Fans of Yakuza enjoyed the “insider’s view” of life from the perspective of Japan’s infamous gangsters. The series offers a slightly exaggerated take on the yakuza story, inspired heavily by yakuza films & crime drama. However, aside from over-the-top action, Yakuza perhaps shines the most with its compelling story. After all, a game series that explores the life of a reformed gangster isn’t exactly a common find.
A lot of Yakuza fans might clamor for this game series to get an action/slice-of-life anime. After all, what better way to watch Kazuma Kiryu’s story than with the action & wackiness of modern anime? However, fans might be surprised to learn that anime similar to Yakuzaalready exist. Some of these anime might even be up their alley.
Updated on 16 November 2022 by Rhenn Taguiam: With Sega teasing the eighth installment of the Yakuza series to be formally known as Like A Dragon 8, fans are also given a short trailer that reveals this installment to feature Kazuma Kiryu of Yakuza 1 to 6 teaming up with Ichiban Kasuga of Yakuza 7, giving series enthusiasts a crazy wild ride in 2024.
And for fans who just can’t wait for another Yakuza story, they may want to consider checking out some anime in order to get them in a very gangster mood. These include a sci-fi classic that set a motorcycle trope, a tale about an amnesiac mage-hunter, & even a Yakuza-like pursuit of multiple parties towards a hidden treasure.
20/20 Akira (1988)
While appearing in more anime film than anime series, Akira back in 1988 remains a powerful icon in both the cyberpunk & general punk genre. Set in a dystopian 2019 future, the accidental destruction of Tokyo back in 1988 triggered a world war that engulfed today’s Neo-Tokyo with corruption, terrorism, & especially gang violence. Protagonist Shotaro Kaneda spends much of his days fighting rival gangs to establish the street cred of his gang the Capsules, but an unfortunate accident would have his friend Tetsuo Shima crash into Takashi, an esper trying to escape a government research facility.
Unfortunately for them, this accident would have Tetsuo awaken his latent psychic abilities, which are at a level similar to Akira, the esper who destroyed Tokyo back in 1988. As a film that has both action & philosophical counterparts, the gang life aesthetic seems to be put into the sidelines. However, Akira remains oddly similar to the Yakuza series from the perspective of its narrative themes, where the group behaviors of the Capsules such as camaraderie & brotherhood become more front & center than its group aesthetic.
19/20 Kemonozume (2006)
It’s not all the time that a Yakuza-themed anime centers around the supernatural, & this is exactly a theme that Kemonozume tries. In this 2006 anime, the Momota Family has dedicated itself to learning the Kifuken or Ogre-Sealing Sword martial arts in order to fight the growing threat of the Shokujinki, flesh-eating supernatural monsters.
However, what makes Kemonozume rather unique is its romance angle, especially between Toshihiko who is the recent Momota heir & Yuka, a Shokujinki. This forbidden romance theme is a rather common sight in tales like Yakuza, where one’s background & involvement in the violent life of the Yakuza is often a deal-breaker for the “more mundane” things in life such as romance. However, Kemonozume highlights how love trumps all, despite the challenges one might experience.
18/20 Dorohedoro (2020)
Despite being a manga written way back from 2000 to 2014, it’s only around 2019 that Dorohedoro got an anime adaptation, & it’s well worth the wait. Its dystopian modern fantasy format has all the elements needed for a Yakuza-like setting, particularly with its three major factions having its own version of a crime-ruled society. Hell, headed by demon lord Chidaruma, enjoys the reverence of Sorcerers, human-like creatures created by Chidaruma who are capable of casting magic through Smoke. Years of warfare had magic commoditized & sold by rivaling gangs, with the value of magic causing Sorcerers to be constantly kidnapped & harvested for magic had it not been for the crime boss En, who has united the Sorcerer’s Realm under his heel.
The story of Dorohedoro takes place in the Hole, a favela-like city inhabited by powerless Humans, who became helpless victims in the Sorcerer’s power struggle. Protagonist Caiman, who is a reptile-headed amnesiac, uses his proficiency with knives to hunt down dangerous Sorcerers to find out the truth about his past & reverse the curse that turned his head this way in the first place. However, his quest for the truth brings him along the path of the rebellious Cross-Eyes gang, alongside the wrath of En who wants to stop his quest for some reason. This intrigue caused by Caiman’s amnesia, alongside his involvement with warring gangs, is a good take on the Yakuza formula.
