The Rise of Cyberpunk Character Art: A Revolution in Gaming Aesthetics

General / 07 June 2023


As we venture deeper into the 21st century, one genre of artistic expression stands out among the rest in the world of video game design—Cyberpunk Character Art. This sub-genre, with its grit, neon aesthetics, and edgy character designs, is defining the look and feel of many new and upcoming games.

Cyberpunk, a term coined in the 1980s, reflects a futuristic dystopian world where society is overly dependent on technology. In recent years, the genre has experienced a surge of popularity, and this has inevitably influenced the field of video game art.Today, Cyberpunk character art is more than just a style; it’s a storytelling tool that encapsulates themes of dystopia, transhumanism, and tech-noir. It brings characters to life with striking details, unique fashion trends, and often, mechanical augmentations.

Whether you are a game developer, a 3D artist, or simply a gaming enthusiast, understanding the rise and significance of Cyberpunk character art can provide you with a fresh perspective on game design. In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of this art style, provide examples of its best implementations, and offer advice on creating your unique Cyberpunk characters.Strap in and join us as we dive into the captivating world of Cyberpunk character art!  

Artwork by Grzegorz Chojnacki - Principal Character Artist @ CD Projekt Red

What Makes a Character "Cyberpunk"

1. Futuristic Setting                        

A typical cyberpunk character is set in a future where advanced technology and internet connectivity have become a part of everyday life. Think about neon-lit cityscapes, towering skyscrapers, and bustling streets that never sleep. The setting is an essential component of a cyberpunk character’s design, often reflected in their attire and modifications.     

2. High-Tech Augmentations

Cyberpunk character art often includes technological enhancements or augmentations. These could be in the form of bionic limbs, neural implants, cybernetic eyes, or even full-body modifications. These augmentations often highlight themes of transhumanism and the merging of humanity with technology.

3. Unique Fashion

In a cyberpunk world, fashion is a blend of various styles—punk, gothic, street, and sometimes, elements of traditional Japanese attire. Leather jackets, metallic accessories, high-tech eyewear, brightly colored hair, and tattoos are all common aspects of a cyberpunk character’s fashion.   

4. Social Themes

Cyberpunk character art is not just about aesthetics; it’s also a medium to portray social and philosophical themes. These can include societal decay, corporate domination, loss of privacy, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. 

5. The Anti-Hero

Cyberpunk characters are often depicted as anti-heroes—individuals living on the fringes of society, defying authority, and fighting against a system that’s stacked against them. They’re flawed, morally ambiguous, but ultimately, compelling characters that players can relate to. 

By incorporating these elements into your design, you can create character art that embodies the ethos of the cyberpunk genre and captivates the players’ imagination. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules in art—the most important thing is to let your creativity flow and create something unique and engaging.

Artwork By Abrar Khan

The Importance of Character Art in the Cyberpunk Genre

The power of the cyberpunk genre lies in its capacity to create engaging, relatable, and multifaceted characters. In cyberpunk video games, character art is more than just visually appealing—it’s a critical element that contributes to the game’s overall setting and plot. Here’s how:

Building the Atmosphere

Cyberpunk character art helps to establish the game’s atmospheric intensity. Characters’ clothing, accessories, body modifications, and hairstyles all give subtle hints about the world they inhabit. High-tech augmentations, neon lights reflected in metallic surfaces, the worn-out fabric of a futuristic street vendor—all these details add to the atmosphere and enhance the player’s immersion in the game world. Achieving this level of detail often requires exceptional artistic skill, which can be obtained through game art outsourcing.

Driving the Plot

Characters in cyberpunk games are often deeply intertwined with the story. Their personal struggles, ambitions, and the choices they make often drive the game’s plot. By skillfully crafting a character’s appearance, artists can convey a wealth of information about the character’s background, profession, and alignment—vital components that add depth to the story.

Embodying Themes

Cyberpunk character art is an effective way to communicate the genre’s key themes. Characters living on the edge of society, enhanced with high-tech modifications yet grappling with societal decay, embody the core cyberpunk themes of technology’s double-edged sword and the socio-economic disparities it can lead to.

Engaging Players

Finally, visually appealing and unique characters capture players’ attention and make the gameplay experience more engaging. A well-designed character that players can identify with can make the game more emotionally impactful and memorable.               

In essence, cyberpunk character art is not just a tool for visual storytelling but a medium to express complex themes, drive the narrative, and create an immersive gaming experience. Whether you’re a game developer, a 3D artist, or an avid gamer, understanding the importance of character art in the cyberpunk genre can enhance your appreciation for this art form and its role in the broader gaming landscape.     

