Sports Anime is one genre that never gets old among anime fans. The basic formulas are literally the same, but every single one of them has their own unique characteristics that are different from each other. I am willing to bet that there is at least one sports anime that piqued your interest or even made it into your top 10 favorite anime.
Best Sports Anime of All Time
But this time, we are trying to subjectively and objectively collect 20 best sports anime of all time. I said that because it is almost impossible to judge everything without personal bias. But it is possible to be mature on certain things and willing to see from others perspective (reminder that justanimehype.com is not a motivational website).
After watching anime and reading some manga, I noticed the patterns of the sports genre are almost always the same. An either newbie or pro protagonist entered the sports club, found a rival, attempted to go to the national, realized that it is not that easy, and so on and so on (I am not going to explain it until the end lol).
And it is fine though. As I said, every sports anime has their own twists hence only a handful of them can be compared story wise. And of course, there are also the unique ones that mainly are not aimed for the general viewers, but instead more to the specific targets.
Perhaps you will find a hidden gem on the list that you may have not watched yet. In that case, well good for you because that means I did a great job of researching the anime and bringing something that has never been brought before. Hopefully, this will enlighten you to start watching some of these wonderfully crafted anime.
So enough talking. We are going to start by number 20 with:
Starting off with a sumo anime that got quite a warm welcome when it first appeared. Hinomaruzumou is a story about a tiny teenager named Ushio Hinomaru (surprised? Of course not) who has a dream to become a Yokozuna, the champion of Sumo. However, with his small stature, he needs to work harder to overcome every challenge that awaits him.
Hinomaruzumou got every classic trait of sports anime, such as heated rivalry, comradery, and struggling from the bottom. It is however placed a bit low because the anime is not finished yet and quite frankly it’s adaptation is pretty weak. The manga however is amazing and you should definitely check it out if you are interested.
19. Inazuma Eleven
Based on a Nintendo game with the same title, Inazuma Eleven tells a story about an underdog football team called Inazuma Eleven (welp, get used to it because there will be similar cases lol). One team member, Mamoru Endou, desperately tried to leverage his team. One day, he met a super talented football player named Shuuya Goenji. And just like that, begins their journey to become the best in Japan.
Since this anime is targeted for children, the story and the action scenes may seem comical. But those who watched it might think it is not that bad, because it is not. Inazuma Eleven combined sports with super power, something that is not that rare in sports anime. If you like football, you should try to watch some of it.
18. Captain Tsubasa
The old classic football/soccer anime that tells the dream of Tsubasa Ozora to become the greatest football player ever. The story itself has splitted into several parts, starting from a child Tsubasa, then there is the teenage Tsubasa, and lastly we got adult Tsubasa.
It follows your typical sports anime trope. Tsubasa himself has actually been a talented football player since he was a child, but got underestimated at first until they realized that he is the real deal. Tsubasa then befriended them and had a healthy rivalry. And eventually his name got bigger and even went worldwide. In spite of those classic components of sports anime, the story itself is targeted for children hence some of you might find it a bit childish.
17. Grappler Baki
Another martial art sports anime that is… Pretty eccentric. Grappler Baki is basically an anime about a martial artist named Baki. And the show is basically about him fighting relentlessly over and over and over to become stronger and stronger and stronger.
I think there is not much to say about Grappler Baki. It might be a bit derived from your usual sports anime, but the soul is essentially there. As I said earlier, some of these sports anime are directed to certain audiences, and Grappler Baki is most definitely targeted to an action anime lover. But yeah, even I need to admit that this anime is slightly too much for my taste. No hate though.
16. Prince of Tennis
An OG anime narrating the story of Ryouma Echizen, who is considered to be a tennis prodigy because of his skills. When he came from the USA to Japan, he then joined Seishun Academy, home to one of the best middle school tennis teams in Japan. And thus the start of “Prince of Tennis” to conquer Japan’s tennis world.
Prince of Tennis’ story is pretty much the same as your daily dose of sports anime. It is the combination of slice of life, comedy, and of course, action. This is that type of sports anime where it also combined some sort of super skills into it. Apart from that, there is not much to say about it that has not been told.
15. Baby Steps
Another tennis anime, this time is about your diligent textbook student Eiichirou Maruo who joined the Southern Tennis Club because he rarely exercises and is afraid that he will eventually get sick. At first he only joined the club because he simply needed to. But after meeting a girl named Natsu Takasaki, his days became less dull than usual.
