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Though we already have a Top 10 Fighting Anime list, what makes a Top 10 Martial Arts list different? To quote 3-time UFC champion Georges St-Pierre (or GSP for short), “a fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I’m a martial artist. I don’t train for a fight. I train for myself. I’m training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection.” In addition to being a 3-time UFC champion, GSP also has black belts in Kyokushin Karate (his base martial art) and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and despite taking a hiatus, he was always training and staying in fighting shape. Taking into account his credentials, accomplishment and work ethic, we will be using his words as criteria for today’s list on what makes a top-notch martial arts anime.
10. Tenjou Tenge (Heaven and Earth)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: Apr 2, 2004 – Sept 17, 2004
Though we are kicking off this list with one of the most polarizing anime titles of all time, please allow us to state our case. While a concept of a martial arts high school may be ridiculous and not all that original, this is one of the few qualities that this series gets right. While it includes elements of early 90s delinquent titles akin to Shounan Junai Gumi, this anime teaches viewers and its cast that there is always stronger than them and a martial artist isn’t always going to be at the top of the food chain. At certain times, this trope is a means to put a practitioner in their place, in other instances, it is used as a means of motivation to rise above it.
Either way, martial arts isn’t a journey that begins or ends in high school, but a practice one dedicates their life to. For some people, that idea of obtaining perfection is living a peaceful life, or for the case of Tenjou Tenge, kicking ass and taking names, but even that has no end. While some martial arts may teach its students to avoid confrontation, there are instances where you have no choice and when you do, you better be prepared and Tenjou Tenge as a martial arts anime does a great job of portraying that.
9. Dragon Ball Super
- Episodes: 131
- Aired: Jul 5, 2015 – Mar 25, 2018
While this is a carryover from our Top 10 Fighting Anime, Dragon Ball Super has always embraced the martial arts spirit. While Goku and Vegeta are competitive by their Saiyan nature, they always seek to improve themselves for themselves and their rivalry. In this series, they get their ultimate trainer in Whis, the strongest being of their universe. In this franchise, it doesn’t matter if there is a galactic threat that needs to be stopped or a tournament to win. Goku, Vegeta, and most of the cast are always training to keep themselves in shape in their lifelong journeys to further improve themselves.
When Goku faces an opponent, while saving the universe is an effect of his victories, his primary motivation is to test himself and have fun. The fact that Goku sticks to his principles in this matter is what makes this anime appealing beyond its explosive action. He doesn’t care about fame or glory, he finds exchanging blows against a high-level opponent thrilling and that’s what makes him feel truly alive. And the fact he never uses his skills for monetary pursuits when he easily can just show how his training and dedication keep him humble.
8. Hokuto no Ken Shin Kyuuseishu Densetsu
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: Mar 11, 2006 – Oct 11, 2008
In this modern remake of this classic tale of samurai masculinity, Kenshiro does everything possible to survive a post-apocalyptic lawless world. Putting aside all of the exploding bodies caused by Kenshiro’s pressure point techniques, Hokuto no Ken does an excellent job of displaying what the martial arts is also about, protecting the weak. Though Kenshiro is driven by his own personal goals to reunite with Yuria, his true love, he is always there to protect the innocent. When he can’t, he is not afraid to shed some man tears to reflect his on his failures.
His brother, Raoh, represents a different side to the coin of a martial artist’s journey. As a conqueror, he believes in the Darwinian model of survival of the fittest and to a certain extent, he is by no means wrong. He never maliciously slaughters innocent people, and he just wants to prove his strength and that he’s the man. Martial arts to some extent is about proving your own skills to yourself, and Raoh exhibits a lot of that in his rivalry with Kenshiro. Upon losing to Kenshiro, Raoh acknowledges Ken as the true successor to Hokuto Shinken and as his brother, rises to die on his feet like a true martial artist by proclaiming he has no regrets and faces toward the sky.
7. Ranma 1/2
- Episodes: 161
- Aired: Apr 15, 1989 – Sept 25, 1992
While a large majority of Rumiko Takahashi’s titles are romantic comedies, Ranma ½ spices it up by adding in some Kung Fu Fighting. Ranma gives us the tale of how many of its cast members resolve their problems through martial arts. Just like how Mr. Miyagi can make anything into martial arts, so can Ranma ½. Though Ranma largely features traditional martial arts such as Karate, Kung Fu, and Kendo, the series goes to certain extremes by introducing rhythmic gymnastics as a martial art. Considering the agility and coordination necessary, making it a martial art is only natural.
