Anime is a very broad genre of media, and within anime, sports anime might just be the broadest subgenre, covering everything from absurd humor to life-threatening drama. Chances are good that if one has a favorite sport, there is an anime to pair with it.
Sports anime provide the same thrills and excitement that sports-related TV shows do, giving a clear-cut goal for characters to pursue, as well as give plenty of opportunities for drama and personal conflict to arise. These are some of Reddit’s favorite examples of the genre, with suggestions just as varied and unique as one would expect.
Megalo Box (2018 – )
Redditor YesLads offers Megalobox as a suggestion: “I like this show a lot because the art style is cool, the main character is cool, I really like the soundtrack, and the actual sports part of it doesn’t take 3 episodes for just 4 seconds of the actual sport happening.” This is a fair criticism in anime, where mid-fight conversations can last an entire episode.
Megalobox is a boxing anime that takes place in a far-off future. This is not typical boxing, however. The sport of ‘megaloboxing’ adds mechanical harnesses that increase fighter’s speed and power in the ring. The dystopian backdrop provides this anime with drama and tension as joe fights his way up toward the championship.
Bamboo Blade (2007 – 2008)
Grumpy-Moogle suggests Bamboo Blade, saying “It’s got cute girls doing fun things, and a great MC with Tamaki.” This kendo anime brings the practice of bamboo-sword fencing to life, as well as delves into the society and culture of Japanese high schools.
The story follows kendo coach, Toraji Ishida, who makes a bet with his senpai about who could form a winning team of female kendo competitors. The prize? A lifetime supply of sushi on the other’s bill. The anime leans into the slice-of-life subgenre more than others, but the competing girls are given ample character depth because of it.
Eyeshield 21 (2005 – )
One of the old classics, Eyeshield 21 is an American football-focused anime that follows a Japanese immigrant who joins a football team as the secretary. Of course, he is soon pushed onto the field by the team captain and becomes the titular character, thanks to his number and protective eyewear.
Redditor Small-Drink5105 notes that “Sport anime usually make a difference between player and character growth. Eyeshield 21 does a great job combining both, something which you rarely have in fiction.” The fusion of the sport and character creates something unique and powerful in the genre.
Slam Dunk (1993 – 1996)
Reddit user HyperPunch recommends “Slam Dunk! Is a great basketball anime based off a manga by one of the best writers/artist out there.” Indeed, Takehiko Inoue has built a career based on other sports and martial arts anime, with Slam Dunk being one of the best and most successful of their work.
Slam Dunk follows the story of a young delinquent who gets into fights and is unsuccessful with girls until a girl at his high school takes interest in him and pushes him to join the basketball team. The interpersonal drama of the team comes from their individual desires and needs that often conflict, but they still build a team together.
Ping Pong: The Animation (2014)
Octopathfinder cautiously puts forward that “Ping Pong The Animation is only 11 eps and really good if you can get past the weird art style.” The short and sweet anime is, obviously, all about competitive ping-pong, and the unique animation style can be a strong draw or drawback depending on your tastes.
But despite the unique animation, the story of Ping Pong: The Animation is very traditional in the core premise – two rivals on the same team struggle with their competition and each other as they rise in the ranks of their sport. This is one of the few sports anime to have also been adapted into live-action, with a 2002 movie that lacked some of the character of the anime.
Baby Steps (2014 – 2015)
This now-deleted Redditor has a strong love of Baby Steps, saying, “The show is realistic (aside from the main character’s rate of growth in skill level) and will appeal to pretty much anyone who is a big fan of tennis as a sport.” This tennis anime is very grounded, lacking some of the over-dramatic fantasy that other sports anime lean into.
Baby Steps is a rather inspirational story of a high schooler who realizes that he is out of shape and wants to become more athletic. After picking up a flyer for the tennis club, he falls in love with the sport. His dramatic growth comes from his extremely studious nature, which he uses to commit to his training.
Tomorrow’s Joe (1970 – 1971)
Ioxem gives this description: “AnJ is mostly focused on the drama/SOL aspects as well as the consequences of boxing, rather than techniques and such.” Ashita No Joe builds on the core of boxing much in the same way Rocky or Million Dollar Baby do – building on the training and money behind the competitions.
Megalo Box is actually based on this anime, but their stories are very different. Protagonist Joe Yabuki gets caught up with the law and spends the night in jail. After getting into a fight and losing, he leaves and begins his journey into a career in the boxing ring. This long anime originally started in the ’70s, so some may either call it dated or a classic.
Yuri On Ice!!! (2016)
Yuri!!! On Ice follows the titular Yuri Katsuki, who faces an early retirement from figure skating after a series of disheartening losses. His idol, Victor Nikiforov, notices a video of Yuri and he travels out to coach Yuri and revive his career. The budding romance between Yuri and Victor is a major draw that is woven throughout the competition.
Fighting Spirit (2000 – 2002)
Xorenadosuke talks about the feeling of excitement that Fighting Sprit (Hajime No Ippo) can bring when they say, “The only time you might find yourself yelling at an anime character to ‘GET UP!'” And what’s more, each fighter can give that feeling thanks to the realistic and moving backstories that each fighter is given over the course of a match.
Fighting Spirit (Hajime No Ippo) is a fairly realistic boxing anime that follows the titular Ippo, who starts his journey as a shy and bullied child who is beaten up regularly. One day, boxer Genji Kamogawa intervenes and inspires young Ippo to pick up the gloves and start learning to protect himself and others.
Haikyuu!! (2014 – 2020)
One exuberant Redditor writes about Haikyuu!!, saying: “You may be thinking, ‘wow a volleyball anime, sounds boring’ That’s exactly what I thought I was getting into. Boy was I wrong.” And many people who start watching sports anime share this expectation, not expecting that something revolving around a sport can hold their attention.
Haikyuu!! is an excellent example of an anime that uses the sport as a foundation and builds a unique and exciting story upon it. This anime follows a team of teenage volleyball players who try to resurrect the reputation of their school’s once-great volleyball club using their unique skills – but their personality and drama are the stars.
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