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Top 5 Strongest Swordsmen in Rurouni Kenshin

Updated on October 1, 2017
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy investigates several topics in-between juggling college with nanotechnology research (for fingerprint imaging purposes).

Kenshin and his Battosai form
Kenshin and his Battosai form

Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin, sometimes called Samurai X, chronicles the tale of a red-haired swordsman, Kenshin, who seeks to atone for his past sins as an assassin dubbed "Battosai the Man-Slayer". Haunted by the murders of war he committed years ago, Kenshin now wields a reverse-blade sword (capable of striking foes with a blunt edge to prevent them from dying), and wanders Japan, protecting innocent lives as penance for his past.

Throughout his travels, he encounters a variety of characters, and many powerful swordfighters. Kenshin also struggles to contain the murderer within himself, and repress his natural talent at killing.

Well, good luck with that, Kenshin, but we're here to examine the six best fighters seen in the series, and what makes them so powerful!
Warning: spoilers ahead.

Saito's Gotetsu stance
Saito's Gotetsu stance

5. Hajime Saito

First, the brutal anti-hero, Hajime Saito, who fights for the harsh justice of "aku soku zan", slay evil immediately. Saito begrudgingly works alongside Kenshin to thwart the efforts of rebels, and the two are acquainted from Kenshin's days as Battosai.

Saito's strengths:

  • Expet swordsman and skilled martial artist
  • Signature attack is a powerful thrust called the Gotetsu
  • Ruthless and cunning strategist


Saito wields a katana and the techniques of the real-life Shinsengumi. He had a brutal battle with Kenshin where both fighters barely walked away alive, although this clash took place before Kenshin's re-training.

Best part about Saito? He was an actual historical figure with impressive sword skills.

Aoshi Shinomori
Aoshi Shinomori | Source

4. Aoshi Shinomori

The reserved Aoshi Shinomori leads a group called the Oniwabanshu, Aoshi excels in defensive swordfighting, moving fluidly across a battlefield with a technique called Kaiten Kenbu. He has a compassionate heart buried beneath his cold exterior, but can be misguided with his intentions. At the end of the day, he proves a steadfast ally to Kenshin.

Aoshi's strengths:

  • Lethal with either one or two blades, utilizes a defensive style
  • Nearly bested Kenshin both prior to and after Kenshin's retraining
  • Brandishes several unique techniques, including one thats hits six times at once (don't question it, it's anime)


Impressively, Aoshi is the only of four (the others being Kenshin, Saito, and Sanosuke) who battled the fearsome Shishio and wasn't knocked out at any point.

Plus, he once defeated Sanosuke in a single blow. Sano loses many of his fights, granted, but he's always able to endure a long beatdown before falling - except against Aoshi.

Makoto Shishio
Makoto Shishio

3. Makoto Shishio

The diabolical Makoto Shishio replaced Kenshin as an assassin after Kenshin became disillusioned with murdering. Betrayed by his own government, Shishio survived an assassination attempt - but his body was heavily mutilated. This helped influence his beliefs in social Darwinism; only the strong deserve to survive.

Shishio's strengths:

  • Once he's seen an attack once, he can develop ways to counter it
  • All-around incredible swordsman
  • "Cheats" to grantee victory (utilizes gunpowder, throws innocents in front of himself to block hits, etc.)


Eventually, he crosses blades with Kenshin in a climatic battle. Fans like to dispute who the stronger of the two really is; both are certainly powerful swordsmen

Shishio's biggest weakness is time - he can only safely battle for fifteen minutes before his body temperature rises to dangerous levels. You gotta give this guy credit - he fought, and mostly defeated, four main characters in a row (though all of them had been previously injured). Still, perhaps there are stronger assassins around..

Kenshin Himura
Kenshin Himura

2. Kenshin Himura

Protagonist Kenshin takes today's silver medal. His small height and thin build make him physically weaker than some characters, but his legendary speed and technique more than compensate. See below for a quick analysis of his abilities compared to Shishio's.

As the series progresses, Kenshin completes his training of the Hiten Mitsurugi sword style, further advancing his already monstrous skill.

