AniGay Editors’ Picks: Sports Anime Is Gay
Welcome to the AniGay Editors’ Picks page, an ever-evolving and totally not comprehensive list of some of our favorite queer anime! We hope you might find this page helpful if you’re on the hunt for new shows to try out. It is by no means intended to be a complete index of queer anime, which as we all know is not mathematically possible to create since the number of queer anime is provably infinite, perhaps uncountable….
So without further ado, here are some of our recommendations. (Many more coming soon!)
SPORTS ARE GAY
Yuri!!! On Ice (2016, 12 episodes)
You’re reading a site called “AniGay” so I’m gonna assume that Yuri!!! On Ice needs no introduction, but no list of recommendations could be taken seriously without it. While it’s built on a foundation of classic sports anime set-up, the incredible emotional depth, beautifully rendered skating routines, and narrative brilliance make me want to say things like “transcends its genre” — except that instead I think Yuri!!! On Ice exemplifies and elevates its genre. If you want to know how much the creators poured their hearts into this show, suffice it to say that they concocted an entire plot of the fictional musical to which one of the secondary characters skates. And of course, the show is hugely important for the risks it took to portray the love story between the main characters as text rather than subtext. If you haven’t watched it yet, watch it, and if you have…well, watch it again.
Hikaru no Go (2001, 75 episodes)
Since my first anime love was the, uh, other shonen series about a boy with goofy blond bangs cheating at a game by being possessed by an ancient spirit, I had a huge soft spot for Hikaru no Go from the beginning — I love the particular genre trappings, the earnest intensity, the slightly pretentious forays into game theory. It’s comforting and escapist to slip into a world where the worst villains you encounter are salespeople trying to pass off spruce go boards as kaya wood. In many ways it’s a strength of the show how little it tries to subvert your expectations; but at the same time, I was deeply impressed by how seriously and deftly the second half of the show delves into some surprisingly heavy emotional arcs of loss and trauma. In the end it’s a beautifully crafted story that deeply respects its characters. Oh and of course, it is hella gay, centered around one of the most adorable tales of star-crossed elementary school crushes I’ve ever seen.
Ace of the Diamond (2013, ~126 episodes)
If you asked me three years ago whether I’d ever watch an anime about baseball I would’ve laughed in your face. But thanks to a friend firmly recommending a phenomenal fanfic that completely changed my life, I fell hard and fast for Daiya no Ace. The show is hilarious and features everything about sports anime I love, from every character being endearingly earnest to having realistic stakes tinged with only mild levels of absurdity. The best part of Daiya no Ace, however, is that every time a character faces internal and external adversity, they face those roadblocks with determination and humility and we watch them legitimately grow and mature. Maybe it’s because the protagonist school’s baseball team is a powerhouse (while most sports anime by and large features underdog teams) that our main players have to constantly improve and challenge themselves to be (and remain) on the starting roster. Regardless, it features an all star cast, moments that will leave you in tears from laughing super hard and from being right there in the moment with the teams when they win and lose. Also, since you’re reading this list on AniGay, Daiya no Ace is super fucking gay.
Ping Pong the Animation (2014, 11 episodes)
Like with Yuri!!! On Ice, you could make the case that Ping Pong — which arguably (in addition to sharing a director) has more in common with Devilman Crybaby than it does with any of the series on this list — either transcends the sports anime genre, or elevates it. Personally, I’ve never been able to decide which side of that debate I come down on, so I’ll let you judge for yourself. In any case, Ping Pong is the story of Peco and Smile, childhood best friends, fellow outcasts, and table tennis wunderkinds who have grown apart and lost whatever joy it was that originally brought them to ping pong — and whatever mysterious magnetism drew them together. Throughout the show, we also meet a colorful variety of other ping pong prodigies, and their battles with both internal and external demons (always metaphorical, but often depicted in a way that verges on magical realism) culminate in what are some of my favorite emotional climaxes in all of anime. But it’s the relationship between Peco and Smile, in all its ambiguity and tumultuousness, that gives the show its queer heart — not least of all because of the open-ended way in which the series wraps up. Which, incidentally, is probably the most perfect ending I know about.
