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Until the abolition of the Samurai class in Japan in 1868, a ronin ("wave man") was a samurai without a master, whether through the former master's death, the individual ronin's disgrace, the destruction of his lord's clan, etc, and thus without a job, an income, or a home. Ronin could and would spend their days Walking the Earth looking for a master willing to take them on. It was common for ronin to take positions as yojimbo (bodyguards). Others resorted to banditry or organised crime.
Although in ancient days ronin were considered a dangerous threat since it was believed they were likely to become bandits, the noble ronin is a common hero type in Japanese pop culture, typically acting as a Knight Errant.
In the modern era, ronin has an additional, different meaning: a student who has not yet passed his college entrance examinations, but continues to study and try for a place.
- In Magic: The Gathering's plane Kamigawa, which is based on feudal Japan, ronin obviously exist. Toshiro Umezawa is the most promenient of them.
- The most famous example would be the legend of the "Forty Seven Ronin", a band of samurai who took revenge for their master's death, and later committed suicide for their crimes. Though based on a true story, it has seen many changes over the years. Considered a shining example of loyalty, honour and bushido, and the best-beloved story in Japan.
- After the Rain: Misawa Ihei.
- Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle: Gabriel Goto. He's the son of Japanese Jesuits exiled from Japan when Christianity was banned; he's a fervent believer in both Catholicism and bushido. He eventually gives his swords to Jimmy and Danny Shaftoe, who later end up traveling America as the "Red-Neck Ronin".
- Final Fantasy X: Auron has a lot of ronin qualities to him. Including the "death of a former master" thing, what with Braska dying at the hands of his own Final Aeon, Jecht. He also has three other major features used to signify a ronin: his left arm is held tucked out of his sleeve, a gourd of alcohol and his overdrive category is named 'Bushido', what was the honour/fighting code of Ronins.
- Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran: Ran is an uncommon example -- a 'female' ronin who's actually a much better swordsman than her male colleagues. While she never resorts to banditry, she often scours the roadside for lost wallets or change, or tricks/charms her companion Miyao into giving her money or a free meal.
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Ogami Itto.
- Miyamoto Musashi in most depictions of him. Justified as Musashi spent most of his life as a ronin, and tended to go in and out of service to various lords and patrons. Mitsurugi of Soul Calibur is heavily based on him.
- Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin Himura, except for the fact that he was never a samurai. "Rurouni" actually means "wandering swordsman," which is a more accurate description than "ronin."
- The Seven Samurai were ronin. Except Kikuchiyo, who was born a farmer's son.
- Samurai 7: The anime remake of Kurosawa's classic film.
- Samurai Champloo: Jin and Mugen both have characteristics of ronin, though only Jin is actually a ronin. Having grown up in a penal colony Mugen was not born into the samurai class. (Nor did he earn his way with his skill as he used those skills for stealing from the shogunate).
- Shogun's Samurai: The tide turns in a civil war between two brothers vying to be shogun after the supporters of one brother frame the other for hiring an army of ronin to kill the first brother.
- The constant civil wars ensure that a steady stream of them pass through the tiny fishing community in Onibaba.
- In the Morgaine Cycle books by American author C. J. Cherryh, the main character, Vanye, is an ilin, which is more-or-less completely analogous to ronin. Exiled for fratricide, he must Walk the Earth, and if he ever takes succor from a Lord he must serve them for a year and a day in recompense.
- Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. A perfectly named comic as it means "Rabbit Bodyguard". This is exactly what the main character is.
- Frank Miller's Ronin.
- Ronin play a prominent role from time to time in Legend of the Five Rings. One even became Emperor.
- Blade of the Immortal features a number of ronin, including Manji himself.
- Bang Shishigami from Blaz Blue describes himself as such, although technically he's a Ninja.
- The title character of the Judge Dredd Spin-Off Shimura, a Hondo City Judge who went rogue to take revenge on the Yakuza.
- In the WALLE Forum Roleplay, the Japanese Autopilot KATANA insults people and robots whom she sees as disgraced samurai who turned their back to the Way of The Warrior, or otherwise failed their Daimyos (note: she means superiors), as ronin.
- Akitsu from House of Five Leaves.
- Tower of God: Hatsu.
- Age of Empires III has two different types of ronin. The Ronin from the classic game are heavily armored fighters who can only be recruited from the home city as part of a mercenary band. The ronin from the expansion are much weaker, lightly armored and closer to the concept of wandering swordsman. Both types of Ronin are recruitable if you choose to play as Japan.
