Tournament Arc

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Plot arc consisting of the character in direct competition with other characters in a generally organized fashion rather than a "fight of the week" situation. Actually, the fighting can be whatever relevant competition exists for the show, anything from martial arts to bread making. Sometimes this is Not Just a Tournament.

In the broadcaster's point of view, tournaments are extremely useful as filler to avoid catching up to the source material. They also allow a writer to introduce a substantial number of new characters very quickly, some of which potentially can become regulars if they gain a sufficient fandom. Another benefit is that it can be used to showcase otherwise impossible fights (such as ones between two members of the same team)

However, along with the time constraints leading to Inaction Sequence tournament arcs can get stretched dangerously long for quite arbitrary reasons. This usually stops in a manga, but the reader still enjoys incredibly detailed and attractive fight scenes. In television, filler gets the butt-end of the budget, and tourney episodes will suffer from really obvious camera tricks and costcutting in an attempt at balance along with its time stretching.

A secondary negative effect of the arc is seriously derailing the mood or original premise of a series if it goes on too long and alienating what attracted people to the story in the first place.

If this gets really bad, the audience may just start referring to episodes as "X vs. Y".

Tournaments are almost always single-elimination; the hero will not face the same opponent more than once. Proper seeding will be entirely ignored, and yet even so the hero will always find himself facing tougher and tougher opponents every round. His final opponent will probably be The Rival or a Big Bad or Dragon.

Naturally, the hero is distinguished in this arc by his unwillingness to seriously hurt his opponent or violate Flexible Tourney Rules, and sympathy for his opponent's situation no matter how violent or nasty they seem to be. The hero's final opponent, on the other hand, may actually kill opponents, often "by accident", even if the tournament is not to the death.

The video game equivalent is the Inevitable Tournament.

See also Rescue Arc, War Arc, Not Just a Tournament. Compare The Big Race.

Examples of Tournament Arc include:

Anime and Manga

  • The entire plot of Angelic Layer revolves around such a competition.
  • The various Tenkaichi Budokai tournaments in Dragon Ball.
    • Note that despite being a literal Tournament Arc, Dragonball's Budokais fit almost nothing else in the description on this page.
      • The Other World Tournament does, though.
      • Then there's the tournament that Cell organizes, along with the various World Martial Arts tournaments that take place in both the first Dragonball and Dragonball Z.
    • Note that the various Strongest Under Heaven tournaments are one of the (if not the) earliest examples of this trope, with the difference being that in this case they were built directly into the storyline and in fact were the main focus for a long time. It fits the whole theme of the characters constantly trying to become stronger, and the story actually ends in the middle of a new Strongest Under the Heaven where the main characters kids and grandkids get to fight.
  • The Dark Tournament from Yu Yu Hakusho. Also an early short arc that determined who would get to train with Genkai, and managed to ignite Kuwabara's powers, and the tournament to decide who would rule the demon world (heavily abbreviated in the manga).
    • The anime version of the final tournament subverts the usual formula. The main characters and villains aren't placed on opposite sides of the bracket and end up facing each other in the quarter finals. The main villain defeats the main character, but expends so much energy doing so that he loses to some no-name in the next round, allowing a minor character to come from behind to take the win.
    • This tendency was Lampshaded in Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged by Koenma.

Koenma: Tournaments like this don't happen every three sagas.
George: But sir-
Koenma: Nope, tournaments like this are rare indeed.

