This year, One Piece celebrates its 20th anniversary, which is remarkable given that Eiichiro Oda‘s manga was originally intended to run for only five years. Now, more than 870 chapters and over 800 anime episodes later, One Piece has become the best-selling manga of all time, and one of the best-selling comics, only behind titles like Superman and Batman. Its staggering length can be discouraging for people new to manga and anime, so here are a few reasons why you should give One Piece a shot.
The story centers on Monkey D. Luffy, a boy who wants to find the “One Piece” – a legendary treasure left by the greatest pirate who ever lived, Gol D. Roger – so that he can become the King of the Pirates.
Over the course of the show, Luffy continues to grow as a character. Not only does he grow physically in strength and power, but also in influence within key organizations, countries and even other pirate crews. Yet he remains a lovable, overly friendly, immature dork. He manages to evolve as a fighter and a leader while retaining the naiveté that has made so many fans fall in love with him over the years.
The protagonist’s eccentricity and personality provide an ingenious take on piracy: instead of a greedy, dishonest and unscrupulous captain leading a band of pillagers pursuing some mundane gain, as we’re used to expecting in pirate stories, Luffy values liberty above most things. His aim in becoming the Pirate King isn’t to rule, per se, but simply so he is free to do whatever he pleases.
Concepts of justice, ethics and morality are questioned as the story unfolds mostly through the point-of-view of people who, even though are considered criminals, have acted on behalf of oppressed people. These “criminals” have oftentimes fought against official institutions, like the Marine and the World Government.
Known as the Straw Hat Pirates, the members of Luffy’s crew have their own dreams and personal agendas that intertwine and complement the storyline. The Straw Hat Pirates are more than a crew; they are a big, weird family, helping each other along their journeys.
Overall, One Piece features a huge cast of characters who all have unique idiosyncrasies and quirks. It’s almost impossible to read or watch it and not be captivated by at least one of them.
One Piece wouldn’t have lasted so long and remained so popular without setting the story in a vast universe that’s worth exploring.
Comprising of several islands, often inspired by real places — from the Hiroshima Castle in Japan to Venice in Italy — the world of One Piece introduces rich and diverse cultures in every saga. As a result, the locations, organizations, crews, races, and tribes always feel new and exciting.
Every place the Straw Hats and their allies visit present a different challenge, usually involving political, historical, or military issues closely related to that specific saga.
There are also none-too-subtle nods to pop culture and historical facts, from the Rocky Horror Show’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter-inspired Ivankov to references about conflicts between native populations and colonists in Skypiea Arc. The anime perfectly blends unrelated inspirations into a coherent macrocosm.
In this way, One Piece has unfolded an unusual and absurd world, where the silliest and most unconventional events end up making sense in its context.
And though the plot isn’t free from many shōnen cliches, such as training arcs, mentorship, and friends bonding, it has the innate ability to take these elements and organically combine them into something unique, with a fresh and creative feel.
True to its genre as a shōnen, One Piece combines action and drama along with a rather wacky humor, in unusual situations. Luffy and his crew might have their lives at stake in one moment, fight with all they’ve got in the next, then, party until their heart’s content right after.
But even then, One Piece never shies away from addressing serious matters.
The show broaches hard topics like racism and race supremacy, for example, through the Fishmen, one of the species that inhabit the Grand Line. Their storylines open discussions about prejudice, segregation, and discrimination.
Slavery is portrayed in Sabaody Archipelago Arc, where we’re introduced to auctions where aristocrats and well-off people bid on slaves for profit or simply for amusement.
Political maneuvering and corruption also play an important part in the storyline: a Void Century, from which there is no information whatsoever, implies the government’s use of censorship to write an “official version” of history and forcibly ascertain the legitimacy of the current state of affairs.
Through these, and several other instances, One Piece seamlessly blends funny moments with tear-jerking scenes and epic fights and battles, while still managing to keep the story lighthearted.
Few anime shows are as unpredictable as One Piece. Many seemingly irrelevant details, often disguised as simple gags, lead to important developments later. Characters shown briefly in inconspicuous situations can reappear at some point to perform an important role.
Even main characters that viewers might think they know well, can turn out to surprise you when you least expect it.
The series also uses a fair amount of foreshadowing, which gets fans out on their own treasure hunt in search of clues for upcoming events. Engaging in debates, discussions, and fan theories in One Piece fandom is sometimes just as fun as watching the episodes.
The consistency seen throughout the anime is also present in the power balance that determines the combat’s outcomes.
Many characters are Devil Fruit users. These are mystical fruits that give powerful abilities to those who use them. The fruit may give the user the ability to manipulate substances or alter the users’ own body (paramecia), create and manipulate elements and forces of nature (logia), or turn them into animals (zoan).
In exchange for these abilities, eaters are no longer able to swim. This is a considerable setback in a seafaring world.
Devil Fruits grant the user impressive powers, like controlling gravitational forces or earthquakes. Yet even silly gifts like altering one’s body weight or manipulating soap can be honed into creative battle skills.
However, simply being a Devil Fruit user isn’t the only factor to being a strong fighter; technique and strategy also play an important role. So, working hard and developing other skills is essential in winning fights.
Each character grows as a fighter from the ground up. As an increasingly tough roster of opponents challenge Luffy and his crewmates, their fighting abilities gradually improve, following a steady power curve. There’s hardly ever a moment when power boosts are not duly justified and tied to the plot and character development.
Long series often suffer from a loss of quality over time. As the episodes stretch on, sometimes they seem to drift aimlessly. One Piece doesn’t have this issue. Though One Piece’s universe never stops expanding, every new element returns to Luffy’s ultimate goal of becoming the Pirate King and his crewmates fulfilling their dreams.
Although the anime pacing might suffer at times, One Piece is amazingly consistent, especially given Oda’s commitment to the manga.
It’s certainly not an easy task to catch up with over 800 episodes, but One Piece is a compelling and heartwarming story with charismatic characters that viewers really come to care about. One Piece is a journey well worth following.
One Piece is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation. For those interested in checking the manga, it is available on VIZ Media’s Weekly Shonen Jump, which releases new chapters on the same day as the Japanese Weekly Shonen Jump magazine counterpart.