Post Reply THE SPORTS PAGES!
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Anime comes in countless different flavors, from action and adventure to romance to mystery and beyond, but one of the most often overlooked and unfairly dismissed is the sports subgenre. Full of exciting, inspiring stories, sports anime is often some of the coolest entertainment you can treat yourself too, but far too many anime fans kick it to the curb without even stepping onto the court.

With that in mind, your newsletter crew has assembled an ALL-STAR TEAM to tackle the topic and bring a spirited discussion about sports anime right to your digital door. Meet the team!! Dingofist , hanachan , Koda89 , Eclipsed_Oblivion , and iblessall !!!



Topic #1- First up, tell us a bit about yourself, particularly your background with sports. Did you ever play any in school? Follow any pro/am sports? Etc. After all, we don't want readers to think we're a bunch of meathead jocks…

Hanachan: Though there's nothing wrong with being a meathead jock, as long as you're a nice one.

Koda89: There's a guy in the NFL who is a massive otaku, actually.

Dingofist: I'm not at all surprised, really. Stereotypes exist to be broken!

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Though I've always enjoyed sports, I'm ridiculously clumsy and have no stamina. I swim and play basketball for fun, but only barely scraped by in gym classes.

Dingofist: So you're not necessarily a hater of sports? Great! I know a lot of people who kinda shun sports entirely and never really give anything to do with them a fair chance.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: I definitely don't hate sports; I'm just terrible at most of them.

Koda89: I absolutely love sports. I probably could have played something in high school, but I was too lazy to try out for any of the teams. I follow several teams, both local and nationally(even internationally), and both professional and amateur. I'm a fan of the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys in the NFL(I suffered through their playoff droughts, so I'm no bandwagon fan), the Texas Rangers in MLB(I'm a masochist), the Dallas Stars in the NHL, the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA, Manchester United, and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys in collegiate sports. And of course all of the USA National Teams.

Hanachan: ...are you, by any chance, from Texas?

Koda89: Oklahoma, actually.

Dingofist: Didn't Kevin Durant get hurt or something? Are you devastated? :(

Koda89: Yeah, it sucks that he's gone for a good chunk of the season.

Dingofist: You'll feel the pain of all the Lakers and Bulls fans out there! Suffer well! Even though they'll still probably be good…

Koda89: Bulls should be good this year, even if Rose hurts himself again.

Dingofist: (and he probably will) **HE DID!!**

Eclipsed_Oblivion: I don't follow any American professional sports - just the Canadian national teams and Japanese figure skating team - so I'm actually pretty confused right now.

Hanachan: I only really follow baseball, and that fairly casually.

Dingofist: You would probably baffle us with figure skating info, then!

Koda89: Exactly.

Dingofist: Haha Hanachan is that your entire sports background?

Hanachan: ...no...I pretty much hate sports. I'm possibly the most unathletic person on earth, and I grew up with a dad who watched any and all sports when he was at home and listened to games on the radio when we were in the car. P.E. is actually the only class I ever failed (though that might have had something to do with its being at 7:30am.) It's kind of a miracle I got into sports anime and manga at all. That being said, I get pretty into pro baseball when teams from my area are involved (A's and Giants), and if I have to watch any sort of sports game I can muster up enough interest to not be miserable the whole time. And I do love figure skating, I just always forget that it counts as a sport.

Dingofist: So as a Giants fan you're probably pretty excited right now, then?

Hanachan: Yeeeeesssss. Though the A's are my favorite team. I actually cried when the A's choked after doing so well early in the season.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: The only experience I have watching baseball is Ace of the Diamond, haha.

Hanachan: If you liked it then there are tons of other baseball anime that are great.

Dingofist: I've more or less played and watched sports my entire life. All through grade school I played three sports a year pretty much, and I was really really into basketball for a long time. I still follow the NBA pretty closely (Go Lakers! Winless!) When I got to high school I dropped everything except for track and field, which I lettered in all four years running mostly the hurdles. During my senior year I had top ten times in the state, but I messed up my race at districts and got disqualified, so my marvelous career came crashing to an end in the worst way possible. So basically I'm pretty athletic and like competing! I also really got into boxing in college, and I watch MMA whenever I get a chance.

Koda89: Sounds like you actually lived a sports anime.

Dingofist: I have a theory about that, sorta! It's part of why I think sports anime are so cool!

