Even if you haven’t watched anime in your entire life, sports anime is something you should definitely check out. The sports anime series is not only about sports, it’s usually about getting over obstacles by teamwork, dedication, and hard work. Here are some of the best sports anime series.
There is anime for almost every kind of sport. Starting from popular ones such as basketball and volleyball, there are ones about table tennis and even ice-skating. According to online sportbooks in Japan, basketball is not as popular in Japan as it is in western cultures. Usually the animes portray a normal athlete, but there are some with supernatural powers and epic battles.
What does typical sports anime look like?
A typical sports anime would follow a certain player and his or her team’s path to success. Usually the team is not good enough to compete in the big tournaments in the beginning. However, throughout the series they would find the special skills that differentiate them from the other teams. That would lead us to a typical ending of the team winning the trophy they’ve always wanted, thus reaching their dream.
The essence of the sports anime is usually not about the victories or even the process of the matches. It’s about finding oneself, exploring your passion, and realizing that no matter how great you are, teamwork is what brings success. Mostly high school students play protagonists in this type of anime. So usually the failures and their way of getting over them symbolize hardships in life. Be it the supernatural ones where players have superpowers or a simple slice of life type featuring normal students, sports animes usually portray a coming-of-age story.
Aired: October 1993
This one is basically the godfather of the sports animes. The manga where the anime was based is often referred to as Japan’s best sports manga. More than 157 million copies of this 31 volume series were sold worldwide. Even though 31 volumes might sound a lot, it’s really not that much for a sports manga.
Unfortunately, the anime was not as successful as the manga. After airing 101 episodes and 4 full movies, the production has come to a stop. Still, to this date, fans confidently claim that it is one of the best sports animes. The author of the manga Takehiko Inoue has later established a fund for the Japanese basketball players to help them pursue their dream to play in the NBA.
Episodes: 4 seasons 85 episodes, 4 OVAs
Aired: February 2012
This one is probably the most popular sports anime. It depicts a volleyball team that used to be really successful once. However, their reputation has fallen down once the old team members have graduated and the new teams have failed to carry on the name. Throughout the four seasons, that team tries to regain its reputation by going to the Nationals.
Even if you’re not interested in volleyball, you’ll probably enjoy this anime. The character developments, relationships between the team, and schoolmates are really natural and inspiring. There are no superpowers, extra romance plots, etc.
Sport: Table tennis
This one is slightly different from the typical sports animes both in plot and art style. The art style is pretty unique and is a classic love it or hate it type. Actually, the anime as a whole is in that way. Some say that this is one of the best sports animes while some downright hate it. Even though the anime has come out relatively recently, the manga was written in the 1990s.
It’s about two best friends, table tennis prodigies who have bonded over the sport. Besides their interest in the game, they have almost nothing in common. One is emotionless and used to get bullied for that. The other friend is loud and has a bubbly personality.
Episodes: 3 seasons 75 episodes, 5 OVA
Aired: April 2012
Even though some fans claim that the last season of the anime, especially the ending of them was a flop, it’s still one of the best sports animes. The protagonists in this anime were inspired by real NBA players.
A middle school basketball team called “Generation of Miracles” goes in a separate way in high schools. Each one of them has almost supernatural power in the basketball field. One of them has a perfect copying skill where he reads what the opponent is going to do and copies it. The other one has a hawk-eye that sees every movement in the field. Even though it’s hard to take the matches seriously when there are superpowers like this included in the scene, it’s still a fun anime to watch.
March Comes in Like a Lion
Episodes: 2 Seasons, 44 episodes
Aired: October 2016
As you can probably predict from the quiet and serious nature of shogi, the anime is not as fast-paced as the ones about basketball or volleyball. It’s about a 17-year-old shogi player Rei who lives by himself. His family has died in a car crash, leaving him to foster care where he struggled to find friends and family. As a result, he has hardly any friends and lacks social skills.
This one is a classic example of sports anime being about a coming of age story. Since the protagonist is a 17-year-old, the story is mainly about him developing and growing both as a player and as a person. As he leaves his teenage years, he strengthens his bond with the Kawamoto sisters.
Run With the Wind
Aired: October 2018
This one has to be my favorite on the list of the best sports animes. Unlike the typical fast-paced and exciting nature of the sports animes, this one is really calm and slow-paced. The novel of this anime has come out in 2006 and was proven to be a huge success. People loved it so much that the producers made manga, a live-action movie, and lastly anime based on the novel.
It all starts with running prodigy Kakeru Kurahara escaping from the convenience store after stealing some food. Amazed by his talent in running fourth-year student Haiji Kiyose persuades him to live in the dormitory with eight other residents. His plan was to participate in Hakone Ekiden, the most prestigious marathon in Japan. The anime follows their path into persuading the residents to run in the marathon and them finding joy in running.