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There’s more to anime than just fantasy, heroic adventures, slice of life, science fiction, and powerful characters fighting each other. There’s also the genre of sports. Some of the best sports anime ever done have been able to capture the excitement and tension real life championship matches and tournaments bring, with their best moments rivaling some of the best moments seen in the other genres. Considering how popular and relatable a lot of sports are to not only people in Japan but also across the world, it’s not surprising that some of the best athletes in anime are just as recognizable as the characters from anime’s other genres.
It’s difficult to try and compare athletes in different sports considering the skillsets required for each sport are different. That being said, one can have a fair idea of who the best athletes are based on how well they compare to their peers in their respective sports as well as what they were able to accomplish both individually and as part of a team. Not to mention the types of obstacles they had to overcome to succeed. Keeping all of this in mind, here are the top 10 athletes in anime.
10. Yuuri Katsuki (Yuri on Ice)
When you think of sports, you tend to think of ones such as baseball, basketball, football, or soccer, and you generally picture the athletes playing them having an intimidating appearance. You do not tend to think of ice skating, which is really only seen in the public eye during the Winter Olympics, and you definitely don’t view ice skaters as “intimidating”. That being said, it doesn’t matter what sport it is: if you possesses a talent that few others have and are able to execute that talent at the highest level, you will earn respect. That is the situation for Yuri Katsuki, a talented ice skater who is seen as the person to beat due to his skills regarding his step sequence, his spins, his jumps, and especially his stamina. While there are plenty of personal obstacles Yuuri deals with off the ice (such as his anxiety), it is his ability to overcome these difficulties in addition to his skills that earned him a spot on this list.
9. Nanase Haruka (Free!)
The main protagonist of the anime series and a vice-captain of his high school swimming club, Haruka Nasase possesses a prodigious skillset for swimming good enough for him to be considered among the best high school swimmers if not the best. The most notable aspect of Haruka’s swimming abilities comes from both his attraction to water as well as his drive: he is willing to swim anywhere and at any time. What helps Haruka develop even further as a swimmer is when he begins to truly question why he swims once he is finally beaten in a race by Rin Matsuoka, his friend who has viewed him as his toughest rival. Combine this new outlook with both his stamina and his overall water repellency, and you easily have yourself one of the best swimmers in anime.
8. Sekizan Takuya (All OUT!!)
The captain of the Kanagawa High School Rugby Club, Takuya can outlast and outmatch just about anybody. With an improving tackling ability that includes taking out those bigger than him as well as an unmatched stamina, Takuya is easily the strongest member on the team with the dedication to match. Takuya also displays great leadership skills by keeping a cool head no matter how stressful the situation yet at the same time giving off an intimidating vibe when necessary, thus keeping the balance necessary to lead. In a sport like rugby, both strength and passion are essential, and Takuya not lacking in either of these departments earned him a spot on this list.
7. Sawamura Eijun (Ace of Diamond)
A left-handed pitcher who also serves as the protagonist of the series, Sawamura serves as an example of an athlete who truly excels in both his strengths as well as his weaknesses. Sawamura can certainly throw breaking fastball pitches like no one else, and his bunting and infield defense are other key strengths to his game. However, when it comes to both hitting as well as controlling his pitches, Sawamura does have some weaknesses. Despite these weaknesses, Sawamura is able to help his team immensely, and eventually begins to learn to control his pitches more in addition to mastering the art of bunting in order to actually hit the ball (he would swing at everything and ultimately strike out almost every time). It is because of this improvement in his weaknesses in addition to excelling further at his strengths that Sawamura gets the go-ahead to be on this list.
6. Tetsuya Kuroko (Kuroko's Basketball)
The main protagonist, Kuroko is regarded as the Phantom Sixth Player of the Generation of Miracles at Teikō Junior High and is now assisting Taiga Kagami in becoming the best in Japan at basketball. Kuroko doesn’t appear to be a great basketball player at first: he isn’t very tall, he’s lacking in both speed and stamina, and his overall ball-handling skills seem mediocre. However, Kuroko excels in misdirection: his watchful eye in addition to not drawing any attention to himself allows him to be almost invisible, allowing him to both steal the ball as well as make excellent passes to his teammates, such as his Ignite Pass technique. Often times the star athlete tends to take center stage and be noticed by everyone; Kuroko’s techniques as well as his role on the team are a testament to just the opposite, and definitely high enough to be placed on this list.