Motivated by their rivalry, Ranma and Ryoga always work hard to find ways to improve themselves so they can defeat one another. Ranma is also motivated to prove his masculinity so he always works hard to train himself. As Ranma progresses as a martial artist, he shows discipline when he applies himself to learning new techniques, a necessary quality for dedicated martial artists. Though Ranma at times has an ego in contradiction to most martial arts teachings, considering the lineage or his instructors from his deadbeat father to his father’s panty thieving master, you can’t blame him. In the end, this anime shows that the journey of martial arts is a lifelong one where you can always improve yourself physically and spiritually.
6. Hajime no Ippo (Fighting Spirit)
- Episodes: 75
- Aired: Oct 4, 2000 – Mar 27, 2002
While it is natural for audiences to not think of boxing as a martial art primarily due to their exclusive exposure to it as a sport, Hajime no Ippo does an excellent job of showing how boxing is a martial art on the same level as Karate and Judo. As for what also contributes to the mainstream impression that boxing isn’t a martial art, it could be that when many real-life boxers today have a fight scheduled, they train for some six weeks, make weight, fight, take a few months off and party, and repeat. Heck, some fighters like Ricky Hatton and Jake LaMotta had reputations for putting on weight in their off time, which is probably why some people don’t take boxing seriously as a martial art as well. Ippo and his gym mates show that is not the case as they are always training whether they have a fight or not.
As for Ippo and his coach Kamogawa, they share a relationship that resembles Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s from the original Karate Kid movies (through Kamogawa has a lot of Mick’s gruffness from the Rocky movies). Kamogawa finds unorthodox and yet effective means to train Ippo and it leads them to victory. After Ippo finishes a fight, he doesn’t take a vacation or bloat up, he’s back in the gym the following Monday. Even when Ippo isn’t in the gym, he is always finding ways to stay in fighting shape between bouts. When he’s at home, he’s helping his family’s fishing business by carrying loads of luggage.
If anything, his assistance with his family business (along with his genetics) built the foundation for his boxing style. Not only did it build his strength, but his balance and coordination as well. If he’s not helping out at the family business, expect him to go out for a run with a few moments of shadow boxing in-between. The fact that he stays dedicated to his craft 24/7 for his own personal being shows that he is as much of a pure martial artist as Goku and GSP.
5. Street Fighter II V
- Episodes: 29
- Aired: Apr 10, 1995 – Nov 27, 1995
In this TV adaptation of the hit video game, Ken and Ryu are portrayed as teenage black belts but their world comes crumbling down when Guile makes easy work of them thanks to his superior experiences. Taking inspiration from their defeats, they go on a journey to test themselves. If martial arts is about anything, it is about controlling your ego and through the first few episodes, it certainly hit them like a bag of bricks. Martial arts teaches you how to deal with losing, and Ken and Ryu are great examples of this philosophy that applies in all parts of life.
Instead of giving up, Ken and Ryu see this as an opportunity to start from scratch and see the world. If anyone with martial arts experience knows, getting a black belt is not an end, but only the beginning. The learning never ends because martial arts evolve and change over time. In relation to their defeat to Guile, they were limited to just their training and competition experiences, and like when Bruce Lee faced a challenger in the 1960s, they learned that by staying limited to their style and routine, it can create weakness and limitations in an actual confrontation. That is what Ken and Ryu ultimately learn on this journey as they also take down crime syndicates and terrorist organizations around the world.
- Episodes: 3+
- Aired: Jun 25, 2018 – Ongoing
To put Baki in a nutshell, it’s practically Bloodsport, Enter the Dragon, and the old school UFC on every legal and illegal PED and product you can get off the shelves of a GNC supplement store put together times over 9000! Considering the original manga debuted a couple of years before the UFC, Pancrase, or any mainstream MMA organization, its presentation of the sport is undeniably outdated but still exciting. While this anime is full of cast members who are evil and strong in the martial arts, they are not motivated by monetary gain or fame.
Yujiro, Baki’s father, is without a doubt the strongest man in this series and he once broke into the White House by single-handedly taking out the Secret Service just to prove he could. Despite how twisted Yujiro is, his martial arts principles only drive him to seek strong opponents and nothing more, even if it means his own son.
