Martial Arts are awesome. Now I’m probably biased as a Martial Artist, but let’s be honest, everyone loves a good martial arts showdown, it’s why MMA is so popular and why so many protagonists (who have the best quotes btw) are martial artists in their own right.
For this list, we’re going to focus on anime that are more realistic, with a strong emphasis on more accurate technique and styles. As much as I love Dragon Ball Z and Naruto they aren’t going to be on this list as they might have started out more martial arts-based, but gradually become more about the superpowers on the techniques, which isn’t bad, just not for this list. So let’s see the top 10 animes that really get into the gritty world of hand to hand fighting and martial arts.
10. Dragon Ball
Ok, I’m getting this one out of the way early, but hear me out. While Dragon Ball Z and Super are more about the flashy energy attacks and screaming, the original Dragon Ball series had a much larger focus on the martial arts. The series was based on the classic Journey to the West and done in the style of an old school Kung Fu movie, with over the top villains and techniques.
This show is a lot of peoples first show on their anime journey, including mine and it’s got great hand to hand (for the most part) martial arts combat.
9. Sword of the Stranger
This one is also cheating a little bit, but that’s because it’s a movie and not a series. Sword of the Stranger isn’t too well known, but if you have to see one part of it, it has to be the final fight scene. That scene might just be the best swordfight in all of anime. Beautifully drawn and choreographed with not only an interesting dynamic between the two combatants but their swords as well.
The two fighters are from Japan and China respectively, so we get a unique battle between a Katana and a Kung Fu sword. It’s a unique dynamic you’d be hardpressed to find anywhere else and makes this movie something you must checkout.
8. Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai is a cult classic among anime fans and it fits perfectly into that archetype. Afro Samurai is a niche anime with a unique style of not only art work, but also humor and writing.
In terms of its combat, Afro Samurai has a ton of variation. The show starts off with the classic “one guy absolutely dominates a group of amateurs who don’t know any better” fight and it’s smart enough to not just keep doing that like lesser shows.
The way that Afro Samurai keeps people excited to watch is by changing up the styles in which people are fitting. Afro sticks it his samurai style with his Katana, obviously but he faces off against a ton of other styles, like ninjas and fencers. This variation keeps the show exciting and shows off a ton of different martial art styles for the watchers to enjoy.
7. Fist of the North Star
And for this entry, we have our first real bruce lee rip off character. Fist of the North Star is a classic anime from the late 80s and is one of the most memed animes on the entire internet and that’s saying something.
While by today’s standards the action in Fist of the North Star isn’t anywhere near the best, it was great for it’s time. True to any Bruce Lee inspired character, Kenshiro sports the dragons hair and even copies some of his fighting style and mannerisms, most importantly the watas that Bruce Lee was famous for screaming.
The fights in the show aren’t the best in all honesty but it has a lot to do with how strong Kenshiro actually is, I mean he can punch down buildings and if he touches you once, you explode. The show still manages to get some good fights and still shows off a good amount of technique, with getting way too crazy.
6. Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is probably the anime that focuses the most on training in multiple different styles of martial arts. The show also invokes heavy Karate Kid vibes with Kenichi starting off as a small 90 pound weakling at the beginning and then going on to become strong and a badass in his own rite.
Like mentioned early the show from the very beginning shows of a wide variety of styles, with Kenichi being trained by masters of Jiu-Jitsu, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, Karate and weapons forms. We really get to see Kenichi’s progression in the series, not only in his martial arts skills but also in his physique and mentality, which both become noticeably stronger and more powerful, which is a common journey for martial artists.
5. Megalo box
Yes, Boxing is a martial art and get used to it because you are going to be seeing it a few more times on this very list. Megalo Box was a surprise to me when I first saw it because at the time I really couldn’t understand the main concept of it but after giving it a chance I was happy I did.
In terms of its accuracy to the sweet science that is boxing, the author obviously took some liberties, first and foremost the augmentations that most fighters use going into their matches. these augmentations are used to increase fighters strength, endurance and agility and almost every boxer uses these, except for the main protagonist “Gearless Joe”
While these augmentations do put our hero at a disadvantage, they don’t actually change the way that people fight all too much. The Boxing in the show is very similar to what you would see in real life, with proper jabs and hooks and the strategies real fighters would use.
