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Top 10 Sports Anime You Need to Watch Right Now

Updated on January 9, 2017
Haikyuu! (Volleyball)
Haikyuu! (Volleyball)
Sena's always bullied, but has developed super-speed because bullies boss him around!
Sena's always bullied, but has developed super-speed because bullies boss him around!

Since the late 1940s, anime shows have multiplied and grown in popularity. From Doraemon to Gundam to Code Geass, these shows are well-loved in every corner of the world.

Different sports have made their way to these anime shows, but why are they so popular? Let's check out the common elements of these shows and why they're so popular.

Elements of a Sports Anime

The Pushover Protagonist. The main character is usually a pushover, a small kid, or some kind-hearted loser. Often, this character has talent developed from doing something mundane (like running so fast to do errands for bullies), until the day someone notices their ability and asks them to join a sports team (re: Eyeshield 21 and Yowamushi Pedal).

The Mentor/s. Usually, it's someone older who's been in the sports club for a long time. This is the person who noticed the protagonist's potential. They can be weird, crazy, funny, or very strict. They are well-known and very famous (or used to be) and the main character looks up to them. Unless if it's Eyeshield 21's Hiruma, who motivates his team with machine guns and rabid dogs.

The Rival. The rival is not the villain. He or she is someone who matches the main character's skills and pushes him or her to be better. Sometimes the rival could be the main character's own teammate (re: Haikyuu! or Slam Dunk) or someone from a different team or side (re: Hajime no Ippo).

The rival can either be: a) someone older than the protagonist, doesn't care about the rivalry till the day the protagonist proves himself/herself, or b) a cheery and similarly determined character around the same age as the main character and is more like a "frenemy".

The Love Interest. One of the things I love about sports anime is that the love story doesn't take center stage (usually). The main character may have a love interest, but there isn't usually a love triangle, and the love interest is usually someone who knows about the sports - as a manager, coach, cheerleader, friend, etc.

Takamura's boxing training in the mountains
Takamura's boxing training in the mountains

Training at the Beach, Onsen (Hot Spring), or the Mountains. There will always be a training camp shown in the anime. This is a staple in anime shows.

Usually this happens after a loss at the beginning of the season where they experience their first loss. Then, they do an extreme training somewhere that shows off an exotic location. Sometimes, they'll go to another country, but oftentimes they'll show you the rural beauty of Japan.

The Team. In a team, there will always be:

  • an overeager and enthusiastic member who jumps around a lot
  • the calm and kind senpai (upperclassman) who hides a tough exterior
  • the delinquent who picks fights but actually has a heart of gold
  • the manager who's usually the girl (except in Kuroko no Basuke where their coach is an upperclassman girl)
  • the heartless team captain or coach
  • the main character's sort-of best friend or rival
  • the main character's twin (someone who's similar in height or demeanor)
  • the main character

Eyeshield 21

Kobayakawa Sena is a pushover, constantly bullied by older and bigger people for as long as he can remember. He has one talent that makes him unique, though - he can run really fast.

He runs fast because he gets bossed around and sent to fetch or buy things. So when the cruel, heartless, genius devil-incarnate captain of the football team, Hiruma sees him run, Sena's life gets turned upside down.

Hiruma forces Sena to join the team as their "ace", the one with the green shield, Eyeshield 21. This means that no one knows Sena's identity and opponents often underestimate him because of his size.

The characters are interesting and very funny. The best thing, though? Hiruma, the captain of their team, The Deimon Devil Bats, is wicked when it comes to their training. He's basically a genius when it comes to planning their plays. He foresees their opponent's offenses and defenses and creates mind-boggling strategies.

Seirin team
Seirin team

Kuroko no Basuke

Kuroko's Basket or Kuroko's Basketball revolves around Seiren High, a new school determined to participate in the inter-school basketball tournaments.

n the new school year, though, the team unexpectedly gets new freshmen: Kagami Tiaga from the United States who wants to crush the Generation of Miracles, team of basketball superstars. Unfortunately, the players of the team had already gone to different high schools.

The team is surprised, therefore, to find that someone from the GoM team has joined their basketball club. His name? Kuroko Tetsuya. At first, their female coach (who can assess the athletic ability of a player at first glance) is skeptical since he's small, lithe, and has no presence at all. He gets ignored and he rarely talks.

In other words, he's a shadow. And he proves, on the basketball court, that "only a shadow can make the light shine brighter". Kuroko proves that he is a genius when it comes to strategies and learning new basketball moves. He flits around and surprises everyone with his amazing passes (sleight-of-hand style).

Their journey involves having to beat the former members of the Generation of Miracles, with some secrets being revealed about Kuroko's past along the way.

Shohoku High
Shohoku High

Slam Dunk

Who hasn't heard of Hanamichi Sakuragi, the red-haired stubborn delinquent who joined the basketball team to impress a girl?

