One Piece is one of the most popular anime and manga in the world and for a good reason. Creator Eiichiro Oda’s grand tale of pirates, adventure, action, conspiracy and romance of the sea has captured the hearts and attention of millions of fans today. With a Netflix live-action series on its way this year, many might be left wondering exactly where to start. Well, today we’re covering a beginner’s guide to One Piece and what you need to know going into the series.
One Piece began serialisation as a manga in 1997 and went on to spawn a long-running anime series, merchandise, games and extensive lore. Those willing to begin with the anime are in for a very long watch as the show currently sits at over an imposing 1000 episodes. However, the manga also has over 1000 chapters but it’s a lot quicker to read. Plus it wastes no time with filler, so we recommend reading the manga which is also available in full colour.
The World of One Piece
To understand the world of One Piece, you first need to understand its geography. The world itself has no name, however, it’s not like planet Earth. This is a fantasy planet where 90% of the world is covered in an expansive ocean called the Blue Sea. The Blue Sea is divided into North, South, West and East Blue with a long stretch of land (one singular massive continent) running vertically through the planet called the Red Line and a large ocean current running horizontally around it called the Grand Line.
Instead of continents, there are hundreds of islands of varying sizes scattered around the world. Some have formed empires while others have nestled into smaller towns and villages. Each island has its own unique climate and civilisation too, such as snow islands, desert islands, jungle islands, floating barges masquerading as islands, fire islands and much more. There’s even a Bermuda Triangle equivalent. It gets crazy.
The Pirate King
The story of One Piece centres around the elusive titular treasure left behind by the former Pirate King, Gold Roger. Seconds before his grand execution, the crowd yells out and asks where he left his grand treasure. Gold Roger uttered his final words that would usher in a new golden age:
“My Treasure? It’s yours for the taking, I left everything I own in that place.”
Thus began this new era of pirates, a frantic scramble from every corner of the ocean to find the One Piece – a global treasure hunt. What is “that place” that he speaks of? Well, that’s for you to find out in the story. Anyone who discovers the One Piece is given the title of Pirate King, the “freest person in the world.” Our story begins here with a boy named Monkey D. Luffy.
Monkey D. Luffy
Monkey D. Luffy is the protagonist of One Piece and the most important character in the series. Luffy grew up on a little island in East Blue and was raised without parents except for guardians, parental figures and his brother, Ace. He dreams of sailing the oceans and exploring the wide world with the goal of becoming the Pirate King. To achieve that, he needs to find One Piece. When he’s old enough, Luffy finally leaves the village with his straw hat and embarks on a little dingy towards the sunset, excited at the dawn of adventure ahead.
He quickly meets some interesting characters that become key players in the grand story of One Piece. Furthermore, they’d become his most loyal crew mates under the Straw Hat Pirates.
The Straw Hat Pirates
Luffy’s crew initially consists of first mate and swordsman Roronoa Zoro, navigator Nami, chef Sanji and sniper Usopp. Luffy eventually acquires a ship too called the Going Merry. It’s worth noting that there are a few more Straw Hat Pirates that join the crew throughout the story, but we’ll just be looking at this “Starter Pack” group for now. While they’re all working together to see Luffy’s dream realised and find the One Piece, they all also have ambitions and goals of their own.
Nami wants to create a comprehensive map of the world, Zoro wants to become the world’s greatest swordsman (for that, he needs to dethrone the current greatest swordsman, Dracule Mihawk), Usopp wants to carve a name for himself and become a brave warrior of the sea, and Sanji wants to find the All-Blue, the fabled oceanic location where all four seas meet. In order to fulfil their dreams, they need to venture into the Grand Line.
The Grand Line
The Grand Line is a massive strip of ocean dividing the world horizontally and contains multiple islands including “that place” where the One Piece is. Pirates cannot simply sail into the Grand Line, though, since it’s protected by the Calm Belt, protective outer strips of the ocean without any wind or currents (and it’s populated by Sea Kings, colossal creatures of the deep that can swallow ships whole).
To enter the Grand Line, ships need to travel up Red Line’s Reverse Mountain through an ocean current that then ejects them onto the Grand Line. The seas are quite different and far more dangerous on the Grand Line, though. Regular compasses are useless due to ever-changing magnetic forces, so navigators need to rely on Log Poses, specialised compasses that point travellers to the magnetic fields of the closest islands.
