My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia) is a great example of taking a familiar genre and not only making it original, but paying homage to material that inspired it. Comics are a medium well suited to this. Often artists will put little tributes in their work as a means of recognizing things that inspired them–little details that would be overlooked by some readers, but cherished easter eggs to comic readers. These details can include things such as stylistic choices, mimicking famous genre panels, names of places, or even names of characters. Western comic artists love to put in tributes to comics like Tin-Tin and early romance comics. My Hero Academia is no exception to this rule. It is however one of the few mangas that I have read in recent years that I have actively recognized the references to. It tips its hat to famous superhero comics and sci-fi movies, all the while still keeping an air of originality and freshness.
My Hero Academia is, in a way, a modernized reinterpretation of some of the concepts in X-Men. It doesn’t actively look at some of the same issues as the X-Men comics did (race and the rights of others are a massive part of the X-Men), but it does ask the question of what would happen to a society of superhuman powers developed. How would society change if suddenly the norm was to be superpowered? Rules are set, heroes are regulated, and villains step in to challenge the laws shouting anarchy and freedom. It is the answer to Marvel’s Civil War arc, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The manga often makes great arguments about why such a society would need to be regulated in order to prevent chaos or a world where those with the stronger quirk rule. I won’t go into this further since this thread of thought would unfortunately lead into a lot of spoilers.
For the purposes of this post, I will mostly be covering the major references which are homages to the superhero genre, looking specifically at All Might. As far as characters go, All Might is amazing. All Might is made up of all of the best aspects of an ideal superhero (specifically, in my opinion, Superman, although I have seen arguments that he is like Captain America) and then comes into his own character through the additions humanity and conflict in his story. Looking strictly at his design, he stands in stark contrast to the other characters in the manga. In his hero form, his lines are heavy and his eyes all but disappear thanks to his large grin or heavy shadows. He has a strong jaw and a physical presence/silhouette that is unlike most of the other characters in the series, even the ones who are supposed to be physically strong. Kōhei Horikoshi is no stranger to American superhero comics, citing that he is familiar with them and Spiderman in particular. In an interview, Horikoshi explained, “To me, when mentioning the title hero, [Spiderman] is the only hero that I think of, that defines the title. The concept of BnHA is built around that hero in mind, a hero to me is somebody that helps and brings reassurance to others”.¹ This is evident in All Might’s personality. In contrast to his Superman-esc appearance, he has an all too human attitude with human problems, but he continues to push through his own troubles in order to be that perfect hero that the people need, not unlike Spiderman. This attitude is further amplified and exemplified in Midoriya, who chooses to have “great power and great responsibility”. In a time where “edgy” superheroes are the norm, it is exceedingly refreshing to have characters like All Might and Midoriya who go back to the early superhero comic roots about what it means to be a hero while still managing to have complex stories.
Despite being a manga, My Hero Academia feels as though it belongs with the long line of superhero comics that have spanned since the 1930s. It manages to pay tribute to the genre while also managing to be its own standalone work. It will be interesting to see how this story fits in with the superhero comic canon going forward and whether or not it will become mainstream with comic readers, not just manga readers.
[A few other references that I noticed while reading that didn’t quite fit into the main post due to topic of lack of research on my part (I have never read Tin-Tin for instance, so I can’t comment on the personality of Mirio vs. Tin-Tin, even if I can comment on his appearance) include things such as the Tin-Tin-esc appearance of Mirio Togata and Kal-El as a hero agency. One reddit user, sleepybullmoose, suggested that Bakugo has references to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbs (they make a very interesting argument for this that I recommend reading).]