Top 5 + Guest: Our Favorite Sports Anime

It looks as if sports anime are in a revival these days.  Yowamushi Pedal, Free, Haikyuu!, Baby Steps, and Ping Pong are among very recent (and very well-reviewed) sports series, and though very different in tone from past classics, continue with some of the same addicting elements that draw people to these shows, like the ideas/themes of the underdog, growth through pain, the value of teamwork, and of course, the feel of victory!

Below are some of our writers’ picks for their favorite sports anime.  We’re also joined by a real enthusiast of the genre, Annalyn of Annalyn’s Thoughts.  Maybe you’ll find a gem or two below to try out!

R86’s Top 5

  1. Oofuri / Haikyuu! (tie)
  2. Aoki Densetsu Shoot!
  3. Kuroko no Basuke
  4. Major
  5. Plawres Sanshirou

haikyuu 1It’s to no one’s surprise that Oofuri tops my list, with its story about a startup boys’ high school baseball club, covering everything from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat and a lot more besides. Much more surprising was the speed with which recent volleyball anime Haikyuu!! rocketed up my list. And while anime viewers will be familiar with the rapid-paced, almost violently colorful Kuroko’s Basketball, it’s likely that fewer will have heard of soccer anime Aoki Densetsu Shoot! which, like Cross Game, deals with heartbreaking loss as well as striving for excellence. And even fewer will know about Plawres Sanshirou, a 1983 series about a boy who wants only to build the best miniature fighting robot in the world. And Major is unusual among baseball anime for its length, both in the sense of being some 150 episodes long, and in the sense of covering about 30 years of the lead character’s life.

Kaze’s Top 5

  1. Chihayafuru
  2. Daiya no Ace
  3. Ashita no Joe
  4. Ginban Kaleidoscope
  5. One Outs

chihayafuru 1I honestly have not seen many sports anime, so this is closer to a list of sports anime I have seen. At least I can give myself credit for having watched one of the biggest anime classics of all time Ashita no Joe, which is arguably the biggest influence on all modern sports manga/anime. Ginban Kaleidoscope is much closer to romance than a traditional sports anime, which is no doubt why it made my list but where else are you going to get an anime about figure skating? 

TWWK’s Top 5

  1. Cross Game
  2. Oofuri
  3. Bamboo Blade
  4. Free!
  5. Suzuka

cross game 6In anime as well as live action, baseball lends itself to making great drama.  My top two titles are baseball series (and if I added a sixth and seventh, they both would have been a baseball series, too – Taishou Baseball Girls and Touch).  At the very top is Cross Game, which walked the line between being a light-hearted sports series and a sensitive show about loss – it’s a wonderful anime (and even better manga) that I highly recommend.

Annalyn’s Top 5:

  1. Kuroko’s Basketball
  2. Oofuri (Big Windup!)
  3. Cross Game
  4. Haikyuu!!
  5. Daiya no Ace

kuroko 1This list was a product of much deliberation, and the rankings will probably change again within a month. Kuroko’s Basketball had a big boost from its animation. I could watch the characters’ smooth, elegant movements all day long. Kurobas’s studio, Production I.G., also had its hand in Haikyuu!!, Daiya no Ace, and a surprisingly close runner-up, Prince of Tennis. The fact that I remember the studio’s name shows how impressed I am—those details are hard for me to remember.

And with much consternation, I’ll present Japes’ list…

Japesland’s Top 5

  1. Free!
  2. Free!
  3. Free!
  4. Free!
  5. Free!

free anime teamAfter consulting my somewhat monstrous anime list, I discovered that I have actually only seen one sports anime: Free!. I definitely like Free!. I don’t think I love it, but it is easily the best sports anime I’ve ever seen. Hah. Hah. Hah. I also noticed that Redline is apparently categorized as a sports anime. As much as I adore that movie, I hardly think it counts. I’ve also seen two episodes of Yawara and Dan Doh!!, but again I’m left with the issue that Free! is the only sports anime I’ve actually completed. Sad day for Japesland. Sad day…

Now that you’re free from Japes’ list (bwahahahah!) and the others, it’s your turn.  What are some recommendations you have for sports anime, whether from our lists above or those we might have missed?


37 thoughts on “Top 5 + Guest: Our Favorite Sports Anime

    1. I haven’t seen Girls Und Panzer – does it count as sports anime?

      Taishou was sixth on my list – just barely missed out!

      1. Of course Girls Und Panzer counts! The sport may not exist in real life, but it’s definitely a sport with the classic Tournament arc at the heart of the storyline.

        Also: you need to see Girls Und Panzer. 🙂

        1. Hmmm…. I’ve seen Girls und Panzer, but I’m also skeptical that it would count in the traditional sense… Though I suppose I can see it either way.

          But who am I to say that, considering the only anime officially categorized as sports that I’ve actually completely seen through is Free!

