Hello all! Hoping this post finds you well! I’m Joe Pascullo, a librarian at the Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library, as well as the host of the 2020-established podcast Manga Monthly. This is my debut post here at Manga Worth Reading, so please go easy on me! I’m happy to be a new member of this great site’s talented writing team. So for my first public appearance here, I think it’d only be right if I combine two of my favourite things in the world. Fusing them to create one awesome list of 10 sports manga worth reading!
As you can tell, I am clearly a manga fan. But I’m also a fan of sports. And when it comes to sports manga, there is no shortage of titles to select from! A lot tend to take place in high schools, where the lead character sports (no pun intended!) an underdog-ish persona. And the character arc that follows sees them transform from a dark horse into someone who’s gone through trials, tribulations, and failures. Eventually, they climb to the top of the mountain in their respective sports. And don’t worry if you don’t know the sport in the book. The mangaka will typically walk the uninitiated through the rules throughout the story’s progression. There are heaps of sports manga titles out there to be discovered, but here’s just a couple I’ve decided to highlight. There is a sport (or a sports manga) for everybody!
Baseball: Cross Game
Story & art: Mitsuru Adachi Amazon Nobody does baseball manga quite like Mitsuru Adachi can! A regular contributor to both Weekly and Monthly Shonen Sunday, Adachi is approaching his 50th year as a mangaka! His current work Mix has been serialized since 2012 (although currently on hiatus due to the global pandemic) and wrapped up as a two-cour run as an anime just last year. But the title of his I want to highlight is Cross Game.
Available in English over eight beautiful omnibus volumes (courtesy of VIZ), Cross Game tells the story of high school ballplayers Ko Kitamura and Aoba Tsukishima. Their families are close to one another, and at the outset of the story endure a tragedy that no family should ever have to go through. Cross Game isn’t your typical fast-paced actiony sports manga. It’s a brilliant coming of age tale, about two high schoolers growing up, and developing strength and resiliency to get past all of the curveballs baseball, and more importantly, life, throws their way. Cross Game is a master class in storytelling.
American Football: Eyeshield 21
Story: Riichiro Inagaki | Art: Yusuke Murata Amazon Now you’re probably thinking the same thing I thought at first. American football? Played in Japan!? I have no idea if it’s happening there (I’d assume not?). But hey! This story works. Riichiro Inagaki (now of Dr. Stone fame, reviewed here!) and Yusuke Murata (now of One Punch Man fame, explored here!) teamed up together back in the aughts and brought us the zany story, Eyeshield 21. This sports manga later would go on to spawn a 145 episode-long anime adaptation.
And who is Eyeshield 21? It’s our lead character Sena Kobayakawa. Sena is slight in stature, but with that lack of strength comes an abundance of speed. Prior to entering high school, Sena felt a bit void of identity. Once there, he takes on the role as the football team’s manager but ends up becoming their secret weapon on the gridiron as a running back. Time to take the Deimon Devil Bats from zeroes to heroes!
Football (Soccer): Whistle!
Story & art: Daisuke Higuchi Amazon One of my favourite underdog stories ever would have to be Whistle! Starting back in 1998, Whistle serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump until October ’02. And in it, we have Sho Kazamatsuri, an undersized soccer striker. Sho, for lack of a better term, just wants to play! And at his initial high school Musashinomori School (with its superb soccer team), he was doing anything but.
Tired of riding the bench due to his size, Sho transfers to a school with a far less heralded soccer team, Josui High. However, with Sho getting more playing time, in addition to the teams’ skilled captain Tatsuya (who transferred to the school for his own set of reasons), things are about to perk up big time for Josui.
Basketball: Slam Dunk
Story & art Takehiko Inoue Amazon Here’s one of the best-selling titles of all time and the oldest title we’re going to cover, Slam Dunk was serialized from 1990 through 1996. Its franchise includes a 101-long anime adaptation, a handful of 40-minute films, video games, and the distinction of popularizing basketball in Japan during the Michael Jordan-dominated 1990s here in the States.
It stars Hanamichi Sakuragi, a bad boy heartthrob who leads the gang; Sakuragi Legion. Well, when he sees the lovely Haruko Akagi, he softens up real quick! Haruko is a big-time basketball fan. So to impress her, Hanamichi joins his high school’s basketball team, despite having no experience with the sport, and is humbled super quick. However, to impress the girl of his dreams, Hanamichi will have to channel some of the energy he puts into his gang affairs into basketball, if he wants to win her heart in the end!
Ice Skating: Knight of the Ice
Story & art: Yayoi Ogawa Amazon | BookWalker All right, let’s step away from the old school now, time for something new! We all know Yuri on Ice, but sadly there’s no manga for it outside of a brief side story. So that brings us to Knight of the Ice, just released back in March by the mangaka who brought us the shojo/josei classic Tramps Like Us.
