Sports anime is not your thing? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! You might think that a whole animated series focusing solely on a sport won’t be your cup of tea, but it’s arguably just as thrilling as any other real-life sports games! Trust me, I was that person, too — until I got hooked onto not only one but dozens of sports anime, one after the other.
Also, while the main theme is sports, the anime usually has other secondary storylines like friendship, romance and family — they provide much more emotion than you think. They go deep in the human minds, unraveling the various complexities as to why we push ourselves to the limit, highlighting the human instincts and drive.
You’ll not only be educated on the sports with regards to its method of play and regulations, but you’ll also be able to witness the growth of the characters on the anime. So scrap the idea that sports anime is only graphic and action — it taps into other emotions, too.
Intrigued? Here are the best sports anime to get you going that’ll definitely pull on your heartstrings!
1. Kuroko no Basuke
Don’t tell me I’m biased — I know I am. But that’s not the only reason why this is the first on the list. While some may say this anime is quite overrated, Kuroko no Basuke is without a doubt one of the best sports anime out there — at least in the last decade. This animation has enraptured fans from day one.
The base concept of the series revolves around the legends of the Generation of Miracles, a group of prodigies from Teiko Middle School’s basketball team. After graduating, the five prodigies went on their separate ways to attend various top-tier schools in Japan.
With that at the back of your mind, Kuroko no Basuke’s main storyline follows the journey of Seirin High School’s basketball team. There’s a rumour of a sixth prodigy, Kuroko Tetsuya, who went on to join this unique group of high school players. The others — as well as viewers — later realise that Kuroko is…not as talented as one might think for a prodigy. In fact, he extremely lacks in natural skill!
However, what he lacks in, he makes up in something else: a special technique. With that, along with a master plan, he plans on taking his new team to go against the other prodigies and grab the title of Number One in Japan!
To be fair, as good as Kuroko no Basuke is, its hype does go up and down quite a bit. One anime that hasn’t really lost its momentum to this day is Haikyuu. Even after years since debut, this animation has been snagging new fans left and right, and even proactively maintains their current loyal ones.
The story centers around Hinata Shouyu’s adventures. Hinata is just your typical, average boy — with a heart so full of passion for volleyball it might explode. From the very first time he witnessed a volleyball championship match broadcast, his mind — and heart — were set on playing the sport.
However, Hinata’s introduction to volleyball wasn’t as smooth as he’d wanted. Even though he was defeated and demoralised, the driven boy got back up and signs up for his high school volleyball team! Sounds smooth-sailing enough…not quite.
His rival — yes, the one that destroyed him in the early days of his volleyball experience — is on the same team as him! What a twist! With this intriguing setting from the start, you can expect various character developments in between energetic matches with other full-of-personality teams.
3. Prince of Stride
This one is quite underrated, I would say. I, myself, stumbled upon it randomly — only because I was desperate to find another sports anime to watch. Luckily I did, because Prince of Stride is one of my personal favourite sports anime ever!
This series combines parkour, free running, sprinting and relay all in one sport! Action-packed and full of wild animation, this extreme and unique sport called “stride” will get you obsessed, introduced through Honan Academy’s passionate first-year students, Nana Sakurai and Takeru Fujiwara. These two first-years entered Honan solely for the school’s reputable stride team, but much to their dismay, the stride club does not exist anymore — it’s taken over by the chess club!
With the problem being a lack of members, Nana and Takeru go on to recruiting new ones to revive the club, including first-year Riku Yagami who loves every sport and is a fast runner. The new and improved Honan stride club aims to win the prestigious End of Summer competition to bring glory back to its name!
4. Yuri!!! On Ice
Oh, I remember when this anime first came out — every media outlet was talking about it! My Twitter feed was flooded — so were my Instagram and Facebook! Yuri!!! On Ice made quite an impression during its debut.
This sports anime is perfect for those who have ever felt defeated by failure. The main protagonist, Yuri (duh!) Katsuki, was more than ready to hang up his ice skates after suffering the worst loss of his ice skating career.
When he met his idol who offered to coach him, the professional — and charming — Victor Nikiforov, Yuri decided to give it another go. He perseveres through various obstacles, professionally and personally, to come out top at an ice skating competition. You’ll be amazed by the magnificence of the sport through breathtaking scenes that are just brimming with emotions, as well as through the intimate connections of the various characters.
I bought a deck of cards as soon as I was done binge-watching this anime. Chihayafuru is all about the Japanese card game, karuta. Yes, it is an actual sport. Revolving around a strong-willed female protagonist, Chihaya Ayase — we love a good girl power — the anime follows the adventures of her and karuta, from childhood to now in her high school days.
In the beginning, it was Chihaya with two of her good pals, Taichi Mashima and Arata Wataya. From practice to practice and going on to kids competitions, they were an unbreakable crew. Life went on, and they gradually grew apart.
