What makes for an engrossing story? Characters with interesting problems to solve, interesting solutions to problems, or a combination of both. Even the weakest or most overpowered characters becomes interesting if those attributes apply. Today we’ll look into said overpowered characters, in particular, succeed or fail at the task of serving an engrossing story.
Four anime series help illustrate this point: One-Punch Man, The Misfit of Demon King Academy, KonoSuba, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. We’ll start with One-Punch Man as an example of both interesting problems and interesting solutions up to par with the incalculable power of its protagonist.
Note: Limited spoiler territory beyond this point, though mostly only general premises and plot patterns.
The titular character, Saitama, is nigh-impervious and can defeat any foe with a single punch. This premise would make for a dull story if that was the whole of it, but One-Punch Man paints a much broader picture.
Most of the actual action consists of battles between an exceptionally eccentric cast of superpowered characters with a huge range of strength and ability against an absurd variety of superior foes. These driven characters can go all out on every major fight, never pulling punches, and still face the real threat of death. When Saitama does arrive, the tables turn and the former villain becomes the new underdog. They do everything in their power to defeat this bald, implacable enemy amid the inevitability of annihilation. The pattern repeats and we look forward to the growth of cleverness, power, and character development with each new chapter.
And Saitama himself feels the most relatable of agonies: missing grocery sales, forgetting trash day, sensitivity about his receded hairline, ennui, and other human concerns. And his fists, no matter how powerful, can’t solve any of these problems. Nevertheless, he shows uncommon character (and/or laziness) by never abusing said power. Instead, his powers lead to all kinds of social consequences and even outright failures. We root for him as we would want someone to root for ourselves when we make the very same mistakes.
On top of all this, we see the nigh-vulnerability and obscene power of what could be Saitama’s one true match loom larger and larger in the background. The prospect of Saitami facing a real, concrete threat makes the wait feel worth it and far more so than some abstract threat.
One-Punch Man provides interesting problems and interesting solutions in a way that knocks it out of the park at making an overpowered character and their story interesting. It’s an excellent example of keeping and otherwise one-note story interesting.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about The Misfit of Demon King Academy as an example of other ways to keep an overpowered character and their challenges interesting.