The A2N was originally developed as a private venture by Nakajima for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was based loosely on the Boeing Model 69 and Boeing Model 100, examples of both having been imported in 1928 and 1929 respectively. Takao Yoshida led the design team. Two prototypes, designated 'Type 90 Carrier fighter' in anticipation of Navy acceptance were ready by December 1929. Powered by Bristol Jupiter VI engines, these were rejected, not being regarded as offering a significant improvement over the A1N.
Jingo Kurihara carried out a partial redesign and another prototype, the A2N1, powered by a 432 kW (580 hp) Nakajima Kotobuki 2, was completed in May 1931. The type was adopted by the Navy in April 1932. In 1932, Minoru Genda formed a flight demonstration team known as "Genda's Flying Circus" to promote naval aviation and flew this type.
A two-seat trainer was later developed from the Type 90 as the A3N1 and 66 of these were built between 1936 and 1939.