When it comes to the Land of the Rising Sun, there are few figures more recognizable and magnificent than the samurai. These ancient warriors battled across Japan for honor and for their lords, and still to this day are extremely relevant historical figures. Popular culture has integrated the samurai into nearly every facet of media, and this list aims to shed some light on the greatest fictional members of this respected order. Ready your armor, weapons, and noble steeds for war as we ride into this epic list!
#5: Afro (Afro Samurai, 1999-2000)
When it comes to revenge, very few quests can rival that of Afro, a samurai whose father was beheaded in front of him as a child. All his life, Afro trained to become strong enough to kill the man who murdered his dad, and as an adult he travels far and wide, killing all those who stand in his path of vengeance. Afro is an excellent character who was featured in a 10-chapter manga series, an anime adaptation, and a killer video game. While his name may not be the most creative, Afro sure knows how to deal death, skewering, slicing, and stabbing his way to his final opponent. He's also voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, the baddest of the bad-asses, which can only increase his awesome status. Afro will stop at nothing for revenge, including dueling his former master and friends, and for that determination he earns a spot on this list! Who could possibly be more hardcore than a samurai with giant hair?!
#4: Heishiro Mitsurugi (Soul Series, 1996-2014)
The next samurai on this list is also my favorite character from any fighting game, Heishiro Mitsurugi! First appearing on the scene in Soul Edge (1996), Mitsurugi was the son of a Japanese farmer who was sick and tired of seeing his people being decimated by war and famine, so he did what any man would do. He became a master swordsman and roamed the earth looking for worthy challengers, because nothing says, "I'm trying to save the world" like going around dueling people with guns. Did I mention this guy is so good at fighting he can take on an army of riflemen using nothing but his katana?! This is one bad dude who doesn't fear death and has no problem hacking and slashing his way though dozens of opponents with ease! The next time you play one of the Soul games, you'd better watch out for this masterful warrior! Never bring a gun to a sword fight, friends.
#3: Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin, 1994-1999)
In a fictionalized version of the Meiji period, there lived a samurai named Himura Kenshin, also known as "Battosai the Manslayer". Once, Kenshin was a legendary assassin, but since that time he has cast aside his deadly tendencies to offer his protection to people in need, all in the name of atonement.
Kenshin, having eschewed violence, now wields a katana with a reversed edge so that he may practice pacifism while fighting his opponents. This wandering swordsman has been featured in a manga series, an anime adaptation, and three live-action movies, all of which were very well received by critics and were box-office hits in Japan. Kenshin resonates with audiences through his need for redemption and his epic fighting techniques, and is incredibly deadly despite his lack of a proper edge. Himura Kenshin truly is one of the most epic swordsmen of all media. However, there are still two samurai who surpass him!
#2: Ogami Itto (Lone Wolf and Cub Series, 1970-1974)
As the Shogun's personal executioner, Ogami Itto killed dozens of feudal Japanese lords until his very own master attempted to have him killed, instead accidentally murdering Itto's wife. From that moment on, Ogami Itto and his young son Daigoro became demons of vengeance, obsessed with killing the evil Shogun Yagyu and his clan. Over the course of 28 manga volumes, six movies, and three television seasons, Ogami and Daigoro killed hundreds of assassins and ninja in spectacularly bloody fashion. In fact, Ogami Itto holds the current record for the most on-screen kills by a single character in a movie, dismembering and destroying 150 enemies in Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven In Hell (1974)! Talk about a hardcore dynamic duo of death! Using swords as well as a weaponized baby cart with booby traps and hidden armaments, this former executioner and his deadly little boy splatter their way into the runner-up position of this list!
#1: Zatoichi (Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, 1962-2003)
Of all the fictional samurai on this list, there is only one who has had to overcome a hugely challenging disability. Zatoichi was born completely blind, and trained his other senses to such a level that he can fight even the most brilliant warriors. Over the course of several television series and nearly thirty movies, Zatoichi has proven that one does not need to see in order to achieve greatness. The truly great thing about Zatoichi is his status as a man who is merely trying to do the right thing. He defends the innocent and the weak, and also fights for justice against everyone from ronin to government officials. Zatoichi is a symbol of inner strength, virtue, and goodness, and for those reasons (as well as his amazing fighting ability) Zatoichi reigns supreme over all other fictional samurai!
Thanks for reading, and I implore you to check out these characters in their respective series! Please feel free to leave suggestions for the next entry in the comments below, and have a KILLER day!