What is cyberpunk? There are a lot of definitions, but the core one is a narrative focused on high technology and low life. What does that mean? The tech is bleeding-edge, often post-humanist in its incorporation with humanity. This means cybernetic enhancements, nanotechnology, and cyberspace as an actual place. Low life? That’s the criminal underbelly. Often in the best cyberpunk novels, the world is ruled by massive corporations, leaving the regular people to fight over the scraps.
While cyberpunk spun out of the drug culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it gained traction and meaning in the 1980s. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (more on that later) really brought the rebellious, punk aspect to cyberpunk. Ever since then, cyberpunk has come and gone in waves, and the release of the video game Cyberpunk 2077 has put the genre back in the public conversation.
How did I pick the best cyberpunk novels of all time? For the classics, I looked to those that defined the genre and influenced later writers. For modern titles, I looked to those that embodied the genre most or reinvented it. And of course, I included comics, who have been bringing cyberpunk vibes since Judge Dredd in the 1970s.
Here they are. The 22 best cyberpunk novels of all time.
Best Classic Cyberpunk Novels
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
This book is foundational to cyberpunk and the inspiration behind Blade Runner. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who chases after rogue androids. But as those androids advance in sophistication, how can he tell the difference between his targets and real people?
China 2185 by Cixin Liu
Cixin Liu is better known for The Three-Body Problem now, but his debut novel was a cyberpunk masterpiece. It’s also a bit apocryphal since it never made it to print. That doesn’t mean you can’t read it: digital versions are floating around the internet. Written in 1989, it paints a critical portrait of Mao’s China, complete with high tech and low life.
The Girl Who Was Plugged In by Alice Sheldon
Writing as James Tiptree, Jr., Sheldon’s Hugo Award-winning novella imagines a future ruled by huge corporations who have to use celebrities and product placement to sell anything. When a teen girl with terrible deformities tries to commit suicide, her consciousness is instead placed in a “perfect” body to become a new celebrity.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
I mentioned it before, and this book really is a tentpole of the cyberpunk genre. The Matrix (no relation to the movies) is cyberspace, in which many people live much of their lives. Henry was a great data thief until a corporation ruined his nervous system. Now, a mysterious client is offering Henry one last job, a job that will turn out to be more dangerous than any before.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
And here’s the other tentpole of the cyberpunk genre. In this novel, Hiro Protagonist (yep, that’s his name) is a pizza delivery boy. In the Metaverse, though, he’s a warrior prince. When a new computer virus emerges that kills hackers, Hiro finds himself in the center of conspiracies and adventures.
Synners by Pat Cadigan
In this book, synners are humans who synthesize experiences. They take images of performers and turn them into packages, essentially NFTs, to be bought and sold. Human and machine blend, reality is incidental — so what is left that’s real in the world?
Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott
Trouble was a name to be feared in cyberspace. When international laws shifted, Trouble and her friends went their separate ways, logging off and finding other lives. But when a mysterious hacker emerges using Trouble’s moniker, the real Trouble dives back into cyberspace to put a stop to it.
Best Modern Cyberpunk Novels
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
With humanity spread across the stars, how do you deal with the time it takes to traverse between planets? You download human consciousness and send it into another body, faster than light, that’s how. Takeshi Kovacs is supposed to be on ice, his consciousness without a body. But he’s been uploaded into a body for a job that he certainly cannot refuse.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
This novel is a rare one that embodies less the technological side of cyberpunk than the low-life, powerful corporations side of things. It also brings some literary flair. Evolution has reversed. Women are giving birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of human, and so humanity is crawling towards its end. When 26-year-old Cedar turns up pregnant, she goes searching for her biological mother, all the while traversing an ever-more-dangerous world.
Infomocracy by Malka Older
Twenty years ago, one search-engine company created an ironclad monopoly. Since then, a global micro-democracy has taken over all of the preexisting governments. While a new election looms, the Heritage party, a corporate coalition, worries if its longtime hold on power might end. This post-cyberpunk thriller tracks the moves of political players, suffuse with corruption, all trying to grab hold of absolute power.
MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
This is another story that is technically post-cyberpunk, particularly since it focuses on a post-apocalyptic world after the fall of a cyberpunk society. Snowman might be the last human on Earth, but he’s on the hunt for answers and other survivors. Perhaps his best friend, Crake, or the woman Oryx, whom they both loved. Did anyone else survive the genetic-engineering apocalypse?
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
Anwuli Okwudili, AO, was born with multiple physical disabilities. A childhood car accident only compounded these challenges, and so she opted for multiple body augmentations. When a terrible tragedy strikes while she’s at the market, AO goes on the run. But she’s not alone. Her escape is livestreamed with a Fulani herdsman at her side, pitting AO against everyone in a futuristic Nigeria.
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Jean le Flambeur is in a cage until Mieli, a woman with amazing modifications, breaks him out. Thing is, she has a job to do, and Jean is going to help. In a walking city on Mars, faces, thoughts, and memories are veiled behind implants and technology. Jean used such technology to hid his own past from himself. Mieli needs Jean to find himself, the truth of who he was and what he did, before he went to prison. But that’s not all she needs.
The Sleepless by Victor Manibo
Jamie Vega is a skeptical journalist. When his boss dies right before a big corporate takeover, Jamie doesn’t believe that it was a suicide, and starts his own investigation. But now Jamie is the prime suspect in that death, and he has no memories of that evening. You see, Jamie is Sleepless, not needing sleep, though how he gained that ability is a story in itself. Powerful corporations and radical extremists groups are playing people like pawns, and Jamie might not survive the game.
Warcross by Marie Lu
Lu’s entry is both one of the best cyberpunk novels ever, but also a YA title. Warcross is a game unlike any other, a global sensation for millions across the planet. Emika is a teen working as a bounty hunter in Warcross, hunting down players who illegally bet on the game. When a hacking attempt on the Warcross Championships goes awry, Emika is suddenly as famous as the game. Instead of being arrested, however, the game’s creator reaches out with an offer Emika cannot resist.
The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan
Silicon Isle is an island that China has designated as the dumping ground for all electronics. Mimi works there as a waste worker. She was promised a better life, but only servitude and toxic waste are there for her. Local gangs, ecoterrorists, American investors, and the Chinese government are heading toward conflict. Mimi might be the only one who can protect herself and the rest of Silicon Isle.
Best Graphic Cyberpunk Novels
Akira by Katsuhiro Otoma
Made into one of the most famous anime films of all time, Otoma’s manga is a classic. Set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo of high-technology and low-life, this story focuses on two teens. One of them, Tetsuo, finds a terrible power awakening within him. This power could destroy Neo-Tokyo, and many shadowy organizations are bent on stopping or invoking that power, at any cost.
Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro
Alita is a cyborg with few memories. Her head was discovered in a junkyard, after all. A doctor finds her, builds her a body, and cares for her. She has skills, though: deadly ones. And she’s going to use those skills not only as a bounty hunter, but to unearth the secrets of her own past.
Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Ghost in the Shell is another cyberpunk classic, certainly one of the best cyberpunk novels ever, and one that takes the technological themes to their extreme and inevitable end. People upgrade themselves with technology, and robots use human skin as upgrades. Motoko is a powerful robot charged with hunting the criminal underworld bent on using these blends of tech and humanity to control regular people like puppet.
Goddess Mode by Zoë Quinn and Robbi Rodriguez
Cassandra Price works in tech support, but not just for any plain computer. She works on Azoth, the godlike AI that rules over humanity. Then one day, she’s pulled into the digital underworld of Azoth, finding a group of magical women with incredible power to help the world, but they cannot decide how. Now Cassandra might be the savior of humanity, if only she can untangle the web of deceit around her.
Hactivist by Alyssa Milano, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Marcus To, and Ian Herring
YourLife is the biggest social media company in the world, and its founders, Ed and Nate, are rich and famous as a result. There’s also an infamous group of white hat hackers known as sve_Urs3lf, much loved and heralded. When it’s discovered that Ed and Nate are also sve_Urs3lf, the world is thrown into turmoil. How can Ed and Nate help, let alone survive?
The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente
Set in a time after the “cloud has burst,” everyone keeps their identities secret. Why? Because all private information was made public, and so the internet is no more. This story focuses on an unlicensed private investigator who takes on a case that will change his life, and possibly the world.