If you were an anime fan in the early to mid-90s, your choices were primarily cyberpunk. And this was no cause for complaint. Because it’s hard to be sad when your options include Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Battle Angel Alita.
The 80s and 90s were a period of time when computers became commonplace, the internet was growing, and Hollywood was having a love affair with cyberpunk.
This is reflected in the popularity of movies such as RoboCop, Total Recall, and Blade Runner. And by the time the 90s rolled around, the world of anime had already seen the release of the cyberpunk classics Bubble Gum Crisis, Appleseed, and of course, Akira.
So it’s no wonder that some of the top anime of the 90s include cyberpunk titles.
Below is a list of some of our favorite titles, but before we dig into that. You may have a bit of a burning question on your mind.
What is Cyberpunk?
Cyberpunk is a subgenre that falls within the realm of science fiction and got its start during the New Wave science fiction movement of the 60s and 70s.
At its core, cyberpunk can be described as “high tech, low life.”
And if you’re looking for further elaboration, cyberpunk stories often take place in a dystopian future where the lines between technology and humanity are blurred, and mega-corporations reign supreme.
By the late 70s, the world of comics moved in on this genre with Judge Dredd, and in 1982, Japan entered the fray with the classic manga, Akira.
In 1982, Katsuhiro Otomo published the first chapter of what became the masterpiece known as Akira. This was the start of a wave of Japanese cyberpunk that would see the release of many anime and manga classics.
By the late 80s, the popularity of cyberpunk was in full swing, and this momentum would carry into the 90s. And this is where we see some of the greatest cyberpunk anime of all time.
- What is Cyberpunk?
- Cyberpunk Anime
- The Top Cyberpunk Anime of the 90s
- 17. Genocyber
- 16. 8 Man After
- 15. AD Police Files
- 14. Casshan: Robot Hunter
- 13. Spriggan
- 12. Silent Mobius
- 11. New Dominion Tank Police
- 10. Armitage III
- 9. Battle Angel Alita
- 8. Roujin Z
- 7. Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
- 6. Cyber City Oedo 808
- 5. Patlabor 2: The Movie
- 4. Serial Experiments Lain
- 3. Trigun
- 2. Cowboy Bebop
- 1. Ghost in the Shell
- Bonus Question: Is Akira a Cyberpunk Anime?
The Top Cyberpunk Anime of the 90s
Genocyber is an OVA series that is sometimes described as being both gory and nasty.
The Genocyber was created as the ultimate bio-engineered weapon that came as the result of experimentation on two psychic sisters.
The show plays on the limits of human experimentation and corporate control to paint a world of fear and destruction.
Check out some clips of the show in this awesome cyberpunk collection promo on YouTube (slightly NSFW):
16. 8 Man After
8 Man was originally conceived for a manga in Weekly Shonen Magazine back in the 60s and was later adapted into a black and white television series that ran for 56 episodes in the same decade.
8 Man After is a hyperviolent sequel to the original series and sees the mantle of 8 Man being taken up by private detective, Hazama Isturu.
If you’re a fan of Robocop, this OVA may be right up your alley.
15. AD Police Files
A.D. Police is an OVA prequel spin-off of the Bubblegum Crisis series that was cut short due to legal disputes.
The show takes place in the early days of Leon McNichol’s career when he was a police officer in the Advance Police. The purpose of the Advance Police is to deal with any issues that arise from the societal integration of artificial humans known as Boomers (not baby boomers).
The show has some pretty enjoyable violence and it’s a good watch if you’re craving more Bubblegum Crisis.
14. Casshan: Robot Hunter
In the future, machines have conquered and decimated humankind under the rule of the Black King. Those who survived live as slaves with little hope for the future.
Fortunately, a super android known as Casshan is on a crusade to save humankind. Casshan is ruthless in his pursuit of the Black King and obliterates any robot that stands in his way.
Casshan: Robot Hunter is loosely adapted from a 70s anime called Neo-Human Casshern.
