Vagabond is a manga by Takehiko Inoue, pre-published in Weekly Morning magazine since 1998 and still being published in Japan. More than thirty volumes have been published by Kōdansha. The story is based on the novel Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa. For all of you who’ve enjoyed the series, in this article, we are going to give you a list of the 20 best manga like Vagabond you absolutely need to read.
Original Run: January 26, 2006 – present
Number of Volumes: 64
In China, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the story follows young Shin on his journey to fulfilling his dream of becoming a Great General under the heavens. In this ancestral China, Shin is originally from the State of Qin, which has been plagued by many upheavals both inside the kingdom and outside.
Indeed, the story takes place during the Warring States period, when China was divided between seven kingdoms: Qin, Zhao, Han, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi. Through Shin’s story, we also follow the story of Ei Sei, the man who would later be known as Qin Shi Huang, the unifier of China.
Original Run: 2001 – 2007
Number of Volumes: 26
The story takes place in an imaginary world, with detailed geography as it unfolds (at the beginning only a kingdom called Chronos is known), at a time similar to ancient Rome. The plot focuses on four characters, Ares and his three brothers in arms Baroona Michael and Gohu, who join the mercenaries of the Temple.
Original Run: June 6, 2001 – October 4, 2014
Number of Volumes: 27
Claymore takes place in a fictional world co-inhabited by the human species and by a species of demons known as Yōma, which are natural predators of human beings (in the manga they are also known as Specters). An innate ability of the Yōma is to take human form, which allows them to live hidden among humans.
The only beings capable of identifying these creatures and eliminating them are the female warriors known among humans as Claymores, who are beings created by a secret organization from humans. The name given to these warriors is due to the large sword they carry, known as a claymore. Although their appearance is very similar to humans, they have some peculiarities. The most outstanding physical feature is their silver eyes, which has also earned them the name “silver-eyed witches”.
4. Vinland Saga
Original Run: April 13, 2005 – present
Number of Volumes: 25
In 1002 A.D. in a small village in Iceland lives Thorfinn, a six-year-old boy, with his father Thors, mother Helga, and sister Ylva, delighting in hearing stories about the legendary land of Vinland from the mouth of the trader and navigator Leif Erikson. Father Thors is a former mercenary of the Jomsborg Vikings who faked his death to retire to lead a peaceful existence away from violence.
But when King Sweyn I of Denmark summons his vassals to invade England, Thors must also answer the call to protect his village from possible repercussions. However, his boss has not forgotten his desertion and plans to kill him by hiring the pirate Askeladd. Having been ambushed, Thors prefers to be killed in order to save little Thorfinn, who had secretly boarded his ship.
5. Sōten Kōro
Original Run: 1994 – 2005
Number of Volumes: 36
The story of Sōten Kōro is loosely based on the events that take place in the Three Kingdoms period of China during the lifetime of the last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cao Cao (155-15 March 220), who is also the main character.
The Three Kingdoms period has been a popular theme in Japanese manga for decades, but Sōten Kōro differs greatly from most other manga on several points. One significant difference is his very positive portrayal of his main character, Cao Cao, who is traditionally the antagonist, not only in Japanese manga, but also in most novel versions of the Three Kingdoms period, including the original 14th-century version, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.
Another significant difference is that the story primarily uses the original historical account of the era, Records of the Three Kingdoms by Chen Shou, as a reference instead of the fantasy novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Because of this, the traditional Romance of the Three Kingdoms hero, Liu Bei, takes on relatively less importance within the story and is portrayed in a less positive light.
However, several aspects of the story are based on the novel version, including the use of its original characters such as Diao Chan, as well as anachronistic weapons such as Guan Yu’s Green Dragon Crescent Blade and Zhang Fei’s Viper Spear.
A constant theme throughout the story is Cao Cao’s perpetual desire to separate China and its people from their old systems and ways of thinking and initiate a focus on pragmatism over empty ideals. This often puts him at odds with the prevailing customs and notions of Confucianism and those who support them.
