While the Japanese equivalents of superheroes have been common in anime and manga for decades, more recently we have seen titles that draw direct inspiration from the American ‘”spandex and capes” aesthetic. Titles such as Tiger & Bunny, One Punch Man, Don’t Meddle in My Daughter (NSFW), and currently My Hero Academia refer to their good guys as “heroes,” their bad guys as “villains,” and just overall show the impact of both Marvel and DC’s superhero films on Japanese pop culture. If One Punch Man and its hero Saitama can be thought of as a take on Superman through the lens of manga, then My Hero Academia can be considered a Japanese cultural translation of Captain America.
Midoriya Izuku, the main protagonist of My Hero Academia, dreams of being just like his idol: the red, white, and blue-clad hero All Might. Despite superpowers (known as “Quirks” in the manga) being incredibly common in his world, however, Izuku discovers that he has not inherited any, which all but crushes his aspirations.
When a supervillain holds Izuku’ classmate hostage, Izuku rushes in despite being hopelessly outclassed because he feels compelled to help. Seeing this display of courage, All Might confers onto Izuku his own power, allowing Izuku to become a superhero. All Might explains that, while Izuku does not have the natural ability to fight, he has the heart of a hero. Whereas many others are born with power, Izuku understands what it means to be weak.
These actions by Izuku draw parallels with those of Captain America, particularly his portrayal in the recent Marvel films. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is a literal 98 lb. weakling who wants to fight for the United States in World War II. Although outmatched by everyone around him, he displays his courage even before he becomes Captain America, such as when he jumps onto a grenade to protect his fellow recruits from the blast (all of the other soldiers jump away). Like Izuku, Steve is given the Super Soldier formula because he shows a heroic spirit, believes in helping others, and does not take power for granted.
What really cements My Hero Academia as taking a note from Captain America is All Might himself. Like Steve, he is a scrawny weakling who bulks up into an impressive physical specimen while also sporting an American motif (All Might’s attacks are all named after the 50 states). All Might has blond hair, and is intentionally drawn in a more “American superhero” style compared to the other more traditionally anime-esque designs of the other characters. Last but not least, when we first see All Might, he is wearing a white t-shirt and brown pants before swelling up to massive proportions, just like how Steve Rogers changes when he becomes a Super Soldier.
Neither My Hero Academia nor Captain America are solely about the idea that only a hero who has the heart first is most deserving. As each series moves forward, both meet a wide variety of heroes with different circumstances who show that they can be just as courageous as anyone else. What makes both Midoriya Izuku and Steve Rogers special is the message that people like them, be they real or fictional, carry the greatest capacity for fighting for the sake of the powerless.