Tournament arcs in shonen anime tend to be some of the best and most celebrated arcs. The fights, shonen stories, and spectacle all come together, forming a collection of tournament tropes to make these events spectacular to watch and more so to speculate on and enjoy.
It's no surprise that fans consider the tournaments to be some of the most engaging in shonen anime. The engagement usually comes from the characters having their own stories, but sometimes it comes from the story around the tournament. These are just 10 shonen tournament arcs ranked for their engagement and why they're so well remembered.
Note: This article contains spoilers and is not exhaustive or comprehensive of every tournament arc. It's also just the author's opinion.
10 engaging shonen anime tournament arcs, ranked
1) Chunin Exams (Naruto)
The original Chunin Exams in the shonen anime Naruto made this list because it was Naruto's big turning point, getting fans invested in the struggles and personalities of different side characters like Rock Lee, Shikamaru, and Hinata. Everyone got something to do, and nobody felt left out.
What really stuck out as engaging were the story beats leading into the Konoha Crush and the battle between Gaara and Naruto juxtaposed with Orochimaru vs the Third Hokage. Everything from the written test that featured Naruto standing against cheating to the Forest of Death featuring the first Curse Mark appearance and Orochimaru's debut to the fights are all very engaging.
It may not move at the lightning-fast pace of the U.A. Sports Festival, but it remains as engaging as ever.
2) U.A. Sports Festival (My Hero Academia)
The superhero shonen anime My Hero Academia's U.A. Sports Festival is a lightning-quick tournament arc that nevertheless manages to be highly fun and engaging.
The superhero aspect brings to mind a very odd thought: what if the Avengers, or the Teen Titans, in this case, had to compete against rival superhero classes and schools in the Olympics? That's the gist of the episodes, and the fact they go by quickly makes it better on a rewatch too.
The audience at least knows that the fights aren't going to drag as they do in previous shonen anime Dragon Ball Z and the like. It also shows off immense character arcs and drama, with Todoroki vs Endeavor and the rivalry between Class 1-A and 1-B mostly taking center stage. It's a thrilling tournament arc that has nothing to horribly interrupt.
3) Tournament of Power (Dragon Ball Super)
Dragon Ball Super's iconic return to form in the Tournament of Power is a masterwork of a tournament. The basic summary follows a deal to preserve all universes from destruction, with Goku and both Zenos arranging an interdimensional bout that would push everyone to their absolute limits.
The stakes have literally never been higher, with each universe that loses being erased off the face of the cosmos. With fights such as Goku vs Jiren being akin to wrestling matches, the Darkhorses Kale and Caulifla fusing into Kefla, Master Roshi's epic showing, and everyone else in Universe 7 practically showing the Saiyans up makes the tournament better to rewatch.
4) Battle City (Yu-Gi-Oh!)
The Battle City Arc of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series may not be a fighting tournament, but it is the quintessential tournament arc for the series. Seto Kaiba creates a city-wide battle royale that has various duelists with different styles and backgrounds to collect key cards and get onboard his Kaiba Airship to duel him and the finalists.
The arc is essentially the evolution of the Duelist Kingdom, featuring even more mystical cards, fantastical items, and wild death traps like saw blades. Yu-Gi-Oh!'s iconic characters face off against threats like Yami Marik and Yami Bakura as they duel with cards that summon gods and their families hanging in the balance.
5) Dark Tournament (Yu Yu Hakusho)
Yu Yu Hakusho is one of shonen anime's biggest and earliest tournament innovators, combining well-written characters with supernatural action. One of the series' most famous and well-received arcs is the Dark Tournament storyline. In this story, the shonen Team Urameshi are up against bloodthirsty beasts like Younger Toguro.
Yusuke Urameshi must endure the death of friends while everyone battles for their very souls. The other members get their special moves here, like shonen rival Hiel's Dragon of the Darkness flame and Kurama's death plants. The Dark Tournament Arc also ensures Yusuke's place in shonen anime history, with his and Younger Toguro's fight shattering the entire arena.
6) Sinnoh Pokémon League (Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl)
Ash may not have won the Sinnoh Pokémon League from Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl: Sinnoh League Victors, but it was the grudge match between bitter rival Paul that ultimately cemented this League into shonen anime history. Ash made it all the way to the semi-finals, and he bested his then latest rival Paul to get there.
It was a long smackdown coming for Paul, a character fans disliked for hisse of his Chimchar and others. Paul is Ash's complete antithesis since all he does is abuse his Pokémon and then release them if they don't meet his exact standards.
After being on a frustrating losing streak to Paul throughout the series, fans adored watching Ash beat Paul with his old Chimchar, who fully evolved into Infernape. It was an incredible payoff to such a journey and rivalry, even if Ash lost during the semi-finals. It was seen as incredible growth.
7) Heavens Arena (Hunter x Hunter)
Heavens Arena in Hunter x Hunter serves as a training arc for Gon and Killua. The two young men must win 200 consecutive matches to make it to the top floor, where Gon would finally have a rematch against Hikosa after losing badly during the hunter exam.
This was the arc that aided and assisted Gon and Killua in learning the basics of Nen early on, helping them go through more enemies that challenged them on multiple levels. Without this, they'd have dropped dead in several other fights throughout the series. Even if it cost Gon fractured ribs and he lost anyway against Hisoka due to a technicality, Hisoka did admit he got much stronger than the last time they met.
8) Corrida Colosseum (One Piece)
The Corrida Colosseum tournament was only a small section of the shonen anime One Piece's Dressrosa Arc. It saw some incredible match-ups full of a cast of new characters, in addition to the reunion of Luffy, Sabo, and Bellamy. Bellamy hadn't come back for well over 100 manga chapters.
Sabo winning the tournament and claiming Ace's old Devil Fruit, the Flame-Flame fruit, and destroying the arena in the process was a huge moment. But the real reason why this is remembered is when all the gladiators that were forced to participate in making Doflamingo look good all banded together against Doflamingo to destroy the entire structure, fight his men for their freedom and depose him, and later form the Straw Hat Grand Fleet.
9) Grand Magic Games (Fairy Tail)
Fairy Tail has always embraced being a shonen, with all the tropes therein (power of friendship especially). A tournament arc called the Grand Magic Games was being held to find the best magic guild in the kingdom, with the returning Fairy Tail guild members being pitted against the number one guild, Raven, and mysterious forces determined to kill them.
The tournament itself is no picnic either, with the first objective being a race to the actual tournament grounds and then a gauntlet between over 100 monsters that Erza has to go through single-handedly. This tournament is more engaging due to the sheer obstacles put in the good guys' way, like the aforementioned gauntlet of monsters.
10) Holy Grail Wars (Fate/Stay Night)
The Holy Grail wars are a large and widespread death game, with a vast group of people being chosen to fight and kill to achieve immortality with the Holy Grail. It came with a sense of prestige as not many can be chosen for this particular honor, with some stumbling upon it by complete accident in the shonen anime Fate/Stay Night.
The Fate series revolves around this premise, with mages worldwide summoning the help of Servants, spiritual proxies of history, and fiction's greatest heroes. While Fate/Zero is more complex, Stay Night tends to be the one fans remember. It also tends to be rather non-sensical to discuss Fate meaningfully due to the long and complicated lore it has, plus more than a few contrivances.
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