Anime with tournaments are tried and true staples of the medium. There's nothing like watching a character you've come to know and love compete, win, and advance to the next level. The coolest anime tournaments not only treat you to high-stakes battles that will leave your heart pounding, they also give you insight into the participants' thoughts and emotions. All the best tournaments in anime are intense.
The greatest anime tournaments feature everything from volleyball games that will leave you shouting at your screen like a real sports fan to life-or-death competitions to become the God of Time and Space. If you like your anime suspenseful, emotionally moving, or just plain badass, tournament arcs are a great way to get your fix.
The Dark Tournament arc from Yu Yu Hakusho uses a standard tournament format, with eliminations after each round. Yusuke Urameshi and his friends join with the goal of claiming the prize: a single wish. This fight is much more intense than your standard shonen battle. Notably, there's the presence of the corrupt Committee, who not only incorrectly call matches for their own benefit, but also force people to enter the tournament against their will. There's also a plot line where someone tries to use the tournament to open up a demon gate. There's real tension in these moments, and this arc manages to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Naruto is primarily a series about ninja-based political intrigue, but the Chunin Exams are a non-stop action thrill ride. They do a great job of introducing the characters and their abilities, and at hinting towards the dangers they'll face in the future. The Chunin Exams start with a written test, (where students are encouraged to cheat) then quickly progress to an obstacle course in the woods (that brings them in contact with the disconcerting villain, Orochimaru) and then, for those who haven't been disqualified, there's a final series of fights.
Some fights are ridiculous - like the one where Naruto defeats Kiba by farting in his face - but others are exquisitely painful, like the emotionally fraught battle between cousins Hinata and Neji. The two of them attempt to resolve their deep-seated family issues by pummeling one another, in a battle that ultimately puts Hinata in the hospital. The exam is eventually interrupted by the city being invaded, which only serves to increase the intensity of the series arc.
While most anime-sports festivals are one-episode fillers, My Hero Academia does things a little differently. The sports festival isn't a bunch of kids running around, it's a televised event where U.A. students start off with competitive obstacle courses, then move on to full-on battles with their powerful classmates. The stakes here are particularly high because hero agencies are in the audience, looking for potential talent. These kids are fighting for their future careers. Besides that, some of the matchups are crazy intense. This is especially true for the Bakugo vs Todoroki match, which combines amazing fire-based action with some painful family turmoil for Todoroki.
Dragon Ball Z includes one of the most intense tournaments of all time, the Cell Games.
There are several elements that help the Cell Games stand out among the other DBZ tournaments. First, there's the presence of Cell himself, a deeply unsettling antagonist who absorbs his opponents and takes on their traits. Second, this is the first time we get to see both Gohan and Goku, together, in their full Super Saiyan glory. Finally, the battles against Cell are brutal, viewers are even forced to watch Future Trunks die right before Vegeta's eyes. Cell exploding is just icing on the cake.