Few Japanese cultural or historical icons are as recognizable as the samurai, a noble class of warriors who ruthlessly defended Japan and faithfully served their lords for nearly 700 years. For this reason, some of Japan’s most legendary stories have featured these iconic warriors, with modern offerings most often coming in the form of popular anime.
Whether based in history or legend, or a mixture of the two, the following 15 anime series are some of the best portrayals of the samurai and their philosophy. With many different genres represented, from Shōnen action to historical drama and romance, there is a series here for every viewer.
15 Brave 10 (2012)
Brave 10 takes place during Japan’s Warring States period. Saizo Kirigakure is a member of the Iga ninja clan, a brutal warrior with an uncertain future. After saving the shrine maiden Isanami from assassins, he learns that she is traveling to seek sanctuary with Sanada Yukimura, the famed feudal lord. Upon arriving at Sanada’s castle, they are both recruited as part of his 10 Braves, a group of powerful warriors that can change the tide of this battle. However, as the Braves’ ranks continue to grow, they soon discover that Isanami is harboring a secret, and with a strange dark power growing within her, Saizo finds his destiny intertwined with hers.
What Brave 10’s Ninja Action Brings to the Samurai Genre
While Brave 10 is arguably more of a ninja anime, the historical focus on the Warring States period and the battle between the Tokugawa Shogunate and Toyotomi loyalists makes it a perfect entry for this list. It isn’t truly historically accurate, especially due to the intense use of magical powers and the elemental focus, but that only amplifies the epicness of this tumultuous time period. The action is crisp and frenetic, and the new perspective on famous historical figures is fascinating. In all, this series is highly underrated, and while it has its flaws, the magical action and small episode count make it an accessible watch for anime fans.
14 Ronin Warriors (1988)
Also known as Legendary Samurai Armor Troopers in Japan, Ronin Warriors is a fantasy samurai anime that originally aired in 1988. A thousand years ago, the demon Talpa ruled the Earth with an iron fist, but a powerful warrior defeated him. Exiling the demon to the Netherworld, the warrior used pieces of Talpa’s armor to craft nine new sets of armor with mystical power, giving them to the greatest warrior families in Japan. Now, Talpa has returned with his army. Ryo, Kento, Sage, Cye, and Rowen, the modern bearers of the armors, are the only ones who can stand in his way, but first, they need to unlock their armors’ full power.
How Ronin Warriors Brilliantly Combines Tokusatsu Heroics with Samurai Aesthetics
Ronin Warriors is an interesting beast of an anime series. It takes clear inspiration from the style of transforming superheroics seen in Tokusatsu series, and it has a unique sci-fi aesthetic blended in with its samurai style. The armors look equally inspired by mecha series like Mobile Suit Gundam as they are by samurai armor, but the powers are all grounded in more traditional Japanese mysticism. It’s a strange blend of genres, to be sure, but in that way, Ronin Warriors stands out from the crowd. It has the same issues as other anime from this time period, but it still manages to tell a compelling all-ages story with striking design work.
13 Mushibugyo (2013)
What if the samurai were forced to fight giant bugs? This is the core conceit of Mushibugyo, the 2013 anime adaptation of Takayuki Hamana’s hit manga. During the Edo period, Japan was invaded by giant insects called Mushi. For 100 years, the Shogunate has recruited the country’s greatest warriors as members of the City Patrol in order to combat the Mushi threat. With his father unable to accept his recruitment, young samurai Jinbei Tsukishima joins the City Patrol in his stead. While not the strongest member of his new team, Jinbei is determined to prove himself and save Edo alongside his new friends and allies.
Why Viewers Should Be Excited About Mushibugyo’s Stylish Storytelling
For those looking for a traditional, lighthearted shonen adventure, Mushibugyo is perfect. It echoes a number of the classic themes, namely a fiery, independent lead character whose primary strength is his determination. It may not be groundbreaking, and this has garnered it a fair amount of criticism. However, the series is simple fun, with some great laughs and some exciting action sequences. More than that, it is incredibly stylish. While many samurai anime focus intently on brutal realism, Mushibugyo is a breath of fresh air, leaning into an energetic, simplistic art style that accentuates the series’ more lighthearted tone.
