Shonen Jump’s identity has always been built around stories about growth, trying to foster manga about overcoming challenges and youthful heroes who come into their own. While a lot of their published works take place in school settings, only a scant few make good use of the location to have a running education theme. Of the titles that do use the theme, it’s hard to argue that the best-known of these series in today’s market is My Hero Academia, a runaway manga hit that takes its inspiration from superhero comics and follows a class of super-powered teens who are learning how to be full-blown heroes.
It fits in the classic Jump mold: a battle-focused series about becoming stronger, while facing villains that represent an ideological opposite extreme. Moreover, the series ran with those core ideas with great success. That said, while education is a core theme of the series, it’s mainly there as the method of having the characters grow and interact with each other. The series itself isn’t about education or learning, but rather self-improvement and becoming a valuable member of a greater society. After all, it’s a series about young heroes, so the focus of their growth is on how to embody that selfless persona for the sake of others. It’s education for the larger group, not the individual entirely.
This is very different from the 2006 to 2008 Jump series Mx0, which also dealt with teens learning to harness their supernatural powers at a special school. Rather than focus on superheroes, this series instead revolves around magic users. It didn’t really have any sort of major villains or ideological battles, but instead opted to focus on its protagonist’s growth as a person, and his embracing a desire for education because of an interest to learn for learning’s sake. Society doesn’t play a large role, but instead serves as a backdrop for a story of personal growth. Both titles share similar set-up but go in wildly different directions, playing with some similar ideas and reaching different conclusions. Let’s compare how they tackle the core Shonen Jump idea of personal growth to their given education themes, and how they end up in completely different places.
My Hero Academia follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya and Class 1-A of U.A. High School, an academy dedicated to training future heroes. The world had a mass awakening to superpowers, known as “quirks,” a few decades before the series started. Deku, sadly, was born without one. It’s not until Deku gets a quirk passed down from the world’s greatest hero, All-Might, that he ends up in this new world and chases after his dream to be a hero.
Said power, All for One, gives Deku super strength. Using it without focus, though, damages his body. Because of this, Deku’s goal changes as he must learn how to control the ability and use it effectively. As the series goes on, the class faces a wide number of powerful villains, complicating things and turning the world into a more dangerous and morally messy place.
Mx0 gets off to a similar start, with protagonist Taiga Kuzumi being a powerless teenager who ends up in a secret school for magic users. Taiga, though, is not a wide-eyed dreamer like Deku. Rather, he’s a brash punk who doesn’t think anything through. He applies to Seinagi Private High School without really being aware of what it actually is, and believes he ended up failing to get in due to the clumsiness of a girl named Aika Hiiragi.
Taiga tries to sneak in to vent at her, only to fall for her and end up chased around campus by a magic-wielding teacher. Due to the odd rules of the school, he manages to get in despite breaking in. Due to Taiga’s inability to use magic, though, the teacher who chased him decides to help his new student cheat a bit while he learns the basics. Taiga also receives the M0 magic plate, giving him a special ability to create an anti-magic field that he ends up using in creative ways to fool his classmates and further his magic studies.
While the two titles share a similar foundation, outside Taiga and Deku’s very different personalities, they quickly diverge past that point. Each series embodies three core themes that contrast with each other, which illustrate the very different world views that My Hero Academia creator Kohei Horikoshi and Mx0 creator Yasuhiro Kanō have and embedded into their series to provide vastly different ways of embodying the classic Shonen Jump spirit.
Being based on superhero fiction, it’s not surprising to discover that probably the most important theme running through My Hero Academia is “responsibility.” Much of the later series focuses on its young heroes learning to use their powers for the good of their city and country and to become protectors and rescuers of humanity.
The students’ powers are treated as something of immense gravity, which need to be learned and understood in order to best protect the population, and avoid harming themselves and others. Deku’s growth is often shown in his discovering how to use the All For One quirk to avoid harming his own body, for example. In the light, education holds a purpose for the betterment of society, and is something necessary for a peaceful world to exist.
Mx0 serves as a contrast to My Hero Academia’s lofty worldview with its focus on “interest.” Magic isn’t treated as something vital to society, rather simply as another realm of knowledge. There are hints here and there of bigger things happening in the world, but the series is otherwise focused on an almost slice-of-life structure, as characters give their magic a personal flavor from what they learn.
Taiga’s arc, specifically, is based on his growing interest in magic. The series starts off with the boy wanting to learn magic so he can make his crush Aika happy. It isn’t long before he starts to feel guilty about having to lie to everyone about being a magic prodigy. By the end of the manga’s run, Taiga simply wants to learn magic because it’s genuinely interesting to him. He doesn’t feel like he needs to learn magic anymore, but he still wants to, out of a raw interest in the subject.
Further, My Hero Academia maintains a strong interest in competition and rivalries, putting a major focus on “accomplishment.” All the young heroes are competing with each other, and through heavy conflict, they grow and become better at using their powers, and grow as people. It’s how Deku gets Todoroki to open up to those around him during the hero games arc, and Deku himself starts to better understand his powers through these conflicts, mainly by observing how others manage their own. All of the students are trying to prove their worth to their teachers, their peers, and themselves, which is shown through exams, tournaments, and occasional fights between the kids, themselves. In this light, education is pushed through a two-tiered structure of competition and comparison.
Everything feeds back into the core theme of responsibility, as the cast comes together and clashes with each other, slowly growing through these experiences to become better heroes. The drive to improve pushes the characters, with the only Bakugo’s arc presenting this theme in a negative light. Bakugo is obsessed with being the best, which is presented as a major character flaw. His motivation leads to aggressive and egotistic behavior that often alienates him from the other students. Even then, this still works in service to the theme, as it portrays accomplishments and achievements as something to accomplish for others, not just oneself.
On the flip side, Mx0 doesn’t put much stock in being particularly talented. Instead, the title offers a sort of “exploration” theme under the surface. Taiga learns more about magic and his own odd anti-magic starting powers through a series of lessons. Much of these lessons, not coincidentally, tend to focus on creative applications of these abilities. The boy’s accomplishments aren’t presented as something done for the sake of making Taiga stronger or to elevate him to some sort of hero status. Rather, they’re simply framed as his main goals of belonging in the school, with the added benefit of it being an interesting subject for him. His unique methods of anti-magic, like creating invisible constructs to have different utility for different types of magic, are unique ideas that often arise from Taiga, himself.
A large variety of magic fields and abilities are shown through the series, and all of the characters have signature styles of magic that feed into this idea of exploring one’s passions. Magic is almost treated like art in some spots, something fluid and a unique method of expression for those who practice it, albeit with additional practical applications thrown in. In plain English, it’s as if everyone is an inventor, but they’re making devices simply to satisfy their own wants and desires. Furthermore, education is treated as something personal, a way to grow as a person by expanding one’s own horizons and getting more in touch with oneself through a new method of expression.
Lastly, My Hero Academia has a strong “community” theme. Most decisions made by the heroes are for the sake of what’s best for society. The villains, meanwhile, tend to act from more personal perspectives or hatreds as they lie about any sort of altruistic motive. It’s from these two differing philosophies that smaller communities begin to arise within each faction, which feeds into what everyone believes based on what each individual member contributes.
The idea of a community is treated as a more toxic element among the majority of the villain factions. Typically, these groups have a boss they follow mainly out of fear, with the only major exception being Shigaraki later in the series. Instead, Shigaraki’s influence is presented as a stand-in for extremist ideas and movements. His group becomes a sort of family that shares a common ideal and goal, albeit with a flawed answer to the problems they see. They’re a dark inverse to Deku’s class, who find themselves challenged upon seeing the darker aspects of society, as more and more people question the infallibility of heroes.
The one constant throughout the title, though, is that community is shown as a way to grow. People come together, raise each other up, and support those in their circles in hard times. And, over time, those bonds define you. To the people of My Hero Academia, it takes a village to raise a single child, which it treats as a sort of universal law as the series shows the positive and negative outcomes of this approach. Both Deku and Shigaraki’s teams learn over the course of the series by interacting with each other, and it slowly turns each group into the key players on the world’s stage. Community is everything, and education at U.A. is structured around it.
Mx0 also highlights the importance of interacting with others to grow, but it’s less interested in a theme of unity or community and more focused on the concept of “interaction.” Taiga does grow as the series goes on due to his interactions with the other characters, but there’s no greater focus on his place in a group. Instead, simply maintaining contact with his fellow classmates helps the boy empathize with others. Ultimately, he learns more about himself, rather than ways that he can support others. This is made particularly apparent when one looks at Taiga’s lessons, the majority which are private affairs due to his unusual circumstances. As a result, he exists and learns within a very different environment from Deku’s collegial experience at U.A. High.
Taiga gets a lot of time to reflect on his own motivations, what he really desires, and how he can best use his special abilities. This is a sharp contrast to Deku, whose major breakthroughs primarily arise from seeing how other members of his class use their quirks, which he then applies to his own. There’s a layer of self-reflection that Taiga explores, which is extremely rare in My Hero Academia. Moreover, Taiga’s time in school helps to put him in a place where he has enough structure to stop and consider things he never did before as he goes through lessons.
For Taiga, knowledge itself is the primary source of his growth and self-improvement. As the series progresses, he becomes more in touch with himself, and acts less out of impulse and more out of wanting to accomplish a personal goal. He loses interest in being the best, and instead wishes to become more like his classmates, in the sense that they all have their own individual styles of magic. He isn’t thinking about how best to be a part of society, but simply wants to do what the society around him is doing. In short, Taiga seeks to better define himself on his own terms, and not what other people define him as.
Deku, meanwhile, wants to be a great hero, to find validation from others, but Taiga’s journey has him trying to find validation in himself. For him, education is a means to an end, a way to get better at something. In particular, it’s a course of action that allows him to better fit in with a world filled with quirk users and to help people. For Taiga, education is a means of self-definition, to better understand himself and grow as a person, to chase after something that he finds interesting instead of being something he needs.
Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia focuses on society and how education is a key part of creating citizens who can help make it better for everyone. Kanou’s Mx0, instead, argues that education is key to self-growth and expanding one’s horizons, and true education is not about accomplishment or utility, but exploring personal possibilities.
One is the thesis of a worker, the other of an artist or creative. In this light, both series are fascinating in their different approaches. Regardless of whether the views taken are from a conservative or progressive lens, both titles agree that education is extremely important. The fruit of knowledge makes us all better, and that’s worth remembering.