Dive into Cyberpunk: Must you walk before you can Shadowrun?



Hey all! I don’t know if anyone else out there is a newb to Cyberpunk like me, but if you are, then this is for you!

I’m so pumped to dive into a new genre under the ICRPG banner. I also realized that of all the genres out there, cyberpunk is the one I’ve had the least exposure to. I’ve never read Neuromancer, I’ve never played Shadowrun, and I only recently realized Altered Carbon is a book AND a series on Netflix.

For shame!

Just kidding, of course.

Actually, the point of this post is to celebrate the beginner mind on a new genre and talk about how I took a sideways leap into it over the last few weeks. It’s also an open invite for you to do the same if you are interested in cyberpunk but are also a bit unsure about venturing into unknown territory (conclusion: it’s worth it!).

Finally, I’m hoping everyone who reads this (old pro or not), will share some of their own cyberpunk inspirations so us new aficionados can have awesome stuff to gobble up while we wait for AA and Hank to work their writing and art magic.

So empty your cup of all expectations, fill it back up with some synthetic sake, and jack into The Matrix with me!

Here’s a list of my unconventional cyberpunk encounters so far (I haven’t yet dived into the classics like Snow Crash and Neuromancer), how I approached ingesting them, and my thoughts on how you can achieve some pretty decent cyberpunk knowledge based off of them in a short time period, too.

  • Transmetropolitan graphic novels by Warren Ellis. Fast reads, gorgeous, and somewhere in the middle of late-80s cyberpunk and more recent transhumanist (“do our bodies define us or not?”) writing. These are worth reading and staring at closely, in my opinion – all of it is inspiration. These are what I spent the most time on in this entire list. I love how much Spider Jerusalem both hates on and thrives in his deteriorating, close-future world.

  • Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams, audiobook version. The narration on this is brilliant (narrator’s voice is magical), and it’s a speedy listen. This, to me, was my idea of classic 80s cyberpunk, full of neon grunge, jacks and wires, and mega-corporations. I think this might be adjacent to Neuromancer as far as a classic hit of genre goodness.

  • Ghost in the Shell Vol 1 (manga) by Shirow Masamune. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi (the Major to you, sah!), is a badass woman who is vivacious, commanding, and mostly made out of cybernetics. Her team of anti-terrorist crime fighters is delightful and varied. Critically important, these are blazing fast reads with incredible visuals. A further honest opinion: avoid Vol 1.5 and 2… they made me pine for the lively and cheeky Major from Vol. 1. I also have the unpopular opinion of not liking the movie for the same reasons. I have a different movie recommendation below.

  • Shadowrun Second Edition by FASA Corporation. This was the most “classic” cyberpunk media I picked up and am still looking through. My impressions so far: The included short fiction and Chapter 3 (And So It Came To Pass…) do more to establish a cyberpunk world in a few pages than any primer I’ve ever seen. Brilliant. I’ve been scanning through the art and intermittent fluff in the latter chapters, taking interest in titles, sidebars, and the names of gear without spending time on game mechanics. Quickly absorbing fluff ideas and images has been breezy and delightful with this book. Mechanics were not.

  • Akira movie by Katsuhiro Otomo and Izo Hashimoto. A couple hours of gobsmacking visuals, plus a very cool story. This will put your mind straight into cyberpunk faster and harder than probably anything else I’ve encountered so far. If I had to recommend one single cyberpunk movie, I might place this one above The Matrix, Bladerunner(s), and other highly notable films. I don’t know why, but this one got me.

So! That is my honest, rapid, and dirty intro to cyberpunk. I’m still learning and absorbing, but the above five for me were the most bang for my buck in the shortest time, and all things that will stick with me well and beyond the scope of cyberpunk itself.

That’s the whole story! I hope this list is helpful to anyone new, and I’m so excited to hear what other folks think about these and other “sleeper hits” that will give us neophytes a supercharged dive into this new world.



Thank you @thearcanelibrary! This will fill whatever spare time I might have had. :slight_smile:


Aeon Flux is another good choice for quick consumption - I think this is a good set of them: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLswNTUEPQQcpB53iYu-jPFY6N11fq58oF.


Ok, assuming rapid digestion. Blade runner, blade runner 2049, but the book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is really one of the core foundations of the genre. It is also, soooo different in feel from the movies that they are not the same.

There is more going on in the book. More threads that interconnect. And in many ways more bleak and depressing.

The rest are all movie recommendations.

“ I robot “ movie is technically part of the genre, and I think is a good fit.

The movies “Ultraviolet” and even “resident Evil” have aspects of the genre. “Repo! The genetic Opera” or it’s less campy version “Repo men”.

There are a bunch of heist films that fit the ShadowRun feel, but are not cyberpunk per say.


Great recommendations, @thearcanelibrary.

In addition to Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis has a short series titled Doktor Sleepless which also deals with cyber/transhuman concepts.


I really like Ghost in the Shell: innocence. Also, the soundtrack is very good.

I’m also a fan of bleak, near-future movies in general, such as Escape from New York and Warriors which are both basically about staying alive while traversing a hostile urban landscape. They are light on the cybertech, but they could easily exist in a cp setting.


Great list. Neuromancer (and the entire Sprawl trilogy) were my first forays into the genre, and really set the bar for me. The later Bridge trilogy helped me better understand that the important part of cyberpunk is the punk rather than the cyber.

Snow Crash was a fun ride, even though Hank pooh-poohed it recently. The Diamond Age is also a serious component of the genre.