12 Yasuke (2021)
Yasuke follows the titular samurai as he is forced to pick up the sword again after years of retirement. In an alternate 16th-century Japan filled with powerful magic and incredible technology, Yasuke was once the African servant of Jesuit missionaries until Oda Nobunaga took him in as a retainer. After the defeat of Nobunaga’s force at the hands of the demon lord Yami no Daimyo, Yasuke retired to the countryside as a boatman. However, when he is contracted to transport a singer and her sick daughter, Yasuke is forced to defend them from mercenaries and the forces of Yami no Daimyo who crave the young girl’s mystical powers.
Why Yasuke’s Startling Take on Real History Should Catch Your Attention
Yasuke is based on a real, often overlooked figure in Japanese history, but you shouldn’t expect a history lesson from this series. The Netflix original deviates extensively from the original story, introducing elements of fantasy and advanced technology to his world. It’s a fascinating twist, and one that comes with Studio MAPPA’s pedigree for incredible animation. It is certainly a strange series, and it quickly fell under the radar upon release. That said, this unique take on Japanese history is a perfect fit for this list, as it provides a new perspective on a largely overlooked figure from the Sengoku period.
11 Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings (2009)
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings takes place during Japan’s Sengoku period, a time of turmoil often seen as the height of samurai history. Generals and feudal lords wage war across the land, attempting to bring the country under their flags, but none are more ferocious than the “Demon King of Owari” Oda Nobunaga. To combat this growing threat, young warlords Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune must set aside their rivalries and join forces with the other generals. With the demon king’s armies on the march, Yukimura and Masamune must take up spear and sword to save Japan.
How History Informs Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings For Exciting Results
While no one will call Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings historically accurate, among the entries on this list, it is the most informed by the history of the Sengoku Period. It features all the major figures, and while it mythologizes the roles of Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune, the first season actually takes inspiration from many of the real events of the time. While the second season deviates more extensively, the series does a great job of blending real historical figures with over-the-top combat. Given its basis in a fighting game, this exaggerated tone makes sense and adds a level of brilliant ridiculousness to the historical fare.
10 Gintama (2005)
In the alternate history of Gintama, Japan is invaded by aliens in the late Edo period, taking full control of the country after the shogun’s surrender. With the Tokugawa shogunate acting as a puppet government, the aliens ban the use of swords and retire all samurai. Gintoki Sakata is a former samurai just trying to get by, taking odd jobs from whoever will pay him. With the help of wannabe samurai Shinpachi Shimura, super-strong alien Kagura, and the massive dog-like inugami Sadaharu, Gintoki opens the Yorozuya business, taking whatever jobs come their way.
Why Every Viewer Will Find Something to Enjoy in Gintama
Gintama is one of the most beloved samurai anime of all time, and its blend of lighthearted comedy with bloody action has shocked and delighted fans since its release in 2006. With over 300 episodes of content, it can be daunting to delve into this beloved series, but it is worth it. While the series is largely episodic, focusing on the various jobs undertaken by Yorozuya, several expansive story arcs add a more serious tone to the series. The show covers several genres, from political conspiracy to day-in-the-life antics, and the tonal disparity can be a bit of a hurdle for some fans. This shouldn’t deter you, though, from this classic samurai anime.
9 Blade of the Immortal (2019)
Disgraced samurai Manji is the lead of the 2019 adaptation of Blade of the Immortal, the seminal story by mangaka Hiroaki Samura. After killing 100 innocent people, Manji swears to slay 1000 evil men in his search for redemption. Cursed with bloodworms, a creature capable of healing almost any wound, Manji is effectively immortal, and he will be so until he completes his vow. Rin Asano seeks his aid in avenging the murder of her parents by the Itto-ryu, a group of cruel outcast swordsmen under the command of Anotsu Kagehisa. Together, the pair hunt down their twisted members, hoping to stop their senseless slaughter.
Why Blade of the Immortal’s Savage Violence is Perfect for Those Seeking a More Mature Experience
If you are looking for a brutally serious take on samurai anime with a touch of fantasy and body horror, then look no further than Blade of the Immortal. While it lacks some of the manga’s artistic flair, the 2019 anime adaptation is still a bloody, violent good time. It is a fairly traditional revenge story, but the execution is brilliant. While the pacing is a little rushed, the story hits all the landmarks of a great anime series. Great leads, horrific villains, a thrilling narrative, and plenty of violent kills make this a memorable series, and while it will never quite live up to the heights of the award-winning manga, it is still a great example of samurai anime.
