Across all genres of manga and anime, one of the most common tropes, if not the most common one, is rivalries. By this we are referring to the fact that in nearly every anime, the main protagonist—as well as many of the secondary characters—have a rival; someone who they aren't quite friends with, but aren't always enemies with that helps push them into becoming stronger in whatever facet they compete in and vice versa. It can, at times, be a bit of a tired and overused trope, at least when it is added for the sake of tradition or obligation, but rivalries can still be a fascinating and integral part of anime storytelling. Since rivalries are such a big part of anime, the question of which are the best arises, which is where we come in.
We're going to be showcasing some of the most iconic, most interesting and most exciting rivalries in all of anime history. To do so, we're going to look at a wide range of genres to find anime's best rivalries, everything from big Shonen series to less mainstream anime, rivalries are present throughout, and we're bringing you the best among them. So, which are the greatest anime rivalries of all time? What friendly competitions helped push the protagonists to their limit? Which of them turned into full-on fights to the finish? Take a look at our list of anime's greatest rivalries to find out and let us know down in the comments if we forgot any of your favorites.
25 NARUTO AND SASUKE
Let's start off with one of the biggest, most well known and most explosive anime rivalries off all time, the frequent clashing of Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha of Naruto. These characters became rivals very early on in the series, though it was sort of one-sided at first.
Originally, Naruto wanted to show up Sasuke, to surpass all the skills he showed off in school, which led to a competition between the two, and eventually they became enemies after Sasuke left, leading to multiple fights as the series progressed.
24 GOTEN AND TRUNKS
Before we get into the biggest rivalry of Dragon Ball (you know who we're talking about), let's talk about the next generation of rivalries, specifically the friendly competition between Goten and Trunks. Like their fathers, Trunks and Goten are known to compete against each other, though it stems from friendship and is on a much smaller scale.
But, regardless of their rivalry being more tame than their fathers', Goten and Trunks went all out in their fight at the World Martial Arts Tournament, and their involvement in Goku and Vegeta's rivalry—acting as extensions of it—led us to include them.
23 KAMINA AND VIRAL
Though Kamina isn't the main protagonist throughout all of Gurren Lagann, he still managed to get himself a rival early in the series in the form of Viral. Viral and Kamina were quick to clash, starting with their initial fight and escalating when Gurren Lagann was first formed.
As time went on, Viral continued to hold on to the grudge and rivalry he had with Kamina, even after learning of his fate. This rivalry is a very important part of Gurren Lagann since, were it not for Viral, Kamina and Simon would have never formed Gurren Lagann.
22 TAI AND MATT
Sometimes, even the best rivalries don't really have a specific origin, sometimes it's just two friends who have some unresolved beef. This is more or less the case with Tai and Matt of Digimon Adventure.
The major catalyst of this rivalry is that Matt doesn't care for Tai being the leader of the DigiDestined, questioning his choices at each turn, a result of their clashing personalities and philosophies. The two have sort of resolved this rivalry by the time of Digimon Adventure Tri, but their shared crush on Sora sort of halted that progress.
21 MUGEN AND JIN
Shinichiro Watanabe's Samurai Champloo might not be as much of a hit as Cowboy Bebop, but if you haven't checked it out, we highly recommend it. A weird combination of Samurai films, Hip Hop and a strong sense of humor, Samurai Champloo follows Mugen and Jin, two samurai who are tasked with helping a woman named Fuu.
The two samurai are quick to go after each other's throats, as their personalities and backgrounds clash. Though the two gain something of a friendship in the form of mutual respect, they still constantly want to fight each other, like any good rivalry.
20 SANJI AND ZORO
Sanji and Zoro of One Piece have a complicated relationship; they have a lot of respect for each other and agree on a few things, but that doesn't stop them from getting into fights both verbal and physical on a constant basis.
At the end of the day, it all just comes down to the two of them having clashing personalities, though they also respect each other's strength enough to push themselves to get stronger. Without a doubt, these two have a classic anime rivalry, one that stands as one of the medium's most iconic.
19 GRAY FULLBUSTER AND LYON VASTIA
The love triangle between Gray, Juvia and Lyon of Fairy Tail is kind of weird; Juvia is madly in love with Gray, who doesn't seem to care, while Lyon is very open about his feelings for Juvia, who is sort of creeped out by it.
But, that's not the only reason Lyon and Gray are rivals. They both came from the same ice magic teacher and have been competing with each other ever since first meeting, leading to multiple clashes over time. While Gray might have more of a rivalry with Natsu—we'll get to him later—these two definitely make the list.
