about a psychologically damaged young man, a lot goes on in Otomo’s world, from government conspiracies to economic disintegration. At the same time, Akira is a mesmerising experience largely due to Otomo’s vibrant and painstakingly detailed animation. Its awe-inspiring visuals still exert a revolutionary influence on cinematic art.

 

4. Ergo Proxy (2006)

Ergo Proxy is a dark and puzzling anime series, set in the post-apocalyptic future. It takes the basic cyberpunk components like hi-fi technology and emotionless existence, and takes it to the next level with its dense plotting and deep philosophical themes. At the outset, the narrative revolves around a detective named Re-I Mayer. It’s set in the domed city of Romdo. The population is strictly controlled by the government. Hence the workforce is largely made up of androids known as AutoReivs.

But the city’s peace is disrupted when a series of killings happen and all clues lead to a dangerous entity known as Proxy. On the other hand, a virus is increasingly affecting AutoReivs and gives them the power of self-awareness. Written by Dai Sato, Ergo Proxy is a rare, visually exciting and intellectually challenging anime series. The ending may be a little disappointing, but its complex plot and ambitious themes offer a singular viewing experience. 

 

3. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)

Serial Experiments Lain is one of the prophetic works on the internet-era and virtual reality. Until I watched Lain, I thought Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ghost story Pulse (2001) was one of the earliest works to tackle the identity crisis of the digital age. Lain handles this theme even better and in a strangely moving manner. Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura, the 13-episode anime series is replete with a bleak, disorienting atmosphere. The narrative focuses on a shy 14-year old junior high student, Lain Iwakura. She feels disconnected from everyone, including her family, and suffers from hallucinations and blackouts.

One day, she receives an e-mail from a dead classmate. This sets off Lain on a strange journey into the virtual world known as the Wired. The series offers an interesting commentary on the nature of reality, particularly one created by the digital world. The story and its dense themes demand our patience. If you are a fan of psychedelic imagery and psychological horror, this is a must-watch.

 

2. Psycho-Pass (2012-2019)

The first season of Psycho-Pass was released in 2012, and it was soon considered to be the most groundbreaking cyberpunk anime after Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Created by Tow Ubukata (author of Mardock Scramble novels), the anime series is built on a conceit that slightly resembles Minority Report. In this case, the law enforcement agency of futuristic Japan comes to the conclusion that crime is committed by individuals who are psychologically capable of it. Therefore, every citizen carries a Psycho-Pass which is monitored by the Sybil System. The system monitors an individual’s criminal intent through their psychological state.

The central character is Akane Tsunemori, a rookie cop who is trying to understand the reality of crime prevention. One of the interesting themes of Psycho-Pass is depicting how establishment employs technology to define our life paths and to gradually trap us. Similar to the stories of Philip K. Dick, the series brilliantly extrapolates on the existing modern technologies to look at a dystopian society.

 

1. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

cyberpunk anime
Image Source: newstatesman.com

Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is the first of the many adaptations of Masamune Shirow’s 1989 manga series. The anime continues to have a profound influence on global cinema, and alongside Akira (1988) it introduced the world of anime to the international audience. Oshii’s anime is set in the year 2029, where human society has mastered cybernetic technology. It’s a world where human body parts can be replaced with cybernetic parts. The story follows Motoko Kusanagi, the cybernetically-enhanced chief of the Public Security Unit known as Section 9.

Soon, Kusanagi goes after a mysterious and deadly hacker, called Puppet Master. The case brings forth an existential crisis and pushes our heroine to wonder ‘what makes her human?’ Ghost in the Shell is a sombre and mature anime which heavily relies on symbolism and philosophy. Furthermore, the powerful cyberpunk aesthetics of an urban wasteland plus the haunting score by Kenji Kawai add to the immersive experience.

 

Conclusion

Japan was an economic powerhouse in the 1980s. It was believed that the nation would overtake the US and other Western nations to become the powerful, single most creator of advanced technology. Hence it was no wonder that cyberpunk had a huge cultural influence in Japan. While the Japanese cyberpunk obsesses over the many dangers of a technologically-advanced future, it also reflects on its traumatic past; for instance, the nuclear holocaust in Akira. The US outgrew its trade anxieties over Japan, but the wave of cyberpunk is still strongly flowing in Japan. An anime adaptation of the popular action RPG Cyberpunk 2077 is coming up and there will be no shortage of material within the genre for the next few years.

What are your favourite cyberpunk anime? What did we miss? Let’s talk in the comments below.

 

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