RECS: 5 Psychological Subversive Sports Anime to Watch

This is just about soccer, right?



Sometimes that friendly ballgame in a sports anime can feel like a matter of life and death. The matches are as difficult as the lessons learned, unapologetically leaving physical and mental scars along the way. From extremely aggressive soccer to gear-enhanced boxing, these five sports anime will make you question whether or not they really are just about playing a game.


What if Soccer but Battle Royale?




The first sign of BLUELOCK being a different kind of sports anime doesn’t just lie in its “I’m not here to make friends” battle royale premise, it’s the way Isagi Yoichi’s team lost in the first five minutes of the show. 


Anime’s no stranger to the underdog losing the big game, but it's rare for them to lose because they decided to be a team player. When Isagi decides to play it safe by passing the ball instead of taking the shot it costs the team the match. Had he given in to the dramatically animated urge to be selfish and score the point himself he may have won the big game. That premise is what moves BLUELOCK forward.


RELATED: BLUELOCK Episode 1 Puts the 'I' in Team and I Love It


Isagi and 299 strikers find themselves in a program that aims to create the best forward in Japan. The training method is beyond aggressive, with characters being told to become the exact kind of self-centered egomaniac who usually gets their comeuppance in sports anime. Interestingly, this level of arrogance initially leads to total chaos, but as we see with characters like Shouei Barou, a solid striker’s overconfidence can lead a team to victory. It’s not teamwork that’s gonna make the dreamwork in this series, it’s embracing the feral monster within. 


Illegal Golf Matches? Do It for the Kids!


Birdie Wing


There’s ridiculous sports anime and then there’s the absurd majesty that is BIRDIE WING -Golf Girl’s Story-. While it does have some familiar sports anime beats such as shouting your play like you’re firing a Kamehameha, it continues its delightful absurdity with the conflicts that get settled with a game as lowkey as golf.


Eve is a plucky, rough around the edges girl who smashes into her golf ball like she’s firing a bullet. Despite how good she is at the game, she only sees it as a way to make money by participating in illegal matches for the sake of those she cares about — yes, that is a bar full of orphans you see her checking in on.


RELATED: Wild Birdie Wing Moments That Are Actually About Golf


Things change when Eve meets Japanese golf prodigy Aoi Amawashi. Aoi, in awe of the way Eve plays, treats golf as a reputable sport instead of a way to make fast cash. On the flip side, Eve is enamored with Aoi, a quiet force on the green who shows her the sportsmanship and joy of the game. The two desperately want to face each other, both finally feeling inspired in the sport they participate in, but various obstacles get in their way. Aoi’s mother has high expectations of her, meanwhile, a typical Tuesday for Eve sees her dealing with, I kid you not, the mafia.


What Happens After You Become a Legend?




While a lot of sports anime focuses on youthful characters who dream of doing something fantastical in their chosen field, MEGALOBOX shines with its adult lead and the obstacles he faces in and out of the ring. 


In the world of MEGALOBOX matches are fought with metal exoskeletons (Gears) that make boxing a lot more lethal. The protagonist (known as Junk Dog) is fighting in fixed matches, losing on purpose at the request of his manager. Things change when he has a run-in with the megaloboxing champion, Yuri, who easily defeats him in a match. Junk Dog decides to enter the megaloboxing tournament to face him again, taking the name “Joe” and doing the unthinkable: fighting WITHOUT the aid of Gears.


RELATED: Why You Should Be Excited For the Megalobox Sequel


While the first season focuses on Joe’s rise in the ring, the second season takes a dramatic turn that shows a hard truth to swallow: not all athletes have a rosy ending to their story. Now addicted to painkillers, Joe (using the name Nomad) is back to fighting in underground matches, having walked away from the legacy he built up for himself. But you can only run away for so long, leading to Joe’s hardest match yet — facing the ghosts of his past.


What if We Just Had Fun Skateboarding?


Reki Kyan in SK8 The Infinity


When it comes to the why behind a protagonist’s motivation to pick up a golf club, boxing gear (or a lack thereof), or kick a soccer ball really frickin’ hard, they generally have a meaningful reason no matter how ridiculous the synopsis of their series is. SK8 the Infinity follows the same logic with one of the most unexpected premises in sports anime: what if you played the sport because... you liked it? Not to win a championship, earn money, or follow in an icon’s footsteps, you just... really like skateboarding.


Reki Kyan spends his evenings partaking in the secret underground skateboarding scene. Eventually he introduces his new classmate, Langa Hasegawa, to the world of S and all its Mario Kart underground factory course glory. At opponents will throw firecrackers in your face or straight-up assault you with a skateboard to secure a victory. Certain skaters also possess plot armor abilities that let them fly off the side of a cliff and land on the ground with no broken bones. 


RELATED: SK8 the Infinity Anime Reveals OVA and Second Season Plans


Being around so many talented folks can really put a damper on the sport you love... or it can teach you to simply enjoy the thing and stop stressing about whether or not you’re the best at it. In such a competitive environment (and genre of anime) SK8 the Infinity dares to let folks enjoy things without trying to make something else out of it. 


Please Protect the Soft Tennis Club


Stars Align


When you get down to it a lot of sports anime have a heavy focus on the characters. The sport is exciting to watch but it often feels like a tool for characters to express their feelings and build relationships with others. There’s no better example than in Stars Align.


The soft tennis club is in bad shape. The players on the team aren’t all that impressive save for Toma Shinjo, who desperately wants to recruit someone with some athletic ability. Enter classmate Maki Katsuragi who has no interest in joining a club unless he gets paid, but it doesn’t take long for the team to mean something more to him. 


RELATED: Stars Align Proves Winning Isn't the Most Important Thing in Sports


Stars Align centers on characters who care about the sport, not for any sort of notoriety, but because it gives them a place where they’re allowed to be themselves. All of the members of the team have something that’s hurting them when they leave practice. Their lives at home are full of hardships that range from abusive parents to family members that aren’t accepting of their gender identity. Stars Align isn’t as flashy as the other series on this list, but it definitely has some of the highest stakes in sports anime as getting better at tennis translates to a frantic need to protect the one place the team feels safe. 


What's a sports anime that left you reeling after the final point was scored in the game? Is there one that made you look at the sport — and life in general — differently? Let us know in the comments!




Briana Lawrence is the Senior EN Features Editor here at Crunchyroll. When she’s not writing she’s taking care of her three butthead cats and playing Hades for the 100th time. You can check out her writings and her book series over at her website and give her a shout-over on Twitter.  

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