Engrossing storylines that hinge upon mind games have been the hallmark of many anime genres, and chess is all about thinking 10 steps ahead of your opponent. So, the blend of these two is bound to be both mind-blowing and addictive.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many straight-up chess-based anime series. However, in some shows, the game is a recurring theme, while in others, the protagonist is a chess maestro who often uses the strategies of the game to bring his/her opponents to their knees.
Then, there are shows in which shogi (the Japanese version of chess) is a central or prominent theme. The best part is that the genres of these anime shows run the gamut from revenge to fantasy and even romance. So, if you have been bitten by the chess or the anime bug, here is a list of top chess anime and shogi anime that will leave you thinking hard and fast and coming back for more.
1. No Game No Life
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No list of strategy and board game-based anime would be complete without the inclusion of “No Game No Life”. Created by Yu Kamiya, the light science fiction follows the adventures of two step-siblings, Sora and Shiro, together known as Blank, through the realm of games.
In the beginning, there was just game: The two master gamesters live in what is, to them, the boring world of humans. They spend most of their time immersed in online games playing their way through life. But that’s till they are challenged by Tet.
Enter God (the god of games that is): For the uninitiated, Tet is the god of games, yet he loses a round of chess to the Blank. This earns the siblings an invitation into the Disboard, a realm in which all disputes and problems are sorted through games.
Beat them all to win it all: Once there, the siblings decide to retain their undefeated-even-by-god status. Along the way, they have to win one game after another to bring together the 16 races, with the ultimate goal to defeat Tet.
But, there is always a problem: While the duo are champion gamers, it takes them a while to fit into this new world of high-stakes gaming where cheating is rampant and only punished when the person, who is cheated, calls out the cheating.
The siblings find it hard to win in the realm where rules can be bent as long as the opponent is none the wiser about the unscrupulous tactics.
So, as you watch the 12-part hit show, you wager, strategize and win with Blank. And that’s the reason the 2014 show was a massive hit and continues to enjoy quite a fan following. If you haven’t enjoyed an episode before, you can catch them all on Hulu.
2. Code Geass
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Two seasons, 25 episodes, and never a dull moment in this anime show. Plus, the fact that it showcases the central characters’ extraordinary chess skills from the get-go makes it a must-watch for anybody who enjoys the game and anime.
The intelligent yet withdrawn prince: It all starts with a super-intelligent but exiled prince, LeLouch who is exceptionally good at chess. In the first few episodes, you are treated to a display of these skills as our brooding hero goes through the travails of university life.
A new superpower, and the good becomes better: Soon enough, he finds himself in the midst of a terrorist attack and is saved by a mysterious figure who grants him a supernatural power called Geass. With it, he can get anybody to do his bidding, but the power only works once on a person and only after direct eye contact.
Great power brings great responsibility: With his newfound power and his expertise in chess, LeLouch sets about to revenge his mother’s brutal murder, free Japan from the clutches of the Britannia regime and basically make this world a better place for all, including his physically and visually challenged sister.
Of friends and enemies and friends who become enemies: Despite his will-bending powers, Lelouch ends up making several enemies, including some like Suzaku, a friend in the past, and even some members of the resistance who share the same goal as him.
Emotions, action, and psychological mind games with chess as the garnish on top, that’s Code Geass for you. The show was a huge success in its native Japan and has since garnered an ever-growing fan base across the world.
In fact, a sequel of sorts to the original show, which is called, Code Geass: Z of the Recapture, is already in the works and is supposed to herald a ten-year plan to continue the Geass Saga. The two seasons of the original are available on Netflix. If you are into superhero anime and enjoy chess, this is definitely the show for you.
3. Shion no Ō
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This one is not based on chess but on shogi. However, this is one of the few serialized anime where the game is as much a focal point of the show as the plot itself.
A tragic start: The story takes you into the life of a young girl called Shion, who witnesses the assassination of her parents as a wee kid. The trauma of the experience snatches away her ability to speak.
