8 Must-Watch Sports Anime to Inspire Your 2021 Fitness Goals

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Deanna Nguyen
Deanna Nguyen is a writer and editor with several years of experience in content creation and editorial management for print and digital publications. Aside from watching anime and simping for her favorite characters, she enjoys playing otome games and cuddling with her bichon frise, Yoshi, during her free time.

By Deanna Nguyen

It’s never too late to set some fitness goals, especially when we’ve barely scratched the surface of 2021!

Staying in all day to watch anime is totally relatable and valid, but what if we told you there are plenty of sports anime that might encourage you to get outside? Whether you’re an athlete, a sports fan or neither, watching sports anime can help you find motivation for being active.

This Winter Season has given us a handful of new shows that involve volleyball and two different types of skating, but we’re also looking at past sports anime that you might’ve skipped when they first aired. Now that they’re complete, you can binge them in one go! 

Ready to feel inspired by sweaty athletes with big dreams and fierce competitions that will get your adrenaline pumping? Here are eight must-watch sports anime to help you get started—or hold you accountable—on your fitness goals!


SK8 the Infinity

Avril Lavigne once said, “He was a skater boy,” but SK8 the Infinity has an entire cast of them. If you enjoy Hiroko Utsumi’s works like Free! and Banana Fish, then you’re in for a treat with her latest project about pro skateboarders in Okinawa, Japan! 

Reki is one of the main protagonists who not only loves skateboarding, but also enjoys making his own custom decks. He frequently participates in the dangerous “S” races, which take place at night and are bound by no rules. When Reki meets Langa, a transfer student from Canada, he introduces the newbie to the world of skateboarding. 

RELATED: 8 Reasons Why SK8 the Infinity Is Your Next Anime Obsession

Produced by Bones (My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100), SK8 the Infinity receives the fluid animation treatment in the way that Reki demonstrates tricks on a Tech Deck or when Langa tests out the feel of being on a skateboard for the first time, only to bail hard.

The show is a love letter to skateboarders, both casual and pro, and takes its time to demonstrate how difficult it is to learn how to skateboard. But the moment Langa successfully performs his first ollie after many failed attempts is the moment that solidifies “practice makes perfect.” 

Watch SK8 the Infinity only on Funimation!


2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team

2.43 Volleyball Anime

As one of the other new sports anime on the winter season roster, david production’s 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team is exactly what the title says: high school boys who join the volleyball team.

On a deeper level, the show delves into the complications of feeling inferior to someone who’s talented at a sport, especially when the characters are childhood friends. 

RELATED: Exploring the Harmony of Sports Anime

Kimichika Hajima moves back to his hometown, Fukui, after an incident with one of his teammates from his middle school in Tokyo. He reunites with his childhood friend Yuni Kuroba, and while the two were initially gung ho about playing volleyball together, their relationship later buckles after Yuni skips out on a match because he believes the team doesn’t need him.

Rivalries between athletes and teams are the undercurrent of any sport, and 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team cuts right to the chase with characters harboring feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness at the start of the show. Being talented or even good at a sport isn’t as important as overcoming your weaknesses by working together with your team. 

Watch 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team only on Funimation!


Skate-Leading Stars

Skate-Leading Stars

A different type of skating graces the Winter Season called Skate-Leading Stars, in which a high school team of figure skaters competes in skate-leading competitions.

The show is a new original anime produced by J.C.STAFF, created and directed by Goro Taniguchi alongside Toshinori Fukushima. A large cast of male characters isn’t anything new with sports anime, and Skate-Leading Stars has around 15 of them, nine of which are part of Ionodai High School. 

But don’t let the numbers deter you from learning more about skate-leading! As the characters work together to beat the competition, they reignite their passion for the sport.

Can’t get enough of the figure-skating boys? A manga adaptation was published in 2020 and is still ongoing; it runs in MonthlyG Fantasy magazine which is published by Square Enix.

Watch Skate-Leading Stars on Funimation!


The Free! series

Dive into the pool and practice your swimming strokes with Free! -Iwatobi Swim Club, a show that doesn’t feel shy about revealing swimmers’ abs and pecs!

Before Utsumi worked with Bones on SK8 the Infinity, she directed Free! -Iwatobi Swim Club and Free! -Eternal Summer- under Kyoto Animation. The series soon became a beloved franchise, inspiring a slew of films and a light novel. If you haven’t already seen clips of the Iwatobi Swim Club dancing in the first ending sequence, we’ve got you covered:

For newcomers to the franchise, Free! follows Haruka (Haru) Nanase, a gifted swimmer who loves water and will do anything to be in it at every chance he gets. His childhood friend, Rin Matsuoka, goes to a different high school and becomes his rival.