In addition to characters who don’t use their skills for such grand ambitions because traditional teachings won’t allow it, Baki excellently demonstrates numerous styles of martial arts and characters based on actual martial artists. There are characters that are based on Kyokushin founder, Mas Oyama, a Russian Sambo practitioner based on former UFC tournament champion, Oleg Taktarov, and a pro wrestler who is inspired by Japanese wrestling legend, Antonio Inoki. Through Karate, audiences learn about how power and accurate its strikes are when applied properly. While professional wrestling is entertainment, through this manga, the Japanese style can educate audiences that the catch style of submission wrestling is just as deadly as the holds popularized through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
3. Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Kenichi (Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple)
- Episodes: 50
- Aired: Oct 7, 2006 – Sept 30, 2007
After being bullied for most of his life, Kenichi Shirahama finds the dojo to make him a man, Ryozanpaku, home to masters of various martial arts. At Ryozanpaku, Kenichi not only learns Karate, he also learns a good number of other martial arts for his self-improvement both physically and emotionally. Through this anime, fans can learn how martial arts differ between competition and the street. In competition, you have rules based on a martial art. In Judo, you can’t strike and in Karate, you can’t grapple. Whenever a certain martial artist of a particular style challenges Kenichi to a street fight, thanks to his cross-training for martial arts that are meant for self-defense as opposed to competition, he can exploit those weaknesses.
In the first fight he wins, he defeats a striker by countering it with throws/takedowns, which was highly emphasized in the original UFC events. In another fight, he defeats a boxer by using leg kicks from his Muay Thai training. As he progresses in his training, so does his self-esteem and a lot of martial arts schools promote that. And because Kenichi excellently portrays what many schools try to teach, it is a worthy addition to this list.
2. Yawara! (Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl)
- Episodes: 124
- Aired: Oct 16, 1989 – Sept 21, 1992
Just like how we have an anime about boxing, old school mixed martial arts, and Karate, Yawara is an anime about Judo, and how it ties into the 1992 Olympics, the first time it had women’s Judo. Due to its domestic popularity, Ryoko Tani, a multi-time Judo medalist who was popular at the time, was given the nickname Yawara-chan during its broadcast. The series is very straight to the point on what Judo is about both as a competitive sport and as a way of life. Her father was obsessed to the point that he has been absent for most of her life due to his training journeys and her paternal grandfather, a 7th-degree black belt is passing on his passion to her and hopes to make her a gold medalist.
Judo is excellently represented in this anime for every reason imaginable and does not try to over exaggerate the sport. It educates the viewers about the techniques (the terminology is exclusively Japanese oriented, and many international schools still use original Japanese words for techniques, positions, submissions, etc.), and the rules as a sport. It goes into every last detail with how you grip the opponent’s gi, how you plant your feet, elevate your hip, etc. At times, it also demonstrates how Yamara can counter moments where she is about to be pinned and turn it in her favor.
In addition to the throws, you also learn about the submissions such as the Juji Gatame, or Arm Bar, which was often used by UFC Women’s champion, 2004 bronze medalist and present WWE wrestler, Ronda Rousey. In addition to the competition, it shows how Judo, or martial arts for that matter, is ultimately a religious practice.
1. Karate Baka Ichidai (Karate Master)
- Episodes: 47
- Aired: Oct 3, 1973 – Sept 25, 1974
Coming in at number one is Karate Baka Ichidai, an anime based on the life of Kyokushin founder, Mas Oyama, who is represented as Ken Asuka in this anime. Like the real-life Oyama, Asuka started his training during childhood and upon his discharge at the end of World War II, he tries to find a new life through Karate through good and bad means. After accidentally killing a man who had a family, he lives as a hermit for a few years and dedicates his training and studies to Miyamoto Musashi’s writings.
After he returns to the real world, he goes around Japan and the world to demonstrate Karate and slowly gains a following. The anime goes as far as to portray how he fought a bull and chopped its horn off on national TV. Some of his exploits also introduce him to some real-life wrestlers and Judo practitioners such as Great Togo, Rikidozan, and Masahiko Kimura.
Karate Baka Ichidai shows that Karate can be for fighting and competition but ultimately demonstrates it as a means of self-improvement and as a culture. Training Karate not only helps people physically but mentally and spiritually as well. Asuka will face failure in every way you can think of, but by learning from failure and always believing, all things are possible. Beyond the fighting, the anime at times shows actual live action clips of techniques Asuka demonstrates in the anime such as his punches, kicks, and board (and beer bottle) breaking, and there are instances where the anime explains a technique whether it would be a chop or kick.
While fighting and martial arts do go hand-in-hand, they represent different philosophies and goals. Though Bruce Lee never officially fought in any competition in his prime, in his writings and teachings, he truly embraced the martial arts spirit of always wanting to improve himself physically and spiritually. Although Chuck Norris is the subject of many internet jokes of how superhuman he is, it is thanks to his lifelong dedication to martial arts in his personal life on why he can still live a healthy life in his advanced age.
