Many sports are reflected in anime. Some of Japan's most popular sports include soccer, baseball, golf, sumo wrestling, and tennis, with many sports being adapted into anime to provide unique twists to their storylines. From Haikyuu!!'s daring speedy saves to Blue Lock providing a uniquely shonen twist on soccer, there are many sports anime that have influenced or otherwise spun a tale around sports.
Sports anime are usually high on intensity and energy, so it is of no surprise that many Japanese people have taken to the sport being depicted or otherwise just enjoy seeing them being represented in over-the-top ways. This list will chronicle 10 anime influences on Japanese sports, focusing on those sports and depictions.
Disclaimer: This list will include spoilers for the anime profiled on the list. Likewise, this list is subject to personal opinion.
10 popular Japanese sports depicted and influenced by anime such as Blue Lock
1) Baseball (Star of the Giants, Diamon no Ace, Major)
Baseball is so popular in Japan that it has its own league. Originally introduced by American visitors in the 19th century, baseball remains a popular choice that leads over other sports in the professional organization sense. It's no surprise that it has influenced many anime and manga, even if it might be lesser known than tennis or volleyball.
There are well over 30 anime profiling baseball. Some are pioneers, like Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants), which was the first sports manga to be adapted into an anime in 1968. Others, like Diamond no Ace and Major, have both reinvigorated baseball's interest and even got major sponsorship deals.
Ace of Diamond itself has sold over 14 million manga copies as of 2021, whereas Major had six seasons in its first anime adaptation and a sequel series. The latter was even contracted by sports equipment company Mizuno to use one of their characters as a mascot.
2) Tennis (Prince of Tennis, Baby Steps, Aim for the Ace!)
The sport of tennis is often overlooked overseas, but is quite popular in Japan. Most attribute this to Naomi Osaka's victory over Serena Williams in 2018, but even since 1970s and earlier, tennis has been a popular sport of choice that has been profiled throughout anime and manga.
For instance, one of the most popular and best-selling shojo manga of all time which has tennis in it is Aim for the Ace! While later anime like Baby Steps and Prince of Tennis are better known to a younger audience and are definitely popular, Aim for the Ace sets the tone by focusing on the mentality of the players, especially regarding anxiety issues on and off the court.
Aim for the Ace! was responsible for the tennis boom in the 1970s among Japanese high school students. It also inspired professional tennis players like the first successful Japanese tennis player Shuzo Matsuoka to take up the sport.
Likewise, it also pioneered many Yuri tropes. Prince of Tennis likewise is notable for being popular despite reviews in Japan, ranking 25th out of the 100 popular series, according to a TV Asahi poll.
3) Soccer (Blue Lock, Ao Ashi, Captain Tsubasa)
Soccer in Japan is an interesting topic to approach, considering its history, otherwise known as Association football, founded in Japan in 1917. The national teams have competed in various FIFA World Cups and the J.League is the most popular one in Japan to compete in continental competitions.
All this is to say that soccer anime have definitely made waves in inspiring youth and others to get into the sport. Captain Tsubasa, for example, inspired prominent players such as Hidetoshi Nakata, Alessandro Del Piero, Fernando Torres, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sánchez, and Andrés Iniesta to play professionally as a career.
The lmanga also energized soccer's popularity in Japan, and the characters have been featured in humanitarian outreaches likewise.
Not to be outdone, the newest sports anime Blue Lock and Ao Ashi have both made waves for different reasons. The former provides a more shonen twist on soccer, with flashy moves included, whereas Ao Ashi focuses more on character development of the players.
4) Sumo Wrestling (Hinomaru Sumo, Notari Matsutaro, Aah! Harimanada)
Stereotypical as it may sound, Sumo Wrestling is still popular in Japan as a sport. It is considered as the national sport in Japan, dating back to many centuries. Many are required to live in communal stables where all aspects of life are dictated by strict tradition.
To be fair, there are several anime and manga revolving around sumo wrestling. Notari Matsutaro, for instance, focuses on a quick tempered sumo wrestler, and was cited as an inspiration by mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo for his series Domu. The more well known Hinomaru Sumo was used in collaboration with a professional sumo match, and with the Japan Sumo Association.
In fact, Hinomaru Sumo was nominated for many awards, coming in 5th place at the 2015 Next Manga Awards. While many sumo manga and anime are known for usually being comedies, Hinomaru Sumo mostly plays the struggles to get to the top straight and dealing with injuries is a heavy subject.
5) Golf (Birdie Wing: Golf Girls' Story, Pro Golfer Saru, Dan Doh!!)
Golf may be in the lesser category of popularity in Japanese sports, but that doesn't stop it from having its own tour. The Japan Golf Tour is offered third highest after the PGA Tour and European Tour as of 2006, and is run by the Japan Golf Tour organization.
Anime and manga for this sport are a little sparse, but there are still notable examples like the currently airing Birdie Wing: Golf Girls' Story. While others, like Pro Golfer Saru, approached the sport with a whackier flair like having the protagonist having to fight golf assassins, Birdie Wing is more straightforward about the sport and is likewise more than a little sapphic.
That doesn't stop all three examples from being far-fetched examples of how the sport works, but in that case they might as well if they want to make it entertaining. Dan Doh!! in particular approaches it, funnily enough, from the standpoint of a former baseball player with a shonen flair to it.
