One Punch Man (ワンパンマン) is a 2015 superhero parody anime directed by Shingo Natsume, produced by Madhouse, and based on a webcomic of the same name created by ONE. The second season is currently in production.
One Punch Man follows a 25-year-old superhero hobbiest named Saitama whose power is so immense that he defeats pretty much every villain he meets in a single punch, hence the title. Although he is powerful, Saitama receives basically no recognition and has grown bored with the lack of challenge in his life. Things begin to change when he meets a young cyborg named Genos, who introduces him to the Hero Association, a government-sanctioned group of professional heroes.
The idea of an overpowered protagonist may seem like well-tread territory, but One Punch Man’s approach is part of its appeal. Instead of a hero who is a paragon of justice who always saves the day, with a cool outfit and name, we get a layabout who wears a dorky outfit and is most commonly called either his real name or “Caped Baldy”. Instead of awesome battles which require the hero to obtain new abilities and train even harder, we get our hero defeating the villain in a single hit. This may seem a bit boring from a normal perspective, but it works really well for One Punch Man.
One of the interesting parts of One Punch Man is that every other character acts like a normal hero or villain. Genos, the main companion to Saitama, has a classic backstory with a heroic quest and consistently works toward improving himself so he can defeat his villains. Meanwhile, Saitama has no consistent villain and has so much power that we don’t even get to see what his upper limit is.
That’s not to say that there are no stakes. Saitama’s power is his strength and speed, but he’s not everywhere at once. The villains increase in threat level as the series continues, and other heroes are still in danger up until Saitama arrives, which is often not on time. The other side of the stakes are personal. Saitama is a hero for fun, but his power is so incredibly immense that people think he hasn’t earned it. He doesn’t struggle, so others don’t see themselves in him, and before he meets Genos, he’s in a funk. His victories are immediate and empty. People are safer because of him, but the fun of being a hero is gone.
Another part of the appeal is the side characters. Even if you went into OPM hoping for a normal superhero story, you’ll find someone to relate to. Genos bears every mark of an anime protagonist. Speed of Sound Sonic (yes, that’s his name) has an excellent anti-hero story. Mumen motherfucking Rider is ostensibly a perfect hero in terms of his dedication and morality, but has very little power. There are a bunch of people to cheer for until Saitama arrives.
Finally, we have the quality of animation. The story of One Punch Man is a journey from a simple web comic, to a high quality manga, to an awesome animation. ONE’s style of comic is simple. He draws his characters with limited detail and, especially early on, it could be called a bit amateurish. In 2012, after One Punch Man had gained a wider following, a talented manga artist named Yusuke Murata contacted ONE with an offer to redraw his series for Weekly Young Jump’s webseries. With this came the new style of One Punch Man. The new detail made for an even more compelling series and in 2015, when it finally got animated, Madhouse took the reins and used Murata’s style as the basis of their anime.
The detail on some of the action scenes is, frankly, ridiculous. One Punch Man’s fight scenes are comparable to some of the best shows out there. It never forgets its origins, though, still reverting to a simple style for comedy (“OK”, being a particularly hilarious use of this).
All in all, One Punch Man is a really well-executed parody that works both on its own terms and as a commentary on escapist superheroes. With the ubiquity of superhero movies and shows these days, it still works as a fresh and fun take on the genre without losing the reasons why we watch these shows and movies.
One Punch Man is a comedy. It’s not going to appeal to everyone. It’s not necessarily a one-joke show, but it has a particular brand of humor and meta-commentary that might not jive with every person. There are a few gags that might not land right or seem a bit awkward.
It’s also a bit lacking for female characters (Tamaki is great, and that one mosquito lady is cool, but I can’t think of anyone else, tbh). This is probably a symptom of the genre itself, but it’s a thing.
This is more of a potential downside, but the second season is being handed off to J.C. Staff (of Toradora! fame), and Natsume will not be returning as director, so the quality and style may change a bit when the second season comes out.
Weeb level: 2/10. Besides the kind of meta jokes that you might catch if you’re paying attention (Wanpanman, Mumen Rider, Genos’s shonen story), there is not a lot that the show throws at you that requires much anime knowledge. It’s a perfectly acceptable entry anime.
Fanservice: 3/10. Just for the mosquito lady. Oh, also Puri Puri Prisoner
Quality: 9/10. This show is fun and rad as frick and has some really compelling moments (Mumen Rider). It’s also really approachable for a western audience. It’s gorgeous and the soundtrack is hype. Overall a really quality show.
Where to Watch: One Punch Man is currently available on Hulu and Netflix.