Original Run: January 25, 2003 – present
Number of Volumes: 11
The story begins with Hermias, one of Aristotle’s students, being tortured and interrogated in Assus, a city on the western edge of the Persian Empire. He is confronted by a Persian commander, Memnon, who asks him if his teacher is really worth dying for. The story then jumps ahead a few days to the ruins of Troy, where Aristotle, one of his students, and a slave find Eumenes in a boat trying to make oars.
They spend the night there, talking about various topics such as philosophy and slavery, and leave the next morning. Eumenes is then sought out by a Persian named Barsine, who questions him about the previous night’s visitors.
He claims not to have seen the people she asks him about, whereupon she returns to her escort of horsemen and departs. Shortly thereafter, Aristotle and his pupil come running toward Eumenes, pursued by the horsemen who had visited him moments before, and they immediately flee, narrowly escaping capture.
Barsine is then met by Memnon and says, “The next man to come across this channel will probably not be a philosopher.” Eumenes and his companions are met on the other side by a horse-drawn carriage that has been waiting for Aristotle. Eumenes notes that they are both headed toward Kardia, but the people in the cart refuse to take Eumenes there on the grounds that a slave can walk.
Original Run: 2003 – 2010
Number of Volumes: 15
The sword style of the ruthless master Kogan Iwamoto is renowned for its invincibility: all the daring who have challenged the school have in fact lost their lives or been marred by horrible mutilations. However, Kogan is now elderly, and the day is approaching when he will appoint among his disciples the one who will succeed him and will marry his daughter.
Gennosuke and Seigen are the two best samurai in the dojo, but nothing else unites them. Indeed, the two are divided by a burning rivalry, and ambition and greed will lead to the ruin of one of them, whose revenge will drag the entire school of Kogan into the abyss. The Swords of Revenge is a scabrous tale that tells the dark side of the samurai, in an era of excesses, sadisms, military rigor, madness, and mysticism.
8. Lone Wolf and Cub
Original Run: September 1970 – April 1976
Number of Volumes: 28
The great warrior and master of the Suio Ryu Ogami Ittō had become the shogun’s executioner, the Kogi Kaishakunin, a position of great power used by the Tokugawa Shogunate (along with the oniwaban and assassins) to bolster the Shogun’s power over the daimyō. For those samurai and feudal lords who were ordered to commit seppuku, the Kogi Kaishakunin would assist them with their deaths by decapitating them to ease the pain of cutting their own stomachs.
As it was unthinkable for a person of lesser rank to act as Kaishakunin for a nobleman, the Kogi Kaishakunin was given a rank and allowed to wear the shogunate emblem, in effect acting in place of the shogun.
Shortly after the birth of his son Ogami Daigorō, Ogami Ittō returned to his home to find his wife Azami and all of his servants brutally murdered, and only his newborn son Daigorō alive. They were all supposedly killed by three former samurai from a disbanded clan, whose feudal lord had been executed by Ogami Ittō.
However, it was all planned to aggravate Ogami Ittō, by placing a funerary tablet (ihai) bearing the shōgun’s emblem in Ittō’s family shrine (representing Ogami’s wish for the shōgun’s death). This would make Ittō a criminal and he should abandon his position as Kogi Kaishakunin. The trap was planned by Ura-Yagyū, Yagyū Retsudō, leader of the Yagyū clan, in order to obtain the position of Ogami for the Yagyū clan.
The 1-year-old boy Daigorō was forced to choose by his father: a ball or a sword. If Daigorō chose the ball, his father would have killed him, sending him to his late mother; however, the boy crawled towards the sword. This meant that he would take the path of the rōnin, living with his father as demons – the team of hitmen who would become known as “the lone wolf and his cub”, vowing to destroy the Yagyū clan to avenge his wife and her disgrace.
In meifumadō, the cursed path to revenge, Ogami Ittō, and his son Daigorō stumble upon numerous assignments, meeting (and killing) all of Yagyū Retsudō’s children and later fighting Retsudō himself.
