10 Sports Manga for Hardcore Fans and Newcomers Alike | Mondo Manga

A roundup of manga covering a range of sports, from soccer and basketball to ice skating and volleball. Most geared for grades 8 and up.

Shonen is a popular genre of manga or anime that is written with young men and boys in mind and often features male protagonists, despite having wide appeal to readers of all genders. The typical shonen hero is a talented outsider with a definite goal, a series of obstacles to overcome, and a handful of loyal friends to help, and that’s a natural fit with the world of sports: Instead of battling supervillains or slaying demons, the hero takes his fights to the playing field, the basketball court, or even the dance floor.

In fact, sports manga are so popular in Japan that they have sometimes impacted the world outside the page. Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk helped popularize basketball there when it ran in Weekly Shonen Jump in the ‘90s, and Inoue created a scholarship to send talented teenagers to America to go to school and play basketball there. The boxing manga Ashita no Joe, which ran in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, was a huge cultural force. It was so influential that an avant-garde theater group held a funeral for one character at Kodansha headquarters, drawing a crowd of 700 people for a ceremony that included a KO countdown along with traditional observances, and the staff of the Naruto anime were all fans of the series who saw the title character Naruto as being in the same vein as Joe.

Sports fans in Japan, like their counterparts in America, love a scrappy underdog on the wrong side of a lopsided contest, and that’s what most sports manga deliver. They usually emphasize team spirit over individual talent, and a common trope is the skilled athlete who has been training for years only to learn that he has a flaw that can only be remedied by teaming up with the hero, whom he previously despised as a raw newcomer.

Here’s a roundup of sports manga covering a wide array of sports, all suitable for newcomers as well as longtime fans.

“Again!!” Mitsurou Kubo.. Illus. by Mitsurou Kubo. Kodansha Comics.
Gr. 11 Up—Kinichiro is about to graduate from high school without having made any friends, fallen in love, or distinguished himself in any way, so when he somehow travels back in time to his freshman year, he has the opportunity for a do-over. This time around, he gives in to his curiosity about the weirdly enthusiastic girl who was trying to recruit members for the ouendan club. Ouendan is a sort of formalized cheering that’s different from traditional cheerleading, and in fact, the two teams at Kinichiro’s school are rivals. Meanwhile, the popular and successful girl who traveled back in time with Kinichiro can’t figure out why the magic isn’t happening all over again for her. The story, art, and script are top-notch in this series, which is not surprising as it’s by the co-creator of the popular anime Yuri!!! on Ice. The series is complete in 12 volumes.

“Dive!!” Eto Mori. Illus. by Ruzuru Akashiba. Yen Pr.
Gr. 8 Up—Tomoki loves high diving, but his team’s performance is underwhelming, and their sponsors have threatened to pull their support and close down the diving club. The only way to save it is for one of the divers to make it into the Tokyo Olympics, and Tomoki is eager to be the one, although his teammate Youichi is both more talented and the son of an Olympic diver himself. The manga does a good job of depicting both the sport and the team dynamics. The manga, which is based on a series of light novels, is complete in three volumes, and the anime is available in English as well.

Read: 10 Shonen Manga Must-Reads | Mondo Manga

“Haikyuu!!” Haruichi Furudate Illus. by Haruichi Furudate. Viz.
Gr. 8 Up—Shoyo Hinata is determined to play volleyball, despite the fact that he’s too short and his middle school doesn’t have a team. He gets his friends together to form a ragtag team and practices on his own, but when he finally gets to play a real game, he is swiftly put in his place by rising star Tobio Kateyama, a talented player whose ego sometimes gets in the way of his moves. Now the two are in high school and on the same team, and, as so often happens in sports manga, their abilities perfectly complement each other. In addition to plenty of team drama, this manga also introduces the rules and strategy of volleyball, a little at a time, and really brings the game to life on the page. The series is 45 volumes long in Japanese, and Viz will publish volume 40 in English on September 1; the anime is also available in English.

“Kuroko’s Basketball.” Tadatoshi Fujimaki. Illus. by Tadatoshi Fujimaki. Viz.
Gr. 8 Up—Kuroko is small, weak, and not very fast, but he has an unusual talent: He goes unnoticed on the court, using misdirection to become invisible to others until it’s too late. That makes him the perfect foil to Kise, a talented player who went to middle school in America. There’s a lot of talk about strategy and a fair amount of court time as well, with the team’s female coach running a sort of play-by-play from the sidelines as the players work together to become the top team in the country. Viz published this manga in 15 double-sized volumes, and an anime is available in English as well.

“Real.” Takehiko Inoue. Illus. by Takehiko Inoue. Viz.
Gr. 10 Up—Inoue takes on the world of wheelchair basketball in this series, which has more realistic art and more serious themes than “Slam Dunk” but also packs in plenty of basketball. The story centers around three young men who are wheelchair users because of disease or accidents that have disrupted their ambitions and led to deep emotional damage. Basketball is their outlet, and through the game they begin to resolve their issues. As with “Slam Dunk,” Inoue includes plenty of court action. The series is 14 volumes long in Japan, all of which have been published in English, and Inoue returned to it after a five-year hiatus in 2019 so more volumes can be expected.

