Inside Johnny & Miguel’s Relationship on ‘Cobra Kai’

Miguel and Johnny embrace in Cobra Kai season 3

YouTube Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) embrace after Johnny gets Miguel to stand in season 3, episode 6 of "Cobra Kai."

Netflix’s new hit series “Cobra Kai” is highly popular among fans, not least because of the parallels it draws to the original “Karate Kid” movies. One of the most prominent and, at times, heartwarming callbacks is that of the master-student relationship between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), which is reanimated in the relationship between Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña). Not only is the relationship between the two characters at the heart of the “Cobra Kai” story, but many fans and critics even say that that relationship is key to the show’s success.

Here’s what you need to know:

Johnny & Miguel Are an Emotional Reflection of Miyagi & Daniel

Johnny training Miguel in Cobra Kai

YouTubeJohnny trains Miguel in season 1 of “Cobra Kai.”

Johnny and Miguel first met one another in the “Cobra Kai” pilot, when Johnny, who at this point was nothing more than a washed-up has-been and deadbeat father, saves Miguel from being attacked by a group of bullies (mirroring the scene in “The Karate Kid” where Mr. Miyagi does the same to Johnny himself, in order to protect Daniel), one of whom he would later find out is dating his old rival Daniel LaRusso’s daughter.

As both Daniel and Miguel grew up without a father in their lives (Daniel’s died when he was young and Miguel’s abandoned him, according to his mother Carmen), Miyagi and Johnny both grow to fill that void in their lives as they spend more time together and bond, making their relationships almost more father-son than teacher-student.

Furthermore, Miyagi and Johnny both have a reverse void in their lives that their young student fills: Miyagi lost his newborn son and wife in a Japanese internment camp many years before the events of the film, and Johnny had all but lost contact with his only child, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), after he abandoned Robby shortly after his birth.

However, it is the uniquely modern twist on the relationship between Johnny and Miguel, as well as the brusque masculinity and at times humorous cluelessness which puts Johnny in such stark contrast to Mr. Miyagi, which makes many see “Cobra Kai” as so special. The Ringer, in fact, called their relationship “the key” to the show before season 2 had even aired, highlighting how Miguel helps Johnny reform himself into a hero.

How Johnny & Miguel’s Relationship May Have Saved the Show

The Ringer is not the only one who has pointed out the importance of the Johnny-Miguel dynamic to the show. ScreenRant, in a 2021 article on the show, called their relationship “the real glue that held the show together,” and “the true fulcrum that Cobra Kai pivots on.” They go on to highlight Johnny’s ignorance to Miguel’s Gen Z culture as part of what makes their relationship such effective entertainment:

Bottom line, Johnny and Miguel’s relationship is hilarious … as a Gen Z teen, Miguel is continually baffled but amused by how Johnny doesn’t understand modern technology or pop culture and is perpetually lost in the 1980s. Their interplay only grew funnier as Miguel became more confident and began calling out his sensei’s continual ignorance and political incorrectness, although Diaz also sees what’s cool about Johnny and his love for the ’80s.

The article goes on to mention how Johnny and Miguel’s peer-like relationship is almost superior to that of the hierarchical Miyagi-Daniel relationship, mentioning how Miguel also helped Johnny reconnect with Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), given Johnny’s poor social media skills. “Crucially,” the article explained, “it was Miguel and his clear-eyed understanding of who Johnny is and what’s best about him, who made [Johnny] see that he should go back to being what he was meant to be: a karate sensei. And when Johnny founded his new dojo, Eagle Fang Karate, Miguel naturally became his first student, once again, and helped recruit former Cobra Kai washouts to join Sensei Lawrence’s new endeavor.”

Viewers of “Cobra Kai” are also highly enthusiastic about the duo, with fans eagerly expressing their excitement recently for a photo of Zabka and Maridueña on set which was leaked online. Fans also expressed their strong admiration for an image contrasting John Kreese (Martin Kove) and Johnny vs. Johnny and Miguel, with fans vehemently choosing the latter. “Johnny/ Miguel was just really wholesome,” one fan said, “and I could both smile with them at their highs and cry on [S2E10].”

After many emotional ups and downs, Johnny and Miguel have reunited stronger than ever with Daniel and the rest of the Miyagi Do/Eagle Fang in the season 3 finale to take down the evil John Kreese and his merciless Cobra Kai. Be sure to tune into future seasons of “Cobra Kai” to see how the Johnny-Miguel relationship will continue to evolve even further.

Season 4 will be released on Netflix December 31.

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