On the one hand, there have been few Japanese players in the NBA, and Japan’s native pro basketball leagues have struggled to attract fans. (That’s a shame, given such creative names as Shimane Susanoo Magic, Akita Northern Happinets, and Sun Rockers Shibuya.)
On the other hand, Japan basketball does well against other Asian nations, and has qualified for the Olympics a few times. (In the United States, Japanese Americans have created amateur clubs and leagues.)
Understandably, basketball anime series concentrate heavily on high school level competition. For example, consider the following must-watch basketball anime series:
Based upon Takehiko Inoue’s best well-known manga series, this 1993-1996 basketball anime has become a standard by which other basketball series are judged.
In the series, tough guy Hanamichi Sakuragi joins his school’s basketball team in order to impress a girl. Yes, Slam Dunk is as much a romantic comedy series as it is a sports series.
The series is almost worth it just for the 90s nostalgia of the music and the animation alone. However, it does tell a good story about the team’s rise to the top, as well as Hanamichi’s personal development.
This 2012-2015 basketball series features hard-working, but unnoticeable ‘shadow’ basketball player Tetsu Kuroko. In junior high, Kuroko was on a title-winning basketball team.
However, when he gets to high school, his former teammates have all gone to other schools. Naturally, Kuroko must now battle his former allies.
You can find the series at Crunchyroll.
Ahiru No Sora
The 2019 series Ahiru no Sora is the opposite of Slam Dunk. While the classic 1990s series had a tough guy joining a basketball team, Ahiru no Sora has a whole team of basketball delinquents.
Protagonist Sora Kurumatani (plucky, shonen newcomer) pushes hard to get these punks interested in actually playing basketball. Sora is also a short guy with some neat tricks for getting past a tough defense.
Ahiru no Sora is on Crunchyroll.
Dear Boys/ Hoop Days
This 2003 anime series is based on a manga which started in 1989. Various prequel and sequel manga series kept the franchise going over several decades. Despite the long length of the manga, the anime only lasted one season. Fans have received no word on a season 2, remake, or reboot.
It tells the story of Mizuho High School. Initially, the boys’ team only has five players. (That’s enough to fill all positions, but it doesn’t allow for substitutes). Naturally, it is up to new transfer student Kazuhiko Aikawa to convince the other players not to give up.
The title comes from the girls’ team coach, who takes over the boys’ team. She calls them ‘dear boys.’
Dear Boys was available on Crunchyroll, but they have since dropped the ball.
This cute series features a high school basketball player who coaches an elementary school girls’ team. The reason is complicated, but his own team is on hiatus. A 2011 anime season was followed by an OVA, and the 2013 sequel Ro-Kyu-Bu! SS. It’s based on a light novel series.
Given the main cast and basic premise (a high school student trying to teach good basketball principles to five rambunctious young girls), this is obviously not going to be a serious basketball series. But, there are more than enough of those.
This schoolgirl comedy series might appeal more to fans of Mitsudomoe than it will to fans of Slam Dunk. But if you’re looking for a combination of cute girls and basketball, this is a good choice.
The series is available at HIDIVE.
The 2005-2007 anime series Buzzer Beater started out as another Takehiko Inoue basketball manga series. (See also Slam Dunk above.) Unlike Slam Dunk, this one takes place in the future, and features aliens playing basketball.
It seems that when the aliens arrived, they were physically stronger, and naturally better at the game than humans. The story echoes a common complaint about racial advantages in sports. The series features an all-human team trying to win back glory for Earth.
Coincidentally, the manga series started the same year that the animated alien basketball movie Space Jam came out. Unfortunately, the anime series can be hard to find outside of Japan (Japanese Hulu has it), especially since Buzzer Beater is a fairly common name for basketball-related media.
I’ll/ CKBC started out as a 1995-2004 manga series by Hiroyuki Asada. It was adapted as an OVA in 2002.
CKBC stands for Crazy Kouzu Basketball Club. The series features a freshman student, Tachibana Akane, and his rival, Hiiragi Hitonari. When they both join the basketball club, their rivalry continues to push them forward, but leading their team to victory is more important. As it so happens, Hiiragi also has some family issues to deal with.
The OVA is short, but it takes its basketball seriously. Best bet for legal viewing outside of Japan is the DVD, available at Amazon.