Interested to see what the fuss about the cyberpunk genre is all about? Let’s take a look at ten popular cyberpunk tropes!
1. Cyberpunk tropes: High tech, low life
This is not just any trope, it’s one of the main themes that define the cyberpunk genre! In any cyberpunk setting technology is really advanced —cybernetic implants, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are just some common examples! However, the quality of life hasn’t advanced with it. If anything, it has decreased! Tech-enhanced drugs and sex are common tropes to represent this aspect of the world. Along with many others that we’ll talk about here!
Cyberpunk is all about exploring the negative consequences of technological advancements. A great example of this is The Matrix, where technology is so advanced that it has enslaved humanity —literally!
2. Man against the MegaCorp
In a cyberpunk world, governments are not the focus of political intrigue. Instead, the world is usually ruled by megacorporations who control every aspect of people’s life. Just like the previous section, this is an extremely common theme in cyberpunk. And it fits right in! These corps are the ones producing the advanced technology that makes the world a more depressing place.
Blade Runner, and its sequel Blade Runner 2049, is a very popular cyberpunk movie that uses this trope. A very important element of the movie are replicants, a kind of human-like robots, and the plot has a lot of intrigue surrounding the corporation that makes them! Of course, no spoilers here.
3. Neon everywhere! And it’s always raining
Cyberpunk is a subgenre with a very striking aesthetic. You can usually see neon lights everywhere. Even on clothes and tattoos! And of course, this represents the high tech part of cyberpunk! It’s a nice visual cue that both makes the genre easy to recognize and hints at one of the main themes.
And yes, it’s pretty much always raining. Rainy weather is often associated with sadness or depression, so it represents the low life part! It’s been used since the first cyberpunk movies, like in Blade Runner, which also has the famous Tears in rain monologue. So Neon lights and the rain? It’s just another expression of High tech, low life…
4. Noir-style storylines with cyberpunk tropes
Film noir has definitely been an inspiration for many cyberpunk works. And it’s not surprising! Cyberpunk worlds depict a dystopian world, with feelings of depression, fear, and despair. The way cyberpunk looks already evokes this mood, but its storylines are where the style shines!
Just like in Noir-style fiction, Cyberpunk characters often have questionable values, at least from our point of view. And crime is usually a prominent element in cyberpunk plots, which often include crime investigators (sometimes professionals, sometimes amateurs). In Blade Runner, for example, the main character is a detective who hunts down rogue androids. Now, he’s not a bad person, but his personality is not something we’d look up to in the real world either!
5. Massive wealth disparity
We talked about how the quality of life is lower in cyberpunk settings. Well, not for everyone! A few people have managed to hold on to their power and rise thanks to their corporations. And meanwhile, the rest of the world struggles to keep going. After all, the cyberpunk genre is all about drawing parallels to the real world and seeing where it could go wrong. And that’s a great example of this! cough – Jeff Bezos – cough
6. The Wasteland
Money and resources for advanced technology don’t just come out of nowhere! Extracting so many natural resources is bound to take a toll on the planet. And that’s why the wasteland is one of the common cyberpunk tropes! It takes many forms depending on the story.
In Blade Runner 2049 we have both an abandoned city in a desert and a giant garbage dump. In The Matrix, the entire planet’s surface is a wasteland! And it’s no surprise —showing an abandoned place that used to be full of life is a great way to show that dystopian feeling!
7. The importance of cities
Cyberpunk settings don’t usually give importance to towns or villages. People are either living in a wasteland or in a city and its sprawling suburbs. This is the opposite of the wasteland trope, and it ties in very well with the wealth disparity! It’s another not-so-subtle element that hints at the core themes of cyberpunk.
In many stories from other genres, rural life and contact with nature are idealized. In cyberpunk, these elements are almost non-existent, and when they show up they tend to be simulations, illusions, or some other kind of artificial environment. There’s no space for idealism in cyberpunk —only the depressing and rainy atmosphere of a city!
8. Information is a currency
Information and data are already very important in our current world. So in cyberpunk settings, this importance is even higher! Gold and other precious materials are no longer relevant —data is. This means that corporations and crime syndicates alike will be after pieces of information or, at least, tools to get information.
This is why intrigue tends to be such an important element of cyberpunk plotlines. The most valuable thing is no longer a material object, after all, so why send armies to conquer a country? Much easier to have a hacker do it! Many cyberpunk stories still feature action, of course, but information and intrigue tend to be very important elements even in action-packed stories!
9. Advertising is everywhere
Like in our real world, but more! In a cyberpunk world you can find giant holograms and ad panels —of course, filled to the brim with neon lights! This is one of those cyberpunk tropes that seems just a visual detail, but it also hints at the underlying themes of the genre.
Most ads in our world are run by companies, so it makes sense that in a world with mega-corporations, there’ll be mega-ads too! The fact that ads cover the city (you can’t look anywhere without seeing one!) is a huge show-don’t-tell hint at the Man against MegaCorp trope we talked about earlier.
10. Best cyberpunk tropes? Give me flying cars!
Now, this might not be the most important thing in a cyberpunk world… but they’re so cool! And, of course, it’s a great way to show the high tech, low life trope. After all, this is a technology that we haven’t quite achieved yet, but it’s very possible we’ll start seeing them in the coming years!
And they can also be great plot devices! You just need to make them AI-driven, and there you have the potential for a rogue AI-controlled flying car army.
Let’s write with cyberpunk tropes!
Phew, those were ten different tropes —and at least ten different ideas for your world! So, to help you get your worldbuilding going, we’ve prepared a prompt for you —let’s see how many tropes you can integrate into it!
Write about a technology that has greatly impacted daily life in your world.
Head to this prompt page to answer it! If someone else has already answered it, you’ll see their articles there, which is great for inspiration. And if you don’t have a World Anvil account yet, you’ll need to create a free account to answer the prompt!
Oh, and if you’re a World Anvil Guild member, you’ll be able to use this snazzy, neon Cyberpunk theme for your world!
Do you have a cyberpunk world? Share it in the comments!