8 Shigurui: Death Frenzy (2007)
The year is 1629 at the opening of Shigurui: Death Frenzy. Daimyo Tokugawa Tadanaga has made the controversial decision to host a tournament in which participants fight using real blades instead of wooden ones. The series revolves around the participants of the first match, Gennosuke Fujiki and blind swordsman Seigan Irako. As the match is announced, the rest of the series focuses on the pair’s history in the Kogan school of swordsmanship and their eventual falling out. It explores Seigan’s fall from grace, from the successor of the Kogan school to an outcast, blinded as punishment for his transgressions against his master.
How Shigurui: Death Frenzy’s Bleak View of the Sengoku Period Provides a Fresh Perspective
Oftentimes, anime lionizes and mythologizes samurai and their lords, but Shigurui: Death Frenzy shows a more brutal and multi-faceted view of this time period. Not all samurai are good, and their masters or daimyo can be vicious monsters. It is a stunningly bleak new perspective on the Sengoku period. This series isn’t for everyone. Not only does it require a strong stomach due to its often sadistic portrayal of violence, but its use of intertwining timelines can confuse some viewers. If you can look past this narrative decision, it is one of the most interesting samurai anime to ever be released.
7 Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba (2021)
- Release Date
- January 20, 2021
- Natsuki Hanae , Zach Aguilar , Abby Trott , Yoshitsugu Matsuoka , Aleks Le
Set during Taisho-era Japan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba is the story of Tanjiro Kamado. After his family is killed by a demon and his sister is transformed into one as well, Tanjiro begins a journey to join the Demon Slayer Corps. in hopes of finding a cure for Nezuko. After surviving the entrance exam and becoming a full-fledged member, Tanjiro undertakes several missions for the Corps. and discovers a potential cure for his sister. With his fellow Demon Slayers at his side, Tanjiro goes on the hunt for the Twelve Kizuki, the most powerful demons in Japan, in hopes of using their blood as an antidote.
Why Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba’s Old School Will Entice Anime Fans
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba has become a modern classic. Its storytelling carries the feel of old-school shonen anime, echoing the greats like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. However, it stands above many of these classics due to Studio Ufotable’s impeccable animation. The kinetic and earth-shattering fight sequences are some of the best in modern anime. While it is hardly the most historically accurate portrayal of samurai on this list, Demon Slayer draws heavy inspiration from the time period and puts swordplay in the spotlight, adding a fun demon-hunting twist to the traditional historical portrayals of the noble warriors.
6 Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou (2005)
Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou takes place in 1612. After years of feuding, the Kouga and Iga clans have found an uneasy truce, but Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu has brought that truce to an end. In order to determine the heir to the Shogunate, Tokugawa orders each clan to choose their 10 best warriors for a tournament to the death. Caught in the fray are young lovers Kouga Gennosuke and Iga Oboro. As members of their clans die off in pursuit of the Shogun’s favor, the betrothed ninja must decide where their loyalties lie. Can their love survive the brutal violence of the Shogun’s tournament?
Why Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou’s Mix of Dark Fantasy Action and Period Romance Feels Unique
With a tragic romance at the heart of its story, Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou is unique among the other samurai stories on this list. Its focus on Gennosuke and Oboro adds a more nuanced layer to the overarching conflict between the two ninja clans. While the series is grounded in the history and figures of Edo Japan, the overarching narrative is far less historical, adding a touch of authenticity without taking away from the series’ dark fantasy. Often compared to Romeo and Juliet, this series is a fascinating twist on the samurai/ninja formula, and for adult viewers, there’s nothing else like it.
5 Blue Eye Samurai (2023)
Blue Eye Samurai takes place during the Edo period, during the time Tokugawa Ieyasu closed down Japan’s borders to outsiders. Lead character Mizu is a half-white, half-Japanese woman seeking vengeance against four white foreigners sequestered within Japan’s borders. Knowing that one of these men might be her father, thus subjecting her to disgrace as a mixed-race woman, this master of the sword seeks them out to learn the truth alongside a small group of allies. However, one of these foreigners has hired a band of assassins to hunt them down, forcing them to fight for their lives.
How Blue Eye Samurai Has Become One of the Biggest Modern Anime Hits
The newest anime on this list, Blue Eye Samurai, has taken the world by storm. It has received extremely positive reviews, with critics responding to the series’ beautiful animation and brilliant revenge story. The story covers some interesting elements of Japanese history, specifically the interactions between the native Japanese and white foreigners. The series is fast-paced and action-packed, but it never sacrifices storytelling and character development for the sake of its swordplay. Netflix has largely seen success with its original animated offerings, but few have reached the heights of Blue Eye Samurai.
