If a good percentage of fans were to tell you what the number one appeal to anime is, it would most likely be the action. The action in Japanese anime probably best expresses how creative it is compared to other nation’s animated programs. Maybe due to the fact that Japan has martial arts in its culture, they have a different mindset in how to express that in art. For many fans, Dragon Ball Z is probably the pinnacle of expressing fights in anime. It’s fast, powerful, dramatic, explosive, and full of danger. For older fans, they probably look to Hokuto no Ken, where exploding bodies and gruesome violence tends to dominate in that respective series. But beyond these two classic titles, what other anime titles best express mono-e-mono fights? Read our selections to find out!
10. Ushio Hinomaru vs. Kunisaki Chiharu from Hinomaru Zumou
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 5, 2018 - Ongoing
Despite sumo wrestling being a national sport in Japan and with all the sports anime that are out there, very little do we get to see anime based around sumo. However, Hinomaru Zumou has finally debuted to fill in that long overdue void. In case you didn’t know, a select number of high schools in Japan do have sumo wrestling teams and this anime is here to educate non-Japanese viewers on that. In the second episode, Hinomaru faces Chiharu, an amateur wrestler, in a grappling match to prove which style is superior. Due to the sumo philosophy where if one falls, it’s a loss, Hinomaru uses the balance training of sumo to defend the takedowns of Chiharu.
This fight perfectly demonstrates how these fighting styles contrast with sumo being a standing oriented form of wrestling that emphasizes on attacking above the waist, and with amateu wrestling being ground oriented and attacking below the waist. It’s a rather quick fight, but not only does this fight demonstrate the physical differences between these sports, but their cultural/philosophical differences as well. Wrestling is about training the body to the max, while sumo is also about training the mind and because of Hinomaru’s stronger mentality, he wins this challenge with ease while demonstrating that sumo is about balance between the body and mind, and how to equally use defense and offense at the same time to defeat their opponent.
9. Kenichi Shirahama vs. Ryuuto Asamiya from Shijou Saikyou no Denshi Kenichi (Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple)
- Episodes: 50
- Aired: October 7, 2006 – September 30, 2007
Some can reasonably argue that ki or other elemental oriented attacks in anime are overused and that fights should be purely hand-to-hand. If there is any anime that can fill in that gap, it would without a doubt be Shijou Saikyou No Deshi Kenichi. What’s great about this anime is that it’s old school MMA of where a practitioner of one martial art fights another, but in order to be the best, you have to cross train, and that’s what Kenichi does. However, Kenichi has his greatest test against Odin, the leader of Ragnarok, a gang of teenage martial artists. To make things more surprising, Odin happens to be Ryuuto, Kenichi’s childhood friend, who is also cross trained in various styles.
As the fight begins, they are on equal footing as they can’t land their initial punches on each other. However, Ryuuto’s superior use of defense, or his Seikuuken, gets him into his rhythm and immediately allows him to follow up with his offense. Kenichi initially tries to fight using techniques he personally specializes in but fails to initiate any rhythm. When Ryuuto was at the brink of victory, as opposed to using the techniques he uses as himself, Kenichi purposely snaps and assumes the personas of his masters in order to throw Ryuuto off his game and create his own rhythm. Not only does he assume their personas, he assumes how they execute the techniques of their fighting styles. Thanks to this change in game plan, Ryuuto is unable to read Kenichi’s erratic fighting rhythm, thus losing the ability to effectively use his Seikuuken, and Kenichi comes out on top. This fight is an amazing addition to this list because in order to win a fight, it demonstrates that you need to know all kinds of fighting styles for certain situations.
8. Kenshin Himura vs. Hajime Saitou from Rurouni Kenshin
- Episodes: 94
- Aired: January 10, 1996 – September 8, 1998
While most of our fights listed here are hand-to-hand oriented, this addition is a notable exception since it’s a sword duel between two long lost rivals from the Boushin War - Kenshin Himura and Hajime Saitou. After 10 years, fate brings them back together and they duel in Kaoru’s kenjutsu dojo in the dark. If you want to know why Kenshin doesn’t want to revert to his Battousai persona (only as a last resort), this fight pretty much shows why. Saitou is virtually Kenshin’s equal as a swordsman and in order to fight on equal terms, Kenshin has to revert to fighting with his killer instincts.
The fights in Rurouni Kenshin are exciting as they are technical. Saitou and Kenshin aren’t just swinging swords, they are performing techniques they mastered to maximum efficiency. The battle demonstrates that proper grip, footwork, and posture is necessary in order to master the art of the sword. Their duel also portrays they have history since they show familiarity with each other’s fighting styles and manage to find counters to techniques they are familiar with. Since they haven’t fought in 10 years, they do show some surprises to keep things fresh. As the fight progresses, they were about to decide a winner but thanks to the interference of an influential politician, they end their duel and continue their relationship as reluctant allies.
