The Samurai have been a revered part of Japanese history for a very long time. Coming into great significance in feudal Japan, they have embedded themselves in Japanese culture and history for their values. This makes it no surprise that they happened to be the most widely adapted and for most, the most celebrated part of Japan and Japanese history where popular culture is concerned. Samurai are the protagonists of movies, games, comics and of course, the anime and manga that we love. That being said, we thought of putting together a list of our favourite samurai in manga – so let’s get to it!
10. Ogami Itto – Kozure Ookami (Lone Wolf & Cub)
- Mangaka: Koike Kazuo (Story), Kojima Goseki (Art)
- Genres: Action, Historical, Samurai, Seinen
- Volumes: 28
- Published: September 1970 – April 1976
The Shogunate’s former Chief Executioner, Ogami Itto, finds himself in a very precarious situation when his name is dragged through the mud after he is framed for treason by the Yagyuu Clan. The Yagyuu Clan seeks Ogami’s position of power. As a result of the allegations, Ogami’s entire family is murdered, leaving him no one but his young son Daigorou alive. Having lost his honour and his beloved wife, he decides to become an assassin for hire, wandering the country with his son in tow on his pursuit of revenge. As he completes more missions, his reputation begins to speak for himself and earns him the moniker “Lone Wolf and Cub”, as his infamy spreads across the land.
Ogami Itto is a man of incredible mental toughness and fortitude. Upon the discovery of the brutal murder of his family and his subsequent framing as a traitor to the Shogunate, Ogami gave his one-year-old son an ultimatum: ball or sword. If the child crawled towards the ball, Ogami would kill him. However, if the child crawled towards the sword, Ogami would take it as the child’s decision to become a ronin. Such shows his commitment to his values and ethic. His word is absolute and he is very straightforward with other people. Ogami is also prone to great displays of sympathy, sometimes using his abilities to protect total strangers from harm.
9. Azumi – Azumi
- Mangaka: Koyama Yuu
- Genres: Action, Drama, Historical, Martial Arts, Samurai, Seinen
- Volumes: 48
- Published: 1994 – November 2008
A number of years after the Battle of Sekigahara, a young female assassin named Azumi is slowly building her reputation through undertaking a number of different missions. She was brought up as part of a team of assassins. Azumi’s missions are high-stakes assassinations of significant figures, such as the assassinations of the prominent supporters and generals of the Toyotomi Clan against whom the general Tokugawa Ieyasu expected to go to war.
Azumi’s role in her manga has been compared to that of some sort of enlightened being. Throughout her missions and travels, she comes across a plethora of different individuals who, for some or other reason have intense motivations to do the things that they do. However, Azumi bears no such attachments to anything or anyone. Despite her trade, Azumi still bears a functional conscience as at one point she questioned the morality of killing thieves who were goaded into thievery not by their own choice and in another incident, she was unable to kill a woman with a baby. Her development as a warrior is owed to the rigorous training which she endured as a youngster and the iron-clad values she is taught very nicely reflect those of the samurai.
8. Kashima Oyuki – Lady Snowblood
- Mangaka: Koike Kazuo (Story), Kamimura Kazuo (Art)
- Genres: Action, Drama, Historical
- Volumes: 3
- Published: 1972 – 1973
Oyuki is an attractive young woman who uses her sex appeal to effectively perform her duty as an assassin. She lives in order to exact vengeance for her family, seeking vengeance against the bandits who raped her mother and killed her father. As a result of a murder her mother had perpetrated, Oyuki’s mother gave birth to a daughter specifically in order to exact revenge on her behalf. Hence begins the bloody journey of retribution…
With a blade hidden in her umbrella, Oyuki slays her victims as a samurai in manga. Using her feminine wiles to seduce people, Oyuki is shown to be very resourceful and intelligent, effectively preying upon the weaknesses of her targets. With her one-track mind and with her entire life committed to the accomplishment of a single goal, Oyuki is incredibly ruthless, almost excessively so. She breaks her promises, kills without a shred of guilt. In fact at one point, Oyuki even considers killing a child who witnessed one of her murders but she opts not to as the child was brain damaged and no one would believe him anyway.
7. Manji – Blade of the Immortal
- Mangaka: Samura Hiroaki
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Historical, Martial Arts, Samurai, Supernatural, Seinen
- Volumes: 30
- Published: June 1993 – December 2012
Manji is a swordsman tired of living with all the death he has wrought; however, he cannot die. As a result of a spell cast upon him by an old witch, Manji is immortal but he seeks to regain his mortality by executing a plan: he shall kill one hundred evil men for every good man he has killed. Upon hearing his proposition, the old witch agrees and thus, Manji heads out to kill one thousand evil men. He then runs into Rin, a young girl who seeks vengeance for the murder of her family. Together, the two set out on a bloody journey which puts them in perpetual danger. However, the danger doubles twofold as they must stay alive all while ensuring that they do not become consumed by revenge.
