9 Crazy Sports Anime Series Worth Watching

From Boxing and Soccer to ... Poetry Reading and Drift Racing? Typical Anime

Viewers often find themselves wondering if there's a genre of anime that hasn't been explored yet... and there probably isn't. In addition to the usual historical, classroom, and samurai anime series, there's a plethora of anime series and movies based entirely around mainstream sports such as basketball and racecar driving. Here are some of the most popular sporting anime series.

Edited by Brad Stephenson

01
of 09

Chihayafuru

Chihayafuru
Chihayafuru.

Chihaya's wanted to get out from under the shadow of her successful model sister, and she finds an unusual to make that happen: she becomes a competitive player of the ancient Japanese poetry-reading game known as karuta. With a childhood friend and several other players of wildly divergent backgrounds and motivations in tow, she forms a team and prepares to become -- what else? -- the best player in the land. The show's unexpectedly pretty animation and strongly-told story were winning enough to land it a second season and an OVA. More might well be on the way as the comic it's derived from is still ongoing.

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02
of 09

Eyeshield 21

Eyeshield 21
Eyeshield 21.

Eyeshield 21 is a story about a Japanese boy who joins an American-style football club -- a kid named Sena who, based on his physique, is the last person you'd want to put out on the gridiron. But he can run, and that makes him a prime recruitment candidate ... which is why his team goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his identity secret. Hence the title, after the eyeshield Sena wears on the field. Be prepared for a long haul -- this show's a whopping 145 episodes -- but U.S. football fans will enjoy seeing a sport that almost never shows up in anime.

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03
of 09

Giant Killing

Giant Killing
Giant Killing.

Speaking of soccer, here's an anime take on that sport, where the struggling team East Tokyo United brings in Coach Takeshi Tatsumi, a fellow with a reputation for being somewhat off-center with his strategies. Eccentric or not, he's got his work cut out for him, since all of ETU's opponents are better financed and have more skills to spare. But as the title implies, Takeshi's own skills lie in taking down bigger opponents. Yes, its' a story of underdogs coming from behind to kick butt, but it's done with great energy and panache.

04
of 09

Hajime no Ippo / Fighting Spirit

Hajime no Ippo
Hajime no Ippo.

Ippo is nobody's idea of a boxer -- he's shy bully-bait who's never won a fight in his life and never will. That makes his transformation into a full-blown pro pugilist in Hajime npo Ippo (also titled Fighting Spirit for English audiences) all the more engaging to watch. It's not just his fighting chops that undergo a change, but his whole outlook on life. The way the show focuses on his opponents as being complete characters, and not just drop targets to be knocked down, adds even more dimension to an already-excellent story.

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05
of 09

Hikaru no Go

Hikaru no Go
Hikaru no Go.

The franchise that re-ignited worldwide interest in go, a classic game of strategy that predates chess by thousands of years. The Hikaru of the title is a kid who even at his age seems doomed to drift through life without doing much of anything -- that is, until he encounters the spirit of a long-dead go master who uses Hikaru as his medium. At first, Hikaru plays mostly to humor the sentimental old fellow, but in time his interest in the game becomes a real and driving force in his life -- as does his determination to beat a rival who started far ahead of Hikaru. Despite the abortive ending for the series (the originating manga ended just as clumsily), the show generates real suspense for the way Hikaru and his friends grapple with the game, and come out on top as better people for having done so.

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06
of 09

Initial D

Initial D
Initial D.

The car-racing story to beat them all, so popular across Asia that a live-action movie adaptation was commissioned -- no, not even in Japan, but Hong Kong. It's not difficult to see why, either: even if you know nothing about cars or racing, getting sucked into the story of delivery man Takumi's odyssey through the world of street racing takes little more effort than that needed to sit down and watch the show. The crude animation -- especially the 90s era CGI used to realize the car races -- may be a turn-off, but under that rough veneer is a thoroughly solid story.

07
of 09

The Prince of Tennis

The Prince of Tennis
The Prince of Tennis.

A real crowd-pleaser of a series, with the subject being -- what else? -- tennis. Ryoma Echizen is still only a teenager, but he's the son of a professional player, and he's consistently beaten all of his challengers in the private school where he plays. But now it's time for him to move to a whole new level -- one where he develops his own style. The story does get somewhat more muddled as it goes along -- it relies a little too much on absurd levels of skill to up the ante, a staple element in shonen action shows -- but its first stretch is still remarkable enough to warrant inclusion here.

The Prince of Tennis has garnered a very large fanbase however and has spawned sequel series, spin-off series, live action series, musicals, and more.

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08
of 09

Princess Nine

Princess 9
Princess 9.

Think of this as A League of Their Own for Japan, albeit in a more serious vein than that comedy. The mere fact that this is about a female baseball team soon takes backseat to the way the girls all try to be part of that team, which is far more interesting. I liked how each contributes skills that aren't always obvious (e.g., their catcher is a failed judo wrestler). The one rough spot may be the ending, which has all the subtlety of a door slammed on the toes, but the ride there is still well worth taking.

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09
of 09

Slam Dunk

Slam Dunk
Slam Dunk.

It's known in the West mostly through its manga incarnation, but Slam Dunk's popularity abroad -- not just in its native Japan, but throughout Asia generally -- is too big to allow it to be left off this list. This story of a ne'er-do-well who takes up basketball to impress the right girl, only to find he's pushed to excel at the sport for real, fits right in with the general aesthetic of most sports / competition anime. Only a few volumes were issued domestically on DVD by Geneon, but the show has returned in its entirety via streaming services such as Crunchyroll.

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