[Anime Culture Monday] What Makes up a Historical Anime? [Definition; Meaning]

History is something where when we do not learn from it, we are doomed to repeat it in the future. This only gets truer and truer in recent days and one hopes that we will not be repeating acts from decades long ago. Whether or not you came curious about what historical anime is or are just looking for some simple recommendations, this is an article for you. We will take a look at common motifs and movements throughout the story. So sit down, get your katana and hakama, and let’s do this thing.

Note: This article will be taking a look, for the most part at historical anime based in Japan. There will be an entry talking about a wider concept, but for the most part, we will be focusing on historical anime based in Japan.

Samurai and Poverty

Due to Japan’s long history before it was united as one country under the shogunate, there were many issues that were rampant across the country especially with the Warring States Period where many a faction was trying to get the most power and consolidate their losses. It also has to deal with the capital moving back and forth between Kyoto, Tokyo, and other areas. While yes, Japan was ravaged by many different elements, the two that stand out the most are poverty reinforced by the social class system and samurai and ronin. Regardless of whatever was going on in Japan, those two elements were rampant across the country and continue to this day, to be a popular medium of entertainment for anime, manga, novels, and games. Let’s take a look at some excellent examples

Samurai Champloo

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: May 2004 - March 2005

Fuu Kasumi is not living her best life. She works as a server in a tea house until one day when she spilled hot tea over over a customer. They threaten her with her life, but a wild samurai named Mugen takens them all out without a second thought. Mugen then moves on to pick a fight with another samurai named Jin and meets his match. The two go head to head and accidentally kill someone. When all three are set to be killed for the crime, Fuu makes a deal: If they can all get out alive and find a samurai who smells of sunflowers, she will pay them handsomely (a lie). Both samurai agree and then all three escape. Now, wanted in the Edo Period and penniless, they have to find a way around a country that despises outsiders.

Samurai Champloo is a true example of what a historical anime would be. You have swords ablaze with dramatic and violent fights, gambling, prostitutes, dirty deals, and more. The poverty theme is really driven home, too, with Mugen often gambling things away in hope of getting more money back for food. It’s not easy and the main characters are always worried about food. Whenever they do get the chance to eat, they are always pigging out because they don’t know when their next meal could be. It’s that historical struggle of uncertainty that runs throughout the minds of the characters lending to a dynamic and interesting story.

Golden Kamuy

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: April 2018 - July 2018

Saichi Sugimoto is known as “the immortal Sugimoto”. He served in the Russo-Japanese war and always managed to pull through anything and everything leading to him being referred to as immortal. When his buddy was killed though, Sugimoto promised to take care of the buddy’s wife by going after a hidden treasure of stolen Ainu gold hidden somewhere in Hokkaido. Now winter, Sugimoto sets off foolishly to find this gold, but unfortunately, it almost costs him his life. It’s then that he is saved by and meets Asirpa, a beautiful yet highly intelligent Ainu girl. With her piercing blue eyes, Sugimoto is captivated and listens to her story. Realizing that she would make a fantastic ally, they agree to work together to survive the most brutal of conditions to find the gold: a Hokkaido winter.

Golden Kamuy really caught viewers off guard and spare a few awkward CG moments, the series is really fantastic overall coming from the viewpoint of historical anime. What Golden Kamuy really has going for it is the fact that the series doesn’t focus on samurai and the edo era extensively, but rather is set after it during the Meiji Era. In fact, the story never leaves Hokkaido which was considered a colony for a bit in the past due to being off the mainland. The viewer is shown a lot of historical Japan fast. When Otaru was still the big city in Hokkaido (It’s now Sapporo), the Ainu still lived outside of society. There was discrimination against them, and the Japanese army was still trying to get its bearings after the war. Survival tactics are essential and not knowing how to do simple things like hunt, know what to avoid eating, and how to make a fire meant that you would die fast. Not to mention too, you have the resurgence of Toshizou Hijikata in this series as well as he plots to take over Hokkaido. Finally, the author has admitted that the story for the series is actually based on real events and locations throughout Hokkaido itself including Abashiri Prison. If you are looking for a mix of real facts with story, then Golden Kamuy is an excellent choice!

Golden Kamuy PV:

Nothing Out of the Ordinary to See Here...

The very interesting thing about historical anime is that at some point, something will almost always be twisted to make it more fanciful or more dramatic. Why? Well, it comes from the fact that a lot of history in Japan has already been learned via schooling. People don’t want to watch something that they already know about, and since anime is made primarily for Japanese audiences, that storyline is often bent, sometimes rewritten entirely, to include these new ideas. The same is also true when Japan attempts to mix western history into anime. In fact, we have yet to see a historical anime set outside of Japan that is accurate. The farther from Japan the story gets, the greater chance that there is less fact and much more fantasy inserted into the story.


  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: October 2016 - December 2016

Toyohisa Shimazu is critically wounded in the Battle of Sekigahara when he looks up and realizes he is in a white, shining hallway. A receptionist essentially throws him into a door and he is transported to another world. There, he meets a slew of strange characters including those from his own knowledge. Oda Nobunaga and Yoichi Suketaka Nasu become his close allies as he tries to make sense of this new world where humans are ravaging other races. As if things could not get stranger, it also appears that there are other historical figures that have “drifted” to this world as well all with powers of their own. Just what is going on?

Drifters is the culmination of western literary/history figures clashing with Japanese heroes in a new world. It takes Isekai elements as well by forcing the characters all into a new world where they should not be co-existing. This is where history starts to be bent. Not only do classical characters like Jeanne D’Arc, Anastasia Romanova, and Gilles de Rais appear along with Hannibal himself–who by the way is a full bowl of fruit loops loops–all of them have powers! They use these powers to fight against each other while talking about their traumas and pasts to the viewer. So while we do get a semi-accurate historical account for most of them, we also get Jeanne with flame powers and Hannibal who is a genius but also is clearly going senile. It’s a storm of a story, but it is a damn good one.

Drifters PV

Final Thoughts

These are just some of the few perfect anime that we feel are great for those wanting to know more about historical anime or start from the basics. Granted these are not the only examples, as there are many, but these have wide appeal and are all easy to get into. Other great shows you can check out are Oh! Edo Nagareboshi, House of Five Leaves, Basilisk, Baccano!, Grave of the Fireflies, Gintama for historical-ish elements, Arslan Senki, Oda Nobuna no Yabou, Hetali, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and more. You have your pick of poison, but be sure that you are ready to commit as shows like Inuyasha and others have incredibly long episode counts! Do you have more shows that you’d recommend for our readers? If so, be sure to let us know down below. Till next time!

Drifters-wallpaper-700x495 [Anime Culture Monday] What Makes up a Historical Anime? [Definition; Meaning]


Author: Nagareboshi

American by birth; international by choice. I am trying to bring attention to one of my favorite causes; me. I translate by day and write by night. Aspiring polyglot. My dream would be to be the personal translator for Amuro Namie. Other than that, my hobbies include languages, weightlifting, sleeping, karaoke, GOOD coffee and music. When I’m not doing any of the above, I am most likely laughing hysterically at Willam Belli videos or EV farming. I ain’t gunna Rupologize for it neither. Waifu are Shirai Kuroko & Euaerin.

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Nagareboshi

Recommended Post

Top 10 Supernatural Historical Anime [Best Recommendations]

Recommended Post

Top 10 Historical Anime Movies [Best Recommendations]