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Sports Anime Draft Picks: Who’s Gonna Be On Your Team?

Come on and SLAM! And welcome to the JAM!

Collage of different sports anime

So you say you wanna build yourself a sports team so you can win the championship game, continue the family legacy, or just have fun with friends? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m here to help you build up a roster of shippable characters who function via teamwork and a whole lot of tension that explodes in the middle of the season, leading to unbreakable bonds!

Sports anime is a genre that I’ve loved for years even if I, personally, am not the biggest sports fan out there. The reason I adore the genre so much is because of the focus on the characters, the sport feeling more like a vehicle to tell a story that, generally, focuses on a cast right at the cusp of adulthood. Most of the characters are made up of teenagers who end up using the sport to nurture the relationships they have with others, more importantly, they use the sport to grow as people. Themes of friendship, trying your best, believing in yourself, and even enjoying something simply because you like it are huge staples of the genre.

That being said, who are the characters you’re likely to run into when you’re binge-watching some basketball, volleyball, swimming, ice-skating, or whatever other sports anime that’s piqued your interest? I was able to come up with 20 possibilities! The best part? You can, very easily, get a hot mix of personality traits that combines these characteristics!

Note: this is based on sports anime I’ve either personally seen, or started watching (Haikyu!! and Yowamushi Pedal, for example). If a character isn’t used as an example, chances are, I haven’t seen the anime they’re in, or I haven’t met them in the anime I’m watching. There are a LOT of sports anime out there, y’all, so bear with me if your fave isn’t on the list!

  • The One Who Is Brand New
Langa's first day at school

SK8 the Infinity

Yes, hi, hello, and welcome to THE SPORT! This is the character who is either new to the area, new to the sport, or new to both things at once. Yep, that’s a transfer student who came in mid-semester, and hey, there just so happens to be a seat open right next to the sports enthusiast who’s gonna get them to join in on the fun.

In some cases, you’ll get multiple newbies, if it’s a new school semester so the team is campaigning to get new members, especially if it’s a team that doesn’t have enough members (yet).

Kagami shows up on the first day

Kuroko no Basket

  • The One Who Is Your Destined Rival
Rin and Haru rivals

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

This one is pretty self-explanatory. This is the character that will cause the most tension (unless if the series has a legitimately villainous character – more on that later), and in some cases, depending on the sport, you’ll have several rivals of varying personalities.

Extremely hostile (at first, they’ll warm up to you later).

Yurio yells at Yuri

Yuri!!! on Ice

Warranted cockiness because they actually are good at the sport.

JJ skating

Yuri!!! on Ice

Basically, they ain’t there to make friends.

What makes this character interesting in sports anime is that it’s not always someone on the opposite team. Many of the best rivalries are within the team itself, forcing the two to learn how to work together.

Hinata-and-Kageyama butt heads

Haikyu!!

Rivals generally bring out the best in the character duo, especially if that duo has to share the same court space.

A rivalry is born

Backflip!!

  • The One Who Lives and Breathes the Game/Lives and Breathes the Player
Reki skateboarding

SK8 the Infinity

Yes, he brings his skateboard to school and uses a basketball as a pillow, what’s the big deal?

This is the character who just loves the sport. Period. They don’t necessarily care about winning, they just wanna play the game. In some cases, they love the game so much that they want everyone to play, which leads to them becoming an enabler for the sport. In other cases, they don’t care if there are others with them, they’re just happy to be doing the sport. Even if they learn how fun it is to play with other people (spoiler: they will learn this), you’ll likely find them, well, undressing at the drop of a hat to jump into any body of water.

Haru taking a bath

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

A variant of this is the character who only speaks in fan gibberish whenever a particular player is on screen. They like the sport well enough, but they are a much bigger fan of THE PERSON playing the sport. They practically worship them, heart eyes on full blast whenever they’re in the room.

Nitori gets to room with Rin

Free! Eternal Summer

  • The One Who Has Been Chosen
Langa skateboarding for the first time

SK8 the Infinity

How in the HECK did that newbie pull off (insert trick that professional athletes spent a million and a half decades trying to do). Meet the prodigy, the character who was sculpted by a sports deity to descend upon our mortal realm to play the game. In a lot of cases, upon closer inspection, the prodigy has experience via doing something that has nothing to do with the sport.

Mako picks up tennis easily

Stars Align

No, they’ve never taken up cycling or tennis or race car driving as a sport, and perhaps, they never even considered doing it as a sport, but they have done it (or things that are similar) in their everyday life.

