With its obsession with the progress of computer technology and cyberspace, the dominance of mega-corporations, sprawling industrial cities, and marginalized, alienated consumers, trying to get by, cyberpunk’s social commentary and aesthetic have never felt more topical.
The cyberpunk aesthetic envisions grimy, gritty, glitchy, neon-lit futuristic cityscapes with color palettes ranging from dark and moody to fluorescent, sleek black leather clothing and mirror shades, omnipresent digital technology, wearable technology, and cybernetic enhancements.
What Is Cyberpunk Aesthetic?
The cyberpunk aesthetic can be challenging to nail down and is the subject of much debate, as the style associated with the cyberpunk movement has evolved in response to changes in real-world society. However, fans of the genre generally narrow down the essence of the cyberpunk aesthetic to the phrase “high tech low life.”
This phrase means that the technological aspects of this world are highly advanced, with rampant digital technology, a cyber world that is as important as the physical world, a contrast between hardware and meat (flesh), and dominance by massive corporations.
In this world, most people are oppressed, and the giant urban landscapes are grimy, pollution-laden, and crime-ridden, with cyberpunks living by hacking the system (literally and figuratively) in a neo-noir atmosphere.
Chrome, neon lights, wires, and screens dominate the environments, while form-fitting black leather, trench coats, neon colors, and mirror shades are the essential elements of cyberpunk fashion.
Cyberpunk stories often explore the impact of technology on society, with a particular focus on how it can be used to empower individuals or bring about social change. The cyberpunk genre explores the consequences of advanced science and technology in an aesthetic style that is heavily inspired by earlier science fiction, particularly the work of Philip K. Dick.
Common themes in cyberpunk fiction include alienation, artificial intelligence, bio mods and cybernetics, hacker culture, corporate oppression, and post-humanity.
What Inspired The Cyberpunk Aesthetic?
The cyberpunk aesthetic was inspired by the cyberpunk literary movement, with the Bruce Bethke coining the term “cyberpunk” in 1983 for his story of the same name. Critics began using the word to describe the writings of authors such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
These writers were inspired by the real-life development of technologies such as the personal computer and the internet, taking shape at the time, the rise of massive corporations as non-state actors, and the technological dominance of Japan. Modern Oriental culture has influenced several aspects of cyberpunk and its aesthetic.
Visually, elements of 1940s film noir and 1990s Goth style also played a role.
Cyberpunk Aesthetic Color Palette
The cyberpunk aesthetic’s color palette is a study in contrasts, with lots of brooding, Gothic black and noirish purple highlighted by vivid, highly-saturated neon red, pinks, and electric blues.
The Matrix films added luminescent, acid green as a quintessential cyberpunk color, and latterly, the game Cyberpunk 2077 has made its mark with a distinctive industrial yellow.
Cyberpunk Aesthetic Art
Many artists working mainly in the digital sphere have produced cyberpunk art. One example is Dylan Kowalski, who makes studies of female figures with cybernetic enhancements in neon-lit futuristic cityscapes.
Another cyberpunk artist is Ronan Le Fur, whose work has been featured on the covers of novels. Some cyberpunk artists, such as Charles Agius, Sang-Eon Lee, and Kensho Miniatures, work in sculpture.
Most notably, artists have produced cyberpunk art for games such as Cyberpunk 2077 and films such as the aesthetic-codifying Blade Runner, whose artist, Syd Mead, also created the cyberpunk look of Tron.
Cyberpunk Aesthetic In Fashion And Futuristic Brands That Incorporate The Cyberpunk Aesthetic
The cyberpunk aesthetic in fashion revolves around dark colors, primarily dark browns, grays, and blacks, with accents of neon or fluorescent color on techwear.
Cyberpunk-style clothing varies from form-fitting latex ladies’ wear to baggy costumes with many pockets and attachment points for various pieces of kit. Trench coats are a vital piece of clothing for men, echoing 1940s film noir, and combat boots are de rigueur for both genders.
For many years, sourcing cyberpunk fashion has meant going to underground labels such as Futurstate, Zolnar, and Immoral Fashion. However, in recent years, the increasingly technologically-mediated life in mainland China has led to an explosion of interest in cyberpunk fashion among Gen Zers.
As a result, mainstream fashion brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton have unveiled cyberpunk clothing lines specifically for this market. Of course, you should design or modify your clothing for authentic punk cred.
Cyberpunk Aesthetic In Movies
Many movies have influenced or used the cyberpunk aesthetic, from the trope codifier Blade Runner to the Matrix trilogy, which brought cyberpunk media to mainstream attention. The following films have used the cyberpunk aesthetic:
- Blade Runner (directed by Ridley Scott, 1982)
- The Matrix (directed by The Wachowski siblings, 1999)
- eXistenZ (directed by David Cronenberg, 1999)
- Brazil (directed by Terry Gilliam, 1985)
- Johnny Mnemonic (directed by Robert Longo, 1995)
- The Fifth Element (directed by Luc Besson, 1997)
- I, Robot (directed by Alex Proyas, 2004)
- Ghost in the Shell (directed by Rupert Sanders, 2017)
- Elysium (directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2013)
- All Tomorrow’s Parties (directed by Yu Lik-wai, 2003)
- Ex Machina (directed by Alex Garland, 2015)
- Sleep Dealer (directed by Alex Rivera, 2008)
- RoboCop (directed by Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
- The Terminator (directed by James Cameron, 1984)
Cyberpunk Aesthetic In Design
The cyberpunk aesthetic in design leans heavily on grimy, gritty, textured walls with a lived-in look, lots of neon lighting, advertisements everywhere, and ubiquitous screens. Reality is digitally-mediated.
