In a world where the greatest threat to humanity can erupt from the ground without the minorest warning, wielding supreme power would be supremely useful. No training arcs needed. You just strut up to the baddie, flick them in the nose, and the world is saved. Such is the luxury afforded to Saitama, a man with endurance like no other, speed like no other, and strength like no other.
Having done a daily workout regiment of 100 situps, 100 push-ups, 100 squats, and a 10 kilometer run, Saitama has made himself majorly, wickedly, absurdly powerful. He’s probably the most powerful man in the world. Possibly even the entire cosmos. Any opponent he faces, no matter how big they are or how much destruction they’re capable of dishing out, he takes them down in a single punch. Doesn’t matter who or what they are.
Typical action formatting necessitates that the hero struggle in some capacity, often grabbing the W by the skin of their teeth. But sometimes, it’s nice to cut loose, let off some steam, and bully the weak. Whipping out the big guns and going ham is a tremendously cathartic experience. It’s thrilling to pump yourself up as an unstoppable, almighty badass, because what’s better than feeling like an unbeatable champ? Watching Saitama toe it out, that’s what. With how insanely powerful he is, it’s only a matter of time until he throws a duke at his opponent. Chapters would end in a disappointing two pages if he held up his fist for baddies to ram their faces into right away, so they delay the inevitable by playing around. Watching monsters line up to put the beatdown on Saitama is like seeing a puppy try and fight an adult dog. Saitama’s victory is inevitable, but it’s adorable seeing anthropomorphic animals trash-talk him, and you wonder the while how and when he’ll splatter them.
It isn’t all games and fun with Saitama, though. His immense power like his comes the ability to effect immense change in the world—defeating the enemies who bring other heroes to their knees.
It begins with the invasion of City J. The Seafolk emerge from the coastline and storm the city streets with the intention of laying claim to the land. One hero on the scene, Stinger, holds several of them off, but just. When their ruler, Deep Sea King, arrives, he falls. Doesn’t even manage to put up a fight before the gargantuan fish-man crushes him.
Nearby is another hero who witnesses the emergence of Deep Sea King, Lightning Max, and he fights one-on-one with DSK but is handily beaten. The two of them are A-rank, the second-highest class in the Hero Association, but even their relative strength was no match for their opponent. Seems it’ll take a much, much more powerful hero to match the invader, someone of the highest rank: S.
Puri-Puri Prisoner, freshly sprung from prison, arrives in the nick of time to save Lightning Max from certain death. A massive man capable of breaking down walls like they’re cardboard, it appears that he’s the man of the hour. With his great muscles, he should handle DSK no problem.
His defeat is almost as swift as his A-rank colleagues. Even going all out, he could barely put a bruise on DSK, and the aquatic monarch batters the man into unconsciousness. It’s no contest whatsoever.
Next in line is Speed-o’-Sound Sonic, who, while a villain, has no interest in ceding the surface to the Sea Folk, so using his lightning-fast speed, he fights the king. Amazingly enough, he holds his own. However, the odds aren’t in his favor for two reasons: one, it starts to rain, which hydrates DSK, putting his agility on par with Speed-o’-Sound Sonic’s, and two, he has no weapon, so he can’t put a good cut in. He retreats from the battlefield, promising to return once armed. There’s still hope that Speed-o-Sonic will fell the king, but until he returns, the invader has free rein to terrorize the inhabitants, and he doesn’t waste one second doing so.
After the invasion began, the city’s citizenry evacuated to a sports dome and wait out the onslaught, but the mass gathering draws DSK like a moth to flame, and he breaks into the dome with murderous intentions. Several heroes had evacuated to the dome with the population, but they’re low-ranking: C and B. There’s one A-rank among them, but his A-ranking compatriots couldn’t put down the king, so he knows he stands no chance. Still, they’re heroes and it’s their job to protect people, so they rise up to DSK, knowing full-well how intangible their chance for victory is. DSK defeats them easily.
But no matter how many heroes DSK puts down, more rise up to stand in his way. Genos, the most recent addition to S-rank, arrives, the greatest hope yet to fell the sea king. But like the heroes before, Genos can’t put a scratch in his opponent’s scales, and he falls after casting himself before a young girl to protect her from DSK’s acidic spit.
So many heroes have fallen, some of them high-ranking, and DSK is no closer to defeat. Another hero shows: Mumen Rider. But he won’t defeat DSK. He can’t. He’s only C-rank. But his limitations mean nothing to him. He’s a hero, so it’s his duty to protect people, no matter what.
He throws himself at DSK, who throws him off, but he stands back up and grapples his foe. He’s past his limit. He’s way in over his head. But it’s what he must do, whatever the cost, and the cost very nearly? His life.
