Who says anime can't be both entertaining and informative? Anime in the historical genre aims to be just that, both entertaining and informative. However, that doesn't always translate into historical accuracy. Take any education on history you get from anime with a big grain of salt. Usually they contain unique views on different periods of history, but almost always have an element of fantasy to the story. Regardless, historical anime can pique interest towards the more interesting times in history, intriguing people enough to study up on the real time. That learning thing, well it is never a bad thing.
I have also provided recommendations for historical manga as well, most of which have very decent animes as well. However, for the sake of variety, I have left them off this particular list.
Himura Kenshin is a vagabond with a dark and bloody past but a sunny disposition on like. Previously, he led the life of the Battousai, the man slayer, who was an assassin of the utmost skill during the Meiji Restoration. However, as Kenshin makes friends and bonds that tie him to this peaceful world, his blood past begins to boil to the surface.
Probably one of the most famous historical animes. While Kenshin is not a historical figure himself, some of the other characters are such as the Shinsengumi. This anime focuses one a relatively uncovered era in Japan's history, the era that killed the samurai. An era of peace where swords were no long needed. Rurouni Kenshin shows a lot of that strife, the main character has no problem adapting but some of the other samurai have a rougher time of it. Regardless, Rurouni Kenshin is a classic and a must watch for any anime fan regardless of genre.
Set in the warring states period, Sengoku Basara focuses on this much romanticized point in Japan's history. When Japan broke into semi-dependant provinces, the controlling feudal lords clashed with each other for power and land. In this never-ending conflict, one man finally seemed to be just one step from establishing total control over the country. He was the lord of Owari, the Sixth Heavenly Devil King. His name was Oda Nobunaga.
I have always said that the warring states period would make a fine anime, and Sengoku Basara does just that. It takes the historical characters and gives the same (yet different) flare of games like Samurai Warriors or Kessen. It is colorful, fast paced, and BEAUTIFUL! It is even a little educational, however many events are exaggerated to make for a better show. However, if you are an absolute hardcore history fan, you will obviously not have a good time if you take this too seriously. Just sit back and enjoy all the pretty looking historical figures without having to go through the tedium of playing Samurai Warriors.
Le Chevalier D'Eon
Set in 18th century France, this story centers around D'Eon de Beaumont. After his sister Lia, loyal servant of Versailles and its King Louis XV, is found dead in the river both killed and preserved with mercury, her brother D'eon vows to discover who doomed to such a cruel fate, as a corpse who cannot be consumed by the soil cannot go to heaven. D'eon is also in service in the king as one of his best spies, and has no doubt this may involve him in some way.
While the plot has little development and the main character could easily get lost in the crowd, Le Chevalier D'Eon is an excellent view into the 18th century France. To see real historical character in animation and all that. However, I mentioned the plot develops slowly. There is also some gender-bending, which is guys or girls turning to the opposite gender, very much in the way of Ranma 1/2. So if that is a major turn off in an anime, as it is to many, this might be a pass.
During the early 1930s in Chicago, the transcontinental train, Flying Pussyfoot, is starting its legendary journey that will leave a trail of blood all over the country. At the same time in New York, the ambitious scientist Szilard and his unwilling aide Ennis, are looking for missing bottles of the immortality elixir. In addition, a war between the mafia groups is getting worse. On board the Advena Avis, in 1711, alchemists are about to learn the price of immortality.
Every so often an anime comes along that isn't afraid to challenge the conventions by which a story is told. Too often, despite being noteworthy or groundbreaking, these shows can fail due to poor animation, lackluster characters, or a marked failure in plot development. In other words, they get so caught up in being unconventional that they sacrifice the other, more important aspects. Thankfully, Baccano! is not one of those. While set in the 1930's, it is not particularly accurate to the time period, but it does give a vague (and beautifully animated) view of those times.
Hetalia Axis Powers
Set in the era of World War I and World War II where all the countries are actual people. The different nationalities are portrayed as bishounen caricatures. For example, the Italia Veneziano character is into pasta and women. The Deutsche (German) bishi loves potatoes and sausages, and Nippon is an otaku boy. Installments of the manga have jumped back and forth in setting from the ancient times to modern-day geopolitics.
Originally started as a web series manga, Hetalia Axis Powers is pretty much how anime fans would want history to be like. A bunch of smart, pretty, and/or brave boys running around doing somewhat historically accurate things. This is not a very accurate account of the world wars, though I wish it were. it it more so for comedy, but at least on that point it does not fail. If you have been an anime fan for awhile, you have undoubtedly been recommended this, seen some of these boys at anime cons, or had some exposure to it. It is popular for a reason.
These are just a few of the best selected from my personal anime library. If you have been fortunate to see all of these or have a specific sort of anime in mind, leave a comment. I can give more suggestions if you want them!