Samurais represent one of the most well-known characters in Japanese history, especially for foreigners. Anime doesn’t fail to homage to them as there are many depictions of their doings and several series following their deeds.
If you love swords, deadly fights, cool techniques and honor, this is the right place for you. This type of anime is usually characterized by a historical setting and a heavy swordplay component, with due exceptions like The House of Leaves.
This list will show you what are the best samurai anime out there, keeping in mind that it’s a highly subjective ranking and that we are not placing these anime in a specific order.
Table of Contents
18. Sengoku Basara
A 2009 anime, based this time on a video game, which is why many of you may already be turning up your noses. But hold your breath, because it may turn out to be an unexpected surprise.
As the title suggests, the anime is inspired by true Japanese history, from the historical Sengoku period. The anime depicts the military aspect of the period, against the backdrop of an ancient Japan fragmented into semi-independent provinces.
In this period and setting the warrior Oda Nobunaga, called the Sixth Demon King, emerged, with the intent of conquering a disordered country and reuniting it under one banner.
He won’t be short of worthy opponents in his endeavor. Indeed, Yukimura Sanada and Masamune Date, two young generals, decide to form an unlikely alliance to succeed in opposing Oda’s unstoppable armies.
A definable historical anime to watch if you are interested in discovering ancient and fascinating Japanese history adapted through animation.
17. Samurai 7
A 26-episode anime produced by Studio Gonzo and inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece of the same name, whose 50th anniversary is celebrated.
The plot, as might be expected, is broadly similar to Kurosawa’s movie, where seven samurais are recruited to protect a village from the assaults of bandits who plunder rice, leaving the population in abject poverty. This is only the incipit of a story that will grow in intensity over time, breaking away from the original work.
The whole thing is repurposed in a steampunk style, where various typical components of feudal Japan are mixed with characteristic elements of the genre.
However, this mix of genres does not detract from the classicism of the clashes present, still typical of samurai battles but with just enough modern additions.
16. Hyouge Mono
Let us now turn to Hyouge Mono, a 39-episode 2011 anime that gives us a complementary second point of view to the previously examined Sengoku Basara.
The story is set in the same context and period, with Oda Nobunaga gradually leading his troops to the unification of Japan.
This time, however, it will not be the just-mentioned Yukimura Sanada or Masamune Date who will be the protagonist of the events, let alone Yukimura Sanada or Masamune Date, but a vassal of Nobunaga, serving him.
His name is Sasuke Furata, and he is a peculiar and eccentric man, obsessed with the tea ceremony and other Zen-related customs.
This, as you can imagine, gives us another perspective than Sengoku Basara, showing us the same story from another complementary point of view.
It might therefore not be a bad idea to see it immediately before or after the just mentioned to complete the overall picture.
Let’s now look at something different, which breaks completely from the false line of the latter titles. Let’s talk about Mushibugyou, a 2013 anime with 26 episodes.
We move to a much lighter and at times comic storyline, with the main character Tsukishima Jinbe, a skilled swordsman, being recruited to carry out an assignment as a mercenary.
An anime that is lighter and more enjoyable without commitment than the heavy and deep stories mentioned in the paragraphs preceding this one.
If you still want to stay in ancient Japan but are looking for a lighter and viewable anime without commitment, then you have hit the jackpot.
14. Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
We conclude with something more recent by examining Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion, an anime based on a shonen manga released in 2018.
It is the fall of 1274, Bun’Ei era this time, where a boatload of exiles is sent to the edge of the world, to the remote island of Tsushima, to protect it from the first Mongol invasion.
The passengers on the boat are Kuchii Jinzaburo, a wandering samurai exiled by the Kamakura shogunate because of a certain incident, and Teruhi, the daughter of chief So Sukekuni, as beautiful as she is deadly with her bow.
The two will be put in charge of the army dedicated to defeating and defending Japanese soil from the attack of the Mongol general Kublai Khan, a great conqueror.
Another anime that draws on actual history and events, which will inevitably remind those who have played it of the plot of the recent video game Ghost of Tsushima.
If you have played this title or are generally fascinated by the history that it shares with this anime then you cannot miss this.
13. Ninja Scroll: The Series
A 13-episode anime animated by Madhouse and based on Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s movie of the same name.
Like the work from which it is based, this series also follows the adventures of Kibagami Jubei, a skilled ronin endowed with a great sense of justice and complete disinterest in the political affairs around him.
In this case, he must protect the Dragon Jewel, a stone with mysterious powers, and its priestess Shigure from the Hiruko ninja clan, a group of ninjas who want to overthrow the Japanese government.
