This year’s Olympic Games are a bit of a mess, and there have been numerous calls for boycotts, particularly to support athletes of color like Sha’Carri Richardson, who was suspended for one month for smoking marijuana in a state where it’s legal. There’s also the fact that holding an international competition while still in the grip of a serious global pandemic is completely irresponsible, and there has already been a positive test at Olympic Village, with at least three athletes testing positive just days before the start of the games. Toyota has pulled all of its Olympic-related ads in host country Japan. With that in mind, I’d like to present this list of 20 sports anime to watch instead of the Olympics.
Now, please understand, I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. Every two years I get hyped up to spend weeks immersing myself in sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving, figure skating, and snowboarding. The Tokyo Olympics being postponed was one of the things that upset me most about the pandemic, even though I completely understand why it happened. Still, with everything that’s swirling around, these games seem cursed. So maybe this year, it will be better to just sink into a good sports anime, where you’re 95% sure of the outcome.
This list was compiled using the official list of summer Olympic sports, MyAnimeList, and Wikipedia. I have not seen every anime on this list, so the inclusion of a particular title is not necessarily a recommendation.
Summary: Despite her great potential, Ayano Hanesaki would rather avoid badminton than play it. But, when she meets Nagisa Aragaki, a third year who spends every waking moment perfecting her game, she’s inspired. Encouraged by their coach, Tachibana Kentarou, Ayano and Nagisa will hit the court and rally against opponents and rivals with amazing skills! (Crunchyroll)
Hanebado is an anomaly primarily for the fact that this is a sports anime that centers around girls, which is not exactly rare but also not that common. (Although there are multiple on this list. Go, ladies!) Badminton was probably the one sport I actually didn’t mind being forced to play in gym class, and I loved it. Anyway, Hanebado focuses on some of the downsides of competitive sports, like shady tactics, aggressive coaching, and arrogant players who look down on their opponents. But it’s also about wanting to do something for yourself and not for others. I really enjoyed this show.
Ace of the Diamond (baseball)
Summary: Eijun Sawamura finally makes his first appearance at the spring invitational! He wants to restore Seido’s reputation as a first-rate team and make them national champions! Seido High School Baseball Club’s new run is about to begin! (Crunchyroll)
I’ll admit that I haven’t been able to get into this one, and have so far only made it about a third of the way through the first season. It is insanely popular, though, and I do love baseball, so I will eventually give this one another shot.
Big Windup (baseball)
Summary: Mediocre pitcher Mihashi gets a fresh start at a new school with teammates who don’t know how bad he used to be. (Funimation)
I haven’t seen this show. I just really like baseball.
Summary: Pitcher Yomi Takeda has a new shot at baseball after reuniting with her childhood friend and catcher, Tamaki. It’s time to bring the heat! (Funimation)
It’s on my to-watch list because a) baseball and b) girls playing baseball!
Kuroko’s Basketball (basketball)
Summary: An up-and-coming power player, Taiga Kagami, is just back from America. When he comes to Seirin High School, he meets the super-ordinary boy, Tetsuya Kuroko. Kagami is shocked to find that Kuroko isn’t good at basketball, in fact, he’s bad! And he’s so plain that he’s impossible to see. But Kuroko’s plainness lets him pass the ball around without the other team noticing him, and he’s none other than the sixth member of the Miracle Generation. (Crunchyroll)
I’m not going to lie, there are other anime about basketball that are more realistic than this one, which has multiple players with completely impossible skills. But I haven’t seen those ones, and I’ve seen this one, and I love it so much it’s ridiculous. After watching the entire series, I went back and read the entire manga. I have no idea what it is about this series that got me so hard, but it has always hit me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Plus, I could relate to the whole “drifting away from your childhood friends” plot.
Harukana Receive (beach volleyball)
Summary: Oozora Haruka is a high school second-year who’s just moved to Okinawa. Haruka is generally cheerful and optimistic, but there’s one thing she feels insecure about: she’s taller than most other girls. Higa Kanata, her cousin of the same age who meets her at the airport, also has one hang-up: she had to quit her beloved beach volleyball in the past because she was too short. Through some twist of fate, these mismatched cousins find themselves paired up as a beach volleyball team. How will this duo play together in a sport where the presence of one’s teammate is more important than anything?! (Crunchyroll)
Another one I haven’t seen, but is definitely on the to-watch list because I love beach volleyball and I am really excited to watch more sports anime with girls.
