Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece has become one of the most popular anime and manga series of all time. The series has been running for over two decades and accumulated a staggering amount of episodes that puts it nearly at the 1000-episode mark. One Piece joyfully indulges in many of the aspects that make action shounen anime series so addictive and fun.
Despite the series’ influence on the rest of anime, it’s hard to maintain consistent quality after so much time. The One Piece anime is notorious for exhaustive spans of “filler,” and the vast amount of content can easily intimidate some from ever checking out the series. Funimation recently announced that their dub of One Piece has resumed and so there’s never been a better time to jump into the series. To help make the anime feel a little less impenetrable, here are some of the very best episodes that One Piece has to offer.
“Thank You, Merry! Snow Falls over the Parting Sea!”
“Thank You, Merry!” is easily the emotional apex of One Piece and you don’t have to even be a fan of the series to break down into tears over this touching, genuine story. The Straw Hat Pirates are off on another journey, when they notice that their ship, the Going Merry, begins to crack and fall into disrepair. This prompts Luffy and company to realize that it’s time to say goodbye to their first vessel and they hold a cathartic Viking funeral for the ship. This is such a beautiful example of what the strength of One Piece’s characters can accomplish. The final moment where the spirit of Merry apologizes to the pirates for not being able to take them further on their journey—as if she did something wrong—is just heart wrenching.
“Eliminated Friends – The Final Day of the Straw Hat Crew”
It’s very easy for anime to fall into ruts or become repetitive, especially when it comes to how the battles play out. One Piece is guilty of this too, but “Eliminated Friends” is an excellent example of defying expectations. The Straw Pirates find themselves up against the Shichibukai and one of their members, Kuma, has an overpowered ability to slap people away into the sky to an undetermined fate.
“Eliminated Friends” has Luffy slowly watch all of his team members get flung away. Not only is there a real sense of dread, but Luffy also has a breakdown over how he’s not able to save anyone. It’s the kind of vulnerable moment that shounen anime heroes typically don’t show. It also ends on a fantastic cliffhanger that really messes with the audience.
“Everything Is to Protect My Friends! Second Gear Activated!”
One Piece is an anime that features plenty of over the top abilities and techniques, but much like how the initial appearance of Super Saiyans is pivotal for Dragon Ball Z, it’s a very significant moment when Luffy first activates Second Gear mode. Technically, Second Gear is achieved at the end of the previous episode, but “Second Gear Activated!” is pure action as Luffy’s enhanced skills and strength are put to the test. Luffy’s powered up fight against Blueno is extremely satisfying and looks amazing. The juxtaposition of all of this with the other pirates’ fight with the Franky Family just works so well.
“A Fist of Divine Speed! Another Gear Four Application Activated!”
The later episodes of One Piece are steeped in a number of issues, but they’re still able to tap into greatness on occasion and remind audiences how exciting the action and characters can be. Luffy faces a difficult opponent with Katakuri and he pushes Luffy to show off an intense new form, Fourth Gear: Snakeman. The whole Snakeman transformation and its rapid fight style against Katakuri is a sight to behold. It’s a great battle and it’s particularly satisfying due to how evenly matched they are, which is perfectly illustrated with the explosive conclusion of the episode.
“Say You Want to Live! We Are Your Friends!”
“Say You Want to Live!” is a fantastic example of how far the Straw Hats are willing to go for each other. Robin begins to panic that Luffy and his crew will abandon her due to the baggage that she brings along with her. Luffy in fact does the contrary and declares war against the World Government in defense of Robin. The Straw Hats are willing to ruin their reputation to the whole world, just to help out one of their own.”We Are Your Friends!” also contains another one of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire series when Robin goes into her grueling “I want to live,” speech. It’s a great reminder of how strong the development of these characters is during the show’s start. It’s a beautiful ending.
“A Heartbreaking Duel! Luffy vs Sanji! – Part 2”
Episodes 807 and 808 are packaged together as a one-hour special, but it’s the second half that really stands out. Luffy and company have faced off against many horrendous villains, but one of the most difficult fights involves a clash between Luffy and one of his own, Sanji. Sanji gets pulled in two directions and decides to embrace his royal heritage and leave the Straw Hats’ grubby existence for a more luxurious and respectful tenure with the Big Mom Pirates.
The battle between Sanji and Luffy is one-sided, but what hits the most here is Luffy’s dedication to his teammate. Luffy’s speech at the end about how he’ll starve himself and remain immobile until Sanji rejoins him because he needs him to become the Pirate King is just a brutal scene. Sanji’s eventual breakdown shows that he also cares and that this situation isn’t pleasurable for anyone. The use of the song “Memories” turns it into even more of an emotional onslaught.
“Fists Full of Emotion! Luffy Unleashes Gatling with All His Might!”
The Enies Lobby Arc in One Piece is easily one of the most captivating saga of episodes that the anime pulls off. “Fists Full of Emotion!” acts as a major climax of that chaos as all of the Straw Hat Pirates have their hands full. Most of the crew have to contend with Marines, who also have Devil Fruit powers, but Luffy meets his match against Lucci. Luffy is on the outs and it’s not until Usopp delivers some inspiring words that help him get back on his feet. It’s an important moment between Luffy and Usopp, but it results in the unveiling of Luffy’s Gum-Gum Jet Gatling technique, which finally gives him the necessary advantage to beat Lucci.
“End of the Fishman Empire! Nami’s My Friend!”
The earliest episodes of One Piece have a real charm as the anime is still finding its footing and establishing many things that become staples of the series. “Nami’s My Friend” is just an excellent episode of One Piece that delivers on the action and finds a powerful emotional core to ground it all. Luffy’s battle against Arlong takes an unexpected turn when he learns that the fishman has been abusing Nami to produce maps for his team. The evidence of the pain that Nami’s experienced throws Luffy into such a rage that he demolishes Arlong Park. It’s an episode that shows what drives Luffy and it also marks Nami’s re-entry into the Straw Hats, which sets the pirates off into the next dangerous stage of their journey.
“Luffy Vs. Usopp! Collision of Two Men’s Pride!”
Episodes 235 and 236 tell the same story of the dangerous rift between Luffy and Usopp, but it’s the latter of the two that features the fallout and consequences over all of this. Usopp shares a deep connection with the Going Merry, so Luffy’s announcement that they can’t repair the vessel and need to get a new one is viewed as a personal affront by Usopp. The fight that follows feels like the first real schism between Luffy and his friends and it teaches him the burden that a captain has to bear. This is a battle that neither friend wants to engage in and it messes both of them up for a while as a result.
“I Will Surpass You! Rain Falls in Alabasta”
One Piece has devoted hundreds of episodes to battles between Luffy and some new threat, but “I Will Surpass You!” is just a good episode that cuts to the chase and features impressive fights and attractive animation. Luffy currently has to contend against Crocodile and their battle is set within some ruins, which add plenty of ambiance to the altercation. Luffy gets very creative with his various abilities to help overpower Crocodile, which makes for a fun fight. Amidst the carnage, there’s also a deeper message present in this one as Vivi repeatedly tries to emphasize that violence is not the solution to problems.
One Piece can currently be streamed on Funimation.com, Hulu, and Netflix, in various capacities