Although Japanese anime movies might be better known for their sci-fi, there’s more to anime than giant robots and fantasy. One of the most diverse genres within anime is the sports series. These shows are exciting and action-packed, featuring some of the most interesting stories in the medium. Most sports anime are classified as Shōnen, a genre of anime and manga marketed primarily towards young men and teens. There are several hallmarks of Shōnen, namely its blend of action, comedy, and tragedy combined with a plucky protagonist with a never-quit attitude.
The following list is a sampling of the most popular and influential sports anime. A few of these series are ready to stream either on Netflix or Hulu while others are available on DVD.
This basketball show is an anime classic and a must-watch for any NBA fan. The series centers on freshman Sakuragi Hanamichi, a juvenile delinquent who joins the Shohoku High School basketball team in pursuit of a girl, Haruko, whose a huge basketball fan. Despite being a complete amateur in the sport, he proves to be extremely talented. In Japan, Slam Dunk was instrumental in popularizing basketball as a sport. Since this anime came out in the 1990s, the basketball action featured in the show is delightfully old school and fun for any basketball fan nostalgic for that era.
Total Episodes: 101
IMDb Rating: 8.7
A volleyball anime might seem like a strange premise for an exciting show but Haikyu!! is actually one of the most popular anime of all time (not just in the sports genre). Haikyu!! centers on the journey of Shōyō Hinata, a short boy with an astounding leaping ability determined to become the greatest volleyball player in Japan. While this anime is packed with heart-stopping action, it also has plenty of emotion. The show does an excellent job of character development, giving real emotional depth to the story.
Total Episodes: 88
IMDb Rating: 8.7
Whether you’re a basketball or sports fan, Kuroko no Basuke will have you on the edge of your seat. This Japanese anime centers on the adventures of a group of high school basketball savants known as “The Generation of Miracles.” The basketball action in this series is unique and can be best described as “superhuman.” Each main character has a heightened basketball ability, such as being able to vanish while dribbling or never missing a shot. Every season is action-packed, featuring a series of escalating basketball competitions that’s a guaranteed fun ride for any NBA fan.
Total Episodes: 76
IMDb Rating: 8.3
A boxing anime, Hajime no Ippo has both heart and intense action. The main character, Makunouchi Ippo, starts off as a shy kid. Throughout the show, viewers see his growth both as a boxer and person. What’s great about this anime is the care it takes in developing not only the main character but also the opponents he faces in the ring. Each of these opponents is given rich and interesting backgrounds and motivations, as well as unique boxing styles based on real-world techniques. There are three separate anime series for Hajime no Ippo: a 76-episode anime adaptation which aired from October 2000 to March 2002; a second series titled Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger which aired from January 2009 to June 2009; and a third series called Hajime no Ippo: Rising which aired from October 2013 to March 2014.
Total Episodes: 76 (first series)
IMDb Rating: 8.7
Megalo Box is a boxing anime with a clever sci-fi twist. In the future, boxers fight in tournaments wearing an enhanced, metal exoskeleton called gears. All except one man — Junk Dog, who becomes known as “Gearless Joe.” The action in this anime is slick and beautifully animated. But this 2018 anime is a also throwback. The animation was purposefully created to have a retro, hand-drawn aesthetic inspired by anime from the 1990s.
Total Episodes: 26
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Baseball is huge in Japan. Because of that popularity, there’s been plenty of baseball-themed anime throughout the years. One of the best is Ace of the Diamond, centered on the story of Eijun Sawamura, a high school baseball pitcher with an unusual throwing style. The anime follows the young hero as he attempts to achieve baseball greatness. Although this anime features plenty of tension, it’s also very comedic with a quirky cast of characters.
Total Episodes: 125
IMDb Rating: 8.2
This series is considered by many fans to be the best tennis anime of all time. The Prince of Tennis tells the story of Ryouma Echizen, a tennis prodigy who has returned to Japan after dominating the American tennis scene. Ryouma’s goal is simple — to emerge as the best tennis player in Japan. He does this by enrolling in Seishun Academy, home to one of the most elite middle school tennis programs in Japan. The plot evolves primarily on Seishun Academy’s quest to win the National Tournament, facing a series of tough schools along the way.
Total Episodes: 178
IMDb Rating: 7.5
This dynamic soccer anime covers the arc of Tsukushi Tsukamoto, a shy and awkward freshman at Seiseki High School. One day while Tsukushi is bullied, he’s rescued by Jin Kazama, an eccentric student who happens to be a soccer prodigy. Tsukushi soon joins his new friend on the Seiseki High School soccer team and is quickly plunged into the world of competitive soccer. This anime series is highly entertaining, featuring plenty of charm, comedy, and a lovable cast of characters.
Total Episodes: 24
IMDb Rating: 7.3
This testosterone-packed martial arts anime is a joy for any fan of intense action. This anime is pretty extreme, with over-the-top action that’s both brutal and ridiculously entertaining. While not a traditional sports anime, the central hero Baki Hanma, is a martial arts master on a mission to defeat his father, Yujiro Hanma, the deadliest fighter in the world. The main arc of the first season focuses on Baki as he battles five escaped, death row convicts from all over the world, each with their own abilities.
Total Episodes: 39
IMDb Rating: 6.7