“Sayonara Football.” Naoshi Arakawa. Illus. by Naoshi Arakawa. Kodansha Comics.
Gr. 8 Up—In this series, football means soccer, which has been the ruling passion of Nozomi Onda’s life since she was a little kid. Now that she’s in junior high, though, the team is boys-only and while she spends a lot of time with them, she can’t play in the upcoming tourney. That infuriates her because not only is she better than the boys, she trained the star player on the opposing team, who is now bigger and possibly better than her. There’s a lot of romance in this first volume but also a lot of soccer, so it’s a good pick for true fans of the game. The series is two volumes long and has already been published digitally; Kodansha will release the first volume in print September. Arakawa is also the creator of the super-popular Your Lie in April and the soccer manga “Farewell, My Dear Cramer,” which is available digitally in English.

“Slam Dunk.” Takehiko Inoue.. Illus. by Takehiko Inoue. Viz.
Gr. 8 Up—Hanamichi Sakuragi can take anyone on in a fight but has no luck with the ladies. After 50 rejections, he’s heading toward delinquency when he meets the wholesome Haruko, who doesn’t shy away from him as other girls have but instead encourages him to take up basketball. Since Haruko is the manager of the team, and since his last rejection was from a girl who picked a basketball player over him, Sakuragi dives into the sport for all the wrong reasons but turns out (surprise!) to have a natural talent for the game. There’s a lot of basketball in this series, and Inoue draws the game sequences with the relish of a true basketball fan. Viz has published all 31 volumes, and the anime adaptation is available in English.

“Sugar Princess: Skating to Win.” Hisaya Nakajo Illus. by Hisaya Nakajo. Viz.
Gr. 5 Up—This brief shoujo series manages to squeeze a whole lot of story into just two volumes. In order to save the ice rink she loves, middle schooler Maya Kuroniki must win a figure skating competition in the doubles division, paired up with icy-hearted Shun Kano. Maya is cute and eager to please, and she gradually wins Shun over, but there’s also a jealous girlfriend, a mysterious skater couple, and all sorts of other drama going on along the way. The manga depicts and explain some figure skating moves, and Nakajo opens many chapters with a sketch of a famous real-life skating duo. The panels are crowded with exploding screentones, rings of flowers, and lots of asides and interior monologues, but the characters are well constructed, and this is a good choice for younger readers who want to try manga (Viz rates it for all ages).

“Welcome to the Ballroom.” Tomo Takeuchi. Illus. by Tomo Takeuchi. Kodansha Comics.
Gr. 8 Up—Competitive ballroom dancing is indeed a sport—in fact it’s called dancesport, and this series mixes up the glamorous side of dancing with slapstick comedy and shonen romance. Tatara Fujita is in his last year of middle school and not only doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, he doesn’t even like anything. Then a chance encounter with some bullies and a dashing motorcyclist plunges Fujita into the sweaty, gritty, yet sometimes very beautiful world of ballroom dancing where he finds a wacky group of friends and a pretty girl as well. Takeuchi depicts individual dance moves and shows the different approaches taken by different dancers as well as some sweeping scenes on the competition dance floor. Fujita is one of those characters who puts in extreme effort, and the others are a mix of serious and ridiculous. The series is ongoing, and nine volumes are currently available in English.

“Yowamushi Pedal.” Wataru Watanabe. Illus. by Wataru Watanabe. Yen Pr.
Gr 8 Up—This series takes the loser-hero trope to an extreme. Onoda, the hero, is a super anime fan who is awkward and klutzy but can do one thing really well: Ride a bike. Onoda rides his bike the 27 miles (each way) to the otaku paradise Akihabara every week, as he has since fourth grade. He’s still riding the bike he had in fourth grade, too. His classmate Imaizumi is a very competitive cyclist who has been practicing hard for decades on a super-sophisticated bike. With a little nudge from a cute girl (whose family owns a bike-repair shop), these two opposites meet, and Onoda is drawn slowly into the world of cycling. The art is raw and expressive; Watanabe has a knack for showing the action of the cyclists as well as their emotions. Because Onoda is a total newcomer, the characters take the opportunity to explain the techniques and technicalities of cycling to the reader, making this a very accessible manga, especially to new fans of the sport. The series is still ongoing in Japan (and up to 65 volumes there); Yen is publishing the English version in two-in-one omnibus format, with the 15th volume due out in September. The anime is available in English.

Read: Manga: An All-Ages Starter List | Mondo Manga
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Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, editor of the “Good Comics for Kids” blog, writes “Stellar Panels” SLJ’s graphic novels column. 

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