Cover of Vagabond vol. 21 of the English adaptation, featuring the protagonist Miyamoto Musashi.
|Genre||Chanbara , Adventure , Historical|
|Written by||Takehiko Inoue|
|English publisher|| Madman Entertainment
|Original run||1998 – ongoing|
The manga has been serialized in Kodansha's seinen Weekly Morning magazine since 1998 in Japan, with translations to English by VIZ Media. As of April 2013, 35 tankōbon volumes have been published in Japan, and 34 of them have been translated into English in the United States. Vagabond has, to this date, sold more than 22 million copies throughout the world.
Growing up in the late 16th century Sengoku era Japan, Shinmen Takezo is shunned by the local villagers as a devil child due to his wild and violent nature. Running away from home with a fellow boy at age 17, Takezo joins the Toyotomi army to fight the Tokugawa clan at the battle of Sekigahara. However, the Tokugawa win a crushing victory, leading to nearly three hundred years of Shogunate rule. Takezo and his friend manage to survive the battle and afterwards swear to do great things with their lives. However, after their paths separate, Takezo becomes a wanted criminal and must change his name and his nature in order to escape an ignoble death. Based on the book Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond is a fictional retelling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, often referred to as the "Sword Saint", perhaps the most famous and successful of Japan's sword fighters.
- Miyamoto Musashi: The main character, also known by his birth name, Shinmen Takezō.
- Sasaki Kojirō: A deaf swordsman and the archrival of Miyamoto Musashi.
- Otsū: Childhood friend of Takezo and Matahachi.
- Hon'iden Matahachi: Childhood friend of Musashi and ex-fiance of Otsū.
- Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645): A Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk.
- Jōtarō: Musashi's first apprentice.
- Okō: An ex-thief and ex-Matahachi's lover.
- Akemi: Okō's daughter.
- Tsujikaze Tenma: A brigand and head of a gang.
- Tsujikaze Kōhei: Younger brother of Tsujikaze Tenma, and subsequently known as Shishido Baiken.
- Osugi Hon'iden: The Matahachi's mother and matriarch of Hon'iden clan.
- Ukita Hideie: Daimyo of Bizen and Mimasaka.
- Kitabatake Tomonori: Ruler of Ise in Mie Prefecture.
- Tsukahara Bokuden: Founder of the Kashima Shinto-ryū style of sword fighting.
- Itō Ittōsai: Founder of the Ittō-ryū style of swordsmanship.
- Shinmen Munisai: The father of Shinmen Takezo (Musashi) and an expert martial artist in the usage of sword and jutte.
- Musō Gonnosuke: Founder of the Shintō Musō-ryū school of martial arts which mainly utilized the wooden staff.
- Honami Kōetsu: Famed artist and calligrapher.
- Yoshioka Kempō: A swordsman during the Sengoku period.
- Yoshioka Seijūrō: Yoshioka Kempō's oldest son and the second regeneration head of the Yoshioka clan.
- Yoshioka Denshichirō: Seijūrō's younger brother and the third head of the Yoshioka clan.
- Ueda Ryōhei: One of the senior Yoshioka disciples and the leader of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Gion Tōji: One of the senior Yoshioka disciples and member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Mīke Jurōzaemon: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Nampo Yoichibe: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Kobashi Kurando: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Ōtaguro Hyusuke: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Horikawa Yoshibē: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Azuma Koshiro: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Fujīe: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Tagaya Hikozo: Member of the Ten Swords of Yoshioka.
- Hōzōin Kakuzenbō In’ei: Founder of the Hōzōin art of spearmanship.
- Inshun: The second-generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique.
- Agon: A student in the Hōzōin art of spearmanship.
- Myōei: A student in the Hōzōin art of spearmanship.
- Yagyū Sekishūsai Muneyoshi: The founder of the Yagyū Shinkage Ryū school of sword fighting.
- Kamiizumi Ise no Kami Hidetsuna: The founder of the Shinkage Ryū and Yagyū Muneyoshi's master.