And then Saitama shows.
Supreme as it was witnessing Saitama swoop in to truly play the hero, reading this arc’s conclusion had me worried for the future of the series. Before, Saitama’s fights were just him messing around, essentially, and the attrition against Deep Sea King was the series’s first bend into a serious tone. Given how so many heroes, including one top-tier hero, fought and fell against this one enemy and it took Saitama’s arrival to save the day, it felt like the culmination of what Saitama’s character is—the eleventh-hour superhero who could be counted on to save the day when the world needed him the most. And looking at his unfathomable strength, it left me fearing that future arcs would be recolors of the Deep Sea King arc, where heroes fight and struggle against power-creeping baddies, and climaxes would only dip into the epilogue once Saitama showed up to put them down. The series would immediately go on to dispel this fear.
The Deep Sea King arc is a transformation in the overarching narrative. It segues the series from one or two chapters about whatever monster had showed up on Saitama’s doorstep to full-scale arcs spanning multiple volumes, with even arcs bleeding so closely together that you’d be forgiven for believing they were part of a singular arc. And the reason these arcs afford the page count they do is because the series more or less writes Saitama off. If he’s not occupied with a single all-powerful alien invader, he’s lounging around in his apartment playing video games. It’s quite jaw-dropping how many hoops the manga jumps through to keep Saitama in the dark about the world falling apart around him.
That guy is actually an entire arc’s main antagonist.
All but dropping Saitama from the main action seems like a drastic transformation in the manga’s identity, but it maintains its hero orientation with the introduction of the Hero Association. Early volumes mention it, and Saitama and Genos both enroll and tagteam with other heroes, including the 3rd highest ranked member, but the debut of the full Class-S roster marks the official shift away from Saitama and onto the expanded cast, which only keeps expanding as the arcs curve.
In a series called One-Punch Man, about a man who defeats opponents with a single punch, it can be a hair jarring how its very protagonist gets demoted to secondary character. The strongest bad dudes to date are wreaking havoc across the prefecture, and Saitama’s lazing around at home playing video games. You just wanna see him get out there and open up cans of whoop-ass. But it’s his absence that freshens up the series, providing constant new treats and sweets to the voracious reader and returning the stakes that Saitama obliterates with his very presence.
Some ways into the Monster Association arc, Genos, Bang, and his older brother Bomb are pitted in a three-on-one battle against the monster Elder Centipede. As Genos and Bang are both S-rankers, and Bomb is stated to be even stronger than Bang, the match-up doesn’t seem like a fair fight. However, that’s neglecting the detail that Elder Centipede’s threat level is Dragon, reserved for monsters posing a threat to multiple cities, which is appropriate, since he’s the size of a city.
Genos’s a battleship on legs, Bang’s a master martial artist, and Bomb can do wicked stuff like slicing baddies into toddler rings//, but against such a gargantuan arthropod but one tier below God-level threats, disasters which would spell the end of humanity, it leaves you wondering how, or if, these three will be able to subdue the monster before them.
With Saitama out on lunch, another window which opens up gives you purview to other heroes breaking out the butt paddles.
It reminds me of my days of watching Bleach and arriving at the Soul Society arc, where the Gotei 13 debut, and getting itchy to see what those immensely powerful swordsmen and -women are capable of.
I’ve thrown up a few images here and there, and you might’ve noticed by now, but if you haven’t, let me politely point out how incredible the artwork is.
It’s almost comical praising the artwork when the original webcomic has some of the lowest effort put into illustration ever. If ONE came out and confessed that all the artwork’s done by a three-year-old he swiped off the street, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Saying that the adaptive artwork of Yusuke Murata wows because of its slick linework or attention to detail is low-hanging fruit. The core of his ability lies in his ability to make a drawing pop to life, but not by drawing a realistic still image. That plays a part, and only a part.
Manga being manga, it relies on a collection of still images to tell its tale. Snapshots of its reality woven together into a linear narrative, like a cohesive photo album, and normally you want your photos to come out as stills so that they’re clean and the subject identifiable. A picture of an eagle in flight can make for a stunning image, but not if the eagle is smeared across the background. Yet it’s that motion blur, and mastery over it, that makes Murata’s illustrations feel alive, as moments captured in time.
The go-to method for depicting motion in a character or object are straight lines, which are plentiful in the above panel. But it’s also pretty blurry, blurrier than you would expect from a manga page. Almost looks like it scanned wrong. But notice the effect it has. This guy’s name is Speed-O’-Sound Sonic, and, in case his name doesn’t give it away, his whole deal’s speed. He’s so speedy that he breaks the sound barrier. He’s so speedy that he would appear to be a streak to the naked eye. A blur.