          1. Traditional in the sense of being a real world sport? No (although the Russians have been doing some odd things in that space…)

            Traditional in the sense of plot structure of the underdog team fighting to save their school/club/orphanage/etc through a sporting tournament? Oh very much yes. 🙂

  1. If I had to make a list it’d be something like:

    1. Oofuri
    2. Baby Steps

    with Chihayafuru, Yowamushi Pedal, and Haikyuu!! floating somewhere around the Top 5.

    There’s still a few important sports series I’ve yet to see — Ginga e Kickoff, Cross Game, Major, all the boxing anime — but I’m certain the first two wouldn’t be moved from their spots.

    1. I ended up dropping Baby Steps after about five episodes…I’m guessing that it gets better and better as it goes?

      1. Yup! It’s one of those special shows (and manga) that only get better and better and more exciting — thanks to some meticulous plotting, it seems. It suffers from meh animation but the strength of the manga has always been in the mental battle, personal growth, and a deep understanding of tennis so that shouldn’t affect your enjoyment too much.

        It’ll never be flashy like Kuroko or Haikyuu, but it’s humble and earnest and never gives up, never stops searching. I think it’s well worth your time.

  2. Suzuka, I started wtaching that one recently. Some “censored” nudity in the first two episodes, I think, but otherwise an interesting story. I wonder if the manga is worse regarding fanservice, considering the author.

    1. I haven’t read the manga, though my experience is that you’re often able to get away with more in manga than with anime fanservice-wise.

      1. Yes. because they don’t have the restrictions from broadcasting in TV.

        What can “kickstart” the disappearance of that kind of fanservice?

  3. I get jealous whenever R86 talks about the old shows. As much as I love the sports anime genre, I occasionally feel like an overenthusiastic youngster who hasn’t seen enough classics. I really really really want to watch Major, but… it’s not on Hulu. Or Crunchyroll. Or, last I checked, Netflix. In fact, as far as I know, it’s not even available on DVD in the U.S. That’s sad.

    Kaze, even though you haven’t watched many sports anime, you’ve watched some I haven’t yet, and that I really want to.

    I don’t really think of Chihayafuru as a sports anime. If I included that, it would probably fall above Daiya no Ace. I look forward to another season of it.

    TWWK, your list doesn’t surprise me at all. Drama, moving stories, and… Free! (okay, I guess I need to read more of your posts about that one). I suppose I should give Suzuka another shot. I think Hulu has the subbed version now. Last time I tried it, it was only available dubbed. Back then, I had a much lower tolerance for drama-type anime, so I might enjoy it now. Then again, you have it ranked below Free!, so… maybe not.

    Japesland… Your only sports anime is… Free!? I… how… I am sorry for you. Honestly, Free! is near the bottom of my sports anime ranking. It felt like a basic club anime that happened to involve a lot of water… and I usually end up dropping basic club anime. 😛 I still intend to watch the second season at some point, just because it’s sports anime and I have a strange sense of obligation (and I like to know what people are talking about). At least the animation is pretty.

    I completely forgot about Redline… I’m tempted to count it as sports anime. Other car racing anime, like Initial D, are certainly sports anime. But the more I think about it, the trickier Redline is. It doesn’t have that sports anime feel to it at all.

    1. Chihayafuru is totally sports! Just.. really obscure and requires a lot of memorization! I’d say it’s similar to Hikaru no Go (board games) but a lot more focused on explaining the rules and importance of physical/mental dexterity. + love triangle

      Free S2 is a lot better (and sports anime-ish) than the first season. 9/10 vs. 7/10, I’d say.

      1. I put Chihayafuru and Hikaru no Go in a different group. I love them both, though. It’s just a matter of how you define “sport.”

        Alright, then I’ll move Free! Eternal Summer up in my list of priorities. I’m in the middle of several other anime right now, but if you say it’s better and more “sports anime-ish,” then I won’t procrastinate on it for too much longer. 🙂

        1. I’m with you, Annalyn. I can’t put them in “sport.” It’s like calling “chess” a sport – nope. If even “golf” is in that middle ground of being considered a sport in the U.S., I certainly couldn’t include karuta. But all that has more to do with my definition of “sport” rather than “sports anime” – and Chihayafuru certainly fits the conventions of the latter.

        2. Also, I agree with currycurry – the second season of Free is much, much better than the first. More depth, less silliness.

    2. Half the reason I counted Chihayafuru was because I was struggling to come up with 5 sports anime total. I have watched a few others, but I did not think they deserved to be listed (including Suzuka :P) If we were to expand sports to stuff like board games, Hikaru no Go and Shion no Ou would definitely have been considered as well.

