Historical Anime Subgenre
Perhaps the most straightforward subgenre, historical anime simply refers to series that animate periods from the past, with varying degrees of accuracy or focus on history. Like historical films, historical anime depicts old fables, famous people or adapts believed-to-be-true stories to our favorite medium. As adaptions can sometimes be very loose, this subgenre extends to stories that take place within real time periods (such as Edo Japan) but which may contain fictionalized events or characters. The point that decides if the anime is historical is its dedication to being realistic given the setting.
This shouldn’t be confused with anime that takes place in a general past setting or imagined place with elements of older systems (like much of the Fantasy genre).
Setting. The most important aspect of historical anime is where it’s all happening. While characters and events can be adapted to any time, place is what grounds stories in time. Historical anime will, mostly, make its time period very clear and restrain what is possible within the bounds of what was possible back there and then.
Predetermined ending. Obviously, since the past has already occurred, we generally know what happened. We know that Oda Nobunaga suffered a defeat from a coup d’etat and even the loosest anime adaption tends to stick with that. Historical anime is generally faithful to the story it is based on.
Bigger than life. Because slice of life anime already have the mundane niche in their grasp (or, more realistically, because history can get awfully boring), historical anime tend to dramatize events, making its characters and drama bigger than ever. While elements of fact or truth remain under the surface, historical anime focuses and tweaks interesting aspects to tell a more entertaining story.
Fantasy. Fantasy already adores medieval Europe, Edo Japan and the Victorian England eras, so it’s no surprise to see Fantasy elements slip into historical anime. Especially when it comes to making a potentially boring history lesson into something fun.
Drama. The historical events we remember often come with conflict, with large-scale wars, betrayal and relationship drama at the top of the list. Drama gives historical anime flavor and it’s not uncommon to see the two together.
Shounen. The shounen demographic loves samurais and cool fights, and historical anime has this in spades.
Here's our top 10 'Best Historical Anime Recommendations'
1. Grave of the Fireflies – Seita and his four-year-old sister are caught in the middle of a World War II bombing. As they struggle to survive, they reach out to their remaining family and strangers, but find they can only truly count on each other. A heart-breaking depiction of the horrors of WWII Japan.
2. Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal – Kenshin is a ronin, a samurai without a master who roams the land, answering his own call. But he’s plagued by his past and the changing world around him. A fictional story that nonetheless carries the core values of samurai in the period where Edo Japan was slowly moving into the Meiji Restoration period.
3. Rainbow – It’s the 1950s and seven inmates are locked up in a youth detention center to serve their time and reform. As they get to know each other and their quirks, they form a bond and vow to survive through this hell. A depressing but deeply interesting look into Japan’s prison system.
4. Baccano! – The 1930s in America is mostly when it’s at, with train heists, mafia wars and secret science happening. And behind all the seemingly random events, something deeper lurks. A fun time-jumpy series with a strong sense of setting.
5. The Wind Rises – The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi, engineer of many Japanese WWII fighter planes, who – after finding out he is unable to become a pilot – focuses his skills on being one of the world’s most accomplished plane designers. A fictionalized biopic that looks at the lesser-seen side of WWII warfare.
6. Rose of Versailles – After being born as a girl yet raised as a man, Oscar becomes Commander of the Royal Guard in the years before the French Revolution. Yet as the years pass and the gap between rich and poor widens, Oscar is torn between her duty and her compassion. A long, dramatic look into historical events outside of Japan.
7. Hetalia Axis Powers – In a world where each nation is made a caricature in the form of a handsome man, the politics and power plays of 1918–1939 Europe play out with a slight comical twist. A comedy series that takes historical events and countries lightly (and slightly exaggeratedly).
8. Thermae Romae – In ancient Rome, nobody designs public bath houses better than Lucius. That’s because he has a secret: through close calls with water, he can time travel to various modern baths in Japan and take his knowledge of them home. A comedy/fantasy series that is also a fair live action movie.
9. A Victorian Romance – It’s 1895 London and class separation is very strict. When young maid Emma sets her eyes on William, born to a rich family on its way up in society, she falls in love. An honest fictional story about class and romance in Victorian Britain.