Hanachan: I guess I'm the only sports hater in this group. XD

Dingofist: Maybe, but you like baseball!

Koda89: I love how we kind of progress from a sports hater to a sports fan that is too clumsy to play sports to a sports fan who is too lazy to play sports but could play them, to an actual athlete.

Iblessall: Well, let's see...I played soccer, baseball, football for 5 days in 8th grade, and basketball in my youth before running cross country for a few years in high school. Since then, I mostly just play intramural sports at university! Soccer is my favorite sport, and I yell a lot when I play.

Dingofist: Cool, so you're kinda in the same boat as me...except I could never do cross country. 800 meters in general was about all the distance I could run at a respectable speed...after that I turn into a puddle of goo and slither off to die…

Iblessall: I did not like cross country very much. I eventually ditched it for show choir, which is sort of a sport…

Topic #2- What was your first sports title? Do you have any special story or memories attached to it?

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Technically, Prince of Tennis was my first manga ever, but at the time, I really disliked watching professional tennis. In fact, the only tennis I liked was Mario Power Tennis, so I stopped reading it after volume one. The first sports anime I actually watched with a more open mind was Kuroko’s Basketball because, despite not being interested in watching professional basketball, I enjoy playing basketball, and the character designs seemed cool too. I watched it like any other anime at first, but before I knew it, I was marathoning episodes whenever I wasn’t in class and fangirling over it on the Internet. Ever since then, I've come to appreciate the beauty of the sports anime genre and have watched most sports anime that have aired since.

Dingofist: Did you ever go back to Prince of Tennis?

Eclipsed_Oblivion: ...I've been meaning to...ten years later...I've been so hooked on current sports anime like Yowapeda that I keep forgetting to go back to Prince of Tennis.

Dingofist: You should! You might love it!

Koda89: Like Eclipsed_Oblivion I technically have multiple first series, but in my case it was three "firsts". The very first sports series I saw was Suzuka. However at the time I didn't know sports anime was a genre, despite knowing of a few other sports series at the time like Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21. So to me Suzuka was a romance series with a sports theme, rather than a romantic sports series.

My second "first" was a rather short sports manga series called Beach Stars, and it is a beach volleyball series. It is kind of like Haikyuu!!, if all the characters were pretty girls in swimsuits. The main character is even a small, but fast player. It was an alright series, but nothing really special. It didn't endear me to the sports genre is what I am saying.

My last "first" is Free!, actually. It was the first sports series I experienced that made me want to experience more sports shows. I mean it is probably the weakest of the recent sports shows I have seen, but still.

Dingofist: I still love Free! I don't care what anyone says. Isn't Suzuka about Track? I read about it one day and was disappointed it was the only track manga that seemed to exist…

Koda89: Yeah it is about track and field.

Hanachan: I wouldn't say Free! is weak, but swimming is not the most exciting sport.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Free! was really interesting in how it was more of a slice-of-life series about friends within the context of sports. It definitely ranks as one of my top sports shows though.

Koda89: It isn't weak, but compared to what I watched after it?

Iblessall: In my humble opinion, the first season of Free! got kind of bogged down in all the melodrama and got away from the stuff it was really good at: slice-of-life comedy and gorgeous swimming meets. The second season handled the drama much more competently.

Dingofist: I also really liked that Free! was more about the boys and their friendships and stuff with the swimming as the glue holding it all together, but I can see how it's not as exciting as other shows.

Hanachan: I started getting into anime and manga when it was first getting really popular in the US, and there weren't a lot of manga series being published here. I remember reading Adachi Mitsuru's Short Program and really liking it, so I went looking for some of his other manga and found that most of them were sports-based. I kind of like how the focus of his series is more about the characters than the sports themselves. I believe Touch was the first one I read, and since I already liked baseball it was easy for me to get involved in. From there I got super into One Pound Gospel, even though I knew absolutely nothing about boxing.

Oh, and does Hanakimi kind of count? That is one of my favorite manga of all time, and it's the only thing that ever made me the least bit interested in track and field. I can't even remember what my first sports anime was. but the first one I really remember loving was totally Slam Dunk.

Dingofist: Slam Dunk <3

Hanachan: Right? Basketball is one of my least favorite sports, but somehow it's amazing for anime, and I love the delinquent-turned-athlete trope.