Knowing how to bike because of going to school

Yowamushi Pedal

  • The One With the Hidden Talent
Kuroko's Ignite Pass in action

Kuroko no Basket

Not to be confused with the prodigy, who feels like they’re good at everything they do, this particular character is good at a specific aspect of the sport. Thassit. Hell, they may be, by definition, BAD at the sport, but when they’re tasked with executing a certain thing they do it better than everyone else. They tend to be the team’s secret weapon – which only lasts for so long, meaning they have to improve that one trick, get good at everything else, or the team has to strategize around them.

  • The One Who’s So Good It’s Scary
The Emperor Eye

Kuroko no Basket

Remember what I said back with the rival? About the legitimately villainous character? That’s this character right here, the one who might straight-up send you to the hospital from the sinister way they play the game. While they may have a reason that has led to them being the second coming of Satin, they are so good at the sport that it’s dangerous. Even worse? Their skill is recognized by everyone, so they’ve gained a lot of notoriety and respect EVEN IF they’re a risk to their opponents.

These are the characters where you start to question if their moves are humanly possible, like, you can’t actually mind control someone on the court.

Right?

All and all, it’s advised that you stay away from them, which means that you will, of course, have to face them.

Adam doesn't believe in personal bubbles in SK8

SK8 the Infinity

  • The One Who Should Be Called Out for Cheating
Shadow in action

SK8 the Infinity

This almost sounds like the extremely malicious character I mentioned, but despite this kind of character having questionable methods to snag a victory, they are, surprisingly, a small threat compared to The One Who’s So Good It’s Scary. There are a couple reasons for this, one being that they’re just seen as being a cheater who lacks any real skills OR they’re in a sport where that kind of play is allowed.

In some cases (like with Shadow here) they end up joining the protagonist, even cheering for them, because they share a common enemy and have, oops, become like family.

Shadow cheering

SK8 the Infinity

  • The One You’ve Known Since Childhood
Haru checking on a sleeping Mako

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

While this can also be The Rival, there are some cases where the childhood friend is just that: a friend who plays the sport with their bestie. In some cases, the only reason they even play the game is that their childhood friend did, making others question whether or not they even like the sport at all. In other cases, they do genuinely love the game, it’s just way more fun if their childhood bud is playing with them – or even against them.

Aomine and Kuroko playing again

Kuroko no Basket

Insert extra tension if the Childhood Friend shows up to cause tension against a character’s other friend.

Sousuke meets Haru and they talk

Free! Eternal Summer

Childhood Friend #1? Meet Childhood Friend #2. This will go fine, I’m sure.

  • The One With the Most to Prove
Hinata is gonna fly

Haikyu!!

Lookout, y’all, we got ourselves an underdog! This can be a singular character or an entire team that’s been written off, not considered a threat by, well, anyone, because of their abysmal record.

The soft tennis team

Stars Align

This year is gonna be different, though, because they’re very much aware of their underdog status and now they’re ready to use it to their advantage to take everyone off guard.

Reki slipping past Adam

SK8 the Infinity

  • The One Who Gives the Best Advice
The coach

Kuroko no Basket

Is everyone down in the dumps about a loss? About an upcoming match? About something completely outside of the sport? Enter the advice-giver, the character who always knows the right thing to say. They also say what needs to be said, which isn’t always what the team wants to hear.

While this can be the team coach, it can also be another member of the team or someone else who plays the sport.

Joe looking at Cherry

SK8 the Infinity

  • The One Who’s Everyone’s Mom
Mako takes care of everyone

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Not to be confused with the advice-giver, the Team Mom usually needs advice, too, since they put everyone else first and forget to take care of themselves. This is the character who says things like, quote, “I’m fine,” because they’d rather make sure everyone else is okay. This will, 10 times out of 10, lead to them breaking down later in the season… or even in the next season if they STILL haven’t worked their feelings out.

  • The One Who Makes You Laugh
The Comic Relief

Backflip!!

This character has a similar vibe to the advice-giver because they can end up cheering you up, but a lot of times, they aren’t doing it on purpose. They’re just naturally entertaining to watch, always in good spirits, and bound to put a smile on your face.

Rei trying on swimsuits

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Sometimes, however, they ARE trying to get you to laugh, which has… um… interesting results?

Bad puns

  • The One Who Thinks the Game Is Silly
A game of kabbadi

Burning Kabaddi

“THIS is what you’re doing after school? HA!”

Introducing the nonbeliever, the one who turns their nose at the sport and who doesn’t see the big deal. They might even bluntly call out how ridiculous they think the sport is… until they end up trying it themselves.

