15 Best Fitness & Sports Anime Of All Time

15 Best Fitness & Sports Anime Of All Time

15 Best Fitness & Sports Anime Of All Time

Sports and anime may not seem intrinsically linked, but here are some quality anime series that'll have fans getting into the fitness spirit.

Sports are an important part of any society and can inspire tremendous works of art, which is why it's no surprise that the best fitness and sports anime stand as titans of the medium. More than just a niche, the history of sports anime is heavily tied into the history of the medium in general. Series that grow popular enough have gone on to be huge influences even outside of their genre.

Unlike most feature films and live-action TV shows, these all-time best sports anime series may not always be grounded in reality, but, because the medium brings a whole new quirky twist to sports, these shows can often be as entertaining as some of the best athlete biopics—if not more so. On that note, from traditional uplifting dramas to genre-bending sports comedies, even those utterly uninterested in sports may find something of interest.

15 How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?

Since How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift is a more adult anime that thrives on fan service and distinctly anime feel-good humor, it may not be everyone's taste. But, for anyone who has been in the pursuit of bodybuilding or regular fitness, the comedic stylings of this one are enough to entertain. The central character of the series is gluttonous high schooler Hibiki Sakura. When her expanding waistline begins to concern her, she decides to turn her life around and joins a gym—but she must conquer insurmountable and often hilarious odds to stick to her fitness journey.

14 Eyeshield 21

American football isn't particularly popular in Japan, though it may surprise some to discover that the country actually does have a professional league for the sport known as the X-League. American football was also represented briefly through the relatively short-lived anime series Eyeshield 21. When the timid Sona Kobayakawa develops a hidden talent for running and evasion after years of eluding school bullies, he anonymously joins an American football team while wearing a face-concealing visor and going by the moniker Eyeshield 21. Its unique hook and compelling cast of characters undeniably mark it as one of the best sports anime ever.

13 Yowamushi Pedal

Yowamushi Pedal's Sakamichi Onda is a high school otaku whose interests do not exceed the bounds of anime and general nerd culture. However, when a famous cyclist and fellow student happens to discover Sakamichi's surprising prowess on his bulky, beach cruiser-like bike, he's roped into the world of cycling. A series about coming out of one's shell and discovering new passions and interests as much as it is about cycling, Yowamushi Pedal adds quite a bit of personality and intrigue to a sport that isn't often covered in most media.

12 Prince Of Tennis

Premiering back in the mid-aughts, Prince of Tennis drifts away from the typical sports anime narrative. Instead of focusing on an underdog character, it tells the story of a star player, Ryouma Echizen. The young boy joins the Seishun Gakuen Junior High School after moving to Japan from the West. With his presence, the team becomes a force to be reckoned with. However, despite being a great player, Ryouma wishes to become the finest tennis player in Japan and create his own legacy instead of living under his father's shadow.

11 Chihayafuru

Spanning over several seasons and OVAs, Chihayafuru has an intriguing card game called Karuta at its fore. Both physically and mentally demanding, the game draws its inspiration from the classic Japanese anthology of Hundred Poets. The main protagonist of the series, Chihaya, first comes across this game when she meets transfer student Arata Wataya.

It's this fateful encounter that changes her life for the better and introduces her to the fascinating world of competitive Karuta. Adapted from the manga of the same name, the storyline of Chihayafuru is replete with well-developed characters and plot points. Madhouse Studio's stellar work with the show's animation is a bonus that ranks it among the greatest sports anime ever.

10 Major

A long-running baseball-centric anime that originally debuted in 2004, Major follows the career of Goro Honda, the son of a prominent baseball star whose career was sidelined by injury. Out to overcome adversity and escape the woes brought upon him by familial drama, Goro goes from an innocent schoolboy to a promising major-league prospect. As is the case with any anime series, it's full of emotion, suspense, and hyperbolic over-exaggeration. Yet, baseball is a hugely important sport in Japan, and even Western fans will want to check out this genre-defining sports anime.

9 Run The Wind

Unlike most anime that are adapted from manga, Run with the Wind is a novel adaptation. As its title suggests, the show is about competitive running. But, along with the generic narrative surrounding the progress of its main characters in their sport, it also delves deep into the mental catharsis of its protagonist, Haiji. Despite having a high school team full of novice runners, Haiji sets his eyes on the ridiculously hard university marathon relay races in Japan. Winning aside, to even be able to compete against Japan's best runners, the team will have to surpass many hurdles along the way.