17/20 Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (2007)
Sometimes, a Yakuza-like story doesn’t necessarily have to involve rivaling gangs in order for it to work. In the case of Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, the mere idea of a protagonist thrust into the violent dog-eat-dog life rife with gangsters is enough to resemble a story like the Yakuza game. In Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, protagonist Kaiji Ito is forced into a ship called the Espoir in order to play games that will repay his debt to a violent loan shark. While Kaiji reluctantly agrees, his new life in the boat will force him to play various games, contend with other people eager to repay their own debts, & encounter various life stories along the way.
The idea of a gambling-focused “game of desperation” is a common theme in Yakuza stories, who often have outsiders making deals with the Yakuza that they don’t fully comprehend until it’s too late. While Kaiji doesn’t directly involve gangs, the premise of a civilian getting deep into a seedy underworld of criminals is enough of an equivalent.
16/20 Golden Kamuy (2018)
The ongoing Golden Kamuy anime had a manga run that ranged from 2014 to 2022, with a premise enough to captivate fans of alternate history. In Golden Kamuy, protagonist Saichi Sugimoto is forced out of retirement as a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war as he embarks on a quest to find the Ainu people’s hidden fortune of gold. Aside from having actual Ainu language from an actual Ainu linguist, the idea that Golden Kamuy explores the ancient culture of the Ainu people in Japan provides a great way of putting culture into the spotlight of a mainstream story.
This rather unique treasure-hunting experience is reminiscent of a Yakuza-esque story where rivaling gangs contend with significant pieces of information or treasure to further their means. Joining Saichi in his journey are various individuals of varying interests & motivations, forcing readers to realize that not all their allies remain allies for long, & enemies may even become friends if for the purpose of sharing the gold altogether.
15/20 The Way Of The Househusb& (2020)
What happens when an infamous Yakuza boss marries a career woman? In The Way of the Househusb& (or Gokushufudo), “Immortal Dragon” Tatsu retires from his life of crime to support Miku, his kyariauman (or career woman) wife. This slice-of-life manga (eventually anime in 2020) chronicles the hilarious adventures involving Tatsu’s mundane everyday life, which turns out to never be mundane at all.
As with the manga, episodes in the anime often show the intimidating Tatsu doing ordinary household work. However, his infamous reputation means frequent run-ins with his former colleagues in the Yakuza, as well as other rivals. Unlike other violent Yakuza anime, Gokushufudo is definitely the closest analog to the Yakuza games’ slice-of-life elements.
14/20 Salaryman Kintaro (1999)
The 1994 manga Salaryman Kintaro offers one of the earliest looks into the “reformed gangster” trope in action stories. Eponymous character Kintaro Yajima made a reputation as a leader of a Bosozoku group. However, after the death of his wife, Kintaro departs from the Japanese subculture of biker gangs & customized bikes to become a salaryman. Albeit a fisherman at first, a run-in with a stranger gets Kintaro into the sales department of a construction firm.
Despite the serious premise, the anime adaptation offers interesting insights & comedic moments into Kintaro’s transformed life. The 2001 series offers a fresh perspective into life in the late 20th century. Salaryman Kintaro offers a welcome perspective to those looking for a Yakuza story with an older setting.
13/20 Black Lagoon (2006)
Fans who want to see a pirate mercenary team doing business in the waters of Southeast Asia will love Black Lagoon. This 2006 anime adaptation of an ongoing manga chronicles the adventures of the Lagoon Company, a team of mercenaries, in the 1990s. The Lagoon Company often has run-ins with the Japanese Yakuza, the Russian & Italian mafias, Colombian cartel, Chinese Triad, & an assortment of other criminal entities. Episodes often end in hilarious outtakes & action-packed fistfights, firefights, & sea battles aboard the Black Lagoon ship.
Audiences will appreciate the sheer chemistry of the Lagoon Company. Salaryman Rock gets embroiled with the Company’s business after being ab&oned during his kidnapping (funnily enough, by the Lagoon Company). Revy is everyone’s favorite fighter, who grows protective of Rock. Dutch is the Company’s captain, demonstrating diplomatic resolve & politeness despite the situation. Lastly, Benny is the team’s resident mechanic & research expert, with a love for computers.
