Samurai anime is a staple of Japanese culture. It’s like the West with war films. The genre is steeped in history and politics, as well as supernatural and creative elements that make it a lucky-bag.
You never know what you’re going to get when you watch a samurai anime, so I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting what I think are the 26 best ones out right now.
- Best Samurai Anime
- 28. Brave 10
- 27. Samurai Kings
- 26. Kurozuka
- 25. Samurai Deeper Kyou
- 24. Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls
- 23. Mushibugyo
- 22. Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
- 21. House of Five Leaves
- 20. Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto
- 19. Batman Ninja
- 18. Dororo
- 17. Drifters
- 16. Samurai 7
- 15. Angolmois: Record of the Mongol Invasion
- 14. Blade of the Immortal
- 13. Onihei
- 12. Hyouge Mono
- 11. Afro Samurai
- 10. Bleach
- 9. Peace Maker Kurogane
- 8. Berserk
- 7. Shigurui
- 6. Rurouni Kenshin
- 5. Samurai Champloo
- 4. Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou
- 3. Samurai X
- 2. Gintama
- 1. Sword of the Stranger
Best Samurai Anime
28. Brave 10
This samurai anime had a short run compared to other shows, starting in January 2012 to March 2012. Nine volumes of manga were published as well from 2011 to 2016.
Set in the Warring States period, Brave 10 follows the story of KirigakureSaizou, who is anIga Ninja searching for his life’s path.
He later discovers a shrine maiden who is being attacked by assassins named Isanami. The two set out together as travel companions.
As time goes on, the two begin to form feelings for each other, and Isanami discovers powers hidden deep within her. With war brewing and time quickly running out, Brave 10 is an unconventional samurai anime worth checking out.
27. Samurai Kings
Samurai Kings was released in 2009, running from April to June, and has 12 episodes. This samurai anime is set during the Sengoku Period and combines action with comedy.
With power constantly being fought for, two young warriors who were one rivals became allies to defeat the warlord Oda Nobunaga.
What makes this anime slightly different from others is the source material. Samurai Kings is based on a video game series that Capcom released, the full title being Sengoku BASARA Samurai Kings.
The anime series was also split into five parts, so this samurai series will keep you busy for a while!
I’m going to preface this list by saying that I like my samurai anime realistic. I love stories that are just as much about the politics and brutality of the time period as they are about swords and battles.
What’s more, I’m not a fan of when shows mix samurai history with supernatural elements.
Kurozuka is a prime example of that. Don’t get me wrong; this kind of genre-blending has its place; it’s just not for my palette. In particular, Kurozuka takes the samurai plot of a warrior going off on a solo journey after a defeat.
Pretty atypical. However, it doesn’t take long before immortals and vampires show up seemingly out of nowhere.
The anime isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth throwing on the first few episodes as a novelty if nothing else.
25. Samurai Deeper Kyou
All of the early entries on this list are going to be dominated by the supernatural and fantasy-based samurai anime, so if you’re looking for the nitty-gritty stuff, you’re going to have to scroll down a little bit.
Samurai Deeper Kyou isn’t as ridiculous as Kurozuka. There are no vampires or anything of that nature. However, there is some body-swapping going on where one samurai gets trapped in another’s body.
From there, the two go about beating up all the bad guys until the BBEG shows up. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
24. Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls
Fan service, fan service, fan service.
That one line should tell you whether or not you’re going to enjoy Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls.
It’s a harem with a useless male protagonist and three female leads of varying endowments getting caught up in all sorts of interesting camera angles.
You’re not watching this for the plot; let me just make that clear.
If it’s not vampires, it has to be giant bugs. I have a particular disdain for shows that follow the whole “evil giant mantises from space are invading,” but I’ll admit that Mushibugyo doesn’t do too bad in its portrayal.
It starts off as you might expect, with our cast of heroes butchering monster after monster. However, it doesn’t take long before things start taking a serious and bloody turn.
If you’re going to commit to this series, you need to make time to see it through to the end.
22. Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
More vampires. Sure, why not. At least Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (what a mouthful) isn’t as out of nowhere as Kurozuka.
You’ve got a protagonist looking for her long-lost father only to be swept up in a story of secret police, bloodsuckers, intrigue, and all that other juicy stuff we love this genre for.
That being said, it’s still vampires and samurai, so make of that what you will.
21. House of Five Leaves
This anime is marmite personified. There are those out there that absolutely love its artwork, but then there are those for whom it’s nightmare-inducing. I’m going to let you make your own mind up on that front.