8 Ace of Diamond

Ace of Diamond tells the story of Eijun Sawamura, a young pitcher who develops a reputation thanks to his atypical style. Ambitious and somewhat over-eager, his middle school team loses their final game, but Eijun campaigns to become an even stronger high school athlete. Eijun's skills land him a spot at Japan's notorious Seidous High School, though he's fraught with competition from both competing teams and fellow teammates. While it follows many familiar shounen sports anime story beats, it's definitely one anime fans who also happen to watch baseball need to check out.

7 Kuroko’s Basketball

The quick-paced quarters, the dramatic time-outs, the high-intensity action—the sport of basketball has all the right ingredients to make up a taut and enticing anime series. That explains why so many shows use the sport as a narrative device. While Kuroko’s Basketball does the same, it adds a layer of fantasticism to the sport. There's a whole lot of unrealistic dunking, passing, and martial arts-centric action. Viewers looking for strategic gameplay and lessons on real-life basketball may not get much out of this, but, for fans of shounen anime, this one perfectly fits the bill.

6 Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Some viewers might scoff at Free!'s intensive fan service, but there's a lot more to the anime than just the good looks of its heroes. The series' character are its real heart, all of whom get relatively balanced development throughout its runtime. Despite having a fairly predictable premise, Free! keeps viewers intrigued with its high-octane swimming competitions and rivalries. Not to mention, since KyoAni is behind the anime's production, both the style and quality of its animation make it one of the best-looking sports anime ever.

5 Yawara!

Old but gold, Yawara! features the titular teen Yawara Inokuma, a young Judo prodigy who is being raised by her grandfather, who also happens to be a highly skilled Judo instructor. Faced with the pressures of competing for a spot in the 1992 Summer Olympics, Yawara must train relentlessly to meet the demands placed upon her by her grandfather, though she only wants to live a normal life free from hardcore athletics. Ultimately, Yawara learns to harness her innate talent and attains a new appreciation for the sport, though it takes her time. it's a seminal sports anime that's recognized by many as a somewhat-overlooked anime gem.

4 Haikyuu

Haikyuu is among the most popular anime of the modern era, and it more than earns its incredible popularity. While its central premise rests on the volleyball adventures of a pint-sized protagonist named Hinata, the anime intricately explores the backstories of all its characters and never leaves a dull moment. Its on-court volleyball action is exciting enough to keep most viewers glued to it. But, more than that, it's the characters of this anime that allow it to rise above other generic sports outings that have been overtaking the genre.

3 Yuri!!! On Ice

The expert depictions of the delicate, beautiful art of ice skating already make Yuri!!! On Ice a standout series. However, when it comes to its plot, it's hard not to be captivated by its subtle and scintillating romantic developments. Created by MAPPA Studio, Yuri!!! On Ice focuses on Yuuri Katsuki, a once-renowned figure skater who struggles to hold on to the sport after losing his peak form. But, with a twist of fate, one of his previous performances goes viral, and five-time world champion Victor Nikiforov shows up at his door to mentor him. His journey back to the world stage may not be easy, but, with Victor's support, he might just make it.

2 Slam Dunk

Slam Dunk is a classic. As remembered by Sports Illustrated, when it first premiered, it had a massive impact on Japanese culture and served to popularize the sport in the country. What makes Slam Dunk such an epic anime is how it seamlessly shifts back and forth between its sports-centric action and the day-to-day high school hijinks of its characters. Along with that, it also heavily focuses on the technicalities of the sport and throws in several lessons here and there for aspiring basketball players. Its animation style might seem a bit dated today, but all of the other elements easily make up for that.

1 Hajime No Ippo

Essentially the Rocky of anime, even though it follows a typical fight-of-the-week format, the boxing journey of Hajime no Ippo's main character is awe-inspiring. Another aspect of the series that makes it stand out is the predictability of its boxing matches. No matter how hard a viewer tries to foresee the outcomes of its bouts, the anime always surprises with its outcomes—much like the real sport. For anyone who's looking for some inspiration to start working out or just to turn their lives around, Ippo's road from being bullied to becoming a boxing pro deserves a shot.

Though they might not be as popular in Western fandom, sports anime is an important part of the medium's history. Classics like Hajime No Ippo and Slam Dunk are influential to all of shonen anime in general, even beyond the genre of sports shonen. The best sport and fitness anime of all time use their sports to tell deeply human stories about personal growth and developing relationships.

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