Whilst many anime and manga draw inspiration from folklore, some spawn from real people or real events. Whether they are natural disasters like huge earthquakes, samurai dramas, terror attacks, or war, plenty of anime and manga exist that portray real events that affected Japan and the world.
Some examples include the shonen manga focused around the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Barefoot Gen and the French Revolution focused The War of Versaillies.
This list will focus on 10 examples of anime and manga that portray real events.
Disclaimer: This list contains spoilers for all anime and manga mentioned. Likewise, because a lot of these are based on real events, there are bound to be many sensational aspects.
10 anime and manga inspired by real life events
1) Barefoot Gen (The Hiroshima atomic bombing and World War II's aftermath)
World War II fundamentally changed when two atomic bombs were dropped upon Japan, and so did the millions of lives that suffered during the aftermath. Mangaka Keiji Nakazawa was one of those affected by the atomic bombing, losing many family members in the initial blast and a sister to radiation poisoning afterward.
The horror of the actual bombing is only one aspect of the truth presented in the manga and film series. Barefoot Gen also portrays the struggle for survival from radiation burns and poisoning in graphic detail, ostracization for being stricken with sickness afterward, even having quite a bit of anti-American and anti-Japanese national sentiments due to the horrible treatment of survivors.
Whether in manga or anime form, this story is not for the faint of hearts.
2) Grave of the Fireflies (The firebombing of Kobe during World War II)
If the previous anime and manga entry wasn't horrifying or enough of a tear jerker, then Grave of the Fireflies will definitely hit that spot.
Based on a semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the book and anime film depict the story of two siblings struggling to survive amid a wartorn nation. With their mother dead from a recent bombing, Seita and his little sister Setsuko struggle to find food and shelter amid a colder and harsher world.
A word of warning, this film deals with the harsh realities of war, especially childhood loss and malnutrition.
Nosaka went on record to say that he wrote the story as an apology to his little sister Keiko, who died of malnutrition in the aftermath of World War II, giving viewers an idea of what to expect.
3) Mawaru Penguindrum (The 1995 Tokyo Subway sarin attack)
Don't be fooled by its adorable art and penguins, this anime and manga had a rather sad source of inspiration. When Himari Takakura is stuck with a mysterious illness and saved from death by a spirit in a penguin-shaped hat, her two brothers Kanba and Shoma seek out an item known as the 'Penguindrum' to save her life.
It is rather weird, but it makes more sense once viewers understand and realize the inspiration and twist. The teens are in an alternative timeline and need to stop the Tokyo subway sarin attack, an act of domestic terrorism in 1995 in Tokyo, Japan, that killed 14 people and caused vision problems for over 1,000 others on the Tokyo Metro.
The fact that there's time travel, magic, and other fantastical elements in no way diminishes the impact or horror of the situation.
4) The Wind Rises (The invention of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft)
The Wind Rises profiles Japanese inventor and aviator Jiro Horikoshi. This anime film is more of an autobiographical piece, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based off a combination of a manga Miyazaki created and Tatsuo Hori's 1937 semi-autobiographical novel The Wind Has Risen.
One of the major themes linking Barefoot Gen, Grave of the Fireflies, and especially The Wind Rises is anti-war sentiment. Specifically, both versions of Horikoshi (film and real) hate war and despise how the Japanese government used their inventions.
While the film may have fantastical elements as expected from a Studio Ghibli film, it retains grounding by being based off the true life and times of Horikoshi.
5) Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (Earthquakes in Japan, specifically the 2011 one)
This anime profiles natural disasters, but is an addition to this list for its scary accuracy and prediction that ultimately became reality. In the show, after a massive and devastating 8.0 Richter scale earthquake hit Tokyo, two siblings and a mother struggled to reach home amid the partly ruined city.
A modern tale of survival that hits well closer to home, this anime portrays many of the struggles in the aftermath of an earthquake due to a metric ton of research material and lived experiences. What's scarier? This anime predicted an 8.0 earthquake would hit Japan in 2012.