6) Volleyball (Haikyuu!!, Attack No.1, Zoku Attacker You!)
Volleyball has been incredibly popular since Japan won Olympic gold in 1964 in Women's Volleyball. The Volleyball League often has national broadcasts, and is played by many junior and senior high school students. The women's team ranks seventh overall in the world, and continues to win championships to this day.
This entry wouldn't be complete without going over Haikyuu!!'s success. Not only has it gotten really high reviews and praise from anime reviewers, but even the captain of the South Korean National Women's Volleyball Team, Kim Yeon-Kyoung, praised it for its attention to detail.
The anime and manga even have non-players get moments to shine, and focus on muscles, speed, and even deep breathing to energize the muscles.
Not to be overshadowed, Attack No.1 was the first televised female sports anime series in the shojo category and mangaka Chikako Urano was considered one of the founders of shojo anime.
The series stood out at the time, pushed more towards an older female fanbase and was well received in France, Italy, and Germany. Furthermore, it was cited by Italian professional volleyball player Francesca Piccinini as an inspiration to take up the sport.
7) Basketball (Slam Dunk, Kuroko Basketball, Breakers)
Basketball in Japan has experienced a very recent revival since the premiere of Slam Dunk. The sport was less popular than soccer or baseball, but nonetheless still enough to host the 2006 FIBA World Championship. This is thanks to the emergence of players like Yuta Tabuse and Takya Kawamura.
In 2010, the Japan Basketball Association recognized Slam Dunk creator Takehiko Inoue for the role it played in increasing basketball popularity among Japanese youth in 1990s for its realism.
In addition, the Slam Dunk Scholarship Program was created in 2006 by Inoue and Shueisha for a fully paid academic and athletic scholarship to a university preparatory school in America if they are able to pass admission review. The scholarship still stands to this day.
Kuroko Basketball is likewise recognized as popular and influential and has frequently been compared to Slam Dunk, with the difference being that the former is a more special move and shonen oriented than the latter. Breakers is another basketball series, though focuses more on the Paraolympics and disabled players of the sport.
8) Racing/Cycling/Swimming (Intial D, Free!, Yowamushi Pedal)
A combination of three types of competitive racing-type sports that may be slightly more obscure in Japan, but nonetheless merit mention. Many kinds of auto racing, from sports cars to formula to street and drag racing already warrant a mention, due to several Grand Prix's being held in Japan.
Swimming and cycling also warrant mentions for numerous records being made, such as a 21 second 50 meter freestyle performed by Shinri Shioura in 2019 according to the Japan Swimming Federation.
As for anime and manga featuring these three sports? Initial D is already a classic street racing anime which focuses on Japanese street racing. Drifting pioneer Keiichi Tsuchiya has helped with editorial supervision, and has been a cult hit with general racing and fine tuning culture in Japan and across the world.
Free! is likewise renowned for being the swimming anime and manga that everyone thinks of when they think of swimming. While definitely lesser known, Yowamushi Pedal is still going and has more than a few fans since it won the best shonen manga award alongside Seven Deadly Sins in 2015.
9) Figure Skating (Yuri on Ice!, Pretty Rhythm, Ginban Kaleidoscope)
While figure skating is an individual sport in Japan, it is still a sport that's well attended and attracts large audiences. What helped was that the 2009-2010 season had all four reigning World Champion singles skaters from Japan. Skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu (the first Japanese Male Figure Skater to win Olympic gold), became household names and the NHK Trophy Grand-Prix event is hosted in Japan every year.
As far as figure skating is represented in anime and manga, Yuri on Ice! comes to mind almost immediately.
Aside from the depiction of an LGBT relationship between its protagonists, the media franchise was praised by professional figure skaters including Johnny Weir, Evgenia Medvedeva, Denis Ten, Evgeni Plushenko, Masato Kimura, Ryuichi Kihara, Miu Suzaki, and Adam Rippon with cameos from Nobunari Oda and Stéphane Lambiel for realistic techniques and anxiety that accompanies the sport.
Pretty Rhythm might be an idol and arcade game-based franchise, but the anime adaptation Aurora Dream drew a ton of influence from Cirque Du Soleil for the movement and referenced the actual competition. Ginban Kalidescope also won awards for rookie of the year novels and the anime was well received for being a compelling look at figure skating.
10) Martial Arts, Boxing, and Wrestling (Baki, Hajime no Ippo, Tiger Mask)
Martial Arts, Boxing, and Wrestling all have a place in the wide world of Japanese sports. It may seem disengenous to combine three things into one entry, but all three sports do have their popularity and influential anime and manga attached to them.
Pro wrestling is treated as a legit fight, few theatrics, and has a strong style with full contact strikes. Japanese boxing dates back to the late 1800s and martial arts continue to this day.
Tiger Mask has been recognized as an iconic series that not only got a real-life character named after it to boost New Japan Pro-Wrestling's junior heavyweight division, but several people donated to children's homes and other social welfare centers in 2010 and 2011. Baki and Hajime no Ippo both reinvigorated interest in martial arts and boxing respectively.
Hajime no Ippo is one of the 20 best-selling manga, tied with Astro Boy and Fist of the North Star. It was likewise considered one of the better sports series, if only a little underrated. Baki is likewise praised for it's more realistic fight scenes.