Members of the feudal military class, they had considerable social status, and after the end of the 16th century until the mid-19th century (a period when firearms were banned from Japan) they were the only Japanese legally allowed to own swords.
Theoretically, samurai were supposed to follow the bushido code of honor, which stressed loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior. However, the degree to which individual samurai actually adhered to bushido (which as a formal concept may be Newer Than They Think, according to historians) varied about as much as the degree to which individual knights in Europe adhered to the code of chivalry—which is to say, you could find everything from bandits in armor to saints of the battlefield. Although women could be and frequently were samurai, the social and military rules for them were somewhat different than for men.
One thing you won't hear a lot about in samurai fiction is the practice of shudo, which means "the way of the young." Shudo was a form of pederasty that was commonly practiced by the samurai class, and was considered a very high and noble form of love. The practice fell out of favor during the Meiji Restoration, and has often been the victim of omission and whitewashing in both fiction and historical accounts, though it occasionally crops up in the Boys Love Genre.
Samurai are popular heroes in period stories, and no few Anime feature them. Such heroes, naturally enough, tend to be paragons. Outright subversions tend to be for specific characters and even then usually criticizing the upper class as a whole. Samurai and their code of ethics were featured heavily in Japanese military propaganda during the early twentieth century. For obvious reasons, they are much less popular in certain Asian countries.
When Samurai are presented negatively, expect them to be wearing their full armor, including an elaborately designed and intimidating helmet. When they're being presented as paragons, expect them to at least be helmet-less, or sometimes wearing nothing but a Hakama
Speaking of samurai armor, it was usually made of leather-backed iron scales laced with silk, or later on, iron or steel lames riveted together. While it was often coated with lacquer to prevent moisture from rusting the metal, it was never made of wood like some sources claim.
Not to be confused with the Cyberpunk "Street Samurai" character type. A more modern take is the Corporate Samurai, who takes the general ethos of the samurai and applies it to a modern setting. The Distaff Counterpart is Yamato Nadeshiko, a Japanese woman expected to be loyal, respectable and capable of fighting.
Anime and Manga
- The band of brothers who make up The Hakkenden.
- One episode of Haré+Guu started showing samurai fighting a war in feudal Japan. Turns out Guu was just watching TV.
- Himura Kenshin in Rurouni Kenshin. He plays with this trope a little as he seems to fully obey Bushido while acting as Battousai and disobey it when in his less violent state of mind, preventing many fellow Samurai from committing Seppuku, dishonoring them.
- Quite a lot of other cast members are also Samurai. A major part of the story centers around the last generation of Samurai dealing with the fact that their society was trying to phase them out.
- House of Five Leaves: The main character and a few others.
- Jin in Samurai Champloo is the most prominent example, as is anyone in the show related to his past. There's also the "Samurai who smells of sunflowers" who Fuu convinces Jin and Mugen to help her track down he's her father, and a Japanese Christian. Also worth noting is that while serving as the narrator, Manzo the Saw comments explicitly on the homosexual practices of samurai noted above.
- Ryoko Mitsurugi in Real Bout High School.
- The Shinigami from Bleach are basically Spirit Samurai. Byuakuya's Zanpakutou specifically manifests into one in a Filler arc.
- Manji and a number of other characters in Blade of the Immortal most however are just "thugs that just happen to be born into nobility" (like most were during the 18th-century).
- While not an actual samurai, Juubei from GetBackers seems to follow the same basic honor code, to the point where characters will actually use the word when describing himboth flatteringly and not-so-flatteringly.
- Hatsu from Tower of God. Even though he is Korean, he follows a strict code of honor similar to that of a samurai. Also, he wields katana.
- Ohgami Itto from Lone Wolf and Cub, along with many other characters.
- Ken Akamatsu's use of the Shinmeiryuu sword school in his stories (Love Hina, Mahou Sensei Negima) is a way for him to bring samurai into the setting, because Everything's Better with Samurai. That and to depict Implausible Fencing Powers.
- Gintama in all its wacky glory.
- The Kage Summit arc introduces the Land of Iron, which is a neutral country with no ties to any ninja villages, defended by samurai, who wear armor similar to stormtroopers. The samurai are stated to be a powerful military and even the regular samurai are able to use Laser Blade and Sword Beam techniques to destructive effects. Of the samurai, only three are named: Mifune, the leader of the samurai and a master of Iai; Okisuke, Mifune's bodyguard who is a scarred and bald man wielding two swords; and Urakaku, who is Mifune's other bodyguard, though few details are known about him.
- The samurai were apparently once the major military force in the world, but gradually more and more became ninja instead of samurai, possibly with the introduction of ninjutsu or the ninja villages. Currently, it appears only the Land of Iron have samurai as their military force instead of ninja.
- Gato's henchmen are referred to as Samurai. While technically, they could be samurai (but are more likely to be a pair of bandits who only carry that name because they serve one of the world's richest men), their adherence to the Bushido code leaves much to be desired.
- Greatshot in Transformers Victory is modelled on a samurai - in the Japanese version, he even has the appropriate speech pattern.
- In School Rumble, Harry (the American) is freaked out when he first sees Harima's partially shaven head, mistakenly assuming that it is a "Samurai haircut." He later refers to Harima as "the one with the Samurai haircut," and seems to be under the impression that Harima is some sort of super warrior for awhile.
- Amidamaru from Shaman King
- Lupin III: Goemon Ishikawa XIII, descendant of the real historical figure/folk hero of the same name. The historical Goemon was closer to a Ninja version of Robin Hood than a Samurai, though he may have been born into a Samurai family.
- Micaiah Chevelle of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid
- In addtion to sharing the surname of a Japanese WWII ace, Major Mio Sakamoto from Strike Witches is modeled after the historical image of a samurai—she puts honor above everything, is protective of her subordinates, and lives to fight. Plus, she has a katana.
- Hanaukyo Maid Tai. Chief Security maid Konoe Tsurugi, in demeanor and military training.
- Graham Aker of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 adopts the way of bushido in the second season, despite being American. His idea of the code of bushido was also rather skewed, considering he only cared about fighting his Worthy Opponent and was extremely disrespectful to his superiors. This got played up to such an extent that his In-Series Nickname became "Mr. Bushido". He even dolls up his personal mobile suits with armor and weaponry designed to evoke samurai imagery. It is subverted in that many people, in universe and out, consider him a total idiot for these actions, which he drops in time for The Movie.
- Western example: Katana (Tatsu Yamashiro) of the various Outsiders teams in The DCU.
- Hondo-Cit Judges in Judge Dredd are modelled on samurai. Their equivalent of the chief judge is even called the Shogun.
- Silver Samurai of Marvel Comics.
- Many characters in Usagi Yojimbo.
- The appropriately named Ronin series by Frank Miller.
- The other wiki has a page on Samurai Cinema.
- Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.
- The Last Samurai
- Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai is a film about a modern samurai (Forrest Whitaker) serving a mob boss on the streets of Jersey City. He reads passages from The Hagakure, a Samurai code, throughout the movie.
- Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, is not technically a samurai - he's actually a low-class masseur and gambler - but the films are still considered codifiers of the Samurai genre. Zatoichi has all the traits of the typical Ronin; wandering from town to town and helping the helpless. There have been twenty seven films, including a crossover with Yojimbo, and a 100-episode TV series.
- Sword of the Stranger
- Makabe and Hyoe and bunches of bit players in The Hidden Fortress.
- Almost all the male characters in Yoji Yamada's film The Twilight Samurai are samurai. Technically. But it's set in the period right before the Meiji Restoration, by which time most samurai were essentially bureaucrats.
- The Jedi of Star Wars are directly based on samurai.
- Gackt's character Yoshi is a samurai in the film Bunraku.
- All the main characters of 13 Assassins, except for Kiga.
- Super Sentai finally got around to using a samurai theme in 2009 with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.
- After his appearance in the drama Fuurin Kazan, Gackt started getting cast in roles as a Samurai. Since then he has been cast as a Samurai in the upcoming movie Bunraku, as Nemuri Kyoshiro in a theater play, and was one of the main features of Koei's Samurai Festival.
- The recurring sketch on SNL where John Belushi plays a samurai dressed like Yojimbo speaking pidgin Japanese in various jobs like "Samurai Delicatessen" or "Samurai Hotel" with Buck Henry always as a customer.
- Highlander had an episode entitled 'The Samurai', where Duncan washes up in Japan during its isolationist period. Samurai Hideo Koto helps him even though it's illegal and he should kill him. Eventually, he gives Duncan his signature katana and when he's told the Emperor's men are coming, he commits seppuku with Duncan as his second. Duncan much later helps his descendant because of a promise he made to the family.
- The Samurai class in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 (while seen as possibly the worst basic class in the game if one doesn't count NPC classes like Commoner  is contrasted with the Paladin in the text, with it being noted that the Paladin might ask if an order given by one's superior is just, while a Samurai would say to that Paladin "You dishonor the lord by questioning his orders".
- Legend of the Five Rings plays the trope very straight, and actually gets a fair number of the societal details right as well - although Bushido is a somewhat bigger deal than it was in real life, primarily for dramatic purposes.
