Sports anime is one of the most diverse genres in the medium. If a sport exists, it is bound to have its own anime in the future. Sometimes, getting hooked on a sports series can be more rewarding than watching a real game. This is partly thanks to the dynamic protagonists who drive the story along.
Many sports anime protagonists resemble their shonen counterparts. Still, this genre is much more relatable for the average viewer because it’s rooted in reality. The best-written sports anime protagonists take time-tested tropes and reinvent them when applying them to their favorite sport.
10 Hanamichi Sakuragi fell in love with basketball (slam dunk)
Even though the series ends before Sakuragi’s character arc is complete, his development is one of the most heartwarming in the genre. Initially, he wasn’t interested in basketball – or any other sport. However, his love interest loves the sport so he starts playing for her.
Sakuragi starts out as a typical loudmouth who is too confrontational and aggressive for his good. He was arrogant and rude, but he became more humble as he fell in love with the sport. Ultimately, Sakuragi’s journey with basketball is a parallel reflection of his self-discovery.
9 Makoto Tsukimoto was rescued by Ping Pong & The Power Of Friendship (Ping Pong: The Animation)
Makoto Tsukimoto or Smile was constantly being bullied until Peco came and rescued him. They became close friends and started playing table tennis together. Although happy with the sport, Smile grew tired of not being a prodigy like Peco.
He continued to cheer for Peco, but his friend became equally disillusioned with ping-pong after his first few losses. Just as Peco’s friendship saved Smile, the latter is determined to help the former get out of his fear and get back on the pitch.
8th Water Is Haruka Nanase’s One True Love (Free! Iwatobi Swim Club)
Haruka’s love of water is the premise of his entire personality. Every time this guy gets near water, he tries to dive in. Even if it’s an aquarium, Haruka can’t resist jumping into any body of water he can find.
Though his fixation with water has become a running gag, Haruka’s passion for water and swimming is admirable. Being a child prodigy, his mere existence ignites the fighting spirit of the other characters, all of whom strive to outdo him for a change.
7 Eijun Sawamura had to work twice as hard as his teammates (Ace of Diamonds)
Eijun Sawamura has a unique pitching style that caught the attention of the elite Seidou High School, where he was offered a free ride if he joined the baseball team. However, Eijun quickly realized that he would have to work twice as hard if he was to keep up with the rest of his teammates and prove that he deserved to be part of their starting line-up.
While Eijun’s story draws from the love of Shonen anime to hard work and dedication, that’s not the focus of his story – and that’s exactly why many fans find him likable. Many viewers can relate to his struggles with feeling subpar and the pains of self-comparison, and as Eijun goes beyond that, his story is inspirational.
6 Yuri Katsuki is the figure skater with the world’s largest glass heart (Yuri!!! On Ice)
When Yuri was introduced, he fell into a depressive crisis after losing at a skating tournament. This behavior defined him for most of the series. He was a frail guy struggling with his stage fright and anxiety. However, he has grown a lot during his journey in the series.
Yuri gained more confidence after his idol Viktor saw his potential and took him under his wing. During his programs, he’s learned how to turn off the rest of the world so he doesn’t get consumed by his fears.
5 Chihaya Ayase’s way of playing karuta reflects her personality (Chihayafuru)
One of the most unconventional sports anime is Chihayafuru. Instead of an adrenaline pumping game between sweaty players on a court that keeps the audience in suspense, this anime is a refreshing change since it’s a card game.
Karuta is surprisingly competitive and Chihaya is very passionate about it. Her playstyle reflects her personality. She is quick-witted and refuses to sugarcoat what she says for others. Chihaya plays by the rules of karuta and doesn’t rely on underhanded tricks to win.
4 Isagi had to develop an ego (Blue Lock)
The Blue Lock Project is a football initiative sponsored by the Japanese Federal Union and led by Jinpachi Ego. Jinpanchi believes Japan’s team is weak because they lack a brave striker who steals the spotlight during a game and makes his ego shine.
Isagi was among the hundreds of players scouted for the initiative. Only one striker will be successful, the rest will be excluded from the national team. Isagi, although usually pleasant and shy, had to learn how to develop an ego if he was to rise above the rest and prove that he deserved to represent his country. After all, he wants to be the best striker in the world. Isagi not only developed an ego, but also learned to fully embrace it.
3 Reki Kyan’s Love for Skateboarding Is Passionate and Messy (Sk8 The Infinity)
Reki loves skateboarding. Not only does he love to skate, he has immersed himself in all aspects of the sport – including designing and repairing boards. His mind is occupied with skating and is always happy to talk about it with others. Reki’s eyes light up when someone expresses even the slightest interest in skateboarding.
Such passion tends to create chaos and volatility. Reki expects a lot from herself; if he fails, it becomes like an itch he cannot scratch. He’s been skating for years but isn’t a prodigy like Langa or ADAM. This fuels his inferiority complex and eventually causes him to neglect his board for a while. However, he recalls that skating is fun and the adrenaline rush brings him back every time.
2 Tetsuya Kuroko is the Sixth Phantom Man (Kuroko’s Basketball)
He has no athletic skills and even less presence on the pitch, but that’s exactly why Tetsuya is such a valuable asset to his team. He specialized in passing as the phantom sixth man of the Generation of Miracles. When he signed up with Seirin, Tetsuya expanded his skills to drive the ball and even shoot.
Tetsuya is the shadow behind everyone else’s light. He is the foundation that makes every team he plays strong. He is unique among the other protagonists of the genre thanks to his deadpan personality and dry sense of humor. Coupled with his hilarious one-liners and uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere and scare everyone else, Tetsuya brings a breath of fresh air to any discussion of sports anime protagonists.
1 Shoyo Hinata may be small, but he can jump (Haikyuu!)
Haikyuu! is the juggernaut of sports anime, making Shoyo Hinata the best protagonist of the genre. He may be small, but his leaps are superhuman. Shoyo is an outsider like no other, and his story will inspire anime fans for generations to come.
After watching Karasuno play at the national championships, he became hooked on volleyball and vowed to outdo the little giant. Whenever Shoyo faces a challenge, he accepts it with open arms and finds a way to turn anything into a learning experience – even as a ball boy after sneaking into a training camp. Shoyo also has a knack for lifting the spirits of his teammates when things are feeling hopeless during a game. A few times, Karasuno emerged victorious after feeling all hope was lost because Shoyo gave everyone a few words of encouragement.