Kenshin's strengths:

  • Lightning-fast, and able to quickly analyze opponents
  • Masters the ultimate attack of the Hiten Mitsurugi style
  • Manages to pull off the ponytail surprisingly well


Kenshin wields the reverse-blade sword, designed to spare opponents' lives; if he used a regular weapon, his adversaries would quickly perish. Though his days as a man-slayer are over, the fact that he can still beat talented swordsmen who don't handicap themselves demonstrates his amazing talent with a sword.

Still, I'm afraid you're not quite number one, Kenshin..

Kenshin Vs Shishio

This clash is a topic fiercely debated, in my mind, Kenshin emerges victorious.

It's true Shishio knocked Kenshin out. But that was only because our ginger hero had previously fought (and beaten) two talented warriors, obtaining injuries in the skirmishes.

Additionally, Shishio 'cheated' multiple times in their battle, like when he cut through his own girlfriend's body to land a sneak attack. Plus, Kenshin landed five hits at one point that would have surely torn Shishio apart had he been wielding a normal blade.

Seriously, you're going to regret that on Valentine's, Shishio.

Honorable Mentions

Swordsman
Abilities
Reasons not included
Amakusa Shōgo
Powerful wielder of the same sword style Kenshin uses.
Status as a filler character.
Seta Sōjirō
Incredibly fast.
Relies completely on speed and lacks experience.
Uonuma Usui
Effectively wields a spear and shield despite being blind.
Simply not quite skilled enough.
Udo Jin'e
Ruthless swordsman who can magically paralyze opponents.
Strong-spirited foes can break his magic spell.
More impressive fighters
Hiko Seijuro XIII
Hiko Seijuro XIII

1. Hiko Seijuro XIII

First place has to go to Kenshin's teacher, the thirteenth student of the Hiten Mitsurugi style.

Hiko matches Kenshin in speed and technique, but far surpasses him in physical power. He's is an interesting mentor to our protagonist; he lends a hand when needed, but is sarcastic and verbally while doing so.

Hiko's strengths:

  • Amazingly talented (has never lost a real fight in the series)
  • Like Kenshin, has mastered the Hiten Mitsurugi style and all its techniques
  • Bigger build lends power to his form, and he'll kill when necessary


Despite their differences in philosophies, Kenshin readily admits Hiko's skills are "undoubtedly the best". In fact, the creator of the show had trouble incorporating Hiko into the plot, stating that Hiko is strong enough to solve Kenshin's problems easily. .

Lazy, antisocial, and blunt, Hiko appears rough around the edges, but wields the most lethal blade of all.

Your Favorite

Which fighter do you prefer?

See results

Legacy

Kenshin's adventures are a few decades old by now, but there's still a lot of fun to be had with them. If you're looking for an anime that blends realism and fantasy, give Roruni Kenshin a try. The English dub is surprisingly good, too.

I'll see you at our next countdown, and remember, despite what anime teaches you, stabbing your girlfriend through the heart will not make her love you.

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    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 5 weeks ago from Louisiana

      @Joe

      Thank you, and never fear--I could discuss Aoshi vs Saito all day long. You make good points both ways, and I agree that Saito has a definite edge in experience.

      It's true that Aoshi's emotional state is unstable, but he arguably emerges mentally stronger than Saito at the end. The series emphasizes the power of "the will to live" (which is what Kenshin learns after being retrained by Hiko), and Aoshi likewise learns this from Kenshin.

      In other words, the show displays that it takes fortitude, not weakness, to display mercy/compassion and value life. Kenshin greatly strengthens after recognizing this, and even Hiko seems to somewhat adopt his pupil's mindset (he continues living despite the normal death of the master after teaching the student the ultimate attack, and he spares Fuji). In the end, Aoshi seems far closer to this strength than Saito, and as I mentioned to Luke, correctly realized that fighting defensively against Shishio would ultimately help more than Saito's fruitless offense.

      But hey, that's just my opinion. Glad to see people still so interested in the series years after its completion!

    • profile image

      Joe 5 weeks ago

      Great article - thank you for it.

      On the Saito vs Aoshi point, I would side with Saito marginally based on the following.

      Saito and Aoshi are both great technicians. While Saito is more of a specialist in one technique and is able to vary it excellently, Aoshi has a few different techniques that he executes with excellence. So I think on a technical level, there is nothing or almost nothing to choose between them.

