Girls, despite what some people say, love sports stories. Even if they don’t like the sport in question, since not everyone enjoys every sport ever, sports stories tend to have many elements that female audiences like: usually, they're underdog stories about overcoming every obstacle possible through effort and lots of failures. There’s drama, a lot of talk about friendship and teamwork even if the sport is a solitary one, and romance is never the actual focus of the main character. Sure, there are times in which there are romantic subplots, but they never take over the fight to reach their goals.
Because of this, it's not surprising that a lot of sports anime that are usually shonen have big female fandoms. It's not just those who look at the big casts full of really cute guys to ship—more often than not with each other—but also the fans who honestly love the story and learn to love the sports that are portrayed. This is a great testament to the writing of each series, as now more and more studios and creators are making sports anime specifically targeted towards girls. And so today, we have the top ten sports anime that we're sure women will adore.
10. Ginban Kaleidoscope (Skating Rink Kaleidoscope)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2005 – December 2005
Tazusa Sakurano has trained her whole life to become part of the Japanese Olympic figure skating team. But when she’s in the middle of her qualifying round in Montreal, Canada, she falls as she’s doing a Triple Lutz, hitting her head and losing consciousness. She returns to Japan, defeated but still determined to reach her goal as soon as she gets better. But then, she starts hearing a voice that no one else can hear. Soon, she realizes she’s no longer alone in her body: Canadian stunt pilot Peter Pumps happened to die in an accident at the same time she fell unconscious, and due to his sins he must live in her body for 100 days while heaven decides where he will be sent. Still, Tazusa won’t let something as silly as a voice in her head stop her from reaching her dreams.
Ginban Kaleidoscope is a treat to anyone who likes figure skating since the animators paid attention to all the little details of training and routines that we see Tazusa and her rivals perform. It also has a lot of drama because no matter how much Tazusa tries to ignore Peter, the truth is that once they start listening to each other, the viewers can’t forget that Peter has a deadline: in 100 days he’ll have to leave no matter what. Because the mixture of the drama and the sport make a great combination, Ginban Kaleidoscope opens our list in the tenth place.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2011 – March 2012
Chihaya Arase had been a girl without a real goal of her own, always living in the shadow of her older sister who was working hard to be a model, until the day she met Arata Wataya in elementary school. Arata was a huge fan of karuta, a difficult card game where one has to memorize a hundred poems in order to recognize the different verses in cards, and taught Chihaya how to play and all about the competitive aspect of it. Once she realized that she was good at the game and that she liked it a lot, she decided to become a professional player and reach the championship, even if her family doesn't understand her passion.
While one can argue that a card game is not really a sport, Chihayafuru follows all the tropes that we expect from a sports anime: We follow Chihaya from elementary school to high school as she has to choose between her friends and her passion. We see her become a better player, meet new rivals who become friendly after they defeat her or she defeats them, and a small love triangle when she meets with her old elementary school friends again. With the national championship as her short-term goal, it's hard not to get excited at Chihaya’s moves even if we don’t understand the karuta game at first, and that is why this series earns the ninth place on our list.
8. All Out!!
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2016 – March 2017
Rugby is famous for being a very violent sport, and with good reason. There are rules, but many of those can be summed up as “just don’t bite anyone under the belt”. Not only that but, in a sport without clear positions, who gets to be the star? The Kanagawa High School’s rugby club may not have a clear star, but the whole team works hard to make sure their different personalities don’t clash so they can become the best team in their division, steamrolling everyone who stands in their way.
All Out!! Is a more traditional sports anime and the first one to deal with Rugby, mostly because now Rugby has become more popular in Japan. While the plot itself may not look very original, as we’re following the tribulations a sports team goes through in order to reach a championship, every player’s personality is special and thanks to that the whole story is seen from a different angle than in other sports anime. They all are very charismatic so it's easy to fall in love with the whole team, and that is why All Out!! takes the eighth place on our list.