In Knight of the Ice, we are introduced to Kokoro Kijinami. A pro-skater who is quite inconsistent, and therefore doesn’t make too many waves in his sport. That is until his childhood friend Chitose (now a journalist) comes to see one of his practices. She facetiously recites a spell from the pair’s favourite childhood magical girl anime and all of a sudden Kokoro becomes much more consistent on the ice, and thus more of a contender in his competitions. So now, Chitose has a predicament on her hands. Does she follow Kokoro around the world to assist? Or does she put her career first, potentially jeopardizing Kokoro’s in the process? Big decisions at hand in this romcom sports selection!
Story & art:Haruichi Furudate Amazon Yes, here we go! Hands down one of the top anime of the 2010s, Haikyu started its run as a manga in (where else?) Weekly Shonen Jump in 2012. Taking home the Shogakukan Manga Award in 2016 in the shonen category, Haikyu’s subsequent anime seasons typically top internet most-anticipated lists. Sadly, its latest addition slated for July 2020 has been postponed (like so many other series) due to the global pandemic. But it’s never too late to peep this sports manga!
It stars Shoyo Hinata, the lovable wing spiker. Hinata loves volleyball but is very short for a sport where height reigns supreme. But Hinata fears not! He first got into volleyball when he was younger and saw a super talented player on TV (nicknamed The Little Giant) lead his high school, Karasuno, to victory. Inspired, Hinata enrols in Karasuno too when he’s of the proper age. And though he lacks in the height department, Hinata’s got a mile’s worth of heart (not to mention talent!), and he’s out to shush all the doubters and become Karasuno’s next Little Giant! Interested?! See what Luke had to say about Haikyu.
Story:Eto Mori| Art: Ruzuru Akashiba Amazon | BookWalker Let’s hit the pool now! Dive started as a novel series written by Eto Mori way back in 2000. The manga series we’re discussing today (available in English thanks to Yen Press) is its second manga adaptation. It was brought into the spotlight thanks to its Fuji TV-produced anime series, airing during the summer 2017 season.
Dive spotlights the Mizuki Diving Club (basically the boys diving team), which is not doing so hot and is in danger of being disbanded by the school. That is until a new female coach arrives on the scene and springs a super ambitious goal onto their shoulders. That goal? To reach the Olympics to retain their sponsors and keep their club intact. What?! Can the Mizuki Diving Club, which had become somewhat listless, turn the tables and do this?! You’ll have to read to find out!
Cycling: Yowamushi Pedal
Story & art:Wataru Watanabe Amazon | BookWalker Time for a bike ride around the park? Not bloody likely! How about a 200-kilometre all-out multiple heat bicycle race? Sound gruelling? Oh, it sure is! Get ready for an energetic journey in Yowamushi Pedal!
Perhaps you think to get through a race of this calibre, our lead character must be a super athlete right? Not the case! Our main man is Onoda Sakamichi, and the biggest anime otaku you’re going to find! He’s such a fan; he opts to save money by riding his bike every week from his house, 45 kilometres to Akihabara to utilize those savings in his purchases. And of course, let’s not forget the 45 kilometres back! These trips have unknowingly turned Onoda into both a strong and smooth cyclist. Just what the doctor ordered at his new high school, Sohoku High Bicycle Club. A cycling team looking to take this year’s Inter-High, after a heinous act severely cost them big during the previous year’s competition.
Motocross: Toppu GP
Story & art:Kosuke Fujishima Amazon | BookWalker Motorbikes?! Hey, I told you there was a sport for everybody! Brought to us by Kosuke Fujishima, best known for the fantasy romance Oh My Goddess! Here’s one for the fans of motorbike racing. Our titular lead character Toppu loves watching his sister Myne compete in motocross. He doesn’t love participating so much himself at first, but the more he watches Myne, the more he wants to be a part of that world. Toppu takes it up himself, and never looks back. Striving to catch up to where his sister is at, someone he admires heavily. But Toppu also struggles with this choice. He fears that if he gets involved too deeply with the sport, he won’t be able to dedicate time to watching and supporting his sister. This is Toppu’s story.
Ping Pong: Ping Pong
Story & art:Taiyo Matsumoto Amazon We’ll close out blog post #1 for me here with; ping pong!? That’s right! Something for everyone, as promised! And this one’s written by an absolute pillar in the industry, Taiyo Matsumoto. He’s the man behind Tekkonkinkreet, which was not only a megahit as a manga but as an anime film as well. Ping Pong too was a film, but of the live-action variety, in 2002. In fact, it saw one of its actors take home a Japan Academy Award for Newcomer of the Year. Ping Pong just came out in May here in English (courtesy of VIZ), though written back in 1996.
It follows two high school students, who go primarily by their nicknames Smile & Peco. While both of them have talent when it comes to ping pong, the duo has a total lack of direction. Smile has no desire to be competitive. His high school coach sees a lot of himself in Smile, and feels that he is wasting the gifts he’s been given at birth.
And Peco has some very discernible double standards going on. He consistently states that he wants to be the greatest ping pong player of all time, but routinely slacks off, and skips practice to play in the local arcades. It’s evident neither of them has their head in the right place, and it’s going to take some serious reflecting upon their ways to turn things around and not let their talents pass them by.
Let us know in the comments below if we have included or missed your favourite sports manga!