Essential Shonen Sports Manga
So it's no secret I love sports mangas and animes, but the problem I face along with many others is actually finding one that I enjoy. This is the case since there are as many sports manga's out there as actual athletes but even some of the best sports mangas are still not very well known outside of Japan. So here is just a list of sports manga and anime which are considered to be amongst the best (some through my opinion maybe). This article contains only shonen series but I may follow up with one about seinen series.
Basketball is the sport played by giants and mad skilled men, so it's only natural for manga artists to take great pleasure in drawing possibly one of the most exciting sports. It was not always that popular a sport in Japan, but since the heaviest hitter (Slam Dunk), attention to the sport in Japan has increased greatly.
1. Slam Dunk
Considered to be one of the greatest sports mangas ever written, this is the one your most likely to come across or have heard of. Slam dunk is a great read for any basketball fans and even though began publication even before I was born, it remains a classic amongst manga.
Plot: Hanamichi Sakuragi holds a record for being rejected by girls, so he initially harbours feeling of hatred towards athletes (since they a re generally who the girls are attracted to) until he is asked by Haruko Akagi whether he loves basketball; he obviously answers yes but as the story goes on the statement he made evolves from a blatant lie into a profound truth. As his love for basketball grows, so does his determination for his team to succeed in the Inter-High.
Manga/Anime: There's plenty of material for all to enjoy - 31 volumes of manga and just over 100 episodes of anime. All the manga volumes have been collected and are available in English and though a little dated, so is the anime (courtesy of Funimation). Personally, I found the manga more interesting since with current technology and rising expectations the anime just couldn't compare but it did spark some childhood meories.
2. Kuroko no Basket
This is the new up-and-comer amongst not just basketball mangas but also sports mangas. In just the 3 years it's been published it's already got itself a spot on the 50 best selling manga in Japan, with expectations that it will just keep improving. Arguably, you could choose this one over Slamd Dunk if you want to red something with more stylish and (now) everyday looking players.
Plot: Taiga Kagami has a goal to defeat the strongest basketball players in the Japanese High School; the "Generation of Miracles." To do so he teams up with Tetsuya Kuroko, who once belonged to the Generation of Miracles and together with Seirin High's basketball team they set out to conquer the Inter-High.
Manga/Anime: 13-14 volumes of the manga are published but unfortunately not in English so you might need to get creative (not encouraging anything illegal here) and anime is set to start this April! I'm looking forward to the anime and I do hope it manages to do the manga justice.
3. Ahiru no Sora
Kind of like the unsung popular basketball manga of Japan, Ahiru no Sora boasts over 7 years of weekly serialisation in Japan. Though it may not be considered to be as popular as Kuroko no Basket, which has gained so much popularity in almost no time, it still sits comfortably as a top 50 selling manga in Japan (2011).
Plot: Sora Kuramatani is the son of an ex-Japanese National Basketball Team member, however he himself stands at only 4'9. This doesn't stop Sora from giving it his all to prove that even short players deserve to play basketball even if it means put together a team consisting mainly of delinquents, a guy in the constant search for love and a weak bodied science club member. Unlike most other mangas, this one starts right at the beginning (i.e. a team must be formed first).
Manga/Anime: Annoyingly enough the series isn't licensed in English and not many anglophones seem to be interested in the series as you can't find many chapters that have been scanlated (not encouraging you to read your manga like this, just pointing it out). Even with good manga sales, Ahiru no Sora has yet to be approached for an anime adaptation which is a pity since the manga is pretty enjoyable and I said, a little underrated.
Unfortunately football seems to be a thing of the past when it comes to manga. In recent years, it has been somewhat impossible to find decent works based on the sport and even harder for decent works to get recognition and popularity - the most popular football manga currently is Kodansha's seinen piece Giant Killing. Though the shonen demographic may seem to be a lost cause, a couple of pieces still make the cut.
1. Area no Kishi
A football manga written by the top-notch mangaka Shin Kibayashi, just by watching the first 3 episodes of the anime I was drawn in and already emotionally attached to both the characters and the story. Even though the manga itself may not have gained the same popularity as fellow Weekly Shonen Magazine manga Ahiru no Sora, it does manage to make itself different from most sports stories.
Plot: Kakeru is content with watching his older brother Suguru from the sidelines as he progresses towards a future with the Japanese National Team. Suguru is annoyed by Kakeru being only a manager of the football team and not an actual player since his dream is for both of them to play on the Japanese team.
Manga/Anime: 27 volumes of manga means there's plenty of reading material but only if you can read Japanese (not enough English material floating around the web - up to 90 chapters at best, plus the series doesn't have an english publisher). This is all due to the manga's lack of international popularity or maybe much like Ahiru no Sora might have experienced the same, Shueisha is clearly better at global advertising and has more of a reputation than Kodansha in the western world. An anime has just started and so far it's great so I would recommend you get into that rather than the manga at this current time.
I honestly don't know much about this one. It's been around long enough to be appreciated (published from 1999-2004) plus much like Area no Kishi, this is another sports manga where there are no "special" moves involved (i.e. no unrealistic super shots).