Artwork by Lea Leonowicz

How to Create a Unique Cyberpunk Character

Designing a memorable cyberpunk character requires creativity, an understanding of the genre’s themes, and a knack for visual storytelling. Here are some tips for crafting a character that stands out.

1. Start With a Strong Concept

Before diving into the design, start with a clear concept for your character. What role do they play in the cyberpunk world? Are they a street-smart hacker, a corporate mogul, or a rebellious punk? Understanding your character’s story, motivations, and personality will guide their physical appearance and visual design.

2. Incorporate Cyberpunk Aesthetics

Cyberpunk character art is known for its blend of high-tech and low-life elements. Augmentations, futuristic clothing, neon colors, and unconventional hairstyles are all hallmarks of the genre. However, avoid falling into cliches. Use these elements creatively to enhance your character’s individuality.

3. Utilize Visual Storytelling

 Every aspect of your character’s design should tell something about them. A robotic limb could hint at a past injury, a tattoo might signify allegiance to a particular group, or a unique outfit might indicate their job or status. Use these visual cues to give depth to your character and make them more intriguing.    

4. Balance Familiarity and Innovation

While it’s important to stay true to the genre’s aesthetics, don’t be afraid to innovate. Strive to balance familiar cyberpunk elements with unique and fresh designs that make your character stand out. Push the boundaries of the genre while still maintaining a recognizable cyberpunk vibe.

5. Iterate and Refine

Character design is a process of iteration and refinement. Sketch out different designs, get feedback, and make improvements. Using a 3D software can also help in visualizing and fine-tuning your character’s design.                

Creating a unique and memorable cyberpunk character is a creative endeavor that combines artistic skill, storytelling, and a deep understanding of the cyberpunk genre. Remember that the most impactful characters are those that resonate with the audience, so always strive to create characters that are not just visually impressive, but also emotionally engaging and complex.    

Artwork by Hirokazu Yokohara

Examples of Excellent Cyberpunk Character Art

1 - V from "Cyberpunk 2077"

First Sketches of V Male Character - Artwork by Lea Leonowicz

Arguably the most well-known cyberpunk character in recent years, V is the player’s avatar in CD Projekt Red’s massive RPG. Players can customize V’s appearance extensively, including cybernetic enhancements, tattoos, clothing, and hairstyle. Despite the varied designs, V retains a distinctly cyberpunk aesthetic, embodying the genre’s fusion of high-tech and low-life.

2 - Adam Jensen from "Deus Ex: Human Revolution"

Adam Jensen - Artwork by Laura Gallagher

Adam Jensen is a standout example of cyberpunk character art, featuring biomechanical augmentations that make him more machine than man. His distinctive sunglasses and trench coat have become iconic within the genre, and his design reflects his character’s struggle with his own humanity.

3 - Major Motoko Kusanagi from "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online"

Based on the anime and manga series, Major Motoko Kusanagi’s character design in the game successfully captures the cyberpunk aesthetic. Her design features a full-body prosthetic, which is both sleek and functional, reflecting the world’s advanced technology.

4  - Royce from "Cyberpunk 2077"

Royce - Artwork by Marcin Klicki

Royce, the leader of the Maelstrom gang, is another example of compelling cyberpunk character design. His body is heavily modified with cybernetics to the point where he’s barely recognizable as human – a commentary on the extremes of augmentation in the genre.

5 - Johnny Silverhand from "Cyberpunk 2077"

Johnny Silverhand - Artwork by Marcin Blaszczak

Played by Keanu Reeves, Johnny Silverhand is a digital ghost and former rockstar. His design, complete with a robotic arm and rockstar attire, embodies the punk aspect of the genre.

6 - Sam Porter Bridges from "Death Stranding"

Sam Porter Bridges -  Artwork by Bruno zorzi

While not strictly a cyberpunk game, “Death Stranding” incorporates many cyberpunk aesthetics. Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus, is a courier in a post-apocalyptic world. His character design, particularly his high-tech equipment and clothing, carries a strong cyberpunk vibe.

These examples highlight the versatility and creativity in cyberpunk character art, demonstrating how designers can use technology, fashion, and personal history to craft unique and memorable characters.

Techniques for Creating Cyberpunk Character Art

Creating cyberpunk character art involves a blend of traditional art skills, digital technology, and a deep understanding of the genre’s aesthetics. Here are some key techniques and tools used by artists

Concept Sketching

This initial stage involves creating rough sketches of the character. Artists often explore different designs, including clothing, cybernetic enhancements, and physical attributes, to capture the unique mix of high tech and low life that defines the cyberpunk genre.