Spriggan are elite strikers who are part of the ARCAM Corporation’s private army. Their purpose is to stop various global para-militaries and private armed forces from obtaining ancient and powerful artifacts.
In this late 90s movie, Japanese Spriggan, Yuu Ominae, teams up with French Spriggan, Jean-Jacques Mondo, to prevent the U.S. Machine Corps from obtaining Noah’s Ark.
It’s believed that Noah’s Ark has the power to bring about devastation and the U.S. Machine Corps intends to use it for nefarious purposes.
12. Silent Mobius
Far off in the distant year of 2023, a group of women with amazing paranormal powers known as the Attacked Mystification Police Department fights off interdimensional invaders called the Lucifer Hawk.
The whole thing started when the Magician’s Guild opened up a portal with the intent of exchanging Earth’s polluted air and water with clean stuff from the planet Nemesis. However, things went sideways with that plan, and now a bunch of ladies gotta fight off some invaders.
11. New Dominion Tank Police
This is a good spot to make a note about the genius of Masamune Shirow. For many manga artists, having one globally recognized work of art is an incredible feat in itself. However, Masamune Shirow has MANY globally recognized manga.
In addition to New Dominion Tank Police, he has also written and drawn Black Magic M-66, Appleseed, and Ghost in the Shell. It’s hard to argue that any manga artist played a bigger role in the global popularity of not only Japanese cyberpunk, but Japanese animation in general.
But getting back to the show…
New Dominion Tank Police is a follow-up to the 80s OAV, Dominion. A lot of the same characters return to continue their fight against crime in New Port City.
If you love tanks, guns, and violence, this show is for you.
10. Armitage III
It was impossible to go to the anime section in a Suncoast Motion Picture Company in the late 90s and not have Armitage III with the Pioneer logo on VHS staring you right in the face.
Armitage III takes place on Mars and follows a couple of cops as they investigate the murder of a famous country singer, who happens to be a very human-like robot. Through the course of their investigation, they unravel secrets that land them in the crosshairs of the Mars government.
9. Battle Angel Alita
You’ve probably already seen Alita: Battle Angel, the Robert Rodriguez movie that came out 2019. Did you like the movie? I was a fan.
And you probably already know that the movie was based on the classic 90s anime, Gunnm, or Battle Angel Alita.
And if you already know about all that, then you probably already know why the show is on this list.
However, if you didn’t already know any of what was just said above, then you should know that Battle Angel Alita is a post-apocalyptic story about a young female cyborg who is salvaged from a trash heap.
Unfortunately, she has lost all of her memories and takes on the job of a bounty hunter after realizing she has incredible fighting skills. Along the way, she unravels the truth of her past and discovers the secret of her powers.
8. Roujin Z
Imagine a life where you’re a geriatric and all of your needs are taken care of for you by a robotic bed. Thus eliminating the need for human caregivers and maximizing corporate profits.
This is the premise of Roujin Z.
The Z-001 is the pinnacle of human caregiving and is a robotic bed that provides for all the needs of the patient. All the needs, except for love and care according to nursing student Haruko.
Predictably, things don’t go according to plan and it turns out that the robotic bed is actually a nuclear-powered government weapon.
7. Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
Another entry on this list from the iconic world of Bubblegum Crisis. This show is an alternate take on the events of the 80s anime OVA, Bubblegum Crisis.
Once again, the Knight Sabers set out to destroy rogue Boomers that were created and managed by the shady Genom corporation. This often annoys the AD Police, whose job is to regulate and police Boomers.
As the Genom megacorporation attempts to further develop Boomer technology, the AD Police and Knight Sabers find themselves caught up in a bigger plot leading Tokyo toward disaster.
6. Cyber City Oedo 808
Three convicts; Sengoku, Gogul, and Benten are recruited by the Cyber Police to complete missions in exchange for a reduction to their prison sentences. In order to keep these criminals in check, the police fix explosive collars around their necks.