To implement a cyberpunk aesthetic in design, steer clear of anything old-fashioned unless it is decayed and broken-down substrate for the futuristic present, and avoid living organisms such as plants.
Cyberpunk graphic design should incorporate chromatic aberrations and other glitches, shapes should be geometric, and typography should be jittery, glitchy, glowing, and generally convey a sense of technological paranoia and unease.
Cyberpunk Aesthetic In Anime
With the influence of technology on life in Japan and modern Japan’s influence on cyberpunk writers, it is no wonder that anime has often reflected cyberpunk aesthetics, with the most famous examples being Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
Many anime films and series have explored the effects of rampant technology on the human condition, the boundaries between human bodies and machines, and the interface between human consciousness and computer intelligence (A. I.)
The following anime is a good starting point for exploring cyberpunk in anime:
- Akira (directed by Katsuhira Otomo, 1988)
- Ghost in the Shell (directed by Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
- Paprika (directed by Satoshi Kon, 2006)
- Texhnolyze (directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki, 2003)
- Cowboy Bebop (directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, 1997-1998)
- Appleseed (directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama, 1988)
- Cyberpunk Edgerunners (directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2022)
- Cyber City Oedo 808 (directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1990)
- Bubblegum Crisis (directed by Katsuhito Akiyama, 1987-1991)
- Armitage III (directed by Hiroyuki Ochi, 1995)
Cyberpunk Aesthetic In Gaming: Cyberpunk 2077
The cyberpunk theme has been part of gaming for a long time, and there is a venerable history of games drawing on the look and the concepts of cyberpunk. Classic cyberpunk novels and films such as Johnny Mnemonic, Neuromancer, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and Akira have been adapted into games. Game companies have created original properties such as the hack series.
However, the release of cyberpunk video games like Cyberpunk 2077 in 2020 by CD Projekt Red created renewed interest in the concepts and aesthetic of cyberpunk (and introduced that notorious shade of yellow). Unfortunately, the customizable RPG elements of the game that they promised did not appear in the final product, but it is still an enjoyable action-adventure title.
Cyberpunk 2077 has you take on the role of V, a lowlife hacker played by Keanu Reeves, in a struggle against the evil Arasaka mega-corporation through the streets and dives of Night City. cyberpunk video games (
Cyberpunk Technology Ideas
Cyberpunk is a highly technology-oriented strand of science fiction that examines the effects of emerging digital technologies on the human condition. As such, it takes a long, hard look at technology such as cyberspace and means of interfacing with it, for example, neural implants and bio-ports, to “jack into” the net.
The ubiquity of the screen is another dominant trope in cyberpunk, one that is increasingly relevant in our modern world as our reality becomes mediated by various screens.
Offshoots of cyberpunk, such as nanopunk and biopunk, explore the effects of technologies such as nano-machines and genetic engineering. These genres generally adopt the same visual aesthetic as cyberpunk.
What Is The Relationship Between Cyberpunk Aesthetics, Technology, And Futuristic Fashion?
The cyberpunk aesthetic is partly driven by the technologies it explores, with neon lights and omnipresent screens making an appearance. Yet, the noirish sensibilities of the visual media that have portrayed this genre also influence it.
The sense of unease about the possibilities of digital technology and artificial intelligence has fed a dark, brooding, inhumanly neon-lit, dystopian, or post-utopian feel to the cyberpunk aesthetic. This aesthetic has bled over into the associated fashion, with Gothic, military surplus, and 1940s noir elements melding into a coherent visual language.
In recent times, a newer and more optimistic take on cyberpunk, known as post-cyberpunk, arose with Neal Stephenson’s seminal novel Snow Crash. The world we live in is not far from that imagined in this novel, and the aesthetics and fashion of this cyberpunk world increasingly find expression in ours, particularly in East Asia.
Summary: How Has The Cyberpunk Aesthetic Contributed To Culture And Innovation?
The cyberpunk aesthetic has driven our understanding of the world we are inheriting, a world increasingly dominated by digital technologies and mediated by screens, where artificial intelligence is poised to take over the roles of humans in many areas.
Youngsters who grew up reading cyberpunk literature and watching cyberpunk films and anime have drawn inspiration to create that world. They have generally aimed for the brighter, more optimistic form that is sometimes labeled “post-cyberpunk” through the invention of new digital technologies and innovation in various scientific and engineering fields.
The cyberpunk fans of the 1980s grew up to become the computer programmers and mechatronic engineers of the early 2000s, intent on translating the vision of the future that had inspired them into a lived reality where technologies such as artificial intelligence, wearable technology, robotics, cryptocurrencies, social media, and bionic prostheses are commonplace.
To the extent that all these technologies are a daily part of most people’s lives, we can say that the cyberpunk aesthetic has massively contributed to the world in which we live, and the pace of innovation isn’t slowing.
Mainland China has followed in the footsteps of Japan in embracing high-technology cities and the ubiquitous nature of neon lights and screens as the defining features of modern life. It is no surprise that these nations are particularly ardent fans of the new wave of cyberpunk fashion and design.
With the presence of cyberpunk technologies in our daily lives, it is no wonder the cyberpunk aesthetic is receiving renewed attention. The unique noir-and-neon look of cyberpunk is highly suited to the lived reality many of us experience.
So put on your trench coat, don a pair of mirror shades, and immerse yourself in the digitally-mediated reality of the twenty-first century!