Dingofist: Slam Dunk has such strong characters. Anon always likes to talk about Hanamichi and how he has to become a team player.

Hanachan: Yup! The side characters are good too.

Dingofist: As for me, my first sports show was the original Hajime no Ippo anime. I watched it during college, and it completely blew my mind. Watching HnI really made me want to go and train and run and punch and be as cool as everyone on the show. It was such an exciting title too because nobody ever felt safe when the boxing matches started...anyone could lose! I think a lot of people had similar experiences with it and ran out to join boxing gyms right away...I probably would have if there were any around. Instead I just worked out a lot and practiced on my own. I still follow the manga, even if it isn't quite as good these days.

Hanachan: Are you caught up on the manga? Talk about no one ever being safe.

Dingofist: Yeah, at least with the scanlations. It took a while to catch up but it was worth it.

Koda89: You're a trooper. That is over 1,000 chapters.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: That's true love right there.

Iblessall: Well, if you discount the baseball tournament episode of Angel Beats! and the whole season of Stella Women's Academy High School Division Class C3 (which really was more of a psychological drama that happened to have a sport involved), then my first sports title, like Koda, was actually the first season of KyoAni's Free! I remember it was a nice Sunday and I was feeling like marathoning something pretty looking, so I started in on the first episode and marathoned my way to episode seven and then watched the rest of the episodes weekly. I wasn't hugely impressed, at least as far as it being a sports series. It'd probably be better to say that it was Haikyuu!! and Masaaki Yuasa's Ping Pong that really broke down my prejudices against the sports anime genre.

Dingofist: A lot of people seem to really enjoy Haikyuu...I still haven't watched any of it.

Koda89: What?! You must watch Haikyuu!!!

Iblessall: Haikyuu!! is great! It sold like hotcakes in Japan haha.

Dingofist: I'm horrible. I'm the worst. Please let me go and retrain myself from the start. :(

Hanachan: I've only watched an episode of Haikyuu so far. What I saw was really good, but there are just so many series to watch...

Iblessall: How could you watch the first episode of Haikyuu!! and not desperately want to go on?

Hanachan: Like I said, there are just too many things to watch XD

Dingofist: Isn't it in Jump? I love Jump, so I'm sure I would love it if I read it...because I always prefer manga to anime if given the option.

Iblessall: Yup, it's a Jump title!

Koda89: The thing with Haikyuu!! is it is pretty good for the majority of its run, but when episode, I think 16(whichever one is "Winners and Losers") rolls around, the series goes to a whole new level and approaches near legendary, in my opinion.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Haikyuu is a bit more on the realistic side for a sports anime since none of the characters have any special attacks or superpowers, and it does a good job of accurately portraying the technical aspects of volleyball.

Dingofist: So long story short, go watch Haikyuu, all you philistines…

Koda89: Yes.

Topic #3- THE BIG QUESTION IS NEXT Why are you drawn to watching sports anime? What makes the genre so appealing to YOU?

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Being more of a shonen anime fan than a professional sports fan, I love that sports anime is different from professional sports and is instead more akin to battle anime. There is a huge emphasis on hard work, perseverance, and training, and through these elements there is usually a ton of character development. This makes me get really involved in the sports matches because the character development results in me rooting for certain characters and genuinely wanting them to win. For me, the only difference between sports and battle anime is that the characters in sports anime battle through sports instead, plus no one dies; the third years just leave everyone behind by graduating instead.

Dingofist: Yes!! That's it exactly!!! Battling through sports!! Putting your life on the line in a spirited competition!!

Koda89: That was my original thoughts as well! As you'll soon see, though, my thoughts kind of shifted a bit.

Dingofist: A twist! Let's hear it!

Koda89: Like Eclipsed_Oblivion, the reason I first came to love sports anime was because it was basically deathless battle shonen anime, only with better characters. Of course I also only saw action sports series at first. My views on sports anime changed after seeing Ping Pong: The Animation, and reflecting back on my experience with Suzuka actually kind of sealed it. I don't think sports anime is a stand alone genre. It is more of a supporting genre, a flavoring, if you will. Sure the majority of sports series will be action based, but like Suzuka showed, they could be romances, or as Ping Pong excellently shows, they could even be complex psychological character studies. Basically, what I am saying is there is no uniform "sports anime" genre, and what you will get depends upon a given series' accompanying genres. That being said, every sports series I have seen has one thing in common, and that is great characters and great character development, and as a person whose favorite type of anime are character studies, that makes sports series something special, because virtually all of them are character studies. Rarely is the focus on the sport itself, but rather the athletes. I mean my favorite story arc in any anime recently was the final arc of Hajime no Ippo: Rising where we got an incredible, but extremely rare, look at post World War II Japan. And it was amazing.

