Their traditions, heroism, villainy, and adventures never cease to amaze, which is why books about samurai have been translated into many languages and been sold all around the world.
Japan has just as much fascination for the samurai as foreigners and many Japanese authors have produced samurai books that are just as incredible as their famous samurai films.
Here is a list of the best samurai books including novels to read:
1. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (1939)
This novel follows the journey of the legendary samurai ShinmenTakezō starting after the Battle of Sekigahara, when he must reinvent his life as a wandering samurai known as Miyamoto Musashi.
Originally, this tale was told in serial form in the pages of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun between 1935 and 1939. It has since been compiled in book form and translated many times.
It is one of the best-selling book series in history and has seen adaptations in both manga and film. If you’re looking for a tale of samurai that features danger, romance, and character growth, this is a must-read.
2. Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa (1967)
This samurai epic tells the story of the brutal leader Nobunaga, deliberate Ieyasu, and Hideyoshi, a young man with a great future. These men are the real figures of Japan’s chaotic times during the end of the sixteenth century.
This book is an amazing epic evoking the beauty of Japan and the intrigue, glory, and shock of the real historical period in which it is set.
Read this book at a steady pace because it spans across islands and years, with many battles and figures throughout.
For those unfamiliar with the history of feudal Japan, this book is an interesting way to learn and will give you a thirst for more.
3. The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (1645)
If you want to learn more about samurai, then it’s a good idea to learn more about how a samurai lived and fought.
This book details how a samurai should fight, whether in a one-on-one duel or a larger battle. It is a very practical book about warfare rather than a book of cultural instruction.
The author is Mushashi whose story is told in the first entry of this list. It is a technical manual. For those curious about samurai history, it helps contextualize some of the battles described in other samurai books.
4. Cloud of Sparrow by Takashi Matsuoka (2002)
Set during the Edo era, when Japan is starting to open up after centuries of isolation, the clash of cultures that occurred during this period is the focus of this historical fiction novel.
American missionaries find themselves caught up in the feuds of samurai and their lords, including one with a prophetic dream. Romance, adventure, and intrigue, you can find it all in Cloud of Sparrow!
Buy this book here.
5. Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1915)
Rashomon is a short story that lends its name to the famous movie, though not its plot. Set during the age of samurai, this story’s theme is about how far and how dishonorable a person can become to survive.
This story has played a role in many other samurai stories and its theme is echoed in many others. It is a short and simple read and an excellent introduction to samurai literature.
6. Autumn Bridge by Takashi Matsuoka (2004)
This fantastic tale of prophecies, samurai, intrigue, and time revisits Matsuoka’s amazing world. Complex events weave in and out of time, focusing on several different sets of characters.
It is the sequel to Cloud of Sparrows and leans even more heavily on the series’ mystical elements. The love triangle begun in the previous book also continues in this one, adding an extra layer of intrigue to an already fascinating story.
If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll enjoy this even more as it dives deeper into the way this world works.
7. The Samurai by Shusaku Endo (1980)
A story of cultural clashes, this novel tells the tale of the first Japanese to step onto European story. Shusaku Endo is an internationally renowned author who had written many times on the cultural clashes that defined recent Japanese history.
The complexity of the interactions in this story- based on a real samurai mission to Europe- makes for a fascinating story.
Shusaku Endo, the author of this book is famous for his historical fiction novel Silence, published in 1966.
8. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (1994)
Known for its use of figurative language, this novel tells the story of a young Chinese man who is watched over by an older samurai on the eve of Japan’s invasion of China.
The book explores themes of beauty, honor, and loyalty in difficult times. It is a beautifully written and often heartbreaking book. There is a reason it is frequently assigned to high school students.
Read this book here.
9. Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe (1899)
The book takes a look at the core samurai virtues of rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, and loyalty. Even as Japan transformed over time, they have played a key element in its culture.
Reading this analysis is well worth it if you want to understand the kind of influence the long-gone samurai have had on modern Japan.
10. Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1716)
This is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior. It is based on conversations held with the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the early 1700s.
The book wrestles with how it is to be a samurai warrior in a time of relative peace and no sanctioned samurai fighting. The book serves to clarify what a samurai really is and properly define the samurai code of life called bushido, especially in a world that is very different from the one where the code is born.
While largely forgotten when it was published in the 1700s, it became better known during the battles in the Pacific during World War II. It offers a unique, near-first-person insight into what the samurai are and how their code lived on in very different times.