- In Pathfinder, the samurai is a sub-class of cavalier (ie, knight).
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has the Six Samurai, of course, plus the robotic Superheavy Samurai. Individual cards with this theme include Masaki, Zanki, Mataza the Zapper, and Driven Daredevil.
- Sakura Shinguuji in Sakura Taisen is a true samurai and not a Kid Samurai, despite her youth.
- Ryuuya in AIR.
- There's a Samurai class in several Final Fantasy games, including Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy Tactics. There's also a summon named Yojimbo ("bodyguard") in Final Fantasy X which is obviously based off of a samurai.
- Yojimbo happens to be the name of a samurai movie directed by Akira Kurosawa.
- As far as individual characters go, Cyan from Final Fantasy VI fits this character type completely, with his use of formal speech (Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe in the NA translations) and a wide array of katanas/Eastern-style swords.
- Also, Auron from Final Fantasy X. A lot of his appearance is due to traditional depictions of Ronin, including the arm being kept inside his robe and the jug of sake hanging from his belt. Also, Auron starts that game with a BFS that is called a katana, (although it looks more like a cross between a katana and Sanosuke's zanbato [dead link] from Rurouni Kenshin) and most of his other weapons are named after famous Japanese sword smiths, although not all of them look much like traditional blades.
- From Final Fantasy VII we have Sephiroth, who's also got a Samurai theme going on. Big Fucking Katana included.
- By Word of God, Cloud and Sephiroth were inspired by Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro respectively - in legend, Musashi beat his rival Kojiro to death using a sword carved from a boat oar. Cloud's sword resembles an exaggeratedly huge traditional Japanese boat oar, but sharpened down one side. Sephiroth uses an exaggeratedly long nodachi, as Kojiro's signature weapon was an unusually long nodachi.
- Minamoto no Yorihisa from the game and manga/anime Harukanaru Toki no Naka de.
- Kamui of Arcana Heart.
- Sanger Zonvolt of Super Robot Wars Alpha is one, insofar as that it's possible for an ethnically German Super Robot pilot. In the same series, Brookyln "Bullet" Luckfield is also one, but he doesn't adhere to bushido that Sanger does; in effect, it makes Bullet more of the Kid Samurai trope. The straighter example occurs in Super Robot Wars Original Generation with Rishu Togo, a master of the "Jigen" sword-style, to which Sanger and Bullet are his pupils.
- Most characters in the Samurai Warriors series are Samurai; they also appear in the Warriors Orochi crossover series.
- The Ace Attorney games have a franchise of samurai-themed tokusatsu series- The Steel Samurai, The Pink Princess, and The Nickel Samurai.
- Mass Effect: According to her own word, Samara's warrior code is based on a mix of this and Knight Errant.
- Imperial warriors from Red Alert 3 are high-tech Samurai, with rifles and beam katanas.
- The Dragon Clan's third tier unit in Battle Realms is the Samurai. At least one of their Zen Masters, Otomo, is one as well.
- Samurott from Pokémon.
- Way of the Samurai, though the PC and most NPCes are Ronin.
- The cast of Hakuouki are mostly Shinsengumi.
- The Webcomic Harkovast features a samurai called Shogun as one of its main protagonists.
- Ironically in Transformers Animated, Prowl was a noble ninja, which is technically impossible. But when he put on an upgrade that looked just like Samurai Armour, he turned into an arrogant, callous jackass. He later gets it back. At which point he learns not to be a jackass while using it, and uses the armor for the rest of the season.
- Samurai Jack: Jack, naturally, although most fans will admit that technically, he fits the definition of a Ronin better.
- Yagyu Jubei
- Miyamoto Musashi
- Etsu Sugimoto(a true Yamato Nadeshiko from reading her by the way) wrote the memoir Daughter of the Samurai. She had indeed been the daughter of Samurai heritage, although as with everything on Earth it was more mundane then the movies suggest. She lived in more or less peaceful times, during the Meji period, and her family was more like an orientalized version of Victorian gentry then anything else. They spent their time at scholarship, kept a (again Japanese style) estate, with a set of loyal retainers, etc again, much like a Japanese version of counterparts in Britain; turned out at appropriate holidays(the only time when her father actually wore armor was to dress up on parade) and so on. In other words you get absurdly taken aback until you wonder what you expected them to be doing. The most Samurai like thing they did was to take the rebel side in the abortive civil war for which her father was pardoned. She married a Japanese-American and could identify with both cultures though sadly she lived long enough to see them at war with each other in her old age. The book is a treat and gives a great insight into how a Samurai, albeit a modern Samurai, lived.