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The Tournament arc. An arc most commonly associated with fighting anime, the main character and his friends compete (individually or as a team) against a vast array of other characters that includes the main villain and his/her “followers”. All for a prize that more than likely further develops the main plot in some way, whether it be an actual item or prestige among the setting the character live in. Whether you’re a fan of fighting anime or not, you’re more than likely familiar with this type of arc.
Tournaments are a natural way of determining the best at some sort of physical or mental discipline, whether it be martial arts, sports, card games, and so on. Despite the wide use, tournaments are generally associated with martial arts/fighting when it comes to anime, as the fights that take place tend to rank among the most popular scenes in their respective anime, even sometimes defining the anime itself. Here’s a look at the Top 10 Tournaments in Anime.
10. Fate/stay night – Fifth Holy Grail War
- Episodes: 24
- Volumes:Jan 2006 - Jun 2006
9. One Piece - Dressrosa
- Episodes: 770 (as of now)
- Aired: Oct 1999 – currently airing
Despite the fact that One Piece has been going on for as long it has, it was only in the recent Dressrosa arc that a tournament of some sort was held. In this particular case, the tournament consisted of 556 participants, with the winner obtaining the Flame-Flame Fruit, the Devil Fruit that originally was associated with Portgas D. Ace. The participants were divided into Blocks A, B, C, and D, with the 4 winners taking on Diamante, who represents the Donquixote Pirates hosting the tournament as Doflamingo believed he was strong enough to beat any of the participants. Luffy enters the tournament by himself in disguise, but that soon fails by the time he wins Block C. However, Sabo, a friend of Luffy’s from long ago and thought to be dead, takes Luffy’s place, and is able to defeat the other Block champions and Diamante in order to win his brother’s fruit. Certainly not the best tournament, but definitely a key one as it very much succeeds in advancing the plot as well as developing Luffy and Sabo’s characters.
8. The Law of Ueki - Heaven Tournament
- Episodes: 51
- Volumes:April 2005 – March 2006
Another anime that revolves around a tournament, the Heaven Tournament in The Law of Ueki stands out in the sense that it changes throughout as well as having certain rules that apply depending on what type of combatant someone is (rules for God Candidates, power users, etc.). Initially starting out as a single elimination style where the winner will get a “talent” of some sort, the tournament turns into a “battle royale” in the end stages. In addition, the powers and talents we see in the tournament stand out, from the most powerful and the powers we think of the most to powers that the main character, Kosuke Ueki, has (the ability to turn trash into trees). Certainly an interesting take on the tournament arc, The Law of Ueki has some surprises in store to make this tournament stand out from the norm.
7. Shaman King - Shaman Fight
- Episodes: 64
- Volumes:Jul 2001 - Sep 2002
6. Fairy Tail - Grand Magic Games
- Episodes: 175
- Aired: Oct 2009 - Mar 2013
The Grand Magic Games serves as a great example of a tournament that isn’t necessarily always about fighting. With the preliminaries to determine the final 8 being an escape from a labyrinth and challenges including a unique take on “hide and seek”, racing atop moving wagons, and pushing opponents out of a water sphere, it goes to show how certain events can showcase one’s talents. One of the best examples of this is the Pandemonium event, where Erza defeats 100 D to S monsters singlehandedly in an event that was meant to test the participating memebrs, not just one person. You still get your fill of one-on-one battles to boot, not to mention all the plot related events unfolding in regards to the mysterious power lurking about as well as the rivalries Fairy Tail has with certain other guilds. A lot taking place during this tournament, but if you’re a fan of the tournament arc taking up a fair amount of time in the series, this would be one to check out.
5. Marchen Awakens Romance - War Games
- Episodes: 102
- Aired: April 2005 – March 2007
The War Games tournament that takes place in the 3rd and final act of MAR is a perfect example of a balance between what a normal tournament is while still allowing some variety to shake things up. Not only does a die determine how many one on one matches there will be, but the location changes as well, allowing the environment to play a part into each match. In addition, if a team loses but certain members did win their match, they can fight again. The tournament as a whole is also balanced within the anime itself, as it doesn’t really come into play until the series is headed towards its ending. It also serves as great development for the young Team MAR, as Ginta, Jack, Snow, and even Dorothy all grow both in their skills as well as their character. Definitely an anime tournament used properly.
