The Best Anime-Inspired Sneakers Ever
Anime and manga collaborations have been doing the rounds in streetwear circles for a while now, and it’s a surprise the sneakersphere has taken so long to catch on. However, with an influx of weebolicious releases hitting the market in recent years, it looks like the sneaker brands are finally making up for lost time. All of a sudden, being an anime geek is actually cool.
Garnering widespread admiration from the hype kids to the nostalgia fiends, anime-inspired sneakers have gone from novelty knick-knacks to bona fide must-cops. From Pokémon to Neon Genesis Evangelion, DBZ to Doraemon, we’ve seen plenty of colourways surface. However, as you know by now, not all sneakers are created equal. Here are the best anime-inspired sneakers ever.
Nike Air Max 98 'Gundam'
One of the most recognisable Air Max colourways ever, the return of the Air Max 98 ‘Gundam’ spearheaded the silhouette’s 20th birthday celebrations in 2018.
While it’s not an official Gundam collaboration, the mecha-robot inspiration is undeniable. Decked out in a stunning red, white and blue combination, the sneaker’s palette shares an uncanny resemblance to the famed Gundam Mobile Suit.
Air Jordan 6 'Slam Dunk'
Look hard enough and you’ll be able find an anime or manga based on just about any sport you can think of. One of the first, and arguably still the best, was the basketball-themed Slam Dunk series, which debuted back in 1990.
The show sparked a huge basketball boom in Asia during the 90s, with Jordan hype reaching uncontrollable levels across the continent. Acknowledging Slam Dunk’s clout, Jordan Brand decided to release two special sneakers dedicated to the series in 2014: a Jordan Super.Fly 3 and an Air Jordan 6. Unsurprisingly, the latter garnered most of the attention. Dressed in red and white, the upper’s tonal 3M illustrations elevated the fan service to above-the-rim heights.
BAIT x Astro Boy x Diadora Intrepid
BAIT have never been shy to show off their cartoon connects, bringing us more pop culture drops than any other retailer throughout the years. Releasing in 2017, their tribute to Osamu Tezuka's legendary Astro Boy undoubtedly ranks as one of their best-ever collaborations.
Linking up with Diadora, BAIT came through with an unmistakable Astro Boy—themed colourway of the Intrepid. Inspired by the Mighty Atom's iconic costume — if you can even call it that — the running silhouette wears a combination of green, black and red on its premium leather and wolverine silk suede upper. Of course, Astro Boy himself can be found stamped on the heels and translucent outsoles.
Footpatrol x ASICS GEL-Saga 'Gundam'
Proving anime sneakers don’t always need to be bold and bright, Footpatrol’s x ASICS GEL-Saga ‘Gundam’ release epitomises simple, timeless style.
The second Gundam-inspired crep on our list, this official collaboration is subtler regarding its mecha motivations compared the Team Swoosh’s entry. In fact, you’d probably never know it was a Gundam sneaker if not for a tiny robot embellishment on the tongue.
Nike Air Trainer III 'Optimus Prime'
When Michael Bay tapped iconic series Transformers for a live-action blockbuster in 2017, Nike responded accordingly, rolling out a special themed collection featuring this ‘Optimus Prime’ Air Trainer III.
Much like the Transformers franchise itself, this first collection started things off strong, with follow-up Transformers x Nike collaborations not quite living up to first instalment. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped other brands from trying their own.
There’s definitely ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ when it comes to this colourway. Aside from the unmistakable scheme and Autobots branding, the sneaker also brings plenty of late-night shine thanks to 3M details.
Gundam x Nike SB Dunk High ‘Banshee’ and ‘Project Unicorn White’
Releasing in the back half of 2021, the Gundam x Nike SB Dunk High ‘Banshee’ and ‘Project Unicorn White’ duo really has to be seen to be believed. Maximalist with a capital M, each design rocked multiple references to the character that inspired it, most notably the side Swooshes that resembled each Gundam’s V-Fin antennas. And the build up to the release was almost as epic as the shoe design, especially the limited edition Bandai x Nike SB Dunk High ‘Gundam’ figurines that emerged ahead of the drop.
adidas ZX 500 RM 'Son Goku'
Much like a spirit bomb, Team Trefoil took their time to power-up the Dragon Ball Z x adidas collection. After months of speculation, adidas officially revealed the release just a month before the first drop with the ZX 500 RM ‘Son Goku’ kicking off proceedings in Super Saiyan style. Dropping in limited numbers, the sneaker sold out faster than you can say ‘kamehameha!’.
While most of the subsequent releases fizzled out into obscurity, the 'Son Goku' piqued the interest of casual sneakerheads and DBZ diehards alike. An unmistakable ode to Dragon Ball Z’s main hero, these Kakarot-themed creps were every bit worth the wait.
Note: This article was originally published in May 2020, then updated in September 2021.