One Piece Manga vs Anime: The Beginning

In the world of “One Piece” there are two kinds of people: pirates and everyone else. In the world that contains the world of “One Piece,” (this world, for those keeping track), there are also two kinds of people: “One Piece” people and everyone else. These are two very different kinds of people.

The “One Piece” series, authored by Eiichiro Oda, has become a global phenomenon, with critical acclaim and record sales. In fact, there are 345 million issues loose in the world as we speak.

If you know who this guy is, then you know more than I did the first time I watched

 I first encountered “One Piece” in Adult Swim’s late-night Toonami programming block. There was a stretchy guy fighting a big-lipped bodybuilder in a church… or something… I think. Despite having no idea what was going on or any of the stakes involved, I lingered for a bit, then rubbed my chin reflectively and vowed to look into this “One Piece” thing. My first search revealed that there are currently 748 manga issues, 658 anime episodes, and 12 movies. Nope.

The “One Piece” anime has more intro themes than many shows have episodes.

Too daunting. I shut down right there. No way was I going into something that huge. I suspect this is a problem for many people who could potentially find themselves huge fans of “One Piece.” And do I start with the anime or the manga? In a battle, “One Piece” manga vs anime, who wins? Where the hell do you begin?

Well, how about at the beginning?

“One Piece” Manga Vs “One Piece” Anime – The Beginning

Reading the first issue of the “One Piece” manga, then following it with the first episode of the “One Piece” anime is to witness two very different takes on how to begin a series. Despite being completely unfamiliar with the world or characters, it was apparent that the anime was already pulling from a richer body of materials. In other words, the anime first presents the characters in a form that seems to have required multiple issues of evolution to achieve in the manga.

But enough with the analysis… let’s butt them against each other.

The “One Piece” Characters

Manga: Makino, Red-Haired Shanks, Higuma, Benn Beckman, The Lord of the Coast!

Anime: Alvida, Coby, Nami, Roronoa Zoro

The manga definitely feels smaller, with two distinct gangs going head-to-head and Luffy caught in the middle. And while it’s nice to get Luffy’s back-story right away, being thrown into the middle of the action gives the anime an edge. The world set up in the first issue of the manga feels distinctly smaller, with only the end of issue appearance of a Sea King suggesting something more was going on. Whereas characters in the anime are all used to suggest the world’s expansiveness. The Roronoa Zoro cliffhanger at the end already gives us a character much more intimidating than Higuma, king of the mountain bandits. That said, Coby is pretty annoying.

Winner: “One Piece” anime episode “I’m Luffy! The Man Who Will Become the Pirate King!”

The Luffy Action

It’s hard to beat Luffy stabbing himself in the face to prove how worthy a pirate he would be. The manga definitely does a great job of setting up Luffy’s most endearing characteristic: his absolutely unrelenting resolve. Luffy’s new devil fruit rubber powers don’t add up to much at first, which makes the pistol punch deployed at the issue’s end an awesome payoff. The action in the anime may be more bombastic (it’s hard to beat Captain Avida getting stretch-punched over the horizon), but the manga has an edge this time.

Winner: “One Piece” manga chapter “Romance Dawn – The Dawn of the Adventure”

Alvida totally deserved to win that first fight. (photo:

Alvida totally deserved to win that first fight. (photo:

That “One Piece” Sense of Humor

I love the utterly casual way that the devil fruit is introduced in the manga. No one even seems to mind that much that Luffy has eaten one of the rarest fruits in the world. Seeing Luffy taking it all in stride is pretty fun. Still, there isn’t much in the way of humor in the manga. Whereas the anime is full of great visual gags. While I think the fat joke pay-off was a little lame, Captain Alvida is a hilarious-looking character. And my favorite moment from either the anime or the manga beginnings came in the anime. Coby describing his situation (press-ganged, forced to be a cabin boy) earned him no pity from Luffy, who said, in a cheerful tone bordering on deadpan, “You’re a moron and a coward… I hate people like you!” It’s the Luffy moment that best explains the character: utterly transparent, with a trickster’s sense of humor butting against a rigid code of honor and ethics.

Winner: “One Piece” anime episode “I’m Luffy! The Man Who Will Become the Pirate King!”

 “One Piece” Manga Vs “One Piece” Anime – The Winner

The anime wins. Not because of the individual victories above, mind you, but because it’s already playing with a full deck. The manga is setting up a world that it hasn’t seen yet. The anime premiere is hiting at all of the great stuff to come. It’s a significant difference that means, through no fault of its own, the manga is a less satisfying way to begin experiencing “One Piece.”

Notes From a Deck-Swab

Being new to the series, I have no idea which characters I’ve meant will be major players, but both the anime and manga give me the impression that no character is lost forever in the world of “One Piece.” Even Captain Avida, who was punched over the horizon, seems likely to be back.

Here are some other observations I made as a “One Piece” newbie:

– The tone is very romantic, not in the love sense (more on that in a minute), but in the adventure sense. It didn’t take too long for the tone to intoxicate me… convincing me that the pirate’s life really is the best way to see the world.

– I usually find the way romantic encounters are treated in anime to be either unnatural and awkward or downright creepy. But the moment in the anime where Luffy and Nami share brief flashes of eye contact was very romantic (in that other sense this time).

– Having a slapstick cartoon where violence feels like it could have very real stakes is confusing. It’s not a bad thing.. just hard to process for an American used to dividing cartoons into comedic and serious styles. I’m not used to a universe with rules that can be both looney-tunes level slapstick and still have a definite line between life and death that can be crossed with violence. It’s possible I’m mistaken, but I got the sense that death will become a very real thing in the world of “One Piece.”

– Like with the violence, the blend of tones had many elements of the narrative catching me by surprise. Coby being press-ganged was a dark backstory that shocked me, even though it’s an obvious revelation the moment you hear it.

– Luffy’s utter determination is made more explicit and message-y in the anime than in the manga. It feels a little moralizing… but I kind of like it anyway.

– After the awesome Gol D. Roger set-up in the manga I was looking forward to seeing it animated. Too bad the anime opens on stills. Bummer.

– Luffy is a top-tier rogue.

Nothing like introducing god-like characters just so Luffy can punch them in the face. (photo: