The best Samurai books

10 authors have picked their favorite books about Samurais and why they recommend each book.

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The Book of Five Rings

By Miyamoto Musashi,

Book cover of The Book of Five Rings

A classic of the ages and essential reading for any martial artist, The Book of Five Rings is a guide to self-discipline and learning. But you have to read between the lines, listen to the silences, and practice the way of the warrior yourself in order to get the most from it. The legendary swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi is the blueprint for Jack’s sensei and guardian Masamoto in my Young Samurai book.

The Book of Five Rings

By Miyamoto Musashi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Five Rings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The complete and official edition of the original Japanese text. Translated by Prof. Nabiki Imagawa and Prof. James Ashcroft in 2019 to fix all the previous mistakes present in the old public editions. This is the recommended edition for university specialists and experts in Japanese history who want the full uncensored version of The Book of 5 Rings as the samurai Miyamoto Musashi wrote it in 1645.


Who am I?

I am a black belt martial artist and top ten bestselling children’s author with a life goal of ‘getting kids reading’. As an author, I practise what I term ‘method writing’. For my Young Samurai series, I trained in samurai swordsmanship, karate, ninjutsu, and earned my black belt in Zen Kyu Shin Taijutsu. This ensures my books are not only authentic but have the impact of a flying front kick. Hopefully, my stories will knock you out!


I wrote...

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

By Chris Bradford,

Book cover of Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

What is my book about?

Sword-wielding samurai, deadly ninja, and full-on martial arts action, The Way of the Warrior is an epic adventure story of courage, loyalty, and friendship. Inspired by my own martial arts journey, we follow the young Jack Fletcher as he is shipwrecked on the shores of 16th Century Japan where he learns the way of the warrior with the help of a samurai girl called Akiko in order to battle Dragon Eye, the mysterious assassin who murdered his father!

Over 1.5 million copies sold worldwide, the multi-award-winning Young Samurai is deemed one of Puffin's 70 Best Ever Books, alongside Treasure Island and Robin Hood.

Samurai

By Stephen Turnbull,

Book cover of Samurai: The World of the Warrior

Stephen Turnbull is one of the foremost authorities on the samurai and this book covers all of their military history. Beautifully illustrated and full of intriguing facts about the samurai and their world, this was my go-to book when writing the Young Samurai series. A fascinating read, this makes a beautiful gift for anyone with an interest in samurai or Japan.

Samurai

By Stephen Turnbull,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Samurai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The world of the samurai, the legendary elite warrior cult of old Japan, has long been associated solely with military history and has remained a mystery to the general reader. In this paperback edition, Stephen Turnbull, the world's leading authority on the samurai, goes beyond the battlefield to paint a picture of the samurai as they really were. This book explores the samurai within the context of an all-encompassing warrior culture that was expressed through art and poetry as much as through violence. Using themed chapters, Turnbull illuminates the samurai through their historical development and their relationship to the world…


Who am I?

I am a black belt martial artist and top ten bestselling children’s author with a life goal of ‘getting kids reading’. As an author, I practise what I term ‘method writing’. For my Young Samurai series, I trained in samurai swordsmanship, karate, ninjutsu, and earned my black belt in Zen Kyu Shin Taijutsu. This ensures my books are not only authentic but have the impact of a flying front kick. Hopefully, my stories will knock you out!


I wrote...

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

By Chris Bradford,

Book cover of Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

What is my book about?

Sword-wielding samurai, deadly ninja, and full-on martial arts action, The Way of the Warrior is an epic adventure story of courage, loyalty, and friendship. Inspired by my own martial arts journey, we follow the young Jack Fletcher as he is shipwrecked on the shores of 16th Century Japan where he learns the way of the warrior with the help of a samurai girl called Akiko in order to battle Dragon Eye, the mysterious assassin who murdered his father!

Over 1.5 million copies sold worldwide, the multi-award-winning Young Samurai is deemed one of Puffin's 70 Best Ever Books, alongside Treasure Island and Robin Hood.