  4. I haven’t watched much sports anime until recently, so there are many such shows I still need to try, and I still need to finish Touch and Cross Game, both of which would otherwise easily be in my top 5. For now, though, it looks like this:

    1. Free!
    2. Haikyuu!! (tie)
    2. Baby Steps (tie)
    4. Yowamushi Pedal
    5. Ro-Kyu-Bu!

    Yes, I watched both seasons of the last one. It’s actually a good sports anime–it’s only the parts outside the basketball that are not so good. 😛

    And wow, I didn’t think I’d see Ginban Kaleidoscope mentioned again. I watched that a long time ago, though my impression of it wasn’t the best… I think I was just miffed at the ending, though. 😛

  5. I’m not big on sports anime myself, I’d just have two.

    Angelic Layer is my pic for best sports anime. It’s a made-up sport, but you have all the elements of one, like self-improvement, a mentor figure, and overcoming obstacles.

    It’s older, but beneath the tangles fans might want to look up the manga, love-action series, and OAV of Rumiko Takahashi’s One-Pound Gospel, where a struggling boxer is befriended by a young nun who helps him train on his way to the top.

    1. Hmm…I really need to consider how we define “sports anime.” I hadn’t thought of Angelic Layer, but I think it qualifies, and as such I think I would have had it in my top five. I really enjoyed that series.

      And One-Pound Gospel – that OVA is at the very top of my lengthy “to watch” list.

  6. Japes nice list. *thumbs-up*

    I only started watching sports shows really recently, as in this year (Free in 2013) so my list can’t even make it to 5, but is not too shabby, if I say so myself. Although it (naturally) skews heavily to new stuff.

    1. Haikyuu!!
    2. Ping Pong the Animation
    3. Free!
    4. Yowamushi Pedal
    5. ???

    I could put Angelic Layer or Redline in spot 5, but I wasn’t a big AL fan and Redline not really feeling like a sports film has already been mentioned. That said, I also agree with the Annalyn about Free! being more like a club show.

    Yowamushi Pedal suffers a lot when the MC isn’t on screen, which happens more often in the last half/third of S1. The other characters just don’t have enough charisma on their own. A problem that Haikyuu, for example, completely avoids.

    1. I never finished Ping Pong…too many series (for me) on my plate that season. But I thought the first few episodes were pretty amazing.

  7. My top 5 would have to be
    1:Kuroko’s Basketball
    3:Girls und panzer
    4:Oofari (big windup)
    5:Little Busters (not sure if this counts but if it doesn’t then probably ace of the diamond)
    Honestly I ‘m shocked by the fact that Suzuka made your list. Actually I’m shocked to hear that someone else watched it. I was bored one night, looked up a voice actor I liked and found it. I found Suzuka to be an interesting anime that happened to have a sports section to it. I enjoyed it, but at the end had mixed feelings. The main focus of the series though was the romance element which is why it doesn’t make my list.

    1. Little Busters in an interesting addition! There’s definitely a heavy sports element to that series.

      Suzuka makes my list to my own surprise, to be honest. I have a lot of problems with the characters in that series. Also, it’s not even particularly good. But something in Suzuka resonates in me – and it might be because of how seriously flawed our two leads are. That, and it was a personally motivating series to me.

      1. I completely agree that the series is mediocre, but at the same time memorable. I always kind of wanted him to realize the love that was right there for him the whole time with Honoka. She honestly was my favorite part of the series. She was so honest and understanding I hated to see what happened at the end of their relationship.

        1. On another note while I really liked little busters, it wasn’t the top because of 2 things the baseball was a side note, and the parts of it that were baseball based didn’t have the detail i’d say that a “Sports anime” would usually have. as a story though it blows most of those out of the water.

        2. Protagonists rarely pick the “deserving” girl. Of course, maybe in this case, that was actually best for Honoka!

  8. 1. Girls und Panzer
    2. Princess Nine
    3. Moshidora
    4. Sabagebu!
    5. Speed Racer (Yes, seriously.)

    1. Oooh, Princess Nine. That’s looks pretty good! I can always go for some 90’s anime.

      Speed Racer! I LOVED Speed Racer as a child, though I don’t remember it well anymore.

    2. totally forgot about speed racer i feel dumb for not thinking of it. it was the first anime i ever saw. wow. that brings me back a ways!

  9. For me, the list goes:
    1. Baby Steps
    2. Kuroko no Basuke
    3. Daiya no Ace
    3. Yowamushi Pedal
    4. Ginga e Kickoff
    5. The Prince of Tennis

    1. Have you watched Free? You’ve listed a lot of the recent sports anime, so I’m surprised that you haven’t listed what’s perhaps the most popular one!

    2. Nice list! Baby Steps doesn’t get enough praise, in my opinion. I don’t rank it quite as highly as you, but it’s good. If the visuals were better, it would probably outrank Daiya no Ace (so far, its second season definitely outranks DnA S2). Alas, in my eyes, Studio Pierrot animation has always been more functional than pleasurable to look at.

  10. There needs to be more anime about gymnastics and figure skating. I enjoyed Kaleido Star because there’s similarities between circus acrobatics and gymnastics, and the heroine’s a former rhythmic gymnast and the manga Ice Forest by Chiho Saito, which is about figure skating

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