Reviewby Nick Creamer,
My Hero Academia
Izuku Midoriya has always dreamed of becoming a superhero. But as one of the twenty percent of the population born without a “quirk,” he has no super-abilities to speak of - no fire breath, no levitation, not even a simple eye laser. But still, Izuku aspires to attend the prestigious U. A. High School, the proving ground of all of society's greatest heroes. And when an afterschool mishap ends with Izuku running into both a dastardly villain and the famed superhero All Might, he might just end up getting his chance.
Shonen Jump has a very dependable formula for whipping up reliably serialization-ready adventure fare. Take one unassuming boy who dreams of greatness, add a quirky power and can-do spirit, and let simmer. Season this base with a grittier or glasses-pushing male rival and energetic love interest, while being sure to fill out this cast with a scattering of other friends falling into a variety of possible types. Add one inspiring authority figure to either chase or train under, and garnish with an overall aesthetic that ties it all together - shamans, pirates, ninjas, or maybe even western superheroes.
My Hero Academia sticks very closely to this classic script, but there's nothing wrong with a predictable story done well. The manga stars would-be hero Izuku Midoriya, who lives in a world where several generations back, humanity began developing “quirks,” unique powers that manifested in all sorts of heroism-ready ways. This has led to an age of villains and superheroes, where prospective champions go to hero school in order to be the best they can be. Izuku has always dreamed of joining these heroes… but unfortunately, he happens to occupy the twenty percent of the population that has no quirk whatsoever.
Of course, a story about a boy who wants to be a hero but can't wouldn't really make for much of a shonen adventure, so Izuku ends up quickly running into famed hero All Might, whose admiration of Izuku's latent heroic attitude prompts him to accept Izuku as his successor. The chapters in this first volume follow classic templates of shonen story-building - we open with a double-length premier that sets up the relationship between Izuku and All Might, jump directly into a training chapter focused on getting ready for the big hero exam, spend two chapters in that exam, where Izuku demonstrates both his selfless attitude and current inability to handle All Might's considerable power, and then rush right along to the first day of class, where Izuku is once again thrust into a test to prove his worth or leave school forever.
Nothing in these early chapters is likely to surprise you; this sequence of narrative beats is a time-honored tradition, and draping the shonen arc in the trappings of western superheroes does little to change its fundamental nature. If you're flat-out not interested in a shonen that doesn't break the mold, you won't find much here - but if you've still got some love for that formula, My Hero Academia does a fair job of recommending itself.
While the writing so far hasn't been too creative or full of personality, the way the story applies self-awareness to classic superhero tropes is pretty entertaining. This doesn't come across as a bunch of winking references - instead, we simply see a world where superheroes have always been a concept, but only recently have become a reality, so all of the story's heroes feel like they're actively playing up what they assume heroes should be. The story's formula nature is also reflective of its greatest strength - this work is polished, something that comes across both in its very energetic pacing and its excellent artwork.
That artwork is the premier highlight of My Hero Academia so far. The manga's style is detailed, angular, and tremendously consistent. Characters bend and swoop with great energy and personality, but it's clear Kōhei Horikoshi has a strong grasp of anatomy fundamentals (something revealed both in the x-ray shots of Izuku activating his powers and just the general ways even exaggerated figures bend and interact in space). There's a bunch of dynamic angles and wild expressions, and characters feel distinctive while also all clearly sharing stylistic similarities. There's solid use of shadows, dramatic full-page impact spreads, and a great sense of momentum across panels. So far the story isn't beautiful, but it's absolutely professional - in fact, the drawings are so consistent that the fact that All Might is drawn in a different, more western-influenced style is actually a running joke in the manga.
Overall, My Hero Academia represents a conservative but highly polished entry in a time-tested genre tradition. It won't surprise you, and so far the characters aren't exactly leaping off the page, but it's fast-paced and entertaining and very sharply drawn. It's a mature work from a professional who clearly knows his craft.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ The art is dynamic and highly polished; the story is energetic and precisely calibrated.
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