While this is common in lesser-known sports (or sports that are, generally, female-dominated, if it’s an anime with a team of boys), there are instances where well-known sports get an eye roll from a character because they think there are better things to do.

  • The One Who’s Bored All the Time
Not at all interested

Kuroko no Basket

This is the character who plays the game because… um… why are they on the team again?

I’m kidding. Kind of. Because for most of their screentime they’re bemoaning how bored they are. This can change, of course, if they’re giving a real challenge, which leads to spectators seeing firsthand why they’re playing the game.

Yeah. They’re frighteningly good at it. NOT to the point of being malicious, but damn, they’re talented af.

  • The One Who Used to Play/Should Be At a Better School
2.43 insecure Chika

2.43 Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team

This is the character who used to play the game and was REALLY good at it, but they stopped for (insert reason – could be tragic, could be loss of inspiration, etc.). This leads to the team trying to convince them to play again, or at the very least, an attempt to get them to act as a coach or advisor.

Or they decide all on their own to be an advisor.

Or something.

Yuri and Victor gaze into each other's eyes in Yuri!!! on Ice.

Yuri!!! on Ice

There’s a variation of this character who does still play, but everyone’s surprised that they didn’t go to (insert better school) since they’re so good. It feels like they aren’t really playing to the best of their ability because they settled on the underdog team instead of the prestigious team they could be a part of. Of course, they have their reasons.

What happened to him?

Backflip!!

  • The One Who’s Playing Their Final Season
Subaru promises to win

2.43 Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team

You’ll learn rather quickly in anime that being a third year in high school is a pretty big deal. It’s the last year before graduation, meaning that there’s a big to do about the senpais (upper classmen) on the sports team handing the reigns over to the younger team members.

Protecting the team

Kuroko no Basket

Sometimes, there’s a bigger meaning to this, like the third year having an injury that can jeopardize them playing for the foreseeable future, or an adult player planning retirement.

Yuri finishing his skate

Yuri!!! on Ice

  • The One(s) Who Never Stopped Playing

SK8 the Infinity

This is probably the most refreshing character in sports anime (to me, at least). I’m used to the FINAL SEASON vibe of sports anime, leading to the team playing their last game together because, after that, the team is gonna change. Some people are gonna move on from the sport, others are gonna play in college, but it won’t be that same group you bonded with.

Unless if you meet this particular character, or characters, who not only still play the game, but they still play TOGETHER.

  • The One Who Is Very Friendly
Christophe and his flower crown

Yuri!!! on Ice

Are you in this person’s vicinity? Congratulations, they’re about to get all up in your personal bubble. These are the characters who draw the attention of an adoring public who has homemade, heart-shaped signs for them, and they’re able to wink and keep their routine going at the same time.

And listen. Even if there’s animosity between teammates for whatever reason, this particular character will bypass all of that in favor of hugs and remembering the good times.

Kise trying to hug Kuroko

Kuroko no Basket

  • The One Who Is a Quiet Force
Otabek shows up

Yuri!! on Ice

Wait, where did this character even come from? Have they been a top contender the whole time?! This is the character who feels like they came out of nowhere. They never raise their voice and are typically quiet, in fact, they may never talk at all. You never really know what they’re thinking, but you can’t deny that they’re an asset to the team.

He never talks!

Kuroko no Basket

Bonus points if they’re the main flippin’ character.

Kuroko and his milkshake

Kuroko no Basket

  • The One Who Wears Glasses
Cherry when he isn't skating

SK8 the Infinity

Out of everyone on this list, this is the biggest Wild Card of them all. Sure, upon first glance, you might think you’re about to get an intelligent, analytical character, and that may very well be the case.

But.

They have the power to be any (and ALL) of the things on this entire list, all at the same time, and can (and will) switch moods in an instant.

Are they secretly the Comic Relief?

Rei and his glasses

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Are they planning your demise?

LOL I AM IN DANGER

Burning Kabaddi

Yes.

It’s even worse if their eyes are closed as they talk to you.

Just.

Be careful, y’all, you never know what’s up with them.

  • Bonus Pick: The One Who Represents The Audience
So many boys

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Every now and then we get a character who represents all of us. They’re the “in” for the anime we’re watching, often saying or thinking the same thing we all are. This can range from commenting on the incredible abilities of the team to, well, blushing over how attractive everyone is.

There is no in-between.

And that’s it! Who are you gonna pick for your sports anime dream team? Are you mixing up any characteristics to create the ultimate player?

Are … they gonna wear glasses?

(Image: Funimation/Crunchyroll/Netflix/Hulu)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)