There’s one challenge that certain pirates need to face when travelling by sea: they can’t swim. This is due to the side effects of Devil Fruits, mysterious fruits that, when eaten, grant users varying supernatural abilities. Luffy, for example, ate the Rubber-Rubber Fruit when he was a kid. His body now takes on the properties of rubber and he can stretch and compress his anatomy at will, but he lost the ability to swim as a result – as is the case for all Devil Fruit users.
The origin of Devil Fruits remains a mystery to this day. It just exists in this world and several pirates usually consume them to gain powerful abilities. Luffy will meet plenty of friends and foes on his journey who are Devil Fruit users.
The World Government
Despite the booming age of piracy, the world of One Piece is governed by a central power called the World Government. Nobles, politicians, highly influential figures and a large military force called the Marines all make up the body of the World Government. They stand to eradicate piracy and stop those who seek adventure. As you can imagine, the World Government is the biggest opposition for Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates, as well as several sea-faring pirate factions.
However, the World Government’s grip on piracy goes beyond governing the oceans. They have actually partnered with a group of powerful and notorious pirates called the Seven Warlords.
The Seven Warlords of the Sea (or Shichibukai) are allied with the World Government. At the start of One Piece‘s story, the seven notable Warlords are Dracule Mihawk, the greatest swordsman in the world; Bartholomew Kuma, a scientific experiment and tyrant; Boa Hancock, the Amazonian Snake Empress and only female Warlord; Crocodile, the head of a crime syndicate called Baroque Works; Gecko Moria, captain of the Thriller Bark, the largest ship in the world; Donquixote Doflamingo, a former World Noble; and Jinbe, the whale-shark fish-man and Knight of the Sea.
The Seven Warlords are arguably independent of the World Government and operate freely, though must still ally with them when requested. As a result, the World Government mostly turns a blind eye to their criminal activities.
Remember the geography of the world? The Red Line splits the Grand Line into two sections: the first section is known as Paradise and the second section is known as the New World. The latter is ungovernable waters where the World Government has little influence and control. Instead, control is maintained by the Four Emperors of the Sea, far more imposing and supremely powerful figures than the Seven Warlords in the world of piracy.
Since One Piece‘s story is so massive, we don’t actually get to the Four Emperors (and their true identities) until the later stages so I’ll refrain from mentioning them by name here. Let’s just say that the Four Emperors have so much notoriety and power, they’re seen as untouchable legends in the eyes of most people.
The Void Century
The greatest event to have ever taken place in the history of One Piece, the Void Century largely remains a mystery and has been passed down as myth over the centuries. Basically, 800-900 years before the current events of One Piece, there was a hundred years of undocumented history that mysteriously vanished from records and the known world, including the existence of an ancient kingdom. What exactly happened in the Void Century? Why was 100 years of history simply wiped from the history books?
That’s a question that lingers over One Piece‘s story and world like a dark cloud. There are a few people alive who may have vital information about the Void Century, but the World Government has been actively hunting them down in an effort to control the information and prevent it from getting out. The Void Century is one of the greatest mysteries of the series and how it ties into the One Piece treasure is mostly unknown to this day.
The Will of D
You’ll quickly come to realise just how densely layered the lore of One Piece actually is. This is due to the numerous mysteries that the series introduces. The Will of D is another such mystery. Across the story, Luffy comes across several people who all seem to have the initial “D” in their name. Nobody really knows what it means – maybe some people do – or what it is supposed to symbolise. Luffy himself is a carrier of the initial D. The mystery is still ongoing.
What is the One Piece?
The golden question at the heart of the story is: what exactly is the One Piece? Nobody except Gold Roger and his crew have ever laid eyes on it. Nobody even knows the true location of it (maybe some people do… I need to stop that). But what form does it take? Is it a massive horde of treasure or something far greater?
Thankfully, we’ll have none of that “One Piece is the friends we made along the way” nonsense. Oda confirmed in the past that the One Piece wasn’t some abstract concept; it has a physical presence and is a tangible object. Fans have continued to speculate its contents for decades now and with every morsel of information revealed in the story, we’re always one step closer to finding the One Piece with Luffy.