Yowamushi Pedal (cycling)
Summary: Onoda Sakamichi is a rather timid, anime-loving first-year student at Sohoku High School. Upon entering high school, he tried to join the anime research club, but after meeting Imaizumi Shunsuke, a renowned cyclist since middle school, and Naruko Shoukichi, who swept the Kansai cycling championship, he ended up joining the competitive cycling club. (Crunchyroll)
I haven’t seen this anime yet, but it is on the list, and a friend whose taste I trust really likes it, so I’m excited to check it out.
Summary: Tomoki Sakai is 14 years old, and he’s been dedicated to diving since he was a child. It all began when he met Yoichi Fujitani, a genius diver three years his senior. Tomoki and his friends attend the Mizuki Diving Club, but their new coach Kayoko Asaki says the club will close if it doesn’t produce an Olympian. And so begins their fight as they lay everything on the line for a single moment! (Prime Video)
Dive!! is one of the few anime on this list that actually talks about the Olympics (as far as I’m aware – remember, I haven’t seen all of them). While this isn’t my favorite anime, I did enjoy it, because there is a focus on how friendships can change when you no longer have the same interests in common and the importance of being honest in romantic relationships.
Summary: With no skills or outstanding features, one boy hides a passionate heart, Tsukushi Tsukamoto. The other is a lonely soccer genius, Jin Kazama. The winds of change begin to blow in the world of high school soccer as these two boys with nothing in common come together. The curtain on this hot-blooded, touching story is rising… (Crunchyroll)
Sorry, this is another one I haven’t seen, although it is on my list, and I like the voice cast.
Farewell, My Dear Cramer (football)
Summary: Onda Nozomi has been playing soccer with boys since she was a child. Despite practicing harder and being better than anyone else, once she enters middle school, she hits a wall. “Physical difference” ─In a sport like soccer where athletes sometimes violently collide, it becomes a reason for the boys to be separated from the girls. Nonetheless, Nozomi doesn’t give up! She rejects the words “because she’s a girl” so that she can continue to play her favorite sport with her friends. Nozomi is about to become a soccer star who captures everyone’s attention! (Crunchyroll)
Another anime on my list that I haven’t gotten to yet, I’m excited about this one because I will never not be a fan of a story where a girl is out to prove she can be just as good as a boy at something stereotypically male. (This counts double because the US women’s soccer team is so much better than the men but don’t get the recognition – or the pay.)
The Gymnastics Samurai (gymnastics – artistic)
Summary: Jotaro Aragaki, former member of the national team, had given his whole life for gymnastics. However, things change one day… (Funimation)
Gymnastics is by far my favorite sport of the summer games. I will watch hours of the competition. I haven’t seen The Gymnastics Samurai yet, but you can bet it’s on my list.
Backflip!! (gymnastics – rhythmic)
Summary: The final summer of middle school, Shotaro Futaba discovers boys gymnastics and is completely enamored by it. Shotaro ends up going to Soshukan Private High School (aka Ao High) and decides to visit the boys gymnastics club. He’s greeted by very unique senpais and a star gymnast named Misato Ryoya. Dedicating your life to something you love during your fiery days of youth… Of course, there is frustration, and fights, but see how these boys work together as a team towards a similar goal in this drama about sports and youth. (Crunchyroll)
I still have a few episodes to go, but I am really enjoying it. I honestly had no idea that men’s rhythmic gymnastics was a thing, because I’ve only ever seen women competing, but this inspired me to look up a few videos on YouTube and, yeah, I’m a fan. This is a really great series about, unsurprisingly, an underdog team trying to prove that they can stand with the more well-established schools.
ALL OUT!! (rugby)
Summary: The day of the entrance ceremony at Kanagawa Highschool… The story starts when the slight but unyielding Gion joins the rugby team. His classmate, Iwashimizu, who can’t get into rugby because of something happening in the past, the vice-captain, Hachioji, who looks out for all of the members, and their captain, Sekizan, who is more passionate and intense than anyone… All of the members are completely different, but they all keep growing on this battlefield known as youth. Once they give it their all, the ultimate stage awaits them! (Crunchyroll)
At this point, just assume that it’s on my list. I love sports anime so that tends to be primarily what I watch, but I haven’t yet gotten to this one. I’ve heard good things, though!