Artwork by Sam Leung

3D Modeling

Once the concept is finalized, artists use 3D modeling software such as ZBrush, Maya, or Blender to create a digital sculpture of the character. This stage involves creating a 3D mesh and adding intricate details like cybernetic implants or rugged clothing.

Texturing and Shading

After the model is complete, the next step is to apply textures and shaders using software such as Substance Painter. This process gives the character a realistic look, from the gleam of metal on a cybernetic arm to the worn leather of a dystopian jacket. 

Rigging and Animation

Rigging involves creating a digital skeleton for the 3D model, which animators then manipulate to bring the character to life. Animation can be particularly challenging in cyberpunk art, as characters often have non-traditional bodies due to their cybernetic enhancements.

Lighting and Rendering

The final stage involves setting up lighting and rendering the character in a 3D scene. Artists use various software tools, including but not limited to Unreal Engine, Unity, Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, and dedicated rendering engines like Arnold, V-Ray, Redshift, and Octane, to create atmospheric lighting that accentuates the cyberpunk vibe.                                        

Creating cyberpunk character art is a multifaceted process that involves a blend of artistic skills and technical knowledge. With the right approach, artists can create characters that not only look impressive but also embody the themes and aesthetics of the cyberpunk genre. 

Artwork by Dylan Kowalski

Learning Resources for Cyberpunk Character Art

Whether you’re a seasoned artist or a beginner eager to dip your toes into the world of cyberpunk, there’s a wealth of resources available to help you hone your character art skills. Here are some suggestions:


  • “The Art of Cyberpunk 2077”: This official book gives a deep insight into the process of creating the unique art of the widely acclaimed game, “Cyberpunk 2077”. It’s an invaluable resource for understanding the intricate details involved in cyberpunk character design.
  • “Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Sci-fi and Fantasy”: While not cyberpunk-specific, this book covers key digital art skills that can be applied to the genre.         

Online Tutorials

  • ArtStation Learning: Many professional artists share process breakdowns and tutorials on this platform. For instance, you can find specific cyberpunk-themed character art tutorials.
  • YouTube: Channels like FZD School of Design or Sketchy Trav, often share useful tips and tutorials applicable to cyberpunk art.

Online Courses

Forums and Communities                        

  • Reddit: Subreddits like r/learnart and r/cyberpunk offer plenty of advice and feedback opportunities for emerging artists.
  • Discord: Many art-related servers exist where you can interact with like-minded artists, share your work, and get critiques.  

Learn Software

  • Learn software like ZBrush, Substance Painter, or Blender. They often offer in-depth tutorials on their official websites.                                        

Remember, mastering cyberpunk character art takes time and practice, but with these resources at your disposal, you’ll be well-equipped to dive into this exciting genre.        


As we navigate through the neon-lit, rain-soaked alleyways of the genre, it’s clear that cyberpunk character art is more than just a futuristic aesthetic. It’s an expression of individuality and societal struggles, a reflection of a high-tech world riddled with low-life problems. From understanding the defining characteristics of a cyberpunk character to appreciating the role they play in a dystopian narrative, there’s a lot to unpack.The unique blend of sci-fi and noir in cyberpunk character art is what makes it so captivating. 

When creating your own cyberpunk characters, consider their background, their purpose, and most importantly, the story they tell about the world they inhabit.We’ve also discussed a few standout examples of excellent cyberpunk character art in games that can serve as inspiration. Use these examples as stepping stones on your journey into the genre, but don’t be afraid to diverge from the path and carve out your own niche in the expansive world of cyberpunk.

With the multitude of resources and tutorials available, both aspiring and seasoned artists can refine their skills and learn new techniques. This genre has something to offer everyone, from the stylistic exploration of visual design to the thematic depth of its narratives.In conclusion, cyberpunk character art is a rich and vibrant field teeming with creativity and innovation. It poses an exciting challenge for artists, inviting them to envisage a future steeped in technology and question what it means to be human. So, go forth and bring your vision of the cybernetic future to life. With a little patience and a lot of imagination, the possibilities are limitless.                                        

The images used in this article have been sourced from the respective websites and artist portfolios in an appropriate and legal manner. However, if you believe that the use of any of these images infringes upon your copyright or intellectual property rights, please do not hesitate to contact me so I can resolve the issue. I'm committed to respecting copyright laws and promoting the legal sharing of content.     

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