      Some people say Saito, is more limited because he relied one technique, however, in the anime he was extremely innovative using his belt to disarm Kenshin and his jacket to throttle him, and in the manga, he adjusted his gatotsu against the Su Shen by leading with his hand instead of the sword to and grabbing the guy’s mouth so as to not have a blind spot against the long range weapon. He was a complete master of the gatotsu and could use it any way he wanted, so I don’t think using less techniques is a disadvantage for Saito, but it is arguable Aoshi has a slight edge with his various techniques.

      I would say that Saito has the advantage of experience being older than Aoshi (Saito around 34 and Aoshi around 27 in the 10th year of the Meiji era), having fought and survived the chaos and deathmatches of the bakumatsu and kept on sharpening his skills as a Police spy. As Saito stated in the anime, he had more death match experience than Kenshin, Aoshi and Sano put together.

      Mentally, both are both excellent at analysing their opponent's techniques, however, I feel Saito is able to better psychologically analyse his opponent due to his greater experience and he demonstrates this against Usui and Kenshin.

      I don't think the Kenshin fight at the dojo is fully indicative of Saito's full ability because he kept on raising his intensity level to match Kenshin (rather than starting at full intensity) and there was no resolution to the fight since Saito was testing Kenshin. For all we know he could raise his level quite a bit more.

      And when he fought Shishio both his legs had been stabbed, and yet he mustered up a pin point accurate gatotsu that hit the target as well as a zero stance gatotsu (which he never used against Kenshin). His performance against Shishio pretty much matched Kenshin’s initial performance against Shishio despite his injured legs (which is a more of a problem for a swordsman than a wound to the torso) until the Guren Kaina knocked them both out for a while. Aoshi on the other hand only defended against Shishio (understandable due to his Kenshin fight injuries).

      Aoshi has youth on his side, but both were pretty much at their physical peak. It’s possible Aoshi may have a slight advantage in terms of potential agility or endurance. However, I think there would be nothing to choose between them in speed as Saito’s gatotsu has to be extremely fast to work.

      Saito probably had the psychological advantage. Saito was never confused about his reason for fighting. He had a bedrock of confidence and clarity of mind. Aoshi’s state of mind in comparison was quite confused for a lot of the anime, and only afterwards does his mind get clearer through meditation.

      In hand to hand combat too, Aoshi may also have the slight edge with his kenpo which incorporates kicks and punches, while Saito’s style was more like boxing. However, I think that the biggest advantage for Saito is that he is deceptive, cunning and more than willing to fight dirty. Aoshi seemed somewhat more honourable in his fighting style (although he did some dishonourable things e.g. fighting Okina)

      Overall it’s really tight, but if they survived 100 matches against each other, I’d give it to Saito for 60 of them.

      There is also Watsuki the author’s statement Saito could defeat Kenshin, unless Kenshin was fighting for someone, while Aoshi never defeated Kenshin.

      Hope that didn't bore you! But it's certainly an interesting topic for me!

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 5 weeks ago from Louisiana

      @Luke

      Sounds like you've experienced just about everything the series has to offer! I agree that the non-Trust movies and OVAs never match the quality, though I enjoyed some of the fights from the live action films. They're not stupendous, but some fun can be had for diehard Kenshin fans.

    • profile image

      Luke 5 weeks ago

      @ Jeremy Gill

      Trust and Betrayal is indeed a masterpiece, loved it as well. The english dub is horrible though, with some embarrassing translations as well.

      I've also seen the remake 'New Kyoto Arc', which in my opinion was -apart from a few fights- kind of disappointing. I'm also not a big fan of the 2nd OVA 'Rurouni Kenshin: Refection'. Both are way below the quality of the anime and Trust and Betrayal.

      I've also watched the live action movies, but none of them could convince me to be honest. Have to give them credit for their effort though. Any thoughts?

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 6 weeks ago from Louisiana

      @Luke

      True, only Saito fought Kenshin when Kenshin was willing to kill. However, after further training from Hiko, Kenshin is said to access his full swordsman potential, just without his killing intent. Thus, Aoshi also fought Kenshin at his peak, and he was defeated by Kenshin's ultimate technique, a move Saito never had to face.

      Regardless, Saito and Aoshi are both undoubtedly quite skilled, and I can respect the viewpoint of Saito being stronger.

      I have seen Trust and Betrayal, and highly recommend it to Kenshin fans who haven't. Loved it, even have a few tracks from it on my mp3. It finally shows how lethal Kenshin was a Battosai and revisits some familiar faces.

