Rivalries in shonen manga and anime are among the cornerstones of the genre, with every great series incorporating at least one competitive feud. Naruto has Sasuke, Yugi has Kaiba and Goku -- depending on what volume of Dragon Ball -- has Krillin, Tien, Piccolo or Vegeta. Even outside shonen anime, the rival has become a significant player -- most notably, seinen manga Berserk's rivalry between Guts and Griffith.
However, for every widely beloved rivalry, about a dozen are overlooked and underappreciated, even in otherwise popular shows. Rival characters usually undergo fascinating arcs that challenge them in exciting ways, and some might not get fans' attention. The following five rivalries are deep and compelling, often overlooked by mainstream anime culture for one reason or another, and deserve the spotlight.
Miyata Ichiro (Hajime no Ippo)
Sports anime seem tailor-made to create compelling rivalries, with series like Haikyuu!!, Yuri!!! on Ice and Slam Dunk, all demonstrating that with much success. However, Hajime no Ippo tends to be under-discussed among mainstream anime fans, which is a shame, as it's one of Weekly Shonen Jump's longest-running sports manga. From the start of the series, one of Ippo Makunouchi's main rivals was Miyata Ichiro.
Miyata appeared in the second chapter of the manga, starting as Ippo's source of inspiration. Miyata is a child-prodigy who took on boxing after his father was compelled to retire. Miyata's skills lie in both his counter-punches and timing. He joined Kamogawa Gym to prove his value, but, over time, found a new obstacle to overcome: Ippo himself. Their first spars ended with one win and one loss apiece, which led both characters to further their skills, learning to become better so the two could face off in an official match -- which, as it turned out, they would do time and time again, throughout the entire sprawling manga.
Ryoga (Ranma 1/2)
At times, Ryoga feels like a parody of the mainstream shonen rivalries that had become popular around the time Ranma 1/2 first came out. Ryoga is Ranma's rival, and while determined, he has a downright terrible sense of direction. He chases Ranma across all of China and Japan, just for the opportunity to combat him. However, much like Ranma, he too fell in the cursed springs, though his curse is slightly different: rather than turn into a girl when wet, he turns into a cute piglet.
Ryoga's rivalry with Ranma isn't psychologically compelling or emotional and won't lead to a hyped-up confrontation between two characters who have grown due to their continuous combat either. Instead, much like the rest of Ranma, it's just charming in how it encapsulates all that's fun about shonen rivalries. It's also amusing seeing people who don't know that P-chan -- Ryoga's pig form -- is the same person. It's light, entertaining and dives head-first into hijinks.
Akira Toya (Hikaru no Go)
Hikaru no Go is a manga about playing Go -- a complex Japanese board game with a long history. In many respects, Akira and Hikaru Shindo's rivalries are similar to Yu-Gi-Oh's between Yugi and Kaiba. Hikaru is aided by an ancient spirit who loved playing Go, while Akira is a child prodigy, struggling to comprehend how some novice is so good at the game. However, the difference is that Akira, unlike Kaiba, isn't cruel or vicious, but rather a polite boy driven by an obsession to beat Hikaru.
Akira's arc is fascinating because we see his insecurities emerge due to his competitive dealings with Hikaru. The challenge helps him grow as an individual as up until this point, Akira wasn't really tested by anyone his age. He had grown complacent, and Hikaru disrupts this complacency. Despite it being clear Hikaru is his rival, Akira downplays his obsession. He's a shonen rival who doesn't want to be a shonen rival.
Renji Abarai (Bleach)
For as popular as Bleach is, Ichigo's initial rivalry with Renji is often underappreciated by fans. This might be in part due to how short-lived it is. After its culmination in the Soul Society Arc, Ichigo becomes Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez's key rival. On top of that, Renji is just one of two rivals that Ichigo gains during the Soul Society Arc -- the other being Rukia's adoptive brother, Byakuya. However, an argument can be made that Renji is, of all of Bleach's rivals, the best example of one.
Bleach's Soul Society Arc is one of the manga's most compelling, in part due to Renji. Both Renji and Ichigo have a close relationship with Rukia. Renji blames Ichigo for Rukia's suffering -- or, at least, believes he does. In actuality, the anger Renji projects onto Ichigo reflects his guilt, believing himself responsible for Rukia's fate. His battle with Ichigo works because it allows these complex emotions to be played out through action. That makes Renji as a rival far more compelling than Grimmjow, whose motivations for fighting Ichigo are less nuanced and complex.
Tao Ren (Shaman King)
Tao Ren from Shaman King had all the traits that belong to the best of shonen rivals, yet, for whatever reason, he never caught on in mainstream anime discussion. Tao Ren comes from a long line of vicious Shamans -- the Tao Family. Ren starts the series off as a cold, arrogant combatant who laughs in the face of Yoh Asakura's belief in friendship and benevolence. However, it ultimately blows up in his face when Yoh continually surpasses Ren's expectations.
Yoh's warm and kind-hearted approach to life helps Ren grow in a way that prepares him for his own storyline. Yoh doesn't wholly define Ren, but Ren would be incapable of trusting his teammates during the Shaman Fight or overcoming his family's toxic influences without having him as a rival. Besides, Yoh isn't just a rival. He's the one person in Ren's life that helped him become someone who could achieve his goals.
Tao Ren doesn't receive the deserved recognition, despite delivering what fans look for in a shonen rivalry, and should be among Vegeta and Sasuke's ranks as one of the best anime rivals out there.