I’d recommend Lara J. Mixon’s Proxies as another good early source to read.

Daemon and Freedom™️ are both great, and really fun, prescient-at-the-time reads. Reading these, knowing they were written before Google Glass, for example, is like reading Snow Crash and knowing it was written (long!) before Google Earth was a thing.

Personally I get a little tired of the “shadowrunners infiltrating corporations” trope: it’s just not logically sustainable in the long run! I also struggle to reconcile the magic elements of Shadowrun, specifically, with the high-tech cyberware stuff of that brand: it seems like it’s trying to have the best of both worlds rather than really exploring what a high-tech (potentially) post-scarity world might look like from a story-telling perspective. But that’s just me!

Cyberpunk is a rich and rewarding genre, and I’m always happy to see more game and story-telling content arrive for consumption!

See also Hank’s video about inspirations. How could I have forgotten Max Headroom??


Super insightful! :slightly_smiling_face: I absolutely agree about magic and demi-human races in Shadowrun — that seemed shoehorned in to me as a way to bridge to the D&D audience. The totem magic stuff I could get behind from a distance (or, even better, calling it traditional superstition instead of actual magic), but the wizards stomping around Seattle element in SR didn’t ring true to me. We already have a huge body of cyberpunk contemporaries who made being simply human hard enough in a world of cybernetics — demi-humans who came about due to magic kills the verisimilitude for me (as opposed to the human-aliens in Transmet who were the result of genetic manipulation).


Nice! Will definitely have to scope those out, I’m smitten with Warren Ellis’s takes on this stuff! :slight_smile:


Daniel Keyes Moran. The Long Run. Absolutely my most favorite book ever.



Nice!! That’s a big endorsement! :smiley:


Akira is awesome… takes me back to watching it on VHS when I was like 10 years old…


Every so often I find news tidbits that ring Cyberpunk to me too, that I file in my back brain drawer for adventure hooks or set dressings:


The wearable eRosary is mind-boggling!!! xD That is honestly the most cyberpunk real thing I’ve ever seen, lol.


My intro to ShadowRun was late in 2nd ED. But we did not play modules or Seattle. So it was probably atypical. Cyberpunk I played later, and it seemed so much less.

Around this time I was playing a lot of Earthdawn and Traveler, so it probably hit my brain as a very decent mix.

Then I started running games…always hated the modules, but I used them for NPCs and names.

I was always disappointed at conventions with it. So it might not have been the setting per-say. Just crummy stories from the publishers.
Almost 20 years later I still hear stories my players tell others about those games, so they had to have had a decent time.


These are great and I’ll keep an eye out form The Long Run.

I’d also throw a few others in there, including Gravity Fails and the rest of Effinger’s Marid Audran series for a take cyberpunk set in the Middle East. Altered Carbon is also excellent, though it overlaps with Transhumanism themes. Finally, the novels by Peter Watts - Blindsight, Exhopraxia and Starfish - are all terrific, and some of the best intelligent fiction I’ve read in the last 10 years, up there with the Area X trilogy and The Three Body Problem.


So, all the suggestions and more are excellent reference points. But, the real question is what is Cyberpunk? I just would like to ramble a bit as an old man if I could. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I was a punk. New York over UK. Ramones over Sex Pistols. We fought and stood against the establishment (the reason why runners are always working against the corps.) It was about style over function, I remember playing and mainly running Shadowrun 1st Ed. and Cyberpunk 2020. It was heavily influenced by the 80’s bright neon and chrome streaked with gritty iron age comic action. It’s about stuffing your corpse with all the bleeding edge tech and realizing the tragedy of transhumanistic fragility, in that you are more than human, but less at the same time. It’s the story of latchkey kids developing family and true human connections with the strangest of company. This in short is a brief primer to Cyberpunk. I hope it helps to define this bizarre and wonderful genre that daily is becoming more a reality than fantasy.


You had me at…

And I like your addition of Punk to the discussion. I grew up as an OC punk in California. Black Flag, Insted, Circle Jerks. That punk scene was all about sheer intensity and aggression, hardcore and thrash. The violence was a rebellion against authority, but also a confirmation to ourselves that we were alive. It was our tribal ritual. The DIY ethic was in the scene’s soul, as was a Locals Only attitude, and a huge distrust of anyone a part of “the system.”


Love me some Aeon Flux!


I was too young for the SF punk scene and trying not into gang stuff in the 90s when I moved back during the PG13 punk phase. But growing up in South San Francisco in that era, and spending time in South America, got me stuck in anti-authority thinking.

Creating that sense in a game. Ouch. Not sure that books or music are the route. Gogol Bordello hits that rebel streak in me, but not so much for others.

Fight Club would be the book for the attitude, and most likely to get players in the right headspace.

Brave new world, animal farm, 1984, are kind of there, just not with corporate infrastructure.

I’d have players reading a lot of bleak material before entering my games if these where primers.

I have to go with Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” for the headspace while listening to the Dead Kennedys, and watching the blade runners, Jonny Nemonic, and I-Robot, Strange Days. perhaps watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a weekend primer.

Order would be.
Reading fight club and listening to DK for comfort. Could be done in a day…but whatever is comfortable.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Strange Days
Johnny Mnemonic
Blade Runner (whatever edition is shortest)
Blade Runner 2049

Lastly read the lyrics of the DK songs you have stuck in your head now.

Could possibly substitute DK with System of a Down.

That is my 48 hour primer unless you where around an anti authority movement in a certain geographical area at a certain time.