Cyberpunk is more than just a science fiction genre - it's a distinctive style and aesthetic that has crossed over into fashion, art, movies, anime, manga, video games, and music.

Inspired by futuristic dystopias, cyberpunk style combines elements of high tech with low life.

Black leather, glowing neon colors, augmented bodies, and gritty urban landscapes are all emblematic of the cyberpunk world.

At its core, cyberpunk examines the intersection of technology and humanity in darkly atmospheric futures.

Read on to learn more about the history, origins, and key aspects that define the evocative cyberpunk genre:

Cyberpunk style outfits

Defining the Cyberpunk Genre

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that emerged in the early 1980s. It portrays futuristic worlds where high technology coexists with societal breakdowns.

The term "cyberpunk" was coined by author Bruce Bethke for his 1983 short story. Novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer popularized the style, exploring themes of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and body augmentation.

Key themes in cyberpunk include the dehumanizing effects of technology, critiques of capitalism, struggles against totalitarianism, and the use of cybernetics to enhance the human body. Cyberpunk worlds often depict post-industrial dystopias with stark social divisions.

Visually, cyberpunk media employs neon lighting against dark backgrounds to create a moody atmosphere. Common motifs include futuristic slums, virtual/augmented realities, and conflicts between high-tech advances and societal decay.

Inspirations for cyberpunk include the New Wave science fiction movement, early hacker culture, and punk/post-punk attitudes. Despite its fading popularity, cyberpunk continues to influence various forms of media.

The History and Origins of Cyberpunk

Though the term “cyberpunk” originated in 1983, the genre drew influence from earlier works of science fiction.

Blade runner 2049

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and the film adaptation Blade Runner (1982) were major inspirations, depicting futuristic worlds of artificial intelligence and blurred lines between humans and machines.

The New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 70s also directly shaped cyberpunk, with its morally ambiguous protagonists and focus on the impact of technology and innovation on societies.

William S. Burroughs’, Thomas Pynchon’s, and J.G. Ballard’s experimental novels depicting seedy, hallucinatory futures primed audiences for the cyberpunk tone and themes to come.

Bruce Bethke’s 1983 short story “Cyberpunk” gave the genre its name, envisioning a group of teenage hackers living in urban decay.

That same year, William Gibson’s short story “Burning Chrome” introduced important cyberpunk concepts like implants, virtual reality, hacking, and ruthless criminal organizations.

Gibson further cemented cyberpunk in the public imagination with his 1984 debut novel Neuromancer, which won science fiction’s prestigious Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards.

Neuromancer follows criminal computer hacker Case and the shadowy missions he undertakes after his central nervous system is damaged, leaving him unable to access cyberspace until he receives illegal repairs.

Through the 80s and 90s, iconic works like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), the film Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and Masamune Shirow's manga Ghost in the Shell (1989) further popularized tropes of hackers, virtual reality, cyborgs, evil corporations, neon-bathed urban dystopias, black markets for cybernetic implants, and the fusion of humanity with artificial intelligence.

While no longer as dominant, the concepts and aesthetic of cyberpunk continue influencing science fiction in various mediums today, sometimes crossed with other genres like fantasy and biopunk. Themes of an inequitable tech-centric future remain relevant even as the original era of cyberpunk faded into the dot-com bubble burst of the early 2000s.

Comparing Cyberpunk and Solarpunk

dark and polluted Cyberpunk city vs green solarpunk city

Though they both qualify as science fiction with a focus on technology, cyberpunk and solarpunk envision very different futures.

Whereas cyberpunk presents gritty dystopias of society’s rely on technology run amok, solarpunk opts for a more utopian view where sustainability and social equity are achieved through the use of technology and innovation.

Cyberpunk settings are bleak urban environments marked by pollution, overcrowding, and extremes of wealth inequality in which corporations hold unchecked power. Solarpunk worlds are abundant green utopias powered by renewable energy and egalitarian ideals.

The protagonists also differ - cyberpunk anti-heroes are marginalized loners, hustlers, and hackers surviving on society’s fringes, while solarpunk characters are community-builders designing green tech.

Cyberpunk visuals feature dark cityscapes lit by neon signs, rain, and pollution that obscure the sunlight, in contrast to solarpunk’s open natural spaces with vegetation flourishing.

