Rurouni Kenshin is a shōnen manga series created by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The series focuses on the adventures of the wandering swordsman Kenshin, a former assassin with a vow to never kill again, as he fights to save those around him and, eventually, Japan itself.

Watsuki first established what would eventually become the setting for Rurouni Kenshin with the one-shot, Crescent Moon in the Warring States, which was first published in Weekly Shōnen Jump in the spring of 1992. Watsuki followed with two more standalone stories in 1992 and 1993—also for Weekly Shōnen Jump—under the title, Rurouni, Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story. With these stories, Watsuki introduced the character of Kenshin, the red-haired swordsman with the cross-shaped scar, while also developing early versions of other main characters. In 1994, Watsuki began to publish the series proper for Weekly Shōnen Jump. Rurouni Kenshin ran for 255 chapters and concluded in 1999.

The opening chapters serve to introduce Kenshin’s group: Kaoru, the sole instructor at a kendo dojo fallen on hard times; Yahiko, a young orphan who wishes to become a great swordsman; and Sanosuke, a street brawler of unusual strength who at first faces Kenshin as an enemy. The “Megumi arc,” the first of the larger story in the series, is named for a young female doctor who is forced to manufacture drugs for a crime syndicate. Kenshin and his friends must then fight the Oniwabanshū, a ninja group, to free Megumi.

The second large arc of the series—the “Kyoto arc”—begins when Saito Hajime, an old adversary of Kenshin’s from the war, tracks Kenshin down and challenges him to a duel in order to determine if Kenshin is still as strong as he once was. Once the Meiji government determines that Kenshin is in fact still a formidable swordsman, it asks him to assassinate Makoto Shishio, who is planning a bloody coup against the government. The majority of the Kyoto arc consists of Kenshin and his followers fighting (and gradually defeating) Shishio’s group, the Juppongatana, leading up to a climactic duel between an exhausted Kenshin and an enraged Shishio.

The third major arc of Rurouni Kenshin is the “Jinchū arc,” in which Kenshin must face the Six Comrades, an elite group of criminals who want to make Kenshin pay for his actions as an assassin during the revolution. The leader of this group is Enishi Yukishiro, whose sister Kenshin accidentally killed during the Bakamatsu (the end of the Edo period). The arc details Kenshin’s battles with Enishi and his minions, but unlike previous arcs, Kenshin must first cope with his grief at having lost Kaoru, as Enishi has staged her death in order to torture Kenshin.

The series has been adapted into an animated television series, animated films, and live action films. The TV series ran from 1996 to 1998. The first season covered through the Megumi arc; the second season covered the Kyoto arc; and the third season introduced new material not found in the manga. The anime series made its biggest impact in the west in 2003 as it started to air on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block of programming. Animated films were released in Japan in 1998, 1999, 2011, and 2012; while live action films were released in 2012 and 2014.

— Isaac Mayeux

Further Reading

  • Brenner, Robin E. Understanding Manga and Anime. Westport: Libraries Unlimited. Print.
  • Burnham, Jef. “Rurouni Kenshin.” In Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Manga, edited by Bart H. Beaty and Stephen Weiner, 268-272. Ipswich: Salem Press. Print.
  • Kalen, Elizabeth F.S. Mostly Manga: A Genre Guide to Popular Manga, Manhwa, Manhua, and Anime. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. Print.