Ippo Makunouchi was an extremely shy high school student who never had the time to make friends because he was always busy helping his mother run their family fishing charter business. Because he kept to himself, a group of bullies led by Umezawa got into the habit of picking on him. One day, these bullies gave him a rather serious beating. A middleweight professional boxer who was passing by stopped the bullies and took the injured Ippo to the Kamogawa Gym (鴨川ボクシングジム, Kamogawa Bokushingu Jimu), owned by retired boxer Genji Kamogawa, to treat his wounds. After Ippo awoke to the sounds of boxers training, the boxer who saved him, Mamoru Takamura, tried to cheer Ippo up by letting him vent his frustrations on a sandbag. It was then that they had their first glimpse into Ippo's talent for boxing. After that incident, Ippo gave the situation a lot of thought and decided that he would like to begin a career as a professional boxer. When he conveys this message to Mamoru Takamura, he gets verbally reprimanded: Takamura thought Ippo was taking professional boxing too lightly. However, Takamura felt that he couldn't outright refuse Ippo, especially since his feat of punching the sandbag much harder than anybody else in the gym (except for Takamura). Therefore, he challenges Ippo to catch 10 falling leaves from a tree simultaneously after a week of training, fully convinced that Ippo would fail, Takamura jogs away as he continues his roadwork.
However, after a week of tough training, involving nightly hours, Ippo manages the technique in the nick of time. He waits for the jogging Takamura to come by his usual path and surprises him by catching all 10 of the falling leaves and only doing so with his left hand. This impresses Takamura greatly, and he informs Ippo that the action required to catch all 10 leaves is called a boxing jab. Takamura invites Ippo back to the boxing gym for introductions.
When they got back to the gym, the coach, Genji Kamogawa, was not at all impressed by Makunouchi's lack of fighting spirit, and therefore, was challenged by Takamura to have a practice spar against a member of the gym. However, Kamogawa decides to give Ippo a severe challenge and tells him to spar with Miyata, who is 16, the same age as Ippo. Miyata is known as a boxing prodigy and is one of Kamogawa gym's future hopes. Takamura gets extremely worried with this prospect, as Miyata skill is way above the four-rounder pro boxer. As expected, Ippo loses by KO, but not until Miyata struggles dodging his punches and finally ends the match with his trump card: "The Counter". Coach Kamogawa decides that he has great fighting sense and spirit and decides to train him to eventually become the Japanese champion with a world ranking while Miyata became the OPBF (Oriental Pacific Boxing Federation) Champion. Both are expected to hit high in the rankings and, eventually, fight each other for the world champion's belt.
The story focuses heavily on character development—even during the matches something is learned about both fighters. Ippo has a habit of running into his opponents before matches, giving him a chance to learn more about their backgrounds and even sympathize with them. Ippo is an extremely timid and modest person who never assumes that he is strong enough. He instead draws courage from seeing the strength of his opponent and realizing that he is able to stand up to it. Ippo and his friendly rivalry with Miyata is the main draw in the early part of the series. That later changes to Ippo's path toward the Japanese Featherweight Championship and eventually the world championship. Along the way the audience is given glimpses into the other characters' pasts, motivations, relationships to others, and current boxing trials. A colorful cast of supporting characters and opponents as well as side stories concerning their paths in the boxing world rounds out the series.
An anime television series based on the manga, Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! aired on Nippon Television between October 3, 2000, and March 26, 2002.
Fighting Spirit: Champion Road TV Special (はじめの一歩 TVスペシャル -Champion Road-, Hajime no Ippo Terebi Supesharu ~Chanpion Rōdo~), aired on April 18, 2003 on NTV.
Mashiba vs. Kimura, released on September 5, 2003.
The continuation of the series—called Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger (はじめの一歩 New Challenger)—started on January 6, 2009, on Nippon Television and ended on June 30, 2009.
Rikiya Koyama, the voice actor of the Mamoru Takamura character in the Hajime no Ippo boxing anime franchise, revealed in his blog in 2009 that a sequel to the Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger television series is being planned. Koyama was posting about the end of dialog recording for the series, since the cast just finished work on the 26th and final episode. (The final episode, "New Challenger", aired in Japan on June 30, 2009.) At the end of his Friday blog entry, he wrote, "Of course, a sequel is also being planned!!"
On July 19, 2013, it was reported in that year's 34th issue of Kodansha's Weekly Shōnen Magazine that a third season of Hajime no Ippo will air in the fall 2013 season.
The third season, titled Hajime no Ippo: Rising, premiered October 6, 2013, and ended on March 29, 2014. It featured 25 new episodes.
The music for the first anime series was composed by Tsuneo Imahori, who also did the third opening theme song. Tracks of guitars, drums, piano, horns, and combinations of the instruments were used to help accentuate the mood and action of the scenes. The soundtrack was released in Japan on two CDs, First KO and Final Round. The music for the second series was composed by Hideki Taniuchi. In the third series, Yoshihisa Hirano and Tsuneo Imahori are credited for the music.
Geneon distributed the Fighting Spirit series in North America on 15 DVDs with five episodes per disc. The first DVD was released on July 6, 2004 and the fifteenth released on December 19, 2006. The DVDs included English and Spanish language tracks, as well as the original Japanese. The TV film Champion Road has been released in North America on DVD by Geneon. There are no plans to release the OVA, Mashiba vs. Kimura. Disc sales of the series did not break even. The first DVD was the best selling at ~5,000 units with each DVD afterwards selling ~1,000 units. As Geneon USA closed its doors at the end of 2007, the US rights of the series are in question.
There have been some video games based on the series, first released on the PlayStation, then later the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance, and recently to Wii. Two of the games have been released in North America and in PAL territories. There was some confusion regarding the Western title Victorious Boxers 2: Fighting Spirit before its Western release. This is generally assumed to be the same game as Hajime no Ippo 2: Victorious Road, when actually it is the next title in the series, Hajime no Ippo - The Fighting! All Stars. The Japanese released Victorious Road is unique amongst the titles as it includes the option to create your own boxer and control his training, diet, weight etc. The second Western title, Fighting Spirit, gives the player a choice of over 70 fighters for VS play. Each title has its own story mode which closely follows that of the manga.
Recently, Ippo and Takamura have also appeared in the crossover video game Sunday VS Magazine: Shuuketsu! Choujou Daikessen! as playable characters.
As of October 2013, Hajime no Ippo has sold over 94 million copies. In 1991, the manga won the Kodansha Manga Award for shōnen. Anime Academy gave the first anime series a glowing response; all five reviewers rated it above 90%, with one referring to the series as "the cream of the crop" of the sports genre in anime, and another stating that "fighting and character development have never tangoed so well together". Fanboy.com listed the series as one of their "Top Ten Underrated Manga".