Best Cyberpunk Books—8 Riveting Titles To Add To Your Collection

Whether you’re looking for a new book or series to read, or you want to start exploring the cyberpunk genre, this article is for you. 

Below we’ve included a list of the best cyberpunk books or series for all levels of cyberpunk fans, from newbies to seasoned vets.

Before we get to the list, let’s learn about the cyberpunk genre.

What is cyberpunk?

So, what is cyberpunk? How does it differ from science fiction? And what are the elements and tropes most often found in stories, from cyberpunk short fiction to novels to comic books?

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction. Typically, cyberpunk fiction combines a world of futuristic, high-tech technology with low-living, dystopian urban themes. 

A popular genre and a growing culture, cyberpunk has shifted from a niche genre in the twentieth century to an incredibly popular sci-fi subgenre in the twenty-first century, inspiring Hollywood movie adaptations of popular titles, comic books, and radio plays.

best cyberpunk books

Elements of cyberpunk

Some of the most critical elements of the genre, details that separate cyberpunk from other types of science fiction, include:

  • Dystopian world – Characters live in a dystopian future, where people struggle to survive against government oppression, advanced technological control and surveillance, and a declining, lawless city scene.
  • High tech, low life – Technology is advanced in cyberpunk novels, but the life of the laypeople is far from ideal. Often, the elite few live in luxury and safety while the rest of the world is neglected, leaving many to live poor-quality lives in unsafe environments.
  • Mega-corporations – Mega-corporations, global companies that have taken hold of a valuable resource, feature heavily in cyberpunk. Often, the mega-corporation’s attempts at global domination and their disregard for the safety of the environment and the human population lead to the world the characters find themselves in today.
  • Artificial intelligence – The potential dangers of artificial intelligence, humans striving for immortality, and empathy gone wrong are prominent themes in cyberpunk fiction. AI is a sci-fi subgenre in its own right, and cyberpunk writers often incorporate it.
  • Transhumanism – Transhumanism is the attempt to transcend known human limitations such as disease and mortality through technology. Healing technologies, replacement limbs, and cyborg bodies are all transhumanist elements that aim for human enhancement and feature heavily in cyberpunk fiction.

Best cyberpunk books

The following is a list of the best cyberpunk science fiction books from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The books/series featured below have contributed significantly to the cyberpunk genre.

A Song Called Youth (trilogy) by John Shirley

John Shirley’s A Song Called Youth Trilogy (also known as the Eclipse Trilogy) is one of the twentieth century’s most popular and successful cyberpunk novels. The first book in the series, Eclipse, was published in 1985. The trilogy includes:

Shirley’s bleak seminal cyberpunk novel is set in a dystopian future in which nuclear strikes have damaged large areas of Europe.

Our protagonists are a group of rebels known as the New Resistance as they take on the Second Alliance, a fundamentalist security corporation with plans for world domination. 

The New Resistance commits to an ongoing fight against the Alliance, whose authority and control grow alongside their oppression and brutality. 

“The so-called free world was a dictatorship that used media and conformist conditioning to enforce its dominion.”

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Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

Dystopian cyberpunk story Altered Carbon is renowned sci-fi writer Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel. 

Altered Carbon takes place four hundred years in the future. 

Humanity has advanced to the point that immortality and interstellar travel are achievable realities. 

Science has learned how to digitize the human mind, which means that consciousness can be transferred between bodies and across the stars through a process called ‘sleeving.’

The story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a convict and combat fighter whose consciousness has been downloaded into a new body and who has been hired to investigate the murder of one of the wealthiest men in the world. 

Kovacs’ investigation leads him into a deep and terrifying conspiracy that reaches the top tiers of society.

“A weapon is a tool,” she repeated, a little breathlessly. “A tool for killing and destroying. And there will be times when, as an Envoy, you must kill and destroy. Then you will choose and equip yourself with the tools that you need. But remember the weakness of weapons. They are an extension – you are the killer and destroyer. You are whole, with or without them.”

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Neuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the most well-known novels ever published in the cyberpunk genre. 

First published in 1984, Neuromancer went on to win a Philip K. Dick Award, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and several other major book awards. 

Neuromancer is a gritty and fast-paced dystopian tale about protagonist Henry Case; a former computer hacker hired for one last job with a team – a cyborg called Molly and a thief and illusionist named Peter Riviera. 

The team is hired by Armitage, a mysterious employer who calls on the ragtag team to work on the merging of two incredibly powerful artificial intelligences and whose end goal is limitless power.

“When the past is always with you, it may as well be present; and if it is present, it will be future as well.”

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Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow

You may have heard of the anime movie Ghost in the Shell, released in 1995. The movie is inspired by Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, a classic manga series.

Politics, technology, and metaphysics intertwine in Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. Our protagonist is security officer Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg who survived a terrible childhood accident thanks to advanced technology.

