The 15 Best Historical Anime To Watch
Anime is the ultimate form of escapism, allowing us to discover and enjoy new worlds. It doesn’t always have to be a distant land, though. The best historical anime to watch allow us to experience historic places and cultures in a whole new way.
Whether you’re a fan of action anime, coming-of-age adventures, or classic romance, this list has something for every anime fan.
Note: I’ve tried to focus this list on series where their historical settings or characters are a key part of the story. Therefore, some excellent magic and fantasy series where the time setting is less important were not included.
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This action-adventure series is set in northern Japan in the early 1900s, after the Russo-Japanese War. The story follows a war veteran, Saichi Sugimoto, who suddenly discovers the first piece of a map of a legendary Ainu gold stash and embarks on a journey to find the rest, alongside an Ainu girl who wants revenge on his father, a miner. .
Golden Kamuy was particularly praised for its realistic depiction of life at the time and its focus on the Ainu people. The Ainu are an indigenous people mainly located in Hokkaido, the big island in the north of Japan. Kamuy, on the other hand, is a spiritual being in Ainu beliefs.
This action-mystery anime is mostly set in 1930s Chicago during the era of prohibition in the United States. The story mainly follows mafia groups and their members who are drawn into a plot involving an elixir of immortality.
Baccano is based on the light novels by Ryohgo Narita, who also came up with the original Durarara story. Similar to that hit animated series, Baccano is a show full of quirky characters and plots that just keep getting bigger and bigger, with a touch of whimsy added to the historical setting for good measure.
Moriarty the Patriot
Moriarty the Patriot is set in 19th century Britain, at a time when the British Empire was a world power.
Based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes, the anime follows a young Moriarty who seeks to rebel against the Empire’s corrupt class system by playing the role of a “crime consultant”, helping to sow chaos until that Sherlock himself piques his interest.
Kingdom’s story is set in China during the Warring States period, where many different rulers waged wars for control of the country. The show mainly revolves around Xin, a war orphan from the Qin kingdom who dreams of being a great general and ends up getting involved in the kingdom’s wars in an attempt to unite China and end the war period. .
Kingdom is an extremely popular anime based on a manga of the same name. The first season aired in 2012, while season 4 begins this year.
Mushi-Shi is not a true historical anime as its setting is derived from a few different time periods. However, it’s still an amazing series to get away from it all with and features plenty of references to historical Japanese culture.
The story is set in a version of 19th century Japan, where a primitive life form known as Mushi exists beyond the realms of human comprehension. Ginko, one of the few people who can see the Mushi, travels from place to place to search for them and help people who may have been affected by their presence.
Mushi-Shi is an acclaimed series, praised for its art style and unique tempo, with no real story or overarching plot. For many fans, it’s one of the best anime ever made, and definitely worth watching!
Requiem of the Pink King
Requiem of the Rose King is another anime that takes place in a version of British history. This series is an account of the Wars of the Roses, a civil war in England in the 15th century over control of the English throne.
Requiem follows Richard III, the son of the Duke of York and potential future King of England on one side of the battle between York and Lancaster. Born intersex, he is vilified by his mother and considered a demon, while being haunted by images of Joan of Arc, who says they will bring misfortune to everyone. The story follows his struggles with himself and his fate, against the backdrop of a bloody struggle for the throne.
Unlike many series on this list, Arte is a slower-paced slice-of-life drama perfect for lighthearted and fun viewing.
This seinen anime is set in beautiful 16th-century Florence, at a time when the city was a global hub of art and culture. The story follows Atre Spalletti, a young noblewoman with a talent for painting. When her father dies, she is expected to marry into another family, but instead seeks to pursue her passion for art.
Drifters is not a complete historical anime due to its fantasy setting. However, if you are a fan of war anime and famous characters, this is something to enjoy, as it features a ton of real and historical characters.
The story begins in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600s Japan. Shimazu Toyohisa, mortally wounded, suddenly finds himself transported to a fantasy world besieged by war. He also discovers that he is not the only person who has been transported, encountering various legendary warriors from Japanese history who are collectively referred to as Drifters.