With his equally funny and supportive team, Sakuragi continues to butt heads (literally) with anyone he meets until he befriends Haruko who's part of the girl's basketball team and whose crush, Rukawa, is the basketball team's heartthrob.

So Sakuragi joins, but he has never played basketball in his life and his first attempt against the captain of the team is hilarious and thrilling! It's got a cult following and is one of the most beloved anime series of all times.

Diamond no Ace

It's a baseball anime (and baseball is Japan's no. 1 sport), which is about Eijun Sawamura who comes from a rural town and joins an elite school to become "an ace" (recurring theme among some sports anime).

He's a pitcher, but he needs help on his throws and the best catcher in town (and in their team) sees potential in him. He gets scouted for a prestigious school in the city. Eijun struggles with the reality that he is not as talented as he thought he was, which is a unique lesson in a sports anime.

The protagonist has quite the big head and his mistakes are embarrassing to watch (you will weep on his behalf), but his determination is admirable.

Haikyuu!!

This volleyball anime took the world by storm! Hinata Shoyou is from a rural town where his school's male volleyball team only has one member - him. So, in order to get to the inter-school games, he asks help from other club athletes and the girls' volleyball club.

When his ragtag team joins their first ever inter-school game, they get crushed by a much better team led by the genius setter Kageyama Tobio. In the game, though, Tobio sees Shoyou's potential. Hinata might only be 162 cm, but he's got lightning quick reflexes.

Shoyou swears to defeat Tobio one day. After graduation, Shoyou attends Karasuno High, the former team of the famous volleyball player The Small Giant. There, he finds out that Tobio is his new teammate.

This is a rare twist in sports-themed anime, but the story uses it well. Tobio is the "King of the Court". He has never gotten along well with his past teammates because he's never satisfied with their performance. He never compliments, thank or help them.

But in his new team, Tobio realizes that volleyball is a team sport, and that everyone literally is needed in the game. He partners with Shoyou to produce freak quicks that constantly thump their opponents.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Free! follows the adventures of the swim team of childhood friends who reunite in high school and gain a new member. Haruka Nanase has always loved being in the water, but he was never as passionate in winning the swimming tournaments as his best friend, Rin.

After middle school, their four-member team drifted apart and Rin comes back as part of a different team to challenge Haruka. The show has a more relaxed feel than the other powered-up anime, but when you watch these people swim, you'll also realize why people can love the water so much (swimming "free"style) - it's like flying and being weightless.

The story revolves more around friendship and passions than the actual sport, but the tournaments and trainings are still there and they are just as exciting and interesting! The art is exceptionally amazing, too.

Prince of Tennis

Ryoma Echizen is a tennis prodigy who wants to step out of his father's shadow. He's short, but his reflexes are quick. He's also not the chatty type, preferring to withdraw unto himself rather than team up with others, but his team makes him realize a lot of things about friendship, family, winning, and himself.

The action is quick and you'll be surprised at the balls dancing around, whooshing and hitting things at an impossible speed. This is a very popular anime with lots of OVA and a new season after Echizen's return from America. It's also a coming-of-age story where winning doesn't become the only thing Echizen looks forward to in tennis games.

Hajime No Ippo

Ippo Makunouchi has been bullied his entire life. When he gets beaten up again, someone comes to his rescue - Mamoru Takamura, a boxer at the Kamogawa gym. There, Ippo starts to learn boxing, where he gains more confidence in himself.

He still retains his pacifist attitude and helps his mother in their fishing business, but he continues to strive to be a boxer, meeting many different boxers with their own pasts, struggles, and ambitions.

His former bullies becomes his supporters and the girl he likes turns out to be the younger sister of one of his scariest-looking opponents. His fellow boxers are all funny, often helping Ippo learn from his defeats and victories.

Hungry Heart: Wild Striker

Kano Kyosuke finds himself constantly having to prove himself in soccer because of his successful soccer player older brother.

He quits soccer, but returns to it in high school where he joins two other players as hard-headed as him. They fight and sometimes don't listen to their elders, but they're tough and determined to win their games.

Soccer has always been a fascinating game and the FIFA World Cup fans will agree. This anime, though old like Slam Dunk, still has its charm.

Bamboo Blade

Most sports anime star a lot of male characters, so shows like Bamboo Blade are a breath of fresh air. The show revolves around young, female kendo players who kick ass.

The story begins with Toraji Ishida, a teacher at Muroe High School, who is challenged by a fellow male teacher to create a girls' kendo team to spar with his. If Ishida wins, he gets a year's supply of sushi.

Although his reason is low and pathetic, Ishida creates a team that becomes more than a club. Different girls come together and become friends where they fight off bullies, learn about themselves, and find a second family.

Which Sports Anime Have You Seen?

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