Pop culture loves to romanticize ancient professions so far removed from modern society, the fictional and factual blend together to form a hodgepodge of the bizarre and genuine. Surprisingly, real ninjas could not create clones and typically preferred to stick to the shadows rather than dive headfirst into combat akin to someone like Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa. A comparable dissonance exists between the Straw Hats and historical pirates.
Due to contributing meaningfully throughout Japan's history, samurai are arguably the most commonly referenced antiquated warriors in anime. Every samurai is a swordsman, but not every swordsman is a samurai. One Piece's Zoro may be a master of the blade but samurai must adhere to an ethical code of conduct. While some are more realistic than others, anime is responsible for some truly great samurai!
10. Takasugi Shinsaku from Bakumatsu
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2018 – December 2018
Those familiar with Japanese history should recognize the name Takasugi Shinsaku. During the 19th century, Takasugi earned a reputation as a brilliant military visionary and an expert swordsman. Among his many contributions, Takasugi promoted the idea of allowing non-samurai to wield weapons, a change that went against Japan's feudal laws. Suffice it to say, he played a significant role in shaping modern Japan.
Although not quite as fascinating as the real version, Bakumatsu's Takasugi Shinasaku still makes for a charming samurai. Anxious over Japan's future, Takasugi sets out to steal an item capable of manipulating time from the government. Contrary to what may seem evident from the samurai's tendency to act like a goofball, Takasugi is always thinking a few steps ahead to ensure victory.
Takasugi is skilled with a sword but his contributions extend beyond the battlefield. Changing a country requires a big personality and Takasugi Shinasaku fits the bill splendidly.
9. Katsura Kotarou from Gintama
- Episodes: 201
- Aired: April 2006 – March 2010
Due to Gintama's comedic nature, one could be forgiven for forgetting that nearly everyone in the cast is a highly trained soldier with years of combat experience. Sure, Katsura's decision making tends to create just as many problems as solutions for the Joui rebel army, but there is a reason so many wayward souls willingly risk their lives by supporting the samurai. Katsura is a master swordsman and a noble samurai living in an era that openly rejects his very existence.
Throughout the majority of the anime, Katsura's driven by a desire to avenge his fallen master. Although the wandering samurai repeatedly attempts to take down the government, Katsura preserves his dignity as a heroic warrior fighting for those who cannot protect themselves. With a blade, few stand any chance against the skilled and intelligent combatant. Just do not call him Zura.
8. Jin from Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 2004 – March 2005
An anime with "Samurai" in the title, Shinichiro Watanabe's classic has everything any action fan could possibly want in a series. The characters are endearing, multilayered, and unbelievably cool; while the music and visuals are nearly flawless. Due to being the louder and more unorthodox of the two, Mugen tends to overshadow his other samurai companion, even though Jin is just as talented of a swordsman.
Juxtapositioning with Mugen's improvisational style, Jin prefers to utilize traditional Kenjutsu moves to defeat his opponent. Jin's backstory is tragic and the samurai has been through a lot, but he finally discovers something resembling camaraderie in the form of Mugen and Fuu.
Jin believes in his own ability and strives to achieve victory using his personal fighting style rather than attempting to incorporate various schools to increase his chances. He is a pure samurai. Some may see this as a fault, but it speaks to Jin's determination to honor his heritage.
7. Assassin from Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works])
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2014 – December 2014
Simply known as Assassin, Fate/stay night's resident samurai is loosely inspired by Sasaki Kojirou. Based on a legendary figure primarily known for dying at the hands of, arguably, Japan's greatest swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, Assassin is not technically a proper servant in Fate's universe due to lacking a true name. Nevertheless, the anomaly is a brilliant samurai.
Summoned by Caster, Assassin has no stakes in the Holy Grail War. Consequently, the warrior is free to be true to himself without any ulterior motives. In some ways, Assassin is the definitive samurai. Even though the character does not flinch in the face of death, the swordsman maintains a certain degree of honor in battle and would never consider facing off against a defenseless opponent.
Assassin believes in fighting fair. Stripped of any pretense, this samurai follows the way of the warrior to the best of his ability!
6. Goemon Ishikawa XIII from Lupin III
- Episodes: 23
- Aired: October 1971 – March 1972
A classic samurai from a classic series! Dressed in a traditional kimono and seldom breaking away from his stoic demeanor, Goemon stands somewhat at odds with Lupin's flamboyant nature as a master thief. Starting out as enemies, Goemon ultimately joins Lupin's gang and their friendship has persevered since that day.
