Anime is always enthusiastic in its exploration of different stories. Sometimes those stories are completely insane, but on occasion, those stories take place in an era right from the history books. While any historical information you observe in anime should be taken with a big grain of salt, it does provide a unique visual look at an era that has already gone by. If you yearn for an age of samurai, nobility, simpler life styles, or seemingly endless warfare, then perhaps the historical genre, and these top 20 recommendations in it, are the right shows for your next anime binge.
*Note: This list only includes anime series, not movies or OVAs, of which, there are many in the historical genre. So before you get all sassy about how Grave of Fireflies needs to be on here, keep that in mind.
20 – Spice and Wolf
Spice and Wolf is about a wolf spirit from a rural village that joins up with a merchant travelling a fictional, but medieval Europe-inspired world. While it has no historical locations or characters, it does teach you more than you probably ever wanted to know about medieval commerce and economics.
19 – Schwarzesmarken
Schwarzesmarken takes place in an alternate version of 1980s East Germany. In this alternate timeline, technology has advanced well beyond our modern weapons in order to fight aliens that want to strip the Earth of resources. Yet, even while fighting aliens, the Cold War rages on and you still get to see some of the holes in the Communist doctrine that began to break apart the USSR in the real 1980s.
18 – Mononoke
Mononoke is set in feudal Japan and follows a “medicine seller” that travels the country looking for malevolent spirits called Mononoke to slay. This particular anime, apart from the setting, focuses on the mythical side of Japan. This is one of those rare times where I recommend going to a fansubber to watch this particular show. Look for one with translator notes at the end of each episode. Some references don’t translate very well.
17 – Young Black Jack
As a prequel to the anime Black Jack, Young Black Jack tells the story of his younger life in medical school. Although a medical drama at its core, it is set in 1968 Japan where student protests are breaking out across campuses about the American involvement in the Vietnam War.
16 – Otogizoushi
In Kyoto during the year 972 A.D., corrupt samurai run the city with corrupt politics and the common folk are suffering from famine and diseases. To combat this, the Imperial Court sends their best samurai out on a quest to receive a gem that can save the world. Unfortunately, he falls ill, so his sister decides to go in his place.
While Otogizoushi has some embellishments, it does focus on an interesting era of Japanese history that isn’t the Warring States period. If nothing else, it is pretty fun Mulan story, too.
15 – Black Butler
While ultimately about a posh young lord and mystery solver who is assisted by his demon butler with dibs on his soul, Black Butler is set in Victorian Era England. It discusses real things like Queen Victoria and her obsessive grieving process for her dead husband Albert and other politics, although they are all heavily overshadowed by the show’s plot and supernatural elements.
14 – Night Raid 1931
In 1931 Shanghai, Night Raid tells the tales of an intelligence agency staffed entirely by supremely talented people. With powers ranging to the supernatural, they try to fight against the oncoming onslaught that is World War II.
13 – Drifters
Do you get unhealthily attached to historical figures? Don’t worry, it’s not weird, but you will enjoy Drifters. Essentially, it takes a number of badass historical characters like Oda Nobunaga, Grigori Rasputin, Jeanne D’Arc, ect and places them in a magical world after their deaths where they do whatever they want, but mostly end up fighting. Get ready to enjoy historical figures interacting and a lot of chat about war tactics.
12 – Baccano
From 1930s Chicago to 1711, Baccano is a show that spawns multiple time periods with its different stories. While it has flourishes of magic and supernatural elements, it does a fine job of keeping characters in tune with their setting.
11 – Joker Game
With Japan right on the cusp of entering World War II, intelligence on other countries has become a valuable asset. Joker Game follows the stories of spies from Japan all around the world as they manipulate others in order to learn crucial pieces of information.
10 – Rurouni Kenshin
From its prequel Samurai X to throughout Rurouni Kenshin, this series tells the tale of a turbulent time in Japan through one samurai, his friends, and his many enemies. From the Tokugawa Rebellion to the Meiji Restoration, a number of real changes that happened to Japan are showcased in Rurouni Kenshin.
9 – Hyouge Mono
Not every historical anime has to be about warfare or alternate timelines. Sometimes it can be about lesser known aspects of history, like in the case of Hyouge Mono, the cultural aspect of being a samurai. As well as being good fighters, samurai were also deeply interested in other art forms like poetry, art, and, in this case, tea ceremony.
8 – Rainbow
It seems like no one, West or East, likes to talk about the adjustment period after Japan lost World War II, and for good reason. Historically, it wasn’t a great time for the Japanese people. Rainbow gives a glimpse at that as it follows a band of young criminals that bond in a cruel jail in 1955 post-war Japan. There will be a time fairly early in this series that you want to turn it off because of the brutal rape, but if you can withstand that, there is actually a really amazing anime afterwards.
7 – Aoi Bungaku
Aoi Bungaku doesn’t so much focus on one time period in Japan, rather it is the anime adaption of several pieces of Japanese literature than range from the Feudal Era to the 20th century.
6 – Le Chevalier D’Eon
In 18th century France, loyal servant of Louis XV, Lia de Beaumont is murdered and Le Chevalier D’Eon follows her brother trying to solve her murder. Although it takes a bit of a gender-bending stint, it is a fun romp through pre-revolutionary France.
5 – Hetalia Axis Powers
You knew this would be coming. While not so much historical in setting, it does put a memorable face to the countries involved in World War I and II, ultimately making the overall gist of the events pretty easy to remember as well as explores the relationships between different nations in a fun comedic atmosphere.
4 – Beyond the Heavens
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms may have been done to death in video games, but it is still pretty untapped in anime. Beyond the Heavens loosely retells the tales of the era, following Cao Cao of Wei. However, where it differentiates from many other Romance of the Three Kingdoms media is that it maintains a positive portrayal of Cao Cao, who is generally seen as a villain compared to Liu Bei.
3 – Rose of Versailles
The Rose of Versailles tells the story of a young girl raised to be a boy by her father, the Commander of the Royal Guards. She is trained to become a royal guard and her story is shown in juxtaposition to Marie Antoinette’s marriage and life with the King of France. While the animation style may turn people off, they are missing out on a whirlwind of a story showing the days leading up to the French Revolution.
2 – Kingdom
The Kingdom anime focuses on China’s Warring States period, not to be confused with Japan’s Warring States period that would happen several hundred years later. It follows the story of Xin Li and his friend (and slave) Piao that both dream of becoming a Great General of the Heavens.
While there are the usual embellishments on the action and likely liberties taken with the story, many characters in Kingdom are based on real people from the era, although their stories differ.
1 – Samurai Kings
What is the most fun historical series you can watch? It is Samurai Kings, but by a small margin. Samurai Kings tells the story of the Warring States period of Japan and while it, like Kingdom, takes some liberties and features a lot of embellishments, it does show the historical characters of the era come to life in the battles and political struggles that they fought.
Did we miss one of your favorite historical anime series? Let us know about it in the comments section below.