15 Great Anime That Are Based On True EventsThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Some say anime, like most mediums of entertainment, offers an escape from reality.
After all, it lets us dive into boundless worlds with different sets of characters, rules, and themes governed only by the minds of their creators.
But while that may be true, what if some were based on real-life events? Real stories with real characters?
Would we still enjoy it then?
To answer that, I have this list of great anime worth checking out if you want to enjoy a dash of realism with your fiction.
15. Tetsuko no Tabi
First up, we have a story that follows an unusual duo of a mangaka and a travel writer.
They traveled all around Japan by train (taking a whole lot of ’em) while also documenting their experiences along the way.
And that’s literally it.
This anime series is as realistic as it gets, as it’s actually non-fictional. Almost like an animated documentary of some sort.
If you don’t mind a story with little drama or action and leans heavily in the slice-of-life genre, then this one’s for you.
14. Uchuu Kyoudai
Who doesn’t like a good astronaut/space story?
Unlike movies like Interstellar or Armageddon, however, Uchuu Kyoudai is a lot more realistic in the sense that the astronauts aren’t fighting for humanity’s survival.
The story mostly just revolves around every character’s day-to-day lives – and the main character’s aspirations to become an astronaut.
It also features a big brother/little brother dynamic, and a story that’s based on the journey that every would-be astronaut must overcome that’s all too real and relatable.
Tackling a more serious subject matter here (like most titles you’ll see further on this list), we have a story that was based on an unexplainable event that happened in real life.
That event is the “Philadelphia Experiment” which follows the disappearance of a US Navy vessel.
The stories about this naval battleship’s little disappearing act involve speculations about time travel, teleportation, and even high-tech cloaking devices.
Of course, Zipang takes this urban legend as an inspiration just a little bit further.
Well, maybe not just a little.
But it’s a decision which I’m glad to say worked wonders for its narrative overall.
12. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Themes of environmental tragedies in every form of media aren’t all that uncommon.
And while the purely fictional ones are good enough at invoking fear and uncertainty as to what Mother Nature is truly capable of, what about those that aren’t?
Here we have Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and anime that delves into the gritty, realistic struggle of people that can occur with every earthquake that hits Japan.
Only this time, the show didn’t merely base itself off of one particular real-life event.
Instead, it predicted one – and from it made a possible rendition of events that is encapsulated in a tragic yet compelling story.
11. Welcome to N.H.K
Here we have an anime series that discusses a more common distressing theme than war and natural disasters.
Welcome to N.H.K, despite its seemingly inviting title, is a story that dives headfirst into themes of depression and loneliness that’s prevalent in the modern world.
Furthermore, it’s written by an author that really knows his stuff when it comes to the daily lives and struggles of your typical Hikikomori.
After all, Tatsuhiko Takimoto was one himself.
10. In This Corner of the World
What we have for our tenth spot isn’t necessarily your typical war-themed anime.
This anime film is set in the events right after the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings that happened during World War II.
Although it focuses more on the struggles of Japan’s civilians, rather than the entire course of the war as a whole.
And it does the job very well.
It’s also led by a cheerful and artistic main character that reminds us that no matter how bleak the world around us gets, there is always room for hope for tomorrow.
9. Vinland Saga
Vinland Saga, in its essence, follows a typical revenge plot in a way that’s not so typical and cliché.
It’s a historical anime that is based on England’s war with the Vikings that spanned from AD 793 up to AD 1066, which tells us that they must’ve really hated each other.
The storytelling is wonderfully done too, by showing us the war from the perspective of a young hotblooded Shounen MC.
And if you’re a gamer like me, you’ll most probably enjoy this anime if you’ve played and liked Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
Sure, that game leaves some things to be desired both story-wise and gameplay-wise.
But fortunately this anime bears no such flaws.
If you like intense action scenes and the ever-exciting world of swords and shields, then I suggest you give Vinland Saga a try.
8. Miss Hokusai
Miss Hokusai is a film that depicts the life and aspirations of a real historical figure — Katsushika Ōi.
