The high stakes. The drama. The tantalizing tales of misfits. When you think about it, competitive sport has all the important elements of a good story. That’s probably why even the medium of anime doesn’t hold back in presenting inspirational chronicles of athletes willing to fight against the odds. But somehow basketball has a special meaning for many of us.
You probably remember playing basketball as a kid and pretending to be your favorite player shooting the winning basket before time ran out. Well, that’s exactly the kind of magic and suspense that some anime series can induce. So here is a list of the best basketball anime that should definitely be on your watch list. You can watch most of these basketball anime on Funimation, Crunchyroll or Hulu.
8. I’ll/CKBC (2002-2003)
‘I’ll/CKBC’ is a short 2 episode OVA centered on the lives of two extraordinary high school basketball players, Tachibana and Hiiragi. Initially, the two players are rivals, but everything changes when they end up in the same school and become teammates. Their rivalry doesn’t let them rest for long, but eventually they realize that they must put all their indifferences behind them to win their big game.
Unlike most of the other anime series on this list, I’ll/CKBC only uses basketball as a narrative device, and instead of focusing too much on the game’s action, it illuminates the spirit of the characters who play it. Featuring flashbacks and deep dives into the personal lives of all the main characters, it is far more introspective and mature compared to most other sports anime.
7. Buzzer Beater (2005)
‘Buzzer Beater’ is set a few hundred years in the future where a young boy named Hideyoshi survives on the streets of New York by challenging other kids in basketball games. But he’s soon called up to a pro team and set to face off against the physically superior aliens that have been dominating the game. With much at stake, it’s up to the first-ever all-human team to reclaim the basketball title that’s truly theirs.
Undeniably, Buzzer Beater has a very unique premise, also reminiscent of Hollywood’s Space Jam. The animation style is a bit crude, but it keeps you hooked with its comedy and over-the-top basketball action.
6. Dear Boys (Hoop Days) (2003)
Aikawa Kazuhiko, the main character of Hoop Dreams, is a star player and captain of Tendoji High’s prestigious basketball team. But when he moves to a new city, he must start a whole new basketball team. He accepts the challenge, and with the goal of taking his team to the national championships, he embarks on a journey to create the ultimate team.
Compared to all of the other anime series on this list, Dear Boys has a very serious tone and hardly any humor. Even when it comes to the basketball game, it becomes as real as anime can get. If you’re really passionate about the sport of basketball, there’s no other series quite as thrilling and dramatic as this one.
5. Ro-Kyu-Bu! (2011)
‘Ro-kyu-bu!’ is a unique blend of basketball action and the cute girls do cute stuff trope. The film tells the story of talented high school basketball player Hasegawa Subaru, whose body dreams are shattered when his high school team is disbanded. But instead of giving up, he uses all his basketball knowledge to coach a team of young girls.
From a technical point of view, Ro-Kyu-Bu! not very engaging and can be a bit off-putting for those looking for some serious basketball action. But for those who like sports anime with an entertaining kawaii character, there is no other anime like Ro-Kyu-Bu!.
4. Basquash! (2009)
We’ve seen some epic mecha boxing matches in series like Megalo Box and Levius, but the idea of mecha basketball is still unexplored in the anime world. Basquash is unique, and as ridiculous as it sounds, the anime perfectly manages to portray a futuristic take on basketball like never before. And for obvious reasons, since it’s about giant mecha robots playing basketball, the sport looks way more flashy and exciting than it is in real life. Regardless of whether you’re into sports anime or not, Basquash is worth a try.
3. Ahiru no Sora (2019-)
With a tiny protagonist and a very inspirational storyline, Ahiru no Sora is easily one of the best basketball anime series out there. Although the premise is fairly generic and revolves around the journey of a losing high school basketball team, what makes it truly intriguing is the vibrant cast of characters. For the uninitiated, the anime also keeps trying to explain the rules of basketball. He meticulously explores all of his characters using flashbacks and above all he upholds the shounen spirit.
2. Kuroko no Basket (2012-)
When it comes to being realistic, Kuroko no Basket doesn’t really fit the bill, as it has more of a supernatural appeal. But that’s what makes it so much more interesting than all the other generic sports anime out there. Production company IG, also known for their work on Attack on Titan and Psycho-Pass, has clearly set a whole new standard for other sports anime with the incredible animation quality and detailed portrayal of Kuroko no Basket’s characters. For me personally, while it’s still not as perfect as Slam Dunk, it comes very close and easily proves to be one of the best modern sports anime series.
1. Slam Dunk (1993-1996)
Slam Dunk dates back to the good old days when there was no anime streaming and I was waiting for a new episode every night. When Slam Dunk first aired, the whole sports anime genre was completely unexplored, and yet it became extremely popular in Japan. The impact of slam dunk was massive and inspired an entire generation to shoot some hoops. The comedy is timeless, the drama is hard-hitting and, most importantly, the basketball action is impressive. What more could you ask for?