Anime is the ultimate form of escapism, allowing us to discover and enjoy new worlds. That doesn’t always need to be a faraway land, however. The best historical anime allow us to discover various places and cultures in a whole new way.
Whether you’re a fan of action anime, coming-of-age adventures or pure romance, this list has something for every anime fan to enjoy!
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 have not been included.
Requiem of the Rose King
Requiem of the Rose King is a shoujo anime that takes place in an alternate version of British history. This series is a retelling of the War of the Roses, a civil war in England during the 15th century.
Requiem follows Richard III, the son of the Duke of York and the potential future King of England on one side of the battle between York and Lancaster.
Born intersex, he is reviled by his mother and considered a demon, while also being haunted by images of Joan of Arc, who says they’ll bring misfortune to everyone.
The story follows his battles with himself and his destiny, against the backdrop of a bloody fight for the throne.
Discover More: Anime Based on Classic LiteratureAdvertisement
Unlike many of the series on this list, Arte is a slower-paced slice-of-life drama, perfect for some light and fun viewing.
This seinen anime takes place 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’s expected to marry into another family, but she instead seeks to continue her passion for art.
Moriarty the Patriot
Moriarty the Patriot takes place in 19th century Great Britain, at a time when the British Empire is a global power.
Based on the Sherlock Holmes stories, 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 wreak havoc until Sherlock himself piques his interest.
Drifters is not a historically-accurate anime due to its fantasy setting. However, if you’re a fan of war anime, this is something to enjoy as it features a ton of real, historical characters.
The story starts in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600s Japan. Shimazu Toyohisa, mortally wounded, suddenly finds himself transported into a fantasy world besieged by war.
He also discovers that he’s not the only person to have been transported, encountering various legendary warriors from history that are collectively referred to as Drifters.
Drifters is like 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 fight a fantasy enemy!
Discover More: The Best Isekai Anime With an OP Main CharacterAdvertisement
This suspense anime takes place in the aptly-named Lawless, Illinois, during the 1930s American Prohibition, with Mafia controlling the black market for liquor.
The story starts with the main character’s family being killed by the mafia, causing him to leave the city and start a new life under the name Avilio Bruno.
However, Avilio still harbours dreams of exacting revenge for his family.
A mysterious letter convinces Avilio to return to the 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 bloodstained crime drama that was well-received by fans of the genre.
The story of Kingdom takes place in China during the Warring States period, where many different rulers fought wars for control over the country.
The show primarily revolves around Xin, a war orphan from the Qin kingdom who dreams of being a great general and eventually becomes involved in the kingdom’s wars to try to unite China.
Kingdom is a hugely popular anime based on a manga of the same name. There have been four seasons, the latest of which aired in 2022.
Emma: A Victorian Romance
If you’re looking for a classical English romance, look no further!
Emma takes place in 19th-century Victorian England and follows the titular character, a housemaid who falls for a wealthy family’s son.
The two fall in love, but their relationship is opposed by society due to the mixing of lower and upper classes.
While this kind of story is fairly common in western culture, the Emma anime and manga have developed a cult following in Japan due to the meticulous retelling of life in Victorian England.
This anime is a true must-watch for any anglophile!Advertisement
This action-adventure series takes place 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 to a legendary Ainu stash of gold and sets off on a journey to find the rest alongside an Ainu girl who wants revenge for her father, a miner.
Golden Kamuy has been particularly praised for its realistic depiction of life at the time and its focus on the Ainu people.
The Ainu are indigenous people primarily located in Hokkaido, the large island in the north of Japan. Kamuy, meanwhile, is a spiritual being in Ainu beliefs.
Mushi-Shi is not a true historical anime as its setting is derived from a few different periods. However, it’s still an amazing series to escape into and features many references to historical Japanese culture.
The story takes place in a version of 19th-century Japan, where a primitive lifeform known as Mushi exist beyond the realms of human understanding.
Ginko, one of few people that can see the Mushi, travels from place to place researching them and helping 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 overarching story or plot.
For many fans, it’s one of the best anime ever made, and it’s well worth watching!
There are many great anime series derived from Japanese mythology and folklore in one way or another. However, few have the style and mystery of Mononoke.