Former Pancrase and UFC champion Bas Rutten has been retired for the last 20 years, but he has kept in shape by still training fighters and keeping up with his own training. So we hope what we shared on this list embraces that philosophy. In addition to what we listed, what other anime titles out there do you think to embrace the spirit of the martial arts? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Martial Arts have become a cultural phenomenon ever since the late 70's when famed and legendary actor Bruce Lee paved the way for the popularity of martial arts films. Despite the arts themselves spanning over centuries, it has only been up until recent years that the art has really kicked and punched its way through the box office doors.
Today on Honey's Anime, we will be taking a look at the famed culture through anime and breaking down our top 10 favorite Martial Arts anime for you to enjoy.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 26, 2010 – December 11, 2010
Starting off on our list of martial arts anime is Katanagatari. The story follows Yasuri, who is a well known swordsman but surprisingly fights without it. One day while on his journey, he comes across a young and ambitious Togame, who wishes to help Yasuri on his adventure. The adventure takes them all across Japan in the Edo era, to collect the deviant blades for the shogunate and fight against other blade wielders in insane battles.
This anime is sure to be a treat to those who really have a taste for Japanese history, but also who find the art of swordplay to be of interest.
9. Bamboo Blade
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2, 2007 – April 1, 2008
Bambloo blade finds its way onto our top ten list because it demonstrates the cultural lifestyles of Japanese martial arts. Kendo has been a part of the glue that has kept the Japanese culture together for many centuries, and even today it is still practiced within many schools. With its emphasis on self discipline and mental dexterity, Kendo is a spectacle to watch at a high level and seeing it performed in a more light hearted way invites more people to tune in. That is where bamboo blade comes in. It takes the very fierce competition of Kendo and puts a more relaxing feel on it to help people better understand the philosophies behind it.
What makes bamboo blade entertaining also are the characters behind it all. Kojirou is one we can relate to because of his sheer commitment and passion to ensure the success of his instructing pays off, and so he recruits a female team of Kendo specialists to help save his school. His ultimate prize from his sensei is that he receives a supply of food for a year. This fun loving anime will have you laughing but also taking note on the wonderful world of Kendo. Check it out.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 9, 2011 – December 25, 2011
While the name itself doesn't speak of martial arts, its what comes within the series that really fills you up. At number eight, Ben-To is a story about Sato who has a strong passion for playing SEGA games. One evening he decides to venture to the grocery store to grab dinner, but as he is about to grab his favorite bento he loses all consciousness. After regaining himself, he realizes that all of the bentos suddenly had sold out. What becomes more of surprise is that now all of the grocery stores have created a war game and players called “wolves” are now hungry to grab the half priced bentos.
This action comedy is sure to feed your hunger, since there are a lot of great action sequences to satisfy your martial art craving. With every punch and counter attack, your palette is always rewarded with something tasty to bite onto. If you enjoy food and high flying fun, then check out Ben-To.
7. Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May 20, 2004– March 19, 2005
Samurai Champloo has been on countless top tens all throughout Honey's Anime, and it is for very good reason that it always shows up. Samurai Champloo takes place in a world of adversities, where samurai are not really sought after and many of them become vagabonds, wandering the vast lands for an answer. It's this journey that really provides a surreal experience as we follow Mugen and his friends in search for their own destiny. Fuu, Jin, and Mugen aspire to work together in hopes to finding a mysterious samurai, who Fuu is so strongly fond about.
Samurai is an art that has always displayed character and finesse throughout the many years anime has existed, but Champloo has this way of turning the art form into this amazing display of color and vibrance that keeps you glued to the screen. With wonderful musical scores and great dialogue, Samurai Champloo is nothing short of spectacular. Check it out.
6. Sengoku Basara
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2, 2009– June 18, 2009
The Sengoku era has always sparked a lot of attention when it comes to Japanese culture. Spanning over many years, the battle of sekigahara took place in central Japan where the Tokugawa Shogunate had been in power. This very famous battle has now given life to various anime, and popular live action films. So it comes as no surprise that Sengoku Basara makes its way on our list, not because of the battle itself but because of the variety of characters that demonstrate the many martial art styles of Japanese culture.
The story of Sengoku Basara takes place in the age of warring states, where feudal lords were on a mission to over take the other for the sake of power. One man had an endless hunger to overthrow everyone, and that man was Nobunaga Oda. The anime really has a nice way of putting all of the pieces together of history, while being able to entertain us with sword play, hand to hand combat, and high flying acrobatics. If you enjoy history with a little slice of action then definitely tune into Sengoku Basara.
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 8, 2013- September 30, 2013
And now we are finally making our way into the final phase of our top ten martial arts anime. Coming in at number five on our list is Mushibugyou. Taking place in the early 1700's of the Edo era, Tokugawa Yoshimune had a job of ordering boxes that were to be installed so that the citizens were able to express and submit their thoughts.
