Please be advised, viewers have described experiencing the following symptoms when watching sports anime: increased heartbeat, emotional mood swings, shortness of breath, elevated vocal emissions, increased tear production, sudden knowledge of sports jargon, team loyalty and in extreme cases, fanaticism.
Sports anime inspire us to do more, to strive higher, to do better… or, for the naysayers out there, sports anime is just fodder for the shippers over on Tumblr. Whether you love them or hate them, the sports anime fandom is large, vocal, and here to stay. But, what’s all the fuss about? What’s so exciting about watching an anime about baseball? I mean if you want to watch sports there are 10 different ESPN channels to watch, so what makes sports anime any different from that?
Trying to compare sports with sports anime is like comparing apples and oranges. They may share some general similarities, but as a whole, they are two completely different experiences. Not too long ago, I hated sports anime (I am not proud to admit that) and I scoffed at the diehard fans. I mean, anime was supposed to be exciting, and for me, sports weren’t exciting enough to warrant someone going through the trouble of animating an entire series about… oh, let’s say volleyball. But, then I actually sat down and watched said volleyball anime and… my life has never been the same! I quickly started watching every sports anime series I could get my hands on, but even I have to admit that going through a ton of anime titles on databases can be a bit daunting for some of the less seasoned anime fans out there.
This series is meant to help you guys out, rather than throw you out into the anime wilderness, I have compiled a list of top-notch, tried, and true sports anime title for beginners. Rejoice, I’ve done all the hard work for you!!
Here are six sports anime titles, from baseball to figure skating, so whether you like sports or not, I have you covered!!
Yuri!!! On Ice
Air Date: 2016
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll | Funimation
Synopsis: After suffering a crushing defeat during the Grand Prix Finale, 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuuri Katsuki hangs up his skates and returns home for a bit of soul-searching. But, he can’t stay away from the ice for long, and during a visit to a local ice rink, Yuri perfectly mimics the advanced skating routine of champion figure skater Victor Nikiforov. When the video of his routine goes viral, the skating idol shows up at Yuuri’s family home with a proposition that will change Yuuri’s life forever.
Ah, what kind of list would this be if I didn’t at least include 2016’s smash hit, Yuri!!! On Ice? Seriously, at this point, who hasn’t seen this anime? It has been the talk of the anime community since its debut during the Fall 2016 anime season, and its popularity is not showing any signs of waning anytime soon. But, what is it about the series that has garnered so much critical acclaim?!
Most credit the series for jump-starting the discussion of same-sex relationships in Japanese media, with its sensitive depiction of the relationship between Yuuri and Victor. While the relationship between the main leads is an integral part of the show’s narrative, at its core, Yuri!!! On Ice is a thoughtful underdog story that most viewers will find relatable.
Of course, it would be blasphemy to talk about a sports anime and not mention the actual sports aspects of the show. In the series, there is a fair amount of figure skating. Each of the routines depicted in the show was choreographed by retired Japanese figure skater, Kenji Miyamoto. The animation during the individual routines is a sight to behold. Each routine is unique to the characters performing them and the animation is… breathtaking! I can’t praise them enough; you simply must see them all for yourself! With its stunning visuals, dynamic cast, and thought-provoking narrative, Yuri!!! On Ice is definitely worth all the hype!!
Yuri on Ice Café Photo Report
Air Date: 2014
Episode: 60 + 3 compilation films
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Synopsis: After seeing famed high school volleyball ace ‘Little Giant’ on TV, middle schooler Hinata Shouyou decides to revive his school’s volleyball club. But when their first and last match ends in utter failure at the hands of prodigy setter, Kageyama Tobio, and his team, he vows to turn it around by following in his idol’s footsteps: he joins the Karasuno High volleyball club. Unfortunately for our pint-sized protagonist, Kageyama also decided to enroll at Karasuno and the two must strike up an unlikely partnership in order to help take their team to the Nationals.
Haikyuu!! is one of those over-hyped anime series that people would not stop suggesting! Not a day went by when someone wasn’t shoving the series down my throat, and after avoiding the series for a long time, I finally broke down and watched it… and it was magical. *looks off into the sunset*
But, volleyball? What’s so exciting about volleyball?
