Why Do We Criticise Main Characters For Being Overpowered?

I know right from the start of writing this article that I’m going to step on some toes but this is an argument that comes up time and time again and I decided I wanted to discuss this.

Why is an overpowered main character considered a bad thing?

Admittedly, I do like anime where the underdog comes forward and finally overcomes the seemingly unbeatable peril, but that doesn’t mean every main character has to be a wimp or a developing hero. It’s nice sometimes to have someone competent, in control, and at times even confident to follow along on their quest. In those instances, it isn’t tension that you are wanting to experience but rather the satisfaction of seeing someone overcome a challenge in a fairly capable manner. So, different emotional payoff but still entertaining, right?

Only it seems there is a very vocal group on the internet that seem to think that an overpowered MC exists only as a plot device and can’t possibly be an interesting character. While they are entitled to their opinion, and if an anime that features a strong main character isn’t for them, so be it, why do they feel the need to berate anyone who feels differently or to tear down these anime?

superman

Before we get into anime characters that seem overpowered, I would like to point out the most overpowered character of all time, Superman. Seriously, there is only one thing in the entire world that can even slow him down and its ridiculously hard to come across (unless you are a B Grade villain living in Metropolis in which case it seems you will find it every time you sneeze). And with nothing that can actually harm him, let’s be honest there is very little reason to ever feel concerned about the outcome of a battle. His girlfriend died and he turned back time to save her (didn’t worry about all the other victims though).

One of my favourite characters in anime is Sebastian from Black Butler, but by every definition he is overpowered. At no point in the series do you feel he is actually in any danger, and by association there is little that will actually endanger the protagonist of the series, Ciel.

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Does that take any fun out of the series? Does it mean it is pointless to watch because you know Sebastian is going to win the fight and finish with s smug smile, usually while polishing something, and then give a cheesy line about being “one hell of a butler”? I didn’t think so. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the series and the fact that not every conflict could be solved simply through pointing Sebastian at it and saying ‘defeat’. Sure, the outcome of any conflicts were inevitable, but the process of getting to that victory was usually quite amusing to watch and it made for a very satisfying experience.

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And Sebastian never complains. Or cries. Or pleas for more power. There are no training montages, no wise advisers showing up, or even friendly rivals (at least not in the first season). All of these clichés that occur in anime where the protagonist is still developing and not overpowered can be removed because what on earth will our character learn from them? They are already strong so most of their learning comes about themselves or other people rather than combat.

Another character who seems to take hits for being overpowered all the time is Kirito from Sword Art Online. Firstly, why is he considered overpowered? He nearly dies in every single battle and fails fairly regularly to protect those he is trying to save, which takes a fairly heavy emotional toll on him. The fact that he manages in most instances to save his own life doesn’t make him overpowered.

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While some haters argue that knowing Kirito will win a fight makes it pointless to watch. Unless you seriously haven’t ever watched or read any kind of story before, of course the main character is going to win. They only ever lose if it serves a greater purpose in the plot. So knowing he’s going to win doesn’t make him overpowered either.

Kirito isn’t always confident of victory, and he doesn’t walk needlessly into danger or expose himself to harm. He trains hard and he works with other characters – who admittedly get sidelined in critical battles to show off how amazing Kirito is but that’s a whole other discussion – and lastly, he continues to grow and develop as a character (which is another key criticism of him that he doesn’t develop). While his growth is subtle, it most certainly is occurring.

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Remember back in the very first episode of SAO when Kirito realised that the game was real and that he could die. The fear he felt and the way it nearly overwhelmed him. And that emotion led him to the conclusion that he had to get strong and had to survive. Then as the series progressed he realises that mere survival won’t be enough. He has to find a way to live. And then he helps other characters realise that they can find a way to live as well. Kirito may become an exceptionally strong character, but he doesn’t just blink and get that way. And I personally found his journey very interesting even knowing he wouldn’t die.

Lastly, I’d like to bring up Tatsuya Shiba from The Irregular at Magic High School. He is totally overpowered in almost every conflict he is involved in. And even though that is blatantly apparent to the audience the rest of the cast that inhabit his world are a little slower on the uptake. Does that make him boring to watch? Not at all. Tatsuya is fantastic to see in action.

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Here is a character who exudes calm and confidence in every situation. I would say the issues come more from his lack of personality than from him being overpowered. And once again, it isn’t as though he is never in any danger or never injured. And it isn’t that the people around him aren’t put in danger or injured. The fact that he is going to win a fight doesn’t make it any less exhilarating to watch.

So, while I will admit that an overpowered main character can cause some plot problems (for instance the increasingly ridiculous ways they will try to make villains or situations that do challenge them), having an overpowered MC is not an instant sign that an anime is flawed, terrible, or without a story.

I guess it all comes down to why you are watching the story and what you are after. If you want nail biting tension and uncertainty in a battle’s outcome, certainly these overpowered main characters won’t be for you. But if you are after something else, there may be quite a bit of enjoyment to be found.

