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I just read a novel where the main character is overpowered: he has unbeatable superpowers, many girls that are interested in him, enemies that get scared just by facing him, etc. I find it annoying because it doesn't really provide any tension for me when reading it, but I'm really curious about how many people (especially teens, because it's a teen novel) find it amazing and love him. The novel itself is so popular that no-one on the novel website could miss it.

It makes me wonder, could an overpowered main character be interesting at some point? If so, how come?

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    There's a similar question that may interest you: How to make a story entertaining with an almost invincible character?
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 7 at 11:20
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    Let me recommend One Punch Man, - the manga, the anime - it's a very entertaining story of just this sort of protagonist, whose one invincible nemesis is his boredom.
    – SF.
    Apr 7 at 13:11
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    Don't most stories have OP main characters? Not necessarily OP on paper but at least through noticeable plot armor? Some people don't need tension to enjoy a story, even if the story has action. And some peoples' threshold for tension is different. I quickly found normal teenage-level books less tense after reading Game of Thrones, for example.
    – Clay07g
    Apr 7 at 19:21
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    Perhaps put Superman (not Clark Kent) have to wait in line at the DOV to get a drivers license. I've been told that good stories come from either a normal character in extraordinary circumstances or an extraordinary character in normal circumstances.
    – NomadMaker
    Apr 7 at 20:05
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    Goku is overpowered by every definition of the term, even right at the start when he’s just a little kid, and yet Dragon Ball is still one of the most popular manga and anime series in the world despite Toriyama’s at best mediocre and often blatantly misogynistic writing. Power fantasies have a strong draw for a lot of people, no matter how poorly written they are. Apr 8 at 12:11

16 Answers 16

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Different people get different things from a story

If you think of the audience (or potential audience) for a story like a crowd of people sitting and watching as a tv show is being filmed, not every person in that audience is there for the same reason. Some people are a fan of the star actor, some people are there because their kid is into this sort of thing, and they want to be close to their kid as their kid enjoys it. Each audience member has a spectrum of potential things they might take from the performance (and this is as true of a book as of a live performance, or anything else).

Some people enjoy a power fantasy, some do not. But it can be a bit more complicated than that. Usually, one single thing is not enough to keep the interest of a particular member of an audience. Some people might watch a period romance strictly for the romance, and are indifferent or even annoyed at the period costumes and set pieces. A few people might be interested in the costumes and indifferent to the acting and character interactions. Most people watching are presumably interested in both. Though usually a popular story is enough things to enough people that many people are interested in more than two aspects, and indifferent to some number of other things.

When other people like a story that you don't like, there's presumably a set of things they are getting out of it that you are not. Again, some people like a power fantasy. And a lot of the people who are bored by a transparent, shallow power fantasy will still tolerate or even enjoy one where there's something else there to spice it up. Snappy dialogue? A deep exploration of the moral implications of someone being able to have everything they want and nobody can stand in their way? Maybe. Though maybe someone else will be annoyed by those distractions from their pure power fantasy.

In general, of course an overpowered character could be interesting, and not even for the same reason to each audience member. If there's a psychological study aspect to the story, you might appeal to some potential audience members (and repel others). If there's a romance - "He can have anything he wants... except her love. How can he win her over?" Well, that might appeal to someone else.

Without knowing the exact source material, I could only speculate on what possible appeal a specific work could have, but a story isn't just one thing, so maybe the appeal is somewhere else. On the other hand, the exact thing that you find annoying may be the primary appeal to someone else.

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  • I think you're conflating two different things here. A story could involve multiple different elements either because that is more interesting to a single individual or because it appeals to a wider group of people that care about one element each (or a bit of both, of course). Certainly a story that focuses too much on a single element could be boring whoever you are. But, at the other end of the spectrum, you end up with modern bland films which have a bit of everything to make sure everyone finds something of interest, but end up not being great to anyone. Apr 8 at 21:23
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    @ArthurTacca I'm unsure what two things I'm supposed to be conflating. I certainly hadn't realized I'd given the impression that "a story with more things is always better".
    – Jedediah
    Apr 8 at 21:41
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God Syndrome:

What does Superman from the 1950's look like today? No hero or villain can stop him. He's invincible. So what do you do if you're a bad guy, and have to deal with that?

