“Fear not citizens, hope has arrived! Because I am here!” With these words, All Might, the world’s greatest hero in My Hero Academia, proudly introduced himself as he saved people from a major disaster. When I first watched this scene, I was a little skeptical. I thought he sounded kind of pretentious and full of himself. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once All Might gets more development, it’s revealed that he doesn’t act in that overblown manner to make himself look good; he does it to give people hope. All Might is often referred to as the symbol of peace, and he makes it his goal to live up to that title. “I am here!” isn’t a demand for attention, it’s a reassurance that he’ll save the day. All Might’s character perfectly encompasses MHA’s greatest strength: its sincerity.
It’s been a trend in recent years for superhero stories to have a darker or more cynical attitude about heroes. From comics like Watchmen and The Killing Joke to films like The Dark Knight and Batman vs. Superman, this trend has popped up across superhero media. It’s even shown up in anime, with One Punch Man’s heroes who care more about rank than saving people. There’s plenty of value to be had in taking a more critical look at established tropes, but there’s just as much value in more straightforward versions of these stories. At their core, superhero stories are meant to be fun, cool, and inspiring, which are perfectly admirable goals. This is where My Hero Academia comes in.
On the surface, MHA doesn’t seem to do anything special by the standards of shounen anime or superhero stories. Midoriya’s a typical underdog who dreams of reaching the top, Bakugo’s a typical rival, plotlines like the current tournament arc aren’t anything we haven’t seen before in shounen anime and manga, etc. That said, those tropes are also why MHA is so good.
MHA’s goals are to be fun, cool, and inspiring, just like classic superhero stories. All of the heroes (with the possible exceptions of Bakugo and Endeavor) are good people who genuinely want to succeed as heroes. Their exact motives differ, but their underlying heroism is constant. They’re personalities and motives are pretty straightforward for the most part, but that actually makes it easier to root for them. Classic (I say classic because there have been so many different iterations) Superman wasn’t a particularly complex character, but fans could still root for him. A character doesn’t need to be complex to be relatable, and the latter is sometimes better than the former. Midoriya’s relatable because he wants to be like All Might and save people. It’s a simple goal, but an admirable one that we can all understand. Similar characters have been done before, but that’s hardly an issue as long as the character is done well, as is the case with MHA’s cast. Midoriya works as a character because he’s based on an archetype we can all relate to, not in spite of it.
My Hero Academia may use a lot of tropes, but that’s not always a flaw. A lot of tropes exist for a reason: people like them. We like seeing heroes who work hard and beat the bad guys. We like people who fight for justice. Tropes like that are only a problem when they’re done out of laziness. MHA’s passion and sincerity are visible in every episode, whether it’s through the heroes showing off cool powers or All Might teaching Midoriya what it means to be a hero. There’s nothing lazy or cynical about it. If MHA had gone for a darker or more cynical story, it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. There’s nothing wrong with a dark take on a classic story, but sincere takes are just as important. A hero who proudly declares “I am here!” and saves the day is just as valuable as a dark hero who fights from the shadows.