Luffy spots some surprising creatures on Thriller Bark

The 5 Best ‘One Piece’ Arcs, Ranked

As told by someone who likes emotional character stories and deep absurdity. In other words: 'One Piece.'

Ranking One Piece arcs is bound to be contentious. Honestly, it’s a sign of the series’ high quality that there isn’t an obvious answer to the question, “What’s the best arc in One Piece?” I’ve heard people opine it’s Alabasta, or Skypeia, or Dressrosa. And my response is always to nod slowly and muse, “I can see why you say that.” That being said, my own answers to this question are somewhat … unconventional.

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Eiichiro Oda’s series is a mammoth, clocking in at over 1,000 chapters/episodes. This list isn’t useful to you if you’re looking for hints as to where to jump into the series. The answer to that question, as much as you probably don’t want to hear it, is Episode 1. But look on the bright side: you have an anime or manga to serve as your bedrock for the next couple months. Or years, depending on your pace.

Here are what I believe are the very best One Piece arcs ranked from worst to best.

5. Marineford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cIBhp8zNOs

Yes, I’m starting off with a Hot Take, because many would place Marineford in their number one or two slot. I have a few reasons, personally, but the primary one is perhaps that Marineford makes me sad, for obvious and spoiler-y reasons.

In general, I prefer anime/manga where there’s less fighting and more pre-fighting narrative, but Marineford is the pinnacle example of how One Piece can use fighting as narrative. Throughout the arc, the emotional stakes are through the roof the entire freaking time. And as the Summit War carries on, our view of the Navy’s sense of justice changes considerably. Which … uh … may or may not be particularly resonant if you live in the U.S.

4. Wano-Kuni (Acts 1 and 2)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vT96GetBjw

The hype leading up to the Wano arc was very, very palpable. And the arc delivers. In the anime, the production quality instantaneously went through the roof. This introduction alone hypes me up like nobody’s business—although I’m somewhat biased, as I’m studying the shamisen (the instrument played by Komurasaki in the video).

Wano is when One Piece was able to finally drop a bunch of Japanese cultural and historical references, and Oda clearly reveled in it. Suddenly, there’s ninjas and public baths and transformational foxes. Sanji’s selling soba noodles. Robin’s a geisha. The whole arc—including Onigashima, after it—is narratively styled after a kabuki play, which explains the curtains in the introduction. And a kabuki play has five acts, so there’s likely a lot still to happen.

Aside from the historic parallels of “opening up” Wano, similar to feudal Japan, there are a lot of present-day issues to heighten the emotional stakes in Wano that much more. There are plague rounds, for God’s sake. Just seeing how Kaido’s factories are polluting the waters of Wano is familiar enough to real world equivalents to get anyone’s blood boiling.

3. Enies Lobby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsP0ByjyU6A

This is not going to be the last time I say this. One of the truly remarkable and perhaps under-celebrated aspects of One Piece is its ability to accurately, empathetically depict traumatic events and their continual effects on the adults in question. Robin is not the first Straw Hat to have a trauma-laced background—all of them do, to some degree—but her backstory is arguably the most tragic. Her inner struggle to realize she can actually trust the Straw Hats rings true to trauma survival. And her shout on the balcony is, for me, one of the most memorable moments in the entire series.

Furthermore, Enies Lobby is where the stakes of the Straw Hats’ journey shoot up considerably. They go from being annoying pirates in the Navy’s way to legitimate enemies of the World Government. That drama and tension is felt palpably throughout, and it makes the entire arc gripping.

2. Thriller Bark

This, too, is a Hot Take. And I might be deeply biased because I believe Halloween is uncontestedly the best day of the year. But an entire arc that’s a twisted One Piece take on a horror film? With Rocky Horror Picture Show vibes galore? Yes, please.

The one smudge on this arc for me is Absalom’s peeping tom behavior and the infamous Nami shower scene. But otherwise, Thriller Bark brings me nothing but joy. One Piece takes all the stereotypes around horror fare—zombies, the cursed wedding, ghosts, etc—and knocks them just so out of the norm, to hilarious effect. Which isn’t to say the arc doesn’t get legitimately creepy—we get Nightmare Luffy here, after all. There’s mystery around every corner, and Moria is the perfect jaded top boss to cap it off.

Also, the Straw Hats vs. Oars may be my favorite fight in the entire series. It’s the only fight so far in which every crew member has worked together against one foe. It was so momentous, the Straw Hats themselves even recently mentioned the fight during the Wano Arc.

1. Whole Cake Island

https://youtu.be/9cBaMNOUHwA?t=79

This may be the Hottest Take of all. I know. I looked at other One Piece arc rankings, and Whole Cake Island was averaging at about number 7. Calm down, and let me explain why I love Whole Cake Island so much.

Before Whole Cake, Sanji was a funny and sometimes problematic guy who, despite his problematic-ness, I still liked a lot. After Whole Cake, Sanji is not only one of my favorite characters, but one of the characters I relate to the most. Again, One Piece is great at dealing empathetically with trauma, and Sanji’s confrontations with his toxic family will feel familiar to many (plus, Whole Cake gave Sanji’s ridiculous behavior, including his lady-obsessions, depth—it explained it in a heartening way that didn’t excuse it).

For example. [SPOILERS AHOY!] There’s a moment in the arc when Sanji glimpses his dad, Vinsmoke Judge, for the first time in years. Sanji begins talking to his younger self and trying to soothe his inner child: “How are you doing? Would you like me to make you something to eat?” It’s a beautiful, tender moment that really speaks to those of us traumatized by the actions of our parents. It’s also exactly what I have been doing in therapy. I actually told my therapist about this scene, and she uncharacteristically perked up. I then added that this occurred in episode 800-something, and her enthusiasm to give One Piece a watch waned considerably.

Sanji’s not the only emotionally resonant point in Whole Cake: we could dive into Luffy starving himself, into Nami’s very potent hand-slap, into everything that is Charlotte Pudding, into Big Mom’s backstory. All these very heartfelt moments are interspersed with characteristic One Piece ridiculous to the nth degree. Whole Cake asks: “What if One Piece went effed up Disney?” And friends, it’s excellent.

(Image credit: Toei Animation)


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Author
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.