Yowamushi Pedal (2013, ~112 episodes)
If you have even a passing interest in anime, chances are you’ve seen screencaps of YowaPeda’s protagonist, Onoda Sakamichi, asking everyone he encounters anime’s most proverbial question: “Do you like anime?” Onoda is dedicated to his ardent love of anime, riding his mamachari 90km (~56mi for Americans) round trip to Akihabara every week, which catches the interest of the cycling club and because *reasons* he becomes the second climber of the Sohoku team. YowaPeda is a sincere anime that does my favorite thing very few sports series endeavor to do — go beyond one year of high school and actually show new teams after the third years leave. Every character is legitimately good and queer as hell and I’m honestly hard pressed to find a single straight character in YowaPeda. And because the show is surprisingly self-aware, they went ahead and labeled their spin-off movie, Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie, as Sport/Romance with the main focus being on everyone’s favorite couple — Makishima and Toudou.
Tsurune (2018, 13 episodes)
If you try to imagine an anime crafted around the sound that a bowstring makes at the moment of release, you’ll picture Tsurune — gorgeously animated, soft and sentimental, meditative and earnest. The show is fun and soothing to watch from the beginning, but really finds its emotional center in the second half when the focus zooms in on the wistful, largely unrequited crush that one of the boys has harbored toward his best friend. It’s a classic dynamic, but handled with a tremendous amount of nuance and empathy. Tsurune also sits in a fascinating space in the Queerness Quadrants, so delicately balanced between implicit and explicit that I truly don’t know where I think it falls. Highly recommended if you’re in the market for a beautiful show about beautiful people playing a beautiful sport.
Kuroko no Basuke (2012, 75 episodes)
Going into Kuroko no Basuke, I thought I was finally going to have a leg up because I played basketball as a kid (don’t laugh), so I actually know the rules pretty well. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the rules of real-life basketball are pretty irrelevant to a show whose games are won and lost by the strategic deployment of basketball-only magical powers held by a lucky few high school athletes. Every sports anime relies to some degree on suspension of disbelief where the sports themselves are concerned, but with Kuroko no Basuke, it frequently gets ridiculous — characters aren’t just preternaturally good at basketball, they might also be functionally invisible sometimes, or capable of suddenly doubling their own max speed, or able to predict all possible outcomes of a game in a split second. More importantly, though, is the other way in which Kuroko no Basuke stretches the limits of sports anime ridiculousness: how gay it is. Remember when Yuri!!! On Ice was airing and there was a debate about whether or not exchanging rings was a romantic thing, or just a sports thing? (For the record, in the case of Yuri!!! On Ice, it was a romantic thing.) Well, Kuroko no Basuke had a ring exchange first (above). Was Sayo Yamamoto deliberately poking fun at KnB’s dubiously-hetero-obviously-gay ring exchange in YoI? I mean, you can probably guess my opinion on the subject.
Run with the Wind (2018, 23 episodes)
I haven’t stopped thinking about Run with the Wind since the show finished airing in March 2019. Normally, I would avoid any show about long distance running, but Run with the Wind managed to dispel my initial skepticism in the most beautiful way possible. The show focuses on two elite runners — Kakeru and Haiji — who are both seeking answers as to why they run, and most specifically the question of “do you love running?” There are three distinct love stories being told — the central implicit (and at times explicit!) romance between Kakeru and Haiji, the slow burn self-love of Kakeru, and the chosen familial bond between the ten members of the Kansei University running team. With a deep set of characters who each get time to breathe with their backstories, growth, and comfort with one another, there is something every queer person can find in Run with the Wind that they can relate to. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the show handles race and xenophobia in the show — something I rarely see in most anime.
DAYS (2016, 24 episodes)
DAYS is a MAPPA anime, which should be all the information you need to confirm that yes, it’s very gay. After all, MAPPA numbers among its illustrious oeuvre such queer-as-hell titles as Kids on the Slope, Bananafish, Sarazanmai, Dororo, Kakegurui, and—of course—Yuri!!! On Ice. DAYS has the dubious honor, however, of having been the anime that MAPPA was working on while YoI was also being made. Which is (I assume) why about halfway through, DAYS’s animation style declines by like several orders of magnitude and the soccer players during many scenes get replaced by what look more like CG models of foosball figures than of actual human people. And look, if I were MAPPA and YoI became the hit that it did, I would also have prioritized it over my other, less-revolutionary sports anime property that was airing at the same time! But don’t make the mistake of sleeping on DAYS just because it gets so easily overshadowed by its more-famous sibling: DAYS made gay sports anime waves in its own right, especially with the charming story of Kazama and Tsukushi (above), who were up to that point the most openly queer sports anime couple I’d ever seen on screen.
CRIME IS GAY
SUPERPOWERS ARE GAY
SPACE IS GAY
HISTORY IS GAY