Created to introduce a Japanese flavor to Lupin III's roster of colorful characters, Goemon is best described as a quiet and prideful warrior who adheres to a personal ethical code despite mingling with some rather objectionable fellows. While their dynamic is not quite as clear-cut as that of a traditional master and samurai, Goemon is ferociously loyal to Lupin, permitting the thief does not bring shame to the swordsman's honor.
Due to the source material's somewhat grounded tone, Goemon's skills are quite believable. Specializing in various martial arts and armed with a Zantetsu sword, the samurai is quick on the draw and can even slice bullets in half.
5. Kennosuke Tokisada Ouma from Kuromukuro
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2016 – September 2016
Set in the 21st century, Kuromukuro blends a peculiar mix of sci-fi, mecha, and samurai tropes to create a fun and unique action series. At the center of all the over-the-top robot-against-alien mayhem sits Kennosuke Tokisada Ouma, a swordsman from around the 17th century who awakens after quite an extensive slumber in an extraterrestrial artifact. Although the samurai is somewhat old fashioned, Kennosuke is nothing short of a genius with a mecha suit. Combined with the guy's expertise with a blade, Kennosuke is the full package.
Initially, little is revealed about Kennosuke's past. He is shrouded in mystery and understandably struggles to adapt to his new climate. Back in the day, the trained martial artist served as the bodyguard for a princess. Even after all these years, Kennosuke strives to honor his responsibility by taking down the Oni and helping Yukina Shirahane, a student bearing a physical resemblance to the princess. Although far from the stereotypical image of a reserved and tranquil samurai, Kennosuke nonetheless displays an unshakable sense of devotion to his master.
Samurai are cool. Mechas are cool. Samurai wielding mechas to destroy massive aliens seeking to invade the world are beyond cool!
4. Yamatonokami Yasusada from Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru (Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru opts for a slightly different approach than the typical historically-based samurai series. Rather than focusing on humans, the characters are swords brought to life to protect history from an army seeking to rewrite events to suit their fancy. While there is a decent amount of action, the anime itself is quite lighthearted and cheerful.
Considering their origins, it should come as no surprise that every member of the Token Danshi is a brilliant swordsman. Originally an uchigatana employed by Okita Souji, Yamatonokami Yasusada picked up a trick or two from his master but struggles to accept his new role as a soldier under Saniwa's care.
Yasusada has two sides to his personality. Permitting the humanized sword is not engaged in a duel, Yasusada comes across as a reserved and gentle soul incapable of hurting a fly. Once a battle commences, the fighter sheds away any restraint and transforms into a deadly warrior with a heart of steel! Whether a sword or wielding one, Yasusada is a force of nature!
3. Nanashi from Stranger: Mukou Hadan (Sword of the Stranger)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: September 2007
Ronin refers to a samurai without a master and they primarily existed during Japan’s feudal period. If their master perished, samurai traditionally committed seppuku, a suicidal act deemed to be honorable. Refusal led to the samurai becoming a wanderer shunned by society and feudal lords. Generally speaking, ronin had a reputation as being criminals.
Nanashi may be classified as a samurai without a home, but the skilled swordsman is far from a criminal. Following a civil war that left the foreigner jaded and discouraged from pledging allegiance to a feudal lord, Nanashi saw the life of a mercenary as a way to escape his past. Ultimately, the samurai crosses paths with a young boy on the run from mysterious assassins.
Although the wanderer’s past is kept hidden for the majority of the movie, Nanashi is still quite a straightforward character. The samurai makes his feelings known and prefers to allow his sword to do most of the talking. Sword of the Stranger’s brilliantly choreographed fights showcase Nanashi’s impeccable reflexes and unorthodox combat style, perhaps a result of the samurai’s non-Japanese heritage.
2. Shimazu Toyohisa from Drifters
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
Historical characters pop up so frequently in anime and manga, Oda Nobunaga showing up as a waifu has practically become a cliche. An isekai series pitting largely fictionalized renditions of Joan of Arc and Butch Cassidy in a massive tag team battle royale, Drifters is unapologetically irreverent and all the better for it!
A Japanese samurai killed during the Battle of Sekigahara, Shimazu Toyohisa is teleported to a fictional world as a member of the Drifters, a group destined to face off against the Ends. While the anime is gory and weirdly funny, Shimazu comes across as surprisingly respectable despite participating in quite a lot of murder.