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2018 – October 2018
It’s hard to be the coach of a team so small that it can’t even compete in high school tournaments. That’s the problem that coach Kentaro Tachibana faces as the head of Kitatomachi High School’s badminton team mostly because he can’t get people to join, as not many students even know there’s a badminton team. When he spots Ayano Hanesaki climbing a tree on campus, he's amazed at her quick reflexes and decides that if she joins the team, things will change for them. Unfortunately for him, Ayano not only knows about badminton, she absolutely loathes the sport.
Hanebado! is a very curious case of an anime adaptation that becomes even darker than the original manga, which means that for fans of drama in their sports stories, it's a perfect fit. We have two main plots: On one side, Kentaro’s goal of having a good competitive team and help his students to become great badminton players; and on the other, the devastating reason why Ayano hates badminton and how the sport affected her life. The animation is very dynamic and the matches are thrilling, and that is why Hanebado earns the seventh place on the list.
6. Diamond no Ace (Ace of Diamond)
- Episodes: 75
- Aired: October 2013 – March 2015
Baseball is justly nicknamed the King of Sports. It’s a delicate balance between individual ability and teamwork, and no two games are the same. With nine players on the field at all times, every play can be the winning one, and every mistake can be costly, making the games a great scenario for drama. For Japanese students, it’s even more dramatic: Losing just one game means losing the chance at the championship, and every player wants to see their team reach the final at the Koshien stadium, the proof that they’re the best baseball players in all Japan.
Eijun Sawamura is a pitcher that wanted nothing more than to reach the Koshien with his middle school baseball team. However, the rest of the team knew that he had better chances going to Seido High School, a prestigious Tokyo school with a skilled team that has a greater opportunity of reaching Koshien, so they convince him to accept the school’s offer to enroll there. From then on, we follow Eijun’s struggles to find his own place in the new team as everyone does their best to reach the championship. It’s a story full of drama, comedy, and great characters; and because of that, it easily climbs to the sixth spot on our list.
5. Kuroko no Basket (Kuroko’s Basketball)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2012 – September 2012
Another very popular sport all over the world, and especially in Japan, is Basketball. There are many basketball anime and manga, but Kuroko no Basket is special because it doesn’t follow someone who is a complete rookie in the game. Instead, it focuses on both Taiga Kagami, who learned to play basketball in the US and feels that Japan still is far away from being competitive, and Tetsuya Kuroko, a former player from the Teiko High School’s basketball team that was known as the Generation of Miracles”. They both play for the Seirin High School team, where they have to face the other members of the Generation of Miracles as they fight for the goal of reaching the championship.
Since Kuroko no Basket follows more experienced players, we don't have the part of the sports story where a rookie finds out they love a new sport. That, however, gives space to the other more dramatic parts of a team story: The issues Kuroko feels when he has to face his former friends as rivals during a game, Kagami learning that perhaps Japan doesn’t have a big basketball tradition like the USA but that doesn’t mean he gets to underestimate the other teams, and how there’s no such thing as an “Ace” in a sport that requires teamwork; every player has their function and their time to shine. That makes Kuroko no Basket the winner of the fifth place on our list.
4. Ballroom e Youkoso! (Welcome to the Ballroom)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2017 – December 2017
Competitive ballroom dancing is a very complicated activity that may not be called a sport by many, but it shares a lot of characteristics with more traditional sports: you need to be in top fit condition, practice for hours every day, know and trust your partner/teammate completely, and be ready for many surprises from your rivals as they too have been training as hard as you have. Tatara Fujita finds this out first hand when, after being saved from bullies by Kaname Sengoku, he’s invited to Sengoku’s dance studio to take a couple of classes. There, impressed by his classmate Shizuku Hanaoka, Tatara decides that he wants to keep doing his best to become a top competitive ballroom dancing.
Ballroom e Youkoso! has a lot going on in the story that makes it perfect for female audiences: Amazing music, high-stakes drama, partnerships bleeding into relationships which makes changes in partner very complicated, and a very charismatic cast of characters. If you don’t know much about competitive ballroom dancing, some of the drama may look exaggerated, but the truth is that this anime managed to portray the backstage situations of the competition with accuracy, which is why it earned the fourth place on our list.
