Cyberpunk 2077 is back in the spotlight after the debut of its brilliant anime spin-off, Edgerunners. The show stands apart for its superb quality of production and excellent storyline, which has seemingly reinvigorated interested in the cyberpunk genre amongst video game enthusiasts. If you’re hungry for more similar content after having watched the show then here are some recommendations.
Ghost in the Shell
If we’re talking Japanese cyberpunk then Ghost in the Shell has to be the ultimate expression of the genre, and it’s a must-watch for Edgerunners fans. The 1995 movie is brilliantly written and does a great job of capturing the gritty “high tech, low life” ambiance that’s so quintessentially cyberpunk.
The story takes place in Tokyo 2029 and follows a cyborg public-security agent who hunts a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. It’s a plot that features many of cyberpunk’s major themes, including transhumanism, augmentation, corporate warfare, and philosophical questions about self-identity in a technologically advanced world.
The franchise continued with a movie sequel called Innocence, as well as a TV series called Standalone complex. There also that live-action movie the less of which is said the better… For our money, the original movie is the best expression of the whole saga.
If Ghost in the Shell is the ultimate expression of Japanese cyberpunk then Akira is its founding father, and to say Edgerunners has been inspired by many aspects of its composition would be an understatement. Akira is highly regarded as a seminal Japanese cyberpunk anime production whose popularity and acclaim essentially paved the way for the country’s film industry to gain international recognition.
The story is set in a futuristic Neo Tokyo and follows the leader of a bike gang, Shōtarō Kaneda, whose friend, Tetsuo Shima, mysteriously gains telekinetic powers after he’s involved in a crash with an Esper called Akira.
Those powers end up threatening an entire military base as they struggle to contain the threat, the same which destroyed the original Tokyo years earlier.
It’s a gripping plot with pacing that moves at warp speed, making for an edge-of-your-seat type of experience. But Akira also serves as great homework for anybody interested in learning about the origins of the cyberpunk genre, exploring many of its key themes and generally oozing that dark ambiance and tone that makes cyberpunk so intoxicating.
Cyber City Oedo 808
Cyber City Oedo 808 is a cyberpunk anime gem that really embodies the 1980s vision of dystopian sci-fi with its long-haired anti-hero protagonists, synth-heavy OST, and gritty, mature writing. These tropes largely serve as a foundation for Mike Pondsmith’s vision of the Cyberpunk 2020/2077 universe, and so you’re sure to appreciate them if you enjoyed Edgerunners.
The story tells the tale of three criminals who are enlisted in fighting crime in exchange for reduced sentences. The plot is a fairly serious affair overall, which starts as a murder mystery and then ends up exploring interesting cyberpunk themes such as transhumanism.
But you certainly wouldn’t call it “heavy” not only are there some really over-the-top action scenes that are thoroughly entertaining but also a few comedic moments that are genuinely funny– and not just because the English dub is somewhat cheesy at times (it’s also laden with profanity).
Overall, this is an action-heavy cyberpunk story full of 80s charm, from its punky aesthetic to its rocking guitar soundtrack. A real must-watch for cyberpunk fans.
If you’re a fan of classic retro cyberpunk anime then Akudama Drive is worth a watch. It actually debuted in 2020, but it has all the hallmarks and beloved tropes of the genre’s biggest classics: it’s action-packed, over-the-top violent, and jam-packed full of social critique and satire.
‘Akudama’ refers to a body of fugitives who comprise the criminal underbelly of the bustling metropolis of Kansai, where a utopian facade hides darker secrets. They have for years been hotly pursued by the Kansai police, who we learn during the anime’s opening scenes have recently caught the infamous Akudama “Cutthroat” and plan to execute them. The Akudama are sent a mysterious message to free Cutthroat for a substantial amount of money, setting into motion a sequence of events that look destined to end in chaos.
In Bubblegum Crisis’ futuristic dystopia, it’s girls who run the world. Well, at least when it comes to cleaning up 2040 Tokyo’s streets of rogue robots!
This late 1980s, early 1990s anime tells the story of the Knight Sabres, an all-female group of mercenaries who don powerful exoskeletons that help them tackle “boomer” related crimes. No, we aren’t talking about beating up old folks here!
In Bubblegum Crisis, “boomers” are robots designed by the Megacorp Genom, which are intended to help mankind but can become powerful tools of destruction in the wrong hands. That’s where the Knight Sabres come in, a powerful task force of the AD Police.