4. Naruto - Chunin Exam
- Episodes: 220
- Aired: Oct 2002 - Feb 2007
The Chunin exam as a whole already separates the strong from the weak. In the first 2 sections of the exam, you have a written test that is mentally tough (with a surprise twist) and a journey through a dangerous forest that’s physically taxing to say the least. Yet immediately afterwards, the remaining ninja candidates have to compete in a 1 on 1 battle with a randomly selected opponent just to qualify for the actual tournament! This puts an interesting twist on things, as you see characters giving everything just to use some of their easier techniques while others end up succumb to their wounds from earlier on. From there, the winners compete in a standard single elimination tournament with a unique twist: there is no prize for the winner. The goal is simply to impress the judges enough to pass the overall exam, with the more matches being fought meaning the more chances there are to impress them. A lot to go through to reach the upper ranks of the ninja, but this tournament certainly demonstrates who’s ready to move up and who isn’t.
3. Dragonball - 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai
- Episodes: 153
- Aired: Feb 1986 - Apr 1989
Dragonball has a fair amount of martial art tournaments to choose from. You have the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, where Goku stunned the world and had an epic final with Jackie Chun aka Master Roshi. You have the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai, where Goku takes on Tenshinhan, the student of Master Roshi’s final. But you just can’t beat the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai, where Goku and his friends must take on Piccolo aka the Demon King in order to stop him from taking over the world. 1 on 1 in an arena where you lose by knockout, landing outside the ring, or surrendering, the championship match between Goku and Piccolo is one of the best fights in the series despite being confined to the arena to some degree. The other matches also hold some significance to the plot, such as Kami participating and losing to Piccolo human, Chi-Chi participating and wanting to marry Goku, and Goku defeating the champion of the previous World Martial Arts Tournament, Tien. All in all, a solid tournament all around.
2. Hunter x Hunter - Heavens Arena
- Episodes: 148
- Aired: Oct 2011 - Sep 2014
The world’s most popular battle site, the Heaven’s Arena is a 251 story building many fighters compete in daily in order to rise up to the higher floors. Prize money is awarded for surpassing floors 1-199, but 200 onwards is solely for glory. As a result, the battles that take place on the 200th floor and above are phenomenal, as the fighters are not only allowed to use weapons for the 1st time, but also are using Nen, or the ability to use and control your aura aka life energy. Gon and Killua attempt to compete at the Heaven’s Arena in order to improve their combat skills, resulting in them learning about Nen for the first time. We also get to witness some truly spectacular battles where, such as Gon taking on Hisoka. All in all, a great definition of an informative arc made entertaining through the use of a tournament.
1. Yu Yu Hakusho – Dark Tournament
- Episodes: 112
- Aired: Oct 1992 – Jan 1995
Yu Yu Hakusho as a whole helped to define the modern anime martial arts tournament, plain and simple. You have the Demon World Tournament that took place at the end of the series with Yusuke and his friends (old and new) competing to determine the new ruler of Demon World. You have Genkai’s Tournament at the beginning of the series, where the winner out of hundreds of participants gets to serve as Genkai’s new disciple. But overall, the best tournament is the Dark Tournament, where Yusuke and his friends are forced to participate in order to fight Team Toguro. With classic one on one shounen fights between Team Urameshi and their opponents, a variety of tones used depending on the plot outside the arena, and an arc that lasted much longer than normal, the Dark Tournament arc is by far the best anime tournament.
The tournament arc may be a cliché story device to use, especially in the kinds of anime that focus on fighting and sports. However, when it’s done right, it can bring the best out of the characters involved in terms of their character growth as well as their strengths and abilities. It can also help further the story, whether it’s the sole focus of the anime or just another stepping stone to what will ultimately be the climax of the story. These 10 tournaments all exemplify these characteristics much more than most, but what are your guys’ thoughts? Is there a tournament not on this list that clearly should have made the cut? Was there a better tournament choice from the anime series that had more than one? Let us know your favorite tournament as well as your opinions in the comments!