- Yagyū Hyōgonosuke: The successor of the Yagyū Shinkage Ryū, he was a son of Yagyū Toshikatsu and a grandson of Yagyū Muneyoshi.
- Kizaemon Shoda: One of the four senior Yagyū disciples.
- Kimura Susekuro: One of the four senior Yagyū disciples.
- Debuchi Magobe: One of the four senior Yagyū disciples.
- Murata Yozo: One of the four senior Yagyū disciples.
- Sakushū: Province also known as Mimasaka; currently the northern region of the Okayama Prefecture.
- Higo: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in present-day Kumamoto Prefecture.
- Owari: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in present-day Nagoya and its surrounding region.
- Kaga: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in the present-day Ishikawa Prefecture.
- Echizen: One of the old Provinces of Japan, currently the northern portion of the Fukui Prefecture.
- Sangen'in Temple: Part of the large Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto.
- Hōzō-in Temple: A sub-temple on the grounds of Kōfuku-ji in Nara.
- Himeji Castle: Japanese castle complex located in Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture.
- Yagyū Territory: Region surrounding Kyoto, Osaka, and Owari.
- Yagyū Castle: Estate of the Yagyu clan.
- Rengeōin Temple: Located in eastern Kyoto.
- Miyamoto arc – chapters 1–21 (volumes 1–2)
Before Takezo becomes Miyamoto, we see him as a man who can draw the fear out of anybody, who lives on his wits and will quickly kill anyone who crosses him. This gets Takezo into big trouble, where he has to live in the mountains cut off from all but the hunters from his village who come to try and kill him. Eventually, the monk Takuan and Miyamoto's childhood friend Otsu help to capture Takezo, who is subsequently hung from a tree for several days without food or water. During this time, Tsujikaze Kohei, the younger brother of a bandit that Takezo killed, comes to claim his revenge on Takezo (but only because Kohei wanted to kill his brother first). Takuan scares him away.
At the end of the arc, Takuan takes Takezo out to a remote area surrounding the village and talks to him. At the end of the fifth volume, we learn that Takezo has for the moment shed his rage and become a more graceful person - Miyamoto Musashi.
- Kyōto arc – chapters 22–32 (volumes 3–4)
Miyamoto Musashi travels to Kyōto to look for strong fighters to challenge. He immediately heads to the Yoshioka school of swordfighting, where his father's name was well known. Before he gets there, he unknowingly encounters the current leader of the school, Yoshioka Seijurō, cavorting with the many geisha in the town. After a few words, Seijurō says "You're dead," and Musashi looks down in surprise and horror to see that Seijurō's sword was at his neck.
Undaunted, he heads for the school and challenges the owner, but first he is forced to face many of those who train there, after some of the lower class members insult him. Musashi kills five members of higher rank, until finally Yoshioka Denshichirō, the more serious of the two sons of Yoshioka Kempo, decides to kill Musashi himself. In a very dramatic battle, one that Seijurō intervenes in once to give Musashi the scar on his forehead, Musashi also manages to dislocate Denshichirō's shoulder, but the fight does not end until Hon'iden Matahachi accidentally sets the school building on fire, after drinking much of the sake stored in the basement, bemoaning the "inevitable" death of his newfound hero who stood up to the Yoshioka. Denshichirō then tells Musashi to come back stronger within a year for a rematch.
Musashi escapes with his life and, once Matahachi realizes that Takezo/Musashi was the one who challenged the school, Matahachi decides to put his life back together. This became the beginning of an inferiority complex and would-be rivalry that would influence his life.
- Hōzōin arc – chapters 33–76 (volumes 4–8)
Takuan encourages Musashi to be more serious about training and not throw away his life so easily, but Musashi still has a lot to learn. He splits up with Takuan and goes to visit the Hōzōin temple for its famous spear technique. Gion Toji, the Yoshioka school's assassin who seeks to kill Musashi, arrives at the temple first. He cuts both hands off a monk who challenges him and proclaims that he will come back everyday and do the same to others until he finds Musashi, throwing the temple into turmoil and unease.
