The argument between My Hero Academia and One Punch Man, explained
Themes of heroes and superheroism permeate both My Hero Academia and One Punch Man in various ways. Both are anime that revolve around superheroes, both have very different thematic approaches to heroism, and both make similar arguments regarding the concept of corporate hero work and vigilantism.
The two anime have often been compared and contrasted to each other, which this article will likewise indulge in. The specific focus here is the contrast in how vigilantism and corporate hero work are negatively portrayed in both, but with vastly different approaches.
Whereas My Hero Academia starts optimistically and slowly goes into the seedier underbelly of the hero society, One Punch Man disillusions audiences by using humor juxtaposed with the serious aspects of hero life.
Disclaimer: This article includes both anime and manga spoilers for One Punch Man and My Hero Academia. The opinions expressed here are exclusive to the author.
Analyzing My Hero Academia and One Punch Man's contrasting approaches on vigilantism and corporate superheroism
My Hero Academia
My Hero Academia has tackled various subjects that comic book fans have been debating forever: whether heroes are authorized to use lethal force and when they can do so, the nature of vigilantism vs. straight heroism, and the problem of society creating super villains via marginalization and apathy.
In some rather grisly cases, the series even tackles the idea of heroes becoming assassins, double agents, and take up other brutal work behind the scenes.
In particular, MHA starts out exceptionally optimistically: Pro Heroes fighting and stopping monstrous villains, fun school hijinks, and a colorful set of young and old heroes and villains to get attached to. Even when villains attack, All Might and the other Pro Heroes assist in any emergency or dangerous situation.
This doesn't last, however, as the curtain is pulled back repeatedly, revealing the uglier side of the Hero Society.
My Hero Academia argues that having a corporate system of hero work ultimately works against the concept of heroism, thanks to a ton of bureaucracy, red tape, and laws that hinder more than help. Likewise, it allows corruption, nepotism, and encourages apathy towards people who slip through the cracks.
The former was exemplified by Lady Nagant being forced into becoming an assassin for the Hero Public Safety Commission and ruthlessly executing anyone that stepped out of line. The latter is shown through the tragic cases of Toga, Spinner, Twice, Tomura, Gentle and La Brava becoming villains because of various forms of societal neglect and abuse.
Barring notable exceptions that crop up in My Hero Academia and its spin-off manga Vigilantes, vigilantism is discouraged for two primary reasons. The first is that the level of destruction increases when vigilantism is done on a wide scale, as seen in the aftermath of the Paranormal Liberation war. Civilians without formal quirk training tend to destroy and cause more chaos than help, and misdirected angry mobs crop up quickly.
Secondly, going off on one's own without backup is a good way to burn out or nearly get killed as Deku found out multiple times following the Paranormal Liberation War arc and needed Class 1-A's help to get his head back on straight.
One Punch Man
One Punch Man, unlike My Hero Academia, seems to start off its criticisms right away with its tier system for heroes. It stands to reason that top heroes respond to huge emergencies like giant monsters, meteors, and other things. The trouble is that sometimes an emergency falls beyond the region or territory of the big heroes.
Whilst it is comical whenever Saitama shows up and solves everything in a flash, the backlash of the Hero Association system makes itself known in short order.
For one thing, the system is incredibly competitive and plagued by nepotism and bureaucracy. It prioritizes gaining recognition at the head of the pack and maintaining the status quo of the S-Class and advancement opportunities are either unfairly revoked or denied by the Blizzard Group led by Fubuki or otherwise just given weird rankings despite heroic feats.
Saitama himself has powers akin to a god and was still at the bottom of C-Class due to his poor performances on the entrance exams. This resulted in him being allotted a very small apartment. The lower the rank of a hero in One Punch Man, the less support they tend to get, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to rise up through the ranks. This leads to quite a lot of problems, like power imbalances, heroes being stretched too thin, and skewed priorities.
Vigilantism and lone hero acts are usually shown off as being wannabe heroes, much like how Saitama and Genos were at first. Basically, a vigilante in One Punch Man usually does hero work for free, but other people don't recognize them due to the Hero Association's control of most heroes. So, they're better off sticking with the Hero Association, despite its flaws.
