Over recent years, cyberpunk has made something of a comeback in mainstream pop culture. From video games to magazines and beyond, the genre offers a particular vision of what life might be like in the not-too-distant future.
Part of the genre’s appeal are the settings of the stories themselves. Typically, cyberpunk stories take place in high-tech and futuristic urban areas, with a few key defining features, such as neon-lit alleyways and skyscrapers.
But, despite cyberpunk cities being largely fictional and set in the future, there are numerous examples of cities today that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the genre’s stories.
So, with this in mind, let’s ponder the top 20+ cyberpunk cities in real life, featuring urban areas that most fit the aesthetic of the genre.
But first, what is a cyberpunk city in the first place?
What is a cyberpunk city?
Put simply, a cyberpunk city is a city that contains the characteristics of the cities featured in the science fiction genre of cyberpunk. It is an urban area that is usually high-tech, with neon lights and skyscrapers dotting the skyline, but also has a gritty underside that may include high crime rate or poverty.
Cities play a large role in cyberpunk stories, as they have always embodied the dangers of advancing technology, which is a key theme of the genre. And, it is often through the city’s physical contrasts between rich and poor areas that the viewer or reader gets a sense of the inequality themes that underlie the story.
Some famous fictional examples include Night City in the video game Cyberpunk 2077 and Neo-City in the anime film Akira. Meanwhile, esteemed movie Blade Runner also features a futuristic version of Los Angeles that can be described as cyberpunk.
What are the main features of a cyberpunk city?
There are a number of key features that make up a cyberpunk city that you will typically see in stories across the genre. Some of the biggest include an abundance of neon lights, cybernetic implants, and the influence of advanced technology, particularly artificial intelligence.
In a typical cyberpunk city, you’ll also likely see an urban area that is densely populated, with lots of tall buildings littering the skyline. There are usually distinct areas for the wealthy and poor, which creates a sense of division that permeates the story.
Indeed, in the poor areas, crime and poverty levels are often high, and are breeding grounds for rebellion and dissent among the lower classes. Within the city’s towering structures, there are often many places for rebellious and criminal activity to take place.
Now we have got to the bottom of what features we should look out for, let’s take a look at 20 real-life examples of cyberpunk cities.
1. Tokyo, Japan
First up on our list of real-life cyberpunk cities is Japan’s capital city, Tokyo. From the way it looks, to some of its key characteristics, the city has a particularly cyberpunk feel.
Tokyo is one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, and this is seen in its aesthetics, with bright neon lights draping the tall buildings across the skyline. This, paired with its huge population of more than 30 million people, means it resembles a cyberpunk city.
2. Chongqing, China
Chinese city Chongqing is another city you might easily link with the cyberpunk genre. It is a city known for its labyrinth-like network of neon-lit alleyways, as well as its futuristic architecture – its skyline features a vast array of skyscrapers and tall buildings.
Its urban area is also one of the highest-populated in the world, with almost 30 million people permanently calling the city home. You can easily imagine it being the setting for an exciting cyberpunk story!
3. Hong Kong, Hong Kong
With a dense street network, diverse population and modern aesthetic, Hong Kong is another contender for a real-life cyberpunk city. And, the sprawling urban area is often associated with rebellion due to its recent protests, which is very on-brand for cyberpunk.
One now-erased part of Hong Kong, the Kowloon Walled City, was often regarded as one of the finest examples of real-life cyberpunk locations during the genre’s 1980s heyday. This was the most densely populated settlement anywhere on Earth before its demolition in 1987.
4. Shanghai, China
By any definition, Shanghai is a powerhouse of a modern urban centre. The 21st Century has seen it develop into a highly advanced, important centre for global trade and industry, as well as one of China’s most populous cities.
It is this speedy development, powered by the commercial giants of the age, that make it a good candidate for a cyberpunk city. Not to mention, you only need to look once at the Shanghai skyline after dark to get an idea of its cyberpunk suitability.
5. New York City, United States
New York City is known as the city that never sleeps for a reason. It is world-renowned for its vast network of bustling streets, thriving technology industry and economic influence.
As such, it is a true cyberpunk city, although it has appeared across many different genres of film and media. Its diverse social landscape has made it one of the world’s most popular location settings in storytelling and art.
6. Shenzhen, China
As a true city of the future, Shenzhen in China has become a definitive cyberpunk city over the past couple of decades. Since the 1980s, it has spread at a stunning rate – so much so that Chinese people often refer to places undergoing fast renovation as growing at ‘Shenzhen speed’.
Its development has been spearheaded by the creation of a special economic zone that invited a lot of foreign investment and business. Visually, it is one of the most cyberpunk cities around, with new neon-draped skyscrapers joining the already-packed skyline every year.
7. Moscow, Russia
Although it might not be the first place you think of when it comes to cyberpunk, there are many reasons why Moscow deserves a place on the list. For one, powerful government and corporations have a huge influence in the city, which have led to instances of rebellion among the population.
Over recent years, it has developed its own cluster of tall buildings and a high-tech metro system that adds a cyberpunk aesthetic element. And, just like many cyberpunk settings, it also has a rich history of artistic expression, especially in literature, art and music.
8. Osaka, Japan
Widely considered one of the most dynamic cities in Asia, Osaka is a city full to the brim with futuristic architecture and advanced technology. It’s also got an amazing street culture, with jam-packed street markets littering the city – something commonly seen in the cyberpunk genre.
What’s more, Osaka has had a fascinating history of diverse influences, from traditional Japanese to Western and Asian. This adds to its cyberpunk appeal, as most cyberpunk cities are typically very diverse demographically.