However, as different as the two genres are, there are occasional fusions under the term “greenpunk” or “ecopunk”, exploring worlds where solarpunk eco-innovations emerge out of cyberpunk corporate dystopias.

Some examples of greenpunk works include:

  • Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009), depicting the calorie-obsessed aftermath of a global oil crash.
  • Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011), where the main character lives in a sprawling junkyard metropolis but escapes into an idyllic virtual paradise.
  • The rebooted Deus Ex video game series showing augmentations co-existing with devastated urban environments.

While both genres extrapolate the future impacts of current tech, cyberpunk’s pessimistic view of corporate rule feels directly descended from the Cold War era’s tensions and fears. Solarpunk offers more optimism that humanity could use innovation to rebuild society as sustainable and just - though whether that optimism itself is realistic remains up for debate.

Both genres highlight intriguing and chilling possibilities for society’s relationship with emerging technologies in decades to come.

Cyberpunk Inspired Clothing and Fashion

Cyberpunk fashion pulls visual inspiration from the genre's dystopian worlds, mixing an underground, punk sensibility with technological elements.

Black leather, PVC, and mesh are all common fabrics in cyberpunk clothing, often accented with straps, pads, or armor to emulate a post-apocalyptic survivor aesthetic.

Outfits tend to be asymmetric or layered, with uneven hemlines and materials that only partially cover the body underneath, suggesting piecemeal scavenging or augmentation.

Neon colors like bright green, hot pink, and electric blue make bold accents against darker shades of gray, blue, red, and black, mimicking cyberpunk’s signature neon-noir visuals.

Glowing LED or EL wires integrated directly into clothing add actual illumination.

Gas masks, goggles, and other protective headgear reference cyberpunk’s polluted environments, with lenses or VR-style visors hinting at augmented realities.

Tactical gear like combat boots and utility belts loaded with gadgets and tools convey functionality, readiness for action, and the makeshift accessories of urban wanderers.

Avant-garde or asymmetric hairstyles with partly shaved sections compliment the gritty style.

On a deeper level, the patchwork outfits symbolize the incomplete transition towards blending the human body with technology, which is a central cyberpunk theme.

Various subcultures intersect with the style too, like techwear’s focus on practical yet stylish functional garments, and dystopian fashion blogs pushing more theatrical, costume-like ensemble.

Japanese street fashion is also a big influence, from the harsh monochromes of the “gothic Lolita” look to the futuristic fabrics of “cyber-kei” designers.

Of course, function matters more than form for real-life inhabitants of sprawling megacities or off-world colonies. But cyberpunk fashion lets anyone emulate the genre’s dark aesthetics.

Creating a Cyberpunk Style Outfit

The key to manifesting a cyberpunk aesthetic is mixing eclectic elements that suggest a gritty, neo-noir urban future.

Start with classic cyberpunk clothing items like a black leather jacket, tactical pants or cargo pants with pockets and straps, and tough, rugged boots, ideally with steel toes or armored plating.

Layer shredded t-shirts, mesh tops, or PVC under bust corsets over thermals, unitards, and compression garments to emulate a worn-in, makeshift look.

Accessories like fingerless gloves, sci-fi inspired googles or glitched VR-style glasses, chokers, and augmented reality lenses add cosplay-ready touches.

Don’t be afraid of bold neon colors like hot pink, acid green, or electric blue to accentuate details against neutral black, white, and grey bases.

Apply glowing EL wire piping or LED strips along jacket lapels, sleeves, pants seams or choker bands to emulate real-world cyborg implants.

Adorn biker, bomber, and trench coats with patches, pins, or spiked metal studs displaying punk symbols, technology brands or subtle political messaging.

Complete the rugged futurism with a half-shaved neon hair dye job, temporary bio-mechanical tattoos, and wearable tech like smartwatches or a head-mounted display terminal.

Aim for an aesthetic that looks weathered yet functional - perfect for traversing the seedy back alleys of towering urban sprawls or infiltrating the lux towers of corporate aristocrats.

Mix couture fashion brands with surplus military gear for high tech pieces with combat capability built-in.