Musashi appears at the temple the next day and picks a fight with Agon, one of the higher-level monks. Musashi seeks In'ei, the old and legendary master of the school, whom he does not know has retired. Agon recognizes that this must be Musashi and, seeking both to end the turmoil that Toji has caused and defend Hōzōin's name, he fights Musashi. At one point, Musashi finds himself without a sword but he manages to end the fight by breaking Agon's nose.
Gion Toji then challenges Musashi, but before they can begin, Inshun, the new master of the school and a child prodigy at the spear, breaks up the fight, wanting to battle Musashi himself. Toji backs off and Musashi has an all-out battle with Inshun. Musashi becomes tired and distraught and flees from Inshun badly beaten. He winds up later in the care of In'ei, the same monk and spearmaster he had journeyed to Hōzōin to fight. The elderly In'ei feels that while Inshun, his greatest student, has brilliantly mastered the physical art of spear fighting, he has not mastered himself and his soul. He believes Inshun needs a powerful rival to do this and trains Musashi so that he can be that rival.
In the end, Musashi gets a second battle with Inshun, with only In'ei and Agon as witnesses. Having learned a lot from his training about himself and his demons, Musashi overpowers Inshun's spirit. He manages to dodge Inshun's attack and knocks him down with a strike to the head from his own self-carved sword; after this, he reverts to his savage self and starts beating the ground and the fallen Inshun with his sword repeatedly. Both Musashi and Inshun are treated for any injuries at the Hōzōin Temple, after which Musashi was issued finer robes and a pair of swords. They leave with the vow of trying not to kill each other the next time they meet.
- Yagyū arc – chapters 77–104 (volumes 8–11)
Matahachi is making a living by posing as Sasaki Kojirō, whose certification in Chujō-ryu swordsmanship he took from the mortally wounded Kusanagi Tenki. Matahachi is asked for a match by Kai Shojiro, a wandering swordsman with thirty-five years of experience. Matahachi grants Shojiro this request, but upon deciding Shojiro is a swordsman capable of killing him in combat, distracts him and flees. Matahachi runs into his mother and uncle Gon at a marketplace and states that Sasaki Kojirō is a pseudonym he uses instead of his actual name, as he feels he has shamed his family by living with a prostitute and inadvertently setting the Yoshioka temple on fire. Granny Hon'iden states that they are to look for Musashi and Otsu, whom she states "ran off together", though she is completely unaware that the two have not been with each other since they ran away from the village. This would further fuel Matahachi's inferiority complex, since he was coerced by Okō into writing a letter of renouncement to Otsu.
Meanwhile, Musashi, with Jotarō in tow, proceeds to travel to the residence of Yagyū Sekishūsai, a swordsman of great renown. Yagyū Sekishūsai is delighted to receive news that his grandson, Hyogonosuke, is returning to his temple. Yoshioka Denshichirō is constantly requesting a duel with Sekishūsai, but is refused an audience each time. By chance meeting, Musashi meets Hyogonosuke and Jotarō meets Otsu. Musashi happens upon a peony cut by Sekishūsai and requests an audience with the person who cut the peony. At the hall of the Yagyū, Musashi attempts to antagonize the members into fighting him, hoping that by besting them he will be granted audience to Sekishūsai, however his efforts prove fruitless, as the disciples are used to such methods. Jotarō, however, kills the Yagyū pet dog, after it attacks him. The group attempts to physically punish Jotarō, but Musashi claims that he must take the punishment for his disciple and uses this as an excuse to engage in battle with the Yagyū senior disciples. Jotarō runs to find Otsu, but falls into a pit. After a long and exhaustive bout with the senior disciples, Musashi eventually loses them in a bamboo forest and sneaks into Sekishūsai's cottage after a brief, but emotional reunion with Otsu. Musashi is shocked to discover that Sekishūsai is now an old, bedridden man, but nonetheless has an impacting discussion over the nature of being the greatest swordsman and learns one of his most valuable lessons: "invincible is just a word." Musashi leaves Jotarō in the care of the Yagyū and leaves alone.
