Ranking One Piece Arcs

With Netflix’s adaptation of One Piece releasing in just a few short weeks, many fans of the franchise, myself included, are going back and rereading the series in anticipation of the live-action debut. Doing so is no small feat, given the sheer enormity of the manga and just how dense of a story series creator Eiichiro Oda is telling. There are plenty of twists and turns, powerful moments, delicious baddies, and some very creative abilities that make each chapter and episode an absolute pleasure. Inevitably, one has to ask: which is the best arc in One Piece? How would a person possibly create a ranking of all of the story arcs that have been told in One Piece? Can it even be done? Well, we’re going to try.

A couple of things to mention before we do a deep dive into the world of One Piece. First of all, there is an absurd number of story arcs in One Piece and not all of them are created equal. While some arcs last multiple volumes and include climactic moments, others are only a handful of chapters and may not accurately reflect the state of the manga. Not only that, but to rank every single arc of One Piece would be a monumental task given the sheer number, meaning some of the placements on that hypothetical list may come down to sheer indifference rather than a genuine examination of the series.

As such, we’ll be ranking the major arcs of One Piece, also known as the sagas. Each saga can encompass multiple arcs, but they usually have an overall goal and purpose to them, whether that be to defeat a notable enemy, save a person, or enact a major plan to reshape the foundation of the world. If we look at the sagas, that leaves us with just 11 entries, though given that the Final Saga is still underway and won’t be included, there’s a round ten. From there, we have clear criteria and I’ll be able to delve into the broad strokes of each arc and why they do or don’t work. So, with that in mind, here is our ranking of the major arcs in One Piece! 

Ranking the story arcs on One Piece from worst to best

Best Sagas in One Piece Ranked

10) Fish-Man Island Saga

Normally, putting an arc as the worst on the list is just standard procedure for a ranking, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the Fish-Man Island Saga is probably the weakest One Piece has been for a while. After a major time-skip, we’re reunited with the Straw Hat Pirates as they’ve become much stronger and are continuing on their journey by traveling to the underwater kingdom of Fish-Man Island. Upon arrival, they get caught up in a rebellion by extremist pirates and have to defend the nation from them, effectively showcasing just how much stronger they’ve become.

The problem comes from just how little of the arc actually focuses on them. While many of the best One Piece arcs feature the crew as observers of the place they just arrived at, here they factor in so little. Instead, a lot of the time is dedicated to fleshing out the racism and slavery metaphors already well established with the Fish-Men. When the fighting does take place, the stakes are so low because Hody Jones, the antagonist of the arc, is a poor villain and just exists to be a punching bag to show how strong everyone has become. The arc plants a few seeds for future developments, but which One Piece arc doesn’t do that? I won’t call the Fish-Man Island Saga bad, but it gets closer than any other One Piece arc to being bad.

9) Sky Island Saga

The Sky Island Saga is weird just because of how far removed it is from everything else in the series. It’s an isolated adventure where the Straw Hat Crew hears rumors about a treasure floating on an island in the sky and tries to sail up to it, getting involved in a game between a group of guerilla warriors and a despotic ruler with a god complex. The arc is inconsequential at points and even now, at the beginning of the Final Saga, doesn’t factor in heavily to what’s happening. There are some great fights, like the battle between Luffy and the Lightning-User Eneru, as well as probably one of the best moments of catharsis the series has had up until this point, but it just kind of exists without doing anything either amazing or terrible.

8) East Blue Saga

The saga that started it all, the various arcs that encompass the East Blue Saga set the stage for everything to come. In it, we witness the first adventures of our crew and how they all met each other. There’s a greater sense of comedy in these earlier bits than later, with these arcs establishing that Luffy and his friends are small potatoes in a world where fearsome pirates rule the seas. This saga does a lot of heavy lifting in setting up forces that will become the foundation of the series, as well as the dynamics between the first five members of the Straw Hat Pirates. But the biggest strength of these arcs is how well they demonstrate the characters of Nami, Zoro, and Sanji. That’s not to diss Luffy and Usopp and their experiences in the East Blue Saga, but the moments that happen to those three and the threats they face hit you hard and make you realize very early on that One Piece isn’t like other manga. However, when compared to the sheer scale and spectacle of later arcs, it can be a bit deflating coming back and seeing just how low-stakes everything was. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ranking the story arcs on One Piece from worst to best

7) Thriller Bark Saga

Thriller Bark is One Piece distilled to its most basic elements. Unlike most major sagas, Thriller Bark is actually just a single arc, albeit one that’s fleshed out for a full five volumes. In it, the Straw Hat Pirates dock on the island-sized ship Thriller Bark, a horror-themed land where the captain, Gecko Moria, is creating an army of zombies to make an invincible crew. The fights in this arc are a delight, including the only fight in the series so far that has the entire Straw Hat Crew team up to defeat a single enemy. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with entertainment value, as seeing the ghostly aesthetic used in such a light-hearted adventure series gives the arc some distinction when compared to its peers. If you want to understand the appeal of One Piece in a single, five-volume arc, Thriller Bark is the place to look.

