Boy don’t I love sports and boy don’t I love anime and manga. So when you combine the two, of course it’s going to be something that I enjoy. That’s why we are lucky to have so many great sports titles in this medium. From super powered individuals touched by the grace of God, to underdogs that will rise past such beasts – I’ve got a list of bangers for a multitude of different sports. This list isn’t necessarily for anime viewers and manga readers, rather it is a list for those who may be a little green to the medium but who are also sports fans, trying to dip their toes into something that is different yet familiar. I will also cite whether I’ve read the manga or watched the anime or both, as I do feel like anime adaptations can be both amazing and poor, relative to the manga/source material.
Basketball: Slam Dunk (Takehiko Inoue) – Manga
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Is this even a competition? Of course it isn’t. If you are going to mention any sports manga in the history of the planet to recommend – Slam Dunk is the standard. It’s funny, it’s got great action, incredible writing and art, it’s paced so incredibly well, and every fucking time I finish the last match I cry. You will finish the last three or four volumes in under an hour because they’re just paced so well. Very rarely are you so inclined to turn a page like you would when reading Slam Dunk. I think the thing that I love the most about Slam Dunk is how Sakuragi, the main character, is written. From the beginning of the series he’s really just a teenage delinquent who doesn’t respect basketball and joins the team for a girl. By the end of the series you’re seeing this young man realize that there is so much more to life than just existing. You’re seeing someone realize what it means to be passionate about something and have dreams. It’s a beautiful coming of age story. The story also feels realistic. The tallest member of the main character’s team is 6’5″ and he plays like a center. Unlike in Kuroko no Basket – another really popular basketball series where it’s really saiyans playing ball. The only other competition for this coveted award that I could think of would be Real – the wheelchair basketball series created by the same writer – Takehiko Inoue, which I have yet to read but I have heard multiple times that it’s even better than Slam Dunk – wild. Read the manga, skip the anime as the anime doesn’t cover all of the manga and the manga pace is ELITE.
Baseball: Major (Takuya Mitsuda) – Anime
This is Shohei’s Ohtani’s favourite series, did you know that? He grew up with Major and was fond of the main character Goro Honda, who also had stints at hitting and pitching. This is without a doubt the toughest sport to find a best for as baseball is the most popular sport in Japan, meaning that there are plenty of baseball series out there. Talking about Mitsuru Adachi’s many baseball stories, Ace of Diamond, One Outs, and Rookies (I actually fucking love Rookies). However, I had in mind that this list would be for anime and manga noobs. Major is great for noobs as it’s a shounen series that follows a young man and his dream of going pro. So he has a stint in little league, to middle school, to high school, and beyond. That first season though is unreal and if you give any season a try, it needs to be the first season. Goro Honda is also an absolute giga-chad and it’s just so much fun to watch him become the man he becomes at the end of the 154 episode anime. I think with Mitsuru Adachi’s series, they are very long and drawn out without enough baseball. Ace of Diamond is a series that I actually got bored of because I just wasn’t very interested. One Outs is not an anime for beginners. It also isn’t what I personally like in sports anime, which takes it out of the riding. But I know anime fans who are not super into sports anime like I am, who love One Outs for that very reason. I enjoyed Rookies but I think the live action eclipses the source material.
Soccer: Ao Ashi (Yugo Kobayashi) – Anime
I actually don’t think that there are that many great soccer series out there, even though it is the world’s sport. Captain Tsubasa seems like the obvious choice but isn’t it just nostalgia? It also feels like a children’s series. Ao Ashi, I’ve only watched season one of and I really liked it. I thought that it was the best soccer anime that I’d seen yet and it’s genuinely good. I love watching the main characters and seeing them learn to get better at soccer and gel as a team, even though they butt heads at first. It’s fun seeing a story from the perspective of the team that is supposed to be good and not the underdog, yet having to watch them try their best so they don’t fall apart and can keep their elite status. Currently Blue Lock is airing and it is incredibly hyped and maybe that will take this prestigious award this time next year, but until then – Ao Ashi, is the best soccer series that I know.
