Well, let's kick things off with a bang (or should I say a punch?) with one of the most anticipated shonen titles of the year.
ONE PUNCH MAN (Wanpanman), by Yusuke Murata and adapted from the webcomic by ONE. First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2015.
Saitama wanted to be a superhero. He wanted to be one so badly that he spent years training, honing his physical strength to the point where he went completely bald. Now he's achieved his dream, but now Saitama is so strong that he can take out almost every enemy with just a single punch. There's simply no thrill left in his life...well, until Saitama meets up with a cyborg with a thirst for revenge and a menagerie of genetically-modified animal-themed supervillains and the shadowy group of scientists that control them.
It takes a lot for a shonen manga to impress me, particularly when it comes to Shonen Jump. While there are plenty of classics that have come from that magazine over the years, there are also plenty of B- and C-list titles that serve little more than as filler as they ape whatever trends and ideas the editors can suggest. It's hard to turn a promising idea into a great manga when you have to contend with editorial dictate and the ever-looming threat of popularity polls. That's what makes stories like One Punch Man all the more extraordinary. It's a combination of a great premise, a lot of room for humor and character, and right from the first chapter it's consistently entertaining.
Now in all fairness, Murata cannot take all of the credit. This manga is in fact a remake of a webcomic by ONE back in 2009. While it was a rather crude-looking work, it gained a surprisingly large fandom, including Eyeshield 21 artist Yusuke Murata. It was he who proposed the remake for Shonen Jump's digital comic spinoff, and it's clear that Murata is committed to making the most of ONE's original premise. He starts things off simply with a lot of simple one-shot villains, establishing the relative monotony of Saitama's days as well as showing off a lot of wild and occasionally wacky supervillian premises. While things do start to coalesce once Genos the cyborg and all the animal-themed supervillains start showing up, the plot remains fairly loose and light, if a bit vague at this point.
Since the plot is kind of loose in structure, it gives Murata plenty of room to fill that space with little character moments here and there. No one in particular gets terribly deep development, but many get at least one amusing moment, such as Genos' backstory going on so long that it takes up the entire panel or a crab-man angry that a random kid drew nipples on his carapace. The only character that really stands out is Saitama himself, and even then he mostly stands out for his nonchalance. He's generally a very mild-mannered person even when staring down villains that's punctuated with a bit of dry, understated humor. The only time he shows any sort of strong emotion is during a proper fight, and those moments are few and far between. It sounds like a gag that would get old quick, but credit to Murata for finding new ways to show off Saitama's nonchalance and near boredom at what should be extraordinary situations and it's a weirdly refreshing take on being a superhero. Genos is the next to come close, but he's quickly shuffled off to the sidekick position and he more or less ends up becoming the audience stand-in, the guy who is there so Saitama has someone to talk to and explain things to.
Much like its titular hero, One Punch Man takes something simple and hones it to its peak potential. It strikes the perfect balance between superhero satire and shonen adventure, and it's just a delightful book to read.
The artwork is where One Punch Man truly shines. Yusuke Murata is clearly firing on all cylinders artistically and every page is glorious to behold. I can't recall the last time I saw a shonen manga that had this much fluidity and energy in it. Every movement and every blow has weight and impact and a brilliant sense of motion and life to them. There are loads of low, dynamic angles during the fights that are angled just so that it truly emphasizes each punch and blow, as if the fists could fly off the page. He even manages to incorporate some digital effects every once in a while, using them to simulate the shift to a deeper focal point or the blur of motion. The characters themselves can be wild and weird, but the mains tend to be drawn in a more handsome and shaded style. There are also plenty of visual gags both big and small, ranging from a kid in a "School Child" hoodie to Murata taking every opportunity to draw Saitama's head in ONE's style. It truly is just a marvel to behold and it's little wonder that this manga inspired such a good looking animated series.
One Punch Man is one of the best shonen manga I've read in years. It's got a great premise that starts strong straight from the beginning and looks great to boot. Anyone who wants a proper superhero comedy or a genuinely great shonen manga need not look any further.
This series is published by Viz. This series is ongoing in Japan with 10 volumes currently available. 3 volumes have been published so far and all are currently in print. It is also currently available in e-book form through Viz.com and anthologized in Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha.
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