After 25 Years, ‘One Piece’ Has Become a Complex Undertaking

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Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” has become a commitment spanning multiple decades, which makes it a tough pick for someone recently introduced to the series. With a manga, anime, and a live-action series, it has just become a complicated mess.

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Published on Nov 21, 2023

It’s a world of swashbuckling pirates, curious monsters, and mythical fruits that have toppled authorities running it. Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” is the story of an optimistic oddball named Monkey D. Luffy — working towards his dream of becoming the King of the Pirates. All Luffy set out with were his powers of rubber, barring any ship or crew at bay as he began his quest to find the fabled treasure — the One Piece.

Of course, we don’t know if it’s actually a single piece of treasure or something tangible at all — akin to the contents of Pandora’s Box from the first “God of War.” All the beginning of the manga and anime confirms — through the words of Pirate King Gol D. Roger — that the treasure does exist. His proclamation led the world into a frenzy, beginning what is called the “Great Age of Pirates.”

What began as a one-shot first serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1997 has become one of the longest-running manga series, and its ending finally seems within grasp.

A graphic for Marvel's Secret Wars event (2015), where Doctor Doom plays a pivotal role in a universe reset.

Bounties in “One Piece” have been akin to what Power Levels meant in the Initial days of “Dragon Ball Z.” Luffy’s rise through the ranks is always chronicled by increasing berries for his head.

Photo via Toei Animation

Fast forward some 25 years and the story’s still going strong: more than 1,000 chapters published spanning over 100 volumes. “One Piece” has since spawned a successful anime adaptation, several feature films, video games, and a well-received live-action series from Netflix.

It’s the flag-bearer of whimsical Japanese comics in the modern era, but not an easy enough entry point into that world — largely because it’s just too long. The manga doesn’t let you skip any chapters or arcs since even the earliest of characters stay relevant as it approaches its “Final Saga.” There’s just too much information to retain, and reading over 21,000 pages while formulating your own theories is a monumental task for most.

Oda has made it clear that “One Piece” is moving into its final stages — but a distinct timeline still remains elusive. Back in 2020, Oda said that his manga would end in 4 or 5 years, which could mean that we’re well toward the end. The series has made some big moves: Luffy has finally acquainted with the notorious Dr. Vegapunk, and even a God of the World Government has stepped upon the battlefield. However, most of the secrets the series has teased, including that of the One Piece, have still been masked under a shroud of mystery.

We see some seemingly big revelations thrown around, but the narrative quickly shifts before we can make sense of all that happened. And frankly, this has been the root of my exhaustion.

Both the manga and the anime have long eclipsed the “binge” status, and the live-action adaption is still budding — something unlikely to conclude before a decade. The only thing that comes close to the expansive world Oda has fabricated is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the latter has fallen prey to redundancy and a patch of creative muddiness, “One Piece” has stood the test of time.

Poster for the Wano Arc from the One Piece anime.

The Wano arc served as a definitive moment in “One Piece.”

Photo via Toei Animation

“One Piece” came at a time when the world wasn’t interested in anything beyond Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon, and ironically, we’ve reached a point where there are more interesting things to commit to. “Kimetsu no Yaiba” and “Jujutsu Kaisen” have become cultural phenomena — you might’ve fallen upon them across TikTok and Reels even if you aren’t well-versed with the genre.

Burnout can’t be unavoidable: Oda himself has regularly gone on extensive breaks between arcs — understandable when you take two and a half years’ worth of chapters to build up to a single showdown. His willingness to extend the series could also mean a more painstakingly detailed conclusion, one that satisfies all theorists without leaving things behind for Reddit to look into. And after pouring a year into the franchise, I’m betting on it.