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena bases most of its 39-episode plotline around a single grand tournament with three distinct phases or sub-tournaments. It was less formally-structured than usual, so the show's first Re Cap episode is used to organize them explicitly to the audience.
  • Fairy Tail has the S-Class Trial and the Grand Mage Games.
  • Dragon Half uses an at-times slapstick tournament as an opportunity for Mink to meet her idol, Dick Saucer.
  • About half of the Yu-Gi-Oh! arcs: Duelist Kingdom, Battle City, Battle City Finals, KC Grand Prix. The main parts of Duelist Kingdom and Battle City, despite being technically set at tournaments, were really more unorganized fight-of-the-week events by the nature of the rules, rather than being bracketed tournaments.
  • The Shaman Fight in Shaman King, to determine who will get to channel God (basically).
    • Except that the Shaman Fight is pretty much half of the series or so. And in the qualification round the matches are pretty far apart, interspersed by guys who are fighting for reasons unrelated to the tournament.
  • G Gundam revolved around a fighting tournament with giant robots where the winner's nation was awarded political control of the Earth.
  • The various Street Fighter series, based off the video games of the same name, revolved around several street-fighting tournaments and the shadowy figures of good and evil involved.
  • The Pro Exam in Hikaru no Go.
  • The chuunin examination arc of Naruto was a formal Tournament Arc that is actually cut short.
  • The Hunter Exam and the Heaven's Arena arcs from Hunter X Hunter.
    • The final stage of the Hunter Exam is a subversion of the more typical Tournament Arc is several ways: the winners don't advance to see who is the only one to pass, the losers advance to see who is the only one who doesn't, you can't just beat up or kill your opponent, you have to convince/coerce/force them to surrender without killing them (or you're disqualified and everyone else passes), and it's ended only five matches through when Killua kills one of the other contests.
  • Pokémon basically revolves around the protagonist trying to earn the right to enter a region's championship tournament with the actual tournament capping the Story Arc. Later with the introduction of a new type of competition called Pokémon Contests, the female protagonist has her own separate quest that leads up to a separate tournament. The tournament arcs, ironically, are extremely short when compared to similar shonen storylines, going for as little as six episodes. Considering that other anime have tournaments as side stories that can drag on for 20 episodes or more, one has to wonder why Pokémon limits the point of its show to only six episodes per every three years.
    • Because they have a deadline: the current saga has to end in time so Ash can go to a new region the same day the next game comes out.
    • The Hearthome Tag Battle tournament during the Sinnoh saga and the Don Battle tournament during the Unova saga.
  • Roughly two-thirds of the entirety of Beyblade is one giant Tournament Arc. The second season was largely devoid of it, but the last few episodes returned to that format.
  • The Fall Tournament in Eyeshield 21, which makes up the bulk of the plot, actually making most things not in the Tournament Arc to be filler.
    • And before that, of course, was the Spring Tournament, where the Devil Bats only played two games before losing. The White Knights, the Gunmen, and the Nagas were still introduced in this tournament, and the loss played a very important part to Sena.
  • The latter portion of Flame of Recca is a tournament arc.
  • Nearly two-thirds of MAR is focused on a twisted version of this. After terrorizing most of the planet MÄR, the evil Chess Piece group organizes a War Game where the remaining good guys may team up and fight their most skilled members from each rank. To the higher-ranking members of the Chess, it's nothing more than entertainment, until Ginta defeats their team captain, Phantom, in the final battle of said War Games. They've apparently let the protagonists grow in strength, and it ends up biting them back in the ass, big time.
  • Soon after it started, Last Order, the Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo of Battle Angel Alita, became a Tournament Arc that's still ongoing.
  • While not so much an "arc" as a "two-parter", Hayate the Combat Butler has one of these. As you can probably guess, it was a Battle Butler tournament, which was just as silly as it sounds. Klaus and Tama don a Paper-Thin Disguise, only to lose when Hayate catches Klaus' necktie (removing a butler's necktie means defeat), after Klaus shows off his power.
  • The Mahou Sensei Negima manga has the Mahora Budokai tournament during the school festival super-arc. It's basically the point at which the genre balance tips from Harem Comedy to shounen action, and also manages to finally kick off the previously stagnant Myth Arc. (Fun fact: The author determined the initial matchups for it by rolling dice; this explains how some of the first round matches are where the quarter-finals or semi-finals fight would be in other series. Namely who Negi fights in the first round.)
    • There's another tournament later on during the Magic World arc, though few of the matches are shown in any detail. Until the final battle against Jack Rakan.
    • Averted during the sports festival. Despite coverage of the contests being the main attraction, Kotarou thinks they are so powerful at this point that they should sit on their hands and let someone else have a chance for a change.
  • The Deadmen in Deadman Wonderland hold deathmatches called Carnival Corpse for the amusement of bettors and to keep themselves occupied. While not a Story Arc per say, they're very important to the plot.
  • Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo has a tournament arc, but it's just as crazy and silly as the rest of the series, including the fight against Sambaman. It ends up getting interrupted after only a few battles, though, due to the new Big Bad launching their assault.
  • Dakki springs one on the heroes near the end of the Houshin Engi manga, pitting them in one-on-one matches against some super-powered demons.
  • Prince of Tennis is basically a huge tournament.
  • Attack No. 1 (volleyball)
  • Kino's Journey has a two-episode tournament storyline about halfway through in which Kino unknowingly travels to a country that forces newcomers to participate in a series of battles: whether they win or lose, travelers either become permanent citizens of the country (and, unbelievably, make up a new law of their choice) or lowly slaves. While an excellent fighter (who is matched only by Shizu, her sword-wielding male counterpart), Kino doesn't seem entirely too pleased by how the tournament works.
  • All sports and games anime, such as the aforementioned Prince of Tennis and Hikaru no Go, tend to rely on a tournament structure. Given that this is the way * real* sports are organized, this is unsurprising. Most such anime does not suffer from the negative effects often attributed to a Tournament Arc.
  • Kujibiki Unbalance has the Kujibiki tournament to determine the next student council.
  • Yakitate!! Japan is literally one Tournament Arc after another. On the other hand, besides Cooking Duels, you can't do that much with bread.
  • Initially played straight with the Shogun Tournament in Samurai Deeper Kyo, but then subverted when it gets to be Kyo's turn and he decides to hell with the one-on-one setup, he'd rather fight everyone at once. He does, and then wins. End of tournament.
  • Saint Seiya kicked off with the Galaxian Wars, a tournament sponsored by the Kido Foundation, in which fighters from across the globe battled for the right to earn the legendary Gold Cloth. In reality, this tournament was part of Mitsumasa Kido's plot to create a new generation of Bronze Saints loyal to Athena, and have the strongest among them inherit the Sagittarius Cloth he had been entrusted with. It kind of went straight to hell when Phoenix Saint Ikki stole the Cloth for his own motives, its origins and purpose were explained, and the tournament was never finished.
    • There was also another tournament that was wrapping up at the start of the series, where Seiya was fighting to just earn the right to be a Saint in the first place. We only see the final match.
  • Ultimate Mop Daisuke DX
  • Near the end of Planetes, Hachimaki goes through a series of tournament style tests, in order to join the first mission to Jupiter on the new fusion powered ship, Von Braun. He becomes one of the 18 finalists out of some 20,000 people, and sets out for Jupiter during the conclusion along with his dad.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple has the Desperate Fight of the Disciples tournament. Of course, his masters pretty much destroy the infrastructure of the entire thing.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn uses a variation of the typical tournament to determine the rightful successor to the title of boss of the Vongola crime family. The two candidates vying for the throne each gather an inner circle of six underlings, and gives them each half a ring. Each one of them then fights one match, against the person with the other half of their ring. Winner gets the complete ring. At the end of seven battles, the side with the most complete rings gets to be in charge.
  • Ghost Sweeper Mikami has one early on for the purpose of identifying the next crop of spiritualists fit to be deemed Ghost Sweepers. The main reason Mikami and Yokoshima get involved is that Shouryuuki needs someone to infiltrate the tournament and find Medusa's moles, lest she end up with agents inside the Ghost Sweeper community. As for secondary reasons, suffice to say that this is the beginning of Yokoshima's own spiritual powers manifesting and ramping up...
  • Mega Man NT Warrior, the anime of Mega Man Battle Network, had the N1 Grand Prix netbattling tournament.
  • Sonic X has an especially egregious example in its attempts to incorporate the storyline from Sonic Battle into the anime canon. Few actual action scenes were shown, Chris had idiotic "character development" and Wangst, and the one fight scene that could pique the fans' interest, between Knuckles and Rouge, takes place under a tarp.
  • The plot of the Future GPX Cyber Formula series revolves around the Cyber Formula Grand Prix, where they have the chance to be the world champion.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid has the Dimensional Sports Activity Association's Inter-Middle Championship that Vivio, Einhart, Lutecia, Rio, and Corona join.
  • The entire The Law of Ueki anime is a tournament arc, wherein candidates to become God bestow powers upon High School students and have them fight in order to determinet he next god.
  • Grappler Baki has the Maximum Tournament, that it's not about who is the strongest. At most, it's kinda about who is the strongest after Hanma Yuujiro. Out of the tournament, the Underground Arena is also used for other arranged fights. There's also the Raitai arc, the Chinese tournament to choice their next Grand Kaioh.
  • Queen's Blade introduces the characters in "fight of the week" fashion in the first season. The Tournament Arc is the premise, and takes up the second season.
  • Kinnikuman has had multiple tournament arcs, the first being the 20th Choujin Olympics. Then there was the American Tag Tournament, the 21st Choujin Olympics, the Dream Tag tournament, and finally the Scramble for the Throne survivor series. Being a wrestling spoof, this isn't too surprising.

