I have to admit that I’ve struggled to write this post properly for a while now. I think this is at least my fifth draft. I don’t know why, it’s a topic I’m passionate about, but I just can’t get it written in a quality way. Perhaps this is the one. And if not, you’ll never see this.
What I want to do with you guys today is have a look at my 5 favorite sports anime. In doing so I want to find what makes each of these anime tick in an attempt to figure out the genre. I’m hoping to do this for other genres as well. Find the things that the good entries in the genre have in common. So let’s not waste any more time and dive right into the first show on the list.
Kuroko no basket
The first sports anime I ever watched was Kuroko no basket. With its first season airing in 2012 it was right at the perfect time. I started watching anime in 2010 and by 2012 I’d started watching some seasonal anime. I was also playing basketball weekly at the time, so it was a sport that interested me. I remember even one of my friends who wasn’t into anime at all was watching it. He’d only seen Hajime no Ippo (which probably would be on this list, if I’d watched it) and now this. And Kuroko no Basket did not disappoint. It follows the titular Kuroko who joins the Seiren high school basketball team. As a lesser known member of the generation of miracles, a group of six players who dominated the scene for years, he’s hoping to prove his worth with a new team. His counterpart and partner in crime is Kagami, an extremely talented player who wasn’t a part of the generation of miracles but quickly gets close to their level. The other members of the generation of miracles have each gone to their own teams and are now there to block the road to winning it all. It’s a pretty simple setup but it works wonders. The main draw of this show is the insane basketball match-ups. Everyone on each team is talented from the get go so it’s not a story in which you’re rooting for the underdog. Not in a classical sense. The generation of miracles are definitely set up to be the stronger players, but they always seem beatable. On top of that, the animation, especially in the final season, is pretty amazing and it helps sell the show for sure.
Where Kuroko no basket was my first introduction to shounen sports anime, Haikyuu was the most polished attempt at it that I’ve seen to date. Following Hinata Shoyo who joins his dream team Karasuno, this story is far more of an underdog story. Hinata is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his idol, the little giant. A very talented and successful player who, just like Hinata, was short. Early Haikyuu feels a bit slow, maybe even too slow for my taste, but it does so to set up its characters and prepare you for the rest of the story. What Haikyuu does really well is make you root for the main cast. They each have their own story, their own talents and their own goals. None of the main players feel like a filler character and even some of the bench players have great story arcs. Kuroko definitely seemed to sideline some of the characters a bit more, but Haikyuu doesn’t do this at all. Unfortunately, not all of Haikyuu has been adapted into anime yet and the slow pace of adapting a little bit every so often is making it difficult to stay invested. What Haikyuu absolutely nails is the music and the hype. The opening themes are absolutely fantastic and they add to the hype. When they start playing during important moments in the show you can just feel yourself get excited. I found myself liking the characters in this show more as well. They’re more relatable.
Ace of Diamond
So far we’ve had good characters, good animation and good music as the main selling points for a good sports anime. Ace of Diamond is on this list for a few good reasons. Let’s dive into some of them immediately.
For starters, Ace of Diamond is long form. It has close to 200 episodes as of right now and the latest season was fairly recently so the odds of more coming in the future is definitely still there. Having a show run for a long time allows you to develop things much more slowly and have a lot more plot points running. It also allows for the team losing. This is very important since in Haikyuu and Kuroko no Basket the games ended up being fairly predictable. The fun was in how the main team would win, and not so much in if the main team would win. When it comes to Ace of Diamond, I find myself wondering if Seidou is going to win or lose almost every match. Tournaments end prematurely and dreams are crushed because a sudden rookie beats them, or there’s an injury. In the real world sports can be unpredictable and the favorite doesn’t always win. The same is true here and it adds a whole layer of depth to the show. The senpais actually graduate before the show ends and new players are added from the first years. It follows Sawamura and his classmates from year 1 and onward and there’s a real sense of progression.
The second thing that Ace of Diamond does wonderfully is have a large cast of returning teams. It’s cool seeing them face the team that beat them last time again, and maybe win this time. Or take revenge for said team because they got beaten before the rematch could happen. It makes for a much more complex story that has layers to it. Out of the three shows we’ve talked about so far it is definitely my favorite, but there’s two more entries coming so hold your horses.
Run with the wind
Run with the wind is a 2006 novel by the author Shion Miura. That’s right, it’s a novel. Not a light novel, web novel or manga, but a regular old fashion novel. Those still exist? Either way, this means that the feel of the show is a lot more mature than most shows I’ve watched. That could say a lot about what I generally watch, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.
Run with the Wind tells the story of Kurehara Kakeru, a former runner who starts his life at the college dormitory. There he finds out that the reason the place was so cheap is because everyone is automatically enlisted into the Hakone Ekiden team. This is a yearly relay event where people run large distances in teams. Haiji, the person leading this team, now has the extremely difficult job of persuading all of the other members living at the dormitory to actually join his team and then go on and complete the Hakone Ekiden.
The show is centered around running as a running theme (I’m so funny), but it definitely doesn’t focus on it too much. Run with the wind is a character study. Every person in this show has something going on in their life that they need to deal with. Nico-chan-senpai has been struggling with quitting smoking and getting on with his life. King has been searching for a job unsuccessfully, Prince needs to come out of his shell and stop reading manga the entire day without interacting with the world. And Haiji really wants to run the Hakone Ekiden with his friends, even though he has a leg injury. Watching this crew grow closer and closer as one by one they become interested in running, or at the very least in being part of the team and this all culminating in the beautifully complex race at the end of the season has to be one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen. It’s truly taken a well established genre and expanded on it in the best way. It knows how important characters are and builds them up from the ground. That’s why it’s on this list. But we’re not done yet.
I discovered Chihayafuru purely by chance. I was watching an anime opening compilation on youtube, as one does, and the first opening played. The song is called Youthful by 99radioservice. They’ve since done the opening themes for other Chihayafuru seasons as well. Their songs have a very calming quality to them that made me interested in them and thus I ended up watching what would become one of my favorite anime of all time.
Chihayafuru is a show about Karuta, a Japanese game/sport in which you need to slap poetry cards that match with the poem being read out. It’s a competition to get the most cards at the end of the game. I don’t care about the sport at all. But I liked the character designs and soon found myself liking the characters too. Chihaya has some issues for sure. I’m still not convinced that the things she does to convince her schoolmates to join the Karuta club aren’t intimidation and bullying. She’s a very headstrong person with a lack of social awareness. But the music and the atmosphere just sell the show to me. I find this one the hardest to explain out of the shows listed, but I do know something resonates with me.
God, writing “conclusion” as a heading makes me feel like I’m writing a school essay but for the sake of keeping everything neat and tidy I’m going with it anyway. The point of these lists are to figure out the things that make a show within a genre. Let’s list the things that stood out from these shows down below:
- Good animation
- Team dynamics
- Well written characters
- Unpredictable matches
- Underdog story
I think that’s all of the important things. Funnily enough, I think Ace of Diamond has all these qualities except for good animation. Chihayafuru lacks none of these, now that I think about it. I don’t know if the animation is amazing by any stretch, but at the very least the art looks really good. So what does this mean for the sports genre?
Obviously it’s not a super simple mix of sugar and spice to get the perfect anime, but I do think it means something when several good shows have these characteristics in common. Either way, I hope this has at the very least served as a good list of sports anime to watch. Let me know if there’s shows or qualities I’ve missed out on in writing this post. Thank you for reading.