This topic is hotly debated in the anime community, so I thought I’d throw my thoughts into the mix. When it comes to heroes, there’s a lot of opinions going around saying which one is the best. Common contenders are the legendary Shonen Jump heroes of past, like Son Goku, Naruto Uzumaki, Monkey D. Luffy, and then there’s the smartass that throws in Saitama from One-Punch Man. Being a huge fan of legendary anime and super heroes, I’d like to say which one is the best out of all of them. It’s not an old hero, but a new, young one and one of the most recent additions into the Shonen Jump superhero lineup. That’s right, I’m talking about the little seedling Izuku Midoriya from My Hero Academia. Not only that, but in my opinion, Izuku blows almost every other recent main character out of the water.
I’ll give a quick little synopsis about Hero Academia for those of you unaware to catch you up to speed. Hero Academia is a story that is based in a world of superheroes. They pepper the streets ready to take on crime and save the day. Except our protagonist Izuku is one of the few people left without a Quirk, the name for superpowers in this world. Despite this, he still dreams about becoming a great hero, and a chance meeting with All Might, the top hero, is about to change that. After a show of bravery from Izuku, despite him not having a quirk, All Might confesses everything having to do with him and his power. He reveals that his quirk can actually be passed on, and deems Izuku worthy of becoming his successor, then offering his quirk, known as One-for-All, to the mild and meek Izuku. This is the first step to having Izuku enter the top Hero school known as UA and becoming a professionally licensed hero.
Now there’s a common thread among most Jump heroes. They’re all idiots. In fact, there is a frightening amount of Jump heroes that have the world on the line but are thicker than a rock. But that’s an enjoyable feature sometimes, in fact having a brazen sort of confidence is an admirable quality. In addition, unlike most main characters let alone superheroes, Izuku is a coward, he’s skittish, and he’s unable to say what he really feels. He is smarter and more studious than other heroes, but other than that, he’s a born and bred pacifist. So why is he the best hero? Well, when it comes to altruistic confidence, you have a nice image of a superhero, but not a very dynamic character. There are few times that a major Jump hero actually felt like a person. Why that matters is that drama comes from the insecurities of its characters. This is the reason it’s so hard to build a fantastic and engaging story for characters like Goku and Luffy, and end up relying on others to carry a good chunk of the narrative. In fact, I could only think of a couple times Luffy had a character development moment, and only once with Goku where’s it’s more of “Maybe I shouldn’t let Cell beat the piss out of my son.” Naruto differs from the norm since he’s simply abhorred and not worshipped by everyone, but it’s not perfect because of the Nine Tails that was sealed into him. His life is not very relatable because everyone in the world actively hates him, rather than passively ignore him, thus he has a “special circumstance” that separates him from the audience.
Izuku differs from this BECAUSE he was originally a run-of-the-mill nobody. Izuku lacks that “special circumstance” that most Jump heroes have that keeps the heroes from being relatable. In fact the opening chapters are integral to drive home how much Izuku desires to be a hero despite his powerlessness. It’s important to notice how much the world just kicks Izuku to the curb while it continues to evolve. This makes his idolization that much more respectable, and unlike Naruto, he’s not being a dick about it. This taps into all of our inner complexities of inferiority. Hero Academia has meaningful drama because its protagonist was originally just a normal kid with a big dream, not because there are bigger and bigger explosions. This also ties into how every other character acts. The glowing symbol of All Might is shattered when he shrinks down to his shriveled self and starts speaking about how tired he really is. Even if everyone has powers, the students of UA are still apprehensive when villains come knocking. This is a very conscious society, one that reacts to each and every outbreak of chaos and destruction. It’s not something that just rebuilds itself and ignores previous events, the entire layout of the world is changed every time something big enough happens. Even to the point where certain characters will recall tidbits of dialogue that were said many chapters before to bring it out and maximize the dramatic effect. It doesn’t stop there, as this sense of detail even bleeds into Izuku and his use of his new power.
Half of the fun of a superhero is their powers or their gadgets. Most heroes are either born with powers or get powers in some sort of freak accident. The main theme is that they get powers and they know how to use them. But you can’t just have a superhero that can conquer everything easily, so you need a stronger villain. Then comes the moment where the hero is beaten and he has to figure out the power of friendship or magically becomes stronger because of plot points A and B to come back and win with little effort. Rinse and repeat, and you have the most common trend in the superhero genre of manga. Fortunately, Izuku breaks from this habit simply because of his relatability. Teenagers that are normal but emerge with superpowers is very common in manga, but Izuku’s case is extremely different from theirs. Most manga have their protagonist end up with powers in some sort of accident or being bestowed them, and powering up usually entails bench-pressing really big rocks or balancing jars on heads. You know, the usual power-body workouts. Izuku is a bit similar, but the thing is that Izuku has to physically train for an extended period of time before he even gets the power. The Quirk that All Might has is so powerful that a single misusage with an unprepared body could easily make it burst into pieces. So once this homage to all training montages ends, he gets the power and obviously takes the top spot in the school with little effort, right? Actually no, even after he successfully and painfully acquires his new power, he can’t even control it without breaking his limbs. In fact, quite a period of time passes before Izuku can figure out how to use it without breaking anything.
Why this is important is that every step of the way, Izuku has to figure out the next level of his power. Unlike most manga that have new powers bestowed upon its protagonist time and time again, Izuku gets all the power he will ever get in the very beginning. The only problem is that Izuku has to cultivate it into the power that it’s meant to be. This means that whenever he gets more usage out of his power, it’s discovered by the fruits of his own labor. Not through spiritual guidance or some magical Magoffin, but by putting his nose to the grindstone to figure it out. This once again taps into that little bit inside of us that appreciates a person putting in the max effort and being rewarded for it. Every extra power that Izuku gains isn’t because of an absurd plot point, but through him not giving up. This kind of character development has been butchered for a long time, having characters that will blindly face forward and save the day. When Izuku rushes in blindly to save someone, it speaks louder than other circumstances, as he originally had no powers but is still the fastest to act. But Izuku’s actions not only lead him to figuring out how to be a better hero, but also making assumptions or wrong decisions, which greatly enhances the dramatic factor. Some friends get pissed at him for his recklessness to save the day, and some other characters admire him for it. This all ties into a neat little package that highlights a real type of hero protagonist, not an overpowered character with inklings of half-assed development.
For a long time, the superhero genre newcomers of anime and manga are often lost into the annals of time because of their dullness and similarity to other series. My Hero Academia is currently a contender for revitalizing this genre, and it’s spearheaded by Izuku’s humanlike portrayal and the realism of other supporting cast members. In terms of strength and vigor, Izuku isn’t really the best hero out there. But for a series that ends up making its protagonist crawl towards his victory, Izuku’s determination isn’t lost and speaks much louder than Academia’s contemporaries. This is essentially why I think Izuku Midoriya is the best Shonen Jump hero to date.