SK8 the Infinity (skateboarding)
Summary: High school students Reki and Langa are hooked on a dangerous, top secret, no-holds-barred downhill skateboarding race called “S.” (Funimation)
I, like many people, became obsessed with this show when it aired earlier this year. The skateboarding in this show isn’t at all comparable to the kind of skating they do in the Olympics, but I was trying to be varied in my suggestions, and I really did enjoy this show. I think it has a great message about teamwork and found family.
Hinomaru Sumo (sumo wrestling)
Summary: The intense fight for the dream of yokozuna has begun. A new student has joined Odachi High School’s weak sumo club, the small boy Ushio Hinomaru! Although his physique seems ill-suited to a fighting sport where size and weight rule, Hinomaru has an incredible dream. He and the weak sumo club will fight their way to the top! The intense battle of high school sumo has begun! (Crunchyroll)
I know very little about this series but I figure sumo is a pretty interesting sport to make an anime about.
Wave!! Let’s go surfing! (surfing)
Summary: We’re free when we’re riding these waves! Masaki was born and raised along the Oarai Coast in Ibaraki Prefecture, where big waves hit the coast all year round. One day, he meets the prince-like transfer student Sho and learns about the ultimate sport where you face off with the world with just a single board beneath your feet: surfing. This was the beginning of the never-ending story about boys who discovered the allure of surfing. (Crunchyroll)
I am only about halfway through this series so far but am enjoying it, although I warn you that around episode 5 there is a massive, for lack of a better word, “twist” that is unexpected and kind of dark for a sports anime, which I will admit shocked me enough that it’s been hard to continue. I like the concept, though, so I know that I will eventually come back to this.
Summary: Nanase Haruka loved to be in the water – loved swimming. In elementary school, Nanase Haruka, Tachibana Makoto, Matsuoka Rin, and Hazuki Nagisa attended the same swimming class together. Time passed, and as Haruka was living an uneventful high school life, he suddenly encountered Rin again. Rin challenged Haruka to a race and showed him how much stronger he had become. Soon enough, Makoto and Nagisa also rejoined the group, and along with a new classmate, Ryugazaki Rei, they established the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club. (Crunchyroll)
If you’re surprised by this suggestion, you must be new here. One of my first anime obsessions and one of the few series on this list with an actual Olympic connection, I have been a fan of Free! for years and obviously had to put it on this list, especially with the first part of the final chapter coming out in a few months and specifically meant to tie into the Tokyo games. This show owns my heart, and though it’s probably less about swimming and more about friendship, I do enjoy how they explore different facets of athletes almost solely through Haru’s journey.
The Prince of Tennis (tennis)
Summary: Twelve-year-old tennis prodigy Ryoma Echizen takes down Sasabe, the bully, easily with his advanced tennis game. (Hulu)
This one has a nostalgia factor of a million because it came out in 2001 and is the oldest anime on this list by a lot. It’s old-school music and animation but I still really enjoyed this show (enough that I went and read the manga after) because every member of this team is ridiculous and I love it.
Summary: Based off of the original Weekly Shonen Jump manga series from Haruichi Furudate, Haikyu!! is a slice-of-life sports anime revolving around Shoyo Hinata’s love of volleyball. Inspired by a small-statured pro volleyball player, Hinata creates a volleyball team in his last year of middle school. Unfortunately the team is matched up against the “King of the Court” Tobio Kageyama’s team in their first tournament and inevitably lose. After the crushing defeat, Hinata vows to surpass Kageyama After entering high school, Hinata joins the volleyball team only to find that Tobio has also joined. (Crunchyroll)
Did you honestly think I would make a rec list of sports anime and not include my favorite anime (and manga) of all time? For shame. I love these volleyball idiots an insane amount, and this show never disappoints. A show that puts in the work to show you how the team develops, Haikyu!! also develops its opponents just as much as its core team (to the point where some of the opposing teams are more popular than Karasuno!). This is a show that highlights the importance of perseverance, dedication, teamwork, and just full-out guts. Also, while the anime isn’t there yet, the manga does have an Olympic connection.
Re-Main (water polo)
Summary: Minato Kiyomizu quit water polo after an accident left him with no memory of junior high, but a promise has him picking it back up. (Funimation)
This show only started at the beginning of this month, but I am super excited about it because I know virtually nothing about water polo but am always eager to add another sports anime to my list.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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