There are many reasons My Hero Academia is successful, among them a diverse cast of characters, a world of action and discovery, and an overall sense of positivity that can be downright infectious. One aspect of the series that I think cannot be underestimated is the charm and appeal of the main character, Izuku Midoriya, aka Deku. While the notion of a boy who fulfills his latent potential through hard work and a sense of goodness is not uncommon in shounen manga, Deku’s appeal also comes from how his character stands at a crossroads of both shounen protagonist and superhero archetypes.
Deku possesses qualities in common with shounen manga heroes throughout history. His sense of righteousness reminds me of stoic yet passionate Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star from the 1980s. His impetuousness is reminiscent of Naruto and One Piece’s Luffy from the turn of the millennium. At the same time, Deku’s gentle temperament and adorable reactions—qualities that can often keep him out of the spotlight in his own story—are more in line with recent heroes like Kuroko Tetsuya from Kuroko’s Basketball and Onoda Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal. Deku is adventurous without being gung ho, thoughtful without being overly passive. In other words, there’s something for everyone to love about him.
When it comes to Deku as a superhero, he can be seen as an intersection between two of the most popular superheroes of all time: Batman and Superman. At the beginning of My Hero Academia, Deku dreams of being a great hero but discovers that, in a society where most people have superpowers (“Quirks”), he has none. In an effort to hold onto his dream, Deku dedicates himself to taking notes on his favorite heroes’ strengths and weaknesses, and how he would use their abilities. At the turning point of his origin story, Deku gains the Quirk known as “One for All,” an immense ability that is symbolic of truth and justice in his world. Deku’s path is like if Batman managed to obtain Superman’s powers, his perspective a synthesis of both heroes’ perspectives. Thus, while Batman fans and Supermans are often divided, both sides can potentially see merit in Deku as a hero.
While any hero that can be described as “Batman plus Superman,” risks fan backlash from being overly perfect, it’s Deku’s personality—that mix of brashness and thoughtfulness that makes him such an ideal middle ground for shounen heroes—which prevents him from feeling like a tired power fantasy. The Superman-like qualities of his personality and abilities often conflict with his more Batman-esque “prep time” mindset, which means that Deku can have a difficult time deciding if it’s better to sit back and think, or spring into action. This tendency to either over think or underthink gives him a very understandable weakness, rendering him more human than demi-god.
Deku is a character that people can both relate to and look up to. He possesses admirable qualities from all generations of shounen heroes, as well as a mind and body that people of thought and people of action can get behind. He’s also just plain adorable; an underdog whose success comes from perseverance and a kind heart. It’s for these reasons that Deku is likely to endure as a popular hero for years to come.