Once the scrappy new shonen on the block, My Hero Academia is now the undisputed top dog of the genre. Regardless of how you feel about it, much like Naruto or One Piece in their prime, MHA has become the show all others are measured against.
And it certainly isn’t slowing down any time soon. On release day in Japan, My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission made more than twice the first-day gross of the previous movie, and went on to become the most lucrative film in the franchise shortly after.
In fact, it’s become such a fixture that it’s easy to take it for granted. But at the premiere of the English dub in Los Angeles, it struck me how unusual it is to maintain this level of passion and attachment over time. Most of the people I spoke to at the premiere party were either longtime fans, or people who had recently discovered the show and fallen deeply in love while binging the series.
I had my own theories why the series has such staying power, but given the opportunity to get some real perspective from a whole theater full of fans, I decided to ask around and see what the truth was.
So, why do people still care so much about My Hero Academia?
Here are the most common answers I got.
The Infrastructure of Superheroism
Most superhero stories focus on a timeline relatively close to our own, where powered people are the exception rather than the norm. The core of My Hero Academia’s setting is the fact that 80% of the population has a quirk, and all the most important aspects of the world have been designed to take that massive difference from our society in stride.
What began as vigilante heroics has been turned into an institution. Heroes study for licenses, work at agencies, and do sponsorship deals. Both the heroes’ and villains’ philosophies and motives tie into the immense cultural impact of All Might, the world’s greatest hero. The rules of society have warped around quirks, and that attention to detail lends a huge amount of verisimilitude to the setting. Superpowers might be a fantasy, but they’re grounded and made relatable by how the setting intelligently accounts for them.
In addition, the fact that almost everyone has a power makes each hero that much more impressive. Sure, having a great quirk absolutely helps elevate people to hero status, but that’s just step one. Every pro hero has had to work to improve the limits of their quirk, train their bodies to make the best possible use of it, and develop their instincts to make split-second decisions in life or death situations.
Class 1-A might be full of talented prodigies from around Japan, but they all have to adapt to the physical, mental, and emotional demands of being a pro hero. This makes the training and downtime much more engaging than the average shonen — a wise storytelling decision, because no shonen can be all action all the time. Entries in the genre live and die by how engaging they can make the downtime, and My Hero Academia is a masterclass in that.
Fights That Take Your Breath Away
Plain and simple, Studio Bones can animate the hell out of a fight. While downtime is necessary for a story to hit multiple emotional notes (and to change up the intensity, so the audience doesn’t burn out or lose track of how impressive each clash is supposed to be), the promise of the next amazing action sequence is a huge part of why people keep watching.
The varied superpowers really let Bones go to town with each fight’s choreography, and they deserve buckets of credit for the visuals they pull off (particularly in this most recent movie). Just as importantly, they let the combatants strategize and make fascinating plans of attack. But an underrated and absolutely essential element of the show, one that far too many shonens neglect, is the pacing.
While they’re arguably the highlights of the genre, fights in shonen can drag. Often, this is because they need to buy time for the manga to get ahead and give them more story to adapt. Whatever the reason, even the most spectacular showdowns can lose their thunder when they’re spread across too many episodes and every exchange of blows is intercut with lengthy commentary from bystanders.
My Hero Academia doesn’t screw around with that. Characters never strategize or monologue for so long that it breaks up the flow of the fight, which keeps everything feeling engaging and intense.
Doing justice to the good, the evil, and the complicated
Typically, media with characters as purely good as All Might and antagonists who literally call themselves the League of Villains doesn’t show a whole lot of moral nuance. The good are incredibly good, the bad are incredibly bad, and characters are more likely to flip from one extreme to the other than to wind up somewhere in the middle.
And that gray is what lets My Hero Academia feel real. Much like the presence of Han Solo added self-awareness and complexity to the strict good versus evil of the first Star Wars movie, characters come from messy backgrounds and deal with situations where there’s no clear correct answer. And, most importantly, the internal logic of protagonists and antagonists alike makes sense. You’re never going to believe that the League of Villains is acting altruistically, for example, but the goals of each member all have more thought put into them than simple selfishness.
Yeah, some people are wholly good or evil, too — but this dynamic doesn’t undermine the earnest goodness of Deku and Lemillion, or the presence of irredeemable monsters like Overhaul. Instead, these absolutes make the whole cast feel more real, closer to the real world’s broad and multidimensional spectrum of morality than if everyone was at the extremes or in the gray.