Haikyuu!! returns for its fourth season in January 2020, marking the return of one of the most beloved sports anime in recent memory. Sports anime is often overlooked by anime fans, who may or may not be interested in real-world sports. After all, why watch some normal people doing normal sports when you can instead watch pretty guardians in sailor suits, high-powered blondes blowing up planets, or kids going to ninja/superhero school?
However, these fans are missing out on some of the best anime around, full of epic moments and emotional highs. You'll cry, cheer, and scream watching the following anime. This guide is for the inexperienced sports anime fan. These shows are among the best of the best -- so take a look.
This volleyball anime, serialized in manga form in Weekly Shonen Jump alongside My Hero Academia and Dr. Stone, is one of the more popular sports anime currently running. The series focuses on Shoyo Hinata, a boy enthusiastic to become a volleyball champion despite his short stature. He ends up joining his high school's volleyball team, which pits him against a rival player who he faced off in middle school, Tobio Kageyama. The rivals are forced to work together, along with a cast of other wild characters, to become the greatest high school volleyball team ever.
Part of what makes Haikyuu!! refreshing is how realistic the problems facing the core characters are. No players are superhuman. They have reasonable weaknesses and strengths, and it's only through teamwork that they can overcome the challenges facing them. The cast of characters are lovable and well-rounded -- it's just a delight.
Haikyuu!! returns this winter 2020 for its fourth season.
Another series serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump, Kuroko's Basketball is a complete shonen series about a basketball team. A middle school basketball team rose to prominence among Japanese schools. Five of the players went on to go to different high schools, but a sixth player on that team -- Tetsuya Kuroko -- has moved to a less known school. Along with his talented teammates, he plans on bringing this team of talented underdogs to the top tier.
The manga ran for a staggering 30 volumes, before being adapted into a three-season anime series. A three-part film trilogy followed this, along with one last movie, titled Kuroko's Basketball The Movie: The Last Game, which released in 2017.
Prince of Tennis
Arguably the most well-known sports anime running in Weekly Shonen Jump in the mid-2000s, Prince of Tennis is the most over-the-top sports manga ever about a game as mundane as tennis. The series follows the titular Prince of Tennis himself, as he manages to beat every single player imaginable around him, to the point where he actually manifests an actual battle aura from playing tennis just that well.
Prince of Tennis is a goofy, ridiculous series that people either love or hate. Often, it feels like a shonen battle manga or Yu-Gi-Oh knockoff, as characters resort to frankly impossible techniques to win games. What everyone can agree on, though, is that it was popular enough to last awhile. The original manga is 42 volumes. The anime is 178 episodes. Then it got a sequel manga, New Prince of Tennis, which itself got an anime adaption -- look, if you like this series, you're gonna have a lot of content to get through.
Ping Pong the Animation
Yes. There is a Ping Pong anime. And it's good.
The story focuses on high school students Peco and Smile, who, despite being very different, are close friends who also happen to be champion Ping Pong players. After a particularly devastating device, Peco becomes discouraged from ever playing again. But in the face of conflict, it's up to Peco, his friends, and his coach to get him back at the table.
The anime is fairly short, with its manga only lasting five volumes and anime adaption lasting 11. However, it makes up for its length with a great deal of style. It's undeniably a must-watch, especially because it doesn't take long to watch it all.
Free! is an anime that emerged around the same time as Haikyuu!!, though its core appeal is a little different than Haikyuu!!
Free! is an anime centered around a school swim-team, primarily focusing on four boys -- Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei -- who each specialize in different styles of swimming. The show is evenly split between them working on their swimming technique and the drama going on in their lives. We see their relationships with rival schools form, their interpersonal relationships, and how swimming defines their lives. But the core appeal of Free! is that it is full of beautiful, strong men with tons of muscles swimming in gloriously animated visuals. If you want to see lots of pretty boys, Free! is tailor-made for you.
Three seasons have been produced, along with five films. Despite the tragedy at KyoAni, which animates and produces Free!, a sixth film is set to release in 2020, tying in with the Japanese Summer Olympics. However, it won't be the only anime film based on a sports anime with exclamation points coming out in 2020.
Yuri on Ice!!!
Yuri on Ice!!! is arguably one of the most widely beloved sports anime to emerge in the last decade, and for very good reason: it's a superbly written story about overcoming personal adversity and finding love.
After a particularly devastating loss at an international ice skating tournament, Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki descends into a self-destructive well of depression from which he might never return. That is until footage of him performing a skating routine of Yuri's personal hero and crush Victor Nikiforov leaks online. This seems kinda embarrassing for Yuri at first...until he comes home to find Victor naked in his family's hot spring, extremely eager to help whip Yuri into shape so he can make history on the ice.
This series is part love-story and part-season long tournament arc. While it suffers from stuffing too many characters into its middle episodes, the series is otherwise at triumph on all accounts. It features a colorful cast of characters, each with dynamic, fascinating characters, and a central love story that blows everyone else out of the water.
While only one season has been produced, a prequel film, Ice Adolescence, is set to release in 2020.
While Kuroko's Basketball is a recent popular basketball anime, Slam Dunk is a far more important basketball title. The series follows Hanamichi Sakuragi, a delinquent who meets a girl who isn't repulsed by him in high school. When said girl convinces him to join the high school basketball team, he reluctantly agrees. While at first he hates the sport, he realizes he's a natural athlete. Joining with a band of misfits and punks on this little team, Sakuragi manages to help bring the team from obscurity all the way up to fame.
Again, similar plot to Kuroko's Basketball, but this series manages to include far more fleshed-out, grounded characters. The characters face realistic problems, all of which are solved alongside their basketball playing. The idea of growth and growing up is crucial in this series.
For awhile, Slam Dunk was the most popular manga in Japan, selling over 120 million copies of manga. It remains one of Weekly Shonen Jump's best selling titles. The manga's author, Takehiko Inoue, received an award by the Japanese Basketball Association for popularizing the sport in Japan. In the west, however, it's mostly unknown, which is a shame because it is incredible.
Hajime no Ippo
This is it: the big one. No other sports anime has come close to the legacy that Hajime no Ippo has rightfully accumulated over the years.
Ippo Makunouchi is a shy boy, often beaten up by bullies. When a middleweight boxer takes Ippo to the Kamogawa Gym, Ippo becomes inspired to take up boxing himself. It's a lot of hard work, and Ippo is not naturally talented at the sport. Regardless, through hard work and perseverance, Ippo might one day become a boxing champion.
This series isn't great just because of its intense boxing sequences and tournament arcs -- though it has those. Like Slam Dunk and Yuri on Ice!!!, the appeal here is in the characters and their growth throughout the story. And there is a LOT of story to get through. This boxing manga started in 1989 in Weekly Shonen Jump and has continued to this day, adding up to a total of 126 volumes! There are three seasons to this anime, with the first alone featuring over 76 episodes. This is one of the most epic sports anime ever.