UPDATE: JD Cowan responds.
As I said before in my analysis of Deku, My Hero Academia is one of the best anime out right now, and it is well worth your time to watch it. That being said, however, My Hero Academia is destined to remain a cult hit; it will have a very devoted and very active fanbase, but it will never reach the generalized recognition that Dragonball Z got (Here, I’m using “Dragonball Z” to refer to the entire Dragon Ball franchise.)
I know what you’re thinking — MHA is a great series with interesting characters and amazing plotting. It has great buzz, and it’s just plain fun to watch. If we just give it time, it will be seen as the equal of DBZ. However, that will not occur for one big reason: broadband internet.
When Dragonball Z first aired on US television in the late 90s, the media environment was very different from what it is now. The internet existed, but it was still largely dial-up, only able to transport a few kilobytes of data per second. Most people saw their entertainment in one of three ways: on television, in a movie theater, or on a VHS or DVD. While cable had its multitude of channels, most people congregated around a few major stations. Fox Kids, Kids WB, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network were the major sources of childrens’ programming, and most children watched all four. Programming a VCR to record was hard (and you needed a free cassette), so everyone had to watch a show at a specific time, week after week.
In such a system, the maximum number of eyeballs were focused on a given show all at the same time. If a show took off, it TOOK OFF. It happened with Pokemon. It happened with Digimon. It happened with Yu-Gi-Oh. And it definitely happened with Dragonball Z. Since virtually every kid was watching the same few channels, one did not want to be left out of the often animated discussions that would occur on the bus, at recess, or at lunch, so watching was imperative. While not every show became a phenomenon, many kids had at least heard of most shows.
Then in the late 2000s, online streaming happened.
Fox Kids and Kids WB had disappeared long ago. Cartoon Network’s anime blocks of Toonami and Adult Swim were rendered obsolete by the four horsemen of Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and Netflix. Every show could be watched on demand, so the newest shows competed with older ones — and one could watch a show at any time. Mobile devices became powerful enough to show video, making programs even more convenient to watch. Computers and gaming consoles could be hooked up to TVs, and the latter has apps for most streaming services, allowing on-demand entertainment right on the living room screen.
In today’s environment, everyone watches shows that closely fit their tastes, at the times most convenient for them. With so many shows within easy reach, no one has to congregate around a handful of networks, nor will all eyeballs be focused on the same shows at the same time. A show popular with one group of people will be completely unknown to another group of people. There is no longer a set of TV shows to serve as a cultural baseline; only theater movies and live sportscasts can do that anymore.
In this fragmented media environment, even a show as good as My Hero Academia would have a difficult time pulling off what Dragonball Z did. Its current cult status is truly the best it can hope for. Remember that in the US, My Hero Academia airs on a streaming website, not a major TV network. The only people who will watch it will be those with an active interest in it; they are less likely to stumble upon it the way one stumbled upon shows when flipping channels back in the 90s.
Television programs have a tougher road to walk now if they want to be national crazes. Such is the way of the world today.