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Neon Dystopia is the landing page of the Neon Dystopia Network, a collection of projects that include the The L0WL1F3 Podcast: A Cyberpunk Podcast, fiction publishing with a cyberpunk flavor, and the occasional article about the strange world we live in.

Neon Dystopia’s Definitive Beginner’s Guide to Cyberpunk






>Decanting Subject 5071


>Body temperature: 6.06°C








>Body temperature… OK

>Blood pressure… OK

>Cognitive function… OK

>Initiating wake cycle


>Administering 40mg lisdexamfetamine… OK


Well. Shit. Here we were putting ourselves on ice for a few years to wait for this whole COVID business to blow over, but it would seem that everything has just gotten so, so much more dystopian in such a short period of time. Let’s take stock real quick on the news over the past year as of this writing of this article and see what exactly stands out.

  1. The world is still reeling from a pathogenic disease that has killed millions, a result of overuse of antibiotics in western culture.
  1. ChatGPT and other machine learning algorithms threaten to dominate the global economy even though they are not qualified for this role in any regard. Case in point: this company, which just appointed an android as CEO.
  1. Entire tech industries are being bought out by special interest groups and multinational billionaires. These groups are immediately driving our entertainment and communications platforms straight into the ground for the sake of blind profit.
  1. A coup was attempted and failed against the Russian government by a military corporation.
  1. BRICS, a “market-based alternative” to the United Nations that has been gaining steam since 2010, has invited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates, which will allow for an even stronger corporate foothold in these regions. BRICS is slated to be the dominant economic force by 2050.
  1. The United States’ infrastructure has been so gutted that airborne toxic events and chemical spills are becoming more commonplace. The world is literally on fire.
  1. Fascism is making a comeback.
  1. You are more than likely reading this on a handheld computer that simultaneously opens your mind to virtual worlds and augmented realities of boundless imagination, as well as thousands of ads that target you based on your personal data, curtailing your worldview with information that constantly reinforces your confirmation bias in between clickbait articles.

Hold on. All of this seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it? As though we’ve seen all this before somewhere, but it couldn’t have happened–not in the reality you know, anyways.

We know you’re probably not here by accident. Type the term “cyberpunk” into any search engine and CD Projekt Red tops the results for pages. You are here because you are aware that cyberpunk is more than a single IP–more than a genre, even. Cyberpunk is an ethos, a filter to slip over your lens and view the world through. The glue that binds the resulting culture is, fittingly, its media. And you want more.

But you also may not know where to start. You could do your own research and find the most oft-referenced fiction, or you could just let us do the work, because we know you’re busy grinding. Herein you will find a (relatively short) list of cyberpunk properties across different media that represent the quintessential works of said medium. These contain the aesthetic, structural, and thematic tropes that, when coalesced, form the building blocks of the vast majority of cyberpunk media. You may even find that you have always had an affinity for cyberpunk but did not realize it until now. 

Before we begin, though, I want to make something clear: this article was authored by one person (me) and, for the sake of conciseness, this curated list may differ what other sources might deem “essential” cyberpunk works. Everyone’s personal journey down the rabbit hole differs, based on what they’re exposed to first–this is doubly true for cyberpunk music, which defies clean-cut definition outside of being a general subcategory of electronic music. This list attempts to include what is generally seen by consensus from various sources across the internet as the clearest and most well known examples of cyberpunk media, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.


Neuromancer (1984)

William Gibson‘s debut novel, considered by many to be the first cyberpunk novel ever published, is likely the most glaring on this list in its influence. Neuromancer introduces us to Henry Dorsett Case, a crippled ex-hacker stranded in Chiba City, Japan, who is hired by an ex-military spook to steal data from a megacorporation headquartered on a space station for the rich. Assisting him are Molly Millions, a cybernetically augmented razorgirl, and the memories of Dixie Flatline, a deceased fellow hacker who recorded his mind and put it on a hard drive for Case. However, the deeper into the world of corporate corruption Case gets, the more he realizes he may have made a deal with the devil in the form of a malicious AI known as Wintermute. While any of Gibson’s novels fall under cyberpunk’s purview and many could also be considered core tales in the genre, Neuromancer stands out through its influence.

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986)

It will be impossible to include every member of cyberpunk’s first wave in this guide, so we’re doing the next best thing: getting them all together in one place in the first cyberpunk anthology, edited by Bruce Sterling. Think of it like a sample platter–a little bit of everything to whet your appetite for the time being. Boasting short fiction from Sterling, Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, Lewis Shiner, John Shirley, Paul di Fillipo, Mark Laidlaw, James Patrick Kelly, and Greg Bear, Mirrorshades stands on its own as a formative cyberpunk work and acts as the unofficial establishment of a new counterculture.