They were only off by one point and one year, as the 9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 caused well over 19,000 deaths between the earthquake and resulting tsunami, leading to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disastor.
6) Kingdom (China's Warring States Period/Qin's War of Unification)
The currently airing shonen anime and manga, Kingdom, might seem a little out of left field for some people, as it depicts events that happen in China, however, it quickly goes away upon watching and getting engrossed, as many fans have done. The basic plot summary is that two orphans, Xin and Piao, train to become the "Great Generals of the Heavens."
After meeting the current King of Qin, Xin decides to aid Ying Zheng in unifying China to cease the seemingly neverending warfare. Nearly every character is based off of a person that lived or did something remarkable during that time, including Ying Zheng.
As a side note, Kingdom won a Guinness World Record for a manga written by most people as a result of a "Social Kingdom" campaign to redraw the entire 26th volume.
Participants included mangakas like Eiichiro Oda (One Piece), Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto), Hirohiko Araki (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure), Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk), and Hiroshi Motomiya (Salary Man Kintaro), according to MyAnimeList and other sources.
7) The Rose of Versailles (The French Revolution)
Another historical drama dealing with the French Revolution of all things, The Rose of Versailles manga and anime revolves around the lives of the former Queen of France Marie Antoinette and the commander of the Royal Guard Oscar François de Jarjayes. It's also a shojo manga, dealing heavily with themes of revolution and succession.
Considered the first shojo manga to achieve mainstream critical and commercial success, this one (and the various adaptations) focuses on the complex politics and s*xuality involved in the time period. There's a lot of nuance portrayed that isn't just about the guillotines and beheadings of corrupt French royalty.
Mangaka Riyoko Ikeda stated that the creation of the manga was based upon her experiences in 1960s with populist uprisings in Japan's New Left and their Communist Party.
8) Vinland Saga (Dane-controlled England in the 11th century.)
Vikings in England is the basic summary of the shonen/seinen anime and manga Vinland Saga. The story focuses on the combination of dramatizing Cnut the Great's rise to power with a revenge plot focused on Icelandic explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni Thórdarson.
As the manga and anime are still ongoing, this will mostly focus on the historical precendent. The split narrative ties the two, Thorfinn and Canute, together via themes of finding oneself in a wider world. The setting was conquered by Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard.
The story has drawn elements from other historical accounts of the period, like the largest medieval Icelandic manuscript The Flateyjarbók, The Saga of the Greenlanders (the colonization of Greenland) and The Saga of Erik the Red (detailing Thorfinn's life).
Vinland Saga is considered one of the best currently airing historical anime dramas, not only for the violence but also for the interconnected storylines and development of the characters.
9) Yasuke (First African samurai)
Moving back to Japan for the last two entries, Yasuke concerns itself with the life of the first African samurai of the same name. His biggest achievement was serving under Japan's "First Great Unifer" Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku period in 16th century Japan.
While the anime itself is an alternative historical tale, with fantastical elements like yokai, magic, and advanced technology, plenty of historical details make it in.
For instance, Yasuke was in the service of Jesuit missionaries during the Naban trade before joining Nobunaga and was also present during Nobunaga's forced suicide, before seemingly vanishing from history.
10) Hi-Score Girl (Japan's 1990s arcade boom)
A more lighthearted tale is Hi-Score Girl, a comedic romance surrounding Haruo Yaguchi (a slacker who only ever tries in gaming) and Akira Ono (a rich, popular, multitalented and nonverbal girl) set in the backdrop of Japan's 1990s arcade boom. Both the story and the various games, software, culture, and hardware are noted to be incredibly accurate.
It helps that the series was published by Square Enix to help in showing all of the different game characters that appear. In terms of real events, it accurately depicts the rise of larger gaming arcades alongside the popularity of fighting game franchises like Street Fighter and Final Fight.
What other anime or manga could say that it features Guile and Zangief as vital support characters involved in making sure two kids get together?