6) Whole Cake Island Saga

I agonized over where to put the Whole Cake Island Saga, if only because while the beginning of it is fairly standard, I absolutely love the ending. The premise is that Sanji, the ship’s cook, has willingly gone to see one of the deadliest pirates in the world, Big Mom, to marry one of her daughters. The reasons for his departure are unknown, but Luffy won’t allow Sanji to leave and heads to Big Mom’s stronghold on Whole Cake Island to rescue him.

With the opening parts being slow as we establish this new island and discover the reasons Sanji left the crew—including a heated battle between Sanji and Luffy—the first half comes across as unfocused with too many things happening at once. There are the requisite fight scenes, introducing Big Mom as a credible threat, world-building, alliances, etc. There’s just too much. But when the rescue mission is underway, it’s a captivating, white-knuckle thrill ride. The crew doesn’t even fight Big Mom. She’s portrayed as being all-powerful, so the rescue operation becomes a chase over multiple islands as all the crew can do is run from Big Mom and mitigate the destruction left in her wake. Of course, there are still big battles to behold, but the unique ending of the arc and its execution are enough to make this one of my personal favorites, despite the flaws.

5) Wano Country Saga

The difficulty of placing the Wano arc is mostly due to the sheer enormity of it and how it serves as the climax for a multi-year storyline. Wano is almost all action, with the fight taking place at the end of the arc involving a ton of side characters and virtually every member of the Straw Hat Pirates fighting against some impossible foe. It’s peak Shonen action and a joy to read. It’s just that the story is so bloated it moves at a glacial pace. While the arc has great moments that drive home just how strong the Straw Hat Pirates have become, over half of it is just one massive fight and nothing else. The set-up that takes place in the first 30-40% of what is One Piece’s biggest arc to date is solid, establishing the stakes and painting a picture of just how royally screwed Wano as a country is, but it’s quickly drowned out by the non-stop action between antagonists who, for the most part, come across as another villain of the day to the crew. To put things into perspective, the climax of the arc took over two years to be published in the manga. It’s weird to criticize a Shonen action manga for too much fighting, but after a while, Wano just becomes exhausting despite how good the action is.

Ranking the story arcs on One Piece from worst to best

4) Dressrosa Saga

Dressrosa, in my opinion, is what you get when you have a more restrained Wano. In terms of structure, the first half of this saga is all about set-up and making sure we’re aware of who the central antagonist, Don Quixote Doflamingo, is and why he’s so despicable. And then, once everything has been established at the halfway point, all hell breaks loose in a battle royale to the death. Unlike with Wano however, the powers on display by all sides are fun and there’s a fair balance between modern-day action and backstory for Dressrosa as a country and Trafalgar Law, a one-time ally of Luffy during this arc. Plus, it moves at a pretty brisk pace!

The arc just does a wonderful job at showing once again how this country is in a dire place but is made more entertaining by the mystery surrounding it. While Wano was just universal despair in a samurai-themed land, Dressrosa is a Spanish-inspired land of love and toys where the people love Doflamingo despite the atrocities he commits. It poses several questions to the reader that help get them invested in the arc as they learn more and more about the answer to them. For its better execution, I have to give the nod to Dressrosa over Wano on this ranking.

3) Alabasta Saga

Every Shonen series has “THAT’ arc. The arc that defines a lot of the series and casual manga fans will bring up when describing some of the all-time classic manga arcs. Bleach has the Soul Society Arc. Dragon Ball Z has the Namek Arc. Yu Yu Hakusho has the Dark Tournament Arc. And One Piece has Alabasta. Immediately following the East Blue Saga, our crew is now officially ready to take on the world and their first opponent is an infamous pirate who secretly runs a criminal organization set on overthrowing a kingdom. Later arcs would draw a parallel from this arc to Dressrosa, but there’s something compelling about just how much the odds are stacked against the crew in Alabasta.

Alabasta is a real challenge for our heroes as they have to take on the nefarious Baroque Works and their shady leader Mr. 0, who will send other assassins and criminals to attack our heroes no matter where they are. The fights here show off exactly how creative One Piece can be and all build to a civil war to determine the fate of a country as five different sides battle it out. It’s a wonderful arc that has all of the dramatic tension you would expect from something as grand as this, giving us one of the best arcs in the entire series.

2) Water 7 Saga

While I’m sure many fans will have nostalgia for Alabasta, Water 7 is something entirely different. It bucks a lot of the series’ expectations. Instead of an infamous pirate, the central antagonists are an elite group of Marines that are willing to kill anyone who gets in the way of their goals. Not only that, but the Straw Hat Pirates have to rescue one of their crew members, Nico Robin, who willingly went over to the Marines for some mysterious reason. Again, there are similarities between this arc and another later arc, Whole Cake Island, but Water 7 is better for two main reasons: Robin and Usopp.

Neither Robin nor Usopp ever really got any development until this point, and Water 7 makes it a point to flesh out both characters in some powerful ways. From Usopp’s battle with Luffy to Robin’s