The story, spun-off from another series (the horror anthology Ayakashi) takes place just after the Edo period in Japan and follows a nameless medicine seller as he takes down ayakashi, evil spirits that wreak havoc on people's lives.
You could say this is a horrifying and thrilling version of Mushi-Shi!Advertisement
One of the most popular anime series of the 1990s, Rurouni Kenshin is great for those that want to experience a slice of classic Japanese culture.
The story takes place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The story follows Hitokiri Battousai, a much-feared assassin during the Boshin War who, after the conflict, seemingly vanishes.
Changing his name to Kenshin Himura, he decides to live a life away from conflict and protect the weak in repent for his sins on the battlefield.
Despite his pledge to never kill again, when people discover his past, the world tries to drag him back into the bloodstained life he once lived.
Rurouni Kenshin is a hugely popular series, spawning multiple live-action films. A Rurouni Kenshin anime reboot is currently in development!
This action-mystery anime primarily takes place in 1930s Chicago, during the Prohibition Era in the United States.
The story follows mafia members who get pulled into a conspiracy involving an immortality elixir, along with a long-distance train journey filled with wrongdoers.
Baccano is based on the light novels by Ryohgo Narita, who also came up with the popular supernatural series Durarara!!
Similar to that hit anime series, Baccano is a show full of eccentric characters and plots that continue to grow bigger and bigger, with a splash of fantasy added to the historical setting for good measure.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
The setting for this anime isn’t purely historic - it moves between modern and classical Japan. However, given its subject matter, the show captures a strong historical feel.
This anime centres around the art of rakugo, a classic form of Japanese theatre performance dating back to the 17th century.
The story follows Yotarou, an ex-yakuza who was inspired by a rakugo performance by Yakumo while in prison and now seeks to learn under his tutelage. While working together, Yotarou learns about Yakumo's time as a young apprentice.
This josei anime has a wonderful feel and flow, depicting passion for an age-old craft and the relationships it creates between the main characters.
Vinland Saga is possibly one of the most accurate historical anime available, with the series playing out alongside real events and characters.
This story takes place in 11th-century England, when Danish King Sweyn had almost entirely conquered the region.
Vinland Saga follows Thorfinn, a mercenary fighting in the conflict under Askeladd, the man who killed his father, in the hope that one day he can get revenge.
This action-adventure eventually spirals into a competition for the throne of England involving King Sweyn’s two sons, with Askeladd fighting to support Prince Canute.
Vinland Saga was considered one of the best anime in 2019 when season one was released. Vinland Saga season 2 aired this year.
Learn More: How Historically Accurate is Vinland Saga?
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 takes place at the end of World War II in 1945 when American bombers were routinely dropping incendiary bombs onto Japanese towns and cities.
The story follows two children whose parents and home are burned to ruins in the bombing. This heartbreaking anime is a painful but accurate tale of the cost for ordinary people during any conflict.
The movie is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the time and does a great job of capturing the national mood, as Japan slowly succumbs to defeat.
The Heike Story
The Heike Story is an adaptation of a Japanese war epic that dates back to the 13th century. However, told from the perspective of a biwa performer named after her instrument, the story gains an incredible sensitivity.
The story takes place during the Genpei War, a civil war that rocked Japan during the 12th century. Biwa's father is killed by the Taira clan, but when she prophecises their destruction with her future-seeing eye, she is taken in by the clan's heir who possesses a similar ability to see the ghosts of the dead.
A dramatic period story of family, love and loss in the face of war, The Heike Story is seen as one of the great anime based on Japanese history.
The Wind Rises
Another Studio Ghibli film, The Wind Rises plays out 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 retelling of the life of Jiro Horikoshi. With dashed dreams of being a pilot, he turns his attention to designing planes.
His life plays out against the background of the national war effort and other historical events, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
The Wind Rises was nominated for an Academy Award when it was released in 2013.
The film has been widely praised for how it depicts the nuances of Japan at the time, celebrating human achievement while also questioning the price of war.
Discover: Where to Watch and Stream the Ghibli Films Free Online
Want the latest on all things anime? Make sure you follow us on Twitter!
Read Next: The Best Adventure Anime to Watch