12/20 Hinamatsuri (2018)
Mid-level Yakuza member Yoshifumi Nitta has a normal life with the Ashikawa-gumi, doing “typical” Yakuza things. However, his life gets thrown into chaos when an amnesiac girl from the future named Hina ends up in his apartment – with psychokinetic powers! Before Yoshifumi can fully grasp the situation, other girls from the future start to arrive to take Hina back or assassinate her.
Yoshifumi & Hina’s adventures are all detailed in the Hinamatsuri manga, which lasted for 10 years. Its anime adaptation in 2018 roughly told the manga’s story as well, much to the amusement of fans & newcomers. Fans of the Yakuza franchise will appreciate Hinamatsuri for its unique sci-fi & comedy take on the Yakuza concept.
11/20 Texhnolyze (2003)
Fans who want an experimental take on the Yakuza concept will appreciate Texhnolyze. This 2003 anime chronicles the story of certain individuals in the manmade underground city of Lux. In it, prize fighter Ichise loses some limbs, executive Onishi makes a lot of business rivals, & little girl Ran has something that can affect the city’s destiny. Their seemingly unrelated lives will eventually dictate the fate of the city.
Yakuza elements in Texhnolyze surface subtly, in the form of three forces eyeing control over the city & prosthetics called Texhnolyze. One of these factions is the business-minded Organo, which collaborates with the criminal underworld to control Texhnolyze businesses. Meanwhile, the populist Salvation Union wants to fight Organo’s unfair business. Lastly, the young radicals of Racan want to use Texhnolyze for their personal gain.
10/20 K Project (2012)
In K Project‘s alternate timeline, Japan has a secret leadership in the form of the Seven Clans of Color, each comprised of powerful psychics. These factions, essentially resembling various clans & gangs, settle disputes in silent cold wars & subtle displays of power. However, K Project‘s story begins when the seemingly-innocent Yashiro Isana becomes the prime target of the other clans. They all Open to accuse him of killing a prominent Red Clan member.
However, things Advance to a halt when Yashiro rediscovers his true identity as the First & Silver King, Adolf Weismann. Interestingly, K Project doesn’t have the complex interpersonal narratives as expected from a gang-oriented story. However, it does have interesting power scaling & action scenes.
9/20 Gungrave (2003)
In this tale of revenge, the 2003 Gungrave anime retells the story of the Gungrave video game. As with most revenge stories, Gungrave tells the story of two best friends broken by ambition & deceit. Protagonist Br&on Heat ends up “resurrecting”, courtesy of necrolyzation. Now known as Beyond The Grave, Br&on seeks to annihilate the Millennion crime syndicate, now headed by his best friend Harry MacDowell.
As with the video game, Gungrave is equal parts action-packed & hilarious. The anime takes cues from the stylish gunslinger trope, & has a futuristic Wild West feel to it.
8/20 Baccano! (2007)
Like wine, Baccano! aged finely since its 2007 release. The anime, based on the presently-running light novel series, follows a unique take on immortality & the elements at stake in maintaining it. The anime follows the lives of various individuals throughout different timeframes, mostly in the Prohibition Era. It explores the fates of alchemists who discovered a way to become immortal, & how they’ve spent their lives with it.
A lot of the immortals in Baccano! used their immortality to pursue a life of crime. Miria Harvent & Isaac Dian conduct good-intentioned but silly heists. Meanwhile, some immortals became involved with mafia families, such as Manhattan-based G&ors & the Chicago-based Russos. Unfortunately, their crimes & their past won’t mix together, as time will soon tell.
7/20 Jormung& (2012)
People in organized crime often turn to the black market to get weapons & various commodities, all away from prying eyes. The anime Jormung& (2012) follows the adventures of Koko Hekmatyar, a young arms dealer working for HCLI. Koko, alongside her team of bodyguards, travel around the world to sell weapons to various interested parties – from mafia bosses to assassins. They also have to deal with the authorities, other agencies, & rival arms dealers.