RELATED: The Works of Kyoto Animation, From Violet Evergarden to Free!

Haru joins the Iwatobi Swim Club along with his other childhood friends, Makoto Tachibana and Nagisa Hazuki, and Rei Ryugazaki, who’s new to swimming, completes the team. The series checks off the boxes in terms of rivalries, friendships, fanservice and gorgeous water animation.

Did we mention Rin has shark teeth?

Watch Free! on Funimation!


HANEBADO!

HANEBADO!

When you think of badminton, you don’t picture it as an intense sport, right? Well, HANEBADO! begs to differ. In the competitive world of badminton, it’s all or nothing for Nagisa Aragaki, Kitakomachi High School badminton club’s team captain, and Ayano Hanesaki, daughter of a reigning badminton champion.

Intense is one word to describe the matches as emotions run high, especially from Ayano whose expressions sometimes come off strong and frightening to her opponents.

HANEBADO! doesn’t just focus on the physical demands of badminton but also the psychological trauma that stems from losing a match or, in Ayano’s case, being abandoned by her mom because she didn’t live up to her expectations.

The show draws out the consequences for athletes who are overconfident in their abilities and fail to work in unison with their teammates. If you’re too focused on winning the game, then you don’t actually love the sport—you just love to be the best or better player. 

Watch HANEBADO! on Funimation!


MEGALOBOX

As a celebration of the manga Ashita no Joe’s 50th anniversary in 2018, MEGALOBOX entered the ring and became a highly anticipated anime with an old-school artistic style and hip-hop music composed by mabanua.

The story takes place in a futuristic Japan where people are distinguished as licensed or unlicensed citizens. The former gets to live in the lavish, wealthy city while the latter must make ends meet on the outskirts in the slums.

RELATED: MEGALOBOX 2: NOMAD Punches Up This April With New Teaser Visual, Trailer

The main protagonist, Junk Dog (later named Joe for obvious reasons), takes part in Megalo-boxing where boxers fight with mechanical frames over their arms, elevating the deadliness of the sport. He’s an unlicensed citizen who fights in underground illegal rings, but after encountering the head of the Shirato Group who oversees the Megalonia tournament and her bodyguard, Yuri, Junk Dog enters the rankings for a chance to fight in Megalonia and have a rematch with Yuri. 

Good news for MEGALOBOX fans: a second season has been announced with the title MEGALOBOX 2: NOMAD and will premiere in Japan this April! 

Watch MEGALOBOX on Funimation!


Stars Align

Stars Align

Stars Align is a special show that does more than just showcase tennis matches—it offers important lessons for both kids and adults, especially on topics like gender identity. Not every sports anime is full of action-packed scenes and heated dialogue.

In fact, just being yourself and giving it your best is enough. Of course, there are still blood, sweat and tears, but Stars Align takes a breather, offering quiet moments of clarity for the middle school boys.

RELATED: Lessons for Kids (and Adults) in Kazuki Akane’s Stars Align

The boys’ soft tennis club is on the brink of disbandment, always outperformed by the girls’ club. Toma Shinjo tries to save the club but has no luck in recruiting potential members—until transfer student Maki Katsuragi comes along. Toma quickly realizes Maki’s natural talent at the sport and tries multiple times to recruit him, only to be rejected.

With enough persistence (and making a deal), Maki joins the tennis club and changes up the team’s dynamic, helping them get their heads back in the game.

Watch Stars Align on Funimation!


The Gymnastics Samurai

Gymnastics Samurai

MAPPA has been putting in work with the number of shows they’ve been producing, but one show that might’ve slipped under your radar is The Gymnastics Samurai.

We’re transported back to 2002, a time when the Japanese men’s gymnastics team isn’t doing so hot. Jotaro Aragaki, a 29-year-old pro gymnast, former Olympian and single father, is about to announce his retirement when a trip to Edo Wonderland with his daughter, Rei, convinces him to keep pursuing his sports career.

RELATED: The Many References in The Gymnastics Samurai

The Gymnastics Samurai is chock-full with pop culture references, both from the West and the East. Coupled with an eclectic cast of characters, the show likes to have fun while also addressing an athlete’s shelf life.

If you’re still not sure whether to give the anime a shot, the opening sequence below is a good indicator of what to expect:

Watch The Gymnastics Samurai on Funimation!


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