Bitter Bonds

By Leonard Blusse,

Book cover of Bitter Bonds: A Colonial Divorce Drama of the Seventeenth Century

Few seventeenth-century women traveled as far as Cornelia van Nijenroode. Born on the island of Hirado off the coast of Kyushu around 1624 to a Dutch father and Japanese mother, she was taken by the Dutch East India Company to Batavia, Indonesia, in 1637. A family portrait now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam shows her with her first husband and daughters. Alas, he died young, leaving her prey to fortune hunters. When her second husband refused to allow her to continue with her commercial enterprises, she tried to divorce him, a struggle that took her all the way to Holland. Her story highlights the dangers of marriage when one is a wealthy widow, but also Cornelia’s grit in standing up to a legal system stacked against her.

Bitter Bonds

By Leonard Blusse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bitter Bonds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 17th-century Batavia, Cornelia von Nijenroode, the daughter of a geisha and a Dutch merchant in Japan, was known as ""Otemba"" (meaning ""untamable""), which made her a heroine to modern Japanese feminists. A wealthy widow and enterprising businesswoman who had married an unsuccessful Dutch lawyer for social reasons found that just after their wedding, husband and wife were at each other's throats. Cornelia insisted on maintaining independent power of disposal over her assets, but legally her husband had control over her possessions and refused to grante her permission to engage in commerce. He soon began using blackmail, smuggling, and secret…


Who am I?

When I was studying Japan in graduate school, my advisor once told me that he hoped I wouldn’t pursue research in women’s history, calling it a fad. He was wrong, but it took me well over ten years to figure that out. Thanks to colleagues and friends, I helped build the field of Japanese women’s history in English, especially for the early modern period. As professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, I remain committed to the possibility of uncovering the lives of yet more amazing women who challenge the stereotypes of docile wife and seductive geisha all too prevalent in fiction set in Japan.


I wrote...

The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

By Anne Walthall,

Book cover of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

What is my book about?

At the age of fifty-one, Matsuo Taseko left her home in a farm village where she had spent most of her life to go to Kyoto. It was 1862, and Japan was in the throes of dealing with a new international order. Was she going to further her study of classical poetry with court nobles, or was she going to demonstrate her loyalty to the emperor and expel the Western “barbarians”? Although she played a minor role in the events that ended the age of the samurai, her deeds were nonetheless astonishing for a woman of her day.

She was honored as a patriot even before her death, but her story also speaks to the transformative potential of a woman’s old age. 

Bushido Online

By Nikita Thorn,

Book cover of Bushido Online: The Battle Begins

Another Litrpg, Seth enters a Virtual Reality game set in a fantasy feudal Japan as the technology allows him to function better while recovering from an injury taken during a martial arts tournament. For me, the setting got me worked up. I spent a decade of my gaming life playing Legend of the Five Rings, a similarly feudal Japan-inspired game world. Clans, factions, betrayals, and samurai. It brought me back to my youth in a way that few pieces of media do. 

Bushido Online

By Nikita Thorn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bushido Online as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How Often Do You Get a Second Chance in Life?
Seth Kinnaman’s dream has always been to become the best fighter the world has ever seen. After spending his entire life training, he’s finally ready to test his skills in the biggest tournament on Earth where hundreds of the fiercest competitors vie for the supreme title.

In the semi-finals, Seth is getting the upper hand when his opponent uses an illegal blow to take him out. Upon waking up from a coma, Seth finds out he’s lost his sight. He’s become blind and he’s completely devastated. All his dreams are…


Who am I?

I’m an autistic unapologetic writing nerd who has spent most of their life using fiction and pop culture to connect better with the world. It has always been the tool, escape, and comfort for me when I feel overwhelmed. As I bite my tongue to keep from monologuing, I always strive to share, introduce, or connect with my passions. Now I use that and my degree in psychology to try to craft worlds that people can feel emotional about in my writing and poetry.


