What is Cyberpunk? It’s a proverbial retrofitting, an advancement of science and technology spot welded to the shambles of society — literally, Cyber Punk. Cyberpunk is oftentimes a melding of genres, be they Sci-Fi with Noir, Transhumanism with Robots, or John Woo with Robots. You know Cyberpunk when you see it, and these 15 comics are some of the purest, cyborgiest, bizarrely-sexiest Cyberpunk works to originate in comics, just screaming to be injected right into your canthus.
To clarify, we will not be counting magna in this comic list, leaving out works like “Ghost in The Shell” and “Akira.” Likewise, Cyberpunk works in question had to originate as comics, meaning that shoe-in adaptations like “Neuromancer: The Graphic Novel,” and the “Blade Runner” comics do not qualify.
15. THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS
It’s hard to ignore a Cyberpunk work that has a companion electro-punk album by My Chemical Romance. Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon with art from Becky Cloonan, “The True Lives of The Famous Killjoys” focuses on a band of four ray gun wielding rogues trying to free Battery City from the bland oppressive grip of Better Living Industries. There’s also Draculoids, who give you the choice of death or wearing a rubber mask that makes you see nightmare spiders. But don’t forget about the BLI sex-robots that just want to love other sex-robots — when they’re not preparing for the arrival of the machine messiah, Destroya, of course.
“Killjoys” is just all over the place — a lot of overdeveloped ideas with no cohesion. To assist you in this information overload, every issue ends with torn pages from BLI instruction manuals, providing necessary exposition for stuff you just read. Regardless, even if you’re na MCR-H8R, you’ve got to give Gerard Way some props, as the music video for “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” by MCR/The Killjoys has Grant Morrison playing the primary antagonist.
14. SINGULARITY 7
Ben Templesmith’s “Singularity 7” (2004), is a post-apocalyptic Cyberpunk horror story where nano machines are the form of the destroyer. Alien nanites infect one Bobby Hennigan, who improves the world with his nano-bots before razing it with them Bobby dubs himself “The Singularity,” forcing humanity underground. Only two types of humanoids can now operate topside: “Gosiodos,” man/machine hybrids who have bonded with The Singularity hive mind — yet couldn’t just be called “Singularities” for conceptual clarity — and the more pragmatically named “Specials,” who have special interactions with the nanites, bonding with them to gain powers.
“Singularity 7” falls into a common pitfall of basing a plot around nano machines: equating nanites to machine magic that can hand wave away all problems while simultaneously operating on an arcane set of rules. What kind of statement is being made about nano machines? Sure, there is limitless potential in them, succinctly demonstrated when they fix/destroy civilization in one issue. Additionally, nano machines can make human duplicates, but become Gosiodo when interacting with biological humans, provided that human isn’t a Special, who for some reason assumes control over the nano machines. This all makes sense… because nano machines.
13. HEAVY LIQUID
Paul Pope’s “Heavy Liquid” (1999) may not be the most Cyberpunky entry on this list, but it certainly has more than enough elements for it to qualify. “Heavy Liquid” focuses on “S,” which stands for Stooge, and his interactions with Heavy Liquid, a chrome cake batter-looking metal that has unique chemical properties. It’s a bizarre sort of comic that throws you into the deep end of NYC, with “S” having to evade assassins wearing cubist masks and The Fork Tungs — “The meanest, roughest, toughest girl gang in the five boroughs.” This beautiful lunatic-noir adventure can only be told through Pope’s ink-heavy minimalist style.
When properly refined, Heavy Liquid turns into a black milk, and when inserted into the body it gives the user a unique ultra-sensory and hyper dimensional awareness for about five minutes before giving the user an overall trip that sharpens the mind — basically space drugs. Though art moguls seek Heavy Liquid for their own creative endeavors, “S” always makes sure to have enough of the mysterious substance squirrelled away to keep his trip going.
“Ronin” by Frank Miller is about a masterless samurai, known as Ronin, who was trapped by the demon Agat inside a magic blood-drinking katana. When the sword is shattered, Ronin is reborn into the Cyberpunk New York City of the 21st century, possessing the body of a cybernetic-using telekinetic autistic quadruple amputee named Billy. Sounds complicated, but it’s basically “Samurai Jack,” but with inbred cannibal subway hobos. Also, NYC has turned into one big race war, comprised of the “Blacks” (the least-offensive term used to describe the group), obligatory Nazis and The Leathers, who should be self explanatory except they have a leather-clad Black Nazi as their leader.
