Just like American comics, Japanese anime and manga have their characters with their own unique super powers. The notion of super powers can be traced back to the mythologies of many ancient cultures. The Greek Gods had super powers, Moses had super powers, and Jesus had super powers. Such stories would actually influence the super heroes of today, most notably Superman, which took influence from The Torah, or The Hebrew Bible, or as Christians would call it, The Old Testament (while modern media takes more influence from Jesus). Between then and now, some characters had the ability to fly, exhibit super strength, super speed, telekinesis, and just about anything you can name of.
With comic heroes popularizing such fantasies, it was only a matter of time that anime and manga would take its spin on it. Just like their Western counterparts, characters in anime and manga possess similar super powers and origins. Some characters got their powers through an accident, some were born with them, and some received their powers from somebody else. Pretty much anything you read in mythology and Western comics where super powers are involved can be applied to anime, but knowing anime, it contributes its own creative take on it.
Some heroes gain their powers through genetics, and this goes back to Superman. As a Krypotonian, he can gain God-like powers when he’s exposed to the sun of our solar system. Then there are those that inherit their powers as a “chosen one,” as expressed in Shazam, with how Billy Baston received his powers from his predecessor. For the past generation, anime and manga have taken its interpretation of these notions with its style of creativity.
Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
- Episodes: 63+
- Aired: April 3, 2016 – Ongoing
One present day anime a good number of fans enjoy is My Hero Academia. In the universe of this anime, a majority of the population are simply born with a super power, or “quirk (or “kosei” in Japanese).” A majority of the characters have just about everything you can think of. Some characters have super speed, some have the power to make objects, make people float, some can manipulate elements, and so on. One exception to the rule is the hero, Izuku Midoriya. Thankfully, fate changes when he meets the world’s most famous hero, All Might.
This encounter also shares the element of how some heroes receive their powers from someone else. Just like how Billy Baston received the powers of Shazam through his predecessor, Izuku received his powers from All Might, which mostly consists of super strength, speed, and endurance. Ultimately, this series also teaches the famous saying by Uncle Ben from Spider-Man, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility,” since Izuku is set to become the next All Might and has trouble grasping his new quirk. Just like any other skill, having a super power takes years of training to masterfully apply it, and the world of My Hero Academia thankfully has educational institutions dedicated to such things.
Mob Psycho 100
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: July 11, 2016 – April 1, 2019
With Izuku’s powers more physical in nature, what about powers with the use of the mind? That’s where Mob Psycho 100 comes in. Shigeo, the main character, always had his ESP, which is very connected to his emotions. Due to this connection it could be catastrophic depending on his emotional state, so he does his best to keep himself under control to the point that people find him boring (to the point that he got the nickname Mob, or Mobu, meaning a background character). If anything, he wishes he never had his powers! Like Saitama and Izuku, Mob is motivated to do the right thing but believes in the privacy of others, but as his rabbit hole goes deeper, he starts to learn the value of his unique gifts and still find a way to protect his loved ones and stand behind his principles.
Some people are born with their powers, and there are those that were chosen by a greater force. What about people who get their powers by accident? This is commonly seen through Marvel’s stories in the 1960s such as Spider-Man, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four. Even before Marvel took this approach, DC used this trope for the Barry Allen version of The Flash. So, where does anime fit here?
- Episodes: 880+
- Aired: October 20, 1999 - Ongoing
That’s where Luffy from One Piece comes in. As a child, he ate the gomu gomu fruit out of spite and it changed his body forever. Gomu, meaning rubber in Japanese, pretty much turned Luffy’s body into that very substance. In a way, he’s essentially Reed Richards from the Fantastic 4 without the scientific genius he has. Through Luffy’s situation, you see how his powers have its up and down sides, but still pretty exciting and useful. His powers give him great offensive capabilities and he is immune to lightning, but put him in the water and he’s useless despite living a life out at sea.
We have to admit that super powers through the supernatural is a unique thing in itself. Super powers aren’t just exclusive to humans, but non-humans as well. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with having powers at birth but goes in a different direction. Instead of humans, what about creatures from mythology and folklore? As we shared in our intro, mythologies and religious texts of ancient cultures are the original super power stories and anime has taken its own spin on their own culture.
- Episodes: 193
- Aired: October 16, 2000 – March 30, 2010
Through Inuyasha, we learn that superpowers aren’t exclusive to humans, but creatures of the night, meaning demons (or youkai) as well. For most of the demons, especially Inuyasha, they have super strength, speed, and superior combat abilities. Not only that, they pretty much don’t age. However, with the Shikon no Tama shattered, whenever a demon or human has a shard of it, it increases their natural abilities. With Kouga, a demon wolf, it has amplified his speed to the point that whenever he runs, he can create tornadoes. Then there are creatures that take influence from Japanese folklore such as foxes, who specialize at mischief with their ability to shape shift. With Naraku, the main villain, though he was initially a human, his original human form sacrificed his body to demons to make him who he is to give him frightening superpowers to the point that he’s almost immortal.
In many stories in relation to those getting superpowers, no matter what medium they’re told in, they can be expressed in many ways that we’ve seen the past 80 years over and over again. While they’re relatively similar in nature, the stories in regards to how the characters receive and what they do with them are different. We’ve seen them many times since our childhood and creators have to find fresh ways in expressing such stories and it doesn’t matter if they’re from Japan, the US, Africa, Europe, Australia, or the Middle East or Mars. Anime in its own right has found its own creative ways in expressing these stories based on their own artistic styles and cultures. Even after 80 years, Superman is still in publication and still has media based around him. However, with characters like Gokuu introduced into the mix, it brings a different level of imagination of having characters with powers akin to Superman and this distinguishing creativity that has amazed audiences for the past 20 years is what ultimately defines anime in relation to superpowers.