What happens when lily-white conservative Ultra-gal, who's 200 years old and doesn't look a day over 20, starts beating up ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community for their 'wicked depravity' and miscegenation? Clearly the government is weak and ineffective if they permit such reprehensible behavior(by the minorities). Dark-dude, who's spent the last ten years cozying up to Ultra-gal, convinces Ultra-gal that she must overthrow the government and impose her own worldview on the poor schmucks being led down a bad path by their democratically elected officials.

If you have an irresistible force, it will apply that force where it wants to. Just as Dr. Manhattan was manipulated by Richard Nixon in the Watchmen, your ultra-super is a force of nature, that can be as much a hurricane as a gentle breeze. Eventually, the hero becomes a villain, and there is where real interesting things start to happen. The story stops being about who's got the biggest pecs, and becomes about the consequences of all that power concentrated in the hands of a few independent individuals.

You can also have villains with amorphous abilities that are difficult to nail down. If a super-villain has mind control, and sways an election (without violating any laws, since the laws don't cover mind control) that villain can order the hero to go to prison, or leave the nation, and the villain can place the hero in the impossible situation of killing police and military units and overthrowing a democratic(?!) election. How does Superman deal with a disease that turns innocent people into ravaging zombies - for a few weeks? If global warming threatens the world, does Superman somehow stop it? Does he enable the polluters by counteracting it, or does he destroy power plants and crush industry in third world countries?

Finally, the most common thing that stories do is stop making the story about the super powers, and just make it into a story about the person. Mega-man pounding villains is just color for the story about his life and relationships. Sure, he can defeat anyone. Ethically, can he take endorsements and make money off of his powers? Sure, he can get any girl he wants. What happens when the girl didn't really WANT him, and he didn't really ask? Or when the girl he really wants thinks he's an overblown pretentious ass who's incapable of staying faithful to one woman? What do you do when your super-cold breath freezes a busload of first graders to death when you mistook the bus driver for a suicide bomber?

Life is more complex than a simple comic book, and the story gets interesting when that complexity gets real.

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  • It's been a while, what did Nixon do to Dr. M? Apr 7 at 23:19
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    @Azor Ahai -him- It was subtle, but Nixon used Dr. Manhattan to win the Vietnam war, and as a constant threat against the Eastern block. The authority of the state was absolute. In a very 1950's kind of way, who is an absolutely powerful US super hero to listen to? The president, of course (who, I think, was going into a third or fourth term...)
    – DWKraus
    Apr 8 at 0:29
  • That was the outcome, but what was the manipulation? Apr 8 at 0:31
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    @Azor Ahai -him- Dr. Manhattan simply trusted without question that the president of the USA was the moral authority as the highest elected leader in the nation. Nixon was more than happy to use that authority.
    – DWKraus
    Apr 8 at 0:34
  • "Mega-man pounding villains is just color for the story about his life and relationships." - As I read this I recalled another TV series and realized there's a little footnote to add here. If your audience is children, this might actually be the main point, and you will do very well. Check out the TV series "Miraculous Ladybug". As an adult, it's borderline painful to watch because you keep expecting a certain story to happen (all the pieces are there, the stage is set), but it just doesn't. Yet the series is doing extremely well because it's aimed at children who have different expectations.
    – Vilx-
    Apr 9 at 6:59
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Check out the superhero franchise One Punch Man, so named because the main character could defeat all his opponents in one punch. He is clearly overpowered. But many people still found the series interesting, with the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes given as "With its state-of-the-art animation, unorthodox hero, and gut-bustlingly funny jabs at the shounen genre, One-Punch Man is simply a knockout."

I am not that familiar with the series, but my understanding is that it keeps the main character interesting by regularly presenting him with problems that fighting doesn't solve. For example, at one point he joins the "Hero Association", but although he aces the physical exam, he flunks the written component; later he also has trouble winning recognition from the public because most of the credit for his victories go to others in the Hero Association.

If you're interested I suggest checking out the series.