Hanachan: The coach backstory? That was a great arc.

Dingofist: You're right on point with sports being like a spice or a flavor, very nice! It's just the lens we look through to see the human drama at the core of the story, right?

Koda89: Right.

Dingofist: I really like that idea.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: That's definitely true, and the amount of "flavouring" varies with each anime. There are anime that extend a sports match for seven episodes before a training break, and then those whose sports meets only last one episode.

Hanachan: I honestly am not really sure why I like sports series so much. I think it probably has something to do with the team dynamic and the focusing on a small-ish group of main characters with plenty of side characters scrolling in. There's usually a ton of character development in sports series, which I love, because you start to get really attached to certain characters. I also think the sports aspect gives it a really good focal point, so the plots feel tighter and more complete.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Yes, the sports aspect definitely adds in more immediate goals for the characters to reach while still having a greater plot.

Dingofist: So sort've a mix of what everyone's been saying. There's the great shonen battle aspect combined with the very very strong character development.

Hanachan: Sports series also have really good cliffhangers

Koda89: Yowapeda is the master of cliffhangers. Always ending at the exact point that leaves me wanting more.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Yowapeda is also the master of character development if it can make me root for one of the most disgusting characters I have ever seen.

Hanachan: Which character is that?

Koda89 & Eclipsed_Oblivion: Midousuji.

Koda89: And damn it, they managed to do it.

Hanachan: Oh, super creepy face guy. They were just about to introduce him when I stopped watching. I need to go back to it.

Dingofist: I think I'm mostly in the same boat as all of you. The battles (matches) are always very exciting and captivating, and the actual drama at the root of it all really pulls the audience in and makes you emotionally involved in these characters' lives. For me, there's also one other thing that makes me enjoy them so much: the drive to always keep improving and becoming better that's kind've a core principle of a lot of manga in general.

It's one thing to read Dragonball and want to be like Goku...but he's a supernatural demi-god who can punch planets to death. Then if you go and read Slam Dunk or Ashita no Joe or Free!, you see these situations and find these ideals that you can really relate to in your own life and try your best to be more like that. Like I mentioned, Hajime no Ippo really made me want to get stronger personally...except in a way that was actually attainable and tangible. And I also think a lot of sports titles set in high school have a lot of parallels to real high school athletes' careers. All the effort you put in, the big game, the fact that you really aren't guaranteed your wins thanks to being "the good guy"...you can get to the district tournament and be disqualified.

Hanachan: Yeah, I totally agree about sports series being more personally understandable. I think the (relative) realism is one of their biggest strengths. And they do give that power-up feeling...

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Yeah, I've personally wanted to try out certain sports after watching really great sports anime.

Koda89: Totally.

Hanachan: ...I never actually want to play any sports after watching series about them, but I see what you guys mean.

Iblessall: I have actually played new sports after watching some series! And even better, liked them!

Hanachan: Like what?

Iblessall: I played volleyball for the first time in my life this fall, and found out I was pretty good! I'd be a libero if I played for real, I think, because setting really isn't my thing. That was thanks to Haikyuu!! And I've actually started swimming for exercise on a consistent basis thanks to Free!

Eclipsed_Oblivion: I tried volleyball and ended up breaking my thumb, so that was the end of my volleyball career.

Dingofist: See, that's really cool. I'm sure it's also a big part of why the shonen magazines kinda publish lots of sports titles...they hope kids will get into sports early on and stay healthy, maybe? I remember reading basketball exploded in popularity after Slam Dunk started.

Hanachan: Oooh, that's good conjecture.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: I think Slam Dunk really opened a gateway for basketball to become popular in Japan, and it still has a lot of influence to this day. I read that there is even a Slam Dunk scholarship for Japanese students wanting to enter the NBA.