Because of the absurd detail put into a given page, a second vector the adaptive artwork controls that the original artwork doesn’t is tone. The parallel stories utilize two opposing skill levels, the former high and the latter low. With this low skill level comes a consistent and messy style that can’t break free of its petulant scribblings. The depiction of Vaccine Man’s annihilation of a city matches the comical answer Saitama gives him when he introduces himself.
Translation: “I’m someone who’s a hero for fun.”
Being extremely good at something is like riding a horse. If you’re awful, the horse will buck you off and refuse your directions. But master the animal and it’ll obey your every will. The adaptation spurs its bronco open and hurtles posts when Vaccine Man slaughters thousands and uproots life for lucky survivors, but when Saitama makes his heroic debut, it pulls on the reins to march at a trot.
Seriously well-drawn as the adaptation is, neither format of the manga takes itself that seriously. The invasion of Deep Sea King is an exception to that rule, and tension draws tight when heroes are locked in the do-or-die battles of the Monster Association arc, but taken as a whole, One-Punch Man is a goofy story. Saitama reached uber power levels through a straightforward training regimen, and heroes in the Heroes Association have names like Flashy-Flash or Pig God. A prophet warns of an impending apocalypse by writing a note that reads World in Danger//! Even when situations are dire, it manages to slip in some joke or gag as a way of easing on the built-up stress. And funnily enough, while the manga finds little opportunities to relax, relaxation is the crux of Saitama’s problems.
Ever notice how boring a second playthrough of some video games are? In an RPG, you might freshen things up with a change to your party, but in a platformer, you know the routes and the jumps to make, and the core experience of the horror genre is also what dampens repeated experiences. Imagine if every gaming experience was like that. You hear the hubbub about Dark Souls, think it’ll give you a run for your souls, and then you steamroll through it without the slightest beat of effort. That gives you bragging rights with your friends, but the game itself was dull for you. You had no fun. You saw some cool stuff and could “Oooo” at it, but there was no satisfaction. You came away with nothing gained.
I opened this recommendation with a screed on how liberating it is to go on a rampage, but the satisfaction with raining terror on your foes stems from an elevation in status. By defeating an opponent, you put yourself above them, and by defeating multiple opponents with great ease, you put yourself far above them. It’s a great high you give yourself, but the caveat is that it’s artificial. Using the same weapons, dealing with the same tactics. It gets boring before long. One easy victory is great. A string of easy victories feels unearned.
Anyone who’s done the lightest research into game design will recognize this as a flow chart. The diagonal band is the zone the designer should be aiming to keep the player in, because it’ll maximize their enjoyment. If the difficulty spikes, they’ll slip out and get frustrated, but if the challenge doesn’t ramp up at all, they’ll drift into boredom—the quadrant Saitama finds himself trapped in. While ultimate power can be infinitely useful, it’s boring for the wielder. There’s no satisfaction in winning because you barely have to lift a finger. Read the earliest chapters and most of Saitama’s time spent in battles is standing around nonchalantly. A muscular, fanged beast could be staring him down and he won’t flinch. He knows they pose no threat and will go down if he so much as sneezes on them.
What Saitama wants, what he needs, is an opponent on equal footing with him. Someone, something that’ll match his blows, back him into a corner, get his teeth gritting. The possibility of loss stirs up exhilaration. You have to bring your best to see the end of the battle. You throw a punch, they block it. They sweep their legs, you jump over them. They pull out their signature move and you counter with your own. You’ve got the upper hand, but just, and not for long. They reveal the ace they’ve been hiding until now. Will yours be able to match it?
Of course, this is only a dream of Saitama. Literally. In Chapter 4, he fights subterranean dwellers who invade the surface and push him around like some plaything. They toss him onto the ropes, but rather than fear them, his blood runs hot. He smiles in this battle. It’s the challenge he’s been longing for for so long—and then his alarm wakes him. Funnily enough, those subterranean dwellers from his dreams do actually invade the surface, but after stomping on the head of their leader, the army surrenders, and Saitama’s left plagued with the emptiness he can’t fill. He wins so many fights sweetlessly, but the one he can’t win is his fight against boredom.
His typical victory expression.
All this post I’ve been saying how there’s two versions of One-Punch Man, but when you dig into the nitty-gritty, there’s three. Murata sets himself such high standards in his artwork that even his serialized chapters are reworked for the volumes. What you read on Viz’s digital service isn’t what you’ll find in print. Mildly annoying for a reader, but you have to respect the man’s dedication to quality. Saitama may be bored out his skull, but no way you’ll be bored reading this knockout.