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The 6 best sports anime shows to watch to get you in the competitive spirit

We can win with the power of friendship.

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Sports anime are a wonderful thing. They’re usually some of the most wholesome shows you’ll find, telling stories steeped in friendship, the value of hard work, and healthy competition. The key to them, though, is how seriously they take the sports in them. In a good sports anime, these aren’t just games – they’re the most crucial moments in people’s lives.

The best sports anime of all time embrace this trope without embarrassment. The drama and joy of these shows come from convincing the audience that these moments matter. The shows on this list understand that. In the competitive field of sports anime, these are our favorites.

Haikyuu!!

Haikyuu!! Dumpster Battle screenshot
Image credit: Production I.G

Who knew so many people would fall in love with volleyball? Haikyuu!! captured everyone’s hearts when it first debuted back in 2014. It follows Shoyo Hinata, a short but athletically talented volleyball player with ambitions far bigger than his stature. His wholesome dedication to the sport is what makes this one of the best sports anime ever while Hinata manages to overcome his limitations and become a force on the court. The hype around it has been big enough to see its 2024 film, Decisive Battle at the Garbage Dump, setting records at the Japanese box office.

Slam Dunk

The First Slam Dunk screenshot
Image credit: Toei Animation

More than 30 years later, the Slam Dunk anime remains just as iconic as the day it was first released. This sports anime created many of the tropes that have become standard in the genre, including a healthy mixture of comedy with the drama on the court. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a high school delinquent who discovers his passion when he joins the Shohoku High School basketball team. His natural athleticism and stubborn determination help him drive the team from obscurity onto the national stage.

Free!

Free! anime screenshot
Image credit: Kyoto Animation

Swimming might seem like more of a solo sport, but Free! shows that simply the act of training together can build the kind of relationships that make sports anime thrive. Along with the three seasons of the anime, there have been multiple films that continued and concluded the story of the Iwatobi High School Swim Team. This show honestly has everything you could want in a sports anime – rivalry, self-discovery, and copious amounts of beautifully animated young men.

Blue Lock

Blue Lock screenshot
Image credit: Eight Bit

This soccer anime is all about competition and what it drives people to do. Rather than focusing on a tournament or match, Blue Lock looks at the intense training that top-level athletes undergo and turns it to 11. There are elements of absurdity here, but it is played so straight that it works within the world the show creates. With the Blue Lock: Episode Nagi film and the second season of the anime set to release in 2024, it is a good time to get caught up.

Yuri!!! on Ice

Yuri!!! on Ice screenshot
Image credit: MAPPA

We didn’t expect to fall in love with a figure skating anime, but here we are. Yuri!!! on Ice is the show that put MAPPA on the map before they went on to animate Attack on Titan, Chainsaw Man, and Jujutsu Kaisen, and you can see their fingerprints all over this show. The skating is lovingly animated and the music has become iconic. It is a shame we’ll never get the long-promised movie, but that shouldn’t stop you from watching and loving this show.

Chihayafuru

Chihayafuru screenshot
Image credit: Madhouse

Not all sports anime need to be about athletes. Chihayafuru embodies everything that makes a great sports anime – the competition, the drama, the sport being the most important thing in the players’ lives – and applies it to competitive karuta, a Japanese card game. Just because they’re not running and jumping around doesn’t mean the stakes to each match Chihaya plays in. This anime was so popular it actually boosted the popularity of karuta across Japan when it came out in 2011.


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