    • profile image

      Luke 6 weeks ago

      @ Jeremy Gill

      Thanks for your kind words & response. You also seem to know a lot about Kenshin. I've been kind of busy these last few months, so I apologize for my rather late response.

      Here are my thoughts: Aoshi indeed becomes stronger after mastering the 2 blades and, unlike Saito, fights Kenshin after the latter masters the final attack. However, Aoshi didn't fight Kenshin during the revolution, a period where Kenshin becomes known as the manslayer for his ruthless killing. Saito (and the other Shinsengumi-captains) did fight Kenshin on multiple occasions, with all fights being inconclusive. And although incomplete when compared to the Kenshin who masters the final attack, the Kenshin during the revolution appears more dangerous as he would probably kill everyone who is in his way.

      During their first fight after 10 years, Kenshin could have decapitated Saito were it not for the reversed-blade sword. True. But then again, Saito was holding back the whole time as well and could have stabbed Kenshin with his first Gatotsu if he had used his full strength. When both become serious, the fight again ends inconclusive.

      You could have a valid point about Aoshi's tactical analyses against Shishio. However, as Saito lives by the code of the samourai, I think stalling time wouldn't be something Saito would do, especially as a former Shinsengumi-captain. I would say that, even though he knows that he can't beat Shishio in his current condition, he still fights him 'because he lives and dies by the sword', perhaps hoping on a lucky stab with the zero stance. During the show, I think Saito shows that his analytical en tactical skills are peerless.

      For me personally there's no doubt. Saito would win against Aoshi for sure.

      On another note, did you watch the OVA 'Trust and betrayal'? If you haven't, I would strongly recommend it. Although being more 'dark and sad' and having a different drawing, I believe it's truly a masterpiece, perhaps even better than the anime. It basically tells the story of Kenshin during the revolution. Would like to hear your thoughts on that as well!

      To conclude, as stated below by Rag Del, I think Okita Soji derves a mention as well. The captain of the first squad of the Shinsengumi was said to be on par with Saito, where others state he was the srongest of the Shinsengumi. Unfortunaltely, he dies of tuberculosis during the Bakamatsu.

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      Rag Del 2 months ago

      You failed to mention Okita Soji.

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 4 months ago from Louisiana

      @Isaiah

      Thanks man! To be honest, Fuji was never one of my favorite characters (his giant size contradicts with the semi-realistic feel of the show), but simply being that large certainly grants a major advantage.

      Yes, Saito vs. Aoshi is definitely a hard match to call. Another point I'd like to make is that Shishio (renowned for being very intelligent and analytical) admits the fight could go either way when asked if Kenshin or Aoshi will prevail, showing he has faith Aoshi could potentially defeat Kenshin.

      Still, you make some good points and I'm curious to hear more thoughts about that matchup.

    • profile image

      Isaiah 4 months ago

      A very impressive list indeed, and with valid reasons and a cogent analysis. Very well done.

      Hiko Seijuro is without a doubt the strongest swordsmen in the series. Even the creator himself said so. In fact, the character is so strong that the author was unable to include the character in too much of the plot. Simple because Hiko would've solved all of Kenshin's problems in perhaps less than 10 seconds' time.

      I feel like Fuji should be mentioned somehow. I think Fuji is severely underrated. Fuji's monstrous size came with: a) tremendous durability b) tremendous strength. Every time I tried to think about it, I still have trouble imagining how Shishio might be able to take down Fuji. I kept thinking about the effects of Shishio's techniques might have had on Fuji. For instance, Guren Kaina might have given Fuji a what...? Foot blister?

      It is unsurprising to see somewhat of a debate between the rankings of Aoshi and Saito. Both are good, no doubt. The only problem I have with Saito is the inflexibility of his techniques. Who knows, maybe Saito does have other techniques in his arsenal. But I think if Saito and Aoshi were to fight each other, it would all boil down to tactics and strategy, or maybe the knowledge and insight into the other's techniques. Because in terms of skills and techniques, both have techniques to counter the other. For instance, Aoshi's Ryusui (water flowing) technique would make it difficult for Saito's Gatotsu to connect.