9. Rurouni Kenshin
Original Run: April 25, 1994 – September 21, 1999
Number of Volumes: 28
The story takes place in 1878 in Tokyo. Kenshin Himura, a former assassin nicknamed Battosaï, literally “master in the drawing of the sword”, during the time of the Tokugawa reign, hides a very heavy past. Become a wanderer since the establishment of the Meiji era, he travels the country equipped with his sword with an inverted blade, with the desire not to kill again.
10. Blade of the Phantom Master
Original Run: 2001 – 2007
Number of Volumes: 17 + 1 Shin Angyo Onshi Gaiden
The story takes place in an unknown land. After the fall of the Jushin Empire and the death of the emperor, the country finds itself plunged into chaos, allowing terror and the law of the strongest to reign. Secret agents of the vanished kingdom, the Angyo Onshi had the mission of ensuring respect for the laws and punishing the governors who oppressed the people. Today, an Angyo Onshi named Mun-su continues this mission through the devastated country, accompanied by his faithful bodyguard (sando) Chun-Hyang, his squire and a small desert bat.
Original Run: August 1967 – October 1969
Number of Volumes: 4
The anime, set during the Sengoku period, tells the story of Hyakkimaru, a young man whose 48 body parts are offered to 48 demons at the time of his birth. His father has, in fact, concluded a pact with them in order to acquire powers. He immediately abandons his son who is brought up by a doctor.
This replaces the missing parts of Hyakkimaru’s body with prosthetics, some of which turn out to be weapons (for example, his fake arms hide swords). As sight, hearing and his other senses have been stolen from him, the young man develops supernatural senses which allow him to defend himself against demons.
Original Run: May 27, 2009 – June 26, 2013
Number of Volumes: 22
End of the Edo era. A region has become the preferred gathering place for martial arts enthusiasts. The name of this region is Unabara, the lair of demons. Naosata Washizu, the lord of Unabara, has decided to organize a gigantic martial arts competition to determine who is the strongest. Whoever of his 31 sons can find the strongest martial arts expert will become his successor.
Naoyoshi Washizu, the 27th son of the lord, sets out to find the legendary Jinsuke Kurogane, who is said to have killed 1000 martial artists. But Jinsuke Kurogane seems to have disappeared and Naoyoshi goes to meet Gama, the last student of the Ogame school. It is finally Gama who will accompany the 27th son of the lord of Unabara to the Great competition.
Original Run: August 2000 – February 2011
Number of Volumes: 18
Ten years before the story begins, Kurohime ended a massive war fought to own and rebuild the Tower of the Gods, which when completed would allow the builder to become a god. When finished, Kurohime destroyed the tower and entered the realm of the gods to slaughter them, as they were the ones who started the war in the first place.
Through a combination of deception and brutality, the gods captured her and then split Kurohime into two beings, one representing his anger and the other representing his compassion. The being who represents his anger, in the form of a little girl named “Himeko”, tries to regain his body and her powers and tries to bring down the gods again; however, the curse can only be undone with love.
Original Run: November 1999 – August 2008
Number of Volumes: 10
Blending fantasy, ecology, and traditional Japan, Mushishi is a series of stories or tales about mushi, a primitive life form, more basic than all other life forms.
These stories tell of the adventures of Ginko, a mushi specialist, one of the few people who can see them, and who has the gift of attracting mushi, which means that he cannot stay long in one place and the pushes to be an itinerant.
Each story relates an investigation into more or less strange cases related to mushi; each mushi encountered caused different effects that are always manifested through their relationship to humanity. They range from illnesses to extraordinary gifts, including the fertilization of the land and the ability to restore life.
Original Run: November 1992 – November 1996
Number of Volumes: 11
In ancient China, at the time of the “Kingdoms of the Fighters”, the war between the different kingdoms is raging. At that time, several schools were in competition, including the famous school of Mo, where a single student had the ability to arrest more than 10,000 men. The secret of the power hiding behind the disciples of this school is their knowledge of military strategy and their ability to defend any town or village when they are allowed to take command of operations.