It’s a typical young samurai finding himself style story, anything but groundbreaking. However, the art style is what makes it stand out so much. If you like it, you’ll love it. If you don’t, then good luck with insomnia.
20. Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto
This is where the good stuff starts to show up. Intrigue in the Bakumatsu would easily have cracked the top 10, if not the top 5, of this list if there wasn’t for a surprise supernatural element that shows its ugly head mid-series.
Aside from that, it’s got a massively central focus on politics and the shifting of power. It’s set at the end of the Edo period, after all.
If you’re looking for a heavier samurai anime that doesn’t quite abandon the fantasy elements that allow you to detach yourself from the action on the screen, then this is a great starting point.
19. Batman Ninja
This is a film, not a series, and it’s also a Batman adaptation. If this already doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then close your eyes, scroll down, and we can both forget that this entry ever happened.
If you’re intrigued, though, you’re in for a treat.
It’s Gotham in feudal Japan; what’s not to love? Batman is a samurai, and all the villains you already know and love are lords.
Not only that, but there are mechs and robots. I know I like my Samurai stories realistic, but everything about Batman Ninja is too fantastic to not love.
I will say one thing, thanks to two writers who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves, the American and Japanese versions of the film are wildly different. If you want the better of the two, go with the original Japanese script if you can find it.
Dororo is a prime example of how you can do a fantasy demon samurai show right.
It’s remarkably similar to FMA in that one of our protagonists is trying to slay demons to get a human body. The catch is that his body makes up for lack of limbs with an excess of swords.
This leads to some fantastic action scenes that make use of this unique factor perfectly. It’s not overly political or self-indulgent; it does exactly what it needs to.
Dororo does supernatural samurai right. Drifters does supernatural anime well.
You’ve got a collection of warriors from different historical periods that get isekai’d into a fantasy realm that’s one scientist short of total nuclear annihilation.
It’s a great premise that does justice to the star-studded cast, which is to say Shimazu Toyohisa, Oda Nobunaga, and Nasu Suketaka.
Even if you’re like me and don’t like your samurai with too much fiction, Drifters is a must-watch.
16. Samurai 7
If that title sounds familiar, it’s because Samurai 7 takes more than a little bit of inspiration from the classically revered “Seven Samurai.”
If it was just an animated retelling, though, it wouldn’t be this high on my list. No, Samurai 7 has more than enough creativity of its own to put on display.
When I say that, I mean it has mecha samurai fighting mecha bandits. I’m willing to make an exception for my realism samurai rule when mechs are involved; it just scratches all the right itches.
15. Angolmois: Record of the Mongol Invasion
Do you need to know anything about this anime past its title to know if you’re going to watch it or not?
It’s a visual documentation of the 13th-century Mongol invasion. It’s bloody, gritty, and has nothing in the way of plot armor or powerful protagonists.
This series shows war, and it doesn’t pull any punches.
14. Blade of the Immortal
“But how is an immortal samurai series in your top 14? I thought you hated stuff like that,” I hear you cry.
Well, Blade of the Immortal doesn’t so much focus on immortality as it does the ramifications of it.
Our protagonist used to be a really bad dude, so as punishment, he’s been made immortal and can only regain mortality by killing 100 bad men for every good man he killed in life.
Being able to die an honorable death is important for samurai, so what we get is a redemption tale that’s as somber as it is bloody.
Onihei is different from everything else we’ve talked about so far because every episode is actually self-contained.
We get the same protagonist, a samurai police chief, but each episode highlights a new lawbreaker.
However, the entire series has some serious morality debates going on.
It’s going to have you questioning what’s right and wrong, all while staying down to earth, further driving home the impact that this anime is trying and succeeding to achieve.
12. Hyouge Mono
Here we’ve got an anime that focuses on the little details during the Sengoku Era. The big clashes and battles take a backseat to character intrigue and development.
It’s slow-paced and nuanced in its approach, but that’s what makes it such an engaging series.
It doesn’t indulge itself in the setting like so many other samurai shows do. It keeps thing level headed and consistent despite there not being any major world-ending plot for us to follow.
11. Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai is a classic. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you’re in for one hell of a fun time, and I want to stress fun.
Afro Samurai is the prime example of how you can add some supernatural elements to a samurai show and make something that’s truly special.
It’s set in a futuristic Japan and focuses on two headbands. Headband number one essentially turns the wielder into a demi-god. Headband number two lets the wielder challenge headband number one for the title, so to speak.
Headband number one can only be challenged by the holder of headband number two, but anyone can challenge number two for the headband.
I’ll admit that I make it sound more complicated than it is but trust me when I say it’s a show you’re never going to forget once you watch it.