When the status quo shatters
It's worth pointing out that in both One Punch Man and My Hero Academia, the status quo is shattered in major ways following the Monster Association Arc and the Paranormal Liberation War arc, respectively. The amount of destruction and devastation both universes endure brings into sharp focus a lot of the criticisms mentioned above, more so in My Hero Academia, due to One Punch Man's humorous focus.
In My Hero Academia, the Hero Society effectively collapses. Though the heroes triumphed in the Paranormal Liberation War, apprehending well over 16,000 villains including Re-Destro, Mr. Compress, Slidin' Go, and Gigantomachia, they lost approximately 16 pro heroes, including Midnight, Crust, and Native.
The public's faith in heroes hung by a thread, which snapped following the surprise attack on and subsequent dissolution of the Hero Public Safety Commission and All for One's mass breakout from Tartarus and seven other prisons. On top of that, Deku left U.A. High School and went full vigilante for a while.
In One Punch Man, the Hero Association was weakened following the battle against the massive Monster Association and the godlike Garou. In the current arc of One Punch Man's webcomic, several former vigilantes dubbed Neo Heroes, mad about the destruction and loss of their loved ones by the Monster Association, sought to supplant the Hero Association.
The Neo Heroes have now risen and promise a better life for all who join, since the Hero Association didn't do quite such a good a job without Saitama.
The shattering of the status quo in My Hero Academia is such that even the Hero Killer Stain is disgusted by it. It took him giving All Might a very twisted pep talk for the former Number One hero to get back on his feet.
In One Punch Man, whereas Saitama got ranked up to A-Class and had a nicer apartment, the Hero Association came under fire as the public saw their money being thrown at increasingly incompetent heroes who barely stop threats and cause as much, if not more, property damage.
All of the criticisms lobbed at the industrialized hero agencies and the presence of vigilantes begs the question: Where do villains from One Punch Man or My Hero Academia fit into all this? Are they manipulating things behind the scenes, do the mere presence of heroes necessitate the escalation of villains, or are there more sympathetic motives behind all the megalomania these villains exhibit?
In My Hero Academia, there's no contest as to what the answer to these questions are. The villains usually have a point to make about the Hero Society's ills: the neglect, the nepotism, the fame and fortune, and Quirk suppression that all come home to roost.
The reason why they're still villains at the end of the day, however, is because they all have no qualms about stepping on people to get what they want. Whether crafty individuals like All for One, or groups like the Meta Liberation Army, the League of Villains or Humarise, villains in this series take many forms.
My Hero Academia's examples include Himiko Toga being practically a vampire and serial killer in the vein of Stain, Dabi being an obsessed pyromaniac sadist and mass murderer, Stain being a serial killer, and Tomura Shigaraki viewing everything as a game and using his Decay quirk for All for One's purposes.
The Meta Liberation Army are quirk using terrorists seeking to end the Hero Society status quo to use quirks however they wish. Humarise is an anti-Quirk cult that heavily subscribes to the Qurik Doomsday Theory and thus seeks to "purify" humanity.
One Punch Man's villains tend to be more classically villainous, in All for One's vein. They tend to either be monsters themselves, or have their own plan to take over. The Monster Association, much like the League of Villains, opposed the Hero Association and wanted to make the world a monster-only place under the rulership of the Monster King Orochi. They staged simultaneous attacks across many cities in pursuit of that goal.
The organization itself may have finally been stomped out after Saitama defeated the godlike Garou, but the toll on the heroes and the cities was greater than anyone could anticipate.
In My Hero Academia, many Pro heroes quit after the catacylmic Paranormal Liberation war, wheras in One Punch Man there were several heroes including Metal Bat and Child Emperor that defected to the Neo Heroes organization.
The Neo Heroes turned out to be villainous too, forcibly making non-compliant members into cyborgs. This leads the Hero Association to try to combat them while also stemming the tide of Heroes that are leaving to join them. Monsters still attack, but the primary threat at the time was the Neo Heroes.
The point of My Hero Academia and One Punch Man appears to be that superheroism is best done when red tape, the pressure and pursuit of fame and fortune aren't in the way, as All Might, Deku, Saitama, and Genos are all seen as the purest types of heroes that save people because it's the right thing to do.
Both anime also look down on vigilantism, though both accept it to be inevitable in certain cases and only if properly managed.