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    I believe lots of the conflict is also internal, dealing with the consequences of being so op where his powers are actually the cause of the problem, rather than external problems where his powers could help
    – Tristan
    Apr 8 at 11:02
  • I would also say that One Punch Man is about the concept of heroism itself, and argues that the ability to defeat an enemy is not the most important quality of a hero. See: Mumen Rider vs the Deep Sea King.
    – Harabeck
    Apr 8 at 18:46
  • "he also has trouble winning recognition from the public because most of the credit for his victories go to others in the Hero Association" - it's actually more complex than that. Saitama (the MC) is aware that if the public realise that all the other heroes are so much weaker than him, they'll lose faith in those heroes. So he deliberately refuses to take credit for his victories and instead claims the other heroes weakened his opponents enough for him to deal the killing blow, destroying his own reputation but preserving those of the other heroes.
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 9 at 15:35
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As a huge Superman fanboy, I hear this alot, especially with Batman fans, but I always have my counter ready. In all stories (canon or else-world) the villains will always use Superman's greatest weakness against him. Few villains rarely go for this weakness intentionally, and even fewer are aware of it, but it's been part of Superman lore from the very begining.

Traditionally, Superman has three vulnerabilities: Kryptonite, which just about everyone knows is his "greatest" weakness and it is true that it can be really unpleasent for him depending on the variety used. His next most well known vulnerability is Magic, but that's not so much a vulnerability as it is that he has no immunity to it's effects. The final vulnerabilty is "Red Sun" radiation... since supes draws his powers from Yellow Sunlight, the native Kryptonian Red sun will weaken quickly, bringing him down to normal human standards in short time, and radiation weapons that mimic red sun radiation will burn or pierce him.

These things are the traditional staples of his foes that can't match his strength and speed... they physicaly hurt him, sure, but they only do that. No one has ever managed to wound him long enough that he can't pull a win using this method... but to break him... to give him pause... they have to go for one weakness most bad guys don't consider... and that requires a bit more homework.

Superman's greatest vulnerability are his family and friends. Threaten Ma and Pa Kent... put Lois Lane in the line of fire, kidnap Lana Lang, harrass Perry White, experiment on Jimmy Olsen... and expect Superman to utterly lose it... it is a very nuclear option as Superman might just go off the deep end into outright villainy to punish you... but sometimes, it's what gets him to hang up the cape for good. Consider that when Superman was mind controlled by Poison Ivy and told to kill Batman and Catwoman, Batman gave Catwoman his piece of kryptonite (he either always carries a chunk, at Supe's request, or has a chunk in his utility belt if he's going to Metropolis or knows Clark is in Gotham) to Catwoman to give her a fighting chance for "just long enough" while he located Lois and proceeded hold her over the edge of the Daily Planet and threatened to drop her to her doom. This broke Ivy's hold on the man of steel and ended the fight.

In another instance, psychic villain Maxwell Lord was able to trick Superman into beating his targets by making the Man of Steel see the target as a villain who killed a close family member or friend... and then set them up for an enraged Man of Steel to mercilessly beat them. Although no one actually died, quite a few were badly injured by Superman's rage, which says a lot about how much he holds back his strength, even when the threat is the big guns.

For characters like this, the big weakness will always be ones that are more personal. Marvel's attempts at Superman like characters are almost always weakened by lowering their self-confidence (as well as some other standards) and thus fighting them well may require knowing your enemy. Superman's foes will often also employ methods to mask their operations from Superman, such as Lex Luthor constructing buildings with lead lining to defeat the x-ray vision (a reason why Superman never goes to Gotham is explicitly stated that the city's buildings have a lot of lead paint and thus make it very difficult for him to operate.). Others, like Captain Marvel/Shazam, can voluntarily power down. In this case the magic word that causes Billy Batson to become Marvel (Shazam) triggers a lightning bolt that he can dodge as Marvel... this is often used as his an equivalent to superman's heat vision as an alternative to strength based assaults.

With these types of powers, try and find some logical vulnerabilities that can be readily used against him, as well as some emotional baggage that can be a more subtle attack on him as well.

