When people think of great sports anime series, we have a tendency to think of boys sports. Slam Dunk. Haikyu!! Diamond no Ace. Partially this is because sports anime is largely an extension of shonen anime, and also because of gender bias.
And yet, think of all the great female athletes out there, from Serena Williams and Mia Hamm to Naomi Osaka. Now, think of all the great anime series with female leads, from Sailor Moon to Haruhi Suzumiya to Kill La Kill.
Clearly, we really ought to pay more attention to the girls’ sports anime series.
This 1998 baseball anime series features a high school team which aims to go to Koshien, the ultimate tournament. (Koshien can be used as a metaphor for reaching any goal.) However, this time, the team is an all-girls team at a prestigious all-girls school.
The series takes a lot of typical sports anime tropes, and makes them feel fresh by adding some shojo touches. Princess Nine came out after A League of Their Own, but there are plenty of differences. The players aren’t playing other girls, but competing against the boys.
Crunchyrollhas the series.
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club is not your typical sports anime series. You usually think of sports series as being competitive, hot-blooded, and high-octane; not laid-back.
With its emphasis on touring around the Kamakura region on bicycle, this 2017 anime series will probably remind some viewers of Yuru Camp, or even Encouragement of Climb. It’s cute, very slice-of-life oriented, and has a good sense of humor.
And yet, it does feature a novice protagonist, Hiromi, who slowly learns the ups and downs of cycling. There are mentors who provide support, advice, and help. After they gain some experience, the club members even take part in a cycling event (complete with racing team uniforms).
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby
I know that Uma Musume has a pretty silly sounding concept. It features cute girls who represent anthropomorphic race horses. Specifically, they are famous Japanese race horses, so there’s no Seabiscuit, Seattle Slew, or Secretariat for western audiences to recognize. It’s sort of like Kemono Friends, another cute furry girl anime series based on a video game franchise, with just a touch of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls mixed in.
But hear me out. The series treats horse racing almost like track and field. It contains a lot of typical sports anime tropes. There are teams, rivalries, managers, a lot of training, and the trauma of recovering from a bad injury. When a girl worries about being able to achieve her goal of beating her rival on the track, the feels hit you right in the gut.
This 2019 anime series builds a baseball team from the ground up. It’s based on a mobile game, but that’s not a handicap.
Arihara Tsubasa wants to start a girls’ baseball team at her school, but she faces a lot of obstacles. Initially, the school doesn’t even have a suitable place for them to practice. She also has to gather up enough potential players to form a complete team. Some of these would-be players are reluctant to even want to take part. However, in the end, the team even manages to make it to a tournament.
Crunchyroll has the series.
Scorching Ping Pong Girls
Scorching Ping Pong Girls, aka Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume (2016), is undoubtedly the best middle-school girls ping pong sports comedy anime series ever created.
It’s a fun, cute series, but it takes table tennis seriously. In fact, some of the humor comes from the combination of cute girls and deadpan serious sports anime tropes. Essentially, they took a series like Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh, or Himawari Sketch, and applied sports genre logic to it.
At the beginning of the series, the best table tennis team gets toppled by a relative newcomer. This leaves behind a power vacuum which other teams hope to fill. Naturally, there will be hardcore ping pong matches, and a training camp. There’s also enough passionate ping pong innuendo for some to label it a yuri series. But mostly, it’s just a fun, chibi ping pong series.
Taisho Baseball Girls
This unique baseball story takes place during the Taisho Era, the short-lived period between the Meiji and the Showa eras. The era is known for its liberalization, so a feminist tale of girls playing baseball makes sense.
In the 1920s, baseball was still getting started in Japan. A couple of professional teams existed, but Babe Ruth’s famous tour was still a decade away.
The 2009 anime series is based upon a light novel series, Taisho Yakyu Musume. Like Princess Nine, it features school girls trying to start an all-girls baseball team. But the challenges and obstacles are even greater. Of course, because of the time period, sexism is a huge issue.
It’s the only series on this list not at Crunchyroll. You can find it at HIDIVE.
Some will say that this one shouldn’t count. But it’s so funny that I’m throwing it in anyway. There’s a reason why this sports parody anime series lasted nine seasons between 2012 and 2017, but it’s not the tennis. If you want serious, go watch The King of Pickleball or something.
In Teekyu, four utterly insane and hyperactive girls constitute the worst high school tennis club in history. In a couple of episodes, the girls actually attempt to play real, actual tennis. But it doesn’t stick, and the rest is high-speed comedy and humor about anything but tennis. The theme songs are also excellent.
The series also has a slightly more serious spin-off, Usakame, where the girls actually do play tennis.