After the death of his sister, Manji grows tired of his immortality and seeks to descend back into the mortal realm. He may seem rough around the edges but Manji is incredibly gifted when it comes to combat and intelligence. He’s an expert swordsman, one who slew 100 men prior to his immortality and one who is capable of effectively using a wide range of weapons. Manji has nihilistic tendencies, possibly a direct result of his inability to die like other people.
6. Mibu Kyoshiro – Samurai Deeper Kyo
- Mangaka: Kamijou Akimine
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Historical, Shounen
- Volumes: 38
- Published: May 1999 – May 2006
17th Century Japan was an utterly chaotic place. During Japan’s feudal era, the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 proved to be the bloodiest conflict of all. From the ashes of that battle rose a single warrior nicknamed “the Unconquerable”. A peaceful medicine peddler named Kyoshiro bears the soul of an assassin and accompanies a bounty hunter across Japan on a quest to find a murderer, but the journey also serves as Kyoshiro’s quest to discover the secret of his own identity.
Mibu Kyoshiro is a man who is fun-loving and genuinely cares for other people. He seeks to help other people, often at his own expense. However, despite his kind personality, Kyoshiro is a skilled swordsman, one who harbours the Demon Eyes Kyo within his own body. The Demon Eyes Kyo is a sadistic samurai who enjoys killing his enemies, tending to ridicule them and kill without mercy. Kyoshiro defeated Kyo at one point during the Battle of Sekigahara, but couldn’t bring himself to kill him. His solution was to seal Kyo’s spirit away within his own body. Thus, Mibu Kyoshiro is two elite killers sharing a single body. Scary.
5. Tojo Sayuri – Kurogane
- Mangaka: Ikezawa Haruto
- Genres: Action, Martial Arts, School, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 8
- Published: September 2011 – January 2013
Kurogane Hiroto is a high schooler who, despite his top-of-the-grade academics, has trouble dealing with his inability to play sport. Born with a weak physique, Hiroto’s lack of strength, speed or stamina plagues him, but ironically, he was born with exceptional eyesight. His friend Shiratori wants to recruit him for the Kendo team and tells him about a rumour about the ghost of Tojo Sayuri, a katana-wielding apparition that haunts an alley downtown. Curious, Hiroto heads over there and finds out that the ghost is real and has been searching for a successor to her Sakura Sword Style for 150 years. Sayuri chooses Hiroto as her successor after being impressed that he managed to dodge one of her strikes and forces him to learn the Sakura Style. With the help of the ghost of a great swordsman, can Hiroto become the hero he has always wanted to become?
Proud and powerful, Tojo Sayuri is a long-dead warrior and teacher of the Sakura Sword Style. Her keen eye for potential fell upon Kurogane Hiroto, a teen with extremely great eyesight – hence the perfect candidate to inherit the power and secrets of the Sakura Sword Style. In order to be more palatable to people who aren’t used to seeing ghosts, Sayuri takes up the form of a small child and pretends to be one of Hiroto’s relatives, showing her shrewdness and charisma as a samurai in manga.
4. Kurogane Gama – Gamaran
- Mangaka: Ikezawa Haruto
- Genres: Action, Martial Arts, School, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 22
- Published: May 2009 – June 2013
During the Edo period, the Unabara State grows in notoriety as the gathering place of sinful martial artists. Washitzu Naosata is the ruler of Unabara, looking for a successor. He then holds a meeting with his 31 sons, telling them to search for the strongest martial artist of all. The sons’ chosen martial artists will then be pitted against each other in a battle royale to determine who is truly the strongest, as well as to choose Unabara’s next ruler. In the mountains resides the dojo of the Daigame Ryuu (Giant Tortoise Style), where lives Kurogane Gama, the son of the legendary swordsman, Kurogane Jinsuke. One Washitzu son, Washitzu Naoshi, comes searching for the legendary Kurogane but happens upon his son instead and since Gama wishes to become stronger, he decides to accompany Naoshi on his bid to become ruler of Unabara.
Kurogane Gama has a lot on his shoulders as he is the son of Kurogane Jinsuke, a man said to have slain at least 1000 men. With such greatness running through his veins, Gama has been propelled into the way of the warrior, simply wishing to become stronger. His skills are impressive and he seems to be completely comfortable with combat situations and because of these traits, Washitzu Naoshi was able to come to the conclusion that Gama’s constant self-praise was completely justified.
