A Beginner’s Guide to Cyberpunk
The intention of this article is not to rehash the origins of cyberpunk, or what the word means. To do that, I would direct you to our excellent What Is Cyberpunk? Article in the menu. However, After discovering the Cyberpunk term, I was eager to go to a beginner’s guide to figure out what media I should read first. I was disappointed to find I could not find such a beginner’s guide, which is what led me to publishing this post.
This article is meant to guide you and give suggestions on what media to consume first, second, third, and so on in their different forms to begin your Cyberpunk adventure.
First off, it’s important to determine what kind of media you prefer, and to make sure you are aware of all the different forms of media in which Cyberpunk manifests itself. The main ones are TV shows, Movies, Books and Graphic Novels/Comics, and Video Games. So keep in mind which ones you prefer, hopefully a combination of all the above.
Next, to not get lost and start at the beginning of your adventure, I recommend breaking it down to three separate eras of Cyberpunk.
See, you basically have 3 different eras of Cyberpunk media which should really be consumed separately.
Why, you ask? Because media invariably is a product of the times from which it comes. Different time periods come with different fads, concerns, and economic, political, and social trends. So to consume them out of order, when each piece had wildly different styles and focuses, would just be plain confusing.
So what are the 3 different eras exactly?
C-1 would be from the 1980s to end 1990s, starting with Blade Runner in 1982 and Neuromancer in 1984 and ending with, but not including, The Matrix in 1999.
Then you have Neo-Cyberpunk (pun intended) with C-2 starting with the Matrix in 1999 and ending with media from the late 2000s. Finally, C-3 would be 2010 until now, starting with Tron: Legacy up until today.
“All paths must have a first step. All stories have a beginning.”
In terms of getting to know the genre itself, I would recommend reading Neuromancer and watching Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade runner. This will be a good introduction into the genre, since these two pieces of work are considered the founding material for the whole genre. However, although there are countless die-hard Blade Runner and Neuromancer fans, these works may not be for everyone. Neuromancer is definitely hard to read and follow if you are unfamiliar with cyberpunk lingo (which I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this guide) and even if you are, it’s still quite challenging. The dialogue is what shines in Gibson’s novels with stylistic genius, but half of the time spent reading it, you probably won’t understand what’s happening. I would actually recommend reading a brief synopsis of the story as you’re reading along, so you don’t get lost. That’s what I did.
Unless if you like getting lost. Then by all means, go right ahead.
The issue I had with Blade Runner is that it’s slow, it’s long, and I personally didn’t like the discordant chords prevalent in the movie’s soundtrack by Vangelis. Tell any cyberpunk fan you don’t like the soundtrack and they’ll probably tell you it’s heresy, though. But perhaps I fit right along in the punk elements of fighting the powers that be to tell me that I have to like Blade Runner or its soundtrack. So there.
After trying out your first movie and first book, I would recommend moving on to the book that inspired the movie blade runner, called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. For the next movie, there are a couple different paths you could take. You could either take your time and go through the most important movies from the older days until now, easing into the more modern movies, or you could jump straight to the most iconic cyberpunk films, which will definitely feel very different in style and special effects but will get you to the classics faster.
I would also recommend a parallel/intertwined track of anime movies/tv series. Anime can present the genre in a way that basic movies can’t, and the genre has been heavily affected by the medium.
If you want to take your time, however, I would recommend a duo of Paul Verhoeven movies: Total Recall and Robocop. These 2 over the top, gory, and silly movies have a lot of underlying cyberpunk themes, and they also lay the groundwork for more cyberpunk media that would come later.
For anime, you will want to start by watching the anime movie Akira, which was a big inspiration for some of the elements in The Matrix and other big cyberpunk films later on. Ironically, Akira is set in 2019, so this year is a great year to start. So is Blade Runner.
I’ll be posting more details of what to check out in each era soon, so follow along, and let me know your thoughts on any of this content as well!