This anime makes swordfights its strong point, holding its own with what is excellent already seen in the movie from which the work is based. We recommend watching it because it is a strong artwork and worthy of being among the best anime movies ever.
While the plot flows nicely, the fights will be truly noteworthy, both for their technical realization and for the emotions they can convey.
12. Sword of the Stranger
Let us now examine not a series but a movie. Sword of the Stranger, released in 2007, is an original story and has a running time of 103 minutes.
We are again in the Sengoku period. Ronin Nagashi, the main character, rescues at an abandoned temple a child named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru.
Kotaro has no family, and for unknown reasons, the Chinese Emperor of the Ming Dynasty is hunting him down. Nagashi will not allow this, however, and decides to stand up for the boy.
A movie animated by Bones studio that although it has its years presents a respectable animation and technical compartment.
We now depart from the strand of the previous 2 anime, with a completely new point of view even though it is itself set in the Japan of the past.
Shigurui is set in 1629, when master Kogan Iwamoto was a legendary warrior, thanks to his incredible swordplay that made him a living legend.
Years pass, however, and Iwamoto has now grown old: it is time for him to appoint a successor to teach his deadly technique and give his daughter in marriage.
The two most promising candidates are Gennosuke and Seigen, two boys united by a passion for the sword but different from each other removed from this.
It is a vision that gives us a whole new point of view while remaining within the framework of Japan of yesteryear. If you want a change of scenery after Hyouge Mono and Sengoku Basara, this is for you.
A raw and uncompromising anime that shows us how willing the samurai warriors of the past were to achieve their ambitions.
Unfortunately, this anime has only the first season, which doesn’t cover the most interesting part of the manga.
10. House of Five Leaves
From a seinen manga written by Natsume Ono comes the anime of House of Five Leaves, a short anime consisting of 12 episodes and released in 2010.
The setting this time shifts from the Sengoku period to the Edo period and stars Momonosuke Akitsu, a skilled ronin master of the sword. He has a very shy and reserved nature and because of this, he is often rejected when it comes to working.
One day, he meets Yaichi, the charismatic leader of the House of Five Leaves, who offers him a job as a personal bodyguard. Momonosuke will accept, but little does he know that beneath his charismatic appearance lies much more.
House of Five Leaves is not what you’d expect from a samurai show because there is barely any swordplay. Instead, if you like character depth and psychology, this is one of the best picks out there.
Set initially in the Sengoku era of the real world, Drifters tells of the adventures of samurai Shimazu Toyohisa, who on the verge of death will find himself in another world unknown to him.
After he draws his last breath on the battlefield, instead of dying he will find himself in a strange corridor with many doors, where a man on guard will notice him and immediately send him inside one of them.
Thus it will be that Shimazu will find himself inside a new world, this time inspired by medieval Europe, inhabited, however, by both humans and fantastic creatures, such as elves and dragons.
But he will also find famous warriors from other eras, ready to fight.
The work aims to create a surreal yet intriguing scenario in which legendary warriors from different eras clash, testing their skills.
8. Blade of the Immortal
And after a little breath of fresh air, we return to the heavy and gory stories. It is the turn of Blade of the Immortal, a famous historical anime famous in the 2000s historical genre with splatter elements.
It recently received a new adaptation in 2019 and 2020, definitely more modern and complete in terms of content. We, therefore, accordingly recommend this version.
The violent death of the parents of the protagonist Rin, the sole heir to the dojo of the Muten Ichiryu school at the hands of Anotsu Kagehisa, an exponent of the rival Itto-Ryu school, leaves her with a great thirst for revenge.
To achieve this, she seeks help from Manji, a ronin known for killing his lord and a hundred other samurai.
Manji is an immortal samurai due to the presence in his body of the worm Kessen-chu, which an elderly nun gave him to save him from death, capable of healing any wound.
This premise is based on the story of Blade of the Immortal, a legendary anime that absolutely can’t be missed in your repertoire if you are a fan of samurai-themed anime.
7. Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai is a 5-episode anime produced by Gonzo studio and based on Takashi Okazaki’s manga of the same name.
This work is very heavy in violence and themes, and, as a matter of fact, the original manga belongs to the seinen demographic.
Afro Samurai is indeed a story of raw revenge, in which the protagonist Afro tries hard to kill his father’s killer, a warrior named Justice.
Justice killed Afro’s father to gain possession of the number 1 sash, which is extremely important since in the world of opera there are sashes that stand for the power of a warrior.
There will be no shortage of crude and borderline human confrontations, where blood will flow like wildfire.