However, after an unusual situation, these messages began to resonate within his mind and he felt like he needed to do something to protect the towns people. It was at that moment that Yoshimune decided to create the famous unit known as Mushibugyou, to help protect the people and the city he loved. Each member of the unit specializes in their own unique martial art, which adds more flare to the already action packed show.
While sword play does play a major part in the series, there are plenty of styles to look out for that will keep you on your toes throughout the series. If you enjoy bugs, ninjitsu, and spells, this is one show you cannot miss.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: April 13, 2005– September 21, 2005
Ninjitsu has always been a very popular martial art all throughout the movie world. Ninjas have infiltrated our lives and there is no way for us to stop them, but then again why would we? Ninjas have played a major part in many anime, and coming in at number four, they play another role yet again. Basilisk takes place in the warring states period of Japan, where Tokugawa has devised a plan to have two notorious ninja clans battle to the death to see who takes the throne. We see an insane amount of action right out of the gates, with the two main clan leaders clashing with each other until the bitter end, which became the precursor to the events taking place after.
Basilisk is a dark anime, but it deserves its dark reputation because of its very intense action scenes which have characters losing limb after limb in hopes to become number one. We definitely suggest checking this one out, as it displays samurai tactics, ninja strategies, and explosive hand to hand combat.
3. Hajime no Ippo
- Episodes: 75
- Aired: October 4, 2000– March 27, 2002
Building a top ten of popular martial arts anime is not easy, as there are an assortment of mind blowing anime to excite you. However, there are just some anime that we can never let go of no matter how old.We now bring you to number three on our list which is none other than Hajime no Ippo. This boxing treat will surely knock you out with its over the top visuals, commentary and educational references. Makunouchi was just your regular student in high school who felt like his life wasn't going anywhere.
He was bullied countless times and due to his weak stature, couldn't defend himself which led to him walking home with bruises. It was at that moment, when a person changed his life and inspired him to become the known boxer we are all proud of. Boxing is an art which requires an immense amount of mental training, but also requires the passion and determination to continue. Throughout the series, we see Makunouchi and his peers battle it out in the leagues to become the number one boxer in Japan. This inspiring tale will surely bring tears of joy to your eyes, so we highly recommend checking this one out.
- Episodes: 220
- Aired: October 3, 2002-February 8, 2007
Jump comics (Shonen Jump in Japan) have really become the brand to beat when it comes to popular franchises in anime. With the likes of One Piece, and Toriko to name a few the name Jump spreads all throughout the world of anime lovers. So it should come as no surprise that our two top martial arts anime come from the very jump franchise itself. Naruto teleports its way to number two on the chart, and for very good reason. Naruto has had a very successful lifespan, with countless movies, merchandise, and spin offs to keep you wanting more. It has also become somewhat famous for its use of “fillers” or episodes that don't really carry along the main path of the storyline. Despite the latter, Naruto has become one of the most well respected and most talked about anime for many years.
The main story sees Naruto on his everlasting journey to becoming the number one ninja in the clan, with nothing but action along the way. It incorporates various styles of martial arts ranging from Ninjitsu, swordplay, and even some form of boxing. This is one anime you should most certainly watch, as it will reel you in with its fantastic character design and story. A must watch.
1. Dragonball Z
- Episodes: 291
- Aired: April 26, 1989- January 31, 1996
There is no way that we could somehow come up with a top ten list of martial arts and not include the one series that changed the lives of many. That anime is none other than Dragonball. This series has spanned over three decades, and has seen countless series upgrades over its time, with the now recent Dragonball Super taking precedence. We choose anime that not only represents the genre it belongs to, but how it resonates within the hearts and souls of everyone. Every character represented in Dragonball has their own list of hardcore fans, ranging from the fierce and determined Vegeta, to the more light hearted and jubilant Goku. We all can relate to these characters in one way or another, which is what captures the essence of what this anime defines: passion.
Martial Arts define passion in all its glory, and for anyone to succeed in whatever endeavor they embark on, having the passion to back it is imperative. We see Goku and his friends go up against a horde of enemies ranging from the mere Ginyu Force, to the ultimate god himself Beerus. This anime is sure to power you up to max levels over 9000, and motivate you to keep watching for more.
As stated earlier, martial arts will always stand the test of time due to its overwhelming popularity, but because it is always evolving. With even more enthusiasts taking their craft seriously, there will always be an endless supply of action to keep you on your toes for the long run. Let us know what other anime should be on the list in the comments below, and be sure to let your friends know of Honey's Anime as well!
As always, for your sweet anime fill, keep it locked here at Honey's Anime.