In other media "Sports" might be the main topic, but you won't often see it marketed as a genre. Anime, however, is very diverse, so things are a bit different; there are many sports anime shows about characters keen on improving themselves.
Due to their social aspect, these works can be enjoyed by anime fans even if they don't like sports or know the specifics. For this reason, we have gathered the top 10 sports anime of all time that you should start watching:
1. Yuri on Ice
Yuri on Ice (2016), often found as Yuri!!! On Ice for emphasis, is a Sports anime with romance elements that focuses on Ice Skating, made by studio MAPPA.
Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old Japanese figure skater toys with the idea of quitting, feeling he's reaching the end of his physical viability as an athlete without a significant record of success. It's at this point that he is approached by Victor Nikiforov a renowned champion who offers to act as his coach.
Yuri's new journey on ice is juxtaposed with that of another skater of the same name, Yuri Plisetsky, a talented teenager whose career is already kicking off.
The romantic relationship between Victor and Yuri is beautiful and ensures emotional growth for them both. While some criticize their bond as queerbaiting, their romance is much more than subtext and made as explicit as possible given the conservative rules that often govern anime industries.
The figure skating sequences are beautiful and almost feel like watching an actual competition, while the main characters' struggles with their career are well-written and relatable.
2. SK8 the Infinity
SK8 the Infinity is one of the most recent additions to the Sports Anime genre and it has definitely been one of the pleasant surprises of the Winter 2021 anime season. As the title indicates, the Studio Bones anime is about skating.
Described by many fans as a hidden gem, SK8 follows Reki, an average high school student – at least on the surface. At night, Reki becomes a hardcore, very competitive skater at "S," an illegal underground race. As the skaters of "S" are asked to compete under dangerous conditions, Reki is injured and finds himself unable to compete.
At school, Reki meets Langa whom he introduces to the world of "S." At some point, Langa is forced into a bet which requires him to compete despite his lack of skating experience. But Langa isn't entirely powerless; his background in snowboarding might be just what he needs to win in the most unconventional way.
SK8 already has great reviews and it had been praised for its characterization and overall aesthetic.
Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (2013), most commonly known as just Free! is a Kyoto Animation and Animation Do work about swimming, which also features themes such as childhood friendship, rivalry, and school life.
Childhood friends Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin once won a relay race together back in elementary school. Rin and the rest of the group parted ways when he went abroad to train like an Olympic champion, while the other three later reunite as high school students.
When Rin returns, he isn't interested in returning to the way things used to be between him and his friends. Rin now attends a different school and is determined to show Haruka that he's a better swimmer.
In response, the three old friends recruit another classmate, Rei, and form the titular Iwatobi High School Swim Club, determined to enter a tournament as a team and defeat Rin. The four students form a close bond. While a competitive anime that focuses on the importance of friendship is by no means a novel concept, the anime is still very enjoyable with good characterization.
4. Ballroom e Youkoso
Ballroom e Youkoso, a 2017 Production I.G. anime about ballroom dancing with elements of Comedy and Romance. It follows the main character Tatara Fujita; a timid, conflict-averse student who still gets in trouble when he's bullied for money.
Tatara is saved by Kaname Sengoku, a dancer who invites him to his studio. Seeing a classmate, Shizuku Hanaoka also practicing at the studio, Tatara warms up to the idea of ballroom dances and decides to learn. Keen on improving, he decides to start dancing competitively.
Ballroom e Youkoso is based on a manga of the same name and it's generally considered a lovely adaptation. The art and sound – extremely important elements in any work about dancing – are not perfect but they're still well-done and the characterization is great, making for an enjoyable result.
5. Ping Pong the Animation
Compared to other anime on this list, Ping Pong the Animation, a 2014 show by Tatsunoko Productions is slightly different.
The anime has been directed by the avant-garde director of Tatami Galaxy, which says a lot about its style. It follows Makoto Tsukimoto, nicknamed Peco, a ping-pong player, and his friend Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed Smile. The two friends have always trained together, the former keen to win competitions, the latter less competitive.
In a genre that often features visceral competition, it's good to see two main characters supporting each other, even during a prestigious contest.
Ping Pong is great for anyone who wants to try something different. With more of an art-house style, it's an award-winning title. While the animation and unorthodox execution might feel a bit alienating, it's definitely worth watching!
6. Kuroko no Basket
Production I.G. is good at sports anime and Kuroko no Basket or Kuroko's Basketball (2012) is no exception. As the title indicates, this one is about basketball – and it's likely one of the first anime you'll hear of if you're just getting into the Sports genre.