But if you like rap and soul music then this is your best choice.
A great cult in Japanese animation, which has almost become part of the general culture and inescapable for every fan. We are talking about Dororo, born at the hand of legendary master Osamu Tezuka.
In 2019, the anime has seen a new youth with a respectable remake of dated work, making it accessible to new audiences thanks to improved animation techniques.
The plot is as simple as it is effective. Hyakkimaru, the main character, is a boy with a body made of prosthetics, who fights demons.
When he was a child his father, despairing of the misfortune that was coming upon his land, sacrificed the child to demons to seek remedy and prosperity.
These demons now possess his body parts and senses, reasoning that the boy will have to seek them out and defeat them to regain his lost body.
He will do this together with Dororo, a child that is keeping him company during the journey.
The music is excellent and many confrontations are truly what a samurai fan would want to see. Not to mention that this is one of the best anime set in the Sengoku era.
Certainly, no great introductions are needed when we talk about Bleach, a very famous work by Tite Kubo that has earned the title of one of the Big Three of anime in its category. Indeed, we are unceremoniously talking about one of the most important battle shonen anime ever, especially involving samurai.
The protagonist is Ichigo, a boy like any other with all the classic characteristics of a protagonist in the genre. Generous, physically strong, and kind.
What sets him apart is his ability to be able to see spirits, reasoning that one evening like any other he will see Rukia, a Shinigami, grappling with a Hollow.
A series that is worth watching or reading in addition to its breathtaking fights, especially for its villain, Aizen, regarded as one of the best.
A 12-episode anime adapted from the light novel series of the same name by Nisio Isin, famous for being the author of the celebrated Monogatari series.
The series is set in Japan’s Edo period and features at the center of events 12 swords created by legendary blacksmith Shikizaki Kiki, masterpieces of destructive power.
The two protagonists, Togame and Yasuri, through the 12 episodes of the series, will fight against the 12 owners of the swords corrupted by the power of the same blades to collect these swords.
Each episode will be longer than the standard and will last about 50 minutes, which is useful in creating a context where all the characters are well characterized and the motivations of each party involved are well understood.
Katanagatari is a story of victory and defeat, as stated by the author himself in an interview. Each battle is spectacular and not just physical, making this anime a must-watch for everyone who likes samurai and swordplay.
3. Samurai Champloo
A masterpiece by master moviemaker Shinichiro Watanabe, former author of cult hit Cowboy Bepop, Samurai Champloo is a 26-episode work produced by Manglobe.
The work stars Mugen and Jin, two samurai warriors with opposing characters, and Kasumi, a girl who has hired the two warriors to search for the “samurai who smells like sunflowers.”
The story revolves around their adventures, and they are often self-contained, generally with a few elements present that drive forward the overall plot of the whole.
The highlight of the anime is obviously having Watanabe directing, with all the benefits that entail.
The setting, character design, soundtrack, and more will be just perfect, giving the viewer a very light-hearted but highly original adventure, and one of the best anime set in Middle Ages.
Despite being precisely very light as a product there will be no shortage of great technical output in the confrontations, which will be extremely well done for an anime that does not make these its focal point at all.
2. Rurouni Kenshin
Another great classic when it comes to samurai-themed anime is Rurouni Kenshin, a 95-episode anime based on the manga of the same name by Nobuhiro Watsuki.
In this drama for proud Japanese warriors, stories of love and conflict evolve, making it one of the best historical romance anime.
The protagonist of the series is Kenshin Himura, a legendary warrior who, after helping to depose the Tokugawa shogunate, lives his life protecting people from injustice.
Rurouni Kenshi offers a different view on how samurais are portrayed, to make them more appealing to the younger audience the manga was intended for.
The main character is the embodiment of atonement, he wants to cleanse himself from his past sins and avoid further killings.
Gintama is one of the most popular anime in recent years, consisting of 357 episodes and based on Hideaki Sorachi’s manga of the same name.
The series follows the adventures of Gintoki, Shimpachi, and Kagura, three boys who make up the Yorozuya handyman agency.
The whole story is set in a world where ancient feudal Japan has been conquered by aliens and is now being confronted with a major technological advancement imposed by the invaders.
Gintama makes demented comedy its strong point, basing entire sagas on utterly silly pretexts and never failing to throw in the laughs.
Despite its predominantly demented comedy style, there will be no shortage of serious narrative arcs, where comedy makes room for extremely serious and profound situations and themes.
It is precisely this unique mix of seriousness and comedy that makes Gintama a unique product, in which even the ubiquitous confrontations can range from antics to epic battles.