Capable of single-handedly overwhelming armies, Toyohisa's bravery often slips into the realm of stupidity. The samurai adheres to a personal code of conduct that disallows attacking unharmed people or women, which proves to be a slight problem when facing off against a psychotic Joan of Arc!
1. Hyakkimaru from Dororo
- Episodes: 12+
- Aired: January 2019 – Ongoing
Is it premature to promote a currently on the air samurai to the top spot? Although 2019's adaptation may be relatively new, Dororo has been around since 1967! In fact, an anime series was originally produced towards the end of that decade. The most recent adaptation brought one of anime's original samurai back into the limelight and the return has been long overdue.
Hyakkimaru's very existence is tragic. Offered as a sacrifice to demons by his ambitious father, Hyakkimaru is stripped of 12 body parts the second he is born. Left to die in a river, the baby manages to survive despite lacking all five senses and only possessing a skill to distinguish demons from humans. An insatiable thirst for life drives Hyakkimaru to traverse the country as a wandering samurai with a talent for killing monsters. If the right demon is killed, a body part is returned to the swordsman.
Initially, Hyakkimaru lacks much in the way of a personality. As the anime progresses, the samurai steadily becomes whole and begins to see the world anew. With a blade, Hyakkimaru is deadly and never hesitates to put a demon to the sword. No other samurai starts out with as little as Dororo's swordsman. Hyakkimaru is inspirational, likable, and unique!
The image of a lonely samurai wandering through the countryside with a katana and a kabuto helmet is synonymous with Japan. Regardless of the era or setting, anime frequently finds a way to throw a swordsman into the equation. Unlike some other romanticized figures, samurai actually tend to be represented somewhat correctly. Hopefully, the industry never stops revisiting this spring for inspiration!
Which samurai character is the greatest for you? Please let us know in the comment section below.
Sasaki Kojirou (Fate/stay night)
There was a time and a place in Japan, where a unit known as the samurai were born, and made a huge impact to help mold what we now know as present Japan today. From countless TV shows to blockbuster movies, there has been no end to the popularity of samurai related film. Today is no exception as we will be slashing our way into the top 10 samurai in anime.
Whether you enjoy the slice of history that it provides, or the fast paced action scenes, this list is sure to have you excited. Let's begin.
10. Afro from Afro Samurai
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: January 4, 2007 – February 1, 2007
Slicing its way into the number ten spot of the list is Afro Samurai. Known for its mixture of hip hop and Japanese historical reference, this anime really made learning about samurai really cool and fun.
Afro decides to devote his life to the sword after his father was killed in a duel by cruel villain “justice”. We see Afro embarking on a journey to seek revenge for his fathers death, encountering numerous bloody battles with various other strong samurai. The reason Afro was chosen on our list was because he embodies the awesome persona of a man out to kill, with an urban attitude to back his claim. His words are as powerful as the sword he wields, as he is out to rid of anyone in his way. He just oozes confidence and embodies the true samurai spirit: standing by your morals.
9. Musashi Miyamoto (The gun samurai) from Gun-Dou Musashi
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 9, 2006 – October 8, 2006
The name Musashi Miyamoto should ring a bell in your mind if you're very familiar with Japanese history, as he was one of Japan's most revered samurai during the very feudal time in Japan. Throughout his life he had suffered numerous struggles, even at a very young age. While he became known for his exceptionally skilled blade work, most people know Musashi by his famous book called, “The Book of 5 Rings”. This philosophical book became an extremely successful piece of work that would ultimately change the mentality of many Japanese even in modern Japan.
Gun-Dou Musashi is the more light hearted but still adventure filled anime, that uses the famous samurais name to give us somewhat of a taste of perhaps what things were like during that period. The main character wields both a sword with electricity, and demon sealing revolvers to put a stop the enemies at hand. Musashi's colorful personality shines as he is a calm, cool, and collected young man with aspirations of becoming stronger in each battle. His quirky behavior at times make the anime a lot more colorful, and add more interesting scenarios among the allies he encounters throughout the show. A wonderful character with whom we all can relate to.
