Historical fantasy is a fascinating genre where real-world historical eras are mixed with magical, supernatural, and/or modern elements to create a sort of alternate timeline fantasy world. It’s difficult to pull off effectively because of the extensive research required, but classics like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and even this season’s Appare-Ranman have hit it out of the park with their colorful settings based on recognizable time periods from our world’s history. Let’s check out some of the best historical fantasy anime out there!
5. Mo Dao Zu Shi
- Episodes: 15
- Aired: July 2018 – October 2018
This Chinese show is part of a genre called “xianxia”, which takes inspiration from Ancient Chinese history, mythology, and religion to create a fantasy world where all three are intertwined with one another. Mo Dao Zu Shi uses this deep and complex lore to tell a road trip comedy story about two guys who may or may not be in love with each other fighting off supernatural creatures and the consequences of their own bad decisions, but somehow it works. It’s also a fantastic gateway show for Chinese anime!
4. Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 2004 – March 2005
Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame, Samurai Champloo takes place in an alternate Edo period where breakdancing and sword fighting exist side by side and traditional samurai film plotlines play out to the beat of modern hip-hop. “Champloo” comes from the Okinawan word for “mixed”, referring to both the ragtag trio who go on a journey to find a samurai who smells of sunflowers and the patchwork world itself. Even though it’s primarily a comedy like Mo Dao Zu Shi, the subtle social commentary comes through where it counts and the characters are fantastically written.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
Drifters brings together history’s greatest warriors (such as Toyohisa Shimazu, Nobunaga Oda, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Joan of Arc) to fight against a great evil that threatens the fantasy world they’ve all been unceremoniously dumped into. It’s essentially Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure if it was made by the author of Hellsing, which, fittingly enough, it actually is. The clash of cultures and values, even among characters from the same country but different time periods, is as fascinating as it is hilarious. Whether you’re here for ethical discussions or just a balls-to-the-wall battle royale, this anime has exactly what you want.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: January 2019 – June 2019
The tale of a wandering swordsman seeking to regain his stolen body parts from demons fits in perfectly with the very end of the Warring States period of Japanese history, during which Dororo is set. While common people were ravaged by war, local lords fought for power and prosperity using whatever means necessary, so Hyakkimaru’s daimyo father sacrificing his firstborn son to 12 demons in return for plentiful harvests makes a lot of sense. Hyakkimaru and his companion Dororo upset the delicate balance of power by fighting back, just as Tokugawa Ieyasu would soon do for the entire country...
1. Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2019 – September 2019
Tanjiro continues the trend of upending archaic systems of power by slaying demons in Demon Slayer, a historical fantasy set in the Taisho period (1912 – 1926). His gentle demeanor and unshakable determination to turn his demonic sister back into a human clash with the rigid structure of the Demon Slayer Corps, but it’s what makes him a match for the ultra-powerful and distinctly modern demon leader Muzan Kibutsuji. With gorgeous animation, compelling characters, and a creative take on one of the lesser-known periods of Japanese history, Demon Slayer is a must-watch for historical fantasy lovers!
Check out the wholesome romance Spice and Wolf for a more laid-back take on the genre with an S-tier waifu to boot, or go completely off the rails with the wacky comedy Gintama. Let us know your favorite historical fantasy anime in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!