Baby Steps is often compared with our previous number 16, since they are both tennis anime. While Prince of Tennis is more towards action and comedy since it is targeted towards shounen, Baby Steps is more universal because it also contains romance and more slice of life compared to Prince of Tennis. Either way, both of them are worth watching, especially if you are into tennis.
14. Diamond no Ace
Diamond no Ace narrates the saga of Eijun Sawamura on his journey to become the best pitcher in Japan. He was motivated to do so because of his past when he missed a decisive pitch back in junior high school. In his new school, Seidou High School, he first needs to show that he can compete with these elite players before aiming to the top.
(At this point I struggle to find what to talk about anymore since the plot of these sports anime are just like that). For me what sells the most from Diamond no Ace is how realistic the plays are despite being your common sports anime. Sure some parts are slightly exaggerated, but it is never beyond “over exaggerating”. It is my personal preference to see a more realistic sports anime. Regardless, Diamond no Ace is most definitely a hidden diamond among sports anime.
13. Yowamushi Pedal
Fun fact: yowamushi means “weak” in English. And the main character of Yowamushi Pedal, Sakamichi Onoda, is portrayed as a “weak” otaku who loves comics and anime (just like you all). He has however an incredible power that made him able to cycle OVER 90 KM. This ability is seen by Shunsuke Imaizumi, and… You know what is going to happen after that.
If you ask me, Yowamushi Pedal has every component of sports anime, so really there is nothing left to discuss. Perhaps this is a perfect anime for those of you, anime fans. If a weak looking guy like Sakamichi is able to roam that far, you guys who might be stronger than it looks should be able to do the same. Stay healthy you all.
12. Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru
A slightly more mature (not like the “R-Rated” mature) sports anime, that follows Kurahara Kakeru, a former runner who got asked to join a running club by Kiyose Haiji,his senpai in the university. Initially refused because of many reasons, Kakeru eventually warmed up and joined the team.
When I said this anime is more mature, I mean that the story itself is more straightforward, and tackles some heavy issues like trauma. It still has your usual sports anime characteristics, like chasing dreams, friendships, you should already get it at this point. If you want to try something that has less screams and is childish, Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru is a must try.
This swimming anime tells the story of 4 talented swimmers back in elementary school: Haruka Nanase, Rin Matsuoka, Nagisa Hazuki, and Makoto Tachibana. However when they reunited in senior high school, Rin became a cold person and did not even bat an eye to their friendship like it used to be. What Rin cares about is to prove that he is a better swimmer than the other 3, especially Haruka.
Well I would not tell you more about the story because of spoilers. I can say however that in spite of what people say and think about this anime, Free is more than the bromance of naked dudes. The swimming action is pretty good to watch, and the artwork is simply beautiful thanks to Kyoto Animation. And yeah, if you ignore some of the shipping, you can eventually enjoy the anime despite being a man.
10. Megalo Box
Into the top 10, here we have the descendants of Ashita no Joe (I personally did not put it on the list because I have no experience watching it, so I can compare it with others, sorry). Megalo Box tells the story about Joe, an underground boxer who is challenged by a Megalo Box champion Yuri, after they fought in the ring.
In the Megalo Box, boxers are equipped with a machine to help them throughout the match. It is pretty interesting because Joe himself does not use any kinds of machines, thus people calling him “Gearless Joe”. The rest about it is pretty much the same with other sports anime. It also has a sequel called Nomad: Megalo Box, telling the story after Joe competed in Megalo Box.
9. Yuri on Ice
An original anime by MAPPA that revolves around 2 Yuris (not the other yuri), but mainly on the Japanese Yuri, Yuuri Katsuki (I know there are too many Yuri but it is funny). He used to be an ice skater, but then stopped for some reason. After a while, fate brought him to meet a world champion ice skater, Victor Nikiforov, who was willing to bring Yuuri back into the world of ice skating.
The highlight of Yuri on Ice is Yuuri’s rivalry with the Russian Yuri, Yuri Plisetsky, who idolized Victor as an ice skater. A lot of fans compared Yuri on Ice with Free because of similar rivalry, beautiful artwork and animation. There is a chance if you love Free, you will also like Yuri on Ice and vice versa.
8. Eyeshield 21
An American Football anime that narrates the tale of Kobayakawa Sena, a gopher who was recruited by a devilish Quarterback named Hiruma Youichi. He then became a masked Running Back with codename Eyeshield 21, a legendary runner from Notre Dame University.
