If you are into anime, it is likely that you are intrigued by at least some facet of Japanese life, and nothing is more intriguing than their famous historical warrior caste – the samurai. Samurai represent an integral part of Japanese history and culture, serving as some of the most skilled and honorable swordsmen (and women!) to ever walk the earth.
While the samurai way is all but dead, they live on even beyond the history books. In anime, samurai run the gamut of strict and dignified to straight up punks and villains, but they are always a joy to watch. These top 20 anime series feature samurai represented in a number of ways to fulfill all your lusty feudal era needs.
20 – Inuyasha
Inuyasha tells the story of a high school girl from modern Japan who finds herself sent back to the feudal era where not only is Japan ravaged by constant war, but demons as well. While in Inuyasha you see the occasional samurai, it mostly focuses on Kagome and the titular half-demon Inuyasha, neither of whom are samurai. This occasional glimpse at samurai lands Inuyasha firmly on the bottom of our otherwise prestigious list.
19 – Gun Samurai
Musashi Miyamoto is a samurai legend, but unlike the Musashi Miyamoto you are familiar with from Japanese history or the manga Vagabond, Gun Samurai follows a re-imagined Musashi. Gun Samurai follows the many adventures of the younger, whinier Musashi Miyamoto as he quests to win the love of the comely Kaguyahime with his electro-sword and demon-sealing revolvers. As you could imagine, this is one of those samurai anime series that is so bad it actually ends up being really enjoyable.
18 – Exile Generation
The members of the Japanese band Exile Generation are re-imagined in this titular anime as futuristic samurais that are sent back in time to the Warring States period of Japan. With each member designed as part-samurai, part-thug, if you liked shows like Samurai Champloo for its slick animation and Mugen’s attitude, Exile Generation will be aligned with your samurai interests.
17 – Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai follows the bloody journey of a samurai called Afro as he cuts his way to vengeance. Known for its originality and unique characters, Afro Samurai is an excellent watch for those that want something still within the samurai genre, but different from the typical tropes.
16 – Gifuu Doudou!!: Kanetsugu to Keiji
Gifuu Doudou tells the somewhat fictionalize tale of two very real samurai – Naoe Kanetsugu and Maeda Keiji. Naoe is renowned in history for his military brilliance used for the Uesagi family and Maeda Keiji is renowned for his prowess as a warrior. If your passion is seeing real historical samurai come to life in animation then Gifuu Doudou is an interesting and well-animated adventure into two less focused figures from the past.
15 – Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran
Kazemakase tells the tale of female samurai and avid drunk Ran and her Chinese martial artist friend Lady Meow as they travel Japan during the Edo period. There is little story in Kazemakase other than that. Each episode is essentially just a short story in the life of these two characters. If you like less serious samurai fare, this is a fine mix of action and laughs.
14 – Time of Shura
The Time of Shura tells the story of three generations of those who practice the Mutsu Enmei-Ryu style of martial arts, an unarmed style of martial arts that uses speed and strength to defeat armed opponents. While the animation in Time of Shura could be better, if you are a fan of technical samurai fights, you will find no finer show in the genre. While the technical research that went into each fight was a nice perk, what really sets Time of Shura apart from the pack is the three arcs that each cover a different member of the same family during different periods in Japan’s history.
13 – Peacemaker Kurogane
Peacemaker Kurogane follows the story of young Tetsunosuke that seeks to join the Shinsengumi, the military police of the Edo period, to avenge the murder of his parents. While the revenge plot is pretty standard, aside from some brief comedic reprieves, Peacemaker Kurogane does, at times, fall in line with telling some historical events from the last days of the samurai.
12 – Hakuouki
After her father goes missing in Kyoto, Chizuru Yukimura disguises herself as a man and travels to the city to look for him. After being attacked by fiercely strong fighters, she finds herself saved by the Shinsengumi only to be taken back to their base and interrogated where each group to find that they are both looking for her father.
Hakuouki is based on a reverse harem gal game, which typically means romance and drama up the wazoo. However, Hakuouki breaks the trope. It does feature a little romance, but instead the anime opts to focus more on the lives of this secret clan of warriors and the quest they undertake. So don’t worry, everyone. There are plenty of sword fights, but also some very artsy cinematics at times that might feel more at home in a visual novel.
11 – House of Five Leaves
Akitsu Masanosuke is a ronin that has been let go by yet another master due to his clumsiness and naiveté. Constantly looked down on by other swordsmen, the only job he can find is with a gang called the Five Leaves that engages in sinister activities.
The House of Five Leaves automatically sets itself apart with its unique and occasionally haunting art style, but what really makes it different is that it is not about someone trying to be the strongest or on a quest to glory. Instead it is about some average samurai that actually kind of sucks and at times seems to just draw his sword to cut a pay check.