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  • Yes I also love stories with an OP mc who infinitely values his friends and loved ones Apr 8 at 16:59
  • The main issue with Superman stories - specially the older ones - is that Superman is somewhat famous for making up new powers on the spot - including ridiculous things like Super-Surgery to heal Mermaid-Lois-Lane back to normal, for example. Newer stories have a more set-in-stone powerset but they aren't above making things up in the spot if the plot needs it. I understand this is more or less fair play in the Comic world, but geez...
    – T. Sar
    Apr 9 at 16:32
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Here are a couple of examples of possible problems a strong or magical person might face:

There is a question:

https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/131328/has-a-klingon-ever-been-head-butted-to-any-effect-by-a-non-klingon[1]

One answer mentions a scene where a Klingon head butts Data and hurts his head on Data's super strong head.

And my answer mentions another way a Klingon named Worf was hurt - in a sense - by a head butt from a fragile human. Worf was raised by humans and was the biggest, strongest, wildest, and most dominating boy on the planet. And one day:

WORF: When I was thirteen, I was captain of my school soccer team. We had made the championships, and I was determined to win. Near the end of the second half, with the score tied, my team got a corner kick. The ball sailed up high. Both I and one of my opponents, a human boy named Mikel, leaped up to head the ball. He had position, but I was determined to score. I remember laughing with excitement as I threw myself at him.

DAX: Go on.

WORF: The next thing I knew, the ball was sailing into their goal. I roared with triumph and turned around to Mikel to gloat, only to find him lying on the grass bleeding. Our heads had collided when we both went up for the ball. I had not feel the impact, but I had broken his neck, and he died the next day.

DAX: It was an accident.

WORF: Which only makes it worse. Compared to Klingons, humans are fragile creatures. I realised at that moment to live among them I must practice restraint.

DAX: That must have been difficult for you.

WORF: At first. In time it became part of who I was, who I am.

DAX: And you're still afraid that if you lose control

WORF: Someone I care about might get hurt.

One culd say that the old Worf was defeated and even figuratively killed by the encounter with Mikel which changed Worf's personality and lifestyle forever.

So that is a good example of how a stronger and more powerful character can be hurt and in a sense defeated by a weaker and less powerful character.

Here is another, hypothetial, example.

In the ending credits scene of "The Last Adventure", the final episode of Duck Tales (2017-2021), the protagonists have defeated their foul enemies in F.O.W.L. and are flying home in the often crashed Sunchaser when Launchpad McQuack accidentially opens the cargo door and they are all blown out of the plane into the air.

As I remember, Gyro Gearloose and Lil Bulb are caught by B.O.Y.D., Gyro's flying robot.

Launchpad and Gosalyn Waddlmeyer grab onto Darkwing Duck's cape and use it as a parachute.

Manny the Headless Man-horse who is really a flying gargoyle catches Mrs. Beakley and Donald Duck, I think.

Fenton Crackshell-Cabera uses his Gizmoduck suit to save himself and his girlfriend Gandra Dee.

But I didn't see what happened to May and June, technically the youngest children present, or "Whatever Happened to Della Duck", to use the title of another episode.

Violet Sabrewing - and possibly someone else I didn't quite see - was levitated by her adopted sister Lena, who had recently developed vast magical powers including flying.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Webby Vanderquack, and Scrooge McDuck grabbed hands and formed a ring falling through the sky like skydivers sometimes do. But unlike skydivers, they weren't wearing any visible parachutes.

Thus it seems to me that depending on the height they were falling from, they had only seconds or minutes left before they slammed into the water at fatal speeds.

Darkwing, Launchpad, and Gosalyn aleady had their makeshift parachute at or over its capacity. Manny, B.O.Y.D., and Gizmoduck could probably carry one or two more passengers apiece.

But as far as I know May, June, Della Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Webby Vanderquack, and Scrooge McDuck, and maybe also Ludwig von Drake, were all falling. And I doubt that Manny, B.O.Y.D., and Gizmoduck could catch them all in time.

So Lena may have had to rescue some or all of the falling protagonists. I don't know if Lena can levitate more than herself and two other persons at a time, the most I have seen her do. So Lena might have had to drop some people to save others. Even if Lena could levitate and save everyone, would she notice and act in time?

