How To Conquer One Piece

by Sam Leach,

So it's come to this. You're interested in catching up on One Piece. And why wouldn't you? It's the highest selling manga of all time in Japan and one of the most beloved anime franchises in the world. Personally speaking as a fan, One Piece is also one of the most moving and ambitious works of high fantasy ever created.

There is one little hurdle, however, and I'm sure you're familiar with it: One Piece is nearly 700 episodes long and nowhere close to the finish line. The initial push to getting caught up with the series is only getting more and more difficult as the episode count keeps going up. So, what can we do about that? Is penetrating this massive adventure just too much for newcomers? Well, I don't think so!

One Piece is a series near and dear to my heart. I've been with the genre of long-running shonen for about my entire life, and the ride of catching up with One Piece I find to be surprisingly doable and especially rewarding. So, if you're interested in checking the series out, I've compiled a list to help make some sense of your little mountain climb.




Manga or Anime? Alternate!
There's a lot of conversation over what the “perfect” way to experience One Piece is and, not surprisingly, you'll find a lot of people vouching for the experience that they personally had, be it the manga, the anime, the dub or sub, etc. The reality is that there are a lot of tradeoffs between the different versions, and no one true way is actually better than the other (in my honest opinion.)

The anime is more of an experience with its slower moments and great music, whereas the manga has great art and is a good way to gorge on large chunks of story in a small amount of time. Either way, you'll still be getting the same story. I'm a nerd so I've gone through both versions several times, but even I didn't get through the series my first time by sticking to only one format.

There's a secret to all of this, though: the manga and the anime (at least, the manga canon episodes of the show) are basically interchangeable. If you read faster than you can watch an episode of anime, you might want to switch back and forth. Find yourself bored with an arc in the anime, but want to find out what happens? Switch over to the manga and blast through it. Enjoying the manga but want to see some of these fight scenes animated? Hop on over to your preferred streaming service and change course for the anime version instead. It's a pretty unique position to be in: you have two interchangeable versions that you can get through at your own pace, and it's up to you to decide which one works best for you in any given moment. Maybe you notice the DVDs on sale at Right Stuf or you happen to be browsing your friend's manga volumes. If it's within reach, don't be afraid to dive right in.




Jump in the Middle
Here's another little secret: You're not going to appreciate every little detail no matter where you start. There are later events that work better because you've seen the earlier stuff, but there are also earlier events that work better because you've seen the later stuff. Nobody's experience is going to be the same anyway, so feel free to mold it how you like.

Personally, if you'd like to dive in without the ominous feeling that watching “One Piece episode one” might bring (heck, 10 hours later you're still in the first season of the show), I personally recommend giving the Water 7 arc a shot. It's a little darker than some of the other big story arcs, but it features some incredible moments with the show's principal cast, has some amazing fights and is emotionally satisfying in the way the best One Piece material is. It's not a bad place to start, but the choice is yours.

If a long-running series does its job right, it should engage you no matter how lost you are among all the lore. Take a chance on a random episode or start at the beginning of an arc that sounds interesting to you. Most fans of the series became hooked because they just saw it on TV one day or opened the pages of Shonen Jump.

Many of the official releases have their stuff divided by story arc for this very reason, so keep an eye out for that.




Differentiate the Types of Arcs
Like the majority of long-running shonen properties, One Piece can be divided into a handful of focused story arcs and sagas that have their own beginning, middle and end. Early stories are more swift, while later stories tend to be at least 50 episodes long. For the most part, you can discern that these arcs fall into one of two categories: arcs that move the bigger story forward and arcs that serve as more independent adventures.

There are several arcs in the series that I refer to as “checkpoints.” Arlong, Alabasta, Water 7 and the Paramount War; these are the story lines that most One Piece fans look back on as the ones that defined the series, each one being bigger and more world-changing than the last. Sandwiched between these arcs are stories like Skypiea, which feel more like detours in the big picture, but tend to be satisfying adventures in their own right with interesting fantasy locations and more focused themes. The One Piece Wikia is a great resource if you're looking for a starting place; getting a feel for what's what could give you an edge in figuring out which parts of the series interest you the most.

Take Breaks
If you fall so heavily in love with the series that you accidentally plow through the whole thing in a couple weeks, more power to you! However, that's kind of insane. There can be a real pressure to catch up as soon as possible, but One Piece is going to be around for a very long time. You have your whole life to join the water cooler discussions.

Honesty, there absolutely are slow and tedious portions of the series. It usually pays off in the long run, but the last thing I want to do is tell someone to keep pushing forward if they aren't having fun. Put it down. Trust that you can always come back to it later.

I think in my initial passthrough of the series, I probably took a solid year off in the middle of my marathon. I remember coming back to it out of curiosity because I heard the original theme song's melody again and had a sudden moment of “Oh yeah, that’s what this show felt like!”

Trust me when I say there's always something great on the horizon with this series. Just wait for the right time to sail towards it.




Skip What You Have To
Filler is a known plague for a long-running series like this. One Piece is actually fairly light on anime-only content compared to its brothers Naruto and Bleach, but when it shows up, you can smell it a mile away. Beyond maybe the G-8 filler arc, feel free to skip anime-only material when it comes up; it can absolutely be skipped without missing any important information for the main story. One Piece Wikia has a rundown of every major story arc; segments with corresponding manga chapters are manga canon, and the rest is all anime-only filler. Feel free to skip that stuff, and if you're fiending for more One Piece once you've wrapped it all up, you can always come back to it later.

Beyond that, there's also the option of skipping canon material as necessary. Now, I don't recommend this 99% of the time, but if you're really aching to get to a certain part of the story, and what you're sifting through just isn't cutting it, jumping ahead right then and there is always an option. I wouldn't recommend letting this become a habit, though, since you begin to choke out opportunities for the series to surprise you. I skipped the Thriller Bark arc on my first read through only to go back to it and discover how much I loved it as a whole. So, implement at your own discretion.

Oh, and before I forget: if you're watching the anime, skip the openings and recaps frequently. This may seem like a no-brainer if you're plowing through in a marathon, but you'd be surprised at how much time you shave off. On Crunchyroll's site, there's almost always someone with the top comment on each video giving you a time stamp for when that given episode actually starts.

Find a Character You Think is Cool
For a lot of people, this is as simple as thinking Zoro is a badass and wanting to know what kind of badass thing he'll do next. Everyone has their favorite Straw Hat, so let that character be the thing that brightens up your day!

On top of that, there are a handful of characters beyond the main crew itself that have left a bit of an impression on anime fandom in general, and in a lot of cases it's due to the newest story content. Want a villain even more deliciously slimy than Dio from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure? Doflamingo is your man. Maybe you like the fit of Trafalgar Law's jeans (I know a few people who do.) If that's the case, then boy do I have the story arc for you.




Spoilers Can Both Help and Hurt
Everyone's going to have their own philosophy when it comes to avoiding spoilers. I know that I probably never would have gotten through the series if I wasn't already having a ton of fun browsing the online encyclopedias. I knew everything that was gonna happen before it happened, saving the new surprises and twists for when I was caught up with everybody else. It helped to know for sure that cool stuff was coming.

Depending on how much you already know about the story of One Piece, you may or may not want to go down that path. There are plenty of great surprises for sure, and if you think you can make it through completely blind, you have my salute. If not, however, it isn't the end of the world.




Check Out Some Movies
If you're looking for a way to test the waters of One Piece, there are worse ways than checking out some of the movies, considering most of them are independent adventures that require little to no knowledge of the original show. I've heard testimonials from people who became interested in the series because of the tenth movie, Strong World. Fans generally agree that that's a good one that captures the spirit of the series, though no feature length movie will ever capture the size of the manga. Personally I recommend Film Z – it's the strongest and complicated film, but it's also the densest for new fans. You may want to wait on that one until you're caught up at least through the Fishman Island arc, but it's incredibly rewarding once you do.

Some of the movies and TV specials are also abridged versions of various story arcs. Honestly, for the reason mentioned above, I don't really recommend any of them. They may move faster and have more kinetic animation, but it gets to the point where they move so fast that there's not a lot to invest in. The bigger stories of One Piece are so huge that to watch the movie version first would be like watching a 90 minute cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Available Releases
Note: This section covers the North American releases.

The immediate recommendation for checking the series out is via legal streaming sites, since it's the most convenient and easiest on your wallet. Both funimation.com and crunchyroll.com have the entire episode catalogue, but with some caveats. The english dub is exclusive to Funimation's paid subscription service, but they are missing chunks of otherwise available HD content in the 400-600 episode range. This will likely be fixed as they acquire the rest of the home video rights.

Crunchyroll, on the other hand, has all of the existing HD content for their subscription service, but is missing a handful of the original openings due to music licensing issues.

Home Video-wise, the only real choice is Funimation's “Collection” sets. The four disc, 24+ episode repackaged DVD sets are readily available and the cheapest, giving you the most bang for your buck. You can usually find each of these sets for around $20, and content-wise they get released pretty soon after the initial two disc “Voyage” releases.

As for the manga, the single volumes can be found in most bookstores, both physically and digitally. Your best bet is going for Viz's 3-in-1 books, the quick and cheap alternative for which I've heard numerous positive testimonials from beginning fans.

If you're interested in the newest of the new, you can always check the One Piece manga out in Viz's Weekly Shonen Jump online magazine where the newest chapters are released day-and-date with Japan alongside other popular series.

The only downside to Viz's manga-releases, however, is that they're riddled with outdated terminology and character names from the 4kids days such as “Zolo” instead of “Zoro.”

One Piece is a long game, but I honestly believe there's a little something in there for everyone. Whether you intend to inject the whole thing into your veins or are looking to dip your toe in once in a while, One Piece is an incredibly satisfying and exciting journey that can't be recommended enough to new fans.

Have you dove in to the ocean of One Piece? How did you get your start? Let us know in the forums!


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