Overall this perfect underdog story is a great watch for any action anime fan or boxer and if you love the 90s anime aesthetic this is definitely something to checkout.
After a near 18 year-long hiatus, Netflix brought us the third season of Baki: The Grappler, simply title Baki. The show is an extreme and over the top martial arts anime that is just oozing with testosterone and fighting energy.
The Manga that the show is based on is written by Keisuke Itagaki, who was a member of the Japanese military and an amateur boxer, as well as a practitioner of Shorinji Kempo. Itagaki has a deep love of fighting and combat and it shows in his work on Baki.
The show features a ton of different martial arts styles, some real and some made for the show that are based on real styles, like Shin Shin Kai Karate being based on Kyokushin Karate. The show features really interesting and creative fight scenes, some are hand to hand, some include weapons and some are sport style bouts like judo sparring, this way the fights are never stale.
Levius has a very similar premise to Megalo Box, but I believe that overall Levius is a better anime and a better representation of the sport of boxing as well. First off, the metal arms don’t really change the way they fight too much, for the most part, the boxing is pretty similar to the real thing. The only real change to actual boxing is the set limit of steam that the fighters have in their arms, that function kind of like stamina bars in a way.
The boxing is as accurate as one can get with the setting the Levius provides. The show doesn’t stray too far from actual boxing techniques aside from the occasional spin hooks and the addition of armor to the combatants, most of the techniques are accurate, albeit pretty stylized and exaggerated for effect.
While the art style can make the fights look stylized, they are still accurate but the most accurate part of Levius is the training, where they show the titular character doing roadwork, hitting pads and heavy bags and sparring, all important parts of a boxers training.
2. Kengan Ashura
Kengan Ashura was a surprise smash hit that came to us in late 2019 and as a fan of martial arts and of people punching each other in the face, I couldn’t be happier with this series.
This series takes place in a world where companies, mainly in Japan, settle disputes with one on one combat and largely revolves around a tournament to see who will become head of the organization that hosts the fights. While the joke is that this is just a rip off of Baki and it’s true that Kengan probably wouldn’t exist without Baki, I believe that it outshines its predecessor in many ways.
First is the characterization, most of the characters in the main cast are actually interesting and most of those characters get their moments, whether cool or funny and the characters have their own motivations for competing in the tournament.
Where Kengan Ashura really sets itself apart from Baki. at least for me, is in its fight scenes, which are far more down to earth and accurate to the styles that are represented. Kengan Ashura showcases a fair amount of more obscure martial arts, like Myanmar Lethwei and Baritsu, as well as more well-known arts like Boxing and Judo. The Show has it’s fair share of fictional styles as well like the Niko Style and Ballet fighting, but all of the made-up styles take inspiration from real ones and utilize actual techniques, that make it a must-watch for any weeb martial artists
1. Hajime no Ippo
This anime has one of the most accurate fictional displays of boxing you will ever find in any media that isn’t a documentary, hell, it’s more accurate to boxing than some documentaries. The series is written by Jyoji Morikawa, who himself is a boxer and even owns a boxing gym in japan and is frequently a cornerman for some Japanese fighters, so it’s safe to say that he knows boxing. Every technique, training method and strategy is accurate, albeit super exaggerated.
The Hitman style won’t turn your arm into a snake that smacks your opponent, but it is a real style, most famously used by 50-0 pro-Floyd Mayweather. The show also makes references to a ton of real-world boxers like Mike Tyson and Jack Dempsy, who are the people that Ippo gets his style from.
Aside from just the accurate fighting, Hajime No Ippo is incredibly accurate to the training of a boxer. Ippo and the other fighters all train in the same way that professional boxers do, including sparring rounds, running, shadow boxing, hit pads and a bunch of conditioning to increase stamina.
The show has great fight scenes and amazing animation during those scenes, all this bundled with an inspiring story and amazing characterization and you have a must-watch in the action anime genre.