Understanding the overpowered character trope in anime

Characters from Attack On Titan, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Code Geass
Design: Faisal Bin Iqbal

Power Scaling is often a delicate matter in fictional media, where even faintly rocking the boat can create a major imbalance in the overall worldbuilding and narrative. The portrayal of a significant discrepancy in power is likely to only function in situations akin to David and Goliath, and can easily fall apart in other scenarios without extensive plot development around the overpowered character.

Being an open canvas of unbound creativity, anime has a much easier time employing the trope of an overpowered character and more often than not can get away with using them without breaking immersion. 

The construct of such a character feels more believable in the outlandish and imaginative world of anime and does not require it to be relatable to the viewers to be likeable. Consequently, there is an abundance of overpowered characters in the media who carry an integral role in their respective shows and can also be the show's centrepiece.

Despite being far and many, not all overpowered characters can leave a lasting impression on the viewer. Shows like Mob Psycho 100, Assassination Classroom, and Overlord have their presence amplified due to their overpowered protagonists. Mob, Koro Sensei, and Ainz are prime examples of characters that are broken on the power scale but remain interesting to the viewers due to having layers to their persona. 

This is even more applicable for the characters who are perceived to be overpowered in terms of their wits like Aizen from Bleach or Lelouch from Code Geass, as their calculated yet unpredictable actions engross the spectators, keeping them in awe of their intellect. 

Overpowered characters are not limited to the lead characters though. Supporting characters like Levi from Attack on Titan, Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen or Escanor from Seven Deadly Sins keep wowing the audience with their incredible feats while only appearing on the sidelines. 

The overpowered trope can also be implemented in a comedic setup as found in shows like One Punch Man and The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. The shows are centred around how untouchable Saitama and Saiki are, and the plot would not make sense without their presence otherwise.

Powerful characters can be labelled as overpowered only if they are in a league of their own in their story. It is difficult to call any certain character from the Dragonball shows overpowered as most of the characters from their universe are extremely strong and aside from Zeno, most of them are within close proximity in terms of their power levels and feats. 

One Piece is also in a similar spot with multiple characters as the top dogs who can effectively cancel out each others' influence. Even Jojo's Bizarre Adventures has hardly any characters that can definitively be marked as overpowered, as the show's quirky power system gives even the weakest stand users a fighting chance, though a strong case could be made for Giorno.

Like there are numerous examples of overpowered characters done brilliantly, there are countless examples of overpowered characters done wrong. The biggest aggressor of poorly executing this trope is undeniably the isekai genre. 

Many of them get lazy with their protagonists, hence presenting them as unimaginative one-dimensional self-inserts with broken powers obtained after being transported to or reincarnated in another world with no challenges they cannot overcome. Well-established shows also sometimes struggle with writing overpowered characters. On occasions, Naruto Shippuden and Fairy Tail resort to plot armour to make their protagonists overpowered but throw out all the hard work and dedication of the characters built up over time and make their dedication worthless in the process.

Overpowered characters have the potential to make or break a show and become iconic with perennial relevance, but only if they are well developed and their existence in the story is justifiable.