Nowhere is the subjectivity of art more clear than with the hit anime and manga series One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100. Coming from the same creator, ONE, most fans will recognize both from their high-budget anime adaptations. Despite the production values of their respective anime, both series started life as webcomics. Though some might see the webcomics as crude prototypes due to their simplified art style, ONE’s artwork is perfectly suited for the themes of both series.
Though One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 are very different in many ways, there are more than a few commonalities. Both are about ultra-powerful people who are basically undefeatable. Despite this, neither protagonist is really fulfilled in life. One-Punch Man’s Saitama comes to resent his status as unbeatable, finding superhero battles boring, as all he seeks out is someone who can really challenge him. On the flip-side, Mob’s immense psychic powers have caused him to close himself off from those around him, leaving Mob isolated from his peers. The clear through-line between the two is that being the best at something doesn’t make a person inherently special, or happy. Ultimately, both characters find fulfillment, not in their skills, but in the connections they make.
In contrast to the obvious power possessed by his protagonists, ONE’s skills as an artist initially appear limited. His simplistic and often rough art looks more at home in a middle school sketchbook than a professional comic. Initial appearances are deceiving though, as this simplified art style fits in perfectly with the themes of One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100. Instead of focussing on technically intensive drawings, ONE’s attention is squarely on building up a connection between the reader and his characters. Additionally, in context, ONE is able to use his artwork to great effect. There is a certain amount of comedy that comes from his characters and their blank expressions. The simple art can also provide fantastic contrast for when ONE does put more effort in.
None of this is to imply that the art style employed by the two anime adaptations and the manga re-release of One-Man are bad. The current artist of the One-Punch Man manga, Yusuke Murata, did a fantastic job translating ONE’s original art into something more professional-looking. It’s telling though, that all of these attempts at reworking ONE’s artwork still incorporate his simplified character designs to tremendous comedic effect. One of the most iconic images from One-Punch Man will always be Saitama’s flat, expressionless face.
More than just being hilarious and a thematic statement though, ONE’s art challenges traditional notions of what good and bad art even looks like. ONE’s two series were both popular even in their webcomic days, and that speaks to how well the artwork actually works. Ultimately, art is inherently subjective, and though some might look at One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 as bad, can they really be considered bad art when so many people have connected with them? Many might prefer the updated art styles found in various adaptations, but both of these masterpieces spoke to people for a reason.