Are you tired of watching boring, actual basketball? Are you sick of Stephen Curry sinking 30-foot bombs and want to instead watch a guy spin around just to make a single pass? Do you want to watch three episodes worth of content for a single shot?
In that case, basketball anime is for you! Basketball anime (and sports anime in general) bring out the best of both sports and anime. A well-done sports anime will entice sports fans because of the unique ways their favorite game is portrayed on the screen. On the other hand, die-hard anime fans will enjoy the sports genre because they are a breath of fresh air from combat-themed shounen animes.
When you think of basketball anime, you likely think about the two BIG titles: Slam Dunk and Kuroko no Basket. However, there’s a ton of great anime in the genre that doesn’t get much attention. We’ll look at some of them (including the power duo), and then we’ll discuss why basketball anime isn’t as popular as, say, Haikyuu or other sports animes.
Top 9 Best Basketball Anime Series
1. Slam Dunk (1993)
Slam Dunk is by far one of the greatest sports animes… of all time. That’s not an exaggeration: this late 90s manga was one of the pioneers of the genre and is still very much beloved to this day. While the art style might be outdated for this time, the story and everything else isn’t, and it can stand toe-to-toe with the best animes today.
Meet Hanamichi Sakuragi, a hot-headed high schooler who has had terrible luck with girls. Think about the guy with the worst luck in romance in your high school, and amplify that by ten. There’s not a lot going for Sakuragi, as he enters Shohoku High School.
On Sakuragi’s first day in Shohoku, he meets Haruko Akagi. Being the hopeless romantic that he is, Sakuragi falls head-over-heels for Akagi. However, Haruko, like most girls, have their eyes on Kaede Rukawa, the star forward of the Shohoku men’s basketball. Eager to impress his newfound crush, Hanamichi Sakuragi joins the Shohoku basketball team (whose team captain is also Haruko’s older brother, Takenore Akagi), despite knowing next-to-nothing about the game he’s trying to play.
The anime follows Sakuragi’s basketball journey, and how he learns to love the game through sheer power of will. Though his motivations at first were to impress Haruko and play rival to Rukawa, Sakuragi slowly but surely develops a genuine passion for basketball.
What’s amazing about Slam Dunk is how the protagonist is absolutely clueless about basketball. There have been plenty of sports animes where the protagonist is a total newb (Hinata from Haikyuu!), but Sakuragi literally knows nothing about basketball. Therefore, we get to see a realistic portrayal of what’s it like to learn the game.
The story is nothing to scoff at, either: one of my biggest gripes about shonen anime is the overreliance on deus ex machinas to save the team. Slam Dunk doesn’t have those: the team loses multiple times throughout the series. In these losses, we see the growth of these players and how they channel their losses to make themselves better.
2. Kuroko no Basket (2012)
Kuroko no Basuke (eng: Kuroko’s Basketball) would be the basketball anime most familiar to younger anime and basketball fans. The manga was first published in 2008, while its anime adaptation came out four years later. Today, it’s deservingly considered one of the most popular sports anime shows of all time, though I have some gripes about it.
Kuroko no Basket follows one Kuroko Tetsuya, a little-known player who just graduated from the esteemed Teiko Middle School basketball program. Teiko was an extremely strong junior high school, as its five basketball players had otherworldly basketball abilities that led people to call them the “Generation of Miracles”. Kuroko was a phantom sixth man, and he enters Seirin High, a small high school with a mediocre basketball team.
In Seirin, Kuroko meets Kagami Taiga, an athletic freak of nature who came over from the United States. Kagami and the rest of Seirin are disappointed by Kuroko’s unimpressive stature (especially since he comes from Teiko), but soon realize the difference he makes for the school’s basketball team.
KnB is your standard, run-of-the-mill sports anime in terms of plot. Underdog protagonist joins an underdog team, and with the power of friendship, the high school team tries to win it all. The main shtick of Kuroko is that many of the “star” players have “superpowers”. The Generation of Miracles are the biggest examples: you have a player who can shoot with just one hand, a player who can copy skills, a player who can shoot from literally the other side of the court, and someone who can even predict the future because his orders are absolute!
