One Piece came crashing into our world in 1997. Two decades later, the franchise is still going strong.
With over 900 chapters of the manga, 800 episodes of the anime, nearly a dozen movies and a litany of video games, One Piece rules the world and no one knows why. Let me be frank. I was not a fan of this manga when it first debuted, and the anime was even less appealing.
The art was, to my eyes at the time, asinine. The character designs were silly and the story simplistic. So, what happened? How did One Piece effectively conquer the anime and manga world?
Well, there were a few factors that contributed to its success; factors that have continued to sustain the franchise even today. First of all, One Piece is probably the most aesthetically distinct show in the world today. Yes, the art is a little jarring.
Sure, the character designs border on the ridiculous. But none of those are mistakes or even the sign of a talentless hack of an artist. One Piece was designed to stand out. Most anime and manga struggle to succeed today because there is a glut of titles hitting the Internet every year.
And saturation of that sort tends to breed repetition and predictability. Most of these new stories seem to mirror one another because, for intents and purposes, anything new that can be done has been done.
So, the only option left for most new anime and manga is to take the same old tried and tested concepts, and breathe new life into them. And even then, most such anime and manga are destined to disappear in the deluge that inevitably hits the web every season.
But One Piece is not tethered to those restrictions. One Piece is an entirely unique monster, and every frame of the show, every panel of the manga screams that fact. That distinct quality captures you the moment you lay eyes on the first episode or even the first chapter. And once this franchise has your attention, your senses are finally exposed to the true magic of this show.
The One Piece hype is fueled by three things, namely: the camaraderie, the adventure and the worldbuilding. Oda, the author, does these three things better than almost anyone else in the industry. Any author can create a strong, three-dimensional character.
Oda goes the extra mile and creates strong, three-dimensional bonds between strong, 3D characters. That factor alone keeps his fans coming back. One Piece fanatics follow the manga from week to week not because it tells a spectacular story—though many will argue that it does—but because they are completely enamored by the heroes.
To the average One Piece fan, the Straw Hats, the primary protagonists of the series, are not just loud, obnoxious pirates who experience larger-than-life adventures; they are family. They have watched the lot laugh and cry, win and lose, love and hate for 20 years now, and they will follow the crew on their journey for another two decades if Oda keeps writing.
So long as that love for these characters persists, the One Piece train will never stop, and the excitement the anime and manga elicit will never die, regardless of how long this franchise keeps going.