It’s easy to go over-the-top into costume territory, so focus on adaptability and practicality - cyberpunk anti-heroes need to lay low, survive danger, and blend into the streets as circumstances demand.

The final touch? Adopt the cold, brooding intensity of an augmented lone wolf on the run from corrupt mega-corps in the vivid underworld where high tech and low life collide.

The Art Style of the Cyberpunk Genre

Syd Mead cyberpunk artwork of blade runner

Cyberpunk art features dystopian metropolises where advanced technology and urban decay coexist.

Neon signs, vibrant holograms, and shining augmentations contrast with pollution, grime, and graffiti in endless mega-cities that span across darkened horizons.

Flying vehicles and highways intermix with decaying buildings to show a vista where progress has left many behind.

Advanced cyborgs merge machines and biology via prosthetics, implants, and neural interfaces that make the flesh seem inadequate on its own.

Citizens jack into computer networks by plugging cords directly into ports lining their spines, visualize data dancing behind their retinas, or drift through virtual worlds unshackled by physical limitations.

Body modification clinics sell artificial enhancements allowing people to transcend human norms by boosting their senses and abilities.

Bio-mechanical suits lend average people superhuman strength and speed, while hackers view cyberspace as an entire dimension of data to infiltrate from the comfort of dingy rooms.

Rebellious anti-heroes with spiked hair, tattoos and piercings aim to tear down the all-powerful corporations that control society from towering skyscrapers.

Vast wealth inequality divides plutocratic elites living clean utopian lives from the struggling masses crammed in neon-bathed slums.

Cyberpunk games like Syndicate envision corporate hit-squads waging violent bids for dominance over populations left to fend amongst squalor and technological debris.

Despite the high-tech advances, most people’s daily reality is still a gritty fight for survival against street gangs, corrupt police, authoritarian regimes monitoring everything through citywide camera grids and drones, and the unfeeling algos of profit-driven megacorps.

Typography in Cyberpunk Media

Cyberpunk graphic design calls back to early hacker culture using computer-inspired fonts that emulate command line interfaces, neon arcade aesthetics, and glitchy VCR tracking effects.

Classic font choices include Matrix digital rain code, gadget LCD displays, glowing holograms, and computer terminal text, green against black, showing streams of abstract data.

VCR-style distortion adds scan lines, noise, and analog warp effects conveying cyberpunk's gritty, patched-together tech.

Foreign ideograms, kanji, and Cyrillic alphabets allude to the multicultural mixing of Asian and European cities where English competes with other tongues.

Clashing colors like lime green, hot pink, turquoise, and yellow make bold glowing overlays over murky metallic backgrounds, alluding to nighttime urban neon reflecting off rain puddles.

Futuristic slab serif and stencil styles join monospaced terminal faces for that cold, machine precision.

Glitched fragments with pixilation, disjointed tracking, fragmented glyphs, cuts, cracks, tears and missing sections reveal a world of damaged and worn future tech, patched and cobbled together.

Wildstyle graffiti echoes street rebellion with sharp spiked letters stretching surreally across shaded alleys.

Condensed heavy weights, blackletter, constructivist propaganda designs, and tech company logos represent corporate power and control underlying it all.

This chaotic but evocative aesthetic transports viewers to the fringes of society where hackers, hustlers, cyborgs, and rebels fight wearing a patchwork of scavenged future clothing, computer parts, glowing body mods, and spray paint to etch their existence into the cityscapes of uncaring mega-corps shining cold brilliance from their crystal towers on high.

Notable Cyberpunk Movies and Films

Blade Runner (1982) set the gold standard for cyberpunk visual style with its neon-drenched, dingy vision of future Los Angeles filled with humanlike replicants.

Similarly, Akira (1988) is considered a masterwork of Japanese anime cyberpunk, depicting a neo-Tokyo biker gang member’s run-ins with military experiments, telekinetic children, totalitarian government officials, and eventually the wrath of Akira.

The dystopian metropolis in Ghost in the Shell (1995, based off the 1989 manga) follows a cyborg Public Security agent facing off against master hackers.

The Matrix (1999) questions reality as hackers discover the world is an artificial simulation, created by machines who won an apocalyptic war with humanity and now harvest people as batteries.

