At first glance, One-Punch Man seems like a ridiculous send up of high-octane shonen manga. What if a shonen hero grew so powerful that he could defeat any foe in a single punch? Meet Saitama, a self-proclaimed hero for fun.
Naturally, this premise lends itself well to parody—and One-Punch Man has that in spades, riffing on every shonen trope from overwrought backstories to lengthy monologues, ever-increasing power levels, and not-even-my-final-forms. In one particularly cutting scene, a character explains his long, sordid backstory in several huge, tightly spaced paragraphs. The text is almost too small to read, and Saitama looks incredibly bored.
But One-Punch Man is more than one-punch jokes. Unlike most shonen stars with spiky hair and goofy smiles (think Goku, Naruto, and Luffy), Saitama is bald, slight, and expressionless. He doesn’t have a band of like-minded warrior friends—he lives alone in a tiny apartment. There’s no grand dream to be the greatest—he already is. Unfortunately for Saitama, he’s come to realize that being the strongest man alive is an empty existence.
One-Punch Man expresses depression and loneliness through beautiful, understated visuals. One recurring motif is a small, lone potted cactus Saitama dutifully waters whenever he’s home. Another is the image of Saitama, alone, carrying a grocery bag. These images often appear as the last panel in a chapter and always make Saitama look very small in the desolate cityscape. While other heroes might spend their nights drinking or partying or having interesting lives, Saitama’s nights are spent boiling vegetables.
And yet, amazingly, One-Punch Man fits this depth in a series that isn’t depressing at all. The majority of scenes are filled with jokes, visual gags, and incredible choreographed fights. The levity serves to make Saitama’s emotional plight that much more real—because often times, depression exists as an undercurrent in people’s lives.
That’s the beauty of One-Punch Man. In a series where all of the external violence is over the top, Saitama’s real struggle is a quiet, internal one.
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