Japan went through an era of nobility and military power. Shogun, warlords, and samurai warriors were some of the prominent figures during that feudal period of Japanese history. Everything about Japanese history is great to explore, but that particular period had a massive impact on the country and there are many ways to learn about it, from movies and books to amazing documentaries.
Anime, of course, is also a good source to broaden your knowledge of Japanese history. Many historical anime series cover the events during the Medieval and Edo period of Japan that encompasses feudal hierarchy, samurai legends, and covers many political and socio-economical aspects. There are a lot of anime fans who are into these historical elements.
MANGA.TOKYO wants to travel you back to the era of samurai, swords, and power. Here are 10 historical anime to take you back to feudal Japan.
Chizuru Yukimura moves to Kyoto in search for her father. She happens to witness a fight between Shinsengumi (a specialized force in the Shogunate period) and Rasetsu (a berserk demon). These Shinsengumi members are also looking for Chizuru’s father who is known to be a skilled doctor. Together with the Shinsengumi, Chizuru is taken into custody while searching for her father. Chizuru wants to help protect Kyoto.
Hakuouki is a historical fantasy that includes many historical references from the final years of the Edo period of Japan. It involves the story of Shinsengumi who are headed by Isami Kondou, a historical commander of the faction. Other prominent characters in the series include Toshizo Hijikata, Souji Okita, and Hajime Saito and are also based on Japanese historical figures. Despite the involvement of supernatural elements, the anime will let you experience the struggle of the Shinsengumi people to strengthen their military power, to preserve justice, and to protect their nation. It’s a very realistic series that draws you into the most compelling world of old Japan. What’s even more engaging is the great animation, not to mention its flawless sword fights and well-crafted historical setting. Also, if you’re the type of anime fan who has extreme fascination with beautiful guys, then Hakuouki is the perfect title for you.
Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Kings
Spring 2009 12 Episodes + 1 OVA
The story is about the adventures of two young warlords, Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura, who form an unlikely alliance to take down Oda Nobunaga, a demon king who wants to conquer everything to gain more power and military strength in order to rule over Japanese history.
Based on the video game franchise of the same name, Sengoku Basara is an action-packed anime that depicts the battles among warlords and samurai warriors during the Sengoku period. It has an exact parallel to the Japanese history with all the aesthetic setting, well-designed characters that are based on historical figures, and the historical timeline of the story. The anime is visually pleasing with its smooth animation and compelling historical ambiance.
Summer 2014 10 Episodes
Nobunaga Concerto starts with a high school student named Saburou who suddenly finds himself being transported into ancient Japan. He lands directly in front of a prominent general, Oda Nobunaga. Because of their resemblance, Saburou has been granted the power to take over Nobunaga’s place. Although with his carefree attitude, Saburou is provided with stuff for his duty as the feudal lord. His quest to conquer Japan begins here.
Another anime set in the Sengoku era, Nobunaga Concerto offers a captivating glimpse of old Japan. The beginning of the story is something you wouldn’t expect as it illustrates a contemporary setting. It’s really surprising how it turns out to be a beautifully crafted series with a good blend of historical elements. The time travel aspect for the protagonist is really engaging, and it’s a unique entity that makes the series a lot more special than any anime of the same genre. The anime doesn’t give its best shot because of its dry and dull artwork, but the historical setting is praiseworthy and stands out among other historical fictions.
Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou
2005 24 Episodes
Basilisk is filled with great adventures and dynamic action scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It follows the story of two rival ninja clans, the Iga clan and the Kouga clan, that are engaged in a bitter war until a powerful warlord named Ieyasu Tokugawa orders a ceasefire.
The story is set during theAzuchi-Momoyama period, the final phase of the Sengoku period. The mood of the anime is mostly dark and feels more violent with its blood-soaked sword fighting. If you’re not comfortable with its extensive gore factor, then this anime isn’t for you. However, this anime is realistic in terms of its deep historical ambiance that feels like watching real battles between strong warriors during the old Japanese era.
2003 24 Episodes
Set in nineteenth century Japan before the Meiji Restoration, Peacemaker Kurogane centers on the adventures of Tetsunosuke Ichimura who wants avenge his parents’ death, and this leads him to join the Shinsengumi in order to gain strength. He develops a closer relationship with the members of the faction and helps them with their various duties and responsibilities.