- Tsujikaze Kōhei/Shishido Baiken arc – chapters 105–127 (volumes 11–13)
The arc begins with Matahachi fleeing from his uncle Gon and mother, after the former questions the legitimacy of his claim to be Sasaki Kojirō. Matahachi runs into the ronin Kai Shojiro, who has since realized Matahachi an imposter and thus harbors murderous intent. While fleeing, Matahachi finds himself on the mountain trail leading to Shishido Baiken, a figure renowned for his chain and sickle technique, and encounters a mysterious young girl armed with a chain and sickle. The ronin and his companion eventually catch up to the fleeing Matahachi, but Gon arrives in time to protect him. Gon is killed in the ensuing struggle, while Matahachi continues to flee. The ronin eventually sees the mysterious girl and mentions she has a weapon similar to Shishido Baiken, which causes him to drop his pursuit of Matahachi and instead follow her. Shishido Baiken, however, is revealed to be none other than Tsujikaze Kōhei. Matahachi stumbles upon his house to see him smashing Shojiro's skull open. As he is discovered hiding, Baiken makes him bury the ronin and the bodies of two others, including his uncle Gon. As he painfully reminisces about his uncle, Matahachi spies Musashi arriving from afar and quickly runs away, praising Musashi for how strong he appears to have become.
Musashi, starving, happens upon a kindly hermit's hut, where he is fed and informed that Shishido Baiken is dead. The hermit recants that Baiken was nothing more than a despicable bandit leader who often gave her trouble and that respectable swordsmen only began seeking him after his death. Baiken and the girl spar with their chains and sickles, after which, as Baiken sleeps, the girl playfully examines Baiken's face to reveal to the reader a massive facial scar that had previously been obscured by Baiken's hair. Musashi eventually enters Baiken's hut, leading to shocked reactions from both Musashi and Tsujikaze. The girl, now identified as Rindo, attacks Musashi, but Baiken tells her that she should not meddle in their affairs. Rindo, nonplussed, climbs a tree to observe the combat, commenting that Musashi is different from the other swordsmen that have appeared in the past.
At the start of the match, Baiken states that while he does not wish to kill Musashi, he can only use his chain and sickle with the intent to kill. Musashi is initially intimidated by Baiken's technique and asks about his master. Baiken responds that Rindo is his master. The origin of the current incarnation of Baiken is then shown. After his spat with Musashi four years ago, Tsujikaze fell into a deep depression and began "looking for a place to die". During that time, he encountered and slew Baiken and his gang. Rindo initially attacked Tsujikaze, however she relented and passed out after seeing his grisly scar, after which they became fast friends. Back in the current battle between "Baiken" and Musashi, Baiken manages to wrap his chain around Musashi's neck. He states that Musashi's life is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things. After Musashi frees himself, Baiken attempts an under-handed tactic to attack a distracted Musashi.
"Baiken" then begins to display a twisted grin, displaying that he has reverted to his former, blood-thirsty "Tsujikaze" persona, which saddens Rindo. Musashi dispatches him, severing all of Tsujikaze's fingers on his left hand save his thumb and leaving a deep wound through his shoulder. Tsujikaze pleads Musashi to help treat his wound, saying he wishes to escape the "cycle of death". Musashi seems reluctant at first, but eventually relents and aides him. While recuperating, Tsujikaze remarks that his pride was destroyed by someone who was "further along the path of death" than he, a man called Sasaki Kojirō. It is implied Kojirō is the one who gave Tsujikaze his scar.
During the epilogue, Tsujikaze's past is further delved into, revealing how he came to adopt his macabre outlook on life and the events leading up to his encounter with Musashi in the first arc.
