The 15 Best Samurai Manga That Cuts Deep

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One of the best ways to learn about feudal Japan and periods such as Edo and Meiji is through the eyes of a samurai. What comes to mind when you hear the word samurai? For most, it’s probably a swordsman wearing a kimono with their hair combed neatly into a tight ponytail. 

Until today, many Japanese authors are still creating stories about these brave warriors. If you’re interested in learning more about these swordsmen and their disciplined lifestyles, you could start your journey by reading a samurai manga! This list elaborates on the best 15 best samurai manga of all time. You’ll find ones full of drama, history, and even romance; take your pick!

15. My New Wife Is Forcing Herself To Smile (Kengo Matsumoto, 2020 – Present) 

My New Wife Is Forcing Herself To Smile manga

Let’s kickstart our list with a lighthearted rom-com manga called My Wife Is Forcing Herself To Smile. I picked this title because of its wholesome plot without much drama. It’s perfect for days when you feel like reading some fluff about the life of a samurai and his wife. The manga’s title gives away the central problem in the story- the samurai’s wife is forcing herself to smile. 

The samurai Soujirou has an arranged marriage with a beautiful woman named Chiyo. Despite their relationship arrangement, the young couple are quite fond and attracted to each other; however, the wife, Chiyo, has trouble showing her emotions and resorts to forcing a smile on her face. This troubles Soujirou and gives him the impression that his wife doesn’t like him, which is a big lie. 

I find Matsumoto’s art style clean and easy to follow. It surrounds the reader with a warm feeling, and you’ll find yourself smiling to yourself as you read the cute interactions between the protagonists. 

Check out volume 1 of this manga series here on Amazon: My New Wife Is Forcing Herself To Smile Vol 1

14. Kaze Hikaru (Taeko Watanabe, 1997 – 2020) 

Kaze Hikaru manga

Nowadays, it’s hard to find gender-bender manga with a substantial plot. Thankfully, we have Taeko Watanabe’s Kaze Hikaru, a historical manga about a young girl disguising herself as a boy during the bakumatsu period (final years of the Edo Period). Well-rounded and likable characters plus a rich history plot – Kaze Hikaru will keep you coming back for more.

Our heroine, Sei Tominaga, poses as a young boy named Seizaburō Kamiya and joins the Shinsengumi, a Special Police Unit of samurais. Sei puts her life in danger for one sole purpose: to seek revenge for her father and brother’s murder. Everything’s going smoothly for Sei until her cover is blown by one of the Shinsengumi officers, Sōji Okita. Will Sōji reveal Sei’s true identity, or will he help her keep her secret a secret? I won’t tell; you’ll have to read Kaze Hikaru to find out. 

Find volume 1 of this manga on Amazon here: Kaze Hikaru Vol 1

You can find other volumes of this series here: Kaze Hikaru manga series

13. Afro Samurai (Takashi Okazaki, 1998 – 2002)

Afro Samurai manga

Afro Samurai by Takashi Okazaki is the perfect binge for days you’re craving short, action-packed, samurai-themed manga to read. The entire series only has two volumes, making it easy to pick up and finish in one sitting.  Afro Samurai took a spot on our list for its fast-paced story centering on a samurai consumed by revenge. 

The story follows Afro, a lone samurai, as he seeks revenge for his father’s death and the title of the best warrior in the land, or as they call it, the Number 1. Only the bearer of the Number 2 title can challenge Number 1 to fight to the death. Afro claims the Number 2 title and fights for the ultimate title. Expect a lot of fight scenes, bloodshed, and gruesome acts while reading Afro Samurai

Volume 1 of Afro Samurai can be found on Amazon (available from July 16th, 2022): Afro Samurai Vol.1

12. Azumi (Yū Koyama, 1994 – 2008) 

Azumi manga

Azumi is set in the 1600s, a few years after the Battle of Sekigahara. If you’re looking for a manga with a strong female lead and a lot of Japanese history, look no further. The compelling plot, well-written characters, and gritty art style of Azumi earned it a spot on our list. 