Just as today, humans can extend their life and health with blood and organ transplants, medicines, and surgeries, humans in Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell upgrade their health with advanced mechanical implants and machines. 

The technology belongs to Hanka Robotics, an augmentation developer with the power to integrate the human mind into an artificial body, or ‘shell.’

Just as the human body is vulnerable to infection and disease, so too are the mechanical cyborg bodies of humans in Shirow’s world. 

The infections and diseases are not biological but caused by hackers and cybercriminals in machine-body internal soft- and hardware.

Ghost in the Shell explores the duality of mind – the philosophical concept that suggests a distinction or separation between mind and body. It also calls into question the ethics and potential for misuse of artificial intelligence and human engineering.

‘If a technological feat is possible, man will do it. Almost as if it’s wired into the core of our being.’

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick’s cyberpunk classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of the earliest cyberpunk novels ever published. 

It was first published in 1968 and has since been adapted for the big screen (twice, Richard Harris’ Blade Runner and Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049), radio, theater, and a 24-issue comic book series.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where global nuclear war has left Earth almost uninhabitable.

The story follows protagonist detective Rick Deckard; a ‘blade runner’ hired to track down and kill six androids who have escaped from Mars colonies and returned to Earth.

These androids are incredibly similar to humans in that they’re made of organic matter, making them difficult to identify until they have been killed and a posthumous bone marrow analysis carried out.

Dick’s novel explores themes common to many cyberpunk works, such as empathy and humanity, society vs. the individual, and self-realization against a backdrop of artificial intelligence.

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”

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Diaspora by Greg Egan

Greg Egan’s Diaspora begins a thousand years in the future. 

Humanity is divided into three main strands. Fleshers are traditional humans with organic tissue and organs. Gleisners are human-cyborg hybrids. Polises are intelligent supercomputers made up of billions of copies of human personalities that once existed in a body but now reside in a virtual world.

The story introduces Yatima, an orphan entity engineered with the Konishi Polises virtual world. 

Yatima ages and matures rapidly as a Konishi Polises, whose pace of development is around 800 times faster than that of fleshers and Gleisners. Soon, Yatima and a friend inhabit Gleisner bodies and travel to Earth.

When a nearby neutron star collapses and threatens the Earth, Yatima travels to Earth again to warn the fleshers about their impending doom, offering advice to enter the polises or at least seek refuge.

“A citizen who spiraled down into insanity could spend teratau in a state of confusion and pain, with a mind too damaged to authorize help, or even to choose extinction. That was the price of autonomy: an inalienable right to madness and suffering, inseparable from the right to solitude and peace.”

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The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

In Jeff Somers’s science fiction thriller The Electric Church, a new religion is founded by a mysterious man named Dennis Squalor. 

According to religion, humans are limited in comprehending life and its great questions. Human life is simply too short of progressing with such questions, which is why Squalor and his church try to surpass human limitations.

To make real progress, embers of the Electric Church become Monks – human minds in cyborg bodies with the ability to live for eternity – just enough time to figure out life’s answers.

Our protagonist is Avery Cates, a criminal and hired gun. Cates is tasked with enormous responsibility – the assassination of Electric Church leader Dennis Squalor.

“Salvation is not easy. Salvation is complex, the most complex puzzle ever devised. A thousand years, and perhaps we can begin to decipher the first word of the question. A million years, we may begin to work on the answer. Perhaps when the universe has collapsed in on itself, and all the worlds scattered throughout have been eaten by hungry suns, perhaps then we will be on the verge, about to triumph and join the angels. I can only hope we have not been too slow to realize the truth, that we do indeed have enough time.”

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Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott

Trouble and Her Friends is a 1994 cyberpunk novel by renowned feminist author Melissa Scott and is one of the most under-rated novels in the entire subgenre.

The story follows India Carless, aka Trouble, and her attempt to save her name after it’s been adopted by criminal hackers. Trouble is joined by her former lover Cerise and a team of hackers who help her find the hackers tarnishing her name and prevent them from causing further destruction in cyberspace.

“There were still too many people who were afraid of a technology that eluded them, still more who would never have access and resented and feared it in equal measures. Mobilize those groups just once, find a demagogue-and there always were demagogues-and the nets would find themselves destroyed.”

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Conclusion

Science fiction writers are increasingly exploring the cyberpunk genre, from steampunk fiction to dystopian futures to cyborgs. 

The genre is growing in popularity, partly because the world seems to be moving towards one of the manifested cyberpunk fictions. 

For example, transhumanism – the attempt to transcend given human limitations through advanced technology is already a reality that shows no signs of slowing down.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll like cyberpunk. If you have a vivid imagination, you can probably write a story in the cyberpunk genre.

It has all the enjoyable elements of sci-fi with its aesthetic, making readers, watchers, and listeners of the genre appreciate it so much. 

Check out the books featured on the list above to get a rich taste of the genre and see why it’s becoming so popular!

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