Manga review: One-Punch Man

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Note: I will be reviewing Murata’s version of the manga, not the web-comic.

Saitama’s life-long dream was to be a superhero, but when he became one, it was not what he expected. He was looking for tough fights and saving the day just in the nick of time, he wanted to enjoy that kind of thrill.

He can never find an enemy worth fighting, though – everyone he faces is defeated in a single punch! Sounds like a silly, simplistic story, right? There’s no way this could be popular, right? Well, you’re wrong: It’s actually one of the most popular manga of the 2010’s so far! It’s a best seller both in Japan and in the West.

The story seems deceptively shounen-ish, and I understand if you feel like it could bore you if you’re not a battle manga fan: But it’s actually much more than that. Let’s review the manga in depth and see what all the ruckus is about.

Plot & Pace: 8/10
Excellent

It’s pretty hard to maintain the tension and keep the reader interested when there’s no real problem, or anything to be worried about. Saitama can and will defeat every single enemy overwhelmingly, anyways. So how does the mangaka manage to keep it interesting for so long?

Honestly, it’s a work of magic. Every arc, the “final boss”, or the main enemy, does not face Saitama in a fight right away. Instead, he threatens and gets into battle with the supporting cast and the civilians, and the question becomes “Will Saitama make it on time?” instead of the typical battle manga “Will the main character win the fight?”.

If you think about it, this actually works better than the regular shounen-style of battle manga where there’s a close fight. In those cases, you always know that the main character will win, just for the advancement of the story. Mangaka trying to sell books can’t risk a sudden, dark ending for their manga – it wouldn’t sell, and it would probably suck, unless really well done!

In this way, by introducing the readers to a side cast who is much weaker than Saitama, but very likable, he manages to worry us – make us think that the enemy could actually kill the characters we like before Saitama gets there. Of course Saitama will beat him, but the question is, will it be too late?

Using this method, after noticing the instantaneous success of the first arc, the mangaka managed to continue the series in an interesting way that goes beyond just a simple superhero gag parody.

It continues to be a simple over-all narrative, and the plot clearly doesn’t matter that much. What’s important is watching Saitama destroy people, and that’s okay too, but it’s why it gets an 8/10 for plot & pace.

Art: 10/10
Masterful

So the web-comic has completely awful art. This is why the Murata version is so wildly popular right now: Murata is one of the most skilled manga artists ever. His ability to draw beautiful panels, make the fights dynamic, and every Saitama punch satisfying is notable. He built this amazing ability writing Eyeshield 21, which I have already reviewed, and he puts it to full use here in One-Punch Man.

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I think those panels really speak for themselves. If you look at the most popular battle manga out there, One Piece and Dragonball, they have good art, but there’s never been a manga that uses panels and art so well and drawn so beautifully. Usually, artsy manga are romances, or philosophical manga of sorts. Murata can even make fighting artsy.

The character design is also superb, and I think Murata nailed exactly what ONE was going for. The side cast all have highly complex designs, they all look “bad-ass”, like what you would expect a superhero or supervillan to look like. These contrast sublimely to Saitama’s perfectly average, boring appearance, and to the fact that he is the strongest of them all by a landslide.

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Overall, the art in One-Punch Man is the prime example of why art does matter in manga. It can be an amazing tool to compliment good writing, make the jokes and gags about Saitama’s strength funnier, and keep the fights dynamic and exciting.

Characters: 7/10
Very good

The characters, personality-wise, aren’t the strong point of One-Punch Man. Saitama is a very good one, and his philosophy on what it means to be a hero and why he does it are interesting and unique. It’s all just a hobby to him.

The rest of the cast, with a few exceptions, are all interesting and funny, but they normally follow some kind of of trope or cliché. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the focus of One-Punch Man isn’t on characters or character development. It’s more of an action/gag manga, and good characters aren’t part of the necessary formula to be successful in these genres.

Indeed, there is no character that clearly develops or changes throughout the manga. The main character is the same since chapter 1 (overwhelmingly strong), and the cast around him remains fairly unchanging as well.

Some would be inclined to call Saitama a Mary Sue, but since he’s a parody character, it doesn’t make sense to label him that way, or in any way for that matter. Besides, he’s too dumb to be one!

Passion: 9/10
Superb

There are two reasons why this manga gets a fairly high rating in passion.

Firstly, as this is Murata’s version that we’re reviewing, the amount of labour put into each panel is amazing. There’s a reason why the release of new chapters is so inconsistent. He puts hours upon hours into every page, making it perfect for us to read. And with his amazing talent, it works well, since it’s clear that the artwork is the main selling point of One-Punch Man.

Secondly, this title originally started as a webcomic that ONE did in his free time. He still had a full-time job, but he always found the time for his hobby. Even if the art in the original version is fairly lousy (for modern standards), creating a full manga chapter is a lot of work. Mangaka have to design every panel, angle, dialog, character, background… And draw a final version. It’s still a lot of work for someone with a full-time job.

Overall: 8.5/10
Excellent

The average of the scores is 8.5/10. It’s a very high score for a shounen battle manga, as they usually lose a lot of points in the Plot and Passion sections, but OPM manages to pull through and settle itself as one of the current best of its genre.

With the help of one of the best artists in the industry, ONE manages to tell a story that is both hilarious and tense at the same time, and that makes you wonder about just how strong Saitama is, as his enemies get stronger and stronger as well.

It’s a must read for any fans of comedy and action manga. Those who study, or really enjoy art, have to read this one as well, as Murata is one of the masters of his time.

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