Strange Days (1995) shows a ex-cop turned black market dealer spreading illegal virtual reality “SQUID” recordings across a violently unstable Los Angeles nearing the millennium.

RoboCop (1987) and its sequels showcase cop Alex Murphy rebuilt as a cyborg enforcer after being murdered, though glitches in his programming leaves remnants of his humanity intact.

Total Recall (1990) asks whether the protagonist's memories are real or virtual implants, taking him from Earth to Mars colonies filled with mutants and alien artifacts.

Other essential movies include Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Brazil (1985), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Judge Dredd (1995), Hardware (1990), Until the End of the World (1991), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Strange Days (1995), eXistenZ (1999), A Scanner Darkly (2006) and more.

The cyberpunk genre has also crossed over with other major sci-fi franchises, evident in Dredd (2012), RoboCop (2014), Ghost in the Shell (2017 live action), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), and The Matrix Resurrections (2021).

No matter the decade, these movies showcase cyberpunk’s enduring impact on science fiction by inviting viewers to explore societies warped by technological change and ponder existential questions about humanity’s relationship to advancing tech.

Cyberpunk Anime and Manga Series

3 best cyberpunk manga

Manga and anime have done much to popularize cyberpunk across the world with their creative visions of technology impacting society.

The Ghost in the Shell manga and anime franchise has been enormously influential since Masamune Shirow first brought it to life in 1989, exploring transhumanism and the nature of self through the cyborg agent Motoko Kusanagi.

Akira (1982 manga, 1988 anime film) centers on biker gang leader Shōtarō Kaneda wreaking havoc around Neo-Tokyo alongside esper children Takashi and Akira, showcasing director Katsuhiro Otomo’s incredibly detailed cityscapes.

Cowboy Bebop (1998) is a beloved anime series following the adventures of Spike Spiegel, a bounty hunter aboard the ship Bebop alongside a close-knit crew with complex histories.

The influential 1995 film Ghost in the Shell was directed by Mamoru Oshii, later followed by the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series.

Psycho-Pass (2012) presents a dystopia where omnipresent scanners assess the public’s threat levels, with Inspector Akane Tsunemori struggling against the Sybil system alongside detective Shinya Kōgami.

Serial Experiments Lain (1998) explores consciousness and perception through a girl’s obsession with the Wired after receiving emails from a dead classmate that spark an existential crisis about reality.

Blame! (1998 manga, 2017 Netflix anime film) follows Killy as he wanders a vast self-constructed Megastructure filled with hostile cyborgs and Safeguard AIs.

The neo-Tokyo settings of Ergo Proxy, Texhnolyze, Angel Cop, AD Police, Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed, Battle Angel Alita, Megazone 23, and so many more anime all owe a debt to cyberpunk’s lasting influence.

Cyberpunk Video Games

The roleplaying game Cyberpunk 2020 (1988) and its accompanying universe coined the term “cyberpunk” for gaming and expanded on the genre’s ideas through supplements detailing fictional technologies.

Originating in 1994 from Looking Glass Studios, System Shock pioneered many gameplay and visual cyberpunk conventions including 3D rendered worlds, complex player freedom, AI ecosystems, and interfaces fusing machinery with flesh.

Deus Ex (2000) built on System Shock’s foundations, situating covert agent JC Denton in 2052 conspiracy plots rife with secret societies, artificial intelligences, cartilage sunglasses, nanotech swords, cyborg snakes, and grafted arm cannons.

Syndicate (1993) focused on tactical shootouts between corporate hit-squads outfitted with bullet-time trench coats and cryo-grenades while vying for global dominance and converting civilians into blissfully taxable cyborg followers.

Other essential games include Snatcher (1988), Shadowrun (1993), System Shock 2 (1999), Perfect Dark (2000), Anachronox (2001), Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), Eclipse Phase (2011), VA-11 HALL-A (2016), Ruiner (2017), Cloudpunk (2020), The Ascent (2021), Ghostrunner (2020), and Cyberpunk 2077 (2020).

The acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series blended cyberpunk and military themes through characters like the cyborg ninja Gray Fox, nanomachine-enhanced soldiers, PMC armies, child soldiers, digital debilitating plagues, dystopian war economies, and plenty of political commentary.