Bleach is the Fairy Tail of samurai anime. That’s not to say it’s bad, because I love Fairy Tail. Instead, it’s a safe watch that never fails to satisfy that anime fanboy or fangirl inside.
There’s a ton of episodes, a ton of arcs, and enough source material to satisfy you for years.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a supernatural show involving evil spirits and the protection of souls. I would honestly put it lower down on the list, but it’s so well known that to do so would be a request to be hated.
9. Peace Maker Kurogane
This is an anime that follows a typical premise. Our protagonist sees the old folks bite the dust and swears to get stronger to avenge them.
However, to do that, he approaches some bad dudes working for the government, and in turn, has to do some pretty bad things.
It’s full of politics and morality, which I love, but also isn’t too heavy that it’s inaccessible to fans looking for a more pleasant viewing experience.
A Song of Ice and Fire is my favorite book series of all time (finish Winds of Winter George, c’mon!), so it would be fairly accurate to say that I love dark fantasy.
Even if there are supernatural elements, I can overlook them for the lack of plot armor and the genuine fear I feel for my favorite characters.
Berserk is just that. I’ll admit that there are gods and dreams and all that spooky stuff, but the sheer voracity of the series is more than enough to blind me to that.
If you’re soft-hearted, do not watch this show. If you’re like me and Mirai Nikki broke whatever emotions you had left, then Shigurui might be the greatest anime you watch this year.
The premise is that a lord has ordered two students of one master to fight to the death. The catch is that one of them is blind, and the other only has one arm.
It’s brutal, and I mean really brutal. There is no romance here, this anime is out to hurt you, and it’s going to succeed.
However, you’ll come out the other side of it with an entirely new appreciation for art and the samurai of old.
6. Rurouni Kenshin
Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most revered anime series of all time. Even outside the samurai genre, it’s considered to be one of the all-time greats.
The story is set at the conclusion of the Japanese revolution and follows a retired assassin who helped put that revolution in place.
The show follows his attempts to leave his past behind and struggle with the things he’s done. It’s heartwarming, tragic, and hits every single note perfectly.
5. Samurai Champloo
Samurai Champloo is a weird one for me. It might not even make the top 30 on someone else’s list, and I would totally understand that.
Each episode is self-contained; there’s no plot and not much in the way of consistency.
However, the series is intriguing. The only thing that ties the three protagonists together in the hunt for a samurai that smells like sunflowers. In case you didn’t know, sunflowers don’t have much of a scent.
It’s an interesting watch, to say the least, even if you come away from it feeling nothing but confusion.
4. Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou
Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Chou, or The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, is an unbelievable show. I’m a bit of an art snob, in case you didn’t realize. I like the classics, I like narrative theory, and I can be hypercritical at times.
So, when a samurai anime comes along with a Romeo and Juliet plot came along, it’s only natural that I fell head over heels for it.
I don’t need to tell you any more than that. If you like Romeo and Juliet stories, you’re going to love Basilisk.
3. Samurai X
Samurai X is another show following an ex-assassin trying to atone for the sins of his past.
However, unlike Rurouni Kenshin, our protagonist in Samurai X dedicates himself to actively protecting Japan’s people, rather than just trying to live out a life of peace.
It’s an extremely focused show that doesn’t diverge from its path for even a second. It’s a constant battle of self-forgiveness and morality that could give the all-time greats a run for their money.
If you’re looking for an experience as opposed to a fun anime to watch, please make it this one.
I would lose all credibility if Gintama didn’t appear on this list. It’s the samurai anime that got me into the genre, as well as one of the first anime in general that I ever watched.
It’s not like my beloved historical accuracy anime at all, so the fact that it’s number two is a testament to just how brilliant it is.
It’s a comedy set in Japan after aliens takeover and disband the order of samurai. Gintama and his marry band refute this and do odd contracts around the city to make ends meet.
It’s hilarious, touching, and has some of the best-written characters that I’ve ever seen in any artistic medium.
I would be surprised if you haven’t seen Gintama, but lucky you forgetting to watch it for the first time.
1. Sword of the Stranger
Sword of the Stranger won an international award for its animation quality, so when I say it has fight scenes that rival Demon Slayer (which hasn’t appeared on the list because I haven’t finished it yet) in beauty, I mean it.
Not only that, but it’s got the kind of plot you would expect to see from a live-action samurai film, not an animated one.
It’s a film, not a series, meaning you can get through the whole things in an afternoon.
It’s heartwarming and awe-inspiring in all the right ways, hence why I’ve given it my number one spot.