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2014 – September 2014
Professional athletes, more often than not, have a huge responsibility as role models for the youth. Shouyou Hinata, a short high school student, finds inspiration to revive the volleyball club at his middle school despite his stature, thanks to the volleyball ace nicknamed “Little Giant”, who wins his own games despite being shorter than the other competitors. Once the club is revived, Hinata starts recruiting more members, even if they have no idea of how to play, just to be able to participate in an official tournament. This, of course, leads to the team’s complete defeat at the hand of Tobio Kageyama, nicknamed “The King of the Court”, so Hinata decides that he will defeat him. Unfortunately for his vow, once he graduates to High School, he discovers that Kageyama is now his teammate.
Haikyuu!!’s main difference from other sports anime is precisely that: The fact that Hinata needs to learn how to put his middle school's defeat in the past and work with Kageyama as a teammate for the good of the whole club rather than keep thinking about the king of the court as a rival. Teamwork is really the most important part of the story, as we meet each player and how they manage to become a team as time passes on. This makes it really superior to other sports anime and the third place on our list.
2. Free! (Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2013 – September 2013
Haruka Nanase loves water, and, by extension, swimming. Back when he was in elementary school, he was part of a team with his best friends: Rin Matsuoka, Nagisa Hazuki, and Makoto Tachibana. After winning a relay race with them, they all went their separate ways and weren't reunited until high school, when Rin returned from Australia. However, Rin didn’t enroll in the same high school as the others as, rather than rekindling their friendship, he only wants to prove that he’s a better swimmer than Haruka. At the same time, Makoto and Nagisa want to revive the Iwatobi school’s swim team, so they rope Haruka and another student named Rei Ryuugazaki in order to be able to compete against other schools.
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first: Free! has a lot of fanservice for the girls in the audience. We get to see every single male character in swimsuits, half-naked, and wet. It's a long beach episode that also happens to have a great plot about friendship, competition, and finding your own place in the world. The series also gives a lot of screen time to the rival team because Rin is as important as Haruka, so that gives an extra dimension to the story. These are the reasons why Free! is absolutely worthy of the second place on our list.
1. Yuri!!! on Ice
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
Circling back to ice skating; only this time, in the male division, we have Yuri Katsuki’s story. He was once Japan’s most promising skater, but after a terrible and complete defeat at the Grand Prix Finale he returns to Japan and begins considering retirement. But when a video of him performing the same routine as five-time Russian world champion Victor Nikiforov puts him back in the spotlight, and Victor himself comes to Japan to ask Yuri to let him be his coach, Yuri decides to try once more to reach the Grand Prix. Of course, it won't be easy, as he will have to face rivals such as Victor's former protégée, Yuri Plisetsky, as well as his own growing feelings for Victor.
Yuri!! On Ice was one of the biggest and most popular anime in the Winter 2016 season. It was always promoted as a sports anime, rightly so since the main plot is Yuri's training and effort to return to the top of the skating world, but it was more than just that. The romance subplot that made Yuri!! On Ice so popular is not important only because it is a same-sex relationship in a show that is not marketed completely on that premise, but also because it subverts many ideas that one may have about said romances and the personalities of both Victor and Yuri. This is why Yuri!! On Ice is completely deserving of the first place on our list.
Sports stories are always a great hit with the audience. They have very defined story arcs both for each player and for the team themselves. This makes it easy for them to win audiences, because in the end, they have a little for every taste. We love to cheer for the underdog, the redemption of Aces who have fallen from their pedestal, the rivals putting aside their differences for a greater good. But in the end, no matter what turn the story takes, most of them end very satisfyingly, as we see who gets to win the final encounter.
But we really want to know which series you cheer the most for. Are your favorites included in our list? If so, do you agree with their placement? Or did we miss some important series that you love? Please, let us know in the comments below.