Iblessall: To be totally, totally honest, I'm drawn to sports anime much less than I am to other genres. I like supernatural, fantasy, action, comedy stuff much more than I like sports. BUT! I've seen sport anime do some really cool things that other genres haven't done. Firstly, because they are set in the real world (or at least the ones I've seen—Kuroko's Basketball /really/ isn't my thing) they bind their characters to a certain level of reality and rules. The best sports series I've seen don't rely on the power of love or friendship to get the characters through tough spots—it's training, hard work, practice and losing.

Secondly, you have the teamwork thing and the flexibility to explore character's motivations from a variety of angles. Everyone plays their sport for a different reason, and it's really cool when you get to see both protagonists and "antagonists" and their reasons for playing.

Finally, the stress of playing is something I personally find really compelling because I think it can be extended to apply to many other situations in life besides just sports. Whether it be in a work situation or interpersonal relationships, I think sports anime can act as really effective microcosms of human relationships and struggles.

Hanachan: ...how on earth can you not like Kuroko?

Dingofist: Human drama rears its head again!

Hanachan: And yes, the motivations of the characters are always a core aspect to sports series, and they're so varied that it's really interesting.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: Kuroko's Basketball is actually set in the real world, and some of the "powers" are actually just slightly enhanced versions of real strategies.

Iblessall: Kuroko and the superpowers are just too far out for me. Give me magic in a magic setting, or sports in a grounded setting, but don't mix them together!

Hanachan: It's definitely less crazy than Prince of Tennis.

Koda89: I haven't seen Kuroko's yet, either...

Dingofist: Are Kuroko's powers like when Miyata symbolically sprouted angel wings in Ippo...?

Hanachan: Nah, more literal.

Dingofist: Oh really? That's kinda interesting, since not many titles really do that.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: It's more like some of the characters have really wild techniques that look like they're out of Dragon Ball Z, but most are actually somewhat realistic and just look flashy.

Hanachan: Yup, but they do border on the ridiculous at times. Personally, I love that.

Koda89: I think I remembering hearing that like one guy has perfect accuracy and can hit any shot from anywhere on the court.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: That's true until his stamina runs out.

Hanachan: Wow, has no one but E_O watched it? And me, of course...

Eclipsed_Oblivion: It's probably my favourite sports anime; I can't believe we're the only ones here who have seen it!

Hanachan: Right? It's an amazing series

Koda89: Heh......the guys here haven't seen Kuroko's, but the ladies have.

Dingofist: Hmm...

Hanachan: Okay, yes, it's yaoi bait, but that's not why it's good!

Dingofist: I guess that's actually a pretty good segue into our last bit…

Topic #4- What titles ON CRUNCHYROLL should people be watching? Or should go back and watch?

Dingofist: Even though I think our answers are obvious by now. :D

Iblessall: CHIHAYAFURU PLEASE PLEASE PEOPLE SHOW YOURSELF SOME LOVE AND WATCH IT...sorry that was out of order, I just couldn't help myself.

Dingofist: It's cool! YOU HAVE PASSION!

Hanachan: I would totally agree, but I still say that's a game rather than a sport. It is an amazing series, though.

Iblessall: Hanachan, I will fight you over this. :P

Hanachan: No need. We'll agree to disagree.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: That’s such a tough question since there are so many great sports anime. Free! is amazing for those who are more interested in character development and the slice-of-life genre with sports elements, but for full on, crazy sports matches, Kuroko’s Basketball is definitely one of the best sports series out there; the matches are incredibly entertaining because of the players’ techniques, and I appreciate that it attempts to include relevant female characters despite the all-male basketball teams.

Iblessall: Speaking of female characters, has there been a sports series actually about a girls' sports team?

Koda89: Yes.

Hanachan: Wasn't Princess Nine?

Koda89: I have three must watch suggestions when it comes to sports series on Crunchyroll. First is Hajime no Ippo: Rising. Yes Crunchyroll doesn't have the previous seasons, but that doesn't matter! I went into Rising as an Ippo virgin, and had no trouble following along, especially since they go out of their way to explain things when "new" charactrers show up. The fights are beautifully animated, Sawamura is scary as hell, the last arc is near perfection, and the soundtrack during the big fights? Breathtaking. The second is Yowamushi Pedal. A great cast of characters, great comedy, and incredibly tense moments punctuated by perfect cliffhangers leaving you wanting more. The third is Haikyuu!!. Again a great cast and comedy, but the real hero in Haikyuu!! is its ability to manipulate emotions, as I was laughing, cheering, shouting, and yes, even crying(sometimes) all during the same episode. On top of that, Haikyuu!! has some of the best cinematography I have seen in anime. Every major shot is expertly executed, and needs to be seen to be believed.

