Sports are at once great and hard to depict in comics. On the one hand, an artist skilled at drawing both athleticism and action (which are not always the same thing) can take a football match and turn it into something really exciting and fun to read. This applies whether you're doing a sports-centered story like Roy of the Rovers or a story with sport-as-backdrop, like the Paul Jenkins/Al Davison Hellblazer story "Football: It's A Funny Old Game." But on the other hand, an artist who's not good with those qualities can create something really stilted or just weird.

So it's understandable then that sports manga --- while hugely popular in Japan --- hasn't cracked it over here. Not for lack of trying; stalwarts like The Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21 have been translated without any real impact. But with the success of the competitive swimming/male eye-candy anime Free, sports manga and anime are in vogue at last. And that's lucky for us, because it means Viz Media has grabbed the rights to Haruichi Furudate's volleyball manga Haikyu. 

Haikyu follows Shoyo Hinata, a pint-sized, plucky high school freshman who wants to be the best volleyball player ever. With his insane jumping and speed, he's got a nice head start.

But he has very little experience. Hinata was the only boys' v-ball player at his middle school until his last year, when he scraped enough kids together for a tournament. Unfortunately, they were crushed by a team led by the conceited, domineering Tobio Kageyama, AKA "the King of the court."



Hinata vowed to surpass Kageyama, and his first step is getting into Karasuno High, the school that won nationals with the legendary "Little Giant" who inspired Hinata to play in the first place. He's shocked, therefore, to learn that Kageyama is also here and they're now... teammates?

If you've read any shonen manga or watched any sports movie, you know where this is going. Even so, this is a blast. These are well-rounded characters with many notes to play. And they bounce well off of each other. In the grand Shonen Jump tradition, Hinata is dumb, headstrong, and determined. But he's not unrealistic; he knows his limits, but they don't stop him. "I know I'm not very tall," he says at one point. "But that doesn't matter! I... CAN FLY!!!" And he does.

Besides being a good foil, Kageyama is sympathetic in his own right. His massive ego regarding his obvious talent comes back to haunt him, and when you learn the meaning behind "the king of the court," it's genuinely heartbreaking. You want him to succeed as much as Hinata.

Anchoring these two are a great supporting cast, especially dopey sophomore player Ryunosuke Tanaka and freshman Kei Tsukishima, who is the cynical mouthpiece for shonen naysayers.


Haruichi Furudate/Viz Media


But strong character work means nothing if it's not delivered well. Here, it is. Furudate's artwork is phenomenal; he knows how to perfectly stage action and show player skill enough to keep things visually interesting. He delivers so well on his pacing that the end of the first volume hits like a shock; and in a small but vital choice, his volleyballs are colored so that they are easy to follow in black and white.

If there's a big flaw to the series it's that there's only one female character introduced in the first volume, and that's, Kiyoko, the team's manager, who is on the margins and objectified. Hopefully this gets rectified in future volumes. With Viz posting free chapters daily, and an accelerated publishing schedule to catch up to Japan --- where the series has run since 2012 --- we hopefully won't have to wait too long to find out.

Haikyu Vol. 1 is available digitally from Viz, Comixology and Kindle and in print from a variety of retailers and your local library. A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.