8. Naoe Kanetsugu from Gifuu Doudou!!: Kanetsugu to Keiji
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 3, 2013 – December 18, 2013
Coming in at number eight on our top ten is Gifuu Doudou!!: Naoe Kanetsugu was a very well known military general of the infamous Uesugi family. Taking place in the very famous Sengoku era, Naoe is on a quest to attain the throne with the help of his fellow ally, Maeda Keiji, who also during the Sengoku era was a legendary warrior on the battlefield. They both come together to overcome to the extreme oppressive powers that were in control during arguably one of Japan's most dangerous and volatile moments in history.
Despite Naoe playing the role of the aggressive general, you can see a lot of harmony within him as he is playful in nature with characters in the cast. His strong analytical skills paired with his calm demeanor make him such a powerful individual to learn from. It's this well formed balance that gives Naoe a well deserved spot on our list of samurai in anime.
7. Hajime from Hakuouki Reimeiroku
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 9, 2012 – September 24, 2012
Hakuoki Reimeiroku takes our seventh spot in the top ten samurai anime because of its great visuals, and real attention to detail pertaining to the events taking place during the ruling of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Japan's long battles with political strife and corruption have erupted into the streets, leading to numerous deaths among the public. The shogunate recognizes this ongoing problem and ships a new force of master-less samurai called Roshigumi, to aid the Aizu forces in Kyoto.
Hajime, much like the rest of samurai on our list has a purpose to serve, to protect those in danger while maintaining peace within. Hajime has an extremely strong heart as you can clearly see in the first episode where he is mistreated by his superior. His sheer passion to fight for justice can be seen all throughout the series, but despite his will to fight, you can see the more childish side of him when he's with his friends. His willingness to see all sides of the story make him an interesting character to watch and learn from.
6. Gennosuke from Shigurui
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 19, 2007 – October 11, 2007
If it hasn't already occurred to you by now, there definitely is an ongoing trend with regards to a strong tie to the now infamous Sengoku era. This is one era that is often used as a base to express the hardships Japan had gone through during the very tumultuous times during the rule of Tokugawa Shogunate. Shigurui is no exception to this trend as it slices its way into the number six spot on the list.
Before all of the onslaught began, the Edo era was one of Japan's most peaceful and economically rewarding times, as society had become more established and businesses flourished. In Shigurui, Tokugawa decides to hold a traditional tournament by which one must use a wooden sword to battle their opponent. However, things change as the rule now states that you must use a real sword and so competition is now more intimidating.
Gennosuke is a one armed blade master, which already speaks volumes considering that he wipes out his opponents with despite a handicap. It displays an enormous amount of confidence to be able to pull off such skillful attacks, while at an insane disadvantage. His clever tactics never fail him as he uses trickery to gain insight on his rivals, while maintaining the most mysterious demeanor. That characteristic is what gives Gennosuke the sixth spot, simply because his such an intelligent fighter and demonstrates to all of us that, despite our misfortunes we can all manage to do something amazing.
5. Mugen from Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 20, 2004- March 19, 2005
Coming in at the top five spot in the samurai anime list is none other than Samurai Champloo. Many fans of the show fell in love not with only the characters throughout the duration of the series, but more notably the musical score. Late musical pioneer Nujabes had created some of the best music that anime had ever heard in a very long time, and his spirit still resonates all throughout this anime. From great songs such as “Mystline” to the very powerful opening track “Battlecry” Samurai Champloo never disappoints in any way, shape or form.
Mugen is your typical vagabond, a wandering samurai with no purpose. However, when paired up with Jin and his new fond friend Fuu, his true character is revealed. He is an extremely hard working individual who truly has a big heart even though at times his foolish ways get him into trouble. His sweet and charming demeanor catch the eyes of Fuu which help to develop a nice character relationship in the story, and more so the brotherly love between Jin is also a pleasure to watch. It demonstrates the true value of friendship, and Mugen is a great example of a man of many traits but will always lend a hand to those he admires most.
4. Gintoki from Gintama
- Episodes: 200 +
- Aired: April 4, 2006 – Ongoing
We are now getting one step closer to that number one spot on the top ten list of anime that focus on the samurai lifestyle. Gintama is one of Japan's longest running anime, along with other popular jump franchises such as Dragonball, Bleach and One Piece. Spanning for almost ten years, Gintama is an anime that once seen cannot be unseen. Japan ranks it highly on their own top list of hot anime series, as its extremely popular with every age group all across the country.
