Similar to the previously covered mecha genre, sport anime can be a difficult genre to love. If you love sports already, you may be naturally drawn to sports anime. However, if you don’t like a particular sport, you may not be interested in this genre at all. That being said, there are many non-sports fans that do enjoy sports anime because of the stories often steeped in realism with complex characters. Furthermore, sports anime are often some of the most passion-filled motivating anime series you can find.
If you are looking to get into sports anime, the general rule of thumb is to watch one about a sport you do enjoy. However, if that can’t really be factored in, these starter sports anime recommendations are often more about just the sports themselves.
So often when you are asked by another anime fan why you don’t like sports anime, they will throw back at you, “Have you ever watched Haikyuu?” It is because this anime series has converted so many people over to the sport genre lately. It is a series about volleyball, a sport that is, well, it doesn’t have so many hardcore fans even in real life. However, while the volleyball play is beautifully animated, you keep watching because the series has a way of making you feel deeply invested in every single character. That is something that is difficult to create even in non-sports anime.
There are certainly more realistic basketball anime series out there, but there are none more fun to watch. Most characters in Kuroko’s Basketball come with some sort of special ability that isn’t supernatural per say, but unrealistic for certain. However, it is these quirks that allow them to create such a field of interesting and action-packed play. It is not just guys running back and forth with a ball, but rather this anime makes every game feel like an epic battle.
Ace of Diamond
Ace of Diamond may look like a baseball anime, but it is really a story of perseverance. The main character doesn’t just have a smooth road to the top, he suffers to get there and it really is a ride of ups and downs. What is perhaps the most impressive part of Ace of Diamond is that it really makes your feel every win and loss deeply. Its not just a minor setback, but some losses feel so heartbreaking and truly like the end of the world.
Big Windup is a baseball series, but often it doesn’t seem much like it. In fact, every game seems more like an episode of Death Note in which you watch the team be like Light and L trying to unravel each other’s plans. Considering the main character also has some psychological confidence damage, this focus works really well as it forces him to grow as a player and a character.
Rugby is a brutal sport. You expect any anime about it to be pretty brutal too, and All Out does not disappoint. Furthermore, this choice of a more manly art style works well with the sport its showcases as well. However, if watching men practically beat each other up on the field isn’t enough enticement, All Out is an excellent display of how to build a team. One of the major plot points is how they don’t really mesh as a team overall due to different styles and personalities, so in order to build that, they have to break down a lot of walls.
If I can be like, really real with you about Free, this one might just be for the ladies. A lot of Free is basically shirtless bishounen eye candy all covered in glistening water particles. There’s really nothing wrong with that, but if you aren’t watching it for wet bodies, it is excellent to watch for the complex drama-filled character relationships, which, again, might be more aimed at a female audience.
Eyeshield 21 has a bit of a bad habit about being unrealistic in its sports scenes sometimes, but while it goes over the top, anime about actual American football is rather rare. Considering that there are likely a few football fans that may actually want to watch a football anime, this is one of your better options. While it does focus on the many characters on the team, it might not give them as much spotlight as the main character, which kind of sucks.
I, personally, always have a love of anime series that tells a life-long story, and Major does that with bells on. It tells the story of the son of professional baseball player that wants to go pro. You literally follow him from little league to big league in this series, but while you are following his journey, watching him grow as a sports player and a person, you are also treated to the drama that his father is going through in the major leagues as well. Major, as a very long sports series with quite a few characters, tells many stories and all of them are stories about life.
Ping Pong The Animation
Similar to Haikyuu, Ping Pong has been a big converter of non-sports anime fans into the genre. The reason is not so much because it makes ping pong more interesting, but it shows exactly what sports anime can be. Yes, the ping pong matches are exciting to watch, but this series is almost 100% about its characters, not the actual sport.
Hajime no Ippo
There are a lot of good martial arts anime series out there. However, many of them are less about the martial arts so much as they are about just brutal bloody fighting. Hajime no Ippo, as a boxing anime,; keeps things more grounded with its story line. It’s not about a school full of delinquents that just brawl all the time, it is about a boxer who started from literally the bottom and had to climb. He fails, he triumphs, he gets badly beaten, and you want to see more.