[FEATURE] In Defense of Katsuki Bakugo

My Hero Academia has a huge ensemble cast of heroes-in-training and professional heroes. If you ask a dozen fans who their favorite character is, you will get a dozen answers. There is one character, however, that is reviled by most fans. One that stands out as the most unfairly hated of Hero Academia’s entire cast.

That character is…Minoru Mineta.

However, we’re not talking about him today. We’re talking about another character that I think fans poorly understand because of the way he is framed for most of the earlier points of the story, Katsuki Bakugo.

I briefly touched on Bakugo when I wrote about how My Hero Academia reinvents superhero tropes. If you ask me, Bakugo is one of the best written characters in shonen manga. But I hear a lot of people downplay him as a mean-spirited bully, which is an insane oversimplification of his character.

Kohei Horikoshi, stated that Bakugo was originally meant to have a completely different personality. In previous drafts, Bakugo was going to be a polite, well-mannered young man who had a penchant for insulting people unintentionally.

Horikoshi would end up reworking the character because he felt that was too boring, and thank the stars he did. What we got instead is far more appealing and has more to offer to the story. Instead of a simple one joke rival, we get a nuanced reinvention of the “gifted prodigy” we see so often in shonen manga.

In Chapter 96 of the manga, his mother, Mitsuki, tells All Might and Eraser Head that he was praised for having the qualities and power to become a hero for much of his early life. This praise during his formative years shaped his personality and made him obsessed with success. This is why he has difficulty coping with the embarrassment of defeat, a quality that helps him grow throughout the series.

An example of this is during the UA Sports Festival. Everyone is fighting to stand out because their performance is directly linked to their future as heroes. This is where Bakugo shows his aggressive drive to succeed. It’s also where he shows his ingenuity and, surprisingly, the respect he has for his rivals.

During his fight with Ochako, Bakugo fights with all his power despite the jeers and boos from the crowd. He acknowledges that everyone competing in the festival is trying their best; fighting half-assed would only disrespect their determination.

The most misunderstood relationship I see is the one between Bakugo and Midoriya. People describe Midoriya’s relationship with Bakugo as a bullied kid finally getting to one-up his bully, but that’s simply untrue.

Bakugo and Midoriya are rivals in every sense of the word. Their interactions allow them to grow in surprising ways. Unfortunately, people still see it as a simple bully/bullied relationship and blame that on the meek nature of Midoriya’s personality.

Currently in the manga, Midoriya has grown into his own as a determined and bold hero, but in early arcs of the series he’s still the shy, anxious boy we were first introduced to. Bakugo, on the other hand, is introduced as aggressive and rude. Above all else, he’s prideful.

Bakugo’s fierce pride in his abilities is a major factor of his personality. It’s makes him reluctant to work with others. During the Sports Festival he refuses to accept the gold medal because Todoroki wouldn’t use his full power against him in the finals.

Can we think of another character from shonen manga that is known for being intensely prideful?

Vegeta is one of the most popular characters from Dragon Ball. Since his introduction in 1988, he’s become an iconic symbol of the rival character archetype. I would even go so far as to say Horikoshi took Vegeta as inspiration when he was crafting the character that eventually became Bakugo.

They’re both prideful, aggressive, and determined to prove their superiority among their peers. But let’s not forget that Vegeta is a murderer. Like, he murders A LOT of people in Dragon Ball. So why is Vegaeta so highly regarded while Bakugo is branded as a simple bully?

Most of this can be attributed to the characters that they work off of. In Vegeta’s case, we have Goku, the happy-go-lucky martial artist who loves to fight, get stronger, and eat. Goku’s tendency to beat Vegeta without even trying endears the audience to Vegeta as he tries his darnedest to be the best.

Midoriya, while an excellent foil for Bakugo, he makes it difficult for readers to relate to his more nuanced problems. Bakugo is a kid who wants to be the best. He admires All Might just as much as Midoriya; he just expresses his admiration differently.

This is why his actions often go misunderstood. Bakugo truly believes that he’s destined to be the number one hero like All Might. Losing or receiving help from Midoriya is a sign of weakness, and weakness is not a part of Bakugo’s vocabulary.

Bakugo hasn’t realized yet that support form others is a key factor to All Might’s powers. Chances are, that will lead to a big revelation later in the story.

I’ve often told people that if My Hero Academia was written 10-15 years ago, Bakugo could have easily become the main character. If you look at Shonen Jump heroes from the previous decade, he certainly has more in common with them than Midoriya does. Bakugo is a strong character in a series full of amazingly well thought out characters and I can’t wait to see where he develops from here.