The secret may lie in shogi: While she does not remember all that transpired, Shion does know that the killer had taken the “king” pawn from her father’s shogi board, and this serves as an impetus for her to learn and eventually master the game.
The pro player: Shion turns pro at 13 and is a player to watch for but soon enough, the success brings dangerous attention her way.
The threats and the stalker: By the second episode, Shion ends up being saved by a person who is to be her opponent in the future.
But, the threat never leaves her side: As she wins match after match, Shion continues to apply her shogi expertise to find out who killed her parents and why.
And the audience is with her every step of the way through this tumultuous and dangerous journey. Revealing more would be giving away spoilers on a platter. So, if this murder mystery that has loads of shogi in it has piqued your interest, catch a streaming episode of the show on Yidio and AppleTV.
4. The black butler:
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This one is a gripping show that combines strategy with the supernatural, and once you put those two together, the storyboard turns into a virtual chess board with characters moving across it like pawns. While the plot will keep you glued to the screen, unfortunately, there is no real chess in this one, not even shogi in fact.
However, the protagonist, Ceil (a 12-year-old boy in Victorian London), and his demonic butler do a fine job of applying chess strategies to life’s innumerable problems as Ceil always finds himself in the eye of the storm. The black butler is one of the most highly rated anime shows and is a must-watch if you enjoy fantasy with a generous peppering of mystery and strategy.
5. The Prince of Tennis
Of course, the name of the show is a dead giveaway, so you are bound to ask what it has to do with chess. The plotline involves the chronicles of a cocky tennis prodigy in a new school in Japan that has the best middle school tennis players in the country.
While tennis is the central plotline, several episodes of this show feature aspects of competitive chess and is definitely a must-watch for people who enjoy sports, board games, and of course, anime.
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Mobs and ghosts get together to make a strange yet tantalizing story that will beckon you to explore the show further. For a change, in this show, it is not the protagonists but the antagonist who enjoys playing people as one would the pawns on a chess board.
The best part is that this colorful antagonist actually has his own version of chess plus shogi, which he uses to anticipate the actions and reactions of any and all who are of interest to him. While in the end, the protagonist always wins, in this show, it is the villain who will leave you with lasting memories of the show.
7. Death Note
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Another extremely popular fantasy-based anime, this show, involves a magical book that can be used to kill people. All the owner of the book had to do is write the name of the person to be killed in it, and the job gets done magically. The central characters have to find out who is the owner of this death-giving book. While chess is not a background theme nor an omnipresent aspect of the plotline, it is used in one episode to show a battle of wits of sort.
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One of the most popular anime shows, Naruto’s storyline features shogi very prominently. Sarutobi uses the game to connect with generations past and future. Also, it is used as the perfect backdrop to highlight subtle emotions in an indirect way. Of course, all that ninja action is an added bonus. With all of that, this is an all-time favorite that certainly merits a watch.
Blend history with fantasy and add some amount of strategy to it and you will come up with Baccano. Set, at first, in 1711 and working its way to 1932, the storyline of this show involves the elixir of mortality, its formula, which came courtesy of a demon, a bunch of Mafiosi, several thugs and thieves and of course, the unassuming protagonist who find themselves in the middle of it all.
10. Detective Conan:
This is an ongoing series that showcases how the principles and learnings of shogi can be applied to various facets of life. Unlike other shows, this one does not occur in a world of fantasy or a timeline from the yore.
Instead, as the name suggests, this is the story of a modern-day detective who also happens to be a professional shogi player. Shukichi uses extraordinary deductive abilities and an impressive memory that he develops thanks to shogi, and he uses these in his pursuit of criminals.
So, there you have it, folks, 10 of best anime shows based on chess, shogi, strategy, and game theory in general. If you are keen on a binge-watching session start at the top of this list and work your way down, chances are you won’t be able to help yourself from going to the next show once you start. Happy watching!