In the world of anime, underdog stories are common. The protagonist is often relatively underpowered when compared to everyone else. As a result, their victories mean all the more when they win. Fans have seen them climb their way into being relevant, no matter the obstacles standing in their way.
But since many anime continue for longer than they may need, it never stops with the underdog getting a big victory. Instead, they must continue leveling up and getting stronger to fight new antagonists. Eventually, the character stops being an underdog and instead becomes just as powerful as everyone else in the series — if not even more so.
Updated on October 16th, 2022 by Kennedy King: Underdog stories haven’t become any less common in anime over the past few years, and as a result, there is a constant stream of new stories about characters defying impossible odds. Shonen anime in particular is built upon this concept, a fact that only becomes more apparent after looking at the names at the top of the genre. Fans love to feel as though they’ve seen the improbable, so this trend will no doubt continue for the foreseeable future.
15/15 Saitama Wasn’t Always The One-Punch Hero
Before he became the overpowered hero known as One-Punch Man, Saitama was simply another member of the populace, doing his best to stay afloat in a society overrun by an increasing amount of monsters. In fact, the character’s first fight against one of these creatures occurred when Saitama was still an unemployed man with no superpowers.
Although Saitama survived his fight with Crablante, his lack of strength prompted him to begin the workout regimen that would eventually lead to his drastic transformation. He may be at the top of many “strongest anime characters” lists, but his beginnings are as mundane as any.
14/15 Ken Kaneki Didn’t Initially Embrace His Ghoulish Powers
Being forcibly transformed into a human-eating creature would spur significant changes in most people’s lives, so it shouldn’t be a shock that Tokyo Ghoul‘s Ken Kaneki undergoes a huge transformation throughout the course of the show. The once-reserved character wouldn’t stand a chance against a Ghoul at the start of the series, but after his encounter with Rize, he starts to develop enough combat prowess to protect himself.
Despite receiving Rize’s kagune, Kaneki doesn’t immediately take advantage of his newfound power. The character’s meekness causes him to receive multiple brutal beatings until he finally snaps while being tortured by the 13th Ward’s Jason.
13/15 Zenitsu’s Body Learns How To Defeat Demons, Even If His Mind Doesn’t
The world of Demon Slayer is quite bleak — there’s no doubt about that. Muzan Kibutsuji’s dark affliction has spread throughout the show’s setting like a plague, leaving only the Demon Slayer Corps to stop him from causing more harm. Many of the unit’s members are hardened fighters, but as evidenced by Zenitsu, one of the show’s main protagonists, this isn’t always the case.
Zenitsu is, in layman’s terms, a crybaby. He freezes up at any sign of danger, placing him and his allies in multiple precarious positions throughout the series. However, this demeanor hides Zenitsu’s latent abilities, which make his Thunder Breathing attacks some of the most devastating in the entire series.
12/15 Fuka Reventon Goes From A Rookie To Beating A Champion Boxer
Vivid Strike! starts off by introducing viewers to Fuka Reventon, a young girl working as a freelancer. She then starts to pick up a special magic-based martial arts style from Einhard, a young girl who saved her from trouble. Fuka is driven to train even harder when she learns her old friend, Rinne, has become a top-tier martial artist.
Though both effectively fight with the help of magical girl devices, in the end, Fuka has no real reason to catch up to Rinne, who’s been training for years. However, the end of the series sees Fuka defeat Rinne in combat, proving herself to be better than other fighters with far more experience.
11/15 Yato Is An Unknown God Who Can Fight Against Well-Known Ones
Yato is a humble delivery god in a world where deities live in the shrines that humans build for them. Since Yato has no shrine, he often finds himself homeless and is willing to do anything for anyone if they’ll pay him five yen. The character often seems like he can’t match up, as he doesn’t even have his own weapon at the start of the series.
Once he finds a friend in Hiyori and Yukine, viewers learn how powerful he actually is. A former war god who threw away his title, Yato’s combat skills allow him to fight evenly with high-level characters even though he no longer goes by his original name.
10/15 Noelle Became The Most Powerful Member In The Silva Family
In Noelle’s life as a royal, training is considered something that only the weak ever require. Real nobles are capable of using their powers perfectly from the moment they appear. Because of this, Noelle believes herself to be weak and untalented.
Noelle stands in the shadows of her family, and if she had joined the Silver Eagles, that’s where she would have stayed. But her time with the Black Bulls transformed her into a mage who could defeat one of her older brothers with relative ease and, eventually, protect her eldest brother, the captain of the Silver Eagles.
9/15 Goku Went From The Lowest Class Of Saiyans To Godhood
By now, most anime fans associate Goku with his Super Saiyan and Super Saiyan God forms, both of which are capable of leveling entire planets in their wake. However, this was not always the case. Originally, Dragon Ball‘s protagonist was born into the lowest class of Saiyans, putting him up against seemingly insurmountable odds when held up next to the naturally talented Prince Vegeta.