While “Ronin” is basically the first mainstream Cyberpunk comic, it hasn’t aged well. Miller’s character art is solid, with almost no sausage fingers whatsoever, but the action sequences can be hard to follow, with landscape shots being downright vague. Is future Manhattan billowing green smog? Or is it overgrown with foliage? Wait, the green blobs are houses? Other Cyberpunk comics tend to take advantage of their backgrounds, filling them as a means of world-building. “Ronin” however, has two chapters taking place in complete darkness.
11. THE SURROGATES
In the world of “The Surrogates” (2005), by Robert Venditti and Brett Weidele, individuals can live their lives and daily interactions through use of humanoid robots known as surrogates. With surrogates, you can be as attractive, fit or as male/female/Sith as your heart desires. While the use of surrogates is clearly beneficial to paralyzed or disfigured individuals, surrogacy can be problematic for addicts like Lt. Harvey Greer’s wife Margaret, who utilizes surrogates to appear crazy-hot. Although, if everyone is walking around using an attractive surrogate, wouldn’t “hot” become average? Likewise, as we notice from the first actual person we are introduced to — the fat guy whose surrogate was robo-murdered by the dope dead eyed robot Steeplejack — widespread robo-surrogacy risks a potentially hyper obese “WALL-E” future.
With a great minimalist style that complements the underlying alienation and disconnect present throughout this robo-noir tale, “The Surrogates'” subject matter prompts greater discussion. It’s a shame that “The Surrogates” will be primarily remembered by a terrible Bruce Willis movie that spoiled its own ending in its trailer.
Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso reunite to create “Spaceman,” a grounded Cyberpunk epic done in the same intricately abstract “100 Bullets” style. Orson is one of the Spacemen, a group of genetically engineered humans designed by NASA to have increased muscle and bone density to better endure the harsh Martian environment. Orson and his Spacemen “Bradahs” have since been grounded on Earth, overflowing due to the melted ice caps. Somewhere between man and ape, Orson provides us a means to explore the limits of humanism. Engineered without female counterparts, Orson suffers from a very human sense of loneliness. To better cope, Orson doses himself with chems to go numb. It is during these hallucinogenic trips that we witness Orson’s last trip to Mars, to discover what turned the Spaceman into a Junkman.
Brain this — the best part of “Spaceman” is its colloquial guttural slang used by Orson and adorable drug dealing children. It may seem small, but just a small switch makes “Spaceman” feel like a totally distinct society. Funds are “funs,” people laugh with “lol,” and “beating jerky” is done with an intricate system of electrodes placed on erogenous zones.
9. EMPTY ZONE
“Empty Zone” (2015) by Jason Shawn Alexander is a unique breed of Cyberpunk body horror. Corrine White is a platinum-haired professional data thief (with a dope retrofitted robot arm) who uncovers what is essentially Cyberpunk necromancy. Now, man-machine ReDeads are nothing new to Cyberpunk, however these robot-revenants are screeching at the juncture of horror and science. It’s a simple idea: How would you actually bring someone back to life, recapturing a soul to a decaying body and everything? It’s never as simple as building a Robocop and calling it a day, you’ve got to put the ghost in the shell… Oh! “Ghost in The Shell” totally makes sense now.
“Empty Zone’s” art is top-notch, as Alexander’s work is modular, managing to be striking and evocative during perfectly vulgar dialogue scenes, with Corrine’s cable-like dreadlocks turning into motion lines during ultra-horrific action sequences. Finally, there’s an assassin droid with a cartoon panda face, a cyborg with a Cthulhu-wire jaw and four pages devoted to passionate lesbian cyborg sex. We just thought that you should be aware that these are three things that exist.
8. JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY 2
“Judge Dredd: Mega-City 2” by Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas transplants Judge Dredd to the West Coast as a part of the Judge exchange program, with an aesthetic that’s like “Adventure Time” mixed with “Hard Boiled.” While Dredd is classic Cyberpunk, we give the nod to “Mega-City 2” for being a great twist on California. There are the “antique” movie studios trying to capture the authentic Hollywood style by utilizing the relics of our generation’s greatest icon — Jar Jar Binks. But don’t forget JudgeCon, which is like San Diego Comic Con, except everyone cosplays as a Judge.
The Law is a bit different on the West Coast, as everybody is a star — seriously, customs operates primarily on a “casting call” system. The Law is more lax, most notably Dredd’s Lawgiver being replaced with a Teddy Bear Gun that fires “friendly bullets.” Our favorite twist though is Mega-City 2’s version of Disneyland, a lawless batch of anarchy/Purge-land that gets overlooked by the Judges in exchange for taxable vices. “Mega-City 2” is a shotgun blast full of pop culture references (including a shout out to “Hard Boiled”) complete with an annotated Wilhelm scream.
7. THE PRIVATE EYE
In “The Private Eye” by Brian K. Vaughn, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente, we enter a world without the Internet. All of our personal data, browser history and more “creative” searches were all made public on the day the “cloud” burst. To overcompensate for this breach in privacy, everyone begins wearing masks and adopting new persona. It’s the inverse of “1984,” a society where no one is watched. Give someone a mask ay they’ll show you their true face, however, as people end up having multiple pseudonyms (“Nyms”) in order to explore life. With this experimentation comes alienation, as having multiple Nyms makes it impossible to truly connect with individuals. Enter P.I., our combination protagonist/private-eye/paparazzi, armed with an active camouflage dream coat, a high caliber camera, and marijuana cigarettes.
“The Private Eye” is a noir romp that covers a Cyberpunk trope that few others do — flagrant product placement, with P.I. sporting references to “Blade Runner,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Freakonomics” — P.I.’s influences laid out in the open. It’s these little touches that make the work not just feel like fiction, but a glimpse into the future.
6. 2020 VISIONS
“2020 Visions” by Jamie Delano covers four different stories, each taking place in the year 2020 but in a different part of the world, blending the Cyberpunk genre with elements of another genre while featuring a different artist. This results in four unique story arcs that each hit in a different way, while still retaining previously established mythos to keep you enthralled. Take the horror arc featuring the art of Frank Quitely, “Lust For Life,” depicting a New York City overrun with an antibiotic-resistant super virus. In this quarantine quarrel we witness one man’s rise and fall, starting out as a relatively innocent plague-bearer before being upgraded to Ellis Island Quarantine Death-Camp member, before going full G-Man of the Apocalypse.
Though each “2020” story arc has a different feel, they each manage to stealthily slip in a thought provoking societal issue, like a crime drama about a surgeon who turns their victims into surgically modified monsters is actually about gender identity. Meanwhile, Cowboy Detroit is now under Sharia law. The plague arc on the other hand may just be a secret “Crossed” origin story. Win/win.
“100%” (2002-2003) by Paul Pope is a series of six interwoven stories focusing on Manhattanites in the year 2038. Thematically, “100%” retrofits old Sci-Fi stories into down-to-earth stories of interpersonal relationships. Our favorite moments include a wordless excursion to SuperHarlem to purchase an illegal handgun and an impossible one-note orchestra of 32 wailing mechanized tea kettles.
The highlight of “100%,” however, is the Gastro Cube, the final form of pornography and strip clubs — displaying the insides of a woman as she climaxes, represented in a sort of gastrointestinal summoning storm that envelops the entirety of the room — can’t get a more private view than that. Now, while we may doubt that people will get bored of nudity in only 21 years, the Gastro Cube trounces all of the other Cyberpunk masturbatory apparatuses in terms of eloquently explaining why the future is almost always hyper-sexualized: “Mere nudity — where’s the thrill? The thrill is in being touched… Opened up… Hiding in padlocked hallways in the dark. We want to touch… We just can’t figure out how to do it. We lost the words for it. Then we forgot the question.”