Distance Racing: Run With The Wind (Shion Miura) – Anime
Of course I’m going to say this is the best distance racing series. Yowamushi Pedal was also considered but you guys know how much I love this damn series. YowaPedal also really falls off I find as it struggles to reach the heights of the first two seasons of the anime. Although I do think that the improvement in their running times is a bit absurd when considering how long they trained for, I don’t care. This series is fantastic. The writing is incredible, the gay subtext is alluring, the music is a ride, and it’s one of my all time favourite anime period. For those who don’t know, the source material is a novel, then it was addainto a live action film, then a manga, and an anime. I can’t find a subbed version of the film or an English version of the novel, but when I do I will be all over that shit. Also Haiji Kiyose is one of my all time favourite anime characters. I fucking love this series damnit.
Volleyball: Haikyuu!! (Haruichi Furudate) – Anime
Listen this category is bare but Haikyuu is the standard at which every single modern sports anime has to compete with. Believe it or not, I have actually watched one other volleyball series and it sucked. I even Googled for other volleyball series and they exist, but none of them are even close to sniffing Haikyuu. Also as someone who’s watched the anime and read the manga, trust me – go with the anime. It is this generation’s Slam Dunk and it deserves that honorary title because it is legit good. Characters like Hinata, Oikawa, and Atsumu make this series amazing. Something that Haikyuu does better than Slam Dunk even is that the entire cast, even the other teams are super interesting. I mean, I still love Slam Dunk more but Haikyuu is a wagon. The anime is pretty much the peak of sports/action anime. The music, the voice acting, the direction – chef’s fucking kiss.
Combat Sports: Ashita no Joe (Tetsuya Chiba & Asao Takamori) – Anime or Manga, it doesn’t matter because both are great
This is actually the hardest one because it’s between this and Hajime no Ippo. Although I would say that the Hajime no Ippo anime is ELITE, the manga right now is in a bit of a lull and I can’t recommend the manga knowing that the story right now is less than ideal. However Joe is evergreen. It is one of the greatest manga series to have ever been created and is so culturally significant to the country that it’s widely referenced in other forms of pop culture. It is an examination of post WW2 Japan, the conditions of society, the economic state, and the welfare of the everyday man. This is the ultimate underdog in manga/anime – it’s pretty much Japanese Rocky. This series represents so much more than boxing, it represents a time and place in the history of the country where the nation had to change to overcome its past struggles. For many young Japanese men, Yabuki Joe represented their struggle of wanting a better life in the conditions that were handed to them. Just like how Raging Bull is considered an iconic boxing/sports movie, Joe should be considered in the same vein.
Randoms (because these series are worth mentioning but don’t have others in the same sport)
Ping Pong is an incredibly written and directed series regarding the state of different athlete’s minds at different stages of their career. I would opt to watch the anime as it’s quite unique in animation style and I feel as the pace and direction is just such a vibe. It’s so well packaged and it’s so different and fresh. You could make an argument that it is the greatest sports anime of all time. It is a bit slow but it flows almost like an animated novel. This is the anime snob’s favourite sports anime. Luckily for you I will watch pretty much watch everything and I won’t lie, it was a bit too slow for me and I got bored often. But as a connoisseur of the medium, this is really good – just not my cup of tea.
Eyeshield 21 inspired me to play football – ultimately a decision that changed my life forever. The art by Yusuke Murata is just incredible, the man can do no wrong. Read the manga as the anime doesn’t cover the entire story and the anime doesn’t have Murata’s art. Also the animation looks dated where as the manga is just so freaking beautiful. I would also recommend reading this with a great suspension of disbelief because this series is definitely one where saiyans are playing ball and is nothing like reality. The main character – a 15 year old high school boy is literally faster than anyone who has ever played in the NFL. Regardless though, it doesn’t make the story any less compelling. Shit, this series changed my life.