Almost every superhero and villain has something that sets them apart from normal people. Though in many cases these are skills and abilities that many people can acquire (though with a level of expertise that separates them from most humans), superpowers are one of the most famous aspects of superheroes. These powers can come from a variety of sources (including magic, scientific augmentation, or mutation, to name a few) and can range from subtle (precognition, psychic empathy) to dynamic (super speed, super strength, super agility, flying) to overwhelmingly powerful (reality-bending) and everything in between.
Super Powers can be acquired in multiple ways.
Mutation refers to a change in the nucleotide sequence in the genome of an organism and in some cases can result in a drastic change in DNA. While in real life, a mutation usually simply refers to some form of deformity or physical irregularity, in superhero stories this can often result in superpowers and abilities far beyond those of normal humans. It's very common for a superheroes power to come from an accidental mutation, often from a science experiment gone awry.
Though mutation in comics often means a normal human who is changed on a genetic level, in the Marvel Universe, it has a much more specific connotation. While heroes like Spider-Man and The Hulk the results of altered genetics, only mutants born with their specific powers, abilities, and/or deformities are considered mutants within this continuity, for the most part. These mutants aren't the result of accidents, but rather is a result of a fluke genetic change unlike most other humans. In many cases, the powers don't manifest until puberty, though it is also common for some to develop powers earlier and occasionally, later in life.
Some powers are simply a form of magic acquired through intense study of ancient arts. These powers often consist of specific spells. The casters themselves are not necessarily different from others, rather they just have a knowledge that the normal populace does not. Usually, it involves them to understand either the magical forces that are a part of the universe or to be able to perform the rituals that invoke them. Often, these magics need to be accessed through words, symbols, gestures, sacrifice, invocation of a higher deity or other entity or reading a spell, though there are other ways to perform magic. The exact nature of magic might very in interpretation: in some cases it is an energy or force, in others it is a science that is simply not understood (in the series Planetary it is referred to as a "cheat code for the world" in reference to video games where rules can be bent or broken with knowledge of the proper code). Even within the same universe, these rules may be interpreted in different ways, which is not to say that these are inconsistent, but rather that there may not necessarily be a single uniform form of magic.
In other cases, the character may be imbued with magical powers from an outside source, or perhaps gains a mystical artifact that augments their abilities. Captain Marvel (Billy Batson) is an example of this, who uses a magic word to transform himself into a superhuman with god-like powers.
This is one of the rarer ways to acquire abilities. Sometimes, an ancient god or goddess may give powers to a mere mortal, sometimes through an object, sometimes to the individual directly. Alternatively, the powered being may in fact BE a god or goddess, in which case the powers are theirs. Those granted powers from deities may lose their powers if separated from the object of power said deity gave to them, or if the god ceases to bless them. Often there is overlap between magic and divinity, with heroes like Thor and Wonder Woman, who are divine, having magical objects or a deity (like Loki or Hera) who can use magical spells.
Technological Tools or AugmentationEdit
There are many heroes who gain their powers from having technology being augmented to their bodies. In some cases, they are using tools that augment their natural abilities, often in the form of armor or rings. When this is the situation, the powers can be removed with the artifact that provides them, such is the case of Iron Man and Green Lantern. In many cases, the artifact might merge with the hero, such as with Jamie Reyes, who became the Blue Beetle.
Physical Scientific AugmentationEdit
A common form of power gain is the use of science. This may be testing, where the victim is given powers through experimentation. More often, however, it is radiation. Many heroes got their powers this way, which could be the bite of a radioactive animal, an explosion of radioactive rays, or a space phenomenon. The powers may wear out without continued radiation.
Aliens from another planet whose powers are either normal on their planet or whose powers appeared due to the difference in the planets. Those that are born with their powers are much like mutants; they cannot lose them naturally, while the latter group may lose their powers when away from the planet that gives them power.
Some heroes and villains may be nothing more then average people who have undergone rigorous training to get at top human condition. They are but human, however, and therefore cannot achieve super speed, strength, or other powers. What they get usually
Some heroes and villains may never learn were their power came from and in some cases have elements that may or may not be powers. In some cases, it is discovered to be one of the above later on, and in some cases it is simply the case.
Notable Characters: Onepunch-Man,
These are heroes who got their powers in a way not described above. The entire list of possibilities is endless.
Many ways of acquisition overlap. For example, someone's mutation may be the ability to cast magical spells. Perhaps, someone is given a mechanical wonder by a divine power. However, despite the ways heroes and villains receive their power, they all fall into a few simple categories.
Notable people who fit "other";
Are super intelligent animals that have decided to be crime fighters and superanimals. Much of them have them have the same powers superheroes have like flight, super speed and more.
Notable superanimals: Underdog, Krypto, and Detective Chimp
Are beings that can phase through walls like ghosts and can still harm people while phasing.
Notable phasing people: D.L. Hawkins, Shadowcat
Are beings that are dead and came back to life.
Notable undead people: Solomon Grundy, Deadman
A blaster is someone who's main ability is to shoot something. This is often in the form of firing blasts from their bare hands, but their power is mainly long range and (hopefully) precise.
These powers alter physical characteristics. This may give the being increased speed or strength. Also, the being's body is changed accordingly. For example, a superhero who can fly is often also given protection for his eyes in high speeds and special lung mutations to breathe in low atmosphere.
An animorph is a physic who takes on the appearance or abilities of an animal. The hero often receives a trait similar to the animal that gives them their power. This also includes any mutation that renders the owner inhuman in appearance.
Controllers control things, typically an element, such as metal or fire. The exact scope of the controller's power differs.
Mentalists effect the mind or use their minds in different ways. They can create illusions, read thoughts, or move things with their minds.
A copy cat has no power on their own, but can copy the power of those around them. Some can only copy while the original user is nearby, while others may be able to permanently learn the ability. Some can also take powers away while they copy them. Shape shifters also fall under this category.
Mechanics come in two varieties: those who "speak" to machines, and those who simply have a great understanding of them. The former category often controls machines and can get said machinery to perform functions for the hero/villain. The latter category can build many objects and fix most machines. Also, one mechanic (Sylar) was able to see how the brain works, and reconfigure his own to adopt the powers of his victims.
Beings under this category are either invincible to harm or can heal from wounds. The power of a healer varies: some cannot heal from certain wounds while others can heal from anything, including incineration. For the sake of categorizing people who can heal others fall under this category as well.
These abilities alter space and time. They often allow the user to teleport through space, time, or both. These abilities have many uses, but are often the most destructive as time travel can change the present.
The gift of future sight is rare, but common enough to gain it's own category. These allow the owner to see the future. Often, this creates terrifying results.
Absorbers often absorb some type of energy and change it for use as something else. Most absorbers release this energy through another ability.
There are many powers that do not fall under the above classifications. These can include abilities such as immortality, superior memory, walking through walls, and more.