Comic Books

  • One arc of Marvel Comics' Immortal Iron Fist center around a contest between the Seven Cities Of Heaven and their "immortal weapons" (the individual weapons, such as Iron Fist, Fat Cobra, and the Prince Of Orphans are not immortal, but the position is). They don't compete for the prize; they compete not to lose, each city only appearing on Earth once every ten years...while the loser of the tournament's city can only appear once every fifty. The tournament ends up being played very differently than you might expect- starting with The Hero losing in the first round, and to a completely new character rather than his rival Davos.
  • The basic structure of the first arc of Wizards of Mickey with the second arc being Mickey's fights against the Blot after winning the tourney.
  • Marvel Comics did this twice with its "Contest of Champions" miniseries. DC had "Arena". The "Marvel vs. DC" crossover could also count as a tournament arc.


  • The Camoa Cup in The Tainted Grimoire, with the twist that Clan Gully faces Acidwire during the first round after the preliminaries have finished. Also much shorter then expected.


  • In the A Song of Ice and Fire Prequel The Hedge Knight, the plot revolves around an old-fashioned knightley tourney, until the Genre Shift comes to play. In the main series, the Hand's tourney, while not a Story Arc, is used to introduce several important characters and the chivalric tradition of Westeros.
    • Another story in the Dunk And Egg side series, The Mystery Knight, also centers around a tournament.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Particularly prominent in The Film of the Book, which cuts out most of the side plots.

Live-Action TV

New Media

Professional Wrestling

  • Professional Wrestling is pretty much all one big tournament arc.
    • Ironically, actual tournaments are somewhat rare in modern wrestling due to short audience attention spans. If and when it's obvious the tournament is going to lead to a showdown with The Rival in the end, it's considered better marketing to skip the tournament and just hype the showdown.
      • Actually, King of the Ring is the annual Pay-Per-View tourney, with the hype (qualifying rounds) spreading across several weeks.
      • Any time they vacate a title they have a championship tourney, with a new title holder crowned that night
    • Unusually, TNA is experimenting with this with their Bound for Glory series. Not an actual tournament, per se, but more like an actual league with points for wins and with matches on TV and at house shows counting towards each wrestler's standing. The eventual winner receives a title shot at the Bound for Glory Pay-Per-View.
    • Additionally, TNA tried this before with their contendership ranking, though they made the mistake of allowing fan voting. Predictably, the IWC voted up Internet favourite Desmond Wolfe and others instead of the supposedly more popular wrestlers they were pushing at the time. Kurt Angle, notably, pulled himself out of the rankings, declaring that he had not earned his place and vowed to defeat the entire top ten, one by one until he reached number one or he would retire making this a good example of this trope.

