A while back I saw fan art proclaiming My Hero Academia as the successor for Naruto among super popular Jump manga. My first reaction was to swear never to read it, anything tangentially related to Naruto would be less than stellar. To put it politely.
Fortunately a friend, whose opinion I trust, told me it was actually pretty fantastic. And with it coming out in the digital edition of Weekly Shonen Jump, I saw no reason not to give it a look see once I could get my hands on the first volume.
Fortunately I found that the “Next Naruto” hype was incorrect. This is significantly more promising than Naruto ever was.
When recommending fiction to people, whether manga or TV shows, or anything else, I tend to say “Read the first chapter” or “watch the first episode”. In some cases that works well, for example I find that The Flash has a strong pilot and really sells the show. While some manga may not fully sell themselves in the first chapter, or the first volume even.
My Hero Academia is one of those “read the first chapter” stories. Between it and the rest of the volume it presents us with our protagonist, his personality, his abilities, his conflict, and his emotions. Deku is easily one of the more relate-able characters early on. Who hasn’t felt isolated from their peers in the past, much like how the X-Men are a metaphor for anything that might isolate a person from society as a whole, My Hero Academia instead takes the lack of special powers and uses that to emphasize Deku’s isolation.
The story, however, doesn’t go the route of emphasizing that, as ultimately Deku gets a hand up from All Might, our Superman stand in for the series. Personally I think I would have preferred to see Deku succeed at becoming a hero despite his lack of powers. But, then, I’m a massive Batman fan so that kind of story would appeal to me.
Fortunately author Kohei Horikoshi keeps Deku at a massive disadvantage. Even after receiving All Might’s power, Deku does not have control over it, and in fact has to work himself to the bone just to be capable of receiving the power. The importance of hard work, and starting a character off at the bottom is what sells this narrative, despite my interest in the focus remaining on a character without powers succeeding. A lesser writer would have given Deku the power and then made everything easy for him. But by keeping Deku at the level where he has to work hard despite his new-found powers, we continue to have a reason to root for him. His power is less an actual power and more a tool that he has to learn. So the basic story is very similar to what I would expect if we went the powerless but using gadgets route. His strength can’t be used all the time, and only at great risk to himself. So in a way he’s still powerless and has to rely on his wits.
Characters need to struggle for us to be able to root for them. But that is another direction a writer can go too far. All Might provides Deku not only with the power to fulfill his dreams, but the confirmation that Deku needed all along. The emotional climax of the first chapter, focused around Deku finally catching a break after everything that has happened to him to this point, gives emotional catharsis, without which I think readers would be too drained to continue reading.
We need characters suffering, but too much suffering and we get worn out. It takes a perfect balance of suffering and success to get it right. It’s the recipe for stand up and cheer moments, of which there are at least two or three in this first volume.
The emotions are somewhat exaggerated, Deku straddles the line of sympathetic yet overly emotional from time to time, but his willingness to work hard and face insurmountable odds in pursuit of his dream make him a far more sympathetic character than other highly emotional characters that I’m sure anime fans could readily name.
What it comes down to is I like Deku. I feel bad for him, and when he succeeds I cheer for him. When I see him jump to rescue someone else, despite the risk to himself, I cheer. Easy to say you want to write a story like this, but significantly harder to do. It comes down to the tragedy of his story. The best stories have tragic elements to them, whether it be the death of loved ones, or the destruction of a child’s dream. From there you have two directions to go. There’s the tragic route where everything gets worse, or there’s the heroic route, where the hero overcomes the tragedy and becomes better for it. This is the latter type of story.
And, as strong as the opening is, and it’s certainly one of the strongest opening chapters in manga I’ve read in a while, the risk of dropping the ball in subsequent chapters is even higher. The higher they soar… Fortunately I can report that does not happen. Even after the emotional high of the first chapter the story continues strong, settling into a softer pace towards the end, giving the readers a good indication of what they can expect in future volumes.
I said at the beginning, that I’ve seen My Hero Academia compared to be “The Next Naruto“. My own feelings of Naruto aside, MHA feels far more along the lines of the next One Piece. I can see the comparisons that could be made between MHA and Naruto, but comparing the first volumes of the two series I’m going to say that MHA has far more potential than Naruto ever did. If you really want to see the spiritual successor to Naruto, wait for my review of Black Clover this summer. And no, that’s not meant as an insult.
But that all comes down to semantics, comparing series to each other, and personally I think it hurts the series to be expected to live up to another. All that matters is that My Hero Academia is a fantastic manga series that every shonen manga fan should be reading. Right now.
Here, let me give you a link: