There are few stories that translate over to anime better than those that focus on sports. From common sports like baseball to those with smaller spotlights like bowling, every sport imaginable has been put up on television screens in a Japanese animated style.
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Still, few rival the shows that fans and critics alike have declared the all-time greats. Some shows are even so well regarded that they’ve transcended being well-regarded only as sports stories and moved into “best animes of all time” territory.
10 SK8 The Infinity
One of the best shows of the Winter 2020 season, SK8 The Infinity is directed by Hiroko Utsumi who is the name behind several other highly acclaimed sports animes. This show takes skateboarding to the extreme with illegal races called “S” taking place between two opponents, often resulting in serious injuries.
Watching the relationship between Reki and Langa flourish as they become close friends is incredibly heartwarming and no expenses were spared on making the action scenes look jaw-dropping. This may be a newer show, but it’s sure to have staying power for a long time.
9 Yuri!! On Ice
Figure skating doesn’t stand alongside mainstream sports like baseball or football in the minds of many, but it’s still incredibly physically demanding. It’s even more difficult than most sports for older competitors to do well, which is what makes watching the 23-year-old Yuuri attempt to find his way to the top of the skating world.
The gay romance between him and his legendary skating mentor Victor adds another layer to the entire affair as well. The final moments of the show are enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seats, even the most hardened sports fans.
8 Run With The Wind
There are few sports as pure and simple as running. Even to this day, the Olympics runs the torch across long distances in honor of the legendary Pheidippides. This anime follows a fourth-year student named Kakeru as he is brought back into his love of running to get a team into shape for the Hakone Ekiden.
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This prominent runners competition would be difficult to compete in for highly trained athletes, let alone the complete novices his new friend Haiji has to offer him. Still, the comradery the team builds throughout the show creates an excellent drama to go alongside the sports action.
7 Fighting Spirit
Known as Hajime no Ippo in Japan, Fighting Spirit is by far one of the greatest boxing anime ever created. It is the spiritual successor to Tomorrow’s Joe and inspired the currently popular Megalo Box. Watching Makunouchi go from a timid bullied weakling to an absolutely fierce boxer is the ultimate underdog story for anyone to get behind.
It’s like an anime version of Punch Out!! but even better.
6 Baby Steps
Directed by Masahiko Murata, the creative mind behind several of the Naruto movies and television episodes, Baby Steps is more real-world-focused. The story is easy for many to identify with, showing Eiichirou Marou slowly realizing that he’s only studying because he feels he has to, not because being an academic is what he wants to do.
Watching him develop a playing style all his own alongside fellow first-year Natsu is incredibly rewarding. The tennis matches being animated with extreme skill is just icing on the cake.
5 Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club
Anyone who enjoyed being on a swim team, or just wants to enjoy the admittedly fan-servicey nature of some sports anime, will find that Free! is a perfect choice. The show came to be after Kyoto Animation made a sample animation reel for the show that resulted in a massive number of anime fans demanding the show be fully produced. It eventually became popular it spawned a short film alongside several continuing seasons like Eternal Summer, Take Your Marks, and Dive Into The Future.
Still, the show has far more to offer than just muscular men in swimsuits. The complex nature of the friendships and relationships of the main characters makes this show quite the captivating drama.
Most Americans wouldn’t be aware of the competitive poetry game Karuta, making this sports anime fall off the radar of many fans. The show is also a josei, an anime marketed towards older women, which is atypical of most sports stories. Dismissing this show for either reason is a massive mistake for any fan of sports anime.
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Watching Chihaya become enamored with the game and learning its complexities alongside her is a marvelous experience. The story is heartfelt, powerfully emotional, and has a unique feel no other sports shows can offer. It’s also highly rated by anime fans showing that those that give it a chance won’t be disappointed.
3 Kuroko’s Basketball
While it’s hard to dethrone the 90’s basketball anime classic that is Slam Dunk, Kuroko’s Basketball manages to do just that. Watching Kuroko and Taiga form their bond as teammates is captivating enough. Add in the rest of the lovable cast and it’s impossible to not love the team from Seirin High.
Watching the team take down opposing teams with players from the “Generation of Miracles” sometimes feels more like an epic battle in Dragon Ball than a basketball game. This extremely over-the-top nature of the show gives it incredible charm and heart-racing action.
2 Ping Pong The Animation
“I’m sure you’ll understand too, someday. The melancholy of winning. The pain of praise. The weight on your shoulders… The loneliness and agony. The time will come where your efforts will seem meaningless and your victories empty.”
When anime legend Masaaki Yuasa was given the green light to adapt any manga of his choice, no one expected he would end up creating this incredible anime gem. Its art style is nothing like modern sports anime with action scenes that are utterly breathtaking. Unlike most sports stories, this show also looks a lot at what happens to those who can’t actually rise to the top to attain some ultimate victory which is a theme absolutely worth exploring.
Haikyu!! is by far the most successful sports anime to ever exist. Watching the rather short Shouyou come into his own in a game like volleyball would have been good enough for most. Then the show threw so many epic moments at viewers that it could never be forgotten.
It’s among the top 50 most popular anime on MyAnimeList for good reason — it is sure to captivate anyone that sits down to watch it.
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About The Author
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Linnea Capps is an award-winning author and poet who has worked writing within the gaming industry for over ten years. They have worked for esports teams, hold speedrun world records, and now writes about their favorite games and anime for Game Rant.
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