Video Games

  • Strangely out of place, but one does pop up in The Answer of Persona 3. Wherein Aigis and her sister proceed to beat the living crap out of the rest of the cast over a Plot Coupon.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has this as an early sidequest on Taris.
  • Jade Empire has this as one of the possible paths you can take in the Imperial capital to attract the attention of the Lotus Assassins, formatted similarly to the KotOR example.
  • Every mainline Street Fighter game is set in a tournament run the the final boss of the game. The original Street Fighter tournament was organised by Sagat, Street Fighter II by M.Bison, Street Fighter III by Gill, and Seth was running the show in Street Fighter IV.
  • The King of Fighters, in which almost every tournament is run by somebody planning something shady. In '94, it was Rugal Bernstein and his desire for powerful fighters. In '95, Rugal was at it again as a cyborg. '96 and 97 were the exceptions, both organized by Kagura Chizuru with the intent of finding warriors powerful enough to help her contain the Orochi of course that same threat interfered. In '96 it was Goenitz, and in '97 it was the remaining Heavenly Kings and Orochi itself, both times with humanity's continued existence at stake. In '99, 2000, and 2001 it was NESTS and its CEO Ignitz, who wanted to become a god. Later on in the Maximum Impact series, certain characters comment on how everybody hosting KOF is somebody with an axe to grind, and how it would be nice to fight in a tournament in which the fate of the world didn't hang in the balance every year.
  • Mortal Kombat was once like this until 3, onwards.
  • The first Guilty Gear game uses this.
  • ALL of Mega Man Battle Network 4.
    • Parts 3 and 6 have Tournaments of their own, but at least they didn't take up the whole game.
  • Chapter 3 of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door involves fighting in a tournament while trying to find the Crystal Star.
  • Shows up in the second Fable game in the form of The Crucible.
  • Ironically, outside of the real-life metagame, actual tournaments are, so far, only present in one portion of the Pokémon games: the Battle Dome, one of seven facilities in the Battle Frontier theme park in Pokémon Emerald.
  • The first Summon Night Swordcraft Story game is set in a tournament arc.
  • Football Frontier and Football Frontier International in Inazuma Eleven, befitting a game about (magical) football. Holy Road in GO!
  • Danball Senki features several LBX tournament, most prominently Artemis.
  • Golden Sun features Colosso, a tournament that takes place annually in a town you pass through. Obviously, you take part in it.
  • Some of the games in the Kingdom Hearts series have battle tournaments. Usually, only a short tournament is required by the plot, but there are many more that open up throughout the game that the player can pause the plot to go partake.

Visual Novels

  • Fate/stay night. The entire plot IS more or less a tournament. However, while there are rules, and one person functions as a referee, no one actually follows the rules, including said referee, who's also participating. It's more of a free-for-all in practice.
  • Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai has several tournaments, most notably in Tsubame's route. Paired team battle, where the 1st fighter to lose, loses for the whole team. The prize? A chance to fight Momoyo, who isn't participating, because that'd be unfair. But Yamato is! In Wanko's route, she also enters a tournament for the same purpose.

Web Comics

  • The webcomic Achewood ran a Tournament Arc about a competition called The Great Outdoor Fight, which was not so much a tournament as a gigantic brawl. The competition's tagline was "3 Days, 3 Acres, 3,000 Men." A wiki was created around the same time, which reports the rules and history of the Fight in ludicrously comprehensive detail.

Roast Beef (Talking about Ray's father, a previous Fight champion): [He] threw a beer through Carl Veldt's head... perfect spiral, scientists are still figuring it out... tore off Fancy Mark Clancy's entire middle... no one said it could be done...

  • Sluggy Freelance did this as part of its parody of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • Gold Coin Comics has an entire chapter that is pretty much based on a championship tournament.
  • The whole Second Arc of Nectar of the Gods is one big bartending Tournament Arc, which in actuality is a big revealer of secrets to many character pasts.
  • Bro Rangers is currently in a tournament arc which was admitted to be filler by the author from the get-go. Unlike a lot of big tournament arcs in other series, the tournament is just a regular old tournament, and holds no real significance to the plot besides character interaction and development.

Western Animation

  • The second Ninja Turtles series did this at the end of its second season with its "The Big Brawl" four-parter—one of the more concise examples of this trope.
  • In the cartoon Garfield and Friends, one of the episodes in the second season (entitled "Basket Brawl") featured the cast playing basketball with foods such as seven-layer cakes, each attempting to either eat the food (Garfield's goal) or to get in in the picnic basket (everyone else's goal). Naturally, Garfield got all the food.