Historical anime


Dashing samurais and the romance of Victorian England are timeless beauties deserving of appreciation even after centuries have passed. Unfortunately, time machines are not a thing yet, so your best alternative is this list of 11 historical anime series that will bring you back to a classier time.


1. Yona of the Dawn (2014)


historical anime - yona of the dawn
Image credit:
IMDb

Yona of the Dawn is basically the anime version of Mulan.

historical anime - yona childhood
Image adapted from: Studio Pierrot

Our main heroine is Yona, the princess of the Kouka Kingdom. She had a happy childhood with her close friends Hak and Soo-won.

historical anime - throne usurped
Image adapted from: Studio Pierrot

However, her tranquil life is overturned when Soo-won murders Yona’s father and usurps the throne to become the king.

historical anime - blue dragon
Blue Dragon, 1 of the 4 Dragon Warriors
Image credit: IMDb

With the help of Hak, Yona flees the kingdom and begins the life of a fugitive. As she journeys through different villages to rally the help of four powerful Dragon Warriors in order to exact revenge on Soo-won, we get to see the growth in both her physical and emotional strength. Slowly but surely, the affection between Hak and Yona grows too.

Length: 1 season, 24 episodes, 3 OVA
Available on: Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu


2. Black Butler (2008 – Present)


historical anime - black butler
Image credit: IMDb

Set in London during the Victorian era, Black Butler is a story about Ciel, the young Earl of the Phantomhive company, and his demon butler Sebastian Michaelis.

historical anime - ciel
Image adapted from: A-1 Pictures

After the massacre of his family and his subsequent kidnap, Ciel calls upon a demon, whom he later names “Sebastian”, to make a pact. On the surface, Sebastian is Ciel’s capable butler. 

historical anime - sebastian
Image adapted from: A-1 Pictures

However, behind the scenes, Sebastian uses his supernatural powers to help Ciel to seek revenge against the murderers. In exchange for this, Ciel has pledged his soul to the demon for consumption once his revenge is complete.

historical anime - ciel at work
Image adapted from: A-1 Pictures

As part of his role as the “Queen’s Dog”, Ciel is also involved in doing the grunt work for the royal family, such as investigating mysteries or bumping off people. The series follows several arcs, and they find themselves embroiled in gruesome schemes such as child abduction and zombie revivals.

historical anime - manga art by yana toboso
Image adapted from: A-1 Pictures

The anime has intricate art that does justice to the beautiful manga panels drawn by Yana Toboso. However, because of its high production quality, you’ll have to wait a bit for new seasons. Season three was aired in 2014, and there has only been an animated film released since then.

Do note that the first 18 episodes of season one follows the manga, while everything else until the end of season two is an anime-original plot. Season three then picks up from episode 18 of the first season.

Length: 3 seasons, 24 (S1), 12 (S2), 10 (S3), 7 OVAs, 1 movie
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, Funimation, Hulu


3. Arslan Senki (2015)


historical anime - arslan senki
Image credit:
IMDb

Arslan Senki is loosely based on Amir Arsalan-e Namdar, a famous Persian epic. Set in the fictional kingdom of Pars, which references Persia’s native name, the anime details the heroic tale of Arslan, the Crown Prince of Pars.

historical anime - conflict
Image adapted from: LIDENFILMS

In the year 320, the long-running tension between Pars and Lusitania culminated in the Battle of Atropatene, in which Lusitania conquered Pars. The innocent Prince Arslan, then 14 years old, was saved by his loyal friend Daryun. The duo then had to flee to other territories.

historical anime - retaliation
Image adapted from: LIDENFILMS

From then on, they started gathering allies in order to retaliate against Lusitania. Through this journey, Arslan grows from a timid and hesitant boy into a determined man who’s fit to wear the crown.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend Launch Trailer
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Arslan: The Warriors of Legend Launch Trailer

Video credit: KOEI TECMO AMERICA

Length: 2 seasons, 25 (S1), 8 (S2), 6 OVAs
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, Funimation


4. Mushishi (2005 – Present)


historical anime - mushishi
Image credit:
Funimation

Set in a hazy period of time between the Meiji and Edo period, the world of Mushishi is inhabited by unknown beings called Mushi. These creatures occasionally get into conflicts with humans, and it is up to the experienced Ginko to resolve said conflicts and bring peace to mankind.

historical anime - ginko
Image adapted from: Studio Artland

In the process, he teaches the other characters the importance of connecting with our inner selves and finding harmony within ourselves. These are lessons us viewers should learn, too.

historical anime - artistic vibeImage adapted from: Studio Artland

A good historical anime doesn’t necessarily have to be about war and politics – Mushishi proves this point by charming its audience with a tranquil atmosphere and slow pacing.

Length: 2 seasons, 26 (S1), 20 (S2), 2 special episodes, 1 short film
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, Funimation, Hulu


5. Hakuouki (2010 – 2012)


historical anime - hakuouki
Image credit:
IMDb

Based on the popular otome game series of the same name, Hakuouki is set during a time of unrest between the end of the Edo Period and the beginning of the Meiji period.

historical anime - yukimura
Image adapted from: Studio Deen

The story begins with Chizumi Yukimura landing herself in a near-death experience when she comes across zombie-like creature while searching for her father. 

historical anime - shinsengumi
Image adapted from: Studio Deen

Fortunately, the members of the Shinsengumi – a special police organisation created by the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Bakumatsu period – slays the monster and saves her life.

historical anime - warring factionsImage adapted from: Studio Deen

After talking to her rescuers, Chizumi realises that the Shinsengumi has also been looking for her father, a mysterious doctor who seems to be tangled in conspiracies and secrets. Chizumi stays with the Shinsengumi and finds herself getting increasingly involved in the Shinsengumi’s dealings with other warring factions thereafter.

historical anime - hijikataImage adapted from: Studio Deen

There’s significantly less focus on the romantic aspect in the anime as compared to the game, but you’ll still get a couple of cute moments – particularly between Chizumi and Hijikata.

