Cobra Kai has all the things that made the original Karate Kid great. It has unique training sequences, wholesome master-student relationships, and thrilling tournaments. It also has some 80s music for good measure. With the conclusion of Season 4, fans might be looking for something to fill the void left by it. Luckily, there's one place that fulfills all the needs of a Cobra Kai fan-- anime.
Lots of anime have the things that make Cobra Kai and Karate Kid so enjoyable. Aspects of Cobra Kai like training montages and martial arts fights can be found in all sorts of anime. Whether it's Pokémon or Fullmetal alchemist, there will always be anime characters who use self-defense techniques they have no Earthly business learning. There's even a dinosaur movie called You are Umasou about a T. rex who combats other dinosaurs with kicks, throws, and leg sweeps. Despite the ubiquity of martial arts in anime, there are some series that really focus on the art of fighting and the journey taken to hone and improve one's skills. Here are some such anime that not only have a big focus on martial arts but also remind viewers of Cobra Kai in other ways.
DBZ and DBS can kind of fulfill this need, but not nearly as well as the original Dragon Ball. This part of the series features can be broken down into two kinds of story arcs; hunting for the Dragon Balls and competing in the World Martial Arts Tournament. Regarding the latter type, Dragon Ball covered the events of the 21st-23rd Tournaments and sees Goku and the gang test their abilities against a myriad of fighters.
Perhaps the most like Cobra Kai would be the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament. The central conflict of this Tournament pitted two big martial arts schools against one another. The first was Master Roshi's Turtle School made up of Goku, Krillin, and Yamcha. Their main competitors were Master Shen's Crane School represented by Tien and Chiaotzu. The unfriendly rivalry between these two martial arts schools is reminiscent of that between Cobra Kai and Miyagido karate.
Fist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star is similar to Cobra Kai in two ways. The first is in the antagonists who show up. In a post-apocalypse reminiscent of Mad Max, violent biker gangs run rampant and terrorize what's left of civilization. They can be unreasonably cruel and are easily provoked. The only ones strong enough to stop them are powerful martial artists like Kenshiro. Antagonists like these also appear all the time in Cobra Kai.
The other similarity is in the show's focus on martial artists. Besides bikers, Kenshiro had to constantly face off against practitioners of Hokuto Seiken, Nanto Seiken, and all sorts of other fighting styles. Fist of the North Star 2 took this a step further by having Ken travel to the Land of Asura, which is comprised entirely of martial artists. The ways these characters communicate through their fists resemble Cobra Kai and Karate Kid in general.
This series also prominently features different schools of martial arts fighting each other. Representing the Anything Goes school of martial arts was Saotome Ranma and their fiancé Tendo Akane who inherited this style of martial arts from their parents, who themselves learned it from Happosai. Anything Goes was a form of mixed martial arts that borrowed from other fighting styles and philosophies to create a well-rounded and highly adaptable style for the practitioner.
Ranma often found themselves using their martial arts training to defend themselves from all sorts of other martial arts practitioners. Additionally, the martial artists they go up against came in a wide variety. In Ranma 1/2, martial arts could be centered around just about anything from rhythmic gymnastics to cooking to figure skating. Ranma must either discover the counters to all these different styles or incorporate their moves into their own style in order to win.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
When looking for a good martial arts anime but also wanting to watch a mecha anime, G Gundam is a good way to fulfill both needs at once. In this version of Gundam, war has been replaced with the Gundam Fights, a quadrennial martial arts competition. The winning nation has the right to rule the colonies of outer space until the next competition. The series revolved around Kasshu Domon, Japan's representative fighter.
One of the most appealing aspects of G Gundam was Domon's relationship with his teacher Master Asia. Prior to the start of the series, Domon formed a strong bond of trust with the Undefeated of the East and learned everything he can from him. Their relationship sours in the series proper, but the connection between them creates all sorts of highly emotional drama. It's not unlike a relationship Johnny or Daniel would form with one of their students.
Hajime no Ippo
Hajime no Ippo has a simple premise. The story followed high schooler Makunouchi Ippo as he pursues a career as a professional boxer. He goes through all sorts of training drills and exercises and when he finally entered the ring, it's intense. The matches aren't just decided by who's the strongest, but by who can land the most hits while staying up themselves. The series embodies the idea of pouring blood, sweat, and tears into one's passion.
Hajime no Ippo also embodies the fundamentals of mastering a fighting style. Ippo didn't just learn to punch, he picked up all the ins and outs of boxing that make the difference in a match. The level of detail with which the sport of boxing is elaborated on shows both vast knowledge and great understanding on the part of the writer. Even Cobra Kai isn't quite this detailed about the art of karate.
Baki is a good but brutal alternative to the fighting in Cobra Kai. The worst thing that happens in West Valley on screen is a broken back and a coma. Baki, on the other hand, deals with broken bones and much worse on a regular basis. This is because the series deals with no-holds-barred underground fights. The combatants use lethal force in an effort to see who can perform the best ridiculous feat of fighting.
It's important to remember that the 2018 Baki on Netflix is neither an original adaptation nor a reboot. It should be treated as a continuation of the original 2001 anime series. The 2018 anime showed Baki after he's had many experiences and met all sorts of people. It also raised the stakes by adding dangerous criminals to his list of enemies. Viewers who try to start from this series run the risk of losing key context.
Kengan Ashura is yet another brutal martial arts anime on Netflix. The series is set in a world where business deals are settled in intense matches between skilled fighters. Where Baki is about seeing who can look the strongest in the coolest ways, Kengan Ashura really goes in-depth in describing the motions and mechanics of all sorts of fighting styles. It's somewhat like Hajime no Ippo in that regard.
Kengan Ashura and Baki are a little tricky to talk about in the same breath without a comparison being made. Kengan Ashura seems to be heavily influenced by Baki to the point where it's a question whether the former would exist without the latter. Both shows feature, among other things, fighters of all kinds of creeds, styles, and backgrounds beating each other mercilessly with wild grins on their faces. Anyone who likes one of these series will probably like the other.
Kenichi History's Mightiest Disciple
This series is good for anybody who loves the training aspect of Cobra Kai. Like Miguel, Kenichi started his series with no natural talents or strength; if anything, he's below average. He has some skilled instructors, but he still had to work hard in order to get the most out of their teachings. He went through all kinds of nightmarish training not only to improve his skills but to strengthen his body.
What's really amazing about Kenichi is his motivation. Between all the harsh training and constant losses, most people would be liable to give up, but not Kenichi. His determination allowed him to power through, which is what truly makes him the mightiest disciple. Kenichi's inspiring journey captures the same spirit of 80s sports movies Cobra Kai is known for.