Despite the name, Bubblegum Crisis is actually a rather dark and gloomy anime that tackles powerful themes such as social inequality, corporate espionage, and political infighting.
There aren’t too many of the light-hearted scenes you find in other anime series. There’s not even the age-old anime tradition of having the characters visit a beach or something similar. To be fair, the series is only eight episodes long, so there wasn’t much time for frolicking on the beach! There is, however, a 26-part reboot that was made in the late 1990s and is definitely also worth a watch.
Blame! is a much darker cyberpunk story than Edgerunners, taking place in a grim post-apocalyptic dystopia that reminds us of the Matrix in many ways. In a desolate metropolis overrun by machines, Zuru sets out on an expedition to find food but her team accidentally triggers the city’s AI defense program called the Safeguard. They’re attacked and almost overrun by machines before a mysterious man named Killy arrives and exterminates the hostile units.
Named Killy, the man explains he is from thousands of levels below the city and is in search of humans possessing the Net Terminal Genes, the special trait capable of shutting down Safeguard once and for all. Zuru is hesitant at first but eventually joins Killy in a plight to try and rescue mankind from extinction.
A.D Police Files
For those who really dug Bubblegum Crisis, AD Police Files is an excellent spin-off that’s set within the same universe and is absolutely worth checking out.
This short series serves as a prequel to Bubblegum Crisis and follows detective Leon McKnickles right at the very start of his career. It has a very neo-noir feel to the writing and aesthetic.
Sadly, this gritty, hardcore cyberpunk series only ran for three episodes before its production came to a sudden halt after a legal conflict between Artmic and Youmex.
It’s such a shame, too, because AD Police Files had huge potential to become one of the all-time great cyberpunk animes. Its atmosphere and design are truly top-notch and something that fans of similarly mature anime such as Edgerunners will really appreciate.
The only western anime on our list, The Animatrix is a nine-part series of short episodes that serve as a prequel to The Matrix and detail the original war between humankind and machines. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of The Matrix, trust us when we say this is a must-watch anime series.
Four of the nine animated short stories were released on The Matrix’s official website, while the full collection was included as part of the DVD Matrix movie trilogy in 2003, but they were never really given a proper spotlight.
Indeed, it’s surprising how few people have actually seen or heard of The Animatrix, which is a pity considering it’s arguably better than any of the Matrix movies! Put this on your list of ones to watch after finishing Edgerunners, for sure.
Battle Angel Alita
Battle Angel Alita is a two-part 1990s anime movie based on a popular manga series.
The story takes place 300 years after Earth was devastated by a catastrophic war known as “The Fall.” In this grim future, society is divided between those who live in the grimy Scrapyard City and the elite who live above them in a floating city called Zalem.
After happening across “Gally’s” body on a scrapheap, the Cyberdoctor Daisuke Ido rebuilds her and becomes her surrogate father. Gally has no memory of her past but soon displays remarkable fighting skills. She starts working as a bounty hunter and meets a young man named Yugo, who she then tries to help reach Zalem.
Battle Angel Alita is one of Japan’s most popular cyberpunk manga series, and therefore much was expected of the anime when it launched in 1993.
While some purists didn’t like all the changes made from the original manga, it is overall a very solid production with great artwork and music.
Certainly, the story lacks a bit of polish and feels a little incomplete in some aspects, but it’s still an anime we’d highly recommend for those wanting to immerse themselves in the cyberpunk genre.
Texhnolyze ignores the typical cyberpunk pastiche for something that is original and unusual but every bit as atmospheric. In fact, it takes place in perhaps the most frightening dystopia of any cyberpunk anime, with a dark plot that lives long in the memory after its credits roll.
The story is set in a man-made underground city called Lux, which has become dilapidated after years of disrepair. “The City,” as it’s known, is referred to by its citizens almost as if it has a mind of its own, with three major factions attempting to control it and make it their own.
However, the main plot actually follows a young prizefighter named Ichise who loses two limbs after an altercation and is forced to undergo experimental surgery to replace them.
This, in turn, makes him so powerful that one of the city’s three factions employs his services as a security detail.
Later, he then meets a mysterious girl named Ran who somehow is able to see visions of the future. The pair suddenly realize that Lux is heading toward a war that will destroy the entire population, and they’re the only ones who can stop it.
For those who are interested in exploring thought-provoking themes, such as human extinction, human morality, and nihilism, Texhnolyze will be very appealing indeed.
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