How to Love Manga: One-Punch Man

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I’m going to start off this review with a question. What’s the first image that comes into your mind when you read the word “superhero?” Heroic images of Batman or Spiderman usually show up in your head. The last image you will see is Saitama, a wannabe superhero with a bald head and a store bought costume. He may look boring, and he is, but what if I told you he is humanity’s last hope for survival against the threat of monsters, aliens, and other nasty creatures? Crazy, I know, but Saitama has a trick up his sleeve. He can end any fight with just one punch.

One-Punch Man panel by Yusuke Murata.

That’s pretty much the elevator pitch for One-Punch Man. It’s a unique take on the superhero genre from Japan, but is a good pick for new readers to manga thanks to its western influences. Despite the simple premise, this manga has an interesting history, originally published online by the writer, mysteriously named ONE, with his own artwork. It was crap. I’ve seen the original manga and it looks like a fifth grader drew it. However, he didn’t give up and kept drawing the manga, trying to develop an interesting plot and creative characters. Eventually it went viral and he gained a large following among the manga community. He was paired with an absolutely masterful Yusuke Murata, the artist for one of my favorite manga Eyeshield 21, and it became a mega success. One-Punch Man remains a digital comic, but its popularity has reached absolutely massive proportions and eventually reached the west with an official English translation. The manga even got a physical volume release recently alongside the digital volumes.

One-Punch Man volume 1 cover by Yusuke Murata.

So what’s the story of One-Punch Man? Well I told you already, the low rent hero Saitama is trying to make a name for himself as a hero despite looking like the most boring hero ever made. The only thing setting him apart is his unbeatable punch. It’s a cheap gag that has grown to be part of Saitama’s core character. He enjoys the simple things in life and isn’t fazed by a crazy space monster born of pollution trying to take over the world, because he knows he can easily beat them. However, Saitama has grown bored without any real challenge in his life and keeps searching for stronger and stronger opponents. Despite his laissez faire nature, Saitama is really trying to do good, and through each story he grows as both a hero and a person.

One-Punch Man colour spread by Yusuke Murata.

One-Punch Man’s cast is rounded out by a group of increasingly ridiculous heroes, each with their own powers and motivations. You get a good look into how this world filled with psychics and supers can function when everyone’s lives are threatened on a daily basis. As all this crazy stuff happens, you get taken on a ride through action and intrigue centered around these superheroes. It’s not a deep look and the manga never asks deep questions about this world, but it does present enough details to sweep the reader into the story. It can be funny, touching, and action packed all at the same time. The stakes are pretty high in One-Punch Man, and it’s amazing to see some of the goofy heroes, such as Saitama, fighting seemingly unbeatable monsters with the same conviction as the serious heroes. It really hits home during these intense moments, and the humans are fleeing for their lives, that these heroes are the last stand against an unfair and dangerous world.

A relatively slow pace and simple plots help keep One-Punch Man fresh and interesting. You can just read a chapter of One-Punch Man and leave without having missed anything. The characters get phased in and out on a regular basis, but everyone has a unique look and personality setting them completely apart from each other. This is a light story, but it still grips you with its characters and story, keeping you wanting more without burning you out with too much action or suspense.

One-Punch man spread by Yusuke Murata.

As I mentioned earlier, the art is amazing! I was a fan of Murata before I read One-Punch Man and I can see some of his style in the characters from his previous work. However, I did not know he could craft such a detailed page. He crams an amazing amount of details into one page that will keep you busy admiring the details for a long time. Murata knows how to lay out a page and keep everything in focus and engaging. I wouldn’t normally comment on page layout but I read an interview with him and he explained how he sets up each page as if it were a shot from a movie. As a result, you can see how One-Punch Man could be shot as an action movie. Every page is given an inordinate amount of care and attention. I can’t praise this art enough except that it delays the manga’s release, but that’s just me being petty. The art is just a treat for your eyeballs on every page, except for Saitama. Remember how I said ONE’s art looked like a fifth grader, well Murata kept ONE’s original design of Saitama. You’ll be looking at an incredibly detailed city scape and then you get a picture of Saitama that looks like a simple doodle. That’s the point though, because he’s supposed to look dull. You can draw your own conclusions about what ONE’s trying to say when you read this comic for yourself.

Read One-Punch Man now, and I mean now. You can download the first three chapters for free right now on the on Comixology. You get pretty much everything you need to know in order to tell if One-Punch Man is for you. There’s not a lot of plot in these first few chapters, but that’s par for the course for this manga. If you do decide to buy it, it’s available digitally on Viz Manga and Comixology. You can also get the brand new physical volumes from any comic retailer. Enjoy the silly yet epic story of Saitama and One-Punch Man! Oh, and One-Punch Man is getting an anime soon, if you’re into that sort of thing.

You can read other How to Love Manga columns here.

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James Ristig

I'm James Ristig. I've been reading comics for ten years and I'm a freelance writer and editor. Follow me on twitter @RisTigger

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