Sports are fairly common in manga and anime for several reasons: They have obvious training/ competition/ tournament arcs which make for good storytelling, and sports also promote such values as teamwork and hard work. Also, Japanese schools tend to encourage participation in either clubs or sports.
That all adds up to a lot of sports anime series. So many, in fact, that we had to find the 10 best sports anime series you have to watch before anything else. Here are the top choices for any anime fan:
The Prince of Tennis
Ryoma isn’t always the easiest protagonist to like. Rather than a plucky underdog, he starts out having already won titles. He also sometimes comes across as arrogant (hence ‘prince’ of tennis).
Still, the series undeniably takes tennis seriously. And for all of his faults (tennis pun), Ryoma rises to face many challenges. The Prince of Tennis has OVAs, anime films, live-action musicals, and the sequel series The New Prince of Tennis (2012).
Alternative: If you want a tennis anime series without all the tennis, try Teekyu. In theory, this hilarious gag anime series is about a high school girls tennis club. In practice, the goofy series avoids serious, hardcore tennis as much as possible, in order to concentrate on jokes and slapstick.
Based upon one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s tentpole manga series, this 1993-1996 basketball anime has become a standard by which other series are judged.
The series features moody, hotheaded tough guy Hanamichi Sakuragi, who joins his school’s basketball team in order to impress a girl. Yes, Slam Dunk has elements of high school romantic comedy as well as sports. The series is almost worth it just for the nostalgic value of the music and the animation. However, it does tell a good story of the team’s rise to the top, as well as Hanamichi’s personal development.
The 2013-2014 anime series Yowamushi Pedal is a bicycle-racing sports anime series with an unlikely hero.
Series protagonist Sakamichi Onoda starts out as a shy, anime otaku. His only bicycling experience consists of his ‘mamachari’ city bike. However, Onoda’s hill-climbing ability grabs the attention of the racing club.
An OVA was also produced, along with anime and live-action films, and a live-action TV drama. The series can be found at Crunchyroll.
Alternative: Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club (2017) is a cute and funny slice-of-life series about the titular club. They take part in a racing event, but it’s mostly just fun with girls exploring on bikes.
Haikyu!! takes a very shonen anime approach to volleyball. The main protagonist, Shoyo Hinata, is a rookie underdog with a lot of guts and attitude. His rival, Tobio Kageyama, is an arrogant prince. These two join a slumping high school team with a tradition of excellence.
Crunchyroll has this series, which began in 2014.
This one is something of a personal favorite, but it’s certainly unique and interesting. This 2019 anime series is based on a mobile game.
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. Some of these would-be players have to be encouraged to take part. Amazingly, the team somehow even manages to make it to a tournament. Crunchyroll has the series.
This 2012-2015 basketball anime series features hard-working, but unnoticeable ‘shadow’ basketball player Tetsu Kuroko. In junior high, Kuroko was on a title-winning team. However, when he gets to Seirin High School, his former teammates have all gone to other schools. Naturally, Kuroko must now battle his former allies.
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
As an island nation with a lot of coastline (and a high number of Olympic swimming medals), it makes sense that Japan would produce a lot of swimming anime series.
The 2013 Free! series was initially based upon the light novel High Speed!, which was an honorable mention in the Kyoto Animation Award contest. The franchise includes several sequel series, and several movies.
The show revolves around a gifted swimmer who restarts his high school’s swim team. Naturally, top swimmer Haruka Nanase has a childhood rival who goes to another school. Eventually, the team breaks up, but he continues to compete in college.
The series is available at Crunchyroll.
Ace of Diamond
Japan has loved baseball for a long time. Dozens of baseball series have been made, ranging from gag series to romantic comedy. (But good luck finding some of those.)
Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace) features rising high school star pitcher Eijun Sawamura, as he pushes himself forward on an elite team. The series realistically depicts the drama and emotion of the sport. The series is available at Crunchyroll.
Hajime No Ippo
The boxing series Hajime No Ippo started with a Weekly Shonen Magazine manga in 1989. There have been a couple of anime series, an anime TV movie, and an OVA.
A shy high school student, attacked by bullies, trains to become a boxer. Naturally, the series covers Ippo’s rise to the top, but there’s also a ton of character development.
Ahiru no Sora
The 2019 basketball anime series Ahiru no Sora is essentially 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 young newcomer) has to get these club punks interested in actually playing basketball. Ahiru no Sora is on Crunchyroll.