Review: My Hero Academia, Vol. 1

In most superhero movies and fiction, people with exceptional powers are a tiny minority. But imagine for a second that there’s a world where superpowers – called “Quirks” – are a part of life for most of the population. What would it be like to be one of the minority who have no powers, and what would it be like if somehow that changed?

That’s the premise behind Kohei Horikoshi’s “My Hero Academia,” a vibrant and quick-paced manga series that takes place in just such a world, and which follows a steadfast underdog that wants nothing more than to save others. The first volume is still a little rough around the edges, but it overflows with energy, enthusiasm and raw potential, as well as some clever examinations of how such a society would work.

For his entire life, Izuku Midoriya idolized heroes. When he was small, he was found to be Quirkless in a world where the superpowers are commonplace. But rather than giving up, he dedicated himself to following and observing the superheroes – especially the beloved All Might, a seemingly invincible hero overflowing with positivity and heroism. And despite being bullied for his lack of a Quirk by his powerful classmate Katsuki Bakugō, he dreams of being a hero.

One day, he is saved by All Might and learns the superhero’s rather undignified personal secret. And after All Might witnesses the weak, Quirkless boy dash into danger to save his bully, he makes Izuku an offer: he will pass on his power to Izuku, allowing him to attend the hero-training U.A. High School. After months of training, of course. Can’t have a shonen series without training! But the training is only the first step — he has to get into UA, which involves a terrifying entrance exam, even as he tries to use a power he has only just obtained.

“My Hero Academia Volume 1” is entertaining in multiple ways. On the one hand, it’s a shonen manga in the classic mold, though it moves substantially faster than many of its brethren (the training begins and ends within one chapter). On the other hand, it’s also a rather quirky (pun intended) examination of the Japanese take on the superhero genre, with superpowers ranging from the ordinary (floating, explosions) to the more eccentric (belly-button laser, engine-powered legs).

The story whips by at a pretty fast pace, and things are kept energetic and colorful through the constant use of Quirks. But Horikoshi also doesn’t hesitate to pluck at the audience’s heartstrings whenever they have the chance, mostly focused on Izuku’s teary-eyed struggles to realize his dreams against all odds. At times, it’s really heartbreaking. Horikoshi’s artwork is still pretty rough here, with the characters’s expressions sometimes looking too cartoony, but he clearly has skill.

The character of Izuku reminds me a little of Marvel’s Captain America – he’s a weak, ordinary boy with a powerful, courageous heart and a real desire to save others, who is given superpowers artificially. He’s also shown to be quite bright, since he has to think strategically when “Kacchan” tries to actually harm him. The supporting cast is pretty likable but not very developed just yet – all we know of Katsuki is that he’s violent and almost pathologically proud, Uraraka is the perky and kind love interest, and Ida is dutiful, composed and extremely conscientious.

“My Hero Academia Volume 1” is a bold, colorful and energetic start to this entertaining series, and its likable protagonist makes it easy to get invested in his superheroic journey. Smash!

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