While manga graphic novels are often centered around swashbuckling adventures and high octane action, sports has also been a fertile breeding ground for some of the best animation workaround today.
Japan is a country of rich sporting heritage, and so many of the finest artists and illustrators will have grown up admiring their heroes on TV.
Many have put that idolism down on the page, and so here’s a look at what are generally considered to be the five finest sports-based mange stories available today.
While the Japanese population is not known for their widespread love of volleyball, it’s true to say that arguably the finest piece of sports-based manga ever published focuses on the niche activity.
Volleyball is the central theme throughout Haikyuu, a story of a boy named Shoyo Hinata whose hopes of joining his school team are hindered when Tobio Kageyama – his sworn enemy – also tries out for the team.
And yet, in true manga fashion, they find that they have more in common than they first thought…
A manga story with a heart of gold, Haikyuu is also beautifully drawn and has that timeless quality that all good manga brings to the party.
Japan has had its fair share of baseball stars throughout the years, and the likes of Ichiro Suzuki – who played in Major League Baseball for the likes of the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners – only helped to inspire a generation.
2️⃣0️⃣ years ago today, Ichiro Suzuki made his MLB debut.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) April 2, 2021
Away from the diamond, baseball has become a popular topic for manga artists to explore, and arguably the pick of the bunch is Diamond No Ace, which focuses on the bunch of misfits and renegades that make up the Seidou High School team as they try to win a tournament hosted by the mysterious Koshien.
This is a great sporting underdog story in its own right, and when you add in glorious manga the whole epic tale is brought to life in stunning detail.
Manga lovers will no doubt be familiar with the work of Takehiko Inoue already – a unique artist whose animation style brings a sense of ‘realism’ to the typically cartoonish visuals of the genre.
Inoue was a noted fan of basketball and produced a number of manga comics reflecting his love of the ball game. One of his forays into the sport was Real, which focused on a young basketball star coming to terms with severely injuring a girl in a road traffic accident.
But, for purists of the sport, Slam Dunk is perhaps his finest moment. With visual nods to the Chicago Bulls, the Michael Jordan inspired NBA team of the 1990s, Inoue’s tale is of a rebel named Hanamichi Sakuragi, who finds basketball to be an escape from his troubles – particularly when his crush Haruko Akagi suggests he should try out for the school team.
This may surprise some readers, but boxing is actually one of the most popular sports practiced in Japan.
Indeed, boxing is one of the most wagered upon sports at SBO’s recommended Asian betting sites, with odds ranging from bout winner right through to the round that the contest will end in. Asian bookmakers are renowned for their great prices, and so bettors from all over the world utilize these brands to ensure they are able to maximize their profit from their boxing betting.
The pugilist’s art form has also been a popular sport in manga, with many tales focusing on the struggles inside and outside of the ring for their central character.
One such title is Hajime No Ippo, which roughly translates into English as ‘the first step’, which details the struggles of Makunouchi Ippo, who was inspired to become a boxer after meeting the legendary Takamura, who is said to be based on the four-weight world champion Roberto Duran.
— World Boxing Council (@WBCBoxing) January 21, 2021
Focusing on the skill and discipline to thrive in the sport rather than glamorizing the violence, Hajime No Ippo is a masterclass in how to deliver sport-based manga.
The illustrator Yusuke Murata has gained worldwide acclaim for his work on the One-Punch Man series, which has gone from cult manga status to having its own anime show broadcast all over the world. Columbia Pictures, who were responsible for the Blade Runner remake in 2017, have even purchased the rights for a live-action movie of the same name.
Before finding fame there, Murata worked on the hugely successful Eyeshield 21 manga, which focuses on American football.
Normally, our hero is a lover of the sport being depicted, but not so in Eyeshield 21 – Sena Kobayakawa, the nerdy protagonist, is forced onto the field and plays anonymously under the pseudonym of Eyeshield 21.
With more than 300 chapters, the series has sold more than 20 million volumes globally and can easily be described as one of the most popular sports-based manga creations in history.