One-Punch Man being different than it is, there is a lot of discussion about its genre and its protagonist. A question that reoccurs quite often is if Saitama is a Mary Sue character.
Saitama is not a Mary Sue character. Although he does share quite a few traits with Mary Sue characters, he is not an idealized version of his author. While he does face some of the challenges as the author, he does not particularly fare any better at them.
Mary Sue Characters
If you came here from the homepage rather than Google or need some basic info to get into this topic, let’s start by shortly discussing what a Mary Sue character is.
A Mary Sue character is the author inserting herself/himself into a story. The character in question tends to have no flaws or his/her flaws are depicted as being positive traits. For example, an author that talks too much may insert himself into a story as a character that “always has something interesting to say”.
Mary Sue characters are often a form of wish fulfillment. It’s the version of the author that the author really wants to be. This often makes the character stronger/smarter/better than (s)he should reasonably be. Obstacles the author may have issues with are taken care of easily by the Mary Sue character.
Such characters also tend to bend the rules of the world they appear in. Other characters let them get away with a lot more than they normally would simply because they are a Mary Sue Character. Rather than following the rules of the world they appear in, the world sometimes bends its rules for the Mary Sue character.
Fanfiction is riddled with Mary Sue Characters. Fanfic authors often insert a more or less flawless version of themselves in their favorite series.
A strange question?
ONE Sensei and Saitama share quite a few traits. They both started their work as a hobby, and face similar issues. This is by design, as this quote shows:
The difficulties Saitama encounters are for the most part really common problems like making it to the next supermarket sale, and since I solve these problems myself, it’s easy to write about them. The only hard part is to make his allies seem not too weak.
It’s as such quite easy to compare the two. Even Yusuke Murata, who draws the manga adaption of the story, makes the comparison:
Murata: But ONE-sensei, you and Saitama take after each other. Both of you began from doing your hobby!
ONE: Nono, that isn’t true at all.
As you can see, Saitama does share quite some traits with a Mary Sue character. It does make sense to ask the question.
Is Saitama a self-insert?
As Saitama and ONE do seem quite alike, it is easy to see Saitama as a self-insert.
They are not the same character though. For example, ONE mentions he wouldn’t be able to step forward to justice even against stronger opponents like Mumen Rider, which is something Saitama had no issues with. During his training, he would take on strong opponents to save bystanders, even when at the brink of his limits from his daily routine.
Even then, you could still make the point that Saitama is simply an idealized version of the author. If Saitama would be a self-insert it surely wouldn’t be an intentional one. In my own personal opinion, Saitama is more of the embodiment of the “common man” than the author. As such I don’t believe he is a self-insert. But I do admit that the similarities are strong enough to at least arguably make a case for it.
Where Saitama comes short of a Mary Sue Character
The part of the definition of a Mary Sue Character that does not fit Saitama is that the character needs to be an idealized version of the author.
Sure, whatever enemy opponent comes his way, Saitama will just One Punch it. But that is not what One-Punch Man is about. There are many problems that you cannot just punch away. And when dealing with everyday issues of making it to the supermarket in time for a sale or receiving recognition, Saitama is far from an idealized character.
As far as the world catering to the Mary Sue Character, you could make the point that Saitama indeed does not really fit in. It’s not so that the world bends its rules for him though. If anything, the rules of the world and its corruption are part of the reason he fails to get much recognition.
If anything, ONE is more of an idealized version of Saitama in many aspects. His work, originally meant as just a simple experiment, met with success after just a few chapters, even long before it was turned into an official publication.
To be a Mary Sue Character, being a self-inserted character (even if it would be true in Saitama’s case) is not sufficient. The character needs to be devoid of the author’s flaws, or at the very least they should not cause negative effects in the story. Saitama’s flaws and the problems they bring are the base of the story, which fundamentally goes against the definition of a Mary Sue character.