KnB is highly regarded by many fans as one of the best animes out there, and it’s hard not to see why. The animation is gorgeous, the action scenes are hype, and everything looks so damn pretty. It’s basically an action anime, but with basketball! If you get turned off by superhero skills, this isn’t for you. But if you like seeing anime boys do cool things with a basketball, then Kuroko no Basket is for you.
3. Kuroko no Basuke: Last Game (2017)
Yes, I know. I’ve already just mentioned Kuroku no Basuke. However, the final movie of Kuroko no Basket deserves a special mention due to it being an absolute banger of a movie. It’s one of the most amazing-looking anime sports movies, with a decent storyline to boot.
Set after the final game of the Inter-High between Seirin and Rakuzan, this movie’s premise is simple. Jabberwock, a brash streetball team from the great lands of the United States, visits Japan for an exhibition match against some of the better high school players of the country.
After a dominant showing rife with trash-talking from the Americans, Kuroko, Kagami, and some of the Generation of Miracles meet Jabberwock. A heated argument between Kuroko and the Americans (along with some mildly racist undertones from the Americans) leads to a televised basketball game between the Generation of Miracles + Kuroko and Kagami and Jabberwock.
Like the main series, the plot is as straightforward as can be. However, the biggest appeal of Last Game is the stunning action scenes. This movie is basically fanservice for the biggest Kuroku fans. We get to see all of the Generation of Miracles, at full power, playing together for the same team. Add to that two more hype machines in the deadly Seirin high school duo, and we have ourselves an amazing movie with incredible action.
4. Ahiru no Sora (2019)
Now, we move into some of the lesser-known basketball animes that you might be interested in. With its final episode shown in 2020, Ahiru no Sora is a relatively new basketball anime that stays faithful to the manga it’s based on. There are some issues (no anime is perfect, after all), but it’s still an incredibly interesting ride with a fresh take on the basketball genre.
Kurumatani Sora is the basketball anime world’s response to Shoyo Hinata. Sora is the son of a former women’s basketball player but unfortunately was not blessed with the gift of height. Despite his short stature, Sora develops an intense passion for basketball, and he pursues his hoop dreams.
Sora would go to Kuzuryuu High School in order to join their basketball team. Much to his horror, he learns that the team has become a retreat for school delinquents looking for someplace to skip school. Not only that, but two members of the high school basketball team admit to Sora that they’ve lost passion for the game.
Unperturbed by this development, Sora challenges whatever was left of the team to a basketball game. Despite being a whole foot shorter than most of the team, Sora’s unquestionable passion for basketball reignites the squad. Slowly but surely, the players on the team rediscover their will to play basketball.
What makes Ahiru no Sora so good? Well, just like Slam Dunk, the anime is rooted in reality. Passionate hoop heads might prefer watching basketball without crazy superpowers, and Ahiru no Sora fits right in. The plot, while being generic in essence, is also unique in that the good guys don’t always win. You feel that Sora and Kuzuryuu High aren’t the best instantly: they get beat down multiple times in the series. There’s no power of friendship that bails them out.
If you like a realistic take on basketball anime that has visuals apt for this time (though still underwhelming, in my opinion), they go try watching Ahiru no Sora. It’s one of the best sports animes out there today.
5. Dear Boys (Hoop Days) (2003)
The anime version of Dear Boys, also known as Hoop Days, is another basketball anime that takes a slightly different approach to things. This anime is the answer to the question: what if basketball… was a soap opera?
Aikawa Kazuhito is a high school student and team captain of Tendoji High, a prestigious program with a high pedigree. After a series of events, he transfers to Mizuho High School, where the basketball program is… rapidly falling apart. Kazuhito joining the team was the only reason Mizuho’s program didn’t dissolve, as they had only four basketball players before that.
Despite these odds, Kazuhito’s passion lights a fire under these four players. Together, they will try their hardest to win their games and the championship.
Unlike the other four animes mentioned above, Dear Boys doesn’t focus much on the basketball action. Rather, it focuses on the relationships between the five protagonists. It’s an interesting take on the genre, turning it into something like a soap opera. The show also emphasizes teamwork and team spirit more than any other basketball anime, which is really nice to see.
