As someone who has been a lifelong fan of the anime/manga industry, I believe that the phenomena of the sports genre have more of a connection between sports and viewers. Sports anime such as Haikyuu!Kuroko’s BasketballSlam Dunk, Ace of the Diamond, and more recently, Aoi Ashi and Blue Lock have connected with young viewers and started a new generation of fans to the respective sport. This brings the question of whether a well-adapted pro wrestling manga anime does the same? For those unfamiliar with what a manga is, it’s just a Japanese comic book.

This question has been on my mind for a while. I saw various sports get a boost, and even some professional athletes get inspired by these shows. According to The Japan Times, even the great soccer legend Lionel Messi was inspired by the anime series Captain Tsubasa. Other sports anime have influenced baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, who read and watched both Slam Dunk and Major. Most wrestling anime or manga currently don’t have ratings above 3.8 stars on both anime_planet and IMDb.

There has also been previous animated shows that included wrestling stars like Scooby Doo and The Flintstones. The WWE also had its own try of animated shows, but these have been only targeted towards kids. In my own opinion, I think a wrestling anime can do it best because it can gain an audience of all ages.

A Natural Volatiles and Essential Oils study gained data from an Indian audience to see the impact of sports anime and natural sporting behavior. There were 150 participants, and 67 per cent of them admitted to pursuing some sort of physical activity; 57 per cent of the participants also agreed that adding a sports anime to their life was valuable. There is backing to say that the influence of sports anime does something. But most of the anime is based on three major sports, European soccer, basketball and baseball, with volleyball being the one outsider. Wrestling has been adapted before, but not in a slice-of-life kind of way, which is what typically makes sports anime successful.

That being said, what are the criteria to determine what will make a successful sports anime? 

  1. Undeveloped/raw talent main character: This could be the end all be all of what makes an anime successful, but for a sports anime, it could be everything. The character has to be relatable and have a drive to get better. This is true with Haikyuu!‘s Hinata Shoyo, Blue Lock‘s Yoichi Isagi, Hajime No Ippo‘s Ippo Makunouchi, and Ace of the Diamond‘s Eijun Sawamura. For those who aren’t familiar with anime or these characters, think about Tom Holland’s Spider-man
  2. Realism: Although sports anime have added powers, such as Blue Lock and Kuroko’s basketball, most sports anime have successfully achieved what can be achieved in real life. Hard work, passion, dreams, wins, losses and injuries. I’m not saying having special powers doesn’t mean the characters don’t include those, but without them, it can give viewers a better perspective of the characters’ situations. This includes seeing the characters practice and fail at moves or skills they lack. The lifestyle of what it takes to be great in the sport and why it’s essential to have good teamwork, all of it has to be there. Other examples could be films based on real life like The Iron Claw.
  3. Well produced: When it comes to sports anime, the colors, smoothness, music, and voice acting must all be on point. The looks, feel, and fit are what is happening in the scene.
  4. Manga to adapt: Anime is usually just an animation of Japanese comic books known as manga. Yes, it is possible to make an anime without anything to adjust, but there are very few successful ones. Like mentioned earlier, Spider-Man movies are based on Marvel comics.

Now that we have a criteria, is there a manga currently out that can produce the same results? Let’s take a look. 

Only two haven’t, other than Kinnikuman, Tiger Mask, and other older adapted mangas. That being The God of Pro Wrestling and New Japan Academy. Unfortunately, The God of Pro Wrestling doesn’t have the backing it needs to kickstart one, as the ratings seem low. However, New Japan Academy is what we are looking for. 

New Japan Academy: The Tale of Tetsuya Naito.

New Japan Academy: The Tale of Tetsuya Naito. Photo: Yen Press

There have been many great reviews of the manga, even being the number 1 recommended manga to read on for wrestling fans. However, it will have one season with only 12 episodes. That is not much of a worry because many successful anime series, such as Yuri!!! on Ice, a skating anime had 12-episode run — which I might add fits the criteria. 

Does New Japan Academy have a main character with underdeveloped/raw talent? It does. Tetsuya Naito is the best in his school but is a highly raw talent compared to his idol, who happens to be the “once in a lifetime talent” named Hiroshi Tanahashi. The story also has realism. The character lives the lifestyle most indie wrestlers do. Naito also wants to achieve goals, even mentioning the New Japan World Wrestling promotion and wanting to be the main guy there. There are mentors and many obstacles that Naito faces.

The main problem this hypothetical anime show will have is the production. All the previous successful sports anime have had great animation and voice acting for their time. That is because most people watch either the action or comedy genre. Many studios find it difficult to even take on a sports project. One studio in particular that has directed many of the most popular sports anime programs is Production I.G. If this studio is willing to take on New Japan Academy, there is no doubt this is the story that can make it to the mainstream.

Other than New Japan Academy, there really is no other wrestling manga currently that can hold the torch of a celebrated sport — unless something new comes out. But as of right now, New Japan Academy fits the criteria. This would be the manga to try and go create an anime for. It’s got the characters, it has the realism we’re looking for, it has enough material to adapt and it has the opportunity to be produced by a great studio.

In conclusion, to answer the question of whether a well-adapted wrestling manga can bring a new generation or grow the fanbase of wrestling, it’s a maybe. I know that wasn’t the answer you or I were looking for, but there is potential. Everything would have to go right.

TOP PHOTO: Tiger Mask staring. Photo: Crunchyroll