One-Punch Man began as a web comic, and has since gained worldwide notoriety as one of the best anime series in recent memory. The anime tells the story of Saitama, an ostensibly unremarkable young man who trains so diligently he becomes strong enough to defeat any enemy with just one punch.
So why is One-Punch Man such a great anime? Even the best anime has a reputation for repetition, with themes and motifs recycled across different series and genres. One-Punch Man, however, has gained a dedicated viewership because it satirizes these beloved tropes, reminding us just how funny the world of anime can be. Like RoboCop or any other secretly brilliant satire, One-Punch Man both celebrates and lampoons the trappings of its genre.
With gorgeous animation, character-driven comedy, and legitimately intense action sequences, One-Punch Man is really one of the best anime of all time. If you gave up on anime after the heyday of Dragon Ball Z, One-Punch Man is the perfect series to re-ignite your love of the shōnen genre.
Much of Saitama’s appeal as a protagonist is that, unlike other anime heroes who feel an unwavering commitment to their destiny or goal, Saitama is just as confused about his life and future as the rest of us. In the very first episode, he explains that he does not have a death wish as “Crablante” (a half-man, half-crab) insists, but is instead just bored with his life and looking for a new line of work. “I’m no businessman,” Saitama explains. “I’m unemployed right now, I’m looking for a job.”
Throughout the series, Saitama questions his value, compares himself to his peers, and struggles with the responsibilities of burgeoning adulthood, just like so many of the young men and women who have fallen in love with this show.
A lot of One-Punch Man is rooted in comedy, so one might expect the actual battles to be funny as well. However, the show’s combat animation is at the cutting edge of anime, with incredible battle sequences, visually stunning displays of destruction, and deeply awesome finishing moves.
The serious fight scenes only add to the quality of the show, providing a balance between hilarious jokes and jaw-dropping battles throughout the entire series.
In the second episode of the series, Saitama meets a powerful cyborg fighter named Genos. Genos fits in with the design aesthetic and techniques of other anime heroes much better than Saitama. He has spiked grey hair, yellow eyes, a partially metal body, and array of showy, elaborately named attacks. The moment Genos sees Saitama’s power, however, he recognizes his own weakness asks to be his apprentice.
The interesting thing is that Saitama doesn’t really know how he became so powerful. His training regimen is, simply, “100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and 10 kilometer running. Every single day!”
Because of this, Genos learns lessons of compassion, humanism, and dedication, from his master. This eschews the typical anime narrative of the wise old master, or training dedicated solely to physical prowess. Genos even said of one hero, “He reminds me of myself before I met [Saitama]. There is no mercy in his heart. A strong hatred for everything evil, eager to eliminate them all."
The finishing move of any anime hero is often the climax of a storyline. Think Goku’s Spirit Bomb, or Izuru Kira’s Wabisuke. For Saitama, his finishing move is just as impressive, but the name is downright hilarious.
In the final episode of the first season, Saitma must use his final move to defeat Lord Boros, saying, “In that case, I’m using my final move, too. Killer Move: Serious Series... Serious Punch.” The punch is devastating, atomizing Boros on impact. The fact that the name sounds more like a special kind of synthetic oil you’d put in your car than a dramatic and violent finishing move will surely give you a chuckle, however.