Drifters is like an Avengers for historical war heroes, as famous fighters, including names familiar to Western audiences such as Hannibal Barca and Jean d’Arc, come together to battle a fantastic foe. This is a must-have watch for all historical warfare fans!
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Emma: A Victorian Romance
If you’re looking for a classic English romance, look no further!
Emma is set in 19th century Victorian England and follows the main character, a maid who falls in love with the son of a wealthy family. The two fall in love, but their relationship is opposed by society due to the mixing of lower and upper classes.
Although this kind of story is quite common in Western culture, the anime and manga Emma has developed a cult following in Japan due to the meticulous retelling of life in Victorian England. This anime is a real must-have for any Anglophile!
This original animated series is also set in 1930s Prohibition America, this time in Lawless, Illinois, where the mob controls the black market in alcohol. The story begins with the main character’s family killed at the hands of the Mafia, with him leaving town and starting a new life as Avilio Bruno.
However, Avilio still harbors dreams of exacting revenge for his family. A mysterious letter convinces him to return to town, where he infiltrates the mafia family and befriends the don’s son, Nero.
91 Days, named after the length of the story, is a bloody crime drama that has been well received by fans of the genre.
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the Grave of the Fireflies
Studio Ghibli films are renowned for their bright and fun fantasy worlds, but one of their greatest masterpieces revolves around the harsh realities of war.
Grave of the Fireflies is set at the end of World War II in 1945, when American bombers regularly drop incendiary bombs on Japanese cities. The story follows two children whose parents and home are burned down in the bombardment.
This heartbreaking anime is a painful but accurate account of the cost to ordinary people during any conflict. The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel from the era and does a great job of capturing the national mood as Japan slowly succumbs to defeat.
Vinland Saga is another series where war plays a big role in its narrative, with the dramatic retelling of real events and characters.
This story is set in 11th century England when the Danish king Sweyn had almost entirely conquered the region. Vinland Sags follows Thorfinn, a mercenary fighting in the conflict under Thorkell, the man who killed his father, in hopes that one day he can exact revenge.
This action-adventure eventually turns into a competition for the throne of England involving King Sweyn’s two sons, with Thorkell choosing to side with Prince Canute.
Vinland Saga was considered one of the best anime in 2019 when the first season was released. Vinland Saga Season 2 is also coming soon.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
The setting of this anime isn’t necessarily historical – it bounces around different time periods but is mostly set in modern times. However, given its subject matter, the show captures a strong historical feel.
This anime centers around the art of rakugo, a classic form of Japanese theatrical performance dating back to the 17th century. The story follows Yotarou, an ex-yakuza who was inspired by a rakugo performance by Yakumo in prison and now seeks to learn under his tutelage.
This Josei anime has a wonderful feel and flow, illustrating the passion for an age-old craft and the relationships it creates between the main characters.
One of the most popular anime series of the 1990s, Rurouni Kenshin is a must watch for those who want to experience a slice of classic Japanese culture.
The story is set in the late 19th and early 20th century. The story follows Hitokiri Battousai, a much feared assassin during the Boshin War who, after the conflict, seems to disappear. Changing his name to Kenshin Himura, he decides to live a life away from conflict and protect the weak by repenting of his sins on the battlefield.
Despite his promise to never kill again, when people find out about his past, the world tries to bring him back to the bloody life he once lived.
The wind picks up
Another Studio Ghibli movie, The Wind Rises is set against the backdrop of World War II, but is a much more serene watch than the aforementioned Grave of the Fireflies.
The film is a biographical account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi. With dashed dreams of being a pilot, he turned to aircraft design. His life unfolds against the backdrop of the national war effort and other historical events, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
The Wind Rises was nominated for an Oscar when it was released in 2013. The film was widely praised for the way it portrayed the nuances of Japan at the time, celebrating human achievement while challenging the price of war.
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