- Sasaki Kojirō arc – chapters 128–179 (volumes 14–20)
This arc follows the upbringing of his arch-rival, Sasaki Kojirō. It begins in the year 1583 CE, with a letter from Sasaki Sukeyasu to his former teacher, Kanemaki Jisai, who has retired and is living as a hermit in a small coastal village, to please take care of his only son Sasaki Kojirō. Soon afterwards, Jisai spots the baby on a boat in the middle of a storm offshore. He rescues Kojirō and raises him, not knowing that his adoptive son is in fact, deaf.
Kojirō grows into a healthy young boy, but is distanced from the villagers because of his deafness and his association with Jisai, who is seen as a crazy old man and fraud, since he advertised himself as a teacher of Chujō-ryu swordsmanship. This changes when Kojirō befriends Kusanagi Tenki, the local bully who longs to be a great swordsman and achieve the title of "Invincible Under the Sun". Together they plot to take down Fudo, a powerful swordsman who terrorizes the village by abducting girls just as they hit puberty. The assault does not go well, Tenki being scarred for life and Kojirō realizing his bloodlust in battle. He cut off Fudo's right hand but it was Jisai who saves the village and the boys' lives when he takes Fudo down with one stroke.
Time passes and Kojirō becomes a powerful teenager longing to be taught by Jisai, who refuses, haunted by how Kojirō whimsically massacred Fudo's body after he was already dead. When Itō Ittōsai, an old pupil of Jisai and a renowned swordsman, strolls into town, he disrupts the balance between Jisai and Kojirō. Itō sees that Kojirō is a powerful swordsman, a "real tiger", like Itō and Jisai. He instigates a duel between wandering swordsmen including Ueda Ryōhei and Denshichirō of the Yoshioka. Kojirō discovers them, and he and Denshichirō duel. Denshichirō discovers that though Kojirō is deaf, he speaks volumes through battle. The duel ends with both suffering serious injuries, and Denshichirō longing to meet Kojirō again.
Soon afterwards, Kojirō leaves the village and travels with Ittōsai, Jisai having finally accepted his adoptive son's future as a swordsman and entrusting Kojirō to Ittosai's care. Jisai sends Tenki after Kojirō along with money and a certificate of swordsmanship, which Matahachi would ultimately acquire. Kojirō and Ittōsai stumble upon Muso Gonnosuke, but Gonnosuke is not prepared for "the stage", as Ittōsai calls it, and Kojirō quickly defeats him. He takes his defeat in stride and travels with them as they discover the battlefield of Sekigahara, which has just ended. Ittōsai challenges the remaining Tokugawa soldiers and a young Takezo also enters the fray, hoping to kill a general. This is the in-universe chronological first encounter between Kojirō and the future Musashi. When the battle is over, Ittōsai and Gonnosuke are separated from Kojirō. Ittōsai states that once Kojirō has killed about one hundred men he will have acquired his survival instinct. If Kojirō can survive this, Ittōsai says, then the next time they meet will be as opponents.
- Yoshioka arc – chapters 180–242 (volumes 21–27)
The story focuses on Miyamoto Musashi as he returns to Kyōto in 1604 (the 9th year of the Keichō era) to fulfill his promise for a rematch with the Yoshioka brothers.
Musashi is unexpectedly met with a public bulletin of a challenge from Yoshioka Denshichirō, which he accepts. As Musashi practices and is about to rest in Rendaiji Field, Yoshioka Seijurō attempts to kill him. Musashi cuts him down, but the Yoshioka clan is devastated by this. Seijurō attacked Musashi in secret without informing anyone else and so the clan sees the killing of Seijurō as unforgivable. Musashi encounters Hon'ami Koetsu, a renowned sword sharpener, who offers Musashi a room to stay in while the Kempo clan seek him out. While travelling, Musashi has a tense encounter with the heads of the Kempo, but Denshichirō adamantly forbids any foul-play against Musashi. Gion Toji reappears, looking noticeably worse for wear (he seems to symbolize Musashi had he remained so angry). Toji has been away from the Yoshioka dojo during his search for Musashi and, in outrage at Denshichirō's orders, attacks Musashi blindly only to be cut down with a single slash to the neck.
