You probably know this kind of dilemma: You’ve got a friend who’s completely unfamiliar with anime but they want you to show them an example to understand what it’s like. Frantically, you’re brainstorming for possible candidates and experience all kinds of ‘Nam flashbacks about jiggling milk bags, 1000-years-old dragons, and tentacles. What Japanese anime isn’t too Japanese anime to show to someone who hasn’t accepted Japanese weirdness at a fundamental level yet? Let me present to you: One Punch Man!
Don’t get me wrong, One Punch Man is weird as hell. But not the usual kind of weird that’ll make your friend avoid eye contact with you for no less than eight weeks. And it’s one of the best anime around to begin with!
Being a very descriptive title, One Punch Man is about the protagonist, Saitama, a man overpowered enough to just one hit his opponents. He’s supposed to be the main character of a battle anime much like Dragon Ball, except he’s already above it. One Punch Man answers the question what would happen if battle anime broke out of the cycle of “be strong, meet someone stronger, face defeat, get stronger yourself, beat them, repeat…”
At one point, Saitama decided he had to get stronger and started to train. For reasons unknown, he got so ridiculously strong that he started to beat everyone with just a half-assed punch. The world One Punch Man plays in, revolves around a society in which actual superheroes – and villains – with actual superpowers exist and it is a “normal” profession. Without any rivals or competition, he lost all passion and motivation and is kind of just there now; secretly at the top of the hero society but unknown.
New villains and strong foes that other heroes can’t beat keep appearing, introducing and building up a lot of drama of them getting beaten, struggling, trying to get stronger, and using secret abilities to beat their enemies. But all the schemes and back and forths don’t matter in the end, because eventually Saitama will just show up and one hit them out of existence, which is just hilarious. The anime caught me so many times where I got sceptical and thought that there’s no way that the story would stay true to itself and just let Saitama one punch his opponent out of the solar system, but One Punch Man does stay true to its colors until the bitter end, fantastic!
Other superheroes pretty much go through the usual battle anime spiel and while they struggle through the usual drama, Saitama is just there, hilariously unfazed by even the most climatic of supervillain appearances. So what happens when they witness Saitama just one-punching the supervillain half a dozen of them couldn’t even put a scratch on? Everyone – spectators included – don’t believe their eyes and simply choose denial and even accuse him of being a fraud! Hence, Saitama – despite being the strongest by far – is just a low tier hero barely getting by. But Saitama don’t care, he never do.
Epic supervillains, dramatic superhero struggles, a generic world (City A, B, C, …) under constant apocalyptic thread out of nowhere, and our protagonist, the “hero just for fun,” being an unfazed, omnipotent spectator who just comes to shut everything up in the blink of an eye when he pleases.
One Punch Man has a unique (as far as I know) concept, executes it well, is hilarious, never forced, clever, and sticks to its guns until the very end; brilliant! Certainly one of the best anime I’ve ever seen and also very recommendable to people who usually don’t have anything to do with anime – unless they dislike comedy and only watch k-dramas, I guess. If you haven’t seen One Punch Man yet, you definitely should; and save it so you can rewatch it.