10 of the best sports anime series
The proliferation of sports in anime has grown over the decades and there have emerged some really exciting sports series that you can enjoy, whether or not you are a fan of the particular sport. There are a ton of different sports anime about a variety of sports out there, from volleyball, to swimming, table tennis, and more.
While sports anime have yet to reach the heights of fame of other anime drama and action series, they’re a growing sector of the art form that usually pair bright and exciting scenes with lovable characters to root for. Naturally, most of these sports anime deal with the recurring theme of teamwork and overcoming obstacles, but they are still impressive and inspiring.
While trying to highlight different types of games, here are 10 anime that focus on the world of sports.
Easily one of the more recognizable sports anime in recent history, Haikyu!! follows the travails of a short boy named Hinata Shouyou who falls instantly in love with volleyball after watching a championship match on television. Determined to become a star player himself, he enrolls in the volleyball club in middle school and suffers a crushing defeat. His resolve remains strong even till high school, where he and his former opponent must put their differences aside and work together on the same team. This series sheds a lot of light on volleyball as a sport and offers viewers some really exciting and hilarious moments. At the heart of the show, however, is the power of teamwork and loyalty through highs, as well as lows.
This sports anime focuses on water polo and follows a young boy who loses his memory after a car accident and quits the sport. However, when he enters high school, with the help of his friends he joins the water polo team. Re-Main (the old term for “offside” in water polo) is a bright and fun anime, with many emotional moments, but what stands out is the character development of the protagonist Minato, whose struggle with amnesia becomes a powerful plot line throughout the series. It’s one of the newer anime on the list, having debuted in 2021, and the animation style is absolutely gorgeous.
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
Another water-based sports anime with glossy animation, Free! is an uplifting and exciting drama about the love of sport. When elementary school swimming buddies reunite in high school, they form a swim club to keep their passion alive and engage in some fierce competition. The beauty of the series lies in the bromance between the characters. It also succeeds in driving home the message of loving a sport, rather than just participating to win. There’s a lot of comedy in the series, and emotional moments that help to ground the characters and make them all the more relatable.
Ping Pong the Animation
Noted for its unique and quirky animation style, Ping Pong the Animation is a brilliantly written story about the sport and all the tactics and strategies involved. At only 11 episodes long, it makes for a quick binge and offers a fascinating storyline about the internal and external struggles of five ping pong prodigies as they rise through the ranks of the sport. While the unorthodox animation is either a hit or miss for fans, the story is what truly makes the series a standout. The sports scenes are further amplified by some awesome techno music.
A favorite among sports anime lovers, Kuroko’s Basketball follows the journey of two basketball players, Kagami and Kuroko, who aim to make their high school basketball team the best. While Kagami has returned from America and possesses exceptional skill, Kuroko has a secret talent. A feel-good anime with a ton of hilarious moments, this is one anime that drives home the message of the power of teamwork. The character development is noted by fans as some of the best in sports anime in recent time, and while some characters start out being disliked, most viewers end up rooting for them as the series progresses.
Another basketball anime on the list, and one of the most realistic sports anime created, Slam Dunk is one of the oldest sports anime, and a pioneer of the genre. It follows Sakuragi Hanamichi, a high school freshman who joins the basketball team to win over his crush. In a positive turn of events, he falls in love with the sport and becomes a much better player. The characters in this series are very well written, and the comic factor makes for a fun watch, even decades later.
Yuri!!! On Ice
At 12 episodes long, Yuri!!! On Ice is a perfect binge for an incredibly moving and original story about not giving up on one’s dreams. When figure skater Yuri bows out of his biggest competition yet, his dreams of success are on the line. However, things start to look up when a famous world champion takes him under his wing. As they train for the next competition, a moving journey of love for the sport — and each other — unfolds. The music serves to amplify the emotional tone of this series, and its realistic love story shines even in the midst of such a demanding sport.
This list would not be complete without an anime focusing on Japan’s most popular sport: baseball. The original manga of this anime was created by Higuchi Asa, who was a softball player and has a degree in sports psychology, both of which aided her creation of this anime. Focusing on self-confidence and the power of teamwork, Big Windup! is a refreshing tale about baseball and the strategies and tactics involved with the sport.
A moving sports anime about determination and strength, Fighting Spirit follows Ippo, a young student who has become a constant target for bullying by schoolmates. One fateful day, he is saved from a bully by a boxer named Takamura, and thus begins Ippo’s quest to become the strongest version of himself and rise through the ranks of the boxing world. There is a lot of character growth in the series, and like the others on this list, it offers an insight into the sport.
The Prince of Tennis
Tennis prodigy Ryuoma Echizen returns from America and enrolls in a Japanese academy in order to become the country’s top player. Still living in his father’s shadow, he goes through identity struggles and continues to push himself through and through, losing sight of the beauty of the sport along the way. This series has great characters and fun scenes. It should be mentioned that the depiction of the actual sport is quite exaggerated, and there are enough unrealistic tennis shots to have any professional tennis player lose their mind.