With the state of the world being what it is right now, why not escape with a good, long serial manga about friendship and trying your best? If you’ve spent any time around anime fans in the last few years, you’ve probably already heard of Haikyu!!, the anime and manga about a high schooler who wants to become the greatest volleyball player of all time. The fourth season of the anime is currently airing simultaneously in Japan and internationally on Crunchyroll, and the manga, after more than eight years of serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump, is in its final arc. Haikyu!!, written and illustrated by Haruichi Furudate, is one of the best selling manga in Japan right now, ranking 8th in 2019. So what makes this volleyball manga so compelling?
Shueisha (VIZ Media)
February 2012 to present
The premise of Haikyu!! is simple: middle schooler Shouyou Hinata happens to see a volleyball match on TV one day. He watches the Little Giant of Karasuno High School score point after point by jumping higher than anyone else, outplaying his tall opponents. And Hinata, short for his age, realizes that he could play volleyball too. When Hinata finally makes it to his first tournament in his third year of middle school, his team is crushed in the first round by a team led by setter Tobio Kageyama, a temperamental genius. Hinata vows to crush him the next time they meet on the court… only to walk into the volleyball gym on his first day at Karasuno, and see Kageyama practicing his serves. The rest of the series follows the unlikely pair and their teammates on their journey to the national championships and beyond.
What really makes Haikyu!! stand out, and what got me hooked despite my generally lukewarm attitudes towards sports stories and male protagonists, was the depth of character development everyone gets. It’s not just a story about Hinata and Kageyama. It’s also a story about their teammates, their coaches, their rivals, and everyone else around them who plays a role in their development. Many chapters feature flashback sequences showing the reader how a rival team member we were seeing for the first time got to where they are today, making it impossible not to care for every character the reader encounters.
Even though it’s a story about a boy’s volleyball team, the women in the story (the managers, sisters, and girls volleyball team members) have their own arcs and interests not centered around the men. In other sports manga I have read, the team managers were only interested in helping the team move forward. In Haikyu!!, first year manager Hitoka Yachi’s entire introduction to the story is about her discovering what she wants for herself, and how she wants to achieve that. Yachi and third year manager Kiyoko Shimizu have their own interests, goals and personalities separate from how they relate to the team, and they aren’t uncomfortably sexualized either.
Where Haikyu!! sometimes falls short is its pacing. The weekly manga spent almost a full calendar year on a single match between Karasuno and another school, yet the transition into the final arc of the story felt very sudden and rushed. Without giving away too much, the characters’ high school life ends abruptly, and flashes forward to their lives several years later with no warning. The drastic shift in direction was entirely unexpected by most readers, yet many grew to welcome it as the story developed further and flashback sequences elaborated on the years in between. Furudate’s decision to continue the story beyond the typical high school sports manga confines was a bold choice, and while it may be alienating to some readers, others find it exciting and refreshing.
The art style also shifts dramatically as the comic goes on. The characters become more angular and stylized, and the action more exaggerated and expressive. It’s not as noticeable when reading archivally, but it is kind of surprising to see such style drift in a manga, even a long-running one.
Haikyu!! is one of my favorite comics of all time now, but I put off reading it for years after I first heard about it because I was convinced I wouldn’t enjoy a comic about boys playing volleyball. I don’t watch sports! Why would I want to read a comic about sports? But the characters in Haikyu!! are so multifaceted and likeable, I found myself rooting for all of them to succeed almost immediately. I can’t say I dislike a single character in this comic, which has never happened to me before.
I am not exaggerating when I say reading Haikyu!! changed my life. One of the recurring themes in Haikyu!! is the idea of flight. At first, Hinata seems too short to succeed at volleyball, a sport in which height is crucial to scoring points and winning games. But Hinata is capable of jumping extraordinarily high, and with the right teammates, he soars. In chapter 30, Karasuno’s coach says, “Because we don’t have wings, humans are always searching for different ways to fly.” It made me think about how I would want to fly. Not literally, because I’m afraid of heights, but where I want to succeed in life and how I work towards my own goals. Haikyu!! taught me to always reach for the impossible.
Fly high! Read Haikyu!!.