The Best Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Anime

Animation from the East meets fantasy from the West

Fantasy and magic
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Newcomers to anime are sometimes surprised to find how anime reprises many Western genres. Sword-and-sorcery style fantasy, for instance, derived from the work of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard garnered so much attention in Japan that anime companies released numerous fantasy series from the 1980s through the 2010s.

Western-style fantasy exists in anime in some remarkably interesting incarnations. This list offers some of the best Western-style fantasy anime, in and out of print:

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Berserk Anime Series
Berserk Anime Series. Liden Films

In this dark animated series, swordsman Guts was born of a dead mother, murdered his mentor, and sells his skills to the mercenary Band of the Hawk. He and the Hawks' charismatic leader, Griffith, fight for the heart of fellow soldier Casca, a feud that might end of the world as we know it.

"Dark" is a polite word for this adaptation of the long-running manga book series by Kentaro Miura. It's brutal, bleak, and ends in despair, but it's gripping, brilliantly told and features three of the most powerful characters in all anime.

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Claymore. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

Monsters known as youma stalk a land reminiscent of medieval Europe, feeding on humans and impersonating those they've killed. Mankind's only defense is the Claymores, hybrids of human women and youma, who channel their inhuman power to fight the monsters.

Among the Claymores is Clare, a low-level soldier forced to rise through the ranks after many fellow Claymores are destroyed. More than training and strength, it's the respect and support of a young man, Raki, that help her survive. The action edges toward horror, but the setting, atmosphere, and other elements are sword-and-sorcery material.

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"Guin Saga"

Guin Saga. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A wanderer awakes in a dark forest with the body of a man, the head of a leopard and no memory, possessions, or name, but after saving the last two descendants of a royal lineage, he gains something more important: a purpose and a mission.

This is high adventure in the pulp fantasy tradition with huge battles, wide landscapes, mysticism, and sorcery. While the animation occasionally betrays budgetary limitations, it's still impressive.

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"The Heroic Legend of Arslan"

Heroic Legend of Arslan. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

This excellent, though incomplete and out-of-print, adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka's fantasy novels isn't to be missed. The titular Arslan, a prince whose armies have been devastated by a rival nation, must travel incognito to avoid assassination, seeking others loyal to his cause.

All the standard low-fantasy trappings apply massive armies, political subterfuge, and magic. But they're deployed with strong writing and characterization, excellent animation, and a rousing symphonic score.

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"Magic Knight Rayearth"

Magic Knight Rayearth 2 - DVD Volume 2 - Image Courtesy of Media Blasters
Magic Knight Rayearth 2 - DVD Volume 2 - Image Courtesy of Media Blasters. Image Courtesy of Media Blasters

The all-female artistic collective CLAMP created this wild, stylish fantasy about a trio of high school girls thrown sideways into the world of Cephiro, where they embark on a save-the-world quest. Most intriguing is the way hope and despair are themselves magical forces used to create allies or spawn monsters. The one with the greatest willpower can impose his vision on the world.

The original 49-episode series follows the manga story fairly closely, but a three-part, radically reworked version also exists and is worth checking out.

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"Record of Lodoss War"

Record of Lodoss War. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A power struggle spanning generations plays out on the continent Lodoss, the "accursed island." Young Parn seeks to restore his family's honor with a quest taking him and his friends into sequential adventures. They discover a delicate game engineered by a malevolent higher being to maintain the balance of power and keep everyone else subjugated.

If you think the story sounds like the transcript of a tabletop "Dungeons and Dragons" game, you wouldn't be far from the truth. The source material for the series was a game. The 26-episode TV series is more faithful to the novels, while an 11-episode version is more internally consistent.

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"Scrapped Princess"

The "princess" is 15-year-old Pacifica Casull, abandoned at birth because of a prophecy that she will be "the poison that destroys the world." She eventually realizes she is not the source of the world's doom but its only salvation.

This fantasy sports better-than-average animation, some remarkably adult themes—worldly concepts, not X-rated scenes—and veers toward science fiction near the end though never abandons its fantasy roots.

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"The Vision of Escaflowne"

A twist on the "girl thrown into another world" concept, with elements from mecha anime, the story follows high school student Hitomi into the world of Gaea where a war rages between conquering empire Zaibach and its neighboring territories. Hitomi has psychic powers amplified by being in Gaea and joins forces with Van Faneln, a young man piloting a craft that's more dragon than conventional fighting robot.

The story muses on the way magic and science are often mistaken for each other but doesn't skimp on the swashbuckling action or a broad palette of quirky supporting characters.