Among the greatest disciples of this school, Ke-ri, a man expert in combat and military strategy. His role: to organize the defense of cities that have asked for help from Mo’s men. Ke-ri will protect many cities, meet companions, and, above all, have to face the most formidable enemy he has ever known: his own clan led by Pei-Ping whose conduct seems to go against the original philosophy of Mo’s men.
Original Run: 1998 – 2015
Number of Volumes: 34
At 16, a talented young high school student slaughtered his own parents. Placed in a reformatory home, he will suffer the violence and humiliation of his fellow prisoners and guards. Beatings, bullying, sexual assault – you name it. Meeting a strange political prisoner, a certain Kenji Kurokawa, an expert in karate, will change the course of his existence and make him a real fighting bull, ready to do anything not to get killed.
After he will have served his sentence, he will become a male prostitute for women, a henchman in a gang, and then a high-level sportsman, evolving on the fringes of westernized Japanese society and building his own karate over the course of encounters.
17. Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku
Original Run: January 22, 2018 – January 25, 2021
Number of Volumes: 13
Gabimaru, “The Nothingness”, the most famous and powerful of the ninja-assassins has been captured and languishing in prison. Claiming to have no more reason to live, he desperately waits for an executioner to manage to take his life because his superhuman training allows him to resist the worst punishments. It is then that he receives a visit from an executor like no other: a powerful swordsman and head slicer.
After a bitter fight from which he barely survived, she pushes him to his limits. In exchange for saving a life, she offers him a deal: he will have to go to a mysterious island in order to recover an elixir of immortality. Only problem: everyone who went to this island came back cut into pieces.
18. The Heroic Legend of Arslan
In an ancient fictional world, a war opposes two powerful kingdoms: Lusitania, in the west, which venerates the unique god Yaldobaoth and seeks to impose its religion on the other kingdoms, and Parse, in the east, a rich polytheistic kingdom whose power rests on slavery. On the plains of Atropatenes, Andragoras III, king of Parse, prepares to face the army of Lusitania.
He is extremely confident in his cavalry, whose reputation has crossed borders. Alongside his father, the young prince Arslân will fight his first battle at Atropatenes. But Atropatenes turns out to be a deadly trap: aided by the traitor Kahllan and led by a mysterious general hiding behind a silver mask, the Lusitanians inflict a crushing defeat on the Parses, capture King Andragoras III, and set out to besiege Ecbatana, the capital of Parse.
Arslan, who, thanks to General Darîun, managed to escape the assassins sent by Kahllan, will now look for allies in order to reorganize the forces of Parse to fight the invader.
19. Blade of the Immortal
Original Run: June 25, 1993 – December 25, 2012
Number of Volumes: 30
The story is set in Japan in the Edo era. The protagonist, Manji, is a warrior who has a great advantage over his rivals: no wound can kill him. In the past, he killed 100 other samurai, including his sister’s husband. An elderly nun, who is said to be 800 years old, grants him the gift of immortality through worms called kessenchū, which heal any wound and even restore amputated limbs even though the amputation was hours ago.
The death of his sister leads him to accept the mission that will end his immortality: he must kill 1000 evil men to redeem himself. Manji crosses paths with a young woman named Rin Asano and promises to help her avenge her family, who was killed by a group of expert swordsmen led by Kagehisa Anotsu. Anotsu killed Rin’s father and her entire dojo.
Original Run: August 1989 – present
Number of Volumes: 41
Berserk tells the story of the meeting of Guts and Griffith, leader of the Falcon Troop, a band of mercenaries in the pay of the kingdom of Midland. From this meeting will be born an ambiguous friendship, but nevertheless efficient: the presence of Guts, a warrior with the disproportionate sword, will quickly prove essential to the ambition of the young Griffith, swashbuckler and outstanding tactician.
The anime is thus the account of the rise and fall of the Falcon Troop, and of the relation between Guts and Griffith, particularly complex, between the relation of interest (Griffith uses the force of Guts), mutual respect ( both see each other as soldiers), and deep affection (each inexplicably needs the other’s presence).