3. Kouga Gennosuke – Basilisk
- Mangaka: Yamada Fuutarou (Story), Segawa Masaki (Art)
- Genres: Action, Drama, Historical, Martial Arts, Romance, Seinen
- Volumes: 5
- Published: February 2003 – June 2004
The Iga and Kouga clans have been sworn enemies for over four hundred years and the only thing preventing an all-out war is the Hattori Hanzo truce. However, under the order of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the truce has been dissolved and ten ninja must be selected from each clan to fight to the death in order to determine the next Tokugawa Shogun. The surviving clan will enjoy rule for the next thousand years, but not all clan members agree with the motion. Oboro from the Iga clan and Gennosuke from the Kouga clan have fallen deeply in love but now they’ve been pitted against each other. Can their love overcome the centuries-long feud? Or are they destined to succumb to it like everyone before them?
Kouga Gennosuke is an idealistic samurai in manga. He is an individual who believes in looking to the future and not being weighed down by events past. Such an ideology shines through when one thinks about the romantic relationship that develops between him and a woman from the Iga Clan, the Kouga Clan’s centuries-old enemies. Ideology aside, Gennosuke is quite the warrior, being highly skilled in kenjutsu, as well as having enhanced senses which serve him well in combat.
2. Himura Kenshin – Rurouni Kenshin
- Mangaka: Watsuki Nobuhiro
- Genres: Action, Drama, Historical, Samurai, Shounen
- Volumes: 28
- Published: April 1994 – September 1999
During the Meiji Era in Japan, after the Bakumatsu War, a man named Himura Kenshin peacefully wanders the land. Since the war has ended, an idle Kenshin finds himself suffering under the guilt of the crimes he committed during the war as an assassin under the moniker “Hitokiri Battousai”. He now offers protection services in atonement. Upon arriving in Tokyo, he meets a young woman named Kamiya Kaoru engaged in a fight against a murderer from her dojo claiming to be the Hitokiri Battousai. Kenshin jumps into the fray and makes quick work of the imposter and upon realising Kenshin’s true identity, Kaoru offers him a place to stay. Kenshin accepts her offer and begins a long journey, making new friends, meeting enemies old and new, as well as coming to terms with his past.
Despite being a ruthless assassin earlier in his life, Himura Kenshin is actually a very kind and gentle swordsman seeking penitence. In atonement for his actions during a time of war, Kenshin goes as far as to use a reverse-blade sword, one which makes it impossible for him to inflict any fatal wounds on his opponents – a fact that is telling of his resolve to put his past behind him.
1. Shinmen Takezou a.k.a Miyamoto Musashi – Vagabond
- Mangaka: Inoue Takehiko
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Historical, Samurai, Seinen
- Volumes: 37
- Published: March 1999 – May 2015
16th century Japan. Shinmen Takezou is a wild young man whose aggressive nature gets him vilified by members of his village, who live in fear of him. This leads Takezou and his best friend, Honiden Matahachi, to run away from the village in pursuit of more exciting life. They eventually enlist in the Toyotomi army, but when they suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Tokugawa Clan at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Takezou and Matahachi barely survive. They are later separated and Takezou takes it upon himself to tell the Honiden family of Matahachi’s survival; however, Takezou returns to a village which has framed him for Matahachi’s murder. They string him up on a tree and leave him to die, but when the monk Takuan Soho takes pity on Takezou, he frees him and gives him a new name: Miyamoto Musashi.
When Takezou is given a second chance at life by the monk Takuan Soho, he embarks on a journey of self-betterment… well, at least where combat is concerned. He aspires to become a powerful warrior and soon enough, news of Miyamoto Musashi’s ability and strength begin to spread like wildfire. Growing up as an aggressive and brash kid, Takezou’s transition into a formidable warrior is rooted in the changes he experiences as Miyamoto Musashi. His bloody journey catalyses his internal journey of self-discovery, and his talent with the sword takes him very far as a samurai in manga.
Whether they are lone warriors or come to meet companions on their journeys, the samurai are some of the most badass characters in the anime and manga universes. They are vehicles used to display beautiful character development, intense storylines, dizzying fights and even light-hearted humour. Despite losing their place in contemporary human society, the samurai still see themselves celebrated, revered and even emulated by the authors who give us these stories about samurai in manga. You know what they say about imitation! Are there other samurai in manga who should be on a samurai in manga list like this? Drop a comment below and tell us about those samurai in manga!