I wrote...

The Crafting of Chess

By Kit Falbo,

Book cover of The Crafting of Chess

What is my book about?

Nate, a teenage chess hustler with a dream, takes a chance in a new fantasy video game. As he was taught that reward doesn’t come without a little risk and a lot of hard work. Crafting, artificial intelligence, pop culture, and a fantasy world mix to brew this story. 

Book cover of Katsuno's Revenge and Other Tales of the Samurai

These eight short stories are samurai-focused historical fiction done with an appreciation for the traditions and the legacy of the warrior class of Old Japan. They all come from the years of the Warring States period, which many argue was the heyday of the samurai and the height of their prowess. These stories capture the values and emotions that drove these warriors, even outside the battlefield. These stories are framed almost like snapshots or sketches, capturing the moment and the character of that moment in vivid fashion.

Katsuno's Revenge and Other Tales of the Samurai

By Asataro Miyamori,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Katsuno's Revenge and Other Tales of the Samurai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These eight compelling stories offer valuable insights into Japanese culture. Recounted by a distinguished scholar, they feature scenes from samurai life that embody the concept of Bushido, the "way of the warrior." Their portrayals of loyalty, romance, passion, and heroism offer a true reflection of the values of the Japanese knighthood.
Largely fact-based, these fables originated among the traditional storytellers of Japan and were later adapted into romances and historical dramas. Asataro Miyamori, a professor of English at the Oriental University in Tokyo, drew upon authentic sources in compiling this volume, which first appeared in 1920. In the preface, Miyamori…


Who am I?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.


I wrote...

Paper Crane Memories

By Alina Lee,

Book cover of Paper Crane Memories

What is my book about?

Paper Crane Memories is summed up as “lesbian samurai drama.” It’s women who love other women in a fantasy setting inspired by the history and folklore of Old Japan, with beauty and romance and tragedy and violence in equal measure.

The Book of Corrections

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon,

Book cover of The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

This book is not a page-turner by any means, but what it does have is hidden information through imagination. It is an eyewitness account in Korean, translated into English concerning the 16th-century Japanese Invasion. It is a step-by-step recounting of how one administrator had to flee the Japanese army as they burned their way through his native lands. The hidden joy is knowing that the samurai army is on his heels and you can feel them in the shadow of the book all the way through. It was a joy to read because it allowed me to see how the Japanese behaved in real war if only from a distance and without the problems of an impassioned samurai pen behind the words. 

The Book of Corrections

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Corrections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Korean


Who am I?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.


I wrote...

The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

By Antony Cummins, Yoshie Minami,

Book cover of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

What is my book about?

The Book of Ninja was penned in 1676 by a ninja known as Fujibayashi Yasutake. Born in the post-civil war era of Japan, Fujibayashi collected and combined information from the ninja clans of Iga and Koka and compiled it into one book. Known as The Bansenhukai – the many rivers which become one - it is widely considered to be the 'bible' of 'ninjutsu', the arts of the ninja. It is considered as one of the three great ninja manuals and it has long since been the main source of information in Japan.

It was not fully published in any language (even Japanese) until 2013 when my team finally finished the colossal task and produced it in English. There are sections on capturing criminals, ninja tools, night raids, making secret codes and signs, and techniques for predicting the weather and using an esoteric Buddhist system of divination.

Samurai Invasion

By Stephen Turnbull, Peter Dennis (illustrator),

Book cover of Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598

This is a lavishly illustrated popular account by a prolific author of books about the samurai. It is written from the Japanese perspective in a very accessible style. The author tends to be somewhat uncritical about Japanese accounts and the book is not nearly as academic as some others on this list, but he presents a clear narrative that is easy to follow and could serve as a useful introduction for readers before moving on to more academic studies.