10 – Brave 10
After watching her temple burned to the ground by ninjas, Isanami travels to Ueda Castle to seek the help of Lord Yukimura Sanada. Along the way she teams up with a masterless ninja named Saizou and after meeting Sanada, gains 10 strong warriors to protect her.
Brave 10 is … not what you would expect, in a bad way. If you are expecting a dark and gritty show, this is not that. While often leaning more towards the romantic side, Brave 10 is by no means a boring show. However, in between great, fast-paced fights, you will have to sit through the wooing and drama of it all.
9 – Mushibugyou
In 17th century Japan, the people of Edo are plagued by giant insects that ravage the land, and so the Insect Magistrate was created to fight the scourge. Mushibugyou follows a boy named Jinbee that aims to take his father’s place in the Insect Magistrate Office to hone his sword skills. As you might expect, this particular anime, while having samurai and a feudal setting, is primarily a shounen anime where the main character gets progressively stronger amongst challenging odds.
8 – Samurai Seven
Although re-imagined in a scifi setting, Samurai Seven is the anime adaption of Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film Seven Samurai. The anime, loosely following the plot of the film, follows a village that hires a band of samurai mercenaries to protect them from bandits with mechanical enhancements. While Samurai Seven can be a little bit too ridiculously mecha at times it does feature some decent sword fights and characters that capture the spirit of their movie inspirations.
7 – Blade of the Immortal
For those who have read the original manga, the Blade of the Immortal anime is a widely known disappointment. However, for non-manga fans, it remains a fairly interesting watch. The story follows Manji, an immortal swordsman looking to gain back his mortality and a girl who travels with him on a revenge quest. While occasionally painfully slow moving, the fights and many weapons of Manji are some of the most brilliant in the samurai genre.
6 – Shigurui
Shigurui is about the events leading up to and the fight between the blind Irako Seigen and the one-armed Fujiki Gennosuke, both disciples of the same sword master. As the conditions of the two fighters may suggest, Shigurui is nothing short of brutal. It is a desperate and hopeless romp through the feudal era that provides satisfying, although rather sad, action.
5 – Samurai Kings
Do you like the Samurai and/or Dynasty Warriors games? Chances are if you are really interested in the samurai genre that you do. Samurai Kings is a lot like the Samurai Warriors series. It takes real historical warriors and lords from the Warring States era, decks them out in glamorous armor and over-the-top attitudes, and then lets them loose on each other with over-the-top sword skills. While some battles stick close to history, mostly it is just historical samurai battling it out in a flurry of sparks.
4 – Hyouge Mono
When people think of the golden age of the samurai during the Warring States period, they think of the ambition, warfare, and chaotic turmoil that ruled the age. However, what many neglect to address is that it was also the high point of Japan’s philosophy and aesthetic arts, something the samurai had no small part in cultivating. That is what Hyouge Mono is about. It is about Furuta Sasuke, a vassal of Oda Nobunaga and a man obsessed with tea ceremony.
While often considered boring by those with little interest in the time period other than the fighting, Hyouge Mono actually helps to fill in the gaps of the Warring States Era that most people don’t know.
3 – Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo combines high octane sword fights with surprisingly addictive hip hop music to create one of the most beloved samurai anime series of all time. The story follows two swordsmen, one a thug and one a proper samurai that constantly walk the line between friends and enemies as they escort a clumsy waitress on her quest to find a samurai that smells of sun flowers. On their journey not only will you see some of the best animated fights in the genre, but you will also get a few knowledge bombs dropped on some lesser known historical events.
2 – Gintama
Gintama is … a bit of an odd duck. It follows Gintoki, a samurai that is forced to do all kinds of odd jobs in Feudal Japan after the era is invaded by aliens and the samurai lose their power. Not only does it balance comedy and action, but Gintama actually also balances silliness with some accurate historical references. Unfortunately, you have to know a fair bit about the era to understand what is educational and what is silly. Regardless, if you don’t take your samurai genre too seriously, Gintama is a classic.
1 – Rurouni Kenshin
Last, but not least is Rurouni Kenshin, an anime series that, while probably not the best in the samurai genre, is still one of the most famous. Rurouni Kenshin follows the titular wandering ronin that has sworn off his previous murderous and violent ways as a samurai assassin to live a more peaceful life. However, just because you try to change the person you were, doesn’t mean those from your past can forget it.
Lengthy and drawn out at times, Rurouni Kenshin tells a story that will make you feel right at home if you are a fan of Bleach or Naruto. If you want something a little more serious and dark, be sure to watch its short prequel series, Samurai X.
Agree? Disagree? Did we miss a crucial samurai anime series that needs to be on this list? Tell us about it in the comments section below?