It deals with the interesting topic of societal expectations and also every person’s desire to forge their own path.
To become a different person than what their parents are – or to escape from their shadows, more specifically.
Miss Hokusai, for the most part, tells us the tale of MC that holds that desire despite circumstances that make it hard for her to do just that.
7. Mawaru Penguindrum
If you think that an anime that has adorable penguins could be anything but cute and light-hearted…
Then you’re dead wrong.
Despite its cutesy art style and solid plotline, this title is actually one of the darkest entries on this list, if you consider what inspired it.
After all, it is based on a chilling real-life tragedy — the Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack that shook Japan back in 1995.
Although this interesting fact doesn’t diminish just how good the series is.
If anything, this only goes to show just how effective anime can be when it comes to telling real-life stories in a subtle yet engaging manner.
6. Toilet-bound Hanako-Kun
Let’s take a break from all the heavier stuff and move onto a more light-hearted series, shall we?
This one’s based on a popular Japanese urban legend.
Only in this anime, Hanako is actually a boy, unlike what the urban legend led us to believe.
Oh, and he’s a guardian that keeps the balance between the living and the spirit world.
Well, a lot of things about the urban legend have been changed to fit the narrative now that I think about it.
Despite the alterations, however, this supernatural comedy is still among the strongest titles of its genre.
Touted as one of the best time travel-themed anime of all time, you’d probably be surprised to know that Steins;Gate was based on a real-life hoax.
More specifically, it derives inspiration from an online forum post made by John Titor (a pseudonym) back in the early 2000s.
The man claims that he’s a time traveler from 2036 and made countless predictions that were either too vague to grasp, or didn’t come true at all.
The posts were rightfully dismissed as a hoax.
Steins;Gate, however, shows us a possible rendition of events if it were true – and consequently tells a great story from that premise.
Considering that this is a show famous for its incessant 4th-wall breaking, ridiculous over-the-top gags, and crazy-ass characters, you’d probably think:
“There’s no way this is based on a true event, right?”
Well it is.
And if you’re shocked then that makes two of us when I first heard it myself.
As it turns out, many of its plotlines are derived from real historical occurrences during the Heian Period that lasted until the era of Feudal Japan.
And did I mention that its MC Gintoki Sakata is also based on a historical figure, aptly named Kintoki Sakata?
Knowing the show’s hilarious track record of parodying not only real-life events, but also other anime series in general, need I say more?
There’s no doubt that Bakuman is one of, if not the best, anime for every aspiring artist to watch and learn from.
After all, it details the struggles and journey of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata — two real-life famous artists, and the wonderful minds behind this great series.
Albeit represented by characters with different names, Bakuman is a story about their dream to create the best manga of all time, which in fact happens to be Death Note.
In the end, I find it very ironic that in their pursuit of creating a masterpiece, they’ve also stumbled upon yet another masterpiece.
A perfect one-two combo if I’ve ever seen one.
2. Grave of the Fireflies
This is, without question, one of the most tear-jerking and heartrending movies ever made, which depicts war and how it affects everyone involved.
The story follows the tragic tale of a brother and sister during World War II — right amid the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings and the unconditional surrender of Japan.
It’s full of great scenes that truly capture the sense of desperation and dread brought upon by war.
It’s also complete with an ending that will make you think and cry at the same time.
Regardless of what your tastes or preferences are in anime, Grave of the Fireflies is one that I recommend watching.
Sure you might get in touch with your emotional side more than you’d probably like, but I assure you…
It’s more than worth it.
For the last spot we have a series that was based on China’s first-ever unification, that history nerds and casuals alike will enjoy.
Kingdom, in addition to being a fictional adaptation of a real event, is a very strong shounen title in and of itself.
Not only that, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best historical anime to ever come out in the past decade.
After all, it fuses real-life history with the usual perks of a shounen anime.
Namely it has remarkable characters, an engaging plot, and more importantly, an interesting story that doesn’t fail to keep up with high expectations.