CD Projekt Red’s open world first-person RPG Cyberpunk 2077 encapsulates the genre’s potential despite itsbugs, resulting in expansive Night City districts filled withbrain dances, cyberpsychosis, corporate intrigue quests,braindance addictions, rogue AIs, chrome body modification clinics,trauma team emergency services, and overflowing hybrid culturesblending high technology with lowlife.

Becoming Part of Cyberpunk Culture

More than just an aesthetic, cyberpunk reflects attitudes for standing against authoritarian control and using technology to empower the individual.

To participate in the culture, start by expanding your mind and upgrading your body. Teach yourself hacking skills to see the digital world differently, advocate for rights like abolishing DRM and expanding access through open source tech or creative commons licenses.

Question the concentration of power in institutions by seeking out diverse fringe viewpoints in zines and counter-culture communities.

Express your unique identity through DIY fashion incorporating tactical gear, augmented VR interfaces, and practical wearable tech that reflects your ideals.

Stay vigilant against surveillance with encryption, VPNs, and disciplined operational security to protect your networks and communities.

When protests arise, wear cameras to document injustice without resorting to violence in return. Help journalists expose abuses by the state rather than stoop to the level of oppressors.

Distrust any singular narrative and think complexly, seeing shades of grey rather than binary black and white extremes.

Consider body augmentations like RFID implants or cybernetic prosthetics that could expand your capabilities down the line as the technology matures ethically.

Promote diversity and inclusion to stand against the radicalization of online echo chambers. Cyberpunk cautionary tales show how even the most radicalized groups still contain vulnerable humans underneath the masks they wear, whether virtual avatars or glowing anime eyes.

At its heart, cyberpunk culture empowers critical thinkers with the courage to challenge even their own views, who apply technology towards liberating goals rather than control, aiming for positive change rather than just disruption.

The world may not be ready to embrace cyberpunk’s radical ideas fully. But by safely exploring this vibrant genre, we can each play a part in writing the still undetermined cyber future.

Cyberpunk Style FAQ

What type of clothing is cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk fashion combines dark dystopian styles like leather, mesh, and PVC with bright neon pops of color. Tactical wear and augmented tech accents convey a rugged, sci-fi look.

How to style like cyberpunk?

The key elements of cyberpunk style are black leather/vinyl, combat boots, tactical pants with pockets and straps, asymmetric layers like ripped mesh shirts or PVC bustiers, neon colored accessories, and functional details like straps, armor panels, or goggles.

What makes something look cyberpunk?

Gritty dystopian urban environments, black leather/PVC costumes with neon colored accents, body augmentations like cyborg implants or prosthetics, holograms, themes of high technology against societal decay, darkness contrasted with vibrant neon pop.

Why is cyberpunk aesthetic so popular?

The cyberpunk visual style has struck a chord through its contrast of advanced technology against gritty, underground environments. It vividly brings to life themes of future shock - both the benefits and dangers of rapid technological change on society.

How to make cyberpunk aesthetic?

Use monochromatic black/grey clothing as a base, then add bright neon accents. Apply crackled metal textures, glow effects, glitched digital overlays, scan lines. Add rain, smoke, graffiti for urban atmosphere. Use visuals suggesting bio-mechanical augmentations.

What aesthetic is Cyberpunk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077 features a vibrant retro-futuristic aesthetic that mixes advanced technologies like cybernetic implants, autonomous vehicles, mega-buildings with 1940/50s Americana influences evident in vehicles like Quadras and Rayfield caliburns. Vibrant splashes of neon colors accentuate the atmosphere.

Is cyberpunk actually punk?

While inspired by punk music's rebellious ethos, cyberpunk leans more towards themes of high tech and low life - rebels fighting authoritarian corporations and regimes using hacking, augmentations, and streetwise sensibilities. So it adopts punk attitudes, but focuses less on its music/fashion.

What are the three styles in cyberpunk?

The three styles most associated with traditional literary cyberpunk are:

  1. Noir atmosphere - shadows, smoke, rain, neon lights
  2. Hypertechnological - cyborgs, implants, hackers, virtual worlds
  3. Post-apocalyptic dystopia - breakdown of order, corporate control