When I first downloaded the Shonen Jump app a few years ago, there were a few series that I knew I needed to experience in manga form. At the top of that list was One Punch Man: the story of Saitama and his quest to be a hero for fun. Having loved the first season of the anime, I was excited to see how the manga differed and where the story went next.
There is a lot to love about One Punch Man in its original form. It is packed full of fun, well-developed characters and creatively designed monsters. There is more depth to the story and the philosophy behind the setting than is obvious, making it a meaningful read. But it is not a series without issues and as the manga goes on longer and longer, those issues only become more prominent.
The problem behind One Punch Man
One Punch Man tells the story of Saitama, a regular guy who, after engaging in a moderately strenuous workout programme, gained the power to defeat any enemy or monster with a single punch. Creatures that threaten entire cities become a fine paste on the wall with the slightest effort. He becomes a superhero partly out of boredom and partly to find a challenge worthy of his newfound strength.
This is all a really fun take on a classic Superman trope: how do you challenge a character whose entire purpose is to be stronger and tougher than everyone around him? Many of the early stories in One Punch Man consist of a monster approaching the other heroes, who try desperately to find a way to defeat it only to be battered and broken. The joke’s punchline – see what I did there? – is delivered by Saitama, who arrives and effortlessly kills the creature.
The joke is effective early on, but as the manga goes on and on, the artist behind the story, ONE, has to find new ways for Saitama to be removed from the action. This includes things like being stuck in a martial arts tournament or shopping for the best deals on groceries. Recently, he has been stuck underground while a world-ending monster tears through the best the Hero Association has to offer.
Setups like this usually don’t work for long-term works. The joke, such as it is, ultimately serves to undermine the stakes and tension of seeing the other heroes battle it out with the monsters that threaten the world. Building the entire series around this premise means that I know that, eventually, Saitama is going to show up and we will get an anti-climactic victory for the heroes, who quickly wonder if the battle was ever that difficult to begin with.
Why I’ll never stop reading it
Yes, it has massive narrative problems and the joke has already run its course, but I will still never stop reading One Punch Man. Not because I think it will change course eventually, because I don’t. No, despite it being so predictable at this point, I will continue to gobble up every chapter as it comes out because it has some of the most exciting, dynamic, and beautiful artwork available in comics right now.
ONE might have a type when it comes to creating characters — but no one creates fight scenes with a better flow of motion and readability while still being detailed and chaotic. The manga’s art is on par with anything else being produced at the moment, with double-page spreads that are breathtakingly designed, composed and executed.
For all the problems with One Punch Man, it is worth picking up just for the art on display and I cannot recommend it strongly enough for that reason alone. If you’d like to get caught up with Saitama’s adventures, you can catch the whole series on the Shonen Jump app.
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