Cobra Kai:

Why it works

Tweet from a Cobra Kai fan on Twitter praising the series.

Tweet from a Cobra Kai fan on Twitter praising the series.

 Cobra Kai season 4 got released on the very last day of 2021. A Netflix spin-off of the iconic 80’s film Karate Kid, Cobra Kai centers around the two main characters of the original film. Daniel LaRusso, the hero of Karate Kid, is a successful owner of a car dealership with a wife and kids, one of which, Sam, is a part of the adolescent cast of the show. Meanwhile, Johnny Lawrence, the bully in Karate Kid, is an alcoholic, absent, deadbeat dad to Robby, another teen in the show. These two character foils participate in what is, essentially, karate wars over the course of 4 seasons.   


Tweet from a Cobra Kai fan on Twitter praising the series.


Twitter was flooded with support for the show after the release of the new season, with fans showing support for the popular series for not only the action but also the connections between characters. This seemingly simple and silly action show has an emotional grip on its audience.The question is: how? 


If you haven’t seen the show, I’ll establish some context so you know the karate war lore. Other than Daniel, Johnny, and their kids, there’s Miguel Diaz. Miguel lives in the same apartment complex as Johnny, and starts the show being bullied by some kids from his school. To teach Miguel to defend himself, Johnny becomes his karate Sensei and opens a dojo. Daniel starts a rival dojo and the teens learn karate and get in constant fights. The action scenes are entertaining, the teen drama is prevalent, and there are twists, turns, and cameos from the original films. These all make for great TV, but the show also shines in the relationships between the characters, and this is what makes the show most compelling. 

Cobra Kai character flow chart



    Johnny’s father-figure relationship with Miguel is arguably the best connection on the show. For Miguel, whose father has been absent his entire life, having a male role model is something special- even if that father figure is teaching him how to fight other teenagers. Miguel’s attachment to Johnny grows over the four seasons, with a pivotal moment in their relationship happening towards the end of season four.  


    To Johnny, his bond with Miguel is everything he missed out on with his actual son, Robby. Because Johnny was so absent in Robby’s life, their relationship is strained at best. Robby spends the show obviously distressed at his father’s involvement in a different kid’s life. He seeks this father-son bond from more than one adult in this show, including Daniel LaRusso.  


These relationships cause much internal conflict in the show. For Robby, he feels his father, who was barely involved in his life, is investing his time and care in another kid his age. He’s been pushed aside by his father for his entire life and has to watch Johnny build the relationship he so desperately craves with his classmate 


In season one, sides are taken almost immediately. It’s Miguel vs. Robby in every aspect- from crushes to fights to the All-Valley karate tournament. So not only is Johnny spending time with Miguel as a sensei, he’s also directly working against Robby. 


   To Miguel, who’s never met his father, his relationship with Johnny becomes a key factor in his life. He has an adult male figure to look up to, confide in, and learn from. But in the back of his mind, he always worries that he’s just a temporary replacement for Robby, a do-over for Johnny used to ease his guilt over his mistakes with Robby. 


    Because of this complicated dynamic, the show has many emotional moments and honest commentary on familial issues with an imperfect cast of characters. These connections make these characters more than just action-figures knocking each other out. They’re adults and kids alike who make mistakes and regress as much as they develop. They learn lessons and try to find who they are.  These conflicts climax in season four. After three seasons of build-up, these internal issues are addressed in a season of emotions, tension, and mistakes. It’s got action, of course, but the season goes out with a bang regarding the intricate web between the characters. 


And that’s why Cobra Kai works. It’s more than the average action show. It’s got compelling characters, teary-eyed storylines. That’s what keeps an audience. Though, the fight scenes don’t hurt. Who knew someone could kick that high?