Mob Psycho 100 and One Punch Man are two of the most powerful, interesting and fun shows that I’ve ever seen. No, that’s not hyperbole, that’s a completely legitimate statement. Their charming art styles and exciting action make them a thrill to watch in each episode. However, what makes these series so great and powerful is the writing behind it. And the man behind it is easily my favorite writer behind the panels of a manga page.
One is a mangaka who knows how to tell a story without relying on it’s visuals and actions to engage the audience. His works are hilarious on the surface, and even more so when you discover the layers hidden beneath the surface of each joke. However, the real power of his writing is in the themes and the characters.
Had they been handled by anyone else, One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100 could have just been typical Shounen action shlock with an overpowered protagonist. But One uses those characters and stories to subvert the expectations of the genre and make a far more powerful and interesting tale.
On the surface, One Punch Man seems like a typical action comedy. Saitama is extremely powerful, so much so that he can wipe out any enemy in a single punch. If handled by someone else, the punchline of each episode would be “The bombastic and super powerful villain goes down like a bitch unceremoniously.” But One does something incredibly powerful and genius.
Saitama’s strength isn’t the punchline of the series humor. The humor relies not on the simple fact that a strong character is putting cartoonish villains in the dirt. The comedy relies entirely on the characters themselves and how they react to Saitama’s monstrous, god-like abilities.
But Saitama’s power, when you actually think about it, isn’t hilarious. In fact, it’s really depressing, as it deprives the character of what he really wants. Saitama craves a challenge, a thrill that will get his heart racing. In his attempt to get it, he trains super hard and ends up becoming the strongest man in the world. But with that status, he has erased all hope of getting what he really wants.
As a character, Saitama suffers from a great depression because of his status as ‘Unkillable Protagonist’. He became a hero for fun, and now he can’t even have fun doing it. By doing this, One doesn’t just create a unique and incredibly interesting character. He subverts the power fantasy of a Shounen action series and grounds it in reality.
So how does Saitama find happiness? Does he find an opponent powerful enough to handle his full strength, like in any other Shounen? No. The plot of One Punch Man isn’t Saitama’s quest to find happiness by finding a powerful opponent. Rather, it’s the tale of a man finding joy in the company of the people around him, and how his job as a hero helps him achieve this.
In an odd way, Saitama’s attempt to become a hero so he can be happy did work. Just not in the way he expected. One Punch Man is a series about finding joy in the simple things in life, like sharing ramen with a friend.
Mob Psycho 100 deals with similar themes with a similar protagonist, but it’s more than different enough to stand out and have it’s own impact. Mob struggles not with his lack of emotion, but his over abundance of them. He fears flying out of control, so he emotionally surpresses himself. This leaves him socially awkward at the beginning of the series, and his arc is focused on him opening up and learning how to be the best person he can be.
I have never related so deeply with a main character in a Shounen action series. As a kid, I had an incredibly hard time controlling my emotions and reading the room. Watching Mob develop and break through his troubles is both cathartic and inspiring to me.
In another series, Mob’s quest would be “Further master his already insane psychic powers to become the strongest in the world!” But Mob isn’t a typical Shoune protagonist in this way. He doesn’t want to be a better psychic, because he is already the best there is. Instead, he endeavors to improve himself and be the best person he can be.
Sure, both Mob and Saitama both have to deal with powerful enemies from time to time. But their stories aren’t about the two of them becoming stronger to protect their friends and world, or for the shallow reason of simply enjoying battle with strong foes. Their stories are about people trying to be happy, or trying to be the best they can possibly be.
One is a simple genius who delivers powerful, character-driven emotional beats that drive their stories. The worlds they’re set in are filled with interesting, relatable and hilarious characters, all of whom play spectacularly with the series leads. These stories have simple, grounded and powerful themes that are even more wonderfully delivered thanks to their combination with the strongest aspects of Shounen action and comedy shows.
These stories revolve around characters developing. Not their powers; their character. And to me, those are the most powerful stories out there. I don’t want to watch a character boost his powers to the point that he can smash the planet with a finger. I want to see a person overcome his flaws and become a better person in order to achieve their goals.
I know I say this at the end of almost every Mob Review 100 post, but I feel the need to say this again in a broader way. If you haven’t seen or read Mob Psycho 100 or One Punch Man, you are missing out on some of the most powerful stories out there. All written by one of the greatest mangaka of all time.