One of my roommates recommended that I watch My Hero Academia since I was looking for something to watch while I was on vacation. We both expected me to sit down and watch two to five episodes at a time, like I’d down with pretty much every other show I’ve watched, but that is not what happened. I got sucked into the show immediately, lost track of time, and watched the first whole season that afternoon and evening. The following day, I spent the entire day watching all but the last five episodes and I would have watched those if I didn’t have an event the next day that required I get up early. It was close. I almost decided to just stay up so I could watch the last few episodes even though it would have left me bleary and exhausted for the day of watery adventure.
My Hero Academia is, on the surface, your basic action anime that hits all the requirements: teenage male protagonist, male rival who is both a friend and enemy, the hero has a great power he can’t properly wield, he’s in training to be some kind of action hero, and there’s some vague threat looming in the background that slowly becomes more apparent as the series goes on. The protagonist even has the same personality markers as all the other male protagonists of similar anime: a heart of gold/unwavering belief in his peers, the drive to work harder than everyone else, a casual disregard for his own well-being when it comes to protecting people, and a hair color that stands out from his peers and elders (with exceptions for genetics). If all you do is look at the surface, it is simply a fill-in-the-blank action anime with a delightful superhero twist.
The minute you start to look beneath the surface, which is actually easy to do because the show does a masterful job of peeling back the layers for viewers of all ages, there is a startling amount of complexity to all of the characters. The protagonist, Izuku, is not only a hard worker, but he’s also very clever. His analytical abilities lead to more victories (and often less costly victories) than the use of his potentially overwhelming power. His inventiveness, when it comes to finding ways to make use of his rather unreliable powers and applying the powers of his teammates, is unmatched. If he seriously tries, he can usually find a way to make use of the “quirks” (the special powers that most people in the world develop before they’re four) of his peers to defeat whatever foe or obstacle he’s facing. Not only is he intelligent, he’s actually pretty in touch with his emotions and good at reading people, so he has a tendency to find ways to help the other conflicted teenagers he attends Super Hero High School with.
All of his classmates at U.A. High School are heroes in training as well, and a lot of them are still working on why they want to be heroes or what kind of hero they want to be. There’s a guy with engines in his calves, a woman who can turn things she touches weightless, a dude that sweats explosives from his hands, some guy with a tail, a woman who can create objects which pop out of her body (which is most of the cheesecake in the show, since her costume is revealing so as to not tear when she pops out a cannon), an invisible girl, and a guy whose whole body hardens into some kind of metallic-y stone substance, and so much more! The personalities of the cast are, for the most part, just as diverse as the powers. Sure, the explosives guy has anger issues, the invisible girl is constantly afraid of being overlooked, and the dude with engines in his legs is incredibly driven, but they’re also more than just that facet of their personality. Explosives guy wants to be the top-ranked hero and proves his drive despite appearing to be a villain-in-waiting. The invisible girl is a solid hero who wants to keep her friends safe and isn’t afraid to do whatever she needs to in order to succeed. The drive young man is also willing to learn, sharing a surprising depth of wisdom with his classmates and proving to be a capable leader in the few instances he isn’t overshadowed by the protagonist and his rival.
Even the teachers aren’t the rather shallow caricatures they appear to be. Each of them gets their time to show the various aspects of their characters, the wisdom and strength they’ve attained throughout their lives as heroes, and the strength of their conviction when it comes to their pupils. Even the hero who is passing his power onto the protagonist, All Might, shows a surprising depth of character considering his surface-level is just some big muscle-y dude who punches stuff really hard while shouting the names of states or cities in the US while smiling. It turns out he carefully crafted the image of himself as the ultimate hero, the “Symbol of Peace,” in order to discourage villains from attacking all the time and to give the non-hero populace someone to believe in, even going so far as to sacrifice his physical health in order to stay that symbol when he probably should have retired.
That being said, the plot is actually pretty standard. The protagonist wants to be a hero, gets a one-in-a-million chance to become a hero, constantly throws aside the rules in order to do the right thing, and continuously overcomes all the boundaries between him and his goal by trying harder. The big change comes in how the other people in the world react to that and the consequences he faces. It is illegal in his world for people who don’t have a hero license to use their quirk to hurt someone, and he almost goes to jail for doing just that. His super-powered attacks take an incredible toll on his body and, while there is a certain amount of “Ta-da! You’re magically healed!” there’s also a point VERY early on where he learns that he will eventually suffer irreparable harm if he continues to damage his body and have it healed. Most of his cleverness goes into figuring out how to use his powers while minimizing their impact on his body. Unlike most similar protagonists, Izuku actually has the potential for serious consequences and, even when he tries to “technically follow” the rules, he almost gets in a huge amount of trouble. Even his mentor takes him to task for being reckless.
I would recommend watching My Hero Academia because it is a really fun action anime with depth of character and actual consequences for being a reckless moron (I’m looking at you, Naruto). Finally, you can watch something about a kid who just wants to be a hero and succeeds by trying hard without feeling the little bit of guilt you (or at least I) always feel when watching adults just let kids get away with some really dumb shit. It’s a responsible action anime!