This journey takes us back to feudal Japan yet again, but this time with main character Gintoki. This isn't your ordinary feudal Japan however, as every encounter Gintoki meets is unusally odd and quirky, which is what adds the spice and flavoring to this tasty treat of a series. Gintoki isn't very keen on finding a job like most other citizens and so we see Gintoki on an endless adventure seeking whatever job comes his way, while battling strange looking monsters, a weird Yakuza clan and much more. Gintoki is an extremely random character who at times makes you question whether he's even a samurai to begin with. But its that spontaneity and jubilant that makes Gintoki so fun to tune into. He is a great people person, as he is able to chat it up with almost anybody in the most innate way.
3. Gennosuke from Basilisk: Koga Ninpo Chou (Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 13, 2005 – September 21, 2005
Choosing a top three of any top ten is never an easy task, as there are a wide variety of popular anime that truly stand the test of time as being great. However, this number three spot could not avoid this list as Basilisk hops in to take the cake. This is one of the more darker and truly fascinating takes on samurai culture in Japan. Taking place in 1614 AD, Basilisk is all about Ninjas, swords, kunais, and more. It is nothing short of awesome, as it takes you in various different directions visually but also emotionally. Two warring ninja clans which are directly associated with the son of Tokugawa, send out ten representatives to fight each other to the death to obtain the ultimate prize: Absolute support from the Tokugawa government and completely eliminating each other in the process.
Gennosuke has the ability to look into his opponents eyes and completely take control of his enemies body, forcing themselves to commit deadly acts without thought. He maintains his calm most of the time, because he is madly in love with a woman who sees him as a loving and nurturing man. He tends to avoid eye contact in fear that his eyes may put her in danger, but their love is so strong that it has no effect on her. Gennosuke shows extreme loyalty with his allies, all the while having the insane power to dismember his opponents by just staring at them. It's this mixture of love and justice that gives Gennosuke the number three spot.
2. Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin
- Episodes: 94
- Aired: January 10, 2006- September 8, 2008
The name speaks for itself. Rurouni Kenshin is an anime that will truly stand the tests of time as being one of Japans most notable works, pertaining to anime. This series has had many sequels, spin offs, and merchandising through the roof due to its sheer popularity in Japan. Globally it has taken off as well, selling over a million copies of the manga on its own. What makes this series so special is how well scripted it is, and how relatable the main character is.
We all can learn from the mistakes and hardships that Kenshin goes through, displaying love and passion with a motivation for self discovery. Kenshin is a vagabond who has had his fair share of dark times, but is now on a journey to seek peace and harmony in his life. As a rounin, his job as an assassin was all tragedy and no triumph, but through it all he realized that it was time to walk away from all of that, and pursue more. He eventually comes across a female kendo master, former thief, all on brawler and a doctor who all join him on this epic journey towards change. in this wonderful series. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, please do so as you will most certainly be taken aback by all of the plot this story provides.
1. Date Masamune from Sengoku Basara
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2, 2009- June 18, 2009
Number one is never an easy spot to be in, as there are others out there hungry to take the throne. However, this series encompasses everything that we would like to see in an anime samurai adaptation, that closely mimics the past feudal history of Japan. We are now greeted with our last anime on the top ten list of samurai anime, with none other than Sengoku Basara.
Every character throughout the series use real names that can be found all throughout the historical chapters in Japan's rich past. Date Masamune and Sanda Yukimura are the two heroines of the series, as we see the two battle it out in this action packed anime filled with great pieces of historical information to educate those watching. Date was a notorious leader in the rise of the Tokugawa period, and his impact can still be seen in Japan. His personality is that of a natural born leader, out to seek justice and stop at nothing to tear his enemies down. His eyes and swords intimidate anyone who stands in his path, and his roaring voice screams out confidence with every word he speaks. Don't let that fool you as Date is still a warm hearted man who shares a lot in common with Sanda. They have a passion for overcoming adversity and it what leads Date to lead his entire army to victory.
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls
The history lesson is now over folks, have you learned about Japan's history a little? We hope you did while reading this. If words just fill that cup of yours, then we highly recommend giving these shows a watch to truly be immersed and experience a real treat.
While many of the anime on this list do take place during the very famous Sengoku era, there are other very notable times in Japan's wonderful past that you can also learn from, such as Meiji and the Edo periods. If you enjoy swords, samurai lifestyle, and overall great entertainment, then check out this list of top ten!
As always, for your sweet anime fill, keep it locked here at Honey's Anime.