What Episode of ‘One Piece’ Should You Start At?
Just hear me out.
So, you’re considering watching One Piece. Perhaps the increasing hype around the series’ 25th anniversary and new film has pulled you in. Perhaps you’re wondering why the hell Netflix is making a live-action adaptation of the series. Regardless of why you landed here, allow me to be among the first of this very dedicated fandom to welcome you! When you start getting interested in One Piece, one of the first things you learn is that it’s very long. Over 1,000 episodes, in fact—and counting. And so, like any reasonable human who hears that number, you’re probably wondering, “Where do I start?”
There is exactly one answer to this question. You may not like it. You may roll your eyes. But my hope is that, by the end of this article, you’ll understand and accept the reasoning behind it. I, too, recently had to grapple with this question and the seemingly ridiculous answer I’m about to give you. I only started my One Piece journey in fall of 2019, and it was my second attempt at starting the series. But I was told to start by my One Piece elders in the same place I’m about to tell you to start: episode one (or chapter one).
If you’re familiar with any of the other long-running shounen franchises—Dragon Ball, Bleach, etc—you may rightfully doubt whether starting at episode one is truly necessary. The starting points of shounen are all predictable, after all: a young boy sets out on a journey to be the best at some seemingly outlandish goal. And then they fight various bad guys and go on adventures until they achieve this goal, right? And with these super-long shounen, these fights are all very segmented and episode, right? And then it’s end series! Hooray!
Except… nah. You might find this hard to believe given its incredible length, but One Piece‘s pacing is very, very deliberate. The story is so long because mangaka Eiichiro Oda has given his characters the time they need to grow. This growth is slow, deliberate, and, most of all, incredibly convincing. It’s an experiment of long-form character development 25 years in the making. There’s honestly nothing else like it in fiction, at least as far as I’m aware. Watching Luffy grow from some punk kid into a legitimate contender for Pirate King is emotional and a joy, and it does not always feel inevitable.
Plus, One Piece‘s world-building is incredibly dense and detailed. I’ve had conversations with intelligent lit nerds about how the world of One Piece is on par as a literary experiment with Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Joyce’s Dublin. The series’ events, too, are crafted far in advance. A shocking amount of developments are foreshadowed hundreds and hundreds of episodes before they happen. Characters and places from the 100s will find renewed importance in the 800s. You’ll find out in episode 900-something who wrote that thing in Skypeia in the 200s. Everything builds on itself. One Piece isn’t segmented: it’s a very slow, very dynamic crescendo.
Fortunately, One Piece has remained consistently good throughout its run. If you ask five One Piece fans their favorite arcs, you’ll probably get five different answers that span the series’ 25-year history. Early arcs, like Alabasta, will mix with mid-way arcs, like Marineford, and be topped off with recent arcs, like Wano. However, I often tell people to give One Piece some time to pull you in. I recommend watching the series through at least the Arlong Park arc before deciding whether or not you want to go all in.
If you are curious about the series but don’t want to take all the time of watching 1000+ episodes of anime, the manga is an excellent route. I have seen both the anime and the manga capture people’s hearts and obsessions, just like it did for me. It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe, but One Piece fosters the kind of fandom where, for example, a random person on the streets of New York City will stop you because your phone background is the Going Merry. So whether you decide to go for the anime or the manga, I’m jealous of the journey you’re about to embark upon.
(Image credit: Toei Animation)
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