Samurai Invasion

By Stephen Turnbull, Peter Dennis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Samurai Invasion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the end of the sixteenth century the Samurai, Japanese warrior-nobles, had taken total control of their domestic territory. Their unforgiving militarism needed a new foe to conquer: the target was China, the route to victory through Korea. But the Koreans were no pushover. It was a hard fought and, in the end, an unsuccessful campaign, the only time in their 1,500 year history that the Samurai had attacked another country. The Koreans drove them off. Retribution was inevitable. The Samurai returned in 1597 to wreak vengeance and terrible, wanton havoc on the Koreans in a war of unbelievable savagery.…


Who am I?

I have been fascinated by this war since I first learned about it in graduate school. It inspired my dissertation, which focused on the Three Great Campaigns of the Wanli Emperor, which in turn resulted in my book, A Dragon’s Head & A Serpent’s Tail.  That book has inspired two sequels of sorts thus far, with another one to come.


I wrote...

Book cover of Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598

What is my book about?

The Great East Asian War of 1592-1598 was the largest war in the world in the sixteenth century in terms of the number of troops deployed, yet it is scarcely known outside of East Asia. This book presents the first full-length treatment of this seminal conflict from the perspective of Ming China, which was the target of the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s designs, even though the war itself was fought entirely in Korea.

While focusing on the significance of the war for the Ming Empire in China, this book also brings in Korean and Japanese perspectives and evaluates the war’s significance for early modern military history as a whole, with particular emphasis upon the implications of the conflict for the so-called “Military Revolution” thesis.

Musui's Story

By Katsu Kokichi, Teruko Craig (translator),

Book cover of Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

There is samurai culture as understood by most people, involving bushido, loyalty, honour, and truth and then there is this book, an autobiography by a real samurai about the honest truth about actually being a samurai. Part criminal, part reluctant warrior, this man’s story is one of passion, hardship, and eventual love for his family. It is one of the greatest windows into actual Japanese life, and again, it is not a best seller and is maybe now out of print. If you want to know what a samurai’s life was like after the wars with nothing to do but to just be a samurai, look no further, this is one of my most cherished books.

Musui's Story

By Katsu Kokichi, Teruko Craig (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Musui's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A series of picaresque adventures set against the backdrop of a Japan still closed off from the rest of the world, Musui's Story recounts the escapades of samurai Katsu Kokichi. As it depicts Katsu stealing, brawling, indulging in the pleasure quarters, and getting the better of authorities, it also provides a refreshing perspective on Japanese society, customs, economy, and human relationships.

From childhood, Katsu was given to mischief. He ran away from home, once at thirteen, making his way as a beggar on the great trunk road between Edo and Kyoto, and again at twenty, posing as the emissary of…


Who am I?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.


I wrote...

The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

By Antony Cummins, Yoshie Minami,

Book cover of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

What is my book about?

The Book of Ninja was penned in 1676 by a ninja known as Fujibayashi Yasutake. Born in the post-civil war era of Japan, Fujibayashi collected and combined information from the ninja clans of Iga and Koka and compiled it into one book. Known as The Bansenhukai – the many rivers which become one - it is widely considered to be the 'bible' of 'ninjutsu', the arts of the ninja. It is considered as one of the three great ninja manuals and it has long since been the main source of information in Japan.

It was not fully published in any language (even Japanese) until 2013 when my team finally finished the colossal task and produced it in English. There are sections on capturing criminals, ninja tools, night raids, making secret codes and signs, and techniques for predicting the weather and using an esoteric Buddhist system of divination.

They Came to Japan

By Michael Cooper,

Book cover of They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

This is an impressive collection of first-person accounts of experiences in Japan by various Europeans including Jesuit missionaries, adventurers, and others. Each account is short, and all are organized by themes. Here we learn of audiences with Nobunaga,  Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, along with reports of some of their atrocities. Other entries pertain to the daily life of Japanese people and still others describe great temples and shrines that are still there today. The immediacy of these commentaries sends me back in time to this pivotal epoch in Japanese history when civil wars were ending and two centuries of closure were about to begin. This is ecstasy for the Walter Mitty in me. 