Length: 3 seasons, 12 (S1), 10 (S2), 12 (S3), 1 OVA series
Available on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video


6. Gosick (2011)


historical anime - gosick
Image credit:
IMDb

With plenty of mystery solving and a side of romance, Gosick is a hidden gem amongst the anime community. Set in a fictional country named Saubure in 1924, the story revolves around Victorique, a gothic young girl with a wealth of intellect, and Kujo, a Japanese foreign student who has arrived at a school in Saubure to study.

historical anime - mysteries
Image adapted from: Studio Bones

Kujo finds Victorique locked away in a mysterious compartment in the school one day, and he soon finds himself embroiled in a series of mystery-solving with the young girl. The mysteries are fairly episodic, with each story taking around 2 episodes to be resolved.

historical anime - victorique
Image adapted from: Studio Bones

However, a bigger plotline is brewing in the background, and it will reveal why Victorique was concealed from mankind in the first place.

Length: 1 season, 24 episodes
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, Funimation


7. Mononoke (2007)


historical anime - mononoke
Image credit:
IMDb

With illustrations resembling traditional Japanese paintings, Mononoke has an art style that sets itself apart from all the other anime on this list.

historical anime - supernatural beings
Image adapted from: Toei Animation

It is a show about exorcising supernatural beings called “mononoke”. These beings morph into fearsome and lethal creatures upon the influence of human emotions.

historical anime - medicine seller
Image adapted from: Toei Animation

The unnamed protagonist is a medicine seller who has the power to end these supernatural beings. However, it is not done through hardcore combat or intense swordplay – instead, the medicine seller has to understand the stories behind the supernatural creatures’ transformations. Using that knowledge, he attempts to bring resolution to their emotional instability.

Length: 1 season, 12 episodes
Available on: Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video


8. 91 Days (2016)


historical anime - 91 days
Image credit:
Amazon Prime Video

91 Days is a thrilling anime about the mafia and revenge. Due to a dispute, Angelo’s family was murdered by the Vanetti family, leaving Angelo orphaned. Over the next seven years, he learns to steal and to live off of his street smarts.

Now, in the year 1928, Angelo returns to his home town with a new name, Avilio Bruno. He has only one purpose in mind – to seek revenge against the Vanetti family. But time is limited as he only has 91 days to execute it. 

Length: 1 season, 13 episodes
Available on: Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video


9. Dororo (2019)


historical anime - dororo
Image credit:
IMDb

One stormy afternoon during the Muromachi Period in the 1470s, a boy was born without eyes, skin, or limbs. This was the result of a gruesome pact that his father – a lord – made with the demons. In exchange for the nation’s prosperity, the infant’s body was sacrificed.

historical anime - sacrificial baby
Image adapted from: MAPPA and Tezuka Productions

The boy was abandoned, but luckily, a kind doctor named Jukai found him and named him “Hyakkimaru”. He also gave Hyakkimaru prosthetic limbs and taught him how to wield a sword.

historical anime - hyakkimaru
Image adapted from: MAPPA and Tezuka Productions

One day, Hyakkimaru finds out that by defeating the 12 demons that took his body parts, he could regain his limbs. He thus sets off on a journey to do so. Along the way, he rescues a mischievous thief called Dororo, and the two eventually become the best of friends.

historical anime - dark setting
Image adapted from: MAPPA and Tezuka Productions

The story is pretty dark, and it doesn’t shy away from portraying unsettling scenes. Nevertheless, you can find specks of warmth in the interactions between Hyakkimaru and Dororo.

Length: 1 season, 24 episodes
Available on: Amazon Prime Video


10. Baccano! (2007)


historical anime - baccano
Image credit:
IMDb

In 1930, an immortal elixir was created in Manhattan. It’s then swiftly misplaced and consumed by a motley crue ranging from mafia members to a group of alchemists.

historical anime - mafia
Image credit:
IMDb

As you follow these different groups of people and their individual stories, you’ll slowly get to gel the various plotlines into a coherent narrative, as if you’re an omniscient detective solving a case.

Length: 1 season, 16 episodes, 3 special episodes
Available on: Crunchyroll


11. Samurai Champloo (2005)


historical anime - samurai champloo
Image credit: IMDb

Samurai Champloo has a unique style reminiscent of the classic Cowboy Bebop. That’s because the two shows came from the same director, Shinichirō Watanabe.

historical anime - mugen, jin, & fuu
Image credit:
IMDb

Set in the Edo period, the show revolves around a young lady named Fuu, who engages two samurai to help her search for a samurai who “smells like sunflowers”. The two samurai, Mugen and Jin, help Fuu along the way as they encounter various perilous situations. Their friendship also deepens in the process.

historical anime - main trio
Image adapted from:
IMDb

Samurai Champloo has many charms. In particular, the characterisation of its main trio is realistic and memorable. The show eschews the usual anime archetypes in favour of creating believable characters that the audience will resonate with.

Moreover, the action scenes remain impressive even though it was released in 2005. The animation is realistic and fluid, without over-the-top shouting or visual effects.

historical anime - mugen drunk
Image adapted from:
IMDb

Most importantly, the show has great humour.

Length: 1 season, 26 episodes
Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation


Historical anime to watch


Step back from modernity and delve into the brutality of war, good-looking samurais, and a rural simplicity with these historical anime series.

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Cover image adapted from: IMDb, IMDb and IMDb

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