18 SPIKE AND VICIOUS
The rivalry between Jin and Mugen of Samurai Champloo doesn't hold a candle to the main rivalry in Cowboy Bebop. We are of course talking about the rivalry between Spike and Vicious, former partners turned bitter enemies.
The two were the prefect team while working for the Red Dragon Syndicate, but when Julia entered the picture, the rivalry began, and the two were destined to clash throughout the series. This rivalry came to a tragic end when Spike took the life of his former ally and friend in a final duel.
17 LIGHT AND L
Rivalries can be about more than just two characters attempting to see which is stronger or better in a fight, it can also be a long struggle between two forces, as is the case with L and Light Yagami of Death Note. Very early in Light's career as Kira, L was hired by the police to find and stop him, sparking their rivalry.
Light and L were both very intelligent, which is why is particular rivalry is so interesting, as it unfolded into a battle of wits that eventually ended in L's death, with Light winning in the end.
16 CLASS 1-A AND CLASS 1-B
The most prominent rivalry of My Hero Academia is the one between Izuku and Katsuki, but we'll get to them later. For now, let's look at one of the other important rivalries in the hit anime, the ongoing competition between Class 1-A and Class 1-B of U.A. Academy.
Because of the attack that occurred during training and later their fame during the Sports Festival, the students of Class 1-A are a bit more well-known, leaving 1-B as second-best in the eyes of the public. As a result, 1-B is highly competitive when it comes to facing 1-A.
15 ASH AND GARY
This is a rivalry that actually spans across several media... sort of. Since Ash Ketchum is loosely based on Red of the Pokémon game series, we can possibly count his rivalry with Gary as one that crosses over between the games and the anime. Regardless, these two have been clashing since the very beginning.
Gary, the grandson of Professor Oak, is something of a spoiled snot, and his arrogant attitude is part of why Ash seeks to put him in his place through Pokémon battles, their rivalry and resulting battles standing as staples of the anime.
14 BEERUS AND TRUNKS
One of the most common real-world rivalries are sibling rivalries, and one of the greatest examples of this in anime comes in the form of Dragon Ball Super's Beerus and Champa. The characters are both gods of destruction, and both have around the same power level, so it's not hard to see why they would get competitive with each other.
With the same power and position, as well as good ol' fashioned sibling competitiveness, this brotherly rivalry feels surprisingly realistic despite it being between two cat-like gods. Regardless, when these two get at each other's throats, it's always a kick.
13 INUYASHA AND SESSHOMARU
Speaking of sibling rivalries, another great example of brotherly clashes comes from Inuyasha. The titular protagonist and his brother, Sesshomaru have been at each other's throats ever since their father left the former the Tessaiga, leading Sesshomaru to resent his brother and Inuyasha to hate Sesshomaru for his cruel treatment towards him.
Though this relationship might be better described as a mutual hatred, since the two eventually come to some sort of respect for each other—best described as "not hating" each another—we think it still counts, standing as one of anime's greatest rivalries.
12 SOMA YUKIHIRA AND TAKUMI ALDINI
Food Wars! is, more or less, a Shonen anime where the fighting is replaced by cooking as the students at Tōtski Academy hone their skills and compete against one another. It's a fun show that plays with a lot of anime tropes, including rivalries, and what might be considered the series' main rivalry is a good example of this.
Takumi Aldini is always looking to challenge protagonist Soma Yukihara in some way, trying to surpass him in cooking challenges. Soma, however, is completely oblivious to Takumi's wishes for a nemesis to challenge him, subverting the rival trope in a fun way.
11 SAKURA AND INO
Sakura and Ino of Naruto have been rivals for quite some time; their competitiveness with one another mostly stemming from their shared crush on Sasuke. But, the rivalry goes deeper than that, and what's in that depth also happens to be a significant part of their friendship.
Sakura was bullied as a young girl, and Ino was quick to come to her defense, but this led to Sakura feeling like she was in Ino's shadow when she, instead, wanted to be her equal. This feeling was amplified when they ended their friendship in order to compete for Sasuke's love.
10 LUFFY AND ACE
Once again he have a case of sibling rivalry, this time it's between adoptive brothers Ace and Luffy of One Piece. These two characters have been brothers for a very long time, finding each other in times of loneliness and sticking together through thick and thin for most of their early lives.
Though the two eventually went their separate ways, Luffy and Ace continued to have a strong sense of sibling rivalry, as they enjoyed challenging each other and seeing who is the better fighter, a staple of the characters.
