This year’s been a damn good year for the superhero genre. Not just because 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, punctuated by the bloody aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War. Not just because Pixar released The Incredibles 2, the sequel to the film fondly touted as the greatest Fantastic 4 movie never made. No, my friend. It’s because My Hero Academia is in the middle of its strongest season, and there’s no better time to get into this show than right now.
For the uninitiated, here’s the gist: My Hero Academia is a manga created by Kohei Horikoshi and frankly the best comic to happen to the superhero genre since Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye run. The story revolves around Izuku Midoriya who, in a world where 80% of the world’s population manifests superpowers and special abilities — called “quirks” — is born without one. Despite this, Midoriya is undeterred in his dream to become a hero, and one fateful day, his idol All Might — a Sliver Age-y Superman analog and the show’s “Symbol of Peace” — bestows his quirk to Midoriya, thus beginning his quest to become the greatest hero.
Admittedly, this aggressive announcement of “hey all you people, check out this cool thing” is coming a little late — the manga was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2014, and was adapted into an anime in early 2016. But gimme some room for the pitch.
One could make the argument that the superhero genre has reached a point of saturation in mainstream entertainment. In a world where MCU movies are guaranteed to be blockbusters and are comfortable in their narrative beats, the superhero figure has become almost cliché, its feats of strength unremarkable.
The argument has been made that superheroes are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than changing it, and what good are stories of that moral tendency, really, in a political climate which demands total social upheaval now more than ever? And yes, though comics like Ms. Marvel and films like Black Panther have made politically important strides in representation, the superhero concept itself can’t help but feel stale. What we see now, in an audience now used to all this, is a kind of fatigue, and a hunger to see our caped and cowled crusaders in a new light.
Enter My Hero Academia, which reinvigorates the superhero genre with new fervor in a number of ways. We have things like intriguing worlding: we are shown a setting in which — unlike most cases, such as in Marvel or DC — heroes are neatly figured into society as public servants who aid the police in maintaining the peace. There’s also the way Kohei Horikoshi combines superheroics with the beats and tropes of shounen anime — a never-give-up protagonist with inexhaustible willpower, a Superhero School, attacks with names — demonstrating a stylistic affinity between American and Japanese entertainment, an intertextual savvy not commonly seen.
More than that though, the show has fantastic art, great writing and pacing, and lovable, dynamic characters who have the added benefit of not being burdened by confusing retcons, or generations of multiple writers changing them up. This show is so freaking strong, you could call it the next Dragon Ball, the next Naruto, the next One Piece — a fine torchbearer to all the legendary, culturally significant shounen anime that came before it.
Not to mention the fact that the show is, as mentioned earlier, in the middle of its strongest season, with its latest episode an event long-time manga readers have been hyped to see for years. If you’re wondering why suddenly all the anime-loving friends in your feed have been crying, well. Now you know.
Gita Jackson of Kotaku describes My Hero Academia in this article as a superhero show “for people tired of superheroes,” and I agree. The show is a big-hearted ode to the superhero genre, one that does what the superhero genre is meant to do — make us believe that there is good in the world, and that we should strive to uphold it.
You can watch My Hero Academia on Netflix.