Ueda, seriously worried over the possibility of his master's death, hatches a scheme to solicit Sasaki Kojirō to fight Denshichirō's battle instead. Matahachi encounters the real Sasaki Kojirō as he travels through a field. The Kempo swordsmen invite Kojirō back to their dojo, but the encounter turns bloody after one member attacks him. Matahachi then takes Kojirō to the Yoshioka dojo, posing as his interpreter. The men are outraged that someone who has killed one of their own is invited as an honored guest, but Ueda stifles the furor. Matahachi flees after he discovers the plot to have Kojirō fight Musashi. When Ueda pleads to Denshichirō to give his consent to the plan, Denshichirō excommunicates Ueda.
Kojirō wanders away from the Yoshioka dojo out of boredom and returns to the place he was staying, which is the same place Musashi is staying at. Musashi spies Kojirō attempting to cut through Musashi's snowman's head with a stick, but is frustrated that he cannot. The two engage in a playful stick fight with thin tree branches in which Musashi "wins", however, the fight takes a serious tone when Kojirō then eagerly draws his sword in the hopes of a real fight. They are cut short by Hon'ami's mother, who calls the two men in for dinner. Musashi and Kojirō develop a bizarre camaraderie, in which Musashi seems to revere Kojirō more than any other swordsman he has met to date. Musashi leaves the next day to duel with Denshichirō and sees that Kojirō is now able to completely cut through his snowman's head.
Before the duel with Denshichirō begins, Ueda draws a matchlock pistol on Musashi, who dispatches his weapon. Ueda states that if Musashi kills Denshichirō then the Yoshioka clan will become solely fixated on killing him. Musashi battles Denshichirō regardless. The duel seems one-sided, as Musashi sees no need to draw his blade for the majority of the fight. Musashi eventually does draw his blade and cleaves through Denshichirō's arm with one stroke. Denshichirō, now solely intent on killing Musashi with no regard for his own safety, grasps Musashi, who unceremoniously guts him with a swift stroke of Denshichirō's wakizashi. Denshichirō solemnly states that he is glad to have had Musashi as his final opponent and perishes. Ueda Ryōhei, now head of the Yoshioka clan and hell-bent on vengeance, plans to ambush Musashi with all seventy Yoshioka members when Musashi attempts to leave Kyoto.
Musashi and Matahachi run into each other and have a tearful reunion. The meeting turns ugly when Matahachi's jealousy of Musashi's skill crops up, causing a drunken Matahachi to accuse Musashi of running off with Otsu. Musashi, appalled at the notion, punches Matahachi in the face and renounces his friendship. Musashi begins to meditate within a massive pine tree at Ichijōji. As he reflects on his isolation from the world, he overhears Ueda and the rest of the heads of the Yoshioka plot to ambush him. Musashi deduces that he will certainly die from such an attack and opts to strike the small number of the heads of the Yoshioka beneath the tree. Losing his composure, Musashi antagonizes Ueda, who then makes light of the fact that Musashi would become so angry at his own imminent death but feel nothing for killing Denshichirō and his brother. Ueda takes advantage of this emotional distraction to successfully cut Musashi, but the battle is cut short by Takuan, who houses Musashi for the night. During his stay, Musashi states he will flee before the fight the next day and that he is unaffected by the reaction a "cowardly" retreat would have with other people.
Mid-flight, however, Musashi begins to have second thoughts and returns for reasons unknown even to him. He spies the Yoshioka amassing under the same great pine as where Musashi had his confrontation with Ueda Ryōhei. Musashi takes his early arrival to his advantage and descends upon the Yoshioka swiftly and silently, successfully carving a swath through their ranks to Ueda. Musashi, critically wounded and exhausted, lurches his way out of Kyōto and runs into Akemi, the girl with whom he lived briefly. Akemi states that Musashi was foolish for abandoning his life with her, attempts to stab him, says she is Seijurō's woman, then proceeds to leap into a nearby river before a stunned Musashi.