Dingofist: Did you ever go back to older Ippo seasons? The first series is...incredible.

Koda89: Can't find them legally...I have long since stopped wearing my eyepatch.



Hanachan: If you like old-school series definitely definitely watch Slam Dunk (there's a reason it's so popular in Japan!), and I'd say Ippo is a good bet too. If you like newer series better than you should obviously go for Free! And if you want strongly sports centered series in general I'd say Haikyuu!! (from what I've heard) and Yowapeda are great bets. And everyone should watch Kuroko's Basketball. And I just found out that Crunchyroll has Dear Boys...so I think I might start in on that soon.

Iblessall: What about Ace of the Diamond? Anyone watched that? I hear it's pretty good.

Hanachan: I watched a couple episodes and it was really good

Koda89: I like Ace of the Diamond.

Eclipsed_Oblivion: I like Ace of the Diamond too.

Hanachan: I didn't stop for any reason, I just get distracted really easily.

Dingofist: I've only read a few volumes of the manga and never watched the anime...but Eyeshield 21 is pretty damn awesome. The character design is wonderful, and it really makes American football appealing, which can sometimes be a difficult thing to do. I’ll finish it one day.

There's also Ashita no Joe 2, listed on CR as Champion Joe 2, which is just...the definitive story of a man putting his all into something and pushing his limits. It's awesome if you can handle older production quality...though it's a shame that the first series isn't available on CR.

Besides those, Hajime no Ippo: Rising is more than worth checking out, Free! is awesome, and Slam Dunk is the original and the best.

Hanachan: I have to say, I think the manga for Eyeshield is way better than the anime, but other than that and Ashita no Joe, which I haven't seen, but is totally a classic, I agree with your choices.

Dingofist: I would agree, because like I've mentioned I almost always prefer manga, but the anime is definitely there for anyone interested in it!

Iblessall: Just a reminder to non-US CR subscribers, Ping Pong the Animation is on CR for some of you!

Koda89: Good point! That's a must watch series, too! If you have access to it, watch it!

And that's the game, sports fans! So what do you think? Are sports anime as awesome as we say, or what? Did we get you interested? Affirm your love of sports shows even further? DO YOU THINK WE'RE CRAZY!? Let us know, and if you have any cool stories or experiences with sports and sports anime, tell us all about it!
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Posted 12/7/14
What a great article! Thank you to all of you who contributed to this piece; I'll be directing people to this article whenever anyone asks what the good is in Japanese sports cartoons! Almost all of the anime mentioned above are series I really enjoy, but I have a few different favorites than those discussed above.

Ōkiku Furikabutte (Big Windup!) is probably the best baseball series I've ever seen, and I (guiltily) enjoy Inazuma Eleven in all of its incarnations. I love Cross Game as well. And no one mentioned Princess Tutu!? Tutu really breaks the mold of the shonen action trope that supports so many sports series, relying instead on shojo emotional tropes. But, personally, I read way, WAY more manga than I watch anime. And if I had to pick one key manga is would definitely be Whistle! Whistle! is the manga that first opened me up to sports series years and years ago.

I think the reason that Whistle! managed to pull me in so deeply is the complete and total focus on the characters and then, vicariously, their single-minded devotion to football. Not all of the characters even stay on the same team; in order to become the very best players that each of them can be, some of the main characters make the tough choice to set off for another school or team just for the growth and experience they'll get there.

Personally, I'd love to hear recommendations for sports series that feature less of the "big name" sports! Sugar Princess was a fun manga revolving around ice skating, and I'm really into Ping Pong: The Animation right now. Any other small-time sports series on anyone's radar?
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Encouragement of Climb shouldn't be overlooked. Sabagebu was a lot of fun (about airsoft), if not altogether serious. And Teekyu is WTF Japan fun, purportedly about tennis (although, it's really about Hollywood movie titles)

And if you're going to count games like Chihayafuru because there are tournaments in them (as well you should), then you can hardly leave out Hikaru no Go, even though it isn't available here.
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