My Hero Academia's story has two major plots that occasionally converge, but typically fall into separate genres. The first part is Midoriya "Deku" Izuku learning how to be a Pro Hero alongside his friends at school. The second part is his seemingly predestined battle against the League of Villains and All For One. The series handles the latter well, but a fight against evil is not the most unique plot in shonen anime. There are many other series which tell the story of an underdog protagonist growing stronger and eventually defeating the great villain of their world.
In My Hero Academia, however, Deku is not the only superhero around -- Pro Heroes and people with supernatural abilities have been fully ingrained into the story's society. Being a Pro Hero is a job that requires a license and extensive training, which goes beyond simple physical power-ups. In this world, it takes a lot more than being strong or having a cool Quirk in order to be a great hero. UA and other hero schools are supposed to teach their students the many different aspects of the job. This hero society, and Deku's journey to be a part of it, is what makes My Hero Academia different than other shonen anime. However, the unique plot of the story is constantly at odds with Deku's mission to defeat the big bad.
MHA's 'Academia' and Hero Society
It is routinely mentioned throughout the series that being a hero means more than saving civilians and fighting villains. Pro Heroes are supposed to inspire the public by protecting and providing comfort during difficult times. Pro Heroes have a brand that needs to be maintained if the common citizen will retain confidence in them. It is the job of the hero schools to teach the students how to control public perception to maximize the good they do.
Public image is one of the most important parts of being a hero. A Pro Hero's name, costume and personality all greatly affect the level of trust the public puts in them. If a Pro Hero doesn't make civilians feel safe, then they'll never be a trusted hero no matter how many people they save or bad guys they beat. This is part of the reason why Endeavor was the No. 2 hero even though he solved more cases than any other Pro Hero. He never fully earned the public's trust until All Might retired as the No. 1 hero.
Although hero schools are supposed to teach these lessons, the series spends very little time focusing on the noncombat lessons the students are supposed to learn. Occasionally the teachers will remind the students that their public image is important, but it's never given the amount of time and attention that it needs. Learning how to be a public figure that inspires the world is a realistically relevant conversation that few shonen -- if any at all -- touch on. Though My Hero Academia has set up the premise to dive into this theme, it is constantly pushed to background in favor of the more cliché shonen plot of becoming a stronger fighter to defeat villains.
The Conflict Between the 'Academia' and the 'Hero'
It's been made very clear that Deku's struggle to fight the League of Villains and All For One is the most important aspect of My Hero Academia. Because of this, anything not related to the battle or Deku's mastery of One For All feels like filler between the main plot points. Many fans had issues with the "UA School Festival" arc and other slice-of-life moments in the series. When villains are at large and the fate of society is at stake, it's hard to feel the importance of a school performance.
The inverse of the issue is also a problem. The lack of focus on the school setting and the noncombat lessons means that there is less development for the less traditionally strong members of Class 1-A. Characters like Tsuyu, Jirou and Shouji have powers that are better suited for rescue and surveillance than combat. Fans that enjoy the school setting and slice-of-life situations are forced to watch actions scenes where many of the Class 1-A students are rendered useless.
Whether one is a fan of the action or of the school and societal setting, there's a chance they could come away unsatisfied. Fans of the action and Deku's growth in strength have to sit through mundane situations. At times, it seems like the school setting only exists so that the story has time to build up to the next big fight. This can be frustrating for fans of the slice-of-life aspect whose favorite conflicts are overshadowed by the universal villain stakes, and who are forced to see their favorite characters from Class 1-A get outshined by Deku, Bakugo or Todoroki during the major fights.
Bringing Back the 'Academia'
The series is rapidly approaching its conclusion. Deku is quickly mastering more and more of One For All's power, he's unlocking the Quirks of the previous wielders and his final confrontation with Shigaraki is just on the horizon. Despite all of this, can it be said that Deku is ready to be a Pro Hero? He has the strength, but does he have the personality? Could he lead a Pro Hero agency or maintain a public image that comforts the population?
If the series had chosen to focus more on the noncombat hero lessons first, then many of the issues that plague My Hero Academia would be resolved. Less focus on combat and physical training would give the series more time to flesh out its underutilized characters. The audience could see what motivates characters like Koouda, Satou and Hagakure to be heroes. It would also give those characters a chance to step into the limelight. When the series turns to its big action battles, those side characters would feel much more important because the audience would have gotten to know them and their motivations.
Instead of all of the big exams and finals being about fighting other students or teachers, what if some revolved around developing a hero brand? It would be an interesting change of pace to see Class 1-A have to learn how to give a press conference in order to pass a class or learn how to design a hero costume that inspires citizens. UA has, thus far, failed to turn the main cast into well-rounded heroes. Even now, Bakugo has yet to create an appropriate hero name. For My Hero Academia to continue setting itself apart from other anime and manga, it should embrace its most unique aspects. Yet, given recent developments in the war against the League of Villains, it might be too late to turn back.