6. Buzzer Beater (2005)
Buzzer Beater was the second basketball manga series by Takahiko Inoue, who wrote the popular manga/anime we covered above, Slam Dunk. But unlike Slam Dunk, which is grounded in the present, Buzzer Beater has an interesting take on the genre.
It is set a couple of hundred years in the future, in New York. Hideyoshi Tanaka is a young boy who survives by hustling other kids in basketball games on the street. He unexpectedly gets drafted to a pro-team, where he has to face physically superior alien beings that have taken over professional basketball. Hideyoshi, with his all-human team, competes in the Space League to bring the championship back home to earth.
While the main characters and plot aren’t quite as well-developed as Slam Dunk, this is still a fine anime that is sure to please any avid basketball fan who watches anime.
7. Dash Kappei (1981)
If you want to go back in time and check out a classic sports anime, Dash Kappei is for you. The story focuses on Kappei Sakamoto, a sub-1 meter tall student who is somehow the school basketball club’s star player. This is a truly bizarre, 65-episode anime that is a lot more interesting than what you might expect from a series of its age.
An interesting fact is that this anime also features Seirin High School, which has the same name as the school from Kuroku no Basuke. As it turns out, this is actually a famous Japanese school in real life, though it is mostly known for its baseball heritage.
8. Basquash! (2009)
Given Japan’s obsession with mecha, it’s probably not that surprising that a basketball anime featuring robots exists. Unlike Buzzer Beater, which envisions a future where basketball games see humans play aliens, Basquash envisions giant mecha robots playing basketball games in gigantic arenas.
The animation is fantastic and the crazy story keeps you watching, but this anime series focuses on too many things outside of basketball to call it a true basketball anime.
9. Ro-Kyu-Bu! (2011)
If there’s one thing that’s even more popular than giant mecha in the world of manga and anime, it’s loli and cute girls. Ro Kyu Bu follows ex-high school basketball player Hasegawa Subaru channeling his talent to coach a team of young girls who want to learn the game.
I have to admit I haven’t actually watched this series, but it is definitely a basketball show that gets talked about a lot.
Basketball Mangas That Deserve Anime Adaptations
If you’re familiar with anime and manga, you’ll know that almost all the anime out there were originally manga. In many cases, some of the best mangas don’t get the adaptations they deserve for a variety of reasons which ultimately boil down to money.
A perfect example of this is Real, a wheelchair basketball manga from the legendary Takahiko Inoue who is best known for Slam Dunk. Real is a seinen manga, meaning it is targeted towards an older audience. As a result, it features deeper themes and explores the challenges para-athletes face. I strongly encourage those who love reading manga to pick this up.
Other good sports manga about basketball are Switch, Harlem Beat, and Cross Over.
Basketball Anime Vs Other Sports Anime
There’s no denying that we basketball fans are pretty spoiled when it comes to anime. Many basketball fans will argue Slam Dunk to be the GOAT sports anime, but it’s very debatable.
But the one thing that basketball anime lacks is a show which combines two things that make an anime great: amazing animation and great character development.
One of the best sports anime of all time is a volleyball show, Haikyuu! What Haikyuu does incredibly well is characterizing nearly every character in such a way that makes you want to root for them. You get to learn the intricate backstories of the teams, and what motivates them. The result is every game being unpredictable, adding to the tension and enjoyment of the series. Combine that with the awesome animation of action scenes, and you have a top-5 sports anime of all time.
Basketball has Kuroku no Basuke for animation and Slam Dunk for the story, but it doesn’t have a show which can rival Haikyuu on both fronts.
Other sports anime which are contenders for the best sports anime are Hajime No Ippo (boxing), Ping Pong the Animation (Table Tennis), and Ace of Diamond (baseball).
Still, there’s plenty of basketball anime not mentioned here that would be interesting for you guys. For example, Barangay 143 is a Filipino anime that focuses on street basketball as opposed to the high school basketball anime shows that dominate the scene. However, we’re yet to see that amazing basketball anime that combines both plot and animation. Hopefully, we get that in the next season of good animes.