Over the years, Japan has produced several really good, popular, and interesting basketball anime series.
In general, sports tend to make good topics for anime. Sporting leagues frequently encourage fierce competition, which is great for storytelling, especially shonen anime stories. Sports stories are a good source of plucky underdogs, hardworking heroes, and arrogant rivals.
Also, anybody can enjoy sports — you don’t have to be a pro. Sports also help develop good teamwork, which is highly valued in Japan.
Let’s take a look at the five best basketball anime series.
Best Basketball Anime List
- Slam Dunk
- Kuroko no Basket
- Ahiru no Sora
- Dear Boys (Hoop Days)
- Buzzer Beater
5 Best Basketball Anime of All Time
1. Slam Dunk
The first anime on our list is a classic of the genre which started out as a Shonen Jump manga in 1993.
Slam Dunk features a delinquent who joins the Shohoku High School basketball team. Hanamichi does this initially to impress a girl. But over time, he comes to love the sport.
Of course, there’s more to the series than just passes, rebounds, and blocked shots. The series has a lot of humor, and a bit of romantic comedy to it.
From the music to the animation, it is undeniably a 1990s-era anime. But Slam Dunk holds up well.
In addition, a full-length movie, The First Slam Dunk, came out in December 2022.
2. Kuroko no Basket (Kuroko’s Basketball)
When middle school basketball player Tetsuya Kuroko moves to Seirin High, he finds that most of his former “Generation of Miracles” teammates have gone to play for rival schools.
If he wants to win a title like he did in junior high, Kuroko must defeat the guys that he once played alongside.
Fortunately, Kuroko has a strong new ally on the court — Taiga Kagami, who is clearly Seirin’s best player.
The Kuroko no Basket/ Kuroko’s Basketball manga began in 2008 in Shonen Jump. Three anime seasons were produced between 2012 and 2015. A few anime films, and a couple of stage musicals also exist.
Any basketball anime list which doesn’t have Slam Dunk at the top will list Kuroko no Basket.
3. Ahiru no Sora
Ahiru no Sora could be called the reverse of Slam Dunk. While Slam Dunk featured a tough guy joining a basketball team, the main protagonist of Ahiru no Sora joins a team of delinquents.
Sora is enthusiastic about playing basketball. But he has to push hard to get the other members interested in taking it seriously. It takes time, but eventually these misfits prove that they’re more than just punks.
Incidentally, the title can translate as “Sky of the Duck,” or since the main character is named Sora, “Sora the Duck.” It refers to Sora’s unique “duck” move. Another player is nicknamed “Tobi,” a.k.a. black kite (another bird).
Ahiru no Sora started out in 2003 in Weekly Shonen Magazine. The anime started in 2019.
4. Dear Boys (Hoop Days)
This shonen sports anime features the Mizuho High School boys’ team. At the beginning of the series, the team is short-handed. It barely has enough players even when a new transfer student joins the team.
The series’ original title is a reference to the coach, who calls the team her “dear boys.” She’s actually the girls’ coach, but she ends up in charge of the boys after the previous coach leaves.
Naturally, the series has the usual “determined underdogs aim for the title” shonen elements. But the series also focuses a lot on how the players interact together.
Dear Boys began in 1989 with a manga in Monthly Shonen Magazine. And the anime adaptation arrived in 2003.
This series is hard to find legally. Although Crunchyroll has a webpage for it, the streaming service currently doesn’t have any episodes available in any of the countries I tried.
At the time that this was written, Amazon had various DVD options, including Bandai Entertainment’s Hoop Days Complete Collection box set. Keep in mind that U.S. Amazon uses the series’ alternate title, as searching for “Dear Boys” will get you a completely different live-action film.
Bandai Channel (Japan) has live-action musical versions of the series.
5. Buzzer Beater
This series was created in 1996 by Takehiko Inoue, the same manga artist responsible for Slam Dunk.
Unlike Slam Dunk, Buzzer Beater is a futuristic science-fiction series. In Buzzer Beater, basketball is dominated by aliens called Gorans. Generally speaking, humans don’t stand a chance against the physically-stronger Goran players. (The problem echoes real-life complaints about sports, race, and “unfair advantages.”)
Buzzer Beater highlights an all-human team (the Earth All-Star team) which tries to compete on the court despite this apparent disadvantage. Naturally, the humans are underdogs.
Incidentally, this series follows an anime tradition of aliens which vaguely resemble oni — think Urusei Yatsura. In this case, the Gorans are mostly human-looking, but with horns.
The manga began in 1996, but the anime didn’t start until 2005.
Note that the series is hard to find. Hulu Japan and Amazon Japan both have it, but you’ll need NordVPN or something similar if you live outside Japan.
Sports stories can be fun to watch, and easy to understand. If you know anything about basketball, or even if you don’t, these series let the joys of the game shine through.
At the same time, these anime shows have a lot of variety to them. There’s more to sports anime than the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
If you think I missed a good basketball series, I apologize. I tried to pick series which were easy to find, so readers could stream them legally (with or without a VPN). However, I did not expect to discover that so many basketball titles would be unavailable or difficult to find.
Some of those shows I might have considered for this list if they weren’t hard to find, such as Ro-Kyu-Bu!
However, I do think that every basketball series on this list deserves recognition. I hope this list of basketball anime encourages you to watch some of them.