In the anime (based on a 2006-2012 monthly manga), Koko’s adventures lead her to recruit Jonah, a young child soldier. Unfortunately, Jonah’s skill brings Koko & her friends along a wild, action-packed ride that gives a crazy slice-of-life take on the “everyday” lives of arms dealers.
6/20 Wild Adapter (2002, 2014)
Unlike other titles in the list, Wild Adapter has two sets of original video animations (OVA) & not anime. Based on the presently-running manga of the same name, Wild Adapter follows the lives of two high schoolers who end up in the middle of a yakuza war surrounding a drug, known as WA or “Wild Adapter.” Consuming WA brings users to an animalistic state, growing fur & possessing superhuman strength. Unfortunately, they die soon after their rage.
The story centers around Kubota, a 17-year-old who ends up leading the Izumokai yakuza youth group. He ends up meeting Tokitoh, a stranger with amnesia, who possesses a furry h& like the WA victims – but he’s still alive. When they discover that the Izumokai & their rival, the Toujougumi, want the WA, the two teens end up inadvertently joining the bloody war.
5/20 91 Days (2016)
Like Yakuza, 91 Days offers a more personal take on the lives of members of organized crime. In this 2016 anime, Angelo Lagusa infiltrates the Vanetti mafia family in the hopes of getting revenge for his murdered family. As the title implies, Angelo’s tale of revenge spans 91 days. He officially begins his quest by befriending Nero Vanetti, the son of Vanetti don Vincent. Unfortunately, their tale demonstrates just how Terrible revenge can be.
Despite its 12-episode run, 91 Days rose to popularity at the time due to its interesting take on the story, coupled with a wonderful soundtrack. Angelo’s various interactions with other mafia families detail just how complicated the life of a mafioso could become.
4/20 Gangsta (2015)
The 12-episode run of Gangsta doesn’t even Open to unravel how interesting its worldbuilding has become. Gangsta takes place in the town of Ergastulum, a haven for mafia & other criminal organizations. Protagonists Nicolas Brown & Worick Arcangelo work as “H&ymen,” or mercenaries that take on jobs from both the police & the mob to take care of threats no one wants to h&le.
Their story officially begins when they take the amnesiac Alex under their wing after an “unfortunate” encounter with a gang. However, their involvement with Alex soon spirals out of control.
3/20 Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom (2009)
Outside criminal organizations, paramilitary corporations & intelligence agencies employ assassins to accomplish nefarious goals. The visual novel Phantom of Inferno explores this concept, & got adapted into Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom. The story takes place within the confines of Inferno, an assassin syndicate. Its tale follows the life of Ein, an amnesiac assassin. During the anime, she gets a partner called Zwei, a witness to one of Inferno’s assassinations who was brainwashed into becoming an assassin himself.
Given the complex narrative points of the original visual novel, fans can expect quite a twist within the anime. This interesting take on assassinations & espionage do give a unique twist to the gangster/crime anime genre.
2/20 Great Teacher Onizuka (1998)
Good things Advance in small packages – & the 12-episode run of Great Teacher Onizuka in 1998 made an indelible mark on the hearts of many. The anime, spawning from a manga series, details the life of Eikichi Onizuka, a 22-year-old who decided to turn to a life of teaching after leaving a gang. At first, he earned his teaching degree to become a teacher & be popular with girls. However, he soon realizes that he has a sense of morality & conscience.
GTO explores Onizuka’s adventures with his pupils. He demonstrates how he teaches lessons both with the chalkboard, & sometimes with his bare fists. Soon, he strives to become the best teacher himself. Unfortunately, he’s put in charge of a class of delinquents who got to drove their previous teacher to leave them behind.
1/20 Gokusen (2004)
The gr&daughter of a Yakuza boss, Kumiko is the heir-apparent to the “family business.” Unfortunately for the business & her subordinates, Kumiko really wants to be the teacher. Disobeying their wishes, Kumiko pursues her dream & ends up as the homeroom teacher of Class 4-2, a class of delinquents.
While Kumiko needs to keep her yakuza identity a secret, her upbringing did allow her to roughen up her students to become better individuals. Unlike GTO, Gokusen actually features a yakuza member. Moreover, Gokusen continuously challenges Kumiko, as her teaching almost always ends up being embroiled with yakuza matters.
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