Snow Crash (1992)

Neal Stephenson‘s first foray into the world of high tech lowlives, Snow Crash, redefined the genre after a decade of grimdark corporate technocratic dystopia, telling the tale of Hiro Protagonist, hacker and Mafia pizza delivery driver extraordinaire, in a post-economic-collapse Los Angeles in the 21st century. Stephenson’s approach to the genre flipped the typical cyberpunk formula with a lighter tone, injecting humor into an otherwise grim genre. Come for the first mention of the Metaverse, stay for the novel that directly inspired the vastly inferior novel Ready Player One.

Trouble and Her Friends (1994)

While cyberpunk that breaches the mainstream oftentimes may (and sometimes rightfully) come off as misogynistic, it would be inaccurate to say that the genre is exclusively a boy’s club. While you might have to do a little digging to find a trove of cyberpunk novels authored by women, one of the more oft-referenced feminist cyberpunk novels of yesteryear is Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends. Scott’s prediction of the future of the early internet might seem a little outdated aesthetically–hey, that’s part of the charm, right?–but thematically, her queer-infused themes of oppression by larger society still ring true to this day.


Blade Runner (1982)

If you want to find the true origin of cyberpunk, look no further than Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher’s magnum opus represented a coalescence of ideas never before committed to film in the same way. Scored by Vangelis and starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer, it might not feature any hackers or cyberspace, but there’s a reason why most cyberpunk works are derivative of Blade Runner in one way or another. Its unforgettable quality was the last, strangest dream we had before we had to wake up to the uncanny reality alongside it.

RoboCop (1987)

Speaking of, Paul Verhoeven’s own seminal cyberpunk film introduced humorous satire to the genre in a way only rivaled by Judge Dredd (see below) up until that point. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller)’s tragic journey into hell as a resurrected corporate cyborg slave in 2043 Detroit bites cunningly with trademark humor played straight in such a way that, to be frank, a lot of it flew over my head the first time I watched it because the world continues to parody itself constantly and you take for granted sometimes the things that should feel like satire.

Akira (1989)

The film adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic manga, also written and directed by Otomo, represents the most impressive foray into cyberpunk animation up to the time of its release, and was the first film to put anime on the international map. Packed end to end with beautiful animation (sometimes to a fault), Akira has stood the test of time and continues to inspire artists to this day, telling the classic tale of runaway WMD-level psychics and teenage biker gangs in a Neo Tokyo rebuilt over the ashes of a devastating world war.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Another landmark animated film, Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated classic explores a futuristic Japan fraught with full-body cyborgs and cybernetic brains. Major Motoko Kusanagi’s noir-tinged search for the wizard-class hacker known only as the Puppetmaster reflects her own journey to establish her own identity outside of her black ops team, Section 9. Filled with slow, haunting moments and glorious mech-on-mech violence, Ghost in the Shell’s own influence on cyberpunk is nothing to be scoffed at. Case in point:

The Matrix (1999)

Look. There’s not a whole lot about The Matrix that hasn’t already been said, much of which has been regurgitated by us. The Wachowskis’ pinnacle film has made such a deep cultural impact that “going down the rabbit hole”, “taking the red pill”, and “whoa” are now all common parts of the daily lexicon. Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving (as well as a splendid performance by Joe Pantoliano) give sterling performances in the world of an all-encompassing simulation that projects the image a noir-, anime-, and kung fu-infused version of the year 1999.


Psalm 69 – Ministry (1992)

If you want to start at the genesis of cyberpunk music, you have to search no further than the first genre in which the ideology took root. Industrial noise initially grew out of noise rock in the late 1970s, as well as taking influence from synthpop and post-punk musicians of the 1980s. Industrial noise was the first kind of music that exhibited awe-inspiring sounds as a byproduct of our technological waste. Industrial rock and metal made it sound awesome. And Psalm 69 by Ministry is just one of thousands of clear cut examples that openly fuse music to the machines we create with a boldly nihilistic flair. These days, it’s impossible to deny the influence of the machine on electronic music as a whole as a result of this experimentation–from trip hop to techno to video game and film soundtracks. You’ve already been infected with the cybernetic mind virus. You just didn’t know until now.

