These are the elements of any great TV show, but they particularly apply to the best anime of all time, Kuroko’s Basketball.
I have seen many animes in my day, and quality ones, including Code Geass, Full Metal Alchemist, Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto. However, none come as close to perfection as Kuroko’s Basketball, otherwise known as Kuroko no Basket.
The manga and anime start out without even the main characters featured in the beginning parts of the show. The main character is a high school student named Kuroko, but he has a complementary partner in crime: Kagami. The two of them play on the Seirin team and are definitely the team’s stars. And yet the lack of centering on Kuroko or Kagami (don’t get me wrong, they are main characters) is emblematic of the focus of the show as a whole: instead of a heavy focus on one hero and anti-hero like Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, Kuroko’s Basketball utilizes its whole cast masterfully.
There is not one villain, but many, and none of them are cartoonish incarnations of evil, but relatable, flawed friends of Kuroko. Not only are the characters stellar, but the animation and actual basketball aspect of the show is next level. The games are extremely dramatic and sometimes it doesn’t seem like they can get any more dramatic — trivial basketball plays like double teams or charges are treated no differently than dunks from the free-throw line.
The characters of Kuroko’s Basketball have some crazy superpowers that can get a bit over the top. One character, Midorima, has the superpower to never miss any shot he takes. Midorima can shoot full-court baskets while getting double-teamed. One character has the power to see the future and order people to their knees or to fall over as he breaks their ankles.
It is not the actual basketball, though, but the constant tension and escalation of the show that keeps you hooked. Yes, the show is pretty predictable. You can probably predict that Kuroko, Kagami, and their team triumph eventually over the strongest of opponents. My girlfriend and I can only watch one or two episodes at a time because of the show’s intensity — power ups that seem corny and cliche in shows like Dragon Ball Z have you gasping for air in Kuroko’s Basketball. However, I will say when I’m not with my girlfriend, I watch several episodes at a time and can’t stop myself.
How Kuroko’s Basketball compares to other anime
Kuroko’s Basketball does not redefine many anime tropes. The characters have endless power-ups. Kuroko is oblivious to a girl who obsessively fawns over him. Kuroko himself is all about teamwork and friendship in the face of increasingly selfish and individualistic friends gone astray.
But what makes the show different is its masterful use of all its characters. Yes, Naruto also has a large cast. But towards the end of the show, Naruto makes use of far less of its characters, centering mostly on the two protagonists: Naruto and Sasuke. Even towards the end of Kuroko’s Basketball, the show uses all its characters and benchwarmers on the Seirin team. The ensemble cast and use of characters around Kuroko and Kagami on the Seirin team, and even characters outside the Seirin team. Hyuga and Kiyoshi on Seirin serve as integral members and veteran figures on the Seirin team, and Kasamatsu serves as a terrific role model to Kise.
Perhaps I’m biased because I have been on a sports team before, and I haven’t seen many other sports animes either. I haven’t seen other widely acclaimed sports animes, like Prince of Tennis or Haikyuu!! That means “Kuroko’s Basketball is the Best Anime of All Time” is just my opinion and I am open to you criticizing it (like many of my friends have) as a bad take. To some degree, the best anime of all time is the one I most recently watched. I obsessively devoured Code Geass after a couple of days and sung the praises of Lelouch and Suzaku to all within earshot. I fall more in love with Attack on Titan each time a new episode comes out. I watched Tokyo Ghoul and Full Metal Alchemist in a day.
Reddit threads I’ve been perusing dock Kuroko’s Basketball for not being realistic. It’s anime — of course it’s not realistic. Even Steph Curry could not shoot with Midorima’s accuracy from the field. However, I will say there’s just something different about Kuroko’s Basketball.
What makes Kuroko’s Basketball especially great
To me, it’s two aspects of the show: the show’s pacing and its characters. The pacing of a game in Kuroko’s Basketball is always a huge wind-up. There are always a significant amount of twists and turns like a roller coaster, but the biggest powers always come at the end, as do the biggest storylines. You do not ever want to stop watching Kuroko because the pacing of the plot is constantly escalating. Even timeouts are super intense.
And I can’t speak enough to the characters of the show. Minor characters are developed incredibly well, but that character development pales in comparison to the Generation of Miracles, the main antagonist/anti-heroes of the show. Kise, Midorima, Aomine, Murasakibara, and Akashi are much better-developed villains than Cell, Freiza, or any of the Majin Buu’s in Dragon Ball Z, all of whom blur together to some degree. In Naruto, each villain has the same arc — a genocidal murderer saved by the Christ-like forgiveness and benevolence of Naruto himself.
The Generation of Miracles are significantly more complex, but they’re not just foils to Kuroko and Kagami or flat characters. Each character has incredible complexity and a fleshed-out backstory that fully explains their unhealthy relationship with basketball. In particular, the show focuses on each character’s relationship with Kuroko and the reasons for their strained relationships. And it isn’t just how every character develops on their own, but how each character relationship develops throughout the show. You can write whole essays on how Midorima’s team humbles him, how the Kuroko-Kagami relationship matures or how the Kuroko-Aomine relationship sours.
Initially, it’s hard to keep track of all the names, but Kuroko’s Basketball is the best anime of all time because of its on-point pacing and character development, of its heroes, villains, minor characters, and supporting characters.
Originally published on April 29, 2021 on FanFare.