Ah, dear readers, I was a skeptic at first, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the edge of my seat during every single volleyball match. You want Karasuno to win, not because they’re the protagonists, but because the show takes the time to get the viewer invested in their journey, both as a team and as individual players! I laughed, I cried, there were even times I jumped up and down screaming like a lunatic, BECAUSE, DID YOU SEE THAT SPIKE?! *ahem* I mean, this show packs an emotional punch and you can’t help but get swept up in the emotional experience that is watching Haikyuu.
Every time I rewatch this anime I find something new to fall in love with, whether it’s the dynamic cast of characters, the action-packed matches, or the those emotionally charged character building moments. This show never skips a beat! You’re not just watching the events unfold, you feel like you’re a part of the action!
Haikyuu!! Karasuno Koukou vs Shiratorizawa Gakuen Koukou (Season 3) Series Review
Kuroko no Basket
Air Date: 2012
Episode: 75 + 4 animated films
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Synopsis: The Teikou Middle School was famous for its undefeated basketball team that took home three consecutive championship wins thanks to their five prodigy players, known collectively as the Generation of Miracles. After graduating, each of the members of Generation of Miracles went on to attend top-tier high schools. But, there has always been a strange rumor that the team had a phantom sixth player that was said to have earned the respect of the five prodigies…
Kuroko Tetsuya is that rumored prodigy, but unlike his new Seirin High teammate Taiga Kagami, he seemingly lacks any natural talent on the court. But, Kuroko has a secret technique that will help turn the tide for Seirin High, a special skill that only he possesses. Will Kuroko and his team be able to take down the Generation of Miracles and become the number one team in Japan?
This is not the first nor will it be the last basketball-themed anime (on this list or otherwise), but there is no doubt that Kuroko no Basket has enraptured fans since its debut. Perhaps it’s the action-packed basketball matches, or maybe it’s the diverse cast of characters, but whatever it is, Kuroko is sure to keep you entertained from the first episode all the way to the last!
I will admit that I was skeptical about the series at first, the over-the-top basketball moves and the ‘special abilities’ of the members of the Generation of Miracles are just as flashy as you’d expect from a sports anime, but that’s what makes it so much fun to watch. They don’t just show the players running up and down the court, they make the viewer part of the action with bold visuals and highly stylized techniques.
5 Factors that Make the Manga and Anime of Kuroko’s Basketball Special
Diamond no Ace
Air Date: 2013
Episode: 126 + 5 OVAs
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Synopsis: In middle school, Sawamura Eijun was always a big fish in a little pond. With his unusual pitching style and indomitable spirit, he was the glue that held the baseball team together. After experiencing a crushing defeat in their final year, the team vows to do their best the following year in high school. But, their plans are put on hold when Eijun is scouted by a rep from the prestigious Seidou High in Tokyo. Suddenly, surrounded by so many skilled baseball players, Eijun struggles to fit into the competitive atmosphere of Seidou team. But, despite having all the cards stacked against him, Eijun vows to be the Seidou team’s ace! Can Eijun surpass not only the other teams’ players but his own teammates as well, to become the ace of the diamond or is he biting off more than he can chew?
Diamond no Ace is one of those sports anime that doesn’t hold back on the punches. If you are expecting Eijun to beat the odds and become the ace of the team, with little or no effort, this is not the show for you. Eijun has to claw his way from the bottom of the barrel, and even then, he still doesn’t exactly make it to the top. He isn’t a prodigy, nor is he one of those players who struggle for a bit and then makes a miraculous final-hour turnaround. He fails… often, and usually when it matters the most.
But, rather than being depressing, I found this aspect of the show oddly refreshing. In other sports anime, the protagonists will lose once or twice only to pull a last-minute victory seemingly out of nowhere; Diamond no Ace make the main character work for his happy ending (and it’s an emotional rollercoaster). The viewer rides the highs and the lows with our hapless hero, the victories and the losses, every heartbreaking defeat… But, no matter how bad things get, Eijun never gives up and that gives all the heartbreaking failure an underlying layer of hope.