Apart from the usual thing, watching Eyeshield 21 is pretty damn awesome because the skills are metaphorically explained by a certain animal or lore. Each team has their own names and they follow their philosophy behind their names. Back in 2008, the anime ended on a high note after finishing the most heated rivalry in the series. Let us hope that eventually, it will get a remake because the manga is actually really really good.
7. Kuroko no Basket
Next is our first basketball anime on the list. It is a story about Kuroko Tetsuya who entered Seirin High School and well… Play basketball there. He then met an amazing Power Forward Kagami Taiga. And like usual, they have a dream to become the best in Japan, by defeating Kuroko’s old teammates, The Generation of Miracles.
What differs from other anime is that Kuroko feels more like a sidekick rather than a main character. He supported Kagami because he too wants to defeat Generation of Miracles, who are filled with stupidly talented basketball players. Beating them is arguably the one of the most relieving things in the series.
6. One Outs
This sports anime looks like that only a handful of people know. It is about a simplified baseball form of sports called “One Outs”, that consists of pitcher and batter. The main character is Toua Tokuchi, a pitcher from Lycaons club who is difficult to predict and is extremely intelligent, able to deceive many batters throughout the series.
Perhaps this is by far the least “sports anime” on the list. Understandable, since its rating is actually for seinen (most sports anime is targeted for shounen) and even its sub genre is psychological. But it is because it feels different from other sports anime, One Outs does stand out more than others for those who have watched it. And those who have not, either you will love it or despise it. Either way, One Outs is something that a sports anime fan should experience at least once.
5. Ping Pong The Animation
As you may have guessed, Ping Pong The Animation is a sport about… Table tennis. Or ping pong. The story is also rather simple, it follows the journey of 2 ping pong players from Japan named Makoto Tsukimoto and Yutaka Hoshino to become the best ping pong player in the world, and overcome all the obstacles in front of them.
While it looks pretty simple, in reality this is perhaps among the most realistic sports anime by far. You can feel all the feelings from the characters from this anime. The art work might look weird, but by no means it affects the animation. On the contrary, the animation is rather spectacular. Once you watch it, perhaps you will understand why it becomes number 5 on the list.
4. Initial D
This anime tells the chronicle of Fujiwara Takumi, son of a tofu shop owner, who got involved in a racing (drifting, to be exact) activity. Since he has experience delivering tofu using his Toyota AE86 from up down to the mountain and not breaking it, his driving skills are beyond amazing.
Despite the meme (yes I know it will come to this), Initial D provided a thrilling action series about racing. It is possibly the best racing anime, since most other racing related anime did not offer this much depth into the story. It is considered to be another classic and it is a must watch, especially for those who like racing in real life.
3. Slam Dunk
Entering the top 3, Slam Dunk is a straightforward anime that tells the saga of Hanamichi Sakuragi who desperately tried to become a great basketball player to impress his crush Haruko Akagi. Starting from a total beginner whose main trait is brute force, Hanamichi slowly became a formidable basketball player.
Released in 1993 by Toei Animation, Slam Dunk has become a classic sports anime that even by now, still has a massive fanbase. It got everything on its belt, plus some romance for someone who wants to see more than action. And as I said, the story itself is pretty straightforward and very easy to digest. Slam Dunk is definitely the prototype of modern sports anime.
Haikyuu is about a short high schooler named Hinata Shoyo who was inspired to be a volleyball player by another short high schooler with the title “Little Giant”. He then however realized that being a volleyball player for a short boy like him is not as easy after he lost to King of The Court, Kageyama Tobio. And who would have thought that they became teammates in their new senior high school called Karasuno.
Haikyuu is pretty much your generic sports anime, except the creator made every single element on it top notch. The bromance, the matches, the side characters, everything is almost perfect. Haikyuu is perhaps one prime example that it is okay to use a certain formula if it is done correctly, because so far it has been amazing.
1. Hajime no Ippo
Hajime no Ippo is perhaps the grand daddy of sports anime. It is all about a weak teenager named Makunouchi Ippo who wants to be stronger because he has been bullied. He then met a boxer named Takamura Mamoru and trained under his wing. And as usual, it is the beginning of his road to becoming a great boxer.
Hajime no Ippo has been around since 1989, and the manga is still running just like yesterday. And the anime only covers barely half of it. I personally need to admit that the decision to put Hajime no Ippo in the first place is also influenced by the manga. Just like Haikyuu, it offers everything you want from sports anime, except perhaps it is a tiny bit better than that volleyball anime.