I am completely uninterested in sports. There are no words to describe how uninterested I am. That’s why it came as a complete surprise to me when my anime collection/watching started to include one sports-themed manga/anime after another.
I won’t count Hikaru no Go, or maybe I should, since that was the first one with a competition theme that I watched. But Go is an intellectual effort, not athletic, so I don’t count that as a sports-themed anime.
But then I got interested in Prince of Tennis, or PoT as the fandom names it (or Tenipuri if you’re a hardcore otaku). Normally it wouldn’t have interested me, I mean sports, yuck. But there were quite a lot of people I respected in my usual fandom raving over it (and since I was late in viewing it was really long, always a plus in my book). And the people raving over it were completely right. The characters were really likeable, if not loveable, and the story caught me and I couldn’t stop watching and I read the complete manga too. Of course it’s completely ridiculous in some ways, but that makes it even more likeable.
I wouldn’t want to watch something realistic (or actual sports) that would take seconds. I love the philosophy discussions, flashbacks, or explanations lasting five minutes while people are hanging in the air/rushing towards the ball/racing the last meters before the goal/drawing their swords.
And the magic sparkles and coloured auras always present when the characters do something remarkable. And that they name their own techniques and shout out their names whenever they use them.
I don’t particularly crave it, but it’s nice if some of the guys are good-looking. Or cute. I don’t mind cute. Some the best animes have cute protagonists. And they have to be fun to watch. I don’t watch anime with ugly characters, who are too chibi-like or badly drawn. Maybe that’s why I stay away from shojo in general (or maybe I’m too much of a hardcore fujoshi and at least want the possibility to find some BL fandom goodness in the things I watch. And there are plenty of opportunities for that in sports-themed anime. Lots of guys, sweating, locker rooms, fierce competition, adrenaline (& testosterone) flying. Phew, except from pure yaoi, could it be any hotter? Well, in some of the ones I’m listing there are mostly cute and adorable and budding friendship and so on. And it’s really all about the drawing.
I’m digressing. The sports themed anime I’ve watched and liked so far and liked:
Prince of Tennis: Completely adorable characters. Extremely magical tennis with strange names and extraordinary talents. I think most of the things are real, except in real life they don’t jump 5 meters up in the air or glow in different colours. I like that you get to see the main characters outside the court though. If there is one thing I don’t like it’s the girls. I don’t know why they changed one of the few girls in the anime to be extremely bad at tennis, she isn’t in the manga.
Kuroko no Basque: This is maybe my favourite sports-themed anime so far. Basketball-themed to be more precise. And it has everything. Good-looking, loveable characters, magic movements, thrilling games, as well as psychological plotting and character depth. I’ve read all the manga too.
Free: The first episodes felt more like fanservice than a real story, just showing off muscular bodies in speedos. Well, fortunately more of the long-legged kind than the minimal versions (the mini-speedos are one of the most unsexy things I can imagine whatever the one wearing them looks like). It really got me when one of the water-obsessed main characters took off his clothes in a department store and tried to immerse himself in a fish tank…) That’s the kind of silliness I appreciate. And the story got a little bit better too.
Yowamushi Pedal: Another completely unexpected favourite. I mean biking, what could be more boring? But it is totally compelling and I’m completely in love with the cast. I’ve learned a lot about bike racing as a sport, but I can’t imagine myself ever looking at races. This is not a bishounen anime, not however you stretch it, but it doesn’t matter. I follow the manga too, and it gets better and better. It’s got no magical tricks or things in it, just bikes. They do not sparkle or shine or change colour, but they do discuss things, talk, comment, and encourage each other in the middle of a race.
Haikyuu!! I think I started to watch this as a Kuroko substitute. It’s not really up to par with that one, but I enjoy it nevertheless. It’s not basket, but volleyball. Completely incomprehensible sport, but somewhat cute.