Air Date: 1993
Episode: 101 + 4 animated films
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll | Hulu
Synopsis: Hotheaded delinquent, Hanamichi Sakuragi, always seems to strike out with the ladies, so he enrolls at Shohoku High in hopes of getting a fresh start. Unfortunately for our leading man, his less than stellar reputation follows him to his new school, causing most folks to give him a wide berth. But just when he starts giving up on ever finding love, he meets the beautiful Haruko Akagi and falls head over heels in love. In an attempt to woo his lady love, Hanamichi joins his school’s basketball club, despite his hatred of the sport. As the series progresses he comes to love the sport and forges strong bonds with his teammates as they strive to be the #1 team in Japan!
Okay, so this title is a bit dated, but Slam Dunk is one of the most iconic sports anime series of all time and I couldn’t in good conscience not include it in this list… it’s a classic! Though I will admit that it hasn’t exactly aged well over the years, it has all the deliciously campy 90s anime tropes and cliches we love to hate, but the fact remains that Slam Dunk is one of those must-watch series!
The series features an expansive cast of unique characters, each with their own distinct personalities and story arcs. As it is with most long-running anime series, the character development is phenomenal. Characters you hated at the start will become your favorites by the time you watch the last episode.
Also, fun fact, most of the characters were modeled after prominent 90s basketball players, so if you are familiar with basketball, you’ll have a lot of fun seeing the similarities between your favorite characters and their real-life counterparts.
Prince of Tennis
Air Date: 2001
Episode: 191 + 2 OVAs
Where to Watch: VIZ | Hulu
Synopsis: At the ripe old age of 12, Ryoma Echizen has already made a name for himself as one of Japan’s best young tennis stars, earning him the nickname ‘Prince of Tennis’. After winning a number of international tennis competitions, he returns to Japan to attend the prestigious Seishun Academy, home of some of Japan’s most elite young tennis players. Despite being just a first-year middle schooler, Ryoma easily becomes one of the team’s regulars. With the combined efforts of so many skilled players, winning the National Middle School Tennis Championship should be a piece of cake.
© 許斐 剛 TK WORKS／集英社・テレビ東京・NAS © 劇場版テニスの王子様製作委員会2005 © 許斐 剛／集英社・NAS・テニスの王子様プロジェクト
© 許斐 剛／集英社・NAS・劇場版テニスの王子様プロジェクト2011 © 許斐 剛／集英社・NAS・新テニスの王子様プロジェクト
Prince of Tennis was the first sports anime I ever saw, and I have very fond memories of the series, *inhales*, so, this title is on this list as a testament to my nostalgia. But, that doesn’t mean the series doesn’t deserve to be on this list. Like Slam Dunk, Prince of Tennis is another one of those ‘iconic’ sports anime series credited with popularizing the genre. It’s stood the test of time, spawning sequels, spin-offs, animated films, and hell, even live musicals, but what is it about the series that has kept it so popular?
It’s certainly not the best sports anime I’ve ever seen, nor is it the most original when compared with some of the newer sports anime series. Actually, it’s downright boring. What sets PoT apart from the other sports anime on this list is that it isn’t an underdog story. Each and every one of the members of the Seishun Academy tennis club is a frickin’ badass, and they know it! They’ve already climbed the mountain and won. They don’t need to prove themselves. They are the best of the best. It’s less a story about a ragtag group of misfits coming together for a last-minute victory and more a story of individually skilled players coming together and creating something even greater than the sum of its parts…
I’m kidding. Honestly, watching Ryoma own every single person he is paired against is oddly satisfying and more than enough reason to watch this anime… his serves are a thing of beauty!
6 Amazing Trivia About ‘The Prince of Tennis’ Author, Takeshi Konomi
Go Forth and Explore
Ah, I have taught you all that I can regarding sports anime. My only hope is that this list helps you initiate your love of the genre. But, remember, this is just a guide and these six titles are not the end-all for sports anime. There are plenty of awesome anime that didn’t make this list. So, I encourage you to go out and explore all the wonderful anime titles out there, find the ones that appeal to you… Fall in love with sports anime!!
But, of course, I want to hear from you guys! What are some sports anime you would suggest to newbies? Anything on this list you’d cut? Drop a line in the comments section, who knows your suggestion might help initiate someone’s love of sports anime!! You can also check our list of the best sports anime of 2016!
The Best Sports Anime of 2016