Comics/Graphic Novels

Escape to the Past With These 5 Historical Manga

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I don’t know about you, but I love a good historical manga when I need an escape. Manga has no shortage of historical stories. There’s an entire sub-genre devoted to samurai period dramas, after all. Lady Snowblood? Blade of the Immortal? Vagabond? Chances are you’ve probably heard of at least one of these titles, even if it might not be in the context of historical manga. (All hail Meiko Kaji’s stunning portrayal of Yuki in the Lady Snowblood films.)

But let’s say you want to go beyond historical manga set in feudal Japan. It might not seem like it, but there are plenty of options!

The Heroic Legend of Arslan volume 1 cover by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu ArakawaThe Heroic Legend of Arslan by Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa

Manga loves blending historical settings with fantasy. Look at the current surging popularity of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, which follows demon hunters in early 20th century Japan. Originally a series of novels, The Heroic Legend of Arslan is loosely based upon the Persian tale of Amir Arsalan. The story follows a young crown prince on his quest to liberate his country after his father is betrayed. And while magic does exist in this world, it doesn’t play as obvious a role as in other historical fantasy manga.

Descending Stories volume 1 cover - Haruko KumotaDescending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju by Haruko Kumota

Some historical manga is epic in nature, full of journeys to save lives or take longstanding revenge. Others are quieter. Descending Stories introduces us to the world of rakugo, a kind of Japanese theater that revolves around a single storyteller. A multigenerational drama, the manga takes place throughout the 20th century, beginning in the 1930s.

A Bride's Story volume 1 cover by Kaoru MoriA Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori

Kaoru Mori loves her historical fiction, as evidenced by her previous series, Emma. A Bride’s Story takes us from Emma’s Britain setting to late 19th century Central Asia. The manga begins with Amir, who travels from a faraway village to meet her new, much younger husband. But while their developing relationship forms the spine of the series, A Bride’s Story introduces us to a multitude of other “brides” and the men they eventually marry. The true star of the manga, however, is the cultural detail. Mori lovingly captures falconry, woodcarving, embroidery, and bread baking in stunning, intricate detail. If you need a soothing series, this is the historical manga for you.

Golden Kamuy cover by Satoru NodaGolden Kamuy by Satoru Noda

While there have been manga that feature Ainu—Japan’s indigenous people—before, Golden Kamuy introduces a new generation of readers to the culture during a major transition period in its history: when Japan annexed their home island of Hokkaido and granted them Japanese citizenship, effectively wiping out their indigenous status. Set in early 20th century Japan, the manga follows a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war on his quest to find hidden treasure. This quest leads him to cross paths with Asirpa, a young Ainu girl.

Vinland Saga - Makoto Yukimura coverVinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura

Speaking of blood-soaked revenge, let’s go back in time to 11th century England. As you can probably guess by the title, Vinland Saga drops us into the era of the Vikings. Although it offers a fictionalized account of King Cnut’s rise to power, it also gives us a new take on the explorer, Thorfinn. Here, Thorfinn is the son of a legendary warrior but after his father is murdered, he swears vengeance on the mastermind responsible—by becoming one of his loyal followers. As you do. Don’t be fooled by the premise, though. While Thorfinn’s single-minded quest for revenge dominates his early life, things change as he grows older and gains more experience.

Sometimes I like calming slice of life stories with charming characters and sometimes I like action-packed adventures with unlikable yet compelling characters. Hopefully, if you’re like me, you found something intriguing to check out from this list. If not, here’s a list of 50 manga you must read. Or, perhaps, you might prefer these refreshing slice-of-life manga series instead.