Top 10 Historical Anime (Japanese Only) [Best Recommendations]

Other Reference: Hakuouki

Historical anime are always a joy for me because they're generally just a little outside the standard of typical anime fare these days. They usually boast a strong setting and a sense of place and atmosphere that really build a strong foundation for a story, as opposed to typical high-school or battle-academy shows which. These type of series can be great, but can also be a dime a dozen and I think many fans of the Historical genre might feel the same way. So, to help you history fans out, here are 10 of the best series in the genre for you to enjoy!

10. Hyouge Mono

  • Episodes: 39
  • Aired: Apr 7, 2011 to Jan 26, 2012

Hyouge Mono takes place during Sengoku Jidai and is the story of Sasuke Furata, Oda Nobunaga's vassal. A feudal Daimyo, Sasuke's interest isn't simply pursuing war and expanding his domains, but he strives for aesthetic pursuits in life.

Despite focusing on Sengoku Jidai and featuring huge historical figures like Tadakatsu Honda, Masamune Data or Ieyasu Tokugawa,the series isn't a typical samurai war drama and instead is a character driven show, based on the relationship of characters to tea ceremony and it's importance to the social life of Japanese feudal lords. It's a wonderful experience for history fans, who've grown accustomed to seeing stories of the various conflicts and battles between Japanese feudal lords and who want to perhaps see the most featured era of Japanese history in media cast in a different light.


9. Aoi Bungaku Series

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Oct 2, 2015 to Dec 18, 2015

Aoi Bungaku isn't so much a story rather than a series of adaptations of six different pieces of Japanese literature. These different pieces though, all give glimpses of life during various eras in Japanese History. From 12th century Japan through the 20th, Aoi Bungaku Series deals with stories that have a strong psychological bend to them and examine some of the darker facets of the human experience. Aoi Bungaku Series is definitely a unique series with several strong narratives that are skillfully adapted and is great for historical fans for it's portrayal of different epochs of Japanese history.


8. Shigurui

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Jul 19, 2007 to Oct 11, 2007

Sengoku Jidai, the era of feuding warlords vying for power, is often thought as one of the bloodiest epochs in Japanese history. However, the Edo period, the period of the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, though more peaceful than the last, also has it's bloody moments, and it's there we find the events of Shigurui taking place.

The Tokugawa shogun holds a tournament for dueling samurai which previously used wooden swords, but now, real swords will be used. Two students of Iwamoto Kogan, thought to be the nation's greatest swordsman, will fight to become the heir of his style. Shigurui is a brutal and grisly look at the time period. Be prepared going into this one, there is a lot of violence, and a lot of blood, but this is definitely a fantastic story and a fantastic historical anime.


7. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: Jan 9, 2016 to Apr 2, 2016

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, which just aired last season, was in a lot of anime of the season discussion from virtually anyone talking about anime and for good reason. It's primarily the story of 3 men, Yotarou, an ex-convict who fell in love with the performance of Rakugo artist ,Yakumo Yuurakutei, during his time in prison, and seeks to study under him. Yakumo himself, had trouble with Rakugo initially, but through his dealings with Sukeroku Yuurakutei, who's naturally brilliant at it, does Yakumo find his own voice for the art.

The series is a great interpersonal drama but also deals with how an art form changes throughout historical era's while giving wonderful and detailed vignettes of life in Japan throughout the long Shouwa era, and it's great to see how people react and interact with the performance of Rakugo, in a period where Japan is rapidly modernizing and moving on from many of its past traditions..


6. Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies)

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Apr 15, 1988

Grave of the Fireflies is a sobering, gut-punching story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, as they try to survive in the aftermath of the American bombings of Japan in the late stages of WW2. Losing their parents and their home, the two children are pushed to desperation in the bleak state of affairs during the last few months of the war.

This film depicts the American air raids on Japan which killed millions of civilians, and were a defining, cataclysmic series of events for many Japanese during the war. It's also worth noting that, as an American, it's worth seeing if only to see an great artistic depiction of the 'other side' during the war. Hotaru no Haka is so great because it gives you about as close a view as you'd ever want to get to the realities of warfare, and even though it's by no means an easy experience to sit through, it's a wonderful film that endures almost 30 years after it's release as a classic of Anime.


5. Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Jul 20, 2013

Another film which details Japan during WW2, The Wind Rises follows Jirou Horikoshi, the developer of the famous Mitsubishi A6M Zero Fighter, a staple aircraft for the Japanese Military in the war. However, making machines of war might not have been Jirou's main intention. The film follows him from his childhood days of being an aviation designer through the ending days of the second world war and Japan's defeat.

The Wind Rises is an excellent historical film detailing a large swath of 20th century Japanese history. Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghibli team particularly focused on little details such as the mannerisms of people during the time period (Even casting Hideaki Anno, the director of Evangelion, because his voice sounds similar to those of the public intellectuals at the time.)