9. Las Vegas, USA
The famed city of Las Vegas in the American state of Nevada needs no introduction. Although it might not be a classically cyberpunk city, it more than deserves a place due to its spectacular visual appearance, with neon lights and dazzling casino fronts making for quite the spectacle.
And, it has become somewhat renowned as a city of excess, with gambling, shopping and drinking being some of the biggest reasons why people go to the city. This aligns with some key cyberpunk themes, such as gluttony, corporate power and hedonism.
10. Seoul, South Korea
The neon-drenched streets of Seoul represent another of the world’s most cyberpunk cities. Here, towering skyscrapers loom overhead, with their glass facades reflecting the flashing lights and digital billboards that saturate the cityscape.
Seoul is a place where tradition and innovation collide – from the subterranean music scene to the vibrant street art, Seoul’s underground culture is vibrant. Its inhabitants are a patchwork of diverse subcultures, making it resemble a wide range of different cyberpunk stories.
11. Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand’s biggest city, Bangkok, fits many of the biggest cyberpunk traits. For one, it is a massive and densely populated metropolis, with over 14 million people living in the wider metropolitan area. As a result, the skyline is packed with skyscrapers and tall buildings.
The city is also known for its eclectic nightlife and somewhat chaotic urban environment, which would fit right into a story from the genre. Over recent decades, it has also become one of the biggest technological hubs in Southeast Asia, making it a true 21st Century city.
12. Taipei, Taiwan
Next on our list of the top real-life cyberpunk cities is Taipei, the biggest city in Taiwan. This forward-thinking city is known for its technological influence, with it being home to many startups and big players within the technology industry – however, it also has a lot of traditional Taiwanese culture mixed in as well.
It also looks and feels like a cyberpunk city, with neon lit towers dotted across the city as well as a particularly impressive metro system running throughout. Not only this, Taipei has a rich and complex geopolitical history leading to the present day, which is something common found in all cyberpunk cities.
13. Beijing, China
Chinese capital city Beijing aligns with the cyberpunk aesthetic in a variety of ways. Not only is it one of Asia’s biggest cities, with over 20 million people residing there, but it’s got a number of other cyberpunk features, such as advanced technology and a large number of high rise buildings.
Like Taipei, it’s also had a complicated history surrounding political issues like censorship, personal freedom and protest. This has continued to this day, with the city still one that could easily host a cyberpunk story.
14. Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver is the city that pretty much has it all – from skiing, to sunbathing, to forest hiking, there’s very little you can’t do. This sense of variety in the environment is common throughout cyberpunk stories, and is designed to provide a sense of physical dislocation.
Additionally, the Canadian city also has strong roots in social activism and street culture, leading to a rebellious attitude that pervades the cyberpunk genre.
15. Seattle, United States
Moving slightly further down the Pacific Coast, Seattle is our next real-life cyberpunk city. The city is synonymous with the rise of the computer technology industry in the late 20th Century, and is the birthplace of tech giants Microsoft and Amazon.
Meanwhile, the city’s connection with the rebellious and individualistic grunge culture represents the other side of cyberpunk society. This blend of powerful high-tech corporation influence and the vibrant subculture makes it a prime cyberpunk city candidate.
16. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is one of Vietnam’s two mega cities (along with Hanoi). Over recent decades, it has been transformed by massive economic investment, with the city’s many skyscrapers symbolising the city’s fast-paced modernisation.
As well as this, the city’s varied street culture, combining a mix of traditional Vietnamese and Western influences, gives it a real sense of vibrancy. This, allied with its complex societal history, makes it particularly suitable for cyberpunk stories.
17. Singapore, Singapore
Next, Singapore is a cyberpunk city probably more in terms of visuals than anything else, with its stunning skyline illuminated by neon lights every night. A particular highlight of its futuristic architecture is the Marina Bay Sands complex, which is located on the waterfront.
That said, Singapore is one of the world’s most highly technologically advanced cities, and places a particular emphasis on law and order and surveillance. These things make it more of a cyberpunk city than some other cities that may look similar.
18. São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, the bustling metropolis located on the east coast of Brazil, is another city with many cyberpunk credentials. The city is known for its dramatic skyline, featuring thousands upon thousands of high-rise buildings.
It has also had problems with corruption, police brutality and social inequality, with a distinct contrast between the city’s poorer and richer areas. These ingredients, combined with Sao Paulo’s vibrant street culture, make it a true cyberpunk city.
19. Adelaide, Australia
There are a number of reasons why Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, may be considered a cyberpunk city. For one, it has a fascinating architectural palette that includes a wide array of traditional and neon-draped modern skyscrapers.
Then, there is the physical geography of the city – cyberpunk cities are often bordered by extreme environments, and Adelaide is bordered by the Outback desert. This makes it a fitting city for the genre.
20. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Last on our list of cyberpunk cities in real life is Dubai. This iconic city, situated in the United Arab Emirates, is world-renowned for its cyberpunk-like array of megatall buildings and super-modern landmark developments.
With this in mind, there have been societal debates surrounding Dubai’s treatment of migrant workers and its social inequality as a whole. This, combined with the wide acknowledgement that it is largely a playground for the rich, arguably makes it the perfect setting for a cyberpunk story.
That’s it for our global exploration of 20+ cyberpunk cities in real life. We hope it has enlightened you as to some of the world’s most futuristic urban centres, and helped you make new connections between cities of fiction and reality.
Last Updated on 1 May 2023 by Michael