Which sports anime should you get into this year?
Ceej Tantengco on Apr 14, 2017 05:44 PM
From volleyball to figure skating, here are five sports anime to binge-watch this year.
No sports anime has had a greater cultural impact than “Slam Dunk.” Japan credits it with popularizing basketball among their youth during the 1990s, and even here in the Philippines, every young baller dreamed of being Sakuragi.
Sports anime never really went away, but the genre has once again grown in popularity these past few years, thanks to social media and on-demand streaming services. From volleyball to figure skating, here are five sports anime to binge-watch this year.
Haikyuu! (2014-present) – The smash hit
This charming, dynamic story follows Shoyo Hinata, a short but passionate volleyball player. He idolizes “The Little Giant,” a legendary player with a similar stature, and dreams of making his own mark in a sport dominated by taller players. But to reach his dream of competing at the national level, he needs to team up with his rival, the short-tempered but talented setter Tobio Kageyama.
Even if you don’t usually watch anime, it’s easy to get into “Haikyuu!” It’s obvious how much time the animators spent studying actual volleyball form, and the compelling plot builds to satisfying payoffs. No filler episodes here! And if you’re the type of viewer who likes their anime as realistic as possible, you’ll appreciate that the high schoolers in “Haikyuu!” actually look and act their age.
Don’t worry if you don’t have much of a background with volleyball, either. Not only does the show explain gameplay and strategy, the characters’ story lines—the ace with hidden insecurities, the captain with unfinished business—are universal to anyone who follows or has played a sport. If you watch nothing else on this list, watch “Haikyuu!”
Kuroko no Basket (2012-2015) – The super-powered sports show
Think of your favorite league’s most dominant team, and that would be the Generation of Miracles, a middle-school lineup of basketball prodigies. But “Kuroko no Basket” (Kuroko’s Basketball) isn’t about them. It’s about what happens when the stars go to different high schools, and how their unassuming, zero-presence sixth man Tetsuya Kuroko pairs up with natural talent Taiga Kagami to face his former teammates one by one.
Compared to “Slam Dunk,” which showcases a realistic depiction of basketball and the occasional history lesson about the sport, “Kuroko no Basket” features special abilities that stretch the imagination. Even Steph Curry doesn’t have the three-point percentages of the Generation of Miracles’ Midorima! How is a high schooler passing like Manu Ginobili?
“Kuroko no Basket” has more in common with a superhero show than a realistic sports anime—“super Saiyan basketball,” a friend likes to joke. But if you can suspend your disbelief, the special abilities work within the context of the show. The real focus here is the character development and competing ideologies, such as individual talent versus teamwork.
All-Out (2016-present) – Rugby beginners welcome
Kenji Gion, a high-school freshman who’s insecure about his height, joins the rugby team after he hears that anyone can be a star on the team. Meanwhile, the tall and experienced rugby player Sumiaki Iwashimizu refuses to join because of a traumatizing accident from middle school.
Through the two characters, viewers learn about rugby from a beginner’s perspective and also see the darker side of contact sports through the eyes of a more knowledgeable athlete. “All Out” doesn’t shy away from depicting injuries—you see a dislocated shoulder early on in the series—and the psychological impact that they have on the players.
Rounding out the cast is the serious (and seriously jacked) team captain Sekizan, the laid-back vice captain Hachioji, and the other colorful personalities on the Kanagawa High School Rugby Club.
Yuri On Ice (2016-present) – Recommended by pro skaters
“Yuri On Ice” follows the softhearted figure skater Yuri Katsuki, who has been hiding in his hometown after suffering defeat at the Grand Prix Finals. After a video of him performing a routine of his Russian idol Viktor Nikiforov goes viral, Nikiforov offers to coach Katsuki, placing the Japanese skater at odds with Nikiforov’s former rinkmate Yuri Plisetsky.
Pro skaters love this show. “There are so many details about the show that I can relate to, even small things like spending time in onsen, Japanese train stations and so on, that the show is visually filled with happy memories,” three-time USA champion and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir told The Geekiary in 2016. “There have been many strange moments watching a fictionalized version of our world, so much so that I’ve had times when I say to myself, ‘Who told?’”
Retired ice dancer Kenji Miyamoto choreographs the skating on “Yuri On Ice,” making for an accurate depiction of techniques, with the production going so far as to record Miyamoto performing the routines to use the sound of his skates in the show.
But beyond the action, what sets this critically acclaimed drama apart is its respectfully portrayed love story between Katsuki and Nikiforov that gives much-needed representation to LGBTQ+ athletes.
Baby Steps (2014-2015)– Because not everyone’s an athlete
What happens when a nerd decides to take up tennis? Honor student Eiichiro Maruo joins his school’s tennis club to get some exercise, and for the first time, is far behind his peers. Can his smarts and work ethic overcome his opponents’ natural talent and years of experience?
Many sports stories focus on ambitious protagonists who have dedicated their whole lives to mastering a sport. “Baby Steps” gives viewers a relatable protagonist whose small achievements you can’t help but cheer for—after all, that could be you.