7. All Might vs. All For One from Boku no Hero Academia
- Episodes: 63+
- Aired: April 3, 2016 – Ongoing
If there is one villain that can match All Might, the world’s greatest hero, it would have to be their leader, All For One. As a matter of fact, it was All For One that caused All Might’s injury that would limit the use of his quirk as he aged. As for All For One’s quirk, it allows him to steal other people’s quirks and make them his own, which makes him equal to All Might in terms of raw strength with all the quirks he has acquired. After kidnapping Bakugo, they duel one more time to settle their rivalry once and for all. What makes this fight unique is how it’s a fight of brain vs. brawn. All Might tends to rely on brute strength (whatever he has left), while All For One utilizes psychological tactics such as trash talking to get into his head and throw him off his game.
Due to All Might progressively losing his strength, he has to approach strategically upon the start of the fight, but after seeing how he can’t gain any offensive advantage, and knowing how the people of his city and his students are at risk, he throws caution into the wind and uses the last fraction of his remaining strength to go for the knock out with the United States of Smash to gain the victory and bring All For One to justice.
6. Joe vs. Yuri from Megalo Box
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 6, 2018 – June 29, 2018
Joe and Yuri have a rivalry that appropriately mirrors that of Joe and Rikiishi from the original Ashita no Joe series, which Megalo Box is a steampunk remake of. They initially have a hostile relationship, but as they get to know each other, they begin to respect one another and still maintain their rivalry on friendlier terms. In comparison to many fights on this list, this fight is more about respect. Though Yuri makes easy work of Joe at the start of the series in an underground boxing match, he acknowledges that he has the potential to be more than what he shows, and is willing to give him a rematch when the time is right. After Joe climbs through the rankings and makes it to the finals of the Megalomania tournament, he can settle the score with Yuri.
However, Yuri wants to show his respect for Joe by removing his augmented gear to fight him on equal terms, and prove that it’s skill and will, and not technology, which makes a champion. Yuri goes through a life-risking medical procedure at the cost of his health in order to remove the gear from his body, and doesn’t let that sacrifice go to waste when he enters the ring. When you see these two fight, you see what it means to put in hard work and make sacrifices just so you can have your moment of glory not for the spotlight or the money, but for yourself. You see Joe and Yuri give their 100% not out of some hatred, but out of respect for each other as fighters and as men. Then when it’s all said and done, you make no excuses, admit you gave it your all, and acknowledge the winner as the better man.
5. Doyle vs Katsumi Orochi from Baki
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: June 25, 2018 – December 17, 2018
Like Kenichi, Baki has a reputation of being a pure fighting anime but on steroids (and we’re talking about the steroids you get in Russia and/or Mexico). With this edition of Baki exclusive to Netflix, fans are going to get fights that redefine brutality and insanity. It makes the most hardcore Japanese Pro Wrestling matches look like a G movie. If there is any fight in this series that takes hand-to-hand fights to a whole new level, it would be Doyle vs. Katsumi. They fight a handful of times throughout this series and no matter what, neither man wants to give in until one contests. They don’t want to settle it with a knock out, they want this to be an I Quit match meaning one has to verbally admit defeat.
Prior to their fight, Doyle and his other prisoners were humiliating black belts of the Shinshinkai Karate organization with a nasty combination of their brute strength, fighting abilities, and cheap tactics. However, Katsumi, the heir to the Shinshinkai, can’t take it anymore and wants to settle it with Doyle. This is a fight where it progresses to a very strange level where every time Katsumi manages to knock out Doyle, he waits for him to wake up just so he can hear him admit he lost. When he doesn’t, he knocks him out again and it goes to a point where he shatters his face. No longer willing to further break Doyle, Katsumi decides to admit defeat for moral reasons.
Shortly after, Doyle and Katsumi start to show respect for one another and Katsumi allows him safe passage to leave Japan and gives him a few tips in Karate. What makes this fight unique is not the brutality, but it shows how stubborn fighters and men truly are. Some like to say that in martial arts, you have to leave your ego at the door as it should be. However, some masters dispute that shouldn’t be taught because it’s our ego that drives us to do things. If this fight teaches us anything, it is ok for martial artists to have ego, but it shouldn’t let them cross a certain line.
4. Son Gokuu vs. Android 17 from Dragon Ball Super
- Episodes: 131
- Aired: July 5, 2015 – March 25, 2018
Unfortunately, we never got to see Gokuu fight the main Androids in Dragon Ball Z, let alone meet them (he didn’t meet 18 until much later). 20 years later, Dragon Ball Super gives fans the opportunity to introduce Gokuu to 17, and test their skills against each other. Throughout Dragon Ball Super, the fights tend to be team oriented, and Gokuu’s fight with 17 gives us a chance to see a one-on-one fight. Without counting GT, this is the first time we get to see 17 back in action as well. Though it’s more of a sparring match as opposed to a serious fight, it offers everything fans could love - fast pace action, fist and leg collisions that cause tidal waves, and other geological anomalies as result of every blow that connects. We see how this fight could have gone done 20 years ago but this time, on friendlier terms. This fight is complimented by a beautiful sunset foreshadowing the true fight to come and what we’re seeing is only the beginning. You get a foundational portrayal of how powerful both characters are and if the fight were serious, not only was somebody going to die, but probably shatter a continent.
