One of the best things about anime as compared to western animation, was that anime wasn’t afraid to go beyond the popular genres. While western animation restricted itself to basic sci-fi and fantasy, anime dared to push itself beyond the basic and explore the sub-genres of those themes as well. One of the first genres that anime really dove into was the cyberpunk genre.
Characterized by futuristic dystopias with advanced technology, a large rift between the wealthy and the poor (often with no real middle class), and a bleak landscape dominated by cities and empty wastes, cyberpunk was a theme that had been explored in western movies, but not animation so it’s largely unfamiliar territory to a lot of western viewers. Here are our picks for the best cyberpunk anime available today:
Ghost In The Shell
Masamune Shirow’s masterpiece, Ghost In The Shell remains to be one of the most iconic cyberpunk anime to this day. While it doesn’t have some of the grittier elements of the cyberpunk setting, it still has the advanced technology as well as a visible rift between the wealthy and everybody else. Packed full of police action and high-tech mystery solving, Ghost In the Shell remains relevant and exciting up to today.
One element that makes the anime such a standout is the defining philosophies within the narrative that isn’t present in so many others in the genre. The philosophies about “the ghost in the shell”, the “stand alone complex”, and other philosophies with roots in technology and cybernetics elevate the series beyond a simple high-tech action series.
Battle Angel Alita
Heart-pumping action, cybernetic assassins, class warfare, a floating city where the rich live, and slums on the ground where the poor are exploited for labor and organs, Battle Angel Alita hits practically all the checkboxes for a cyberpunk story. As one of the earlier strong female leads in anime, Battle Angel Alita stood out from most of the other anime in its time.
It was also one of the first anime that didn’t have the entire story revolve around a romantic relationship. While the first arc did have the main character fall in love, the romance was secondary to the character’s development. The second story arc did away with romance entirely, focusing on the main character becoming a star in a fictional, extremely violent sport.
Another cyberpunk police anime, Psycho-Pass introduces viewers to a world where the government constantly monitors its citizens. There are cameras everywhere that monitor the “psycho-pass” of the civilians. This “psycho-pass” determines the mental state of the civilians and how likely they are to commit crimes which are handled by the police force and their “hounds”.
What makes it interesting is that these “hounds” are actually criminals armed with special weapons that are non-lethal so they can’t be used against their handlers. When aimed at someone whose psycho-pass fails to meet the set standards, these weapons become highly lethal. This questionable method of enforcement is challenged when the police are faced with a unique criminal: a madman whose psycho-pass doesn’t register on the monitors.