Apart from basketball, which I used to play in high school but I was pretty terrible at, I generally don’t enjoy sports. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good story that’s focused on sports.
I recently started the second season of Haikyuu, an anime that focuses on two high school boys who play volleyball. It’s action packed, funny, thrilling, and has some amazing animation. With all the fun I’ve been having while watching, I decided to compile a list of anime sports shows that will appeal to all kinds of tastes, not just to sports fans.
I’m not going to go into detail about every show, mostly because the sports anime genre is fairly formulaic. Generally speaking the protagonist either has unexpected talent, or is the hard working underdog. He meets a rival/partner, and they aim to topple the current #1 player/team. Usually setbacks occur which prevent them from doing this the first time they face them. Protagonist must pick himself up and again rise to the challenge. It’s a formula that works and you’ll soon figure out if you like it or not.
I will however touch on anything that stands out about the show in question, particularly if a show deviates from the formula I described above. I have also placed the shows in an approximate order with my favourite shows being at the top.
Hajime no Ippo (Boxing) – A good old-fashioned knockout
Hajime no Ippo is undoubtedly the best sport’s anime I have ever seen. Ippo’s journey from a bullied schoolboy to fighting champion is truly one of the best underdog stories of all time. The pacing is excellent, the animation great, and the humour is just the right side of filthy.
Ping Pong: The Animation (Ping Pong) – The arthouse sports anime
Ping Pong is one of the shows on this list that may appear to be about a sport, but actually goes quite far exploring themes like friendship, success, working hard, and talent, just to name a few. The further along the show goes, the more you realise that this is more of a dramatic character study than your typical sports anime. It should also be noted that Ping Pong has a sketchy, almost ugly, animation style that is something of an acquired taste.
Haikyuu (Volleyball) – Has a little something that makes it special
Haikyuu has all the markers of a traditional shounen anime. The small cocky kid with bright spiky hair and huge aspirations. The tall dark-haired broody guy who doesn’t play well with others. The comedic relief. At first glance there isn’t much that would make this show stand out, but it’s the little touches like the exceptional animation, the humour, and pacing that has me excitedly waiting each week for the next episode.
Kuroko’s Basketball (Basketball) – Not the smartest, but the action more than makes up for it
Kuroko’s Basketball is undoubtedly the show on this list that has the most generic clichéd characters and predictable plot, but it’s excellent action and animation more than make up for it. It also has elements of superpower anime that are great in the beginning, but almost break the immersion later in the show. On top of that, there’s also unfortunately some huge pacing issues towards the climax that almost ruined the show for me. Still worth at least one watch.
Giant Killing (Soccer) – Goooooooaaallll!!!
Giant Killing is undoubtedly the lowest budget show on this list. The animation was consistently average and never really pulled out anything to make itself stand out visually. Thankfully, great pacing, interesting characters, and an engaging story make this soccer anime worth watching.
Red Line (Racing) – Vroom vroom!
Redline has virtually no story, and one could argue that it’s not even a sports anime even though it’s about racing, but don’t let this turn you off. It’s basically an animation junkies wet dream with action sequences that are beautifully animated from start to finish. This is not surprising since it took 7 years to complete. It also has a heart-pumping soundtrack that I regularly listen to.
Free (Swimming) – This one’s for the ladies
Free! made a splash (dun dun dtsh) when it first aired because unlike a lot of other anime, the show’s fanservice was focused entirely around pretty boys on a swim team. While the swimming is obviously a key part of the overall story, Free! was more focused on the friendships of these young men. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but has a huge female fanbase for a reason (and it’s not just the six packs that are frequently on display), and also has really great animation (particularly the water effects).