Japan doesn’t really do superhero fare in the same way the West does. A lot of the country’s content in this area is more focused in the Tokusatsu genre with titles like Ultraman and Karmen Rider. When it came to teams they usually had similar powers and abilities in ways like Super Sentai (Power Rangers) and the original Gatchaman series (A.K.A. Battle of the Planets, G-Force). In recent times this has there have been anime like Tiger and Bunny which is closer to what we know but still has it’s own take on the idea. Having the idea of super heroics being both a sport and a reality show is something quite modern. This is really where One-Punch Man comes in. This series is probably one of the closest ideas to what we would think of as a superhero manga. We have a hero battling monsters and supervillains. Although, One-Punch Man is not a series you can treat in the same a way as most Marvel and D.C. books. This series is very interesting send up of the whole idea.
The series started as a web-comic produced by ONE. It was very popular reaching ten million hits. It currently has 103 chapters and is still continuing. The print version began publication on Shueisha’s Young Jump Web Comics site. This makes the series part of the Jump stable. Jump’s version is still written by ONE however the artwork for this version is produced by Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21).
In the first chapter, a monster, who kind of looks like Piccolo from Dragonball, attacks City-A, and the explosion of this only startles on people a train. The people only really panic when the evacuation order is given. This sets the tone of things, as it appears in this world that this kind of thing happens a lot (that idea does get reinforced in later chapters and bonus stories). The tone is truly set once our main hero is revealed. What we get is a bald man with a less than impressive figure who claims he’s only into heroics for the fun of it. He then proceeds destroy the monster with a single punch. That really gets down to how the series is; the hero (whose name is Saitama, by the way) is too strong.
That idea might work against a lot of series; it’s a common criticism of Superman for example, but because One-Punch Man is comedy it makes things work. In a lot of comedic takes on superheroes and parodies someone is usually incompetent (the hero or the villain most of the time). However, here the humour is based on that the hero is ludicrously competent and the way he and everyone around him copes with that. Saitama is someone just looking for a challenge but the villains and monsters just don’t provide one. He also doesn’t really have the patience for some of the tropes; making people cut their explanations to twenty words or less for example. The side characters really help to flesh things out as well. Genos is a cyborg who admires Saitama’s strength and wants to be taken in as his apprentice. He really acts as a straight man to Saitama. They meet when Genos starts fighting a mosquito woman. A particularly great moment like this is when how Saitama obtained his strength. I won’t spoil it as it just works too well. In the second volume we meet Speed of Sound Sonic, a ninja who will take any job. He declares himself Saitama’s rival after fighting him and looks to be a recurring antagonist. The expressions on his face during fights are a highlight.
Murata’s artwork is a really supports the writing. It is very detailed and the character designs are very distinctive, especially in Saitama’s case. A lot of the time he is drawn very simply compared to the other characters. However, this contrast works very well and adds to the comedy of his strength and his attitude to his heroics. The action is also very well done. You get a sense of flow between the panels and there is a great sense of purpose and impact to everyone’s actions. One-Punch Man is a series well worth reading for both it’s action and comedy. A fantastic send up of the superhero genre with very accessible humour. Highly recommended for everyone, from manga newcomers to the well-read alike.
One-Punch Man Vols 1&2 are published by Viz Media. Images from the Shonen Jump website