When the country is in turmoil, a young girl named Azumi is chosen to carry out a dangerous assassination mission. Her targets? The most powerful lords in Japan. Azumi sets out on a ruthless journey that will test her strength, determination, and resolve. Will she slay her targets, or will she become the target? 

Azumi has everything- a strong female lead, politics, violence, and a page-turning plot. It’s hard to say no to that, right? 

If you can read Japanese, you can find volume 1 of the Japanese Edition on Amazon here: Azumi 1 [Japanese Edition]

11. Drifters (Kouta Hirano, 2009 – Present) 

Drifters manga

If you know a lot about war generals from different countries, Drifters by Kouta Hirano is right up your alley. Imagine this: heroes, warriors, war generals, dictators (like Oda Nobunaga, Hannibal, and Adolf Hitler) are transported to another realm and commissioned to fight a losing war. I chose this title for its unique plot, well-rounded characters, and dark art style. 

Moments before his death, samurai Toyohisa Shimazu living during the Edo Period, is given another chance in life. What’s the catch? He’ll need to fight as a “Drifter” alongside infamous and famous generals hailing from different countries. Shimazu faces enemies he’s never seen before with his newly formed team. A lot of the plot of Drifters relies on analyzing fights and working together as a team. If you’re looking for something unique, this is it!

You can get volume 1 of this series here on Amazon: Drifters Volume 1

You can find other volumes of this series here: Drifters manga series

10. Takemitsuzamurai (Written by Issei Eifuku, Illustrated by Taiyō Matsumoto, 2006 – 2010)

I remember the first time I picked up Issei Eifuku’s Takemitsuzamurai.  After a few pages, I couldn’t help but get drawn to the unique art style that features weirdly shaped faces, abstract-like images, and panels with few dialogues. Reading this historical manga was more like looking at a set of paintings about the samurai Sōichirō Senō. 

The story centers on ronin Sōichirō trying to adjust to his new life in Edo. He’s working hard to throw away his violent past and even replaces his sword with a bamboo one. However, just as Sōichirō is getting used to his new lifestyle, his past haunts him in the form of a deadly assassin. Will the newly converted samurai be able to thwart his inner bloodlust, or will fighting once again bring out his true nature? 

Takemitsuzamurai only has 8 volumes and is not a difficult read. Panels are not dialogue-heavy and rely on background images and character expressions to express emotions. 

For those who can read Japanese, you can purchase the Japanese edition of Takemitsuzamurai on Amazon here: Takemitsu Zamurai Vol 1

9. Samurai Harem: Asu No Yoichi (Yū Minamoto, 2006 – 2011)

9. Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi! manga

Imagine spending most of your youth training as a samurai in the mountains. While the world enjoys the convenience of technology, you’re still out chopping wood for a fire. Despite being a harem manga, Asu no Yoichi has believable characters, an interesting plot, and an enjoyable art style that is light on the eyes.

The story follows the adventures of Yoichi Karasuma, an honorable young boy stuck in medieval Japan. After spending 17 years of his life in the mountains, his father sends him to Tokyo to continue his training under the guidance of the Ikaruga Dojo. Yoichi has a strong sense of justice but lacks common sense. He doesn’t know how to use modern-day equipment and interact with the opposite sex.

His new form of “training” begins when he steps foot into the Ikaruga Dojo, where four lively young girls reside. Thus, begins Yoichi’s harem with the Ikaruga sisters…

Get volume 1 of this manga on Amazon here: Samurai Harem: Asu No Yoichi 1

Check out the other volumes in this series here: Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi manga series

8. Ōoku (Fumi Yoshinaga, 2004 – 2020) 

 Ōoku manga

Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ōoku is a one-of-a-kind reverse history shoujo manga that will get your brain gears going. I decided to include it in this list because of its unique plot that challenges the misogynistic views of feudal Japan, mainly during the last years of the Edo Period.  

An unexplainable plaque rampages an alternate version of Edo Japan. Surprisingly, women are immune to the disease and survive, while four out of five men suffer a painful death. Eighty years after the plague, Japan’s social structure has significantly changed to make up for the lack of men. Now, the Shogun is a woman; war generals are women, and so on. 