      But in my opinion, I think that Saito might have a slight edge. Becaues if Aoshi were to execute his Kaiten Kenbu Rokuren on Saito (which requires Aoshi to get into close quarters with Saito), then Saito would have finished the fight with the Gatotsu Zero Shiki. Of course, if Aoshi had known in the first place the existence of the Zero Shiki, then things would be different.

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
      Author

      Jeremy Gill 6 months ago from Louisiana

      @Luke

      Thanks for your well-thought out and polite response. I can tell you definitely know a lot about this series!

      Here's my thinking: Perhaps Saito is stronger than Aoshi during Aoshi's first fight with Kenshin, but Aoshi definitely seems stronger after he masters his two blades.

      Kenshin and Saito's clash had no conclusion, true, but Kenshin landed a blow to Saito's neck at one point that, had Kenshin been wielding a normal sword like Saito was, would have decapitated him, making me think that Kenshin's skill at the point (prior to his re-training) is superior to Saito.

      With Shishio, it's true that Saito's attack would have killed him were it not for his hidden head-guard, but this was a surprise attack, and little reflection of superior skill. Even Saito's ultimate hidden form of the Gotetsu (something Shishio hadn't seen before) was countered effortlessly.

      Aoshi (who also was injured, like Saito, from before the contest) not only lasted longer, but recognized that his best chance was to stall for time rather than attack an opponent he could not beat.

      In short, Aoshi had to fight (and almost won against) Kenshin at his peak, something Saito never did, utilized a superior strategy against Shishio, and took out Sano faster than Saito ever did.

    • profile image

      Luke 6 months ago

      @Jeremy Gill

      We could surely agree to disagree, but please allow me to highlight certain points.

      I the 2 battles where Kenshin fought Aoshi, the former came out twice on top (although with a very small margin), whereas the battles between Kenshin and Saito had no winner (even during the Bakumatsu). Saito was even toying around with Kenshin at first when they met in the Doyo. However, I do have to admit that Kenshin had not mastered the Amakakeru Ryu No Hirameki when he fought Saito. On the other hand, he was able to beat Aoshi the first time as well, without having learned the final technique.

      It was stated by Watsuki himself that, if Kenshin and Saito were to have a rematch, Saito would win. But if Kenshin had something to fight for/protect (let's say he'd have to protect Kaoru), he'd win the fight. I think it just shows the determination/inner strength of Saito and his 'Aku Soku Zan'. I feel like Aoshi is missing this kind of 'inner convinction'.

      You correctly indicate in your text that Aoshi was the only one out of 4 not being knocked out by Shishio. However, I feel like you're missing a critical point here. Saito (besides having severly injured legs) was trying to actually kill Shishio (and would have succeeded if not for the hachigane), whereas Aoshi was only stalling the fight, buying time for Kenshin to recover. Furthermore, Shishio possesses the unique ability to neutralize any attack he's seen before, making it even thougher for Saito due to his inflexible Gatotsu-technique.

      I'm also not a big fan of the reasoning that, if a beats b and b beats c, automatically a is stonger than c. With that being said, I honestly think that we'd have to look at every character seperatly and making top 5's or 10's is very difficult. Seta could for example potentially win from every character in a fight, due to his (theoretical) universal superiority in speed.

      To conclude, I think Aoshi is a very lethal fighter. He's very smart, fast and combines great techniques with kenpo. He'd be a very though opponent for Saito, no doubt about it. However, I really believe that Saito is his superior in almost every aspect, having much more experience, battle-awareness and being more ruthless. However, as I've stated before, the key element which would make Saito victorious in almmost every batle is his strong conviction, that of 'Aku Soku Zan'.

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
      Author

      Jeremy Gill 7 months ago from Louisiana

      @Luke

      I respect your view; we can agree to disagree. Saito gets loads more screen-time than Aoshi, causing many fans to favor him. However, in my opinion, Aoshi both did better against Kenshin and took out Sanosuke much faster than Saito.

    • profile image

      Luke 7 months ago

      Nice list, good written as well, but I'd rank Saito higher than Aoshi. Perhaps even above Shoshio..

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      Anonymous 8 months ago

      Where is Shogo Amakusa??

    • profile image

      Asif Istiaque Ahmad 14 months ago

      I totally agree with you regarding the ranking of the 5 strongest Swordsmen of Rurouni Kenshin. The most surprising thing is that I also think of the same reasons of not including the honorable mentions in the list of top 5.