- Kat and Mouse: Guns for Hire features two ronin from the future named - Kat and Mouse.
- In The Water Phoenix King, we find the non-human Ngapp, who supported the titular God-King in hopes of supplanting his rebellious human subjects, and were retroactively outlawed after their emperor decided to support the human resistance at the tail end of the war. Now exiled to the wastelands, men without a country or hope of pardon, they have turned bandits and raid against neighboring humans and their own people, the Yigs, indiscriminately. Recently one of these -- a Sorcerous Overlord who was originally just an Alchemist looking for the scholarly respect denied him at home -- has found a powerful, if secretive, backer and is starting to unify all the separate Ngapp bands under his aegis, posing an increasing threat to neighboring kingdoms and principalities on all sides...
- The title character of Yojimbo is a ronin.
- Sanjuro features Toshiro Mifune playing Ronin in the title roles.
- The Serpent Clan's third tier unit in Battle Realms is called the Ronin, which is an Evil Counterpart to the Dragon Clan's Samurai. One of their Zen Masters, Shinja, is a Ronin as well.
- Zero Takaichi of Tasakeru is a ronin of the "disgraced samurai" variety.
- Hirayama and Sahara from 13 Assasins. Hirayama has worked as a mercenary for years, but owes his allegiance to his former sensei in swordfighting, while Sahara joins the main characters' plight because he finds their cause worthy, and in exchange for a payment.
- Goemon from Lupin III.
- The player character in each Way of the Samurai game and a lot of supporting cast as well. Depend on the choices made bu the player, dependent upon the game but some of the most common boil down to, join up with a new master, join (possibly noble) gangsters, continue to wander aimlessly as the game goes by doing odd jobs for money, or support a third "civilian" side in the local conflict.
- Ichiroh! has its protagonists Nanako and Akane. In fact, the title is the term used for someone in their first year as a ronin.
- Chobits: Hideki and Shinbo.
- Love Hina: Keitaro, Mutsumi and Naru. Later, when Kid Samurai Motoko starts worrying about her exams, it's commented that she could end up a "Ronin Ronin" (she does not take this well).
- Maison Ikkoku: Godai.
- Crayon Shin-chan's fat Otaku neighbor has been trying to get into a 3rd rate vocational university, one that Boo's dad got into with flying colors, and after years has STILL not been able to get in.
- Osu Tatakae Ouendan: Tsuyoshi Hanada, your very first target in both games. Only in the first one, though.
- Touma Inaba from Sakura Diaries.
Other uses of the term Ronin
- Kingdom of Loathing uses the term for the state inflicted after one ascends and starts over. While in Ronin, they can only access a limited number of items or money from their previous life, and they can't receive things from other players. Ronin expires after a set number of turns, unless you're in Hardcore mode, where it doesn't expire until you finish the game again and you can't access your previous life's items at all.
- Two Marvel Comics characters - Maya Lopez and Clint Barton (better known as Hawkeye) - have used the name "Ronin". It's basically a placeholder identity for heroes who can't use their normal superhero identities for whatever reason. Yukio from Frank Millers Wolverine does not use it as name, but she is actually described as a ronin.
- The film Ronin.
- Saints Row 2: There is a gang called the Ronin. Although they seem to be Samurai, they have 2 masters: Shogo Akugi and Kazuo Akuji Lampshaded by NPC chatter: "Why are we called the Ronin? We have a leader!"
- Stargate Atlantis: Though never a Samurai, Ronon Dex was a soldier defending a world culled of sentient life by Wraith, and one of the few survivors. His name is also a play on the word Ronin.
- The X-Files: "Pusher" Modell considered himself one, acting as a hitman and making many references to Japanese culture.
- The main character's team in Unreal Tournament III's singleplayer mode is called Ronin. Reaper acknowledges the meaning when his team is drafted by the Izanagi corporation, commenting "So, the Ronin have a master."
- It also the name used for tribeless Garou in "Werewolf: The Apocalypse"
- The titular Ronin Warriors are an unusual case in that while they do lose their master, the name is given from the get-go. Given that in the original Japanese they were called the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers, this is most likely a case of Rule of Cool Did Not Do the Research.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, werewolves who don't belong to any tribe are known as Ronin, and are pariahs in a setting that places heavy emphasis on community and group dynamic. Interestingly, they are not a popular choice for players with Special Snowflake Syndrome, since their "tribal" weakness--an extremely difficult time gaining renown--is much harsher than those for the tribes. For added Bilingual Bonus, "Ronin" can also be read as "Wolf Man".