Ōoku tells the story of the most handsome men alive who live as the Shogun’s consorts. What used to be a woman’s job is now a man’s. 

Check out volume 1 here on Amazon: Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1

Find other volumes on this series here: Ōoku manga series

7. Shigurui (Takayuki Yamaguchi, 2003 – 2010) 

Shigurui manga

Ah, Shigurui. Where do I start?  

Author Yamaguchi perfectly captured the brutality of what it means to be a samurai. If you’re looking for a manga that paints Edo Japan grotesquely and shows ruthless fights between samurais without a filter, then Shigurui is for you.  

The manga’s deep plot, well-rounded characters, and impressive art style immediately captured my attention, as it will do the same for you. 

The story takes place in the 1600s, during the cruel daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) Tadanaga Tokugawa’s reign. This daimyo issued a martial arts competition in the region and commissioned warriors to fight with steel swords rather than wooden ones. Gennosuke Fujiki, a one-armed swordsman, and Seigen Irako, a blind swordsman, take the first battle in the tournament. 

These two individuals have a deep hatred towards each other, and fighting to the death might even be their dying wish. Who will win the fight? Place your bets by picking up Shigurui to find out who wins.  

If you can read Japanese, you can purchase the Japanese Edition of Shigurui here on Amazon: Shigurui 1 – Japanese Edition

There is also a Japanese Edition set with volumes 1-15 here: Shigurui Comic set Vol.1 to 15 (Japanese Edition)

6. House of Five Leaves (Natsume Ono, 2004 – 2010) 

House of Five Leaves manga

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono is another manga series set during the Edo Period. The story has an underlying message of forgiveness and a mystery waiting to be revealed. What caught my attention the most about this series is the unconventional art style of the artist. Ono uses jarring illustrations to bring out the characters’ emotions; it’s awesome. 

The story follows the journey of Masanosuke Akitsu, a timid ronin who accepts a job from a shady gang leader named Yaichi. Akitsu ends up working as the gang leader’s bodyguard and is ordered to track down and kill Yaichi’s former employee. Samurai Akitsu begins to doubt the intentions of this new gang he’s become a part of and starts to regret his actions; however, as time goes by, he starts to feel like he’s found something in them- a family. 

Ono’s storytelling shines in the House of Five Leaves. It leaves behind an uplifting message to its readers. Check it out, and you’ll see what I mean.

Check out volume 1 of House of Five Leaves on Amazon: House of Five Leaves, Vol. 1

Find other volumes on this series here: House of Five Leaves manga series

5. Blade of the Immortal (Hiroaki Samura, 1993 – 2012) 

Blade of the Immortal manga

What happens to a samurai who becomes immortal? Does he use his immortality for good or bad? Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal is a manga series that answers these questions and more.  

This manga is set in the mid-Tokugawa Shogunate era and tells the story of Manji, an immortal samurai, and his quest for salvation. I added this title to the list for its compelling narrative and impressive artwork. 

A nun named Yaobikuni “curses” Manji with eternal life. Manji vows to kill 1,000 evil men to make up for his past crimes. If he does so, his curse of being immortal will be taken away. And so begins Manji’s bloody journey. Be warned; this is a dark series with a lot of violence. 

Get volume 1 of this manga on Amazon here: Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 1: Blood of a Thousand

A deluxe, hardcover version containing volumes 1-3 is also available here: Blade of the Immortal Deluxe Volume 1

You can find other volumes of this manga here: Blade of the Immortal manga series

4. Lone Wolf & Cub (Kazuo Koike, 1970 – 1976)

Lone Wolf & Cub manga

Kazuko Koike’s Lone Wolf & Cub is a classic samurai story that has stood the test of time. Its protagonist, Ittō Ogami, is a multi-layered character with a thirst for revenge. The series has a well-woven plot with no loopholes, complex yet relatable characters, and a unique art style that beautifully captures bloody fight scenes. If you love samurai stories with a dark and mature tone, Lone Wolf & Cub is a must-read. 

