15 Anime You Would Never Guess Are Based On True Stories

Anime is often out there - like waaaay out there. So you wouldn’t necessarily expect some of the crazier titles to have any basis in reality. Believe it or not, animated shows that are based on a true story are not limited to obvious historical anime like The Rose of Versailles, or Barefoot Gen. There’s no way a story about three spirit penguins is an example of anime inspired by real events, right?

Wrong! Mawaru Penguindrum indeed has a basis in reality and a quite sobering one at that. But Penguindrum isn’t alone. In fact, there’s quite a bit of anime that’s surprisingly based on a true story, so let’s check some out. Hold on to your Trunks ‘cause some of these are pretty wild! 


  • Steins;Gate Is Based On An Actual (Pretend) Time Traveler
    Photo: White Fox

    In 2000, a man going by the name of John Titor went nanners on some online forums, claiming to be a time traveler from 2036. He warned of a rapidly approaching World War and nuclear fallout. Of course, none of his predictions came to fruition, but there was a video game and anime series inspired by his rantings.

    In Steins;Gate, a group of friends who view themselves as mad scientists discover a method of sending text messages back in time. They try to use this to change the timeline after finding the body of a dead neuroscientist, but of course, things go awry. They probably should have watched The Flash before attempting to mess with time.

  • Frieza Is Inspired By Real-Life Assh*les
    Photo: Toei Animation

    In the late '80s, Japan experienced an economic bubble known as the Japanese asset price bubble. Frieza is based on Japanese real estate speculators who made exorbitant amounts of money by selling real estate at extremely inflated prices.

    Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama found them to be despicable creatures, so he made a horrific character that conquered planets and sold them off. That insufferable douche was called Frieza. 

  • Mawaru Penguindrum Was Inspired By A Terrorist Attack
    Photo: Brain's Base

    Mawaru Penguindrum is not only the greatest named anime, it's also quite harrowing as it uses a real-life 1995 terror attack in Tokyo as the backdrop. On March 20, 1995, a group attacked multiple lines of the Tokyo subway with sarin gas.

     Mawaru Penguindrum is the story of two brothers who must find an item called the Penguindrum to save their terminally ill sister. The story confronts the effect that the real-world attack had on children. 

  • Tetsuko No Tabi Is A Truly Non-Fictional Anime About A Travel Writer

    Tetsuko No Tabi Is A Truly Non-Fictional Anime About A Travel Writer
    Photo: Group TAC

    A Japanese travel writer named Hirohiko Yokomi believed his adventures to be so exciting that he had a manga artist accompany him and illustrate his wanderings. Thus, Tetsuko no Tabi was born. Yokomi, being a train aficionado, had the anime focus largely on the trains and the stations he visited (which number around 10,000). 

  • Grave of the Fireflies is an animated film based on a semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. The story is about two young siblings whose mother is killed in a bombing at the end of World War II. Seita desperately tries to keep his younger sister Setsuko alive, but she ultimately dies of malnutrition.

    Roger Ebert actually put it on his "Great Movies" list in 2000, considering it to be one of the most powerful war films of all time.

  • Aoi Bungaku Includes An Arc Based On A Novel Based On Real Life... Kind Of
    Photo: Madhouse

    The "No Longer Human" story arc from the anime series Aoi Bungaku is based on the Japanese novel of the same name by Osamu Dazai. The novel is thought to be largely autobiographical with a large focus on the theme of suicide, which the author committed shortly after the book was published.

    In fact, many believed the novel to be Dazai's will. So Aoi Bungaku icludes a tertiary telling of a potentially true story.