by Christian Thrailkill
So! You want to get into One Piece, the most successful manga of all time, and one of the most successful book series in history. Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re a new reader, it can be intimidating to try and get into One Piece. Having run consistently for 24 years, there are currently 1022 chapters of One Piece. Anyone telling you that’s a breeze to get through is patently lying to your face. The anime is just as daunting a challenge, currently sitting at 985 episodes. Simply put, there are very few convenient means of catching up.
Before attempting to read or catch up to One Piece, I would like to offer two pieces of advice. Firstly, read or watch at your own pace. This series has been going on for 24 years and will be going on for years to come. There is no rush, so read at your own pace of enjoyment. Secondly, it’s okay to not like it and stop! You should never feel forced to complete a series you don’t like. Reading and watching stories are ultimately about enjoying the tale being told. If you aren’t, there is no shame in just stopping.
Now that the caveats are out of the way, let’s get into it!
The simplest method of getting into One Piece is to simply start at chapter one. One Piece is incredibly consistent in quality and has its trademark blend of slapstick humor, character focus, and dynamic action from the very start. All the hallmarks of the series that will indicate to you if you’ll enjoy One Piece or not are readily apparent early on. The second reason to recommend starting at chapter one is that unlike other popular comics such as Superman or Batman, One Piece narratively functions as an epic, in the vein of Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones. While not immediately apparent, every chapter, moment, and panel serves a larger narrative purpose. It’s quite common for off-handed comments or brief scenes to become pivotal to the plot hundreds of chapters later. While this makes the reading of One Piece incredibly rewarding for long-time readers, it also is a very real barrier to entry. The first 100 chapters of the series function as a prelude, for Pete’s sake!
With that in mind, If you’re looking for just an abbreviated retelling of early One Piece, look to my second recommendation: The “Episode Of” TV Specials. These are movie-length adaptations of the early sagas of One Piece to catch up fans who haven’t been reading the series for decades. The general narrative structure of One Piece is that every 100 or so chapters constitute a “saga”, with 3 or 4 smaller story arcs telling an overarching narrative. Each of these “Episodes” will retell the highlights of the 100+ chapters in order to help you catch up to the present-day story. This is something I’d recommend for children who are curious about what happened previously in One Piece, or adults who don’t have the time to invest that they might have had when they were younger. The tradeoff, however, is losing much of the climactic catharsis that comes with having 100 or so chapters to add in character depth and emotional stakes.
My third recommendation for getting into One Piece is to try one of the One Piece Movies! There are currently 14 movies, and most of them capture the strengths of the series, such as incredibly detailed worldbuilding, engaging characters, and a sense of adventure and wonder. The movies Strong World, Film Z, Gold, and Stampede, in particular, were produced with direct creative input by the mangaka of the series, Eiichiro Oda. The English dubs of the movie are very well done as well, so there’s no pressure to watch the original Japanese either! My personal favorite is Gold, which is a pastiche of casino heist films like Oceans’ Eleven.
The fourth recommendation I have for new One Piece fans is to literally just jump into the current arc of One Piece. I started following One Piece in the middle of the Marineford Saga, which is the One Piece equivalent of Avengers: Infinity War. Thankfully, the story is so engrossing that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have the previous 500 chapters of context; I was immediately invested. The current Wano arc serves as the climax to the last 400 or so chapters of the series and is easily among the most entertaining and engaging One Piece sagas even without context. It’s worth diving in the deep end sometimes!
The final and the least recommended method is to seek out the famous anime fan edit One Pace. Due to the unique situation of being consistently on Japanese broadcasting for twenty years, the One Piece anime mutated from being a well-paced adaptation to one of the most infamously plodding anime in history. Episodes that used to cover 2-3 chapters of material now average covering around ¾ths of a chapter. The One Pace edit seeks to rectify this pacing issue by removing many of the padding tricks and cutting down 985 episodes into a significantly more manageable 415 episodes. This makes the anime still a major time commitment, but one you’ll save weeks of time on compared to the real thing. This is not an officially licensed or sanctioned edit, however. If you can support the official release, I highly encourage that over One Pace.
Overall, there are many of getting into One Piece, but few that are quick and easy. If you do decide to take the time to read or watch the series, however, you will be rewarded with one of the richest, most fully realized stories ever put to page. One Piece is a serious contender for being the greatest comic book series ever made and is an engrossing adventure epic worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as The Odyssey, The Mahabharata, or The Lord of The Rings. If that’s something that intrigues you, climb aboard and set sail into one of the great works of fiction!