Sports anime isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea. Stereotypical sports anime series like Slam Dunk, Kuroko’s basketball, Where Haikyu!! may not appeal to those who dislike jargon-laden comments. Likewise, those viewers wouldn’t be particularly invested in the characters’ almost fanatical passion for their specific sport.
But it would be a mistake to assume that there are no sports-related anime series that non-sports anime lovers can watch and enjoy. So this is a list of series with sports elements, but different in a way that appeals to fans of other genres as well.
Anime series that transcend the sports genre
1) Sk8 infinity
The biggest difference between sk8 infinity and other sports anime is that despite maintaining all the tropes of the sports genre, it does not subscribe to any of them. Revolving around Reki, Langa and their shared passion for skateboarding, the anime introduces the grunge/punk aesthetic.
Added to this is the hippie atmosphere of an Okinawan beach town, all complemented by vibrant entertainment.
Tournaments here are illegal and clandestine events, with few rules and less morals dictating the scene. It’s just flashy tricks and win risky trails that score you points Sk8.
If it’s the highly regulated structure of high school sports and inter-school tournaments that’s holding you back from hosting sports, this one’s for you. The series has one season consisting of 12 episodes.
2) Yuri!!! on the ice
Yuri!!! on the ice would be more appropriate for an audience of 18 and over. The anime centers on a Japanese figure skater in his late twenties, Yuri Katsuki, trying to win gold in the Grand Prix Final with the help of his idol and coach, Victor Nikiforov.
Unlike sports like basketball, soccer, or volleyball, figure skating is considered feminine and often reluctantly accepted into the genre of “sports.”
Yuri!!! on the ice beautifully portrays both the artistic aspects of the sport and the rigorous training required to execute it. Although heavier in the jargon regarding figure skating techniques, the performances in this sports anime are a joy to watch. Coupled with the thematic and emotional context of the story, the series is a satisfying experience.
Yuri!!! on the ice has one season with 12 episodes and a Victor-focused spinoff movie, first announced in 2019 but with no update since 2020.
In a word, To free! is a swimming anime with lots of cute boys. The series is big on fan-service, but that doesn’t negate its history. While most mainstream sports anime is competitive and driven to win competitions, at its core, To free! is more about finding connections with old friends.
The series’ tournament arcs appear much later, and it’s not until the series’ third season that most swimmers become heavily invested in winning. The art style is thrilling and the storyline has several heartfelt moments to cater to lovers of shoujo or slice-of-life anime.
The final part of the series is explored in a two-film set premiering in Japan in October 2021 and April 2022 respectively.
4) Mars is coming like a lion
Speaking of slice of life anime, Mars is coming like a lion is a coming-of-age anime disguised as a slice-of-life series, which is again billed as a sports anime. The series follows Rei Kiriyama, a high school student who is a professional shogi player, living on his own by winning shogi matches.
The story spans the lives of three sisters who welcome her into their home and life, as well as Rei’s love-hate relationship with her adoptive sister. Rei encounters several other characters on his journey to balance his life and shogi, all of which impact him.
Mars is coming like a lion deals with themes of depression, bullying, loneliness and alienation over a span of two seasons, with shogi being a staple in Rei’s life. The art style is quirky and impressive, beautifully illustrating the emotional range of the show.
5) Run with the wind
Another sports anime with slice of life elements, Run with the wind begins with two dedicated runners and a house full of quirky college students who are roped in to form a team for the Hakone Ekiden, a marathon through the mountains of Hakone.
This sports anime explores the backstories of all of these characters, but particularly focuses on Haiji and Kakeru. On this journey, bonds are forged as its conclusion comes with cathartic joy and relief.
As the climax of the anime and the marathon itself approaches, even viewers seem to breathe a sigh of relief. Focusing more on the mental and emotional landscapes of its protagonists, Run with the wind spans one season with 23 episodes.
Tsurune is a sports anime about kyudo, which is traditional Japanese archery. It follows the trope of a high school team competing in inter-school tournaments. What sets the series apart is its incorporation of the symbolism associated with kyudo as well as the metaphors related to the different positions of limbs in a kyudo formation.
Focusing on the concept of “target panic” as well as other more relevant issues such as self-esteem, guilt and nostalgia, Tsurune is strangely poetic. The title itself is an onomatopoeia dedicated to the sound created by an arrow when shot perfectly.
The series spans one season with 13 episodes. However, a new Tsurune The film was confirmed in 2020 with a release date of 2022.
When you think of sports anime, card games aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Chihayafuru is another sports anime focusing on traditional Japanese sports like shogi and kyudo. However, the focus is on a Japanese card game called “karuta”.
Despite being a sports anime, it still falls on the radar of the josei demographic. Indeed, while dealing with Chihaya Ayase’s desire to become the best karuta player in the land, the anime also depicts themes such as self-discovery, passion, and of course, some romance.
Chihayafuru aired for 3 seasons, with around 25 episodes each season.
8) Do a somersault!!
In recent times, sports anime have started branching out into more underrated events such as rhythmic gymnastics. Another sport considered more of a women’s event, Backflip!! works against the gender stereotypes and prejudices that men’s rhythmic gymnastics face in the mainstream sports anime world.
The series has a slight Haikyu!!– esque vibe in terms of protagonist, coaches and character relationships. The series is also sometimes reminiscent of shows like Kono Oto Tomare and Mashiro no Oto.
The anime aired in 2021 for one season spanning 12 episodes. A new Backflip!! the film is slated for a spring 2022 premiere.
9) Samurai Gymnastics
Gymnastics seemed to be in fashion in 2020-2021, as the Tokyo Olympics approached. This list itself mentioned two anime based on this sport. Having said that, Samurai Gymnastics is markedly different from Backflip!! The first depicts the life of a professional Olympian athlete in the midst of a crisis, not a high school student aspiring to become a champion at the national level.
Depicting the perspective of an older protagonist with a daughter contemplating retirement from her competitive career, the show offers a fresh take on the life and motivations of an established athlete.
Featuring a large number of original characters, Samurai Gymnastics is a must-have watch for people who loved watching sports anime series like Yuri!!! On the ice, Tsurune and Run with the wind.
Samurai Gymnastics aired for one season in 2020, for 11 episodes.
The sports anime genre often incorporates tropes from several different genres such as shonen action, romance, as well as slice of life, creating something unique.
In recent times, the genre has also begun to grow, incorporating sports like volleyball, golf, and even strategic board games such as shogi. The genre is no longer limited to baseball, soccer or basketball staples.