The underdog is Anime's favourite trope. Here's why.
Why do we like an underdog story?
Perhaps it is because we like to root for the one overcoming the most hurdles. Or perhaps we empathise with those who are less privileged yet are dreamers and achievers of greatness. It could also be because we see ourselves in them, as we draw parallels to the real world where we are barely significant as individuals in front of the greater world powers.
Whatever the reason may be, it is evident that a good underdog story always makes our hearts flutter when witnessing the underdog's struggles and leap with joy when they succeed.
Anime is well known for using and abusing the underdog trope, whether it is to make the character more likable, give them a convincing motivational background, or make the plot armour more digestible. The abundant use of such characters rarely bore the audience, as they remain relatable to the majority and can stir up a multitude of sanguine emotions within the viewers. Though present in countless anime, some genres utilise this trope better, and certain shows present them more compellingly than the rest.
As one of the broadest genres in anime, shonen has numerous examples of underdog characters as their main stars. Shows like Naruto, Yu Yu Haakusho, My Hero Academia, and Black Clover are built upon the story of their underdog protagonists. Naruto, Yusuke, Asta are all characters who had experienced a compromised childhood and rose above to challenge the obstacles in their way to achieve their aspirations. Even when bestowed with broken powers, the shows make sure to picture them as the little guy facing a much larger foe in order to maintain their relative underdog status. However, rarely do we also see characters like Rock Lee from Naruto, who fit the definition of an underdog much better than the protagonist of the very show. Moreover, supporting cast like Nami and Usopp from One Piece also exist who are developed as underdogs for maintaining their power dynamic with the main cast and keeping them relevant.
Sports anime also give us some of the best underdog characters in the media. Be it football, boxing or even volleyball, no one can make the viewers understand the effort required for competitiveness better than the underdog. Sakuragi from Slam Dunk, Ippo from Hajime no Ippo and Hinata from Haikyuu show us the hard work and dedication required to rise to the top and the sense of accomplishment in facing opponents on equal footing who once seemed to be out of their reach. Megalobox highlights the pride and joy of winning against all handicaps and disadvantages, while stories like History's Mightiest Disciple Kenichi depicts the glory of a zero to hero transformation in the truest underdog fashion.
Being an underdog is often outlined as the essence of being the hero of a show. Anime underdogs particularly portray the near impossible feats achievable through hard work and sheer determination even in the direst of situations, inspiring us to keep pushing and overcoming the hindrances in our life. Such characters are often the principal catalyst in making so many shows memorable to us for the longest of times and are celebrated by people of all circles.