Sports have been ingrained all over the world and spans cultures and languages. The objective of boxing is to overwhelm your opponent using footwork and punches, shooting a basketball through the hoop will award the team points, and crossing the end zone in American football rewards the team with a touchdown. Sports anime in particular take the sport as we know it and magnifies the intensity, drama, and the abilities of the characters to an almost super human level, all the while making the audience believe that it is still plausible. Going through the archives of anime, the following have been selected as personal favorites, with the simple rule that there are to be no duplicate sports chosen.
The Prince of Tennis
Ryoma Echizen is an aspiring tennis prodigy who has enrolled in a prestigious school known for its strong tennis club. The opening episodes centers on Ryoma challenging and eventually defeating his upperclassmen with unbelievable techniques and abilities to earn a spot as a regular on the tennis club. After earning the respect of his fellow club members, the viewer is introduced to all the other tennis club regulars as they also showcase their unique abilities that are loosely based on real-life tennis techniques. The focus is then shifted to the tennis club’s journey in facing stronger opponents to try to secure a spot in the annual national tournament and pinning their hopes and dreams to win together as a team.
Prince of Tennis takes the usual themes within the sports genre and adds its own charm and twists. There are a wide variety of likable characters we get invested in after witnessing their own personal struggles on and off the court. The stakes are raised in every match as opponents exhibit superior techniques and Ryoma and his club members are left to figure out how to overcome their challenges and limitations through their own ability, determination, and will. Matches are fast paced and suspenseful which will leave you at the edge of your seat waiting who will score the final point that will determine the winner of each match.
Sena is the small physique, shy and often bullied protagonist of this story. He is forced to run errands for the school delinquents and develops a unique running style that allows him to see gaps in crowded areas, and makes use of his size, speed and agility. This catches the attention of the school American football captain and he turns the Sena into the mysterious ace running back codenamed: Eyeshield 21. The series then revolves around Sena’s experiences in keeping his identity a secret, forming a football team, and the team’s struggles to compete with the best in the nation.
American football meets anime flair and is a series filled with intense matches that will leave you breathless with every bone crunching, and hard-hitting down. It’s a story of a group of interesting outcasts who find a purpose in their high school lives and strengthening their bonds as a team while they experience grueling training sessions, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You will laugh, cry, and cheer until the very last whistle has been blown to determine the winner.
To be a baseball player was all that Goro could dream about as a little boy while he looked up to his professional player father. Major is a journey of Goro’s life as a he pursues this dream as he befriends team mates, experiences a fateful tragedy that would change his life forever, and a career defining injury that would shape him as a player, all in the first season. As Goro matures and grows we are brought along for the ride as he meets rivals all throughout his high school and college life, and the challenges he has to endure in order to be the best player that he envisions himself to be. The series concludes with his triumphs and struggles as he works his way into the professional circuit in America, all the while challenging his own abilities, cultural boundaries, and the rivals that he has met throughout his life.
Japan has a great love for baseball and there are so many animes and manga that tell stories revolving around the sport. Major was chosen for the grand scope that it covers, as it expanses entire Goro’s life from a little boy all the way up to adulthood. When looking back at the entire series you can really see how each story arc helps to define our protagonist as a baseball player, but most of all as a man. For a sports anime, it brings the thrills that a baseball, but the heart of the series is from the drama outside of the games. This series, will take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, but in the end will leave you feeling light-hearted with a deeper appreciation for the power of friendship and camaraderie.
There’s a common theme in the sports genre of entertainment that revolves around a rag-tag group of seemingly mismatched individuals making a team, and giving the top teams in their league a run for their money. Slam Dunk takes this same premise and delivers with a cast of characters that are both outlandish and charming. The laughs are non-stop in this series as the main character; Hanamichi learns how to play basketball in order to impress the girl of his dreams. As he learns more about the game of basketball and starts to participate in games, Hanamichi begins to grow a love for the game. After a defining moment in a qualifying game, our main character re-doubles his efforts in order to be a better player, and to eventually bring his team to the national stage.
The Oldest Anime on this list might be a bit off-putting to some viewers who are used to modern style animation, but looking beyond the art style the heart and the humor that this series is priceless. It isn’t just Hanamichi that is the oddball in the team as the rest of the starting line-up includes a former MVP turned gangster, and the brother of Hanamichi’s love interest. The author does a fantastic job in delivering the laughs, but pays the utmost respect to the sport of basketball. This is definitely a classic anime worth the watch and will leave you in tears from all the laughter.
Hajime no Ippo
Hajime No Ippo is a boxing anime that features Ippo Makunouchi and his determination to be a professional boxer. On a fateful day, Ippo was being bullied by his classmates, when a professional middle-weight boxer scares the bullies away and takes the fainted Ippo to the boxing gym to tend to his wounds. It is here where our hero is introduced to the sweet science and we are treated to a glimpse of Ippo’s potential for greatness as he punches a heavy bag for the first time, and displays his heart determination to complete special training to learn how to throw a jab. Throughout this ongoing series, Ippo and the rest of his fellow gym members experience their own hardships in boxing, from sparring, to training, to weight management, and eventually professional matches.
Where Slam Dunk is the oldest anime on this list, Hajime No Ippo’s manga is the longest running. It is still on-going and has recently just celebrated the release of its 1000th chapter. It starts off in typical anime fashion with the bullied and shy main character with the hidden potential of greatness, and through hard work is able to challenge the top tier in their sport. However, the reason why this series has lasted as long as it has is the development of their characters. Ippo may always appear to be a timid young man, but when faced with adversity in the ring he unleashes his fighting spirit when faced with opponents that push him to the limit. Also, it isn’t just Ippo and his story that draws the audience in, but the other four professional boxers in the gym that are also working towards their own shot at the title. Their brotherly interactions with each other outside of the ring are absolutely hilarious and the comedy is a much welcomed break from the intensity of the fights.
Anime is a fascinating medium because it offers a different perspective in the sports that we love to watch and play. Especially in western society, athletes are celebrated for their accomplishments and portray an image of success, wealth, and fame. Unless it’s for a commercial that endorses sports drinks or work out gear, the countless hours of training they have to endure are often overlooked as the spectators are usually only concerned with the final product and the end result. Ironically, Japanese animation humanizes their athletic characters and not only explores the intricacies of the sport, but the drama involved with reaching the success, the fame, and their dreams.