This anime has engaging historical elements. The main protagonist, Tetsunosuke Ichimura, is based on a real Shinsengumi figure. His appeal is very notable as he shows the real struggles of the Shinsengumi during that period of history. The characters are based on real-life Japanese figures similar to the Shinsengumi characters in Hakuouki, but the difference is that Peacemaker Kurogane is a lot more realistic as it doesn’t feature supernatural stuff.
Gifuu Doudou!!: Kanetsugu to Keiji
Summer 2013 25 Episodes
A story set in the latter days of the Warring States era, Gifuu Doudou!! Kanetsugu to Keiji follows the journey of two samurai legends, Naoe Kanetsugu and Maeda Keiji. They both carve out a piece of history in the most dangerous time of Japanese history, as they wield their swords to fight for justice.
This anime is packed with breathtaking action scenes similar to Hakuouki and Peacemaker Kurogane. It has a beautiful, solid execution of sword fights and has a mature tone that easily fascinates young adults. If you’re into a more masculine appeal of samurai warriors, then this anime is the perfect choice for you. Although the artwork isn’t topnotch, it offers a wonderful setting and a musical score that will make you travel back to Japanese ancient times.
Spring 2006 201 Episodes
The very famous Gintama couldn’t be missing from this list. The anime feels bizarre and disastrously funny. It follows the adventures of the eccentric protagonist named Gintoki who fights against aliens from outer space known as Amanto. Together with his friends Shinpachi and Kagura, they venture the fictional world of Edo period.
Although Gintama doesn’t have an in-depth plot development and leans more on its comical angle, it still captures a beautiful setting of feudal Japan. There are some compelling historical references in the story that will let you experience a unique, classical setting. Its fictional elements blend well with the humors, adventures, and action scenes. Despite its peculiar ambiance it strongly gives off, Gintama is one of the best titles to brighten up your day. It’s just… super fun.
1996 95 Episodes
This iconic anime has always lifted the soul of many fangirls out there. It was the manly beauty of Kenshin Himura who dominated the 90s bishounen charm. He is known as Hitokiri Battosai, a feared warrior of the Bakumatsu war in the early Meiji era. Presently living as the cheerful Kenshin, he travels to Tokyo and encounters a beautiful girl named Kaoru Kamiya. Together with other allies such as Sanosuke Sagara and Yahiko Myojin, they embark on a journey to save those in need.
Rurouni Kenshin is probably the first historical anime of many 90s kids. It gained a massive popularity for its outstanding story, beautiful setting, and interesting character tropes. It doesn’t only focus on its action and adventure genre, but it also offers some humor and romantic development that blend well with its historical ambiance. It’s full of intense and unforgettable fight scenes that are truly remarkable. Although it’s an old series, new fans will absolutely love Kenshin’s exciting journey.
Summer 2017 13 Episodes
Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu is all about the adventures of young samurai legends who chase after the Time Retrograde Army which is capable of altering Japanese history. Izuminokami Kanesada and his partner, Horikawa Kunihiro, set on a journey to change the course of time.
If you’re a hardcore fan of the Touken Ranbu franchise, then Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu is surely your cup of tea. In this anime, characters are named after the swords of the real-life Shinsengumi, and this particular concept gives uniqueness to this samurai story. The animation is spectacular with perfect visual charms by Ufotable studio (known for their works on Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Tales of Zestiria the X). Although the anime has a dark undertone most of the time, the setting will get you involved in the deadly battles of samurai warriors which draw you closer to Japanese history.
Directed by the legendary Shinichiro Watanabe, who is best known for directing the famous anime Cowboy Bepop, Samurai Champloo is another critically acclaimed show you shouldn’t miss out. It follows the adventures of Mugen, a swordsman; Jin, a rounin; and a girl named Fuu who asks them to accompany her to find the ‘samurai who smells of sunflowers’.
A series set during the Edo period, Samurai Champloo has a different feel compared to the bloody mist of war you’ve seen in various samurai anime. It is more entertaining, involves a lot of comedy, and its overall style is unique and dynamic. It utilizes a contemporary musical appeal that is perfectly suited with the historical vibes of the show. It is also packed with great action scenes that offer similar feel to sword fights in samurai anime.
Japanese history has a way to absorb you into its ambiance. The lives of samurai, its legendary warriors, are portrayed in many historical anime series, and the above titles are some great stories for you to start your descent into historical anime. It’s time to wield your sword and preserve history.
Do you have a title you’d like to add to the list? Let MANGA.TOKYO know in the comments.