Dangerous Days – Perturbator (2014)

While certain offshoots of synthwave music can be ambiguously considered part of the cyberpunk canon, nothing quite deconstructs the shiny veneer as well as darksynth. If synthwave is a genre of dance music that patterns its aesthetic after the soundtracks for Top Gun and TRON, darksynth yearns for cathode rays and rainy megalopolises, drawing from the Blade Runner soundtrack, the works of John Carpenter, and ‘80s metal (no, not that kind of ‘80s metal). And no one springs more quickly to mind when talking darksynth than Perturbator, whose initial claim to fame was in providing part of the soundtrack for the notorious independent frenetic unhinged psychopath simulator, Hotline Miami. And he is anything but a stranger to the cyberpunk genre, plundering dialogue from films and setting the tone of individual tracks with titles that paint the picture of hellish techno-dystopias. And on top of all this, dude goes hard at live shows.

The Money Store – Death Grips (2012)

Industrial has been a category of music for over 40 years now. The initial experimentation is long since over. However, the genre continues to warp and transfer into newer, bolder updates on the original software. For example, industrial hip hop is the inevitable fusion of two genres that represent the counterculture better than “purer” versions of punk rock do in this day and age. At the forefront of this emerging, vitriol-fueled form of rap was Death Grips. Bristling with drug-fueled paranoia and internet-era excess, their 2012 album The Money Store illustrates terrifying truths about our digitally-manipulated realities.

The City – Vangelis (1990)

Though I don’t want to put Blade Runner on a pedestal, I would like to direct you towards The City, Vangelis’ 1990 follow up to his work on the cyberpunk progenitor. The City plays as a spiritual sequel to his 1982 soundtrack, touching on the familiar with the iconic synths and electronic saxophone that made the original famous, while exploring new neon-lit alleyways, including a track that depicts the sterile nightmare of the corporate lobby–at least, in my headcanon.

60 Second Wipe Out – Atari Teenage Riot (1999)

Dance music in the 1990s too felt the aftereffects of punk gone electronic, infusing fast-paced beats with an inherent desire for chaos. What’s missing from many of these albums, however, is the brazen, unapologetic nerdisms embodied through Atari Teenage Riot’s self-coined digital hardcore, which draws mainly upon hardcore punk, breakbeat dance music, and video game soundboards for influence and filtering their sound with lo-fi distortion. A more spirited alternative to industrial metal, 60 Second Wipeout embraces the cyberpunk label with gusto and spits acid.

Video games

Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)

Come on, don’t bullshit. Even if you haven’t played yet, Cyberpunk 2077 has been impossible to avoid since the hype train gained treacherous speed at E3 2019. CD Projekt Red’s most recent disaster sees Cyber Jesus himself, Keanu Reeves, slip into the role of the AI copy of Johnny Silverhand, the rockerboy-turned-anticorporate-terrorist featured in Mike Pondsmith’s original tabletop roleplaying game. Cyberpunk 2077, despite its faults and criticisms, represents the clearest-cut example of cyberpunk gaming in its highest resolution. 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Preceding Cyberpunk 2077 by nearly a decade, Eidos Montreal‘s phenomenal (soft) reboot of the famed 2000 PC cyber-spy conspiracy thriller is gorgeous, cinematic, and just so goddamn fun. Ion Storm’s original must be acknowledged for its influence on not only cyberpunk, but the immersive first-person shooter as well. However, I have chosen Human Revolution as the essential Deus Ex game due to its production value, writing, overall more rewarding gaming experience, and of course, thermoptic camouflage and the Typhoon.

System Shock (1994)

Released the year before cyberpunk blew up in the zeitgeist, System Shock and its sequel have imprinted deeply on the FPS genre. This is due in no small part to its alumni going on to make Bioshock, Deus Ex, and more. However, System Shock also established a new metric in the emerging first person horror genre, and gave players a chilling antagonist in the resident corporate AI-gone-mad, SHODAN. With a remake released less than a year before the publication of this article, there’s no better time to submit to your new god.


Transmetropolitan (1999)

It’s truly a shame Warren Ellis’ hard-boiled political sci-fi thriller hasn’t been adapted for streaming services yet. After a stint of severe social distancing, Spider Jerusalem is called back into the City in order to meet his deadlines. Armed with his trusty bowel disruptor, our pill-popping protagonist takes us on a journey through the City, covering all manner of batshit insanity the future has to offer, from advertisement-distributing clouds of nanobots to religious job fairs to the presidential election itself in the year 22XX.

Battle Angel Alita (1990)

A post-apocalyptic epic to rival Mad Max, Yukito Kishiro’s best-known manga series charts the growth of rebooted cyborg Alita in the stratified world of the Scrapyard and Tiphares, as well as the wasteland beyond. You may be skeptical as Japanese media tends to uh, have a certain reputation when it comes to the portrayal of women, but Kishiro’s depiction of Alita is at times sensitive, at others brutal, and explores her rise as warrior and savior with a grace that can only be achieved through the pursuit of identity and autonomy. 