9 MELIODAS AND BAN
The captain of the Seven Deadly Sins and the groups' resident immortal, Ban, have quite the competitive spirit, some might even say they have a deadly rivalry. Not only are the two of them arguably the strongest physical fighters in the Sins, they also have the same lust for a good fight.
Ban and Melidoas are always happy to duke it out with each other, even going so far as to arm-wrestle each other over 700 times! Their rivalry can be easily seen in their fights, which are almost always fought with full strength and smiles on their faces.
8 YUGI MOTO AND SETO KAIBA
Next up we have the rivalry between Yugi Moto and Seto Kaiba of Yu-Gi-Oh, who have faced each other in a large number of duel monster matches. These two have something of a one-sided rivalry, since Kaiba's first loss against Yugi led him to become obsessed with surpassing him, while Yugi bears no animosity whatsoever towards Kaiba.
That said, the two clash quite a bit because of their opposing personalities and dueling philosophies, and since they have a healthy sense of competition towards each other, they meet in duels quite often.
7 ICHIGO AND RENJI
Ichigo and Renji are two redheads with the fiery personalities to match their fiery hair, bringing all that hotheaded energy to their rivalry with each other. This clash started when Renji first arrived in the human world, and the two would eventually strike up a competitive rivalry after finding they were on the same side.
Though Bleach eventually went off the rails and lost some of its early magic, one of the highlights that stood out amongst the lesser parts of the series was the rivalry between these two stubborn soul reapers.
6 NATSU AND GAJEEL
We mentioned earlier that Natsu and Gray have something of a rivalry, but the far more interesting rivalry that Natsu is a part of is the one between him and fellow Dragon Slayer magic user, Gajeel. Like Natsu, Gajeel was raised by a dragon and taught to use Dragon Slayer magic, giving him the powers of a steel dragon.
Since both characters have Dragon Slayer magic and since they're both stubborn, fight-loving hot-heads, we figured the rivalry they share is more prominent than the one between Natsu and Gray—especially since these two love to get in each others faces.
5 IZUKU MIDORIYA AND KATSUKI BAKUGO
Class 1-A and Class 1-B's rivalry is cool and all, but the "main event" rivalry, so to speak, of My Hero Academia is the constant clash between Izuku Midoriya and Katsuki Bakugo. Originally childhood friends, these two became rivals when it came time to enroll in U.A. Academy.
Izuku looked up to Bakugo and his amazing Quirk and skills, so when he surpassed him with his inherited Quirk and own skills, it sparked the fire of a rivalry between the two, one that continues to this day as they compete and challenge each other.
4 SHIZUO HEIWAJIMA AND IZAYA ORIHARA
Shizuou Heiwajima is a rather interesting character; he is superhumanly strong and durable because, throughout the years, he would break his bones trying to lift heavy objects out of anger, recovering stronger after each instance of this. It's a strange origin to say the least, but it's part of what makes his rivalry with Izaya Orihara so hilarious.
We are, of course, referring to the fact that every time Shizou sees Izaya, you can bet he's going to hurdle a mailbox or signpost at the not-so-great information broker that he thinks of as his nemesis.
3 RYUKO MATOI AND SATSUKI KIRYUIN
After her father's demise, Ryuko Matoi learned that she could find answers about his killer at Honnoji Academy, which is run by the Student Council President, Satsuki Kiriyun. Ryuko and Satsuki quickly develop a rivalry, Ryuko demanding answers from Satsuki, and Satsuki turning her down.
Eventually, the two clash on a few occasions, fighting against each other with their Kamui, which make for some impressive battles between two passionate characters. As with any good rivalry, the two end up working together after finding respect for each other.
2 SAITAMA AND SONIC
Like with Food Wars!, this rivalry is more of a subversion of the trope, which is why we wanted to include it, since it's an interesting take on rivalries. Saitama, the main protagonist of One-Punch Man is a hero for fun who doesn't have much of it because he's too strong to be challenged by anyone.
Obsessed with his strength, the speedy ninja known as Speed O' Sound Sonic, seeks to challenge Saitama, the obsession leading to a very one-sided rivalry wherein Sonic is always seeking to battle Saitama, and Saitama forgets Sonic's name and face on a frequent basis.
1 GOKU AND VEGETA
Last, and definitely not least, we have perhaps the most iconic anime rivalry of all time, Goku and Vegeta. These characters first clashed in Dragon Ball Z, the fight resulting in Vegeta's defeat. With this defeat, Vegeta became obsessed with surpassing the low-class Saiyan that managed to beat him.
Thus, a life-long rivalry was born, and the two became the perfect training tools for each other; always looking to surpass one another, and eventually going on to actually spar with each other to get stronger in Dragon Ball Super.