Kuroko no Basket tells the story of five middle school basketball teammates that made Teiko Junior High School legendary for achievements and came to be known as "The Generation of Miracles."
Unfortunately, the team split up to follow separate ways. When Taiga Kagami, a promising basketball player, starts attending Seirin High School, he makes an unexpected discovery; one of his fellow students, Tetsuya Kuroko, who has a gift for going unnoticed used to be the "Phantom Sixth" member of "The Generation of Miracles."
While not as impressive as his former teammates, Kuroko is still a formidable player, good at passing the ball easily. Kuroko and Taiga band together to make Seirin's team the best in Japan. But the road is difficult and, on the way, they have to defeat legendary players, some of whom are Kuroko's once teammates from Teiko.
There's always something sad about characters who used to be allies but are not anymore. The anime has been commended for its great characterization and character development, particularly the dynamics between Kuroko and his former teammates who now act as his rivals.
7. Ace of Diamond
Diamond no Ace or Ace of Diamond (2013) was co-produced by Production I.G and Madhouse. This one is about baseball - and it's bound to amaze fans of baseball and not only!
Baseball player Eijun Sawamura suffers a humiliating defeat but he and his team don't give up: their plan is to reach the national tournament when they are in high school. But things change for Eijun when he's invited to attend the prestigious Seidou High School and play in their team, as his unusual style was appreciated.
Eijun's teammates encourage him to accept, and he departs for Seidou, where he has to find his place in an extremely talented team. He's determined to become the team's ace, but he has to compete for the title with Satoru Furuya, another talented new player. With two new strong additions, the Seidou team plans to come top in entire Japan, defeating powerful opponents along the way.
Diamond no Ace is a suspenseful anime with good characterization and interesting relationships between the characters.
8. Yowamushi Pedal
Yowamushi Pedal, a 2013 anime show by TMS Entertainment is about competitive cycling.
After a failed attempt to revive his new school's anime club, Sakamichi Onoda finds that he might possess some talent in an everyday activity he had never thought much of – cycling around with his old bicycle.
His gift is discovered by one of his classmates, Shunsuke Imaizumi, a determined cyclist. Without thinking much of it, Onoda proves himself capable of climbing a steep hill with his old bicycle. For that, he's challenged by Imaizumi who introduces him to the idea that he could actually cycle competitively.
Yowamushi Pedal is unique due to its main character: rather than being a strong athlete, training from childhood, Onoda is a timid anime fan who starts cycling because he genuinely enjoys it. While the other cyclists aren't character types we've never seen before, they're quite well-written and the visuals are great.
Haikyuu!! is another Production I.G. anime, this time from 2014. It's about volleyball but you need no knowledge of the sport to enjoy it!
The beloved anime follows Shoyo Hinata, an ambitious volleyball player who wants to reach high, even though his stature is not ideal. Unfortunately, our main character has suffered a humiliating victory in the past, from a team led by Tobio Kageyama, a rising volleyball star.
Now a high-school student, Hinata is still determined to win and join and prestigious team. Things get complicated when he finds out that Tobio Kageyama is a student at the same school and his volleyball career is only getting better: this time they must play as teammates, though it will be difficult for Hinata to hold his own against such a good player.
Fans of the anime enjoy the transition of Hinata and Kageyama from rivals to teammates. Other characters are also likable and the anime has been praised for its art and sound.
10. Hajime no Ippo
In terms of art style, Hajime no Ippo (2000) by Studio Madhouse might seem a little old-fashioned to contemporary anime fans. This, however, shouldn't deter anime lovers from giving it a go – it's a Sports classic.
The main character, Makunouchi Ippo has always been bullied and beaten up by his classmates, but while he was always keen on improving his life, he had never found a good way to achieve it. The turning point comes when Ippo is saved by Takamura Mamoru, a boxer.
When Takamura sticks the photo of one of Ippo's bullies on a punching bag and asks him to punch it, our main character realizes that boxing might be his passion – and his way out of constant harassment. It takes some time to persuade Takamura to train him, but when he consents, Ippo begins a fascinating journey to become a top boxer.
Hajime no Ippo is a real classic, enjoyed even by people who hate boxing. There are comic and romantic elements in there, and Ippo grows not only as a boxer but also as a person.
As all these titles show us, you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy Sports anime - although you definitely should if you enjoy sports! Most of them tell stories of self-improvement, friendship, and life in general, which makes them inspiring to watch.