At its core, the popular manga and anime series One-Punch Man is a big, good-natured parody that subverts the tropes common in other action-oriented anime franchises that feature heroes constantly striving to reach new levels of power to save the day against ever-escalating threats with the fate of humanity in the balance. With its protagonist Saitama, One-Punch Man has the most ridiculously overpowered heroes of them all but the bigger, self-effacing parody character in the anime is actually his protege, the cybernetic hero Genos.
Since debuting in the series' second episode, Genos has already become a cyborg and hunted the monstrous Mosquito Queen as she cuts a murderous path across the city, draining the blood out of everyone she encounters. Despite being fitted with powerful cybernetic upgrades, Genos is no match for the Mosquito Queen and is only saved by the timely intervention of Saitama who obliterates the blood-sucking villain with a single mighty blow. In awe of the unassuming hero's abilities, Genos swears to become Saitama's loyal student.
As with many wayward figures, Genos begins to recount has tragic history to his new mentor, including how his family was murdered by a rampaging cyborg before Genos decided to become a cyborg himself to avenge them. It is an origin story that feels like a tried and true product of decades of superhero fiction, with the idea of a tragic origin informing a character's decision to literally become something greater. Where the subversion begins is that Saitama is not at all interested in Genos' backstory, finding it boring and cutting off his new protege while reluctantly agreeing to take him on
As Season 1 continues, Genos follows the more traditional, idealized hero arc: He's more handsomeand appears more powerful than Saitama causing him to become ranked as an S-class hero upon his initial entry into the Hero Association while Saitama enters at the C-rank, the lowest professional ranking in the organization. Despite the vaunted reputation, whenever Genos attempts to declare his heroic motivations to the world, he is constantly interrupted or ignored. Those around him unimpressed by his deep conviction and it's a bit of a recurring joke.
The idea that a cybernetic superhero, with all the requisite powerful and cool-looking super moves, would earnestly consult Saitama for training, balking at learning how his mentor gained his immense power is a sly wink at longtime anime and superhero fiction fans. His tragic backstory, conventional powerset, and cool appearance would've made Genos an ideal protagonist in most properties but here, he's dismissed regularly. This inversions continues into Season 2, with Genos learning that the cyborg that killed his family is still active before that major plot thread fades into the background, largely unaddressed.
Just as Saitama gets ready to leave the majority of an epic battle to his protege, he remembers Genos' tendency to get horribly defeated and decides to suit back up.
With its colorful cast of heroes and monsters, it's easy to forget that One-Punch Man, at its core, is a comedic parody of other anime properties and their approach to the superhero genre. Couched in all the hard-hitting action is a loving send-up of the genre's tropes. Some are especially apparent with ridiculous superhero alter egos while others are subtle turns of phrase. The biggest recurring joke on that regard is the walking parody Genos, overly earnest and with a tragic backstory that, ultimately, just doesn't matter. And with all the gags in every episode of One-Punch Man, the series' funniest joke is the one that plays it completely straight.
Produced by J.C. Staff, new episodes of One-Punch Man debut every Tuesday on Hulu.