Cyberpunk Is Dying - There, I Said It
Cyberpunk is dying as a genre. Here’s what it needs to get popular again.
The cyberpunk genre needs to modernize itself. There, I said it.
This will be heresy for many fans of science fiction, but I can’t help it. The genre is outdated and growing stale.
It is stuck in the 1980’s. If you watch the video I made (above), you’ll see that cyberpunk grew out of the issues facing society in the early 80’s, from Reaganomics to the rise of Japan’s auto and tech industries.
That’s why you see so much neon, Japanese writing, corporatism, and hordes of poor in cyberpunk.
But those tropes are 40 years old. There are new issues the world faces.
Vast political divisions in all levels of society
Out of control data mining
It’s a long list. Many of these issues were not on the radar in the 80s when classics such as Blade Runner and Total Recall came out.
What IS Cyberpunk, Exactly?
Cyberpunk is a unique genre in the world of fiction. Part science-fiction and part futurism, it serves to exaggerate societal and economic issues through dystopian visions of what the world might resemble in the future.
Cyberpunk has a few key elements that make it a distinct genre:
A rich and powerful elite
A poor and powerless underclass
A protagonist who struggles against the elite
Large, bustling cities with towering buildings
A call to rebellion
The main point of cyberpunk is to highlight the future, particularly through an inequality lens. It mixes high tech with poverty and crime to do this.
But the genre is slowly dying.
Cyberpunk first grew out of William Gibson’s two seminal books Johnny Mnemonic and Neuromancer in the early 1980s. The Ridley Scott film Blade Runner followed hot on their tails and the genre exploded in popularity.
But cyberpunk has dwindled in the first two decades of the 21st Century. According to Google, cyberpunk genre book sales sit at a lower point today than they did in 1979, a year before Gibson burst onto the scene.
It’s basically a niche, underground genre now. And that sucks.
But it’s understandable. The tropes of the genre are no longer relatable. They’ve been done a hundred times before.
It’s time for a new wave of cyberpunk to reignite people’s imaginations and passions for the future.
Here's How Cyberpunk Should Look Today
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE cyberpunk. This is why I want the genre to regain some of its former glory.
The 1990s was the high-water mark for the genre. Remember all the cyberpunk hits of that decade? The Matrix, The Fifth Element, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, 12 Monkeys, etc.
Those were great movies. So let’s modernize the genre.
Cities don’t need to be dirty, rainy, overly-industrial hellscapes. The 21st Century reality looks more akin to Chinese megacities: clean, organized, shiny, and immensely rich.
Get rid of the old neon Japanese signs. RGB and LED lighting is the modern way, and English is the universal language of the world. Chinese would be a close second.
Also, quit it with the impractical flying cars. Smart self-driving electrified vehicles are more realistic and relatable for the modern audience.
The smaller and smarter the AI tech that each person carries around, the better. The cyberpunk audience can relate to that.
Environmental issues should be front and center in the new wave of cyberpunk because that is something everyone can understand. Also, a divided society along political lines would be immensely recognizable today.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about the current state of cyberpunk? Can it be saved?
What is your favorite cyberpunk film or book?
Let me know in the comments!
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="
title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>