If there’s any anime character who personifies the underdog struggle, it is Son Goku. He suffered defeat to worldly opponents like Tenshinhan and Tao Pai Pai in his past, only to then hold his own against the literal gods themselves during the events of Dragon Ball Super. No enemy is too formidable for Earth’s greatest warrior, regardless of the circumstances.
8/15 Monkey D. Luffy Comes From One Of The World’s Most Unimpressive Locales
In the One Piece anime, Monkey D. Luffy is currently locked in battle with Wano’s resident Yonko, Kaido — a matchup that would surely have the Straw Hat Captain crowned as an Emperor of the Sea if he were to come out victorious. However, despite this showing, there was a period of time when nobody expected the show’s protagonist to be anywhere near the level of the world’s strongest pirates.
As seen several times throughout the series, Luffy spent his childhood in Foosha Village, a quiet little town in the world’s least dangerous ocean. Were it not for the influence of Red-Haired Shanks and Luffy’s consumption of the Gomu Gomu no Mi, there’s a chance that One Piece‘s protagonist might not have ever become the iconic character that fans know and love.
7/15 Yusei Fudou Went From An Unknown Satellite To Undefeated Duelist
When Yusei is first introduced, he’s a poor kid known as Satellite with a goal of making it to Neo Domino City to defeat Jack Atlas. Jack was a former friend of Yusei who now resides in Neo Domino City as “The King of Duels” — and he’s stolen Yusei’s Stardust Dragon card.
Yusei managed to take a bunch of cards he collected off the street and build a deck that defeated not only Jack butRex Goodwin and his Earthbound Immortals as well. Eventually, he becomes so powerful he’s able to beat even duelists using anti-synchro cards with the help of Shooting Quasar Dragon.
6/15 Bell Cranel Became One Of The Most Powerful Captains Of His Own Guild
Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?
At the beginning of DanMachi, Bell Cranel is so weak that he spends his first episode running from an opponent and being mocked for it. Thankfully, that weakness doesn’t last long. After gaining a special ability that basically allows him to power level, Bell studiously fights in the dungeon and becomes vastly stronger in a short period of time.
By the end of the third season, he’s the most powerful rookie adventurer and has proven capable of fighting threats higher level than him and winning. He’s clearly one of the most powerful Captains in the city.
5/15 Naruto Uzumaki Became The Most Powerful Ninja In His Village
Naruto Uzumaki is the ultimate underdog when Naruto begins. He didn’t have the connections or the training that would lead to him being an impressive ninja, no one knew what family he was from, and he was put in the same squadron as Sasuke Uchiha, meaning he constantly had to compare himself to this genius genin.
But as the series gradually allowed him to tap into his Kyuubi chakra, Naruto became more and more powerful — especially after training under a legendary Sannin and more great mentors. By the end of Shippuden, he was considered the most powerful shinobi in the Hidden Leaf Village.
4/15 Kenichi Shirahama Is Talentless But Has Beaten More Talented Martial Artists
History’s Greatest Disciple Kenichi
The entire point of Kenichi is that it’s a series about a protagonist that has no natural talent. Everything he does comes purely from hard work, and even when he succeeds at the impossible training set in front of him, his masters constantly remind him that he has no talent and that he isn’t very good.
But even though that’s considered to be the case, he’s continuously fighting people who are said to be “stronger” than him and coming out on top. Eventually, Kenichi is regarded as one of the most powerful young martial artists in the series, even though he was originally a bit of a pushover.
3/15 Izuku Midoriya Has Become One Of The Most Powerful Class 1-A Freshmen
My Hero Academia
Midoriya knew he had no special powers, but despite being born without a Quirk, his goal was to become a superhero — regardless of what anyone said. All Might saw the potential for a hero in him and passed down his Quirk, One For All. However, even that didn’t initially make Midoriya overpowered.
At first, he didn’t understand how to use his Quirk, and it was only after diligent training and constant improvisation in battles that he was able to develop control over his power. While he is well on his way to becoming the world’s No.1 Hero, few would have initially thought that he was destined for such great things.
2/15 Asta Has Become One Of The Most Powerful Black Bulls
Asta’s only hope of achieving his dreams was to become incredibly powerful. His goal was to become the Wizard King, something that even the current Wizard King admitted only happened for the most powerful mages in Clover Kingdom. Asta’s problem was that he had no magical power whatsoever.
Instead, he had the power of anti-magic, something which had clear limits against the highest-level mages. However, once he learned how to harness this anti-magic power, rather than it being generated through his sword, Asta turned into one of the most powerful Clover Kingdom mages in only a year.
1/15 Yusuke Urameshi Has Fought Demon Kings
A simple street punk, Yusuke Urameshi wasn’t meant to amount to anything. When he comes back to life as a Spirit Detective, Yusuke is suddenly cast as the ultimate underdog. He finds himself in a world with powerful enemies, many of whom have been established for decades.
But one by one, Yusuke figures out a way to defeat all of them, including former Spirit Detectives. By the end of the series, Yusuke has to fight a potential demon king that’s had centuries of experience, and it still takes the villain several days to actually defeat Yusuke because of Yusuke’s own power and fighting spirit.
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