5. Ippo Makunouchi (Hajime No Ippo)
A featherweight boxer from the Kamogawa Boxing Gym, Ippo is the literal definition of underdog. No special skills, abilities, or key instincts…just plain old hard work, training, and experience are what allow Ippo to rise from a shy kid that was constantly bullied to a professional boxer that can more than hold his own in the ring. Ippo is able to hone his punches and boxing style by constantly training, eventually rising to become the number one In-Fighter in Japan. It is mainly due to his work ethic that Ippo is one of anime’s greatest athletes.
4. Toua Tokuchi (One Outs)
Toua Tokuchi’s involvement in baseball is not typically what one would expect. As an extremely successful gambler in Okinawa, Tokuchi’s perception of the game is radically different. Tokuchi’s ability to seemingly read the batter’s mind allows him to throw a pitch that will seemingly come out of nowhere, taking the batter by surprise. Combined with his other abilities of controlling the amount of spins he can put on the ball and deciding the pitch at the last possible second when he’s throwing it, it soon becomes obvious to anyone watching that it’s almost impossible to get a hit off Tokuchi. Truly a skillful pitcher and an excellent athlete.
3. Hanamichi Sakuragi (Slam Dunk)
A slacker who constantly gets into fights along with his friends, Sakuragi only joins his high school basketball team at first at the encouragement of a girl he really likes. At first it seems that Sakuragi can’t keep up with the rest of the team despite possessing a great height, athleticism, stamina, speed, and leaping ability. Within a span of 4 months, however, Sakuragi becomes a full-fledged basketball player that has come to truly appreciate the game. Arguably anime’s best basketball player, Sakuragi finds his niche in rebounding, becoming known as the “King of Rebounds.” Utilizing this skill in conjunction with his already great strength and speed, Sakuragi becomes a force to be reckoned with, and easily one of anime’s top athletes.
2. Ryoma Echizen (Prince of Tennis)
A prodigy in tennis by the age of 12, Ryoma easily makes this list due to the amount of accomplishments he has made at such a young age in addition to the amount of potential he has down the line. Ryoma is a formidable opponent not only due to being an all-rounder tennis player (using techniques from a variety of styles), but also being ambidextrous as well as copying new techniques almost immediately after seeing them. To possess the abilities to do this at such a young age as well as the drive to improve is phenomenal. The only weaknesses in Ryoma’s tennis game seem to only apply when he is playing doubles, as he mainly focuses on singles. That being said, Ryoma is certainly one of anime’s best athletes if not arguably the best.
1. Sena Kobayakawa (Eyeshield 21)
The running back for the Deimon Devil Bats and the anime’s protagonist, Sena was just a timid kid who was forced by bullies at a young age to do their bidding, thus slowly developing an incredible running speed. As a result, Sena is forcefully recruited by Yoichi Hiruma to join the team, thus showing the world a sprinting speed that no one else can come even close to replicating. But the key as to why Sena is an incredible athlete is his constant improvement game after game as he slowly learns the rules of football as well as the strategies needed to overcome stronger and more experienced teams. As a result, Sena begins using his gift to develop his own moves and slowly become a multi-dimensional threat for the Devil Bats. It is this combination of both a natural gift as well as hard work that Sena takes the #1 spot.
One of the greatest things about sports is debating. Which team is the best? How would you rank the athletes? What aspect of the sport do you consider the most important? Obviously there will rarely be a strong enough answer that most people will overwhelmingly agree with, but that’s yet another aspect of what makes sports so enjoyable to both watch and play. These 10 athletes have certainly proven themselves to be among the best. But what are your guys’ thoughts? Should someone else have been #1? Who’s missing from this list that you feel should be on it? Should there have been some female athletes included? Let us know in the comments!