The series follows Ittō Ogami as he relentlessly seeks revenge on the people who killed his family. Ogami used to work as the Shogunate’s chief executioner, but he was framed, and his title was tainted. He returns home and finds his entire family killed except his young son, Daigorō. Together, Ogami and Daigorō wander the country and take on any job as long as it brings them closer to their goal of vengeance. 

Lone Wolf & Cub has been adapted into six films, four plays, and a television series; it’s just that good. 

Find volume 1 of this amazing manga here on Amazon: Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: Assassin’s Road

You can see other volumes in this series here: Lone Wolf & Cub manga series

3. Gintama (Hideaki Sorachi, 2003 – 2019) 

Gintama manga

For our top 3, I took a break from gore-infused stories and included Gintama, a comedic samurai manga series written and illustrated by Hideaki Sorachi. It combines science fiction and historical fiction elements to create a unique and hilarious world. If you’re looking for a good laugh with an enjoyable story, give Gintama a try. 

Edo, Japan, is invaded by aliens called Amanto. These creatures are not affected by samurai swords and quickly overwhelm the samurai. In the face of this new threat, the samurai are forced to give up their swords and become businessmen. Protagonist Gintoki Sakata is one of these samurai who’s now struggling to survive by doing odd jobs. 

The humor in Gintama has got to be its best selling point. It’s clever with perfectly timed punchlines that will leave you “in stitches.” See what I did there?

Check out volume 1 of this manga on Amazon: Gin Tama, Volume 1

Find other volumes of this series here: Gintama manga series

2. Vagabond (Takehiko Inoue, 1998 – 2015: On Hiatus)

Vagabond manga

If there’s one thing that makes Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond stand out amongst its competitors, it is his art style. Everything in Vagabond looks and feels realistic; the characters, scenery, and fight scenes. Each panel is beautifully drawn, and each character is unique; you won’t have a hard time telling people apart. The time and effort Takehiko placed on his craft gave birth to this masterpiece of a series. 

Vagabond is about Musashi Miyamoto, one of the most legendary samurai in history. The entire plot of the series focuses on his character development from an immature teenager to a renowned and enlightened warrior. Expect epic fight scenes and flying heads while reading this samurai series. If you’re still unsure if it’s worth it, this is your cue to pick up Vagabond and join the never-ending (and worthy) hype.

Get volume 1 of this series on Amazon here: Vagabond, Vol. 1 (VIZBIG Edition)

Find other volumes of this manga here: Vagabond manga series

1. Rurouni Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki, 1994 – 1999)

Rurouni Kenshin manga

Although Rurouni Kenshin can’t compete with Vagabond’s art style, it can compete with its story. It was difficult picking between Vagabond and Rurouni Kenshin, for both series are masterpieces in their own way, and I’m a big fan of both. 

I decided on Rurouni Kenshin for the sheer amount of adaptations it has gotten. From an anime series, live actions films, movies, stage shows, and much more- Rurouni Kenshin is a samurai classic everyone should read.  

The story is set in the early Meiji Era, when Japan was rapidly being modernized, and swords were being replaced with guns. The main character, Kenshin Himura, a legendary assassin known as Hitokiri Battōsai (manslayer), has given up his former life and lives as a wandering samurai. Rather than slaying people for a living, Kenshin now helps people in need.  Rurouni Kenshin is a story about redemption and Kenshin’s journey to find peace. All I have to say about this manga is this; Read it…you won’t be disappointed.  

Check out volume 1 of this must-read manga on Amazon: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, Vol. 1

A 3-in-1 edition that includes volumes 1-3 can be found here: Rurouni Kenshin (3-in-1 Edition), Vol. 1: Includes vols. 1, 2 & 3

Other volumes on this series can be found here: Rurouni Kenshin manga series

Conclusion

Did we mention your favorite samurai manga? Let us know down in the comments below! Nothing beats reading a manga with a good plot, captivating art style, and relatable characters. We hope you enjoyed our list. Stay tuned for more! 

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