Tech Noir

I just realized that what I crave in aesthetics and film/book fiction is tech noir and not cyberpunk. I never could put my finger on what I loved about the aesthetic. Cybepunk really exploded in popularity even in this realm, but it never really hit the nail on the head for me.

Anyone else?


Cyberpunk is tech noir. If it’s not tech noir, it’s shitty cyberpunk (and is more than likely outrun instead).

Cyberpunk is “COOL TECH WOW”, yes, but it’s also the stratification of society, overabundance of barely-working technology, and packed, miserable cities.


I guess I’d broadly say that the subtle difference would be that tech noir is primarily going to be about somebody trying to do a job and cyberpunk is primarily going to be about throwing a wrench in the gears, but I agree that the labels are wibbly at best and misapplied constantly (which, in media, is probably mostly to keep it accessible).


maybe it’s just that I don’t like shitty cyberpunk then?

Here’s a prime example that I was thinking about:

I’ll watch Bladerunner (original or 2049) 100 times before I’ll watch Alita again. I didn’t abhor Alita, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

1 Like

There’s a whole lot of shitty cyberpunk that thoroughly misses the mark on themes but hits a bunch of the flashy aesthetic notes of cyberpunk, for sure. Blade Runner is really good at nailing the aesthetic and themes of cyberpunk, but I can’t speak to Alita. Maybe the original work is better in that case?


Just gotta drop the song here

My Take:

Tech Noir is a technological take on the original noir genre.

Cyberpunk is a theme.

You can have a tech noir story that is a cyberpunk theme.

You could also have a tech noir story story that is a post modern theme.

You could have an action cyberpunk adventure that isn’t a tech noir.

You could have a horror cyberpunk theme that isn’t a tech noir.

etc etc etc.


Love that track. Listen to it a lot.

If you don’t already, this is a nice playlist to follow for similar:

I think Tech noir and Cyberpunk both are both designed around the same tech-centric view of the past, present, future, or alternate universe with “some things will never change” message but Cyberpunk is a subset of Tech noir stemming from a set of specific set of popular game, fiction, movie where Tech noir is more a category of such.

Their popularity is IMO based on mixed up fear and hope about the relentless advent/onslaught of tech laced with heavy dosage of nostalgia as safety-blanket.

1 Like

Not necessarily an “accurate” image, but I think it’s helpful in that it illustrates the overlap various adjacent genres and sub-genres can have. Tech Noir has a lot in common with Cyberpunk, and I’d definitely say there’s overlap in the genres. (Depending on who you talk to, one might be a sub-genre of the other.) Both constitute grim warnings of how technology can affect society in the future, but I think they have a different specific focus beyond that.

In the tales of Cyberpunk, underdog focal characters often co-opt existing bits of corporate tech to rebel or fight against their profit-driven overlords. The warning about technology is there, but alongside it is the theme of using that tech against the oppressive forces it has enabled - hence the “punk” part of the name. (Screw the Man!)

That underdog rebellion aspect isn’t a necessary part of Tech Noir, but the warning about the imbalances that technology can cause is - at least when it comes to narrative themes. When it comes to visual themes, there’s also an aspect that recalls classic Noir film through the lens of that sinister technology - Bladerunner being the quintessential example both in narrative and aesthetics. (Be careful what you wish for.)

I’d say the later Deus Ex games fall comfortably into the Tech Noir genre, with the added aesthetic sub-category of Cyber Renaissance, a term I’m pretty sure the art director behind those games coined but that can describe an aesthetic shared by other media. I’d say these games do fall under Cyberpunk, but more as an offshoot branch than the central example depicted in the Venn diagram. Cyberpunk is often just a bit crusty and ramshackle in its aesthetics, displaying its seedy underbelly for all to see - while Cyber Renaissance tends towards the glistening and elegant, only hinting at the sinister possibilities of technology in terms of visuals. (I never asked for this…)

That’s pretty much all just opinion straight from my bum, but hey I find this stuff pretty fascinating and this whole family of various media and the genres they emerge from are among my very favorites, and I can’t resist jumping into a discussion about it. :upside_down_face: