Hero’s Journey in Anime – How Some Anime Shatter This Trope

Article at a glance:

  • Hero’s Journey Defined: Exploring the classic three-stage narrative structure of dissatisfaction, journey, and return, commonly found in beloved shonen anime like Naruto.
  • Subversions and Deconstructions: Highlighting anime such as Evangelion, Berserk, and Death Note, which defy or dismantle traditional hero narratives, showcasing protagonists burdened by their roles or driven by personal vendettas rather than growth.
  • One Punch Man’s Comedy Gold: Discussing the comedic genius of One Punch Man, where protagonist Saitama’s instant mastery and lack of a traditional journey create a refreshing take on the hero narrative, exemplifying how subversion can lead to engaging storytelling.

Hero’s journey is an age-old trope in fiction. Many say that it was Tolkien who popularized it but the trope itself is much, much older. Tolkien did bless us with one of the absolute best realizations of the trope though, that is for sure. Hero’s Journey is not at all uncommon in anime either. Most “typical” shonens like Naruto follow this trope. And I am not saying that to detract anything from them, after all, as I mentioned with Tolkien, if written well, Hero’s Journey can be one of the best narrative tropes in existence.

Today though, we are taking a look at anime and manga that completely subvert this trope or even shatter it to pieces in some cases. I was working on an article about animes that turn cliches into gold and that is when the idea for this popped up in my head. So let’s first define what Hero’s Journey is and then we will look at certain anime that deconstruct or subvert this trope. Let’s get started.

What is a Hero’s Journey?

Simply put, a Hero’s Journey has 3 stages. Stage 1 has the protagonist being dissatisfied with their lives in one way or another. Stage 2 is a call to action, a tough journey, or a long battle. The last stage is a triumphant return of the hero, changed and matured from all his experiences in Stage 2. Now think about a shounen anime, and there is a high likelihood that whatever you thought of falls under this trope. And let me reiterate, falling under this trope is not a bad thing. As I said, Naruto is a classic example of this, and look how beloved it is.

What are some anime that subvert or deconstruct Hero’s Journey?

I can only elaborate on limited examples here, of course, but there are quite a few good anime that do this well. One of the best and first examples I can think of though, is Evangelion. There is no Stage 3 of the journey in Evangelion. Shinji isn’t even a willing protagonist. The burden of being a “hero” crushes him. Another similar example would be Guts from Berserk. His “journey” is only driven by vengeance and constant struggle for survival. He doesn’t care what happens to him after he gets his vengeance, which again means Stage 3 will never be achieved.

Another variation could be found in Light from Death Note and Eren from Attack on Titan. Instead of changing themselves, they want to force their ideals on the world and mold the world as they see fit. A hero’s journey is about the hero being molded by the world. But in their cases, it is the opposite. Both of those stories started as “chosen one” style narratives but grew to be so much more. I’d throw Vinland Saga in this category too because all these stories focus on how flawed their MCs are/become.

One of my absolute favorite subvertions of Hero’s Journey has to be One Punch Man though. Because the “journey” didn’t even last a single episode. Saitama is basically a fully formed character when we see him both in terms of ability and personality. “What journey? Been there, done that. It was meh.” this is the approach One Punch Man takes towards this concept and uses it to create some really funny segments. And it does this same thing with a dozen other tropes as well.

that is all for now!

I hope that you liked this deep dive into how certain anime treat the concept of a Hero’s Journey. There are many more examples of similar stories and I find that deconstruction of a trope like this could make for some of the best stories possible if done well. With that said, I will take my leave here. I am off to sleep. Good night!

Also, check out this week’s LN recommendation here!

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