Cyber City Oedo 808 was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and you may recognize some of his other works; Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and many other notable titles.
This three-episode OVA is a must-watch for any fan of 90s cyberpunk anime.
5. Patlabor 2: The Movie
Patlabor 2 strays from the earlier entries in the series by being less of an action movie and more of a political thriller.
The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force has been infiltrated by a terrorist organization seeking to cause destruction and mass civil unrest throughout Japan.
During her investigation, Shinobu Nagumo learns a shocking secret behind the mastermind of the growing terrorist plot. In response to this, she reassembles the original Section 2 members to apprehend the terrorist leader.
4. Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is a David Lynchesque mind-bending trip that questions the concept of reality.
After the unfortunate suicide of a classmate, Lain is among a handful of people who receive a post-mortem email from this same classmate. In the email, she states that she no longer needs her body and is alive in the Wired.
It can be said that Serial Experiments Lain was ahead of its time as it touched on concepts of social media and the integration of a wired network into our daily lives. Eventually, Lain discovers her role in the wired and ventures down the rabbit hole.
Vash Stampede is a good-natured fellow with amnesia and the misfortune of a very large bounty on his head. A wave of destruction follows him everywhere he goes as ruthless bounty hunters take extreme measures to collect the bounty.
This is all good fun until he and his traveling companions end up in the crosshairs of an elite squad of assassins.
2. Cowboy Bebop
Any anime fan knows about Cowboy Bebop, and despite your feelings on the recent live-action adaptation by Netflix, the anime is still very much worth watching.
Some people hail Cowboy Bebop as the greatest anime ever, but whether you agree with that or not, it’s undeniable that Cowboy Bebop played a significant role in the mainstream popularity of anime in the early 2000s.
Shinichiro Watanabe is a master storyteller and Cowboy Bebop is his most famous work. So if you haven’t watched Cowboy Bebop yet, now is as good a time as ever.
1. Ghost in the Shell
This is another entry on the list that every anime fan is already well aware of. The genius of Masamune Shirow shines through in this classic cyberpunk anime.
Cyborg Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section 9 are hunting down the “Puppet Master,” who has been illegally hacking into the minds of human cyborgs.
The discoveries along the way lead Motoko to question her existence and the concept of humanity.
Bonus Question: Is Akira a Cyberpunk Anime?
Although Akira doesn’t initially appear to fit the same mold of other popular cyberpunk, at its core, Akira is most definitely a cyberpunk anime.
Keeping in mind the cyberpunk mantra of “high tech, low life,” Akira takes place in a dystopian future (well, not anymore), and the government uses advanced drugs and technology to experiment on psychic children or espers.
After Tetsuo nearly smashes into one of the espers with his motorcycle, he is taken in by the military and subjected to experimentation that causes rapid growth of his newfound psychic powers that leads toward catastrophe.
The difference between Akira and other cyberpunk movies is that in Akira, it is the government, and not a megacorporation, that crosses the line of human ethics. And although this may be a common trope, it is not a defining trait of the genre.
Similarly, none of the characters in the movie exhibit cybernetic implants and there are no androids to be found. But between the hoverbikes, badass motorcycles, laser weapons, there is the presence of advanced technology.
Furthermore, there is widespread protest and unrest in the movie, which lends itself to the notion that the general population is subject to poor living conditions and an oppressive government.
So even though Akira may not appear to perfectly fit within the genre, it is still safe to say it fits in the “high technology, low life” criteria. Thus, Akira is a cyberpunk anime.
We get it, this is a 90s anime blog and Akira came out in the 80s. So why would we even discuss this?
The truth is, although Akira was released in 1988, it wasn’t until the early 90s that it released stateside on VHS. This is when the movie started to receive mainstream global recognition.
For that reason, I feel strongly that Akira is largely responsible for popularizing anime in the early 90s. So that’s why we talk about Akira on this blog.