Fast forward to high school, Chihaya is determined to establish a karuta club of her own with an end game: to get to the national championship with people who have the same level of passion for the karuta sport as her. Surprise, surprise — Taichi happens to be in her new high school, now popular and charming. She dragged him to join her, building up momentum to take on Arata — oh, did I mention he is the grandson of a master karuta player?
Trust me, the anime is not all about the game. As typical as it sounds, the whole set up is a love triangle waiting to explode — it did…eventually. Follow Chihaya’s adventures, as well as the other club members and karuta players, on one extreme roller coaster ride!
Oh, boy — Free! was the talk of the anime world when it first debuted. This sports anime is all about our favourite water sport: swimming. Encompassing beautiful art and graphics, passionate character and a splash (pun intended) of comedy, what’s not to like about this combo?
Follow the life of Haruka Nanase, a stoic but driven high school student, as he reunited with three out of four of his childhood friends. The group of four, along with one other, claimed an exciting victory for a swimming relay tournament when they were kids.
Now, with a new addition to the high school swim team, the group of boys is aiming for the top spot at an upcoming competition — and to everyone’s initial surprise, they have to face their former teammate who is now in one Japan’s top prestigious swim team.
7. Prince of Tennis
I personally have never played tennis before, and before this anime, I never wanted to. Leave it to Prince of Tennis to grab one’s interest and reel them into the wonderful sport. The series follows a young prodigy by the name of Ryoma Echizen, a talented tennis player who already made a name for himself at the ripe age of 12.
Winning competitions after competitions overseas, he returns to Japan and goes on to attend the prestigious Seishun Academy — a famous school where all the elite tennis players call home.
Nothing like well-animated tennis competitions to bring you to the edge of your seat, time and time again, along with striking tennis techniques amidst the excellent graphics. Of course, like a cherry on top of the cake, witness Ryoma grow as an individual as well as a team player through his various connections with fellow teammates and even rivals.
8. Yowamushi Pedal
If you’re tired of passionate protagonists and want a change in a sports anime, this one is perfect. Yowamushi Pedal features Sakamichi Onoda who isn’t really disillusioned with the cycling sport but not obsessed with it either. It’s like the perfect balance. When he attends high school, he wanted to join the anime club (ironically) but it was disbanded, unfortunately.
That doesn’t really matter, because he ends up joining another club unexpectedly and unplanned. Onada caught the attention of two freshmen who were in the cycling team, Shunsuke Imaizumi and Naruko.
Onada did say no a couple of times, but eventually, the two managed to convince him to join the bicycle racing club. Yowamushi Pedal is more than just pride and glory — you’ll witness the significance of community that bonds over the shared passion in the sport, which flourishes into long-lasting friendships and beautiful scenes.
9. Hajime-no Ippo
I love a good boxing show — animated or not. Hajime-no Ippo is all about the good ol’ fighting sport done right. Unlike some of the boxing shows, this one is family and kid-friendly, educating you on the rights and wrongs as well as the sportsmanship of the sport.
When you think of a boxer, you think of a big, strong guy who everyone’s afraid of. Not Ippo Makunouchi — he’s actually the target of bullying most of the days. Not your average image of a boxer, I bet. When his professional boxing friend starts teaching him the ropes to this fighting sport, the bullying stops and the self-confidence grows.
Witness Ippo’s boxing career take off alongside his personal growth. Not to mention the impressive graphics — especially since this anime is quite an “old” one. Look out for other striking (yes, pun intended again) characters that deserve the spotlight too, once in a while.
10. Captain Tsubasa
Last but not the least on the list is an old-school anime, but one extremely popular that it has its own gameplay on the various video game platforms — Nintendo Switch, PS4, all of that. Captain Tsubasa continuously wins the hearts of many to this day, revolving around the sport football (or soccer, for those of you who call it that). It’s so legendary that even players like Lionel Messi are known to be inspired by it.
This anime introduces the captain of a high school football team, Tsubasa Oozora. He’s an extremely passionate one, this one. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t realise that football is a team sport — and throughout the anime, the highschooler has to figure out the balance between improving his personal skills as a striker and boosting the team’s overall performance.
It’s all about teamwork — in life and in sport. Captain Tsubasa is a great anime example that educates the viewers on the value of teamwork. Also catch the other characters that are prominent to this anime, not just the captain. As I said, teamwork makes the dream work!
There are so many sports out there, and there are even more sports anime that weren’t mentioned on this list. However, this curated list of the top 10 Japanese sports anime is the perfect place to start your adventure with sports animation. I assure you, you’ll be hooked to every single one of them even if you’re not interested in the sport — because I know I did. So get comfy and get your binge on!