So I can imagine a sequel in which Lena failed to save some of her friends from falling to their deaths, and perhaps is very depressed as a result.

What if Lena dropped Violet Sabrewing to save Webby? Violet may have fallen to her death, or Lena might have stopped Violet's fall after Violet fell for hundreds or thousands of feet, terrifying Violet. Lena's adoptive parents might throw her out of the house, or if they forgave her, Lena might run away to avoid facing them.

Lena earned the right to be part of the McDuck family in "The Shadow War", but if all the McDucks die, or if only some survive and they blame Lena for failing to save the others, she might no longer be wecomed by any surviving McDucks.

So Lena might return to her old lair and lie around depressed all day, while she should be out being a superhero; saving innocent people from Magica De Spell, magical beings from the Phantom Blot, stopping the crimes of the Beagle Boys, etc. I can easily imagine Lena, one of the most powerful beings in the Duck universe, becoming so angst ridden that she makes Peter Parker ("Spiderman") seem like a normal, well adjusted teenager.

Or Lena might have used her magic to kill Launchpad McQuack, blaming him for the deaths of her friends, and thus turned toward the dark side and started to become as evil as her creator, the fate Lena was terrified of in "A Nightmare on KIllmotor HIll".

Similarly the less powerful superhero Gizomoduck might be terribly depressed for failing to save everyone.

conclusion.

Every person - including superheroes and supervillains - who has a complicated social life and a number of different social roles in a society can enjoy or suffer their roles in a complex society. Ordinary events and decisions which have nothing to do with battles between superheroes and supervillains can give them great pleasure or pain.

Furthermore, every person changes somewhat over the course of time. Someone can become a little - or a lot - better or worse with the passage of time.

There is a saying that "all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". That is not totally true but does have a lot of truth.

So a story about a superpowered, invincible, and invulnerable person can have a lot of suspense for some readers, if there are hints that a superhero could possibly turn evil as their power corrupts them, or a supervillian might possibly reform partially or totally.

Thus it seems to me that some stories about overpowered characters can be interesting.

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The Christopher Reeves Superman was, perhaps, the most powerful presentation of a super being in cinematic history. He effortlessly lifts a tectonic plate, for instance and brushes off nuclear weapons like so many water balloons. He has, in addition to his regularly recognized powers, the ability to turn invisible, to use high-level telekinesis, and to time travel. Despite these abilities, he demonstrates some exploitable weaknesses.

First of these is the inability (without reversing time) to be in two places at once. He's fast, but must choose between crises in two disparate locations. Moreover, his own moral code constrains his choices within those crises.

Superman also lacks total knowledge. He cannot bring his powers to bear on a problem of which he is unaware, nor can he always know, when metaphorically needing to rescue Lois Lane, which metaphorical building she is falling off of this time, as it were, metaphorically speaking.

Finally, Superman's actions often have unintended consequences. Lex Luther's genius is often manifested in his ability to predict and exploit Superman's unintended consequences.

These are limitations of an otherwise God-like character and are used to create narrative tension. In full disclosure, I do not own Superman nor any DC character or licenses, nor do I know how those Underoos got into my laundry.

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The comics have covered this a number of times over the past eighty years.

The "simple" solution is to make the overpowered condition the protagonist's main problem. Superman can't have a girlfriend/wife (no matter how lonely he is, as the last living member of his people), because physical intimacy between a Kryptonian (with Superman's powers) and a human would be fatal to the human ("Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" by Larry Niven). The Hulk has a similar problem; his extreme strength (and the anger that fuels it) is a major limitation for him, as well as his primary ability.

If a character is so overpowered he can't be defeated, as well, there will be an endless line of "lesser" characters trying to prove themselves against him; even if they all fail (and they will, if the character is genuinely OP), they'll take up all the MC's time -- no time for hobbies, no time to work for a living, no time even to sleep. He may be unwelcome in the community, out of fear (of his own powers, or of those trying to challenge him) or out of envy, or the simple discomfort of those who can't measure up. Despite all the girls liking him, he may be afraid to put them in danger from that endless queue of clowns trying to prove they're better than him (without bothering to think things through first).