They Came to Japan

By Michael Cooper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked They Came to Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Japan accidentally discovered by the Europeans in 1543 was a country torn by internecene wars waged by independent barons who recognised no effective central government and were free to appropriate as many neighbouring fiefs as force of arms and treachery would permit. The Japan which deported the Europeans a century later was a stable, highly centralised bureaucracy under the firm control of a usurping family which was to continue to rule the country until well into the Victorian age. Europeans living in Japan at the time have not only recorded the events of this fascinating period but also provided…


Who am I?

I'm a retired economics professor from the US who studied Japan for most of my 46-year career and have lived in Kyoto since 2008. I first visited Kyoto in 1981, naively hoping to revel in the splendors of the Heian era, and was disappointed to find that the physical manifestations of medieval Japan as evoked in The Tale of Genji had vanished. But the persisting legacy of that ancient age is still evident to the trained observer. Japan today embodies its past. It's not enough to know that Japan today is a prosperous country. Curious people also want to know how it got that way. The roots lie deep in the past. 


I wrote...

The Japanese Economy

By David Flath,

Book cover of The Japanese Economy

What is my book about?

My book describes the history behind current Japanese economic institutions, practices, and policies and uses economics to explain their possible rationales and likely effects. The economics is explained without presuming the reader has any prior knowledge of it. Anyone who dives into the book will learn much about Japan and will alsoI hope—develop an appreciation of the power of economics to clarify and make logical sense of the world. My coverage begins with economic history from the sixteenth century up through the American occupation and then takes on more current topics—macroeconomy, public finance, international trade and finance,  industrial policy, government spending and taxation, environment, industrial organization, finance, marketing, and labor. In writing the book and revising it over the years, my own interest in Japanese history deepened.  

Women of the Mito Domain

By Kikue Yamakawa, Kate Wildman Nakai (translator),

Book cover of Women of the Mito Domain: Recollections of Samurai Family Life

Want to know how samurai women managed their high status but meager incomes? This engaging memoir takes us inside the nitty-gritty of their everyday life that was frugal by necessity. We learn how samurai women dressed, the importance they placed on meticulous grooming, and how they dealt with in-laws, concubines, and a runaway daughter. It shows how in principle samurai women were expected to practice the martial arts with the naginata (a long, thin halberd), but in fact, they were too busy with household chores to receive more than token training.

For the history buff, the memoir also paints a vivid picture of the civil war that erupted in the Mito domain in 1864 and its devastating consequences for the women whose families ended up on the losing side. 

Women of the Mito Domain

By Kikue Yamakawa, Kate Wildman Nakai (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of the Mito Domain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on the recollection of the author's mother, other relatives, and family records, this is a vivid picture of the everyday life of a samurai household in the last years of the Tokugawa period.


Who am I?

When I was studying Japan in graduate school, my advisor once told me that he hoped I wouldn’t pursue research in women’s history, calling it a fad. He was wrong, but it took me well over ten years to figure that out. Thanks to colleagues and friends, I helped build the field of Japanese women’s history in English, especially for the early modern period. As professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, I remain committed to the possibility of uncovering the lives of yet more amazing women who challenge the stereotypes of docile wife and seductive geisha all too prevalent in fiction set in Japan.


I wrote...

The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

By Anne Walthall,

Book cover of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

What is my book about?

At the age of fifty-one, Matsuo Taseko left her home in a farm village where she had spent most of her life to go to Kyoto. It was 1862, and Japan was in the throes of dealing with a new international order. Was she going to further her study of classical poetry with court nobles, or was she going to demonstrate her loyalty to the emperor and expel the Western “barbarians”? Although she played a minor role in the events that ended the age of the samurai, her deeds were nonetheless astonishing for a woman of her day.

She was honored as a patriot even before her death, but her story also speaks to the transformative potential of a woman’s old age. 

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