Every now and then a piece of entertainment comes along that is so colossally successful and well-liked that it seems to be some sort of sci-fi tall tale. The entire creative universe in Eiichiro Oda’s wonderfully crafted manga One Piece fits that mold. Like, well over half a billion copies of the comics sold since it began in 1997. Also, numerous anime treatments. Several anime movies. And a live-action film. And a recent live-action series on Netflix. And yet, each new twist seems to stick the landing with fans. For all that, One Piece is being inducted into the Pop Culture Hall of Fame as a Franchise for 2023.
One Piece is a simple tale: Monkey D. Luffy decides to become a pirate and sail the world looking for adventure. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and he’s made of rubber after unintentionally eating a Devil Fruit and transforming. Gotcha. He assembles a crew (The Straw Hat Pirates) and sets off on a journey from the East Blue Sea to find the dead King of the Pirates Gol D. Roger’s treasure, known as the “One Piece,” and take over for the deceased king. And that’s just how it starts.
The entire world-building by writer and illustrator Eiichiro Oda might sound like an overcaffeinated five-year-old telling you about a dream they had, and it’s not far off. In fact, it doesn’t take place on Earth (which makes it easier to explain, if you think about it). and the planet is populated with strange variations of humanoids, animals that seem familiar but aren’t quite the ones we are used to, and huge robots and other crazy phenomena. There’s a lot going on here!
The over-the-top character design is crazy, even by modern manga standards. Wiiiiiide open mouths full of big teeth make it difficult to show restraint and subtlety at times. But who cares? With a setup as fantastical as One Piece, why even try? The action is bonkers, reaching outside and across the panels of each page. The dialogue is zippy and often quite funny.
So far, there are well over 100 issues of the manga title. If that were all there is to this story, it would be remarkable.
Anyone who isn’t familiar with the world of One Piece might think it sounds a little bit out of the mainstream. Considering the colossal sales numbers along with video games, action figures, and other merchandise, it really is right in the middle of what comics fans want. Maybe you’re not mainstream? Either way, One Piece is one solid addition to the Pop Culture Hall of Fame for 2023.