In other words, simply being so overpowered is its own set of problems -- problems that can't be solved just by being overpowered.

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    "Superman can't have a girlfriend/wife" - he can, and he has, in multiple continuities. He just can't sleep with them.
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 7 at 14:39
  • @F1Krazy Oh, yeah, and I can just see any of the "modern" Lois or Lana versions putting up with that...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Apr 7 at 14:40
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    Sounds like a great chance for some asexuality representation to me! Apr 7 at 17:21
  • With reguards to Superman, the comics have explained that he has degree of control over his muscles that would allow him to be intiment with a human partner and there are way to temporarily make himself mortal. That said, he and Lois have not been able to concieve a child without some outside help and all "children" they have had are usually either adopted, engineered, or "else-world babies".
    – hszmv
    Apr 7 at 17:25
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    Given that the current version of Superman has a son with Lois (Jon), I think that he can do what is necessary.
    – NomadMaker
    Apr 7 at 21:04
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There are many different ways in which an overpowered main character can be interesting. Just of the top of my head:

He could struggle with his powers, not knowing how to use them, which purposes to use them for, face ethical dilemmas and questions of "I could, but should I?".

His powers could be a burden as much as a gift, especially if he cannot fully control them or if super strength sometimes breaks things or injures people he didn't intend to injure. This could go to the point where he doesn't want his powers anymore.

He could be outsmarted by someone less powerful but more clever. A false friend or an adversary who knows which buttons to press and which favors to call in. The Joker is a good example of a villain who doesn't have any superpowers, but scares the shit out of his more powerful enemies, mostly by being two steps ahead of them and more ruthless.

He could rise and fall with them, acquiring powers and being destroyed by them. In fact, I have an unpublished novel of that kind where the main protagonist acquires godlike powers and loses everything he values in doing so.

The story could provide catharsis to the powerless, giving readers an out for the frustration of being unable to do something about a problem outside their control. I'm sure that a story about some superhero who is able to fight a global virus would sell well in this 2020/2021 pandemic situation.

Or the story could be about the limits of limitless power, like some of the "what if you were god for a day?" movies of the 2000s. No matter how strong, fast or whatever the character is, there are problems that are too complex, interconnected and tricky to solve. Some problems are intrinsically hard and you can't just bash your way out of them. Global warming won't be solved by Superman throwing someone into the sun. The RPG "Godlike" has an interesting setting of superheroes in WW2 - the sheer size of the conflict puts superpowers in context. Sure, you can throw a tank with your superstrength - but there are 200 of them attacking, plus artillery plus airplanes.

There are plenty of stories that can be told even around and with overpowered characters. Of course, if the story is one of the adventuring kind, basically, a series of obstacles to overcome, then an OP character will break the story. But that's by far not the only stories to tell.

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There is one recurring theme of the "overpowered main character" (OMC) I've noticed. The OMC tends to be so foreign or alien to the people or world around them, that they don't understand how to apply their power to get the outcomes they desire. So the story ends up focusing less on "will OMC be strong enough to make this happen?" and more on the interactions and (mis)understandings between characters, with the OMC as a tool to drive the narrative. In other words, it becomes a character driven story with OMC action sequences to keep things lively.

This has been extremely popular lately in the "isekai" genre (MC is transported from modern Earth to another--usually fantasy--world and inevitably winds up becoming an OMC). Since the OMC isn't from the world, they don't understand the way things work at all. Their drive may be to protect some other person who they've developed a deep bond with whose life is in danger. Or to try to change the perception of a race of people in the world. Etc, etc.

Any of these require more than just brute strength. They require making connections with people in the world and developing an understanding of where to apply their power. Which means that their OMC status may actually be detrimental to them!

Meanwhile, by taking an "ordinary person" from our modern world as the MC and making them an OMC, you give your audience a heavy dose of escapism. Which, especially with the last year and a half, would explain why the genre has been becoming so bloated.

Whether or not an OMC is "interesting" as a narrative device is up to you. But I'd say it's at its best when it's used as one of the many minor narrative devices in regards to the whole story, instead of being the whole story (One Punch Man is a good example of that. The majority of the story ends up focusing on the other characters and world as opposed to just "OMC wins again. Wow.").

