Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction, usually featuring urban, dystopian futures littered with advanced technology and often pitting a desolate, gritty underworld against powerful megacorporations. The subgenre became increasingly popular in the 80s, culminating in popular movies such as Bladerunner and literature like Neuromancer. But manga has also had an immense impact on the subgenre as well. If you’re interested in getting into cyberpunk manga, check out the list below which contains affiliate links to help you find where you can pick up these titles.
Ghost in the Shell
With the recent movie starring Scarlet Johansson, Ghost in the Shell is likely one of the few cyberpunk franchises that spans generations. The original manga was created in the late 80s, but since then there have been various tv series, animated films, and even video games created and the franchise has gone on to influence many other media creators such as the creators of The Matrix. But if you’re interested in seeing where this franchise began, check out the manga.
If you aren’t familiar with Ghost in the Shell, the franchise focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi. In the manga, Major is a member of Section 9 and is tasked with investigating the Puppeteer, a cyber-criminal wanted for ghost-hacking into the cyberbrains of humans. However, as the investigation continues, Major finds that the Puppeteer is an AI existing inside a robot body and was created by a department within the Japanese government. After destroying the Puppeteer’s body, Major realizes that the Puppeteer has invaded her own mind but allows it to continue to exist for a price. After these events, Major leaves Section 9 and works as a private contractor with other ex-members, continuing to work in covert operations.
Another cyberpunk manga hailing from the late 80s, this one focuses on Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires. After the Third World War, the human population has been decimated. The few pockets of humans left alive have clumped together and powerful organizations have taken over in the power gap. Deunan and Briareos, former members of the LAPD’s SWAT team, are invited to become members of ESWAT in the utopian city of Olympus. As citizens and security of the world’s most powerful state, our two protagonists must protect their home from threats to its security.
Blame! focuses on Killy, a silent man who possesses a powerful weapon no one has ever seen before. Wandering the convoluted technological world known as The City, Killy is searching for a way to locate humans possessing a supposedly extinct genetic marker that allows them to access the Netsphere, the only way to control the expansion of The City. Within The City itself, humans and transhumans are being hunted by hostile cyborgs and murderous robots. The only way to stop the systematic destruction of all humanity is to find someone who can control the Netsphere.
Blame! was my first dive into cyberpunk manga so it holds a special place in my heart. Beyond the interesting and novel story, the art is drastically different from other manga I’ve read; it’s grungy, dark, and extremely violent. Tsutomu Nihei, the mangaka behind Blame!, has numerous other cyberpunk manga under their belt. A few other titles will show up on this list, but beyond those, if you like Blame! check out Biomega, NOiSE, and Abara.
No Guns Life
No Guns Life is currently my favorite cyberpunk manga and the anime now has two seasons under its belt so there’s plenty to dive into. From the art style to the loveable characters, this manga easily stands out from the rest. While this manga’s creative action and silliness will likely keep you entertained, the subtext will catch you off guard. The story takes many cyberpunk themes such as anti-capitalism and runs with them, creating a story that highlights forgiveness, found family, and what it means to be human.
In the world of No Guns Life, a recent war stimulated the practice of splicing of humans with technology, turning them into living weapons. However, with the end of the war, these cyborgs, also known as Extended, have not only been discharged and left to struggle with civilian life, but many civilians have also become Extended. With more and more Extended, there are infinitely more altercations between the Extended and the unaltered populace. This is where Juzo Inui comes in. An Extended from the war, Juuzo scratches out a meager living as a Resolver—someone who investigates and deals with such altercations. One day, a renegade Extended breaks into Juuzo’s office, begging that he protect a young, abused boy who is being pursued by a shady corporation. Despite Juuzo’s callous exterior, he can’t turn down a person in need.
Knights of Sidonia
This is another manga from Tsutomu Nihei but has a much different feel to it than Blame!. If you didn’t enjoy Blame! for its mysterious plot, open-ended conclusion, or its grungy art, don’t rule out Knights of Sidonia.
Set in the distant year of 3394, humans have long fled Earth after it was destroyed by shapeshifting aliens, the Guana. The series focuses on one of the spaceships that escaped Earth, the Sidonia. The humans on this ship have developed their own culture and genetic engineering has become commonplace. This story follows Nagate Tanikaze, a self-trained pilot who was born in the underbelly of Sidonia and raised by his grandfather. Isolated from everyone else, he became a master pilot by training in an old Guardian simulator. However, after his grandfather’s death, Nagate makes his way to the upper levels of Sidonia just when the Gauna rear their ugly heads again. With his home under attack, Nagate becomes a Guardian pilot to do his part in fighting for mankind.
This is the latest manga from Tsutomu Nihei. APOSIMZ is an artificial celestial body with a superstructural shell protecting its vast core. Approximately 50 centuries ago, there was a war over the core, and those who lost now reside on the shell. The surface of APOSIMZ is squalid; it’s freezing and its inhabitants face the threat of both aggressive automatons and Frame disease. But despite all this, humans manage to survive. The manga focuses on Eo, Biko, and Etherow who are residents of one of the few cities established on the surface. During one of their combat training sessions, a mysterious girl, Titania, appears and is pursued by soldiers of the dominant military force on the surface, the Empire. She asks Etherow for help. However, after helping her, their city is attacked and Etherow is fatally wounded. Titania gives Etherow the option of becoming a Frame, an inorganic being, so that he can exact his revenge on the Empire and find a way to breach the surface of APOSIMZ.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is set in 2015 when the world is being sieged by Angels, alien beings who herald Earth’s ruin. However, a special agency, NERV, has developed a way to defeat the Angels with the use of Evangelions—giant, powerful machines—created form samples obtained from one of the first Angels to come to Earth. But, the Evangelions need pilots. The organization seeks out compatible pilots that can synchronize with their Evangelions and bring out the true potential of the mechs. Gendo Ikari, the head of the organization, invites his son, Shinji, to pilot Evangelion Unit 01. Despite a rough start, Shinji slowly bonds with Unit 01 and learns the secrets of the mech in order to protect Tokyo-3 from the Angels.
Dorohedoro is probably the weirdest manga I’ve ever read. It’s filled with magic, violence, and dark humor. With the manga finally being made into an anime, there’s no better time to pick up the manga.
Dorohedoro focuses on Caiman and his friend, Nikaido. After Caiman’s head gets turned into a lizard’s, and after losing his memory, he and Nikaido search for the Sorcerer responsible for Caiman’s plight. After killing the wrong Sorcerer, Caiman and Nikaido come to the attention of another, more powerful Sorcerer, En, who can turn anyone or anything into a mushroom. En sends two of his most skilled cleaners, Shin and Noi, on a mission to kill Caiman and also find out just who put the lizard-head curse on Caiman.
With all the hype surrounding Cyberpunk 2077, I personally hope that we see a return of the cyberpunk influences that were so prominent in the 80s. But for now, these manga should satisfy any cyberpunk fan.