Best Gambling Themed Anime to Watch by the End of 2022
The end of 2022 is fast approaching; how did that happen, right? Before the chimes hit, however, there’s plenty of anime to get through. During those toasty evenings over the Christmas holidays, for example.
We have a particular penchant for gambling-themed anime, which is very much a sub-niche in its own right. It either functions as a central theme of the plot or simply as a backdrop to the story arc. Whatever its role, gambling adds a layer of excitement, danger, and intrigue.
These are our favorites, with no particular order intended.
Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
If there’s one series that’s worth a Netflix subscription, it’s Kakegurui. This series is anime at its finest and puts gambling at the core of its world-building.
In the prestigious Hyakkaou Private Academy, it’s not about your skills in the classroom. Or how good you are at a particular sport. No, here what matters is your gambling. The entire social hierarchy is based on how you perform, with the lowest form of existence being the ‘house pet’ of another classmate.
In this 12-part series, the protagonists play a range of risky and unique games where the stakes are always high – they go as far as all of your possessions and your dignity. You get titles like The Election. Nim Type Zero, and Finger Cutting Guillotine (yes, they mean it), but they also play old-school classics like poker. Watching this series is not quite a high-end guide to poker, as even the Indian Poker or Choice Poker that they play has a lot riskier rules than any standard game, but it does delve deeper into its psychological nature.
Touhai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai
Bit of a long title there, but in English, it’s known as Akagi: The Genius Who Descended into Darkness. If that title doesn’t intrigue the reader, we don’t know what will. This 12-parter first aired in 2005, but its relevance is stronger than ever.
It’s deeply psychological, and as with most anime stories, goes far deeper than first glance suggests. It’s set just after World War II, with Japan as a country reeling from years of fighting and the devastating effects of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Our anti-hero, Akagi, is a mahjong prodigy who faces the dangerous Yakuza in a game at the tender age of 13. He wins and begins his story by helping a compulsive gambler. Things later unravel, but no spoilers…!
To watch this one, you’re going to need a Crunchyroll subscription. But it’s such a good watch, that it’s worth adding to your collection. The story focuses on Saki Miyanaga, a schoolgirl with an exceptional talent for mahjong. The game is of Chinese origin, but its effects reverberate in the Western world also.
Despite this natural ability, Saki hates the game. The story is personal and emotive. Mahjong brought her grief earlier in life, and she does everything she can to keep her talent hidden.
But just like many others who have talents they are born with, it’s impossible for Saki to play coverup. She’s eventually noticed by both her friend and the school’s mahjong club president, bringing her into the game she’s tried to avoid her entire life.
The story brings up interesting philosophical questions, with the viewer perhaps asking themselves whether they should listen to their talents, or continue on their present path. Is taking that risk worth it?
Legendary Gambler Tetsuya
For many, this is the absolute best anime featuring gambling. For some, it’s near the top of what’s been produced in the genre, gambling or not. It features an arc that has appeal, the master and disciple narrative we see in other stories such as Star Wars or the Karate Kid.
The protagonist is Tetsuya, a gambler who goes beyond the acceptable to win. Akagi and Saki are virtuosos, they don’t need anything but their sheer talent and force of will, whereas Tetsuya isn’t shy about cheating to win.
What sets this story apart is that it’s loosely based on events that transpired in the real world. The legendary gambler Takehiro Irokawa serves as inspiration for this tale, although of course artistic license was very much taken in the creation of this anime.
What Makes a Gambling Anime?
After reading our picks, you probably already have a clue about what really makes a gambling anime great. It’s not just about the game itself, but it’s still very much key. There are other great anime series that feature gambling, but the link between the plot and games of chance is so tenuous that they’re not worth featuring here.
No, in great anime series, gambling serves a purpose, whether as a subtle element in the background, or a major driver of the plot. The games serve to enlighten us about the characters we’re watching, but also to ask questions of ourselves.
The psychological nature of anime is what tends to set it apart from other entertainment types. They can be gory, yes, visually stunning, but ultimately it’s the peeling back of the layers that make them so rewatchable.