4. Samurai Champloo

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Jan 11, 2015 to Mar 29, 2015

A waitress named Fuu, becomes involved with two samurai named Mugen and Jin. A series of events that wind up to the waitress saving the samurai's lives and vice-versa, take place. Unfortunately they're no longer welcome back from , leading Fuu to ask Mugen and Jin to explore Japan and search for a samurai who 'smells of sunflowers.' Mugen and Jin agree but the two could not be more polar opposite, Mugen uses a radically unique style of sword fighting that's something akin to break-dancing while Jin, uses a more traditional style. Techniques of the sword aren't the only difference between these two, so Fuu must try to keep the peace between them.

Samurai Champloo is a fun take on the Edo period drama, with contemporary elements of hip-hop and urban culture, juxtaposed with the historical elements of the timeline. However, this doesn't really make the story feel ahistorical, and rather makes it feel kind of like a Tarantino film like Django Unchained. A highly stylized work that uses contemporary forms of art and expression and genre to create greater context in a historical setting.


3. Stranger: Mukou Hadan (Sword of the Stranger)

  • Episodes: 1 (movie)
  • Aired: Sep 29, 2007

Sword of the Stranger follows 'Nanashi', a wandering Ronin who stumbles into the path of 'Kotarou', a child on his own. Kotarou is being chased by mysterious Chinese warriors and asks Nanashi to be his bodyguard. After refusing at first, Nanashi accepts. Sword of the Stranger's story is sparse and simple so that describing it too much does give a lot of it away. However, it's still a very effective story and deals with the question of how we should act when we're under authority and ordered by those with more power to do unjust things. It's a compelling story for a time period where Samurai were expected to totally obey the will of their feudal lords, and ritual suicide as a result of failing these obligations was not uncommon.

It's a simple but well-told and compelling narrative that suits a great samurai action film with amazing fight choreography, stunning animation and a a great soundtrack. It's knack for historical detail and terminology reminds me of the great samurai manga like 'Lone Wolf and Cub.'


2. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan (Rurouni Kenshin)

  • Episodes: 94
  • Aired: Jan 10, 1996 to Sep 8, 1998

Rurouni Kenshin is the story of 'Kenshin Himura', a Ronin who vowed to never kill again and help those in need. In the past, Kenshin was known as 'Battousai the Manslayer', a deadly samurai whose skill in battle made him feared in Japan's civil war between the Imperial's and Shogunate. This story almost needs no introduction to many of us who grew up with it in the West, but is still great ever since it originally aired in Japan 20 years ago.

Set during the beginning of the Meiji era, after the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the series main character's conflict often deal with the enemies Kenshin has made in the past war, as well as how it has affected him emotionally. It depicts many of the big changes that were occurring during the Meiji era, such as the loss of status of the samurai, and the beginning of ideals of freedom and democracy in Japanese politics. It's a great series with great characters and memorable fight scenes, and is perhaps the best anime series in the samurai genre.


1. Katanagatari

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: Jan 26, 2010 to Dec 11, 2010

Katanagatari revolves around 'Yasuri Shichika', an heir to a martial art style that uses the body as a sword, and Togame, an agent of the Shogunate. 'Togame' visits Shichika, living in seclusion with only his sister on an small island, with the intention of enlisting him to retrieve 12 extremely powerful weapons called 'Deviant Blades.' Shichika and Togame grow to care for each other on the journey, but they might have ulterior motives for following one another.

Even though Katanagatari has a very expressive and non-realistic art-style and there are fighters and weapons with all sorts of special abilities, this is still a great historical anime. It gives a great lens into the Edo period, and how people's feelings are caught up in the machinations of this lord and that lord. Katanagatari also deals with history in itself as a concept, and how different people react to things like warfare, violence, betrayal and other parts of history that seem to us like vestiges of a grisly past. That's one of the reasons this series is on the top spot, because while all of these series are set during historical time periods, Katanagatari comments on our ideas of history, and how often people are condemned to certain choices or ways of living by events they can't move on from.


Final Thoughts

There's definitely a lot of series to choose from in this list and we know that everyone will find something to like. Be sure to share your thoughts and opinions, as well as any series or films you felt were worthy of making the cut in the comment section below. I hope you find a new series to enjoy, and thank you for reading!

CJL

Writer

Author: CJL

Long Islander who loves anime. Interested in politics, philosophy and also a huge fan of sports and video games. Just about any series can get me going if it’s done well. From cute girls doing cute things shows, to gritty-action or space-opera or mecha series. Comment on my articles, let’s get a conversation going.

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by CJL


Recommended Post

Top 10 Historical Anime (Non-Japanese) [Best Recommendations]


Recommended Post

Neko Neko Nihonshi Characters and OP Released!


Recommended Post

Top 10 Samurai Anime [Best Recommendations]


Recommended Post

Top 10 Supernatural Historical Anime [Best Recommendations]


Recommended Post

Top 10 Historical Manga [Best Recommendations]