Whether you like basketball or not, you can’t deny that it’s a perfect topic for anime to cover. After all, both the tension and the stakes are high, there is rivalry, unity, and struggle, and every game is like a small battle. Obviously, the creators and fans agree with that — judging by the amount of basketball anime and manga on the market.
But how do you choose what to spend your time on when there are so many options? Well, to make it easier for you, I’ve compiled this list of the best basketball anime and manga out there.
1. Kuroko no Basuke
You don’t have to be a sports anime fan to know about Kuroko no Basuke — its popularity transcends genre. Kuroko’s Basketball, as the anime is called in English, was originally a manga published in Weekly Shonen Jump. But it wasn’t until the show aired in 2012 that the story gained popularity across the globe.
The basic plot is quite simple — a high school basketball team led by the main character Kuroko is trying to win a big championship in Japan. On this journey, Kuroko has to defeat his former middle school teammates who were once called the “Generation of Miracles.” At the same time, though, he has to manage a team and its players with vastly different skills and personalities.
Like most sports anime, Kuroko no Basuke isn’t particularly realistic — but that’s not why people watch it anyway. Personally, I love the humor, the action, and the drama. The characters all have their own story arcs, and it’s easy to relate to them. Plus, there’s no confusing jargon, so even people who don’t know anything about basketball can follow easily.
2. Dear Boys
Dear Boys has an anime version called Hoop Days, but the original manga series is far more popular and memorable. It was first published in 1989, but even after the original ran its course with 23 volumes, several spin-offs kept the series alive. The last one, Dear Boys: Over Time, ended in 2017.
The story follows a high school basketball team that’s in serious trouble. There aren’t enough members, and the coach leaves the team after a conflict with one of the players. The situation seems quite hopeless — until the main character, Aikawa, transfers to the team.
Aikawa manages to inspire his new teammates and convince the coach of the girls’ team to help them. The manga then explores their relationships, struggles, and journey to the top. One thing that it does exceptionally well is fleshing out the characters — not just Aikawa and his team members, but also their rivals. So if you like stories with well-developed characters and intense basketball matches, this manga is a must-read.
3. Ahiru no Sora
Though the manga series Ahiru no Sora began in 2003, its anime adaptation only launched in the latter half of 2019. Since it’s so new, this basketball anime still hasn’t made a huge splash among fans of the genre. But it has definitely set out to do so in the future.
As with most shonen manga, it follows the story of an underdog — the main character Sora Kurumatani. He isn’t very tall, but what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm. His genuine love for basketball is almost contagious.
Unfortunately, his new teammates don’t share the same excitement. In fact, delinquent students have completely overtaken the basketball team even though they don’t care about the sport at all. Sora sets out to change that — and in true anime fashion, he does. But though the result might be predictable, the journey is exciting and entertaining.
4. Slam Dunk
If you could thank (or blame) a single show for starting the basketball anime and manga trend, it would have to be Slam Dunk. The manga of the same name became incredibly popular in Japan — so much so that the Japan Basketball Association recognized its importance. The anime that ran from 1993 to 1996 also had a lot of fans in Asia, Europe, and Japan.
Slam Dunk’s protagonist, Sakuragi, is the leader of a gang. He’s naturally athletic but hates basketball. The only reason for his hatred is that girls keep rejecting him and going for basketball players. Eventually, though, he meets a girl, Haruko, who doesn’t completely dismiss him.
Haruko introduces him to the basketball team, thinking he’d be a good addition. Reluctantly, Sakuragi decides to join, mostly in order to impress her. However, he soon discovers that he genuinely enjoys the sport and Haruko is no longer his only reason for staying on the team.
Aside from the developing relationship between Haruko and Sakuragi, this anime is full of intense matches, rivalries, and struggle to win the national championship. But perhaps the most interesting part is Sakuragi’s growth from a delinquent into a real member of his basketball team.
5. Buzzer Beater
Just like all other basketball anime on this list, Buzzer Beater also started as a manga. It was published between 1996 and 1998, and seven years later, it finally got an anime adaptation. Then, two years after the first run, the second anime series started in 2007.
If you’re sick of the same old high school basketball story, don’t worry — Buzzer Beater takes the plot a step further. Instead of competing against a rivaling high school team, the protagonist now has to deal with aliens. That’s right, this anime has basketball-playing aliens.
The aliens and humans compete in Space Leagues — an intergalactic tournament covering all major sports. Unfortunately, the aliens are physically far superior to humans, so they always win. A man called Yoshimune decides to change that and begins recruiting basketball players from all over the world.
The story is quite interesting, even if the animation is at times sub-par. The diverse character cast and their relationships only add to the show’s appeal. So I’d recommend this basketball anime to anyone — whether they like the sport or not.
If you’re looking for a fun, action-packed, and exciting story, basketball anime and manga have just what you need. This list features only a few of the examples that I believe are worth watching. Even if none of them are your cup of tea, there are many others out there — and at least some are bound to grab your attention.