- After the Yoshioka War/Kojirō revisited – chapters 243–present  (volumes 28–present)
The arc begins an unspecified time after the first Kojirō arc, with Kojirō in the den of a kindly prostitute and her pet frog; Gonnosuke and Ittosai are noticeably absent. The prostitute is unusually philanthropic; she refuses money if her clientele are nice to her. The prostitute goes outside after making love to Kojirō to see Tsujikaze Kōhei (scar absent). Tsujikaze and the prostitute had previously been together and he is returning after his imprisonment, downward spiral into severe depression and subsequent release. He pierces her right eye with his sword and stomps on her pet frog, killing it. Kojirō, upon seeing this, retrieves his sword and confronts Tsujikaze. Tsujikaze, not taking Kojirō seriously, states that Kojirō is merely wasting time until his death. Tsujikaze attempts to attack him, but Kojirō dodges, shoves Kōhei back then slices his face, delivering the scar seen in the Baiken arc.
After Musashi's great fight, he is taken care of by Takuan and finally encounters Jotarō, Matahachi (who has renounced his past resentment) and Otsu. While he is recovering from his injuries, Matahachi resigns himself to Otsu loving Musashi over himself, and separately tells both of them to have a relationship. When he awakens, it is revealed that Musashi cannot walk because of the severe wound in his right calf (caused by Ueda Ryōhei's final slash) and, according to "one of the two best physicians in Kyōto", his fighting days are over. Soldiers then come to arrest Musashi for killing the seventy warriors of the Yoshioka.
When next seen, he is imprisoned at Nijō Castle, although, according to the shoshidai of Kyōto in a conversation with Koetsu, it is more of a protective custody, since his nation-wide fame from defeating the Yoshioka now makes him the target of possible revenge, challenges from fighters seeking fame and invitations to serve as a samurai. As such, Musashi will not face beheading or seppuku. However, the possible end of his fighting career causes distress for him, Jotarō and Otsu. Musashi takes up a journey to visit a cave back in his hometown where he had promised a skeleton that he would return if he was stronger. Just as he reached it, Itō Ittōsai challenges him to a duel. Ittōsai remembers Musashi from fighting alongside him for a brief moment with Kojirō and Gonnosuke but Musashi does not recall anything, only that Ittōsai is famous for his fighting style. When the fight seemed over, Ittōsai revealed his right hand with only his pinky and ring finger still on his hand, he claims that Kojirō is stronger and recalls the time when he had left Kojirō for dead with vengeful peasants.
In the meantime, Matahachi's mother had passed away and the time shifts towards the future when an old Matahachi is telling a group of villagers about Musashi's, Kojirō's and his story.
Differences with the novel
While the differences in the manga compared to the novel are too numerous to list in full, here is a small selection of more important differences.
- In the manga, Sasaki Kojirō is deaf, mute, and childlike in nature, as well as first being raised by Kanemaki Jisai, then Ito Ittosai and most recently with Hon'ami Koetsu and his mother, the latter who has chased women out from below his blanket multiple times. In the novel, Sasaki Kojirō is neither deaf nor mute. Though he still retains some traces of the childlike nature portrayed in the manga, he is very intelligent and cunning. Moreover, he is also much more violent, arrogant, and slanderous.
- The character Tsujikaze Kōhei is not introduced as such, but as Shishido Baiken. Furthermore, Musashi is freed from the tree by Otsū after being shunned by Takuan who shows no mercy to Takezō. Later on, Baiken himself reveals he is Tsujikaze Tenma's brother and that he wants to kill Musashi to avenge his brother.
- In the manga, Seijurō is portrayed as a playboy and an alcoholic while his brother, Denshichirō, is depicted as a dedicated swordsman who is committed to the Way of the Sword. Seijurō is still portrayed as a playboy in the novel, but he is less of a swordsman than his brother. Denshichirō was described as the more skilled swordsman but enjoyed his liquor far more than his brother.