3. Mamoru Takamura vs. Brian Hawk from Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 7, 2009 – July 1, 2009
For most of Takamura’s boxing career, his biggest challenge wasn’t always the opponent in the ring (he usually tends to knock his opponents out in the first round), but making weight. Cutting weight was still a challenge prior to his fight with Hawk, but he was not going to be a walk in the park like his previous opponents. Hawk is the champ for a reason, and he demonstrates that in his fight with Takamura. Hawk not only has raw power, but a strange sense of reflexes and an unorthodox style that throws caution to the wind. As you watch this display of desperation, rage, and guts blow for blow, you are going to be amazed how an anime that concentrates mostly on a sport limited to punching can be just as entertaining, or even more so than a fight that relies on fireballs or anything that violates the laws of nature or physics.
Yes, a belt is on the line, but as you watch this fight, there is much more to it. It’s a fight about pride for their nations, and for themselves as men. Every punch they throw at each other, it’s not just with bad intentions, but with their worst. Every swing they throws, try to imagine them throwing the kitchen sink and that’s how intense this fight is. And whoever was going to lose, sure they’re going to live, but they would leave a ring a broken man never to be fixed again.
2. Chun Li Vs. Vega from Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
- Episodes: 1 (feature film)
- Aired: August 6, 1994
The original Street Fighter game may have popularized ki attacks in fighting games but throughout the anime movie, you don’t get to see many of them. Thanks to the supervision of Kyokushin Karate and K-1 Champion Andy Hug and K-1 and Seidokaikan Karate founder Kazuyoshi Ishii, they emphasize more on actual martial arts techniques as opposed to spamming hadoukens or sonic booms. If any fight best emphasizes that quality, it would certainly be Chun Li Vs. Vega. Vega is sent to eliminate Chun Li, but Chun Li isn’t going to have it as she fights for her life.
Vega initially uses his size to his advantage to claw up Chun Li, but with her superior speed and agility, finds ways to gain the advantage. She mostly fights on the defensive end even demonstrates brute strength by throwing a sofa at him. Thanks to an adrenaline rush, Chun Li finds the strength to win and drop kick Vega through the wall for him to plummet down to his death. What’s exciting about this fight is that it’s fast paced, and audiences can feel the intensity of Chun Li’s life is on the line. You get an excellent demonstration of pure martial arts action in anime with a smaller fighter like Chun Li, against a bigger opponent such as Vega. Many say martial arts was developed for a smaller opponent to defeat a bigger and stronger one, and if any anime fight can prove that, it is most certainly this one.
1. Jotaro Kujo Vs. Dio Brando from JoJo no Kimyou Na Bouken (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
- Episodes: 119+
- Aired: October 6, 2012 - Ongoing
To top our list, we have a classic, Dio vs. Jotaro from the third arc to Hirohiko Araki’s epic saga. JoJo has always been reputable for its fights, and if any man-to-man fight can be considered the best in the history of both anime and manga (something you can say equates to the Thrilla in Manila in boxing), it would be without a doubt this one. Throughout the streets of Cairo, Jotaro and Dio fight to the death with everything on the line, and that’s the foundation to what makes this a great fight. It may not be as technical as Chun Li Vs. Vega, but it is certainly deadlier and more exciting! Every punch or kick they throw at each other is more than just the kitchen sink, you literally get street rollers! The fight is not only impacting, but ultraviolet to excite and scare viewers at the same time.
Dio approaches this fight like he doesn’t give a care about anything, and is willing to kill innocents in the process. He’s practically enjoying it by throwing knives at people when he freezes time! Jotaro is doing all he can to find a way to figure out the mystery to Dio’s Stand ability, and as the fight progresses, he finds clever ways to play mind games with Dio. The fight isn’t about brute strength or who has the biggest balls, but who has the biggest brains as well.
Whenever Dio freezes time, Jotaro manages to find ways to psyche Dio out by hiding magnets in his coat so he can still move when Dio approaches him, and throw him off his game plan. After fighting throughout the city and causing major damage, Jotaro focuses all of his rage into one single overhand punch, stops Dio’s incoming kick, and finally destroys him once and for all. Though Bruce Lee once said we need emotional content, not anger, Jotaro claims the reason why he won is because he made him angry. So, maybe there are some exceptions to such rules.
Last, we would like to make some honorable mentions to Kenshiro vs Raoh from Hokuto no Ken, Rock Lee vs Gaara from Naruto, Ranma vs Ryoga in Ranma ½, and Joe Yabuki vs. Jose Mendoza from Ashita no Joe 2. In addition, Bruce Lee also said in Enter the Dragon that a good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously, and that famous line mostly contributes to how the criteria to this list was made. In contradiction to what was shared earlier, emotional content and anger are also necessary in a fight, especially in context to fighting in entertainment. We picked these fights because not only do they have emotional content, but tend to be small and serious plays. Yes, some have humor like in a Jackie Chan movie, but humor can be an emotion and essentially, so is anger. Since we can feel the emotions and motivations to these fights, we can appreciate them more beyond their visual appeals.
So, what are some fights you think we missed that are like a small play, but played seriously, and with emotional content? Please share your thoughts in the comments!