Share your thoughts. Do you like or hate overpowered characters? Who are your favourite/most hated overpowered characters?


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23 thoughts on “Why Do We Criticise Main Characters For Being Overpowered?

  1. Overpowered doesn’t have to be bad, it just has to be kept interesting. Like, I found Superman boring in the stories where he was pretty unbeatable and straight up doing the right thing, but I enjoy the stories where he has more clear flaws on display. Sticking with DC, it would be easy to say John Constantine is overpowered, but he’s so flawed that it’s hard not to be itnerested in him in my eyes.
    With anime, again, it depends how it’s done, I think. I loved BOFURI despite Maple being ridiculously overpowered. The whole thing was set up to be entertaining though, and Maple was a delight rather than dull.

  2. I’ll echo what some others have said. I dont think the overpowered character is the main problem (most of the shows I watched as a kid, the main characters ended up that way by the end of the show.). The bigger issue is keeping it interesting. I love that you pointed out Superman. Some of his writers over the years have found ways to keep things exciting. However, compare him to Spiderman and it is obvious why people like Spiderman more. Hes just more compelling. I read volume 1 of One Punch Man and while it was good, I wasnt motivated to read another. I’m sure it got better as the series went on. I just had no interest, in part to his sheer power.

    1. Yeah, I enjoyed seasone one of One Punch Man but just couldn’t get into season 2. The whole joke of him defeating everything on One Punch had already played out enough in the first season and there just wasn’t enough else on the show to keep me warching particularly with the less exciting animation on offer in season 2.

  3. Whether a character is OP or not really isn’t the issue. The key is for the author to still find ways to create conflict and tension that will keep the audience engaged, even with their OP character.

    Take Vash the Stampede from Trigun, for instance. Vash is totally OP. He has superhuman speed and reflexes and his aim with a gun is absolutely flawless. In a straight-up fight to the death with him no other character in the series would stand a chance. So how do you create dramatic tension with a character like that? Trigun’s author solved that problem by making Vash a complete pacifist, who not only refuses to kill anyone but won’t let anyone else do any killing either, if he can prevent it. Meanwhile the bad guys not only have no qualms about killing anyone and anything that moves, they’re also fully aware of Vash’s philosophy. Now you have tension, because he can’t just win his fights, he has to win in a way that doesn’t compromise his moral principles, while the people he’s fighting are prepared to use that against him every chance they get.

  4. My favourite thing about Overlord and Demon Lord is when people who thought they were immensely strong attack them and realize that they are nothing in comparison. That reaction never seems to get old.

    I too can’t understand the criticism levelled at Kirito. It was all there. We saw his fears push him to get stronger and become who he was.

    As far as overpowered characters not being able to die, there are still plenty of obstacles for them to overcome if the story is done right.

  5. I’ve never hated Kirito or SAO the same way some people do (I actually like SAO as a whole), but I also don’t think Kirito is much of a character either. I agree that having a really powerful MC isn’t a problem on its own, but Kirito doesn’t get much development outside of the first three episodes (and a bit of GGO) and isn’t that interesting on his own when he’s not being cool. I liked him best the way he was in Mother’s Rosario, since he got a chance to be cool but didn’t have to carry the story beyond that.

  6. Ah, I never saw this because at this time I hadn’t been blogging regularly yet! I still love Kirito, even if I called him OP. You make great arguments against it though; still love him though! 😀

  7. An overpowered main character is never a problem in and on itself. Most times people think it’s a problem and overreact to it. Since being on the Internet means being anonymous, this allows them say things however they want, without thinking twice. This is understandably annoying, but such is the way of the Internet. A main character that is overpowered can be well-loved too, like Saitama from One Punch Man.

  8. I disagree with your point on kirito. I felt he was a boring charctar. As he was a loner for no reason other than being a Beta tester, which made no sense. He is better than everyone at the game for no reason. Has the entire female SAO on his dick for no reason. I just felt that his charctar made little sense and was very bland and boring.

    Sorry if I don’t really elaborate and explain the details and give examples. I could maybe make blog post about this. I just feel that too much has been said on this already and I would be repeating already made points.

  9. You pretty much hit it on the head for me: I watch an anime for good characters and good plot, so an over powered MC doesn’t bother me as long as they are interesting and dynamic. It’s the same reason why I don’t really care about seeing spoilers for major plot points, because I care more about the journey, and how the characters get there and develop. I feel like people don’t like it more when the main character is OP and bland, or their OP-ness is what is dragging down the plot or making the story lackluster, but on the whole over powered MC’s really don’t bother me at all.

    1. I agree with your point about spoilers. Even knowing what is going to happen if the journey is worth it then that doesn’t matter. That said, major plot twists in concluding episodes really should be identified before saying them because it does take some of the excitement out of some series.
      Thanks for sharing.

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