4. TOKYO GHOST
In “Tokyo Ghost” by Rick Remender and Sean Murphy, we focus on Debbie Decay and Led Dent — two sides of the same Cyberpunk coin — riding guns akimbo on the back of a tank-motorcycle in 2089. Constable Led Dent, or Teddy, is more machine than man, unable to exist outside of the net before craving a taste of sweet lady Internet. Cybernetic enhancements allow Teddy to be an effective Constable, however, perpetuating the cycle of cyber-drug addiction. Teddy must be constantly told to wake up, as his helmet is a mix between Boba Fett and those television chairs for “WALL-E.” Dent’s counterpart Decay is completely net-free, favoring a hands-on approach to life taught to her by her gumshoe father. Two different approaches to the world of 2089, where “Death Race” is a convenient method of suicide and self respect is sold by the gram.
Created with a heavy manga influence, “Tokyo Ghost” is jaggedly sharp, oozing with high octane action — like being stabbed with a Ritalin-shiv. Oh, did we mention “Tokyo Ghost’ is hilarious? God-tier levels of vulgarity, and all we’re allowed to say is “ballfarts,” and a “Sandlot” reference.
3. HARD BOILED
“Hard Boiled” is what happens when Frank Miller plays to his strengths — that is to say, someone else handles the art. Geof Darrow’s art is intricately riveting — like getting fitted for a robot arm levels of riveting — telling more than words ever could. Incidentally, here’s the plot: assassin robots.
The beauty of “Hard Boiled” is in what is not said. Countless lives are spent in Nixon’s ultra-violent campaign as collateral damage that goes unnoticed. Much of the city is one big parking garage. There’s a public orgy but with chainsaw-men ripping up couples at random — and not a single word is given in explanation. It’s all so common, so basic, it’s not worth dialogue. In fact, the main antagonist of “Hard Boiled” doesn’t even speak, ostensibly bored throughout. Nixon is designed to take out just one person, and yet every op of his has splash pages filled with innumerable bodies. Hey! In the dump scene, there’s a child skeleton in a fridge… Did you just make a “Cyberpunky Brewster” joke, “Hard Boiled?” You’ve earned your spot on this list, as well as your 1991 Eisner award for best Writer/Artist.
Warren Ellis’ classic series “Transmetropolitan” is for all intents and purposes, Hunter S. Thompson (Spider Jerusalem, but looking kind of like Grant Morrison) reporting on all of the crazy stuff going on in a nebulous sort of Future. Seriously, not only does no one in The City know what the date is, not a single date is given during this entire journalistic comic series, thus making sure Spider Jerusalem’s weekly Word columns perpetually remain relevant.
Ultimately, “Transmetropolitan” ranks so high for simply covering every Cyberpunk trope there is in the book — sometimes literally, as Spider owns a copy of “Hard Boiled.” Everything from the line separating man from cloud of nano machines to genetically engineered political candidates is covered by Jerusalem’s asymmetrical camera shades. In fact, one of our favorite issues of “Transmetropolitan” doesn’t even have any “action,” rather it’s a series of snapshots looking into the lives of the future folk. Once the series mellows out past a bit too trigger-happy introduction you’ll find it impossible to leave The City, or at the very least get the taste of Long Pig out of your mouth.
1. THE LONG TOMORROW
“The Long Tomorrow” is a short, 15 page comic written by Dan O’Bannon with art by Moebius from 1975. “The Long Tomorrow” is a simple detective story with heavy noir influences, following the actions of one private eye Pete Club as he is hired to retrieve the contents of a space-locker before evading space-hitmen and hanging out with cursing robot constables.
“The Long Tomorrow” earns the top spot on this list for basically being a signficantly influential work in Cyberpunk, Science Fiction and general pop culture. Ridley Scott borrowed heavily from Moebius’ visuals for “Blade Runner,” as did William Gibson for the “aesthetic” of “Neuromancer.” So, yeah — this essentially means that without “The Long Tomorrow,” Cyberpunk basically would’ve never existed. Also, the probe droid from “The Empire Strikes Back” is literally just a copied launchpad sentinel. Likewise, the term “Robotcops” is used, making “The Long Tomorrow” two letters away from accidentally inventing “Robocop.” Finally, “The Long Tomorrow” was the main visual influence for the music video for the second best Prodigy song of all time, “Firestarter.”
Did we forget your favorite Cyberpunk saga? Can you think of another Cyberpunk story that isn’t manga? Let us know in the comments!