- In the manga, both Seijurō and Denshichirō were killed by Musashi. In the novel, only Denshichirō was killed. Seijurō fought Musashi but survived.
- In the manga, the Yoshioka conflict ends when Musashi kills all seventy swordsmen of the Yoshioka. In the novel, the Yoshioka school is far less numerous and the conflict ends after Musashi slays the last heir of the Yoshioka, Genjirō (in similar circumstances as the fight at Ichijōji except that instead of failing to take out Ueda right away, he is able to kill the clan head from the start). Musashi’s action haunts him for the remainder of the novel.
- Gion Tōji is not the bloodthirsty warrior portrayed in the manga. Rather, he is similar to Matahachi, full of envy and cowardice. He escapes with Oko and makes a living with her as a criminal. They encounter Musashi on his path more than once in the novel and swear vengeance upon him. Later on he teams up with Baiken to kill Musashi, but Gonnosuke kills Tōji and Musashi kills Baiken. Soon after, Gonnosuke kills Oko as well.
- In the manga, when Takezō is taken away from Miyamoto village, Takuan renames him Miyamoto Musashi after teaching him simple values of life, but as a result of this Musashi has only a slightly more refined outlook on life (as revealed in his first encounters with the Yoshioka and then the Hōzōin temple). In the novel, Takuan captures Takezō and takes him to the regional Daimyō for punishment. Takuan, a great friend of the Daimyō, is granted his request to pass judgment: Takezō is locked in solitary confinement for three years. His room is filled with books chosen by Takuan, which consist of Greek philosophy, war tactics, art, and history. After reading these books many times, Takezō emerges three years later, much calmer and gentler than before. Takuan then renames Shinmen Takezō to Miyamoto Musashi.
- In the manga, Seijurō does not rape Akemi. Though Akemi initially longed for Musashi, she eventually called herself "Yoshioka Seijurō’s woman" and jumped off a cliff. In the novel, Seijurō rapes Akemi after he discovers that she still has feelings for Musashi. Akemi then attempts to commit suicide by drowning herself in the ocean but is rescued by Uncle Gon, who drowns in the process.
- In the novel, In'ei is a senile old man and Musashi did not have a bout with Inshun. Furthermore, Musashi did not meet with Sekishusai. Also unlike the manga version, Musashi kills Agon.
- In the novel, Musashi meets Gonnosuke in his house hidden in the mountains, living with his mother. They duel and Musashi defeats him. Gonnosuke chases Musashi, seeking a rematch, and they fight again. Although Musashi seems to be the victor at the end of the rematch, he shows Gonnosuke and his mother a wound made by Gonnosuke's weapon on his body (probably made before Musashi hit Gonnosuke), declaring Gonnosuke as the victor. After his mother dies, Gonnosuke seeks for Musashi again, intending to become his disciple.
Vagabond won the Grand Prize for manga at the 2000 Japan Media Arts Festival. The following is an excerpt from the speech congratulating Takehiko Inoue: "From Toyotomi to Tokugawa. Musashi Miyamoto grew up amidst the turn of two great eras. Mr. Inoue has taken the powerful Musashi who was sometimes called a 'beast' and drawn him as a vagabond. The artist brags about boldly challenging the national literary work of Eiji Yoshikawa, even so, the sense of speed that he creates is impressive. I send my applause to the artist for creating a new image of Musashi." The same year, Vagabond won the 24th Kodansha Manga Award in the general category. Vagabond also received the highly-acclaimed Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002, and Inoue was nominated for the 2003 Eisner Award in the Best Writer/Artist category.
- Japan Media Arts Plaza. "2000 Japan Media Arts Festival Manga Division Grand Prize Vagabond". Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Joel Hahn. "Kodansha Manga Awards". Comic Book Awards Almanac. Archived from the original on 2007-08-16. Retrieved 2007-08-21.