4 Ruroni Kenshin (1996)
Ruroni Kenshin takes place during the beginning of the Meiji era of Japan, and it follows a former assassin named Kenshin Himura. Wielding a reverse-bladed katana, Himura travels the countryside in an attempt to redeem himself for the many lives he took. Stumbling upon the dojo of Kamiya Kaoru, Kenshin learns that a murderer is using his assassin alias, Hitokiri Battosai, and agrees to help her stop him. Impressed by Kenshin’s kind heart and attempt at redemption, Kaoru offers him a place at her dojo, and together, they embark on a number of adventures, meet new friends, and face powerful new foes.
Why Ruroni Kenshin Has Become a Samurai Anime Classic
Few anime are as recognizable as Ruroni Kenshin. It is a beloved spin on samurai storytelling, and much of that comes down to the tone. The series features two distinct modes, bouncing between lighthearted comedy and a deadly serious examination of the consequences of war. Some might be initially thrown off by this tonal disparity, especially as Kenshin’s past comes more into focus. We truly get to understand the atrocities that he was forced to commit, but this never diminishes the character’s likability or the impact of his search for redemption. It is equal parts fun and heartbreaking, earning it its classic status.
3 Samurai 7 (2004)
Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Samurai 7 opens on a world still recovering from a massive war. Nobuseri bandits, former samurai who have integrated their consciousness into machines, terrorize the countryside and steal resources from the local farmer. In the village of Kanna, the villagers are starving as the majority of their rice goes to the bandits. In an effort to fight back, the village elder sends three people, led by their water maiden Kirara, to the city of Kogakyo to find samurai willing to help. In their search, seven samurai will come to their aid, but will that truly be enough to defend the village from the robotic threat?
Why Samurai 7’s Fantastic Tale of Futuristic Samurai is a Must-Watch
Diehard anime fans will tell you that Samurai 7 deserves just as much acclaim as other, more popular series. It is a brilliant mix of traditional Japanese culture and mecha science-fiction, adding an incredible new spin to Kurosawa’s classic film. Its more mature storylines caused it to fly under the radar on its initial release, but fans have been singing its praises for nearly two decades. The series is a masterpiece of samurai anime storytelling, bringing together a cast of truly memorable characters with a dazzling sense of world-building. There are few series quite like Samurai 7, and it is a must-watch for any fan of anime.
2 Afro Samurai (2007)
In the world of Afro Samurai, the greatest warriors in the world are ranked by a series of mysterious headbands. Afro, a samurai, has vowed revenge against the current number 1 warrior Justice, who murdered Afro’s father for the number 1 headband. After rising through the ranks and earning the number 2 headband, Afro is ready to challenge his father’s murderer. However, with the countryside infested with criminal gangs and those seeking his headband for themselves, Afro must fight his way to the top by any means necessary, even confronting those he once considered friends.
How Afro Samurai’s Intense Stylization Has Astounded Fans
Afro Samurai has won astounding acclaim for its hyper-stylized storytelling and animation. Samuel L. Jackson and the rest of the star-studded cast bring this gritty world to stunning life, and while the world-building is light, the setting and characters never lack for style. While the narrative itself is little more than a typical revenge story, the execution is what matters here, and Gonzo Studios made a series unlike any other on the market. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out Afro Samurai, then you are missing out on one of the most influential (and best) modern anime of the century so far.
1 Samurai Champloo (2004)
From the creators of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is a historical fiction series following the adventures of the outlaw Mugen. Harassed by the son of a town prefect, Fuu hires Mugen to protect her in exchange for food. However, he mistakenly targets Jin, a ronin newcomer to the town, believing him to work for the prefect. When both are jailed and sentenced to death for the resulting fight, Fuu saves them and convinces them to join her on a lifelong dream to find a sunflower-scented samurai. The trio embarks on a series of wild adventures, growing closer as they explore the Japanese countryside.
Why Samurai Champloo’s Stylistic Aesthetic Has Drawn in Fans For Decades
Bringing hip-hop and samurai together shouldn’t work, but Samurai Champloo somehow pulls it off. More than that, it is a masterpiece, drawing in fans for decades. Much of this comes down to the slick animation and thrilling fights, all backed by an incredible soundtrack, but its characterization and narrative cannot be understated. In all, Samurai Champloo is an incredible anime, a classic of the medium that earns its place as one of the most influential series ever made. It opened the way for many stylized stories to follow, and while it is far from a historically accurate interpretation of samurai, it is still one of the best.