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Whilst it lies on a spectrum, I would say that there are two main types of story with an "overpowered" character, those in which their power solves the storys main problems and those in which it does not. In a story where a characters power does not solve their issues it is arguable if they even qualify as overpowered. In One Punch Man, there is no way for Saitama to punch meaning back into his life. In the webcomic Unordinary, the protagonist pretends to not have powers at all, since the extremely hierarchical system he lives under would require him to take authority, a situation bad for him and others as he turns tyrannical and isolates himself. Although these characters can win fights, they cannot solve the issues of the stories that they are in, so the tension of the story is unharmed by their power.

Then we have characters who are overpowered for the situation they find themselves in. This is usually considered a problem, since it is difficult to derive tension from a conflict with an obvious solution. However, what one person sees as an overpowered protagonist steamrolling everyone in their path, another might see as a cunning tactician creating new plans under pressure. For example, in the Yu-gi-oh anime, Yugi could be said to win almost every duel he partakes in, but still has to use new tactics every time. Then again, an overpowered character can also be used as catharsis, such as with a godlike protagonist being bothered by some thug that the audience is primed to want to suffer. This actually shows up in a lot of shows, though often only for a single scene to show the protagonists power. This seems to be the case you describe. Stories based around this tend not to be particularly popular in the wider world, but appeal to people who may currently be feeling less empowered in their real lives, such as teens. It's worth noting that these sorts of stories tend to have a relatively bland overpowered main character to allow the audience to project themselves in to the character.

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Typically these superheroes fight their inner demons. Struggles of loyalty, character, loneliness. Depression. Perhaps also a deteriorating relation to the world they are supposed to help. Assume that a super-man has helped the government in good faith only to discover it was corrupt all the time and he was helping essentially the wrong side. Imagine they find mankind lacking overall because we are just a bunch of a-holes. (Don't we think that sometimes?)

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The "Meritocratic" Power Fantasy

These kind of stories are most popular in Korea, Japan and especially China where they play into the extremely competitive "meritocratic" education system where being successful through virtue, hard work, etc. makes the protagonist deserving of even more success.
It is quite close to the American Dream in an even more exagerated way.

Escapist Fantasy:
I think this is popular in most countries that put a lot of pressure on teenagers and students during their studies, their first years working etc. as it reassures them that they're not making those efforts for nothing despite the unemployment rising, quality life decreasing and suicide rates sky-rocketing.

I don't know about the novel you're refering to, but they tend to use a "blank slate" teenager protagonist to make it easier for this target audience to project themselves in the character (which is the main point of the genre).

Flat Arc:
The most common type of character arc for this kind of protagonist is a flat arc because there are no weaknesses for them to overcome.
The most interesting aming these stories happen in a context where the protagonist's success will impact his environment :

  • Hard worker against a privileged elite.
  • Virtuous vigilante against a corrupt state.

Of course, this also plays into the Meritocratic Power Fantasy : "If you are good, you will make a difference."

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Being Overpowered Is Just Another Character Trait

Simply because their problems don't stem from being unable to overpower someone doesn't mean they stop encountering problems, only that their problems aren't the same as people for whom the ability to overpower their opposition is a limiting factor. Without knowing specifics, the stories you are reading may be boring because they are giving 'normal person' challenges to someone who has no problem overcoming them. This can be cathartic for some, but not everyone is interested in watching an overpowered character going through the likely harem isekai protagonist motions.

Rather than going on further and at length about how an OP character could be interesting, think of an overpowered character you know. The following are a series of questions you could ask of that character whose answers could be used to tell interesting stories about them:

OP Characters Can Be Used for Juxtaposition of Others

The main character can beat anyone in a fight. They are, in every way, unbeatable. How do the people around them feel knowing someone like that is around? Do they give up? Do they try to figure out any weaknesses? Can they find meaning living in a world where a single individual could end it all? Inevitably people are going to challenge the overpowered character. What kinds of people would feel like they could beat the known-to-be-overpowered character? How do they react when they reach that impassable wall? People will naturally look to gain control over the character. If they are able to, how? What factors do their new handlers have to face when trying to utilize them?