Plot: Teppei Sakamoto is a boy living in the countryside. He has always loved football and all his football skills are taught to him by his sister. Finally his sister wants him to join the Mizumoto High School Soccer team.
Manga/Anime: No anime now and unlikely to be at all. The manga did rack up 25 volumes but unfortunately no English publisher has picked up the series, so if you do want to read the series then get a Japanese dictionary or use the other method.
Baseball is a sport with a huge fan base in Japan, especially since it's not rare anymore to see a Japanese player in the MLB (American Pro Baseball League). Baseball manga does seem to have appeal to it and that is demonstrated by Naruto's manga artist Masashi Kishimoto bringing out a one-shot a few years ago about baseball.
This is the big one. Probably the most famous of the baseball manga, this could be considered to be one of the great sports manga's of our time because of how extensive the story is and how long it has lasted (around 16 years of serialisation)
Plot: Simply put, the story follows the life of Goro Honda from kindergarten - yeah thats right - all the way to his professional baseball career. Literally, the story goes through everyone of the stages in his baseball career (Little league, Junior High, Minor League etc) until the end when the World Series has concluded.
Manga/Anime: 78 volumes of the manga exist but not in English. This is another case of taking on a manga that's very time consuming, but luckily the anime is only 154 episodes long so if you want something that will take less time you should probably stick to the anime.
2. Ace of Diamond
Currently the most popular baseball manga in Japan and not just the shonen demographic. Kodansha's sports manga line up in Weekly Shonen Magazine is really something else and it seems like this is one of the popular ones.
Plot: Eijun, a left-handed pitcher living in Nagano decides to leave the countryside to attend the same high school as an elite pitcher which he was teamed up with. At his new high school, the elite catcher becomes his biggest rival and the story goes on from there.
Manga/Anime: 27 volumes of the manga are out and the series is resting comfortably with Ahiru no Sora and Kuroko no Basket on the best selling manga of 2011 list. No word about an anime yet but it may be possible in the future considering the manga's possibility and of course so far there are no English versions of the comic available.
It's pretty obvious that Basketball, Football and Baseball manga will almost always dominate in the area of sports manga but occasionally we get to see another sport series be made so well we can't help but read it.
1. Eyeshield 21
Breaking away from the norm, this is a story that revolves around American Football! Just to prove it's popularity; since the release of this manga, the number of children playing American Football in Japan has almost tripled. So if your looking for a different sport to read in manga style and you love comedy, this is the one for you.
Plot: Sena Kobayakawa is small and weak but has incredible speed which he has obtained from years of being a gopher. This doesn't get past Yoichi Hiruma, the captain and Quarterback of Deimon's American Football Team, who recruits him straight away since he plans to take a team all the way to the Christmas Ball (Japan's National Championship). Full of comedy, sometimes you'll forget that this is an actual sports manga but the best part about this manga are the characters!
Manga/Anime: Lots and lots of manga available - 37 volumes to be exact that have been published in English as well. The 145 episodes of the anime are available through Toonami and are enjoyable to watch!
2. Prince of Tennis
The king (or should I say Prince) of tennis manga, boasting over 9 years of serialisation for the first series and now with another 2 years of serialisation for the new series. Tennis manga are rare on their own, so tennis and manga fans should have a go at it!
Plot: Ryouma Echizen is the son of a former pro tennis player and incidentally somewhat of a tennis prodigy himself. He attends Seishun Academy and with the rest of his talented team mates, they aim to conquer the nationals at the middle school level.
Manga/Anime: Tonnes of material, so this ones a great one to get into if you want a time consuming manga. The 42 volumes of the manga are available in English, so getting your hands on the material is easy and after you finish you can rip into the 178 episode long anime. If after finishing all of that you are still left wanting more, New Prince of Tennis is still ongoing in Jump SQ and had around 5 volumes published (though no English publisher has picked up this instalment to the series) and a new anime that was released this winter season.
3. Hajime no Ippo
Yes One Piece has been running for over 12 years but Hajime no Ippo has been going for about 20 years. 20 years and it's currently the only boxing manga that's getting any attention. Though it doesn't rank very high in the top 50 for manga's sold in 2011, the length of its serialisation should be proof of the story's strength and not to mention the manga artist himself, George Morikawa has spent/spends time in actual boxers corners. Our friends from North America might know this series by the name Fighting Spirit.
Plot: Ippo Makunoichi is constantly being bullied and beaten up, until one day when he is saved by a pro boxer. Ippo now finds that he has a wish to become a professional boxer but can only do so after going through 2 conditions set; one by the fighter that saved him and the other by the trainer of the gym.
Manga/Anime: Believe it or not there have been no English publishers who have got their hands on the manga. The animation consisting of 76 and then later an additional 26 episodes is licensed in North America by Geon, so at least you can watch those with ease. CAUTION: If you're really planning to read the manga, be aware that its over 950 chapters, a reason that stopped me from ever trying to read it in its entirety.