Judge Dredd (1990)

John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s brainchild has humble beginnings in the science fiction anthology series 2000 AD, eventually receiving its own standalone series and going so far as to provide the original inspiration for RoboCop. Among the most recognizable characters in independent western comics, the eponymous Judge Dredd operates as a high-tech Dirty Harry of the future in the decaying sprawl of Mega City One. Make no mistake–Dredd is a fascist through and through, serving a government futilely waging a war against the forces of human nature. Loaded with biting commentary, zany future hijinks, and a bit of the old ultraviolence, Judge Dredd is in print to this day and can be enjoyed through various media formats.


Max Headroom (1987)

Credit for the first cyberpunk television series to hack its way into the airwaves goes to showrunners Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, which in turn spawned a late ‘80s advertising phenomenon in the show’s namesake/mascot, Max Headroom. You may know him from vintage ads for Coca-Cola or the Incident, but originally Max inhabited a satirical future not unlike that portrayed in RoboCop as the glitched-out mind copy of Edison Carter, a frustrated journalist underneath corporate jurisdiction. While Carter and Max are both portrayed by genre-dabbler Matt Frewer, his performance as the eccentric, wisecracking Max has been immortalized in both cyberpunk and pop culture. Also, in this dark, dark future, five second advertisements make you explode.

Black Mirror (2011)

Though recent series of Black Mirror have soured on Charlie Brooker’s original thesis about the horrors of social media and beyond, the temporarily-ubiquitous science fiction anthology stands as a testament to cyberpunk’s adaptability with the times. Heavily inspired by other anthology series like The Twilight Zone, every episode of Black Mirror (the more optimistic episodes excluded) has at least one moment that will deliver a gut punch that will send you deep into the bowels of the uncanny valley. Brooker also takes plot structure cues from classic dystopian literature, but don’t be mistaken–Brooker’s vision of a future Britain and world at large is more often than not a degree separated from the one we inhabit and witness on a daily basis.

Altered Carbon (2017)

Laeta Kalogridis’ adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series is a more recent and visible standout among streaming IPs, with the budget of the first season exceeding that of any science fiction series preceding it. While we disavow the source material due to Morgan’s terribly ironic misogyny and transphobia on display in his writing and social media presence, Kalogridis as showrunner managed to salvage the novel’s redeeming elements and weave it into a detective story. With the incomparable Joel Kinnaman (and in the second season, Anthony Mackie) as Kovacs, Altered Carbon needlecasts us to an interstellar society where the human body has become an explicit commodity and the mind can be transferred between sleeves via alien technology. You know what this means: all the fun, bloody action you could hope for.

Mr. Robot (2015)

Sam Esmail did something very significant with his hacker thriller set on the precipice of a world about to go insane: he successfully brought cyberpunk into the modern day. Starring Rami Malek and punk-adjacent alumnus Christian Slater, Mr. Robot not only contains notes of Neuromancer and The Matrix in its setup, but also draws heavily from post-modern cinematic masterpieces like Fight Club, Natural Born Killers, and American Psycho. While not the only cyberpunk television series set five minutes into the future, Mr. Robot does not contain any theoretical technology, but all things that exist in our modern world. Its only claim to science fiction is in the mundane aspect. If there’s any piece of media that screams “CYBERPUNK IS NOW” at the top of its lungs, this is it.

Tabletop games


Though Shadowrun’s inception as a roleplaying game was the science fiction response to the commercial success of Dungeons and Dragons, FASA Corporation’s former flagship IP has been so prominent in cyberpunk circles that it is impossible to ignore. To its credit, the inclusion of magic and mythical elements are weaved so seamlessly into the cyberpunk mythos that we’re willing to overlook the supernatural mumbo jumbo. After all, what’s the difference between a human billionaire CEO and a dragon billionaire CEO, really?

Cyberpunk (1988)

And now, we come full circle. Mike Pondsmith’s greatest contribution to R. Talsorian Games’ roster began with Cyberpunk 2013, packing in every cyberpunk trope imaginable into an off-the-rails world under runaway capitalism. The legacy continued with 1990’s Cyberpunk 2020, Cyberpunk v.3, and Cyberpunk Red, the last of which was released in 2020, shortly before the video game adaptation’s disastrous launch. If you want to see the humble origins of the massively popular anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, then slip on your mirrorshades, grab your guitar/submachine gun/katana, and jack into the NET.

This guide was created with substantial help from the good digital souls of the Neon Dystopia Videodrome, which you may join here if so desired.

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