OP Characters Can Be Used to Discuss the Philosophy of Strength

The main character can beat anyone in a fight. Can they only win 'a little' or are they so strong they can't engage at all without it being lethal? How do they approach problems of violence when that is the case? Do they always find themselves in situations that absolute strength can solve? Is that character, who is established as definitely going to win, interested in winning? Does strength mean anything to someone who is beyond it? Do they restrain themselves for moral, practical, or philosophical reasons? Do they revel in their power or do they view it as a burden? Are they immortal, or are they perfectly mortal and just very strong? How does that affect their response to threats? How can they form relationships given the lifestyle or inconveniences their strength provides, and with who?

Many of these questions can only really be answered by having a completely overpowered main character, because they are not problems a 'normal' person would encounter.

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You may want to ask, why it is so popular especially among teens? Without going into details of how human psychology matures, teenage period is when there is a widest gap between physical and cognitive maturation, which can explain the interest. An overpowered character may be interesting in its' evolution, specifically, turning from evil to good-doer, back and forth, and how various factors affect these turns. Think of Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader. While some books may not have these metamorphoses of a character so obviously manifested, it makes it even more interesting to observe and reflect on subtleties hinted by the author (e.g., "what would happen if...")

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It is similar to how some people enjoy playing games on the easiest mode possible and even if they are fully capable of playing the game on the hardest settings they have no interest in doing so.

Some people do not read stories looking for conflict, tension, or any deep plot. To quote G'Kar from Babylon 5:

"By G'Quan, I can't recall the last time I was in a fight like that. No moral ambiguity, no .. hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. They were the bad guys, as you say, we were the good guys. And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor."

Real life can be hard and brutal, and so some readers simply want to see a good character that is extremely powerful that everyone loves that can easily destroy their enemies without any conflict. All they want is the bad guys make a satisfying thump as they fall.

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I think that there is a misconception in the question that boils down to what you consider tension in a novel. While there are some exceptions out there in the end the main character is going to succeed in their goal and it will be a matter how they get there. In some cases the journey will be easy and others it will be harder but they typically will overcome all the challenges put in front of them in the end.

What should be remembered the characteristics are not the only points to a character and there is much more that should be considered including how they interact with the world around them.

If they are overpowered, able to defeat enemies and are feared by them how do they see that situation? Is this something that they enjoy or dislike? Do they believe in their own powers or have a misunderstanding about them? Along this same line do they actually have those powers or is there something else in play that makes it seem like that? Could be extreme luck/reputation that causes opponents to make mistakes and end up losing?

If everyone falls for the main character is this something that they can handle? If they are a people person great but if they are in introvert or have problems dealing with people this could cause them problems in the long run.

Just because a character is overpowered doesn't mean there isn't depth to that character that can make it interesting.

There are a couple of examples that I can think of to express this point and while all of them are not the "Main" character there is no reason why a story can't be written with a similar main character.

One Punch Man: Saitama/King In this case I am mentioning a duo because they sort of complement each other. Saitama is a truly overpowered character but because of his looks he doesn't tend to get credit for his work. King on the other hand is an extremely weak character but do to his bad/good luck he winds up getting all of the credit for Saitama's work and at several points his presence alone is enough to defeat/kill enemies.

Reincarnated as a Slime: Lightspeed Masayuki while he is a side character he is a hero that can be considered overpowered and has accomplished many things but not due to his own power but an ability he gained. His ability can be broken down into 4 areas that make him seem that way but can be overcome. Has an aura that renders opponents unable to act but a strong enough one can overcome it. Has incredible luck that is shared with companions that makes everything go in his favor including things like making every strike a critical hit. Increasing the moral of companions allowing them to fight with greater power. Causes others to take his actions in positive way allowing it to all work out in the end. While he appears overpowered in reality he is not and a strong enough opponent can overcome those skills and defeat him.

A final point is at times a main character being overpowered is just what the reader desires especially when you are talking about younger readers. There is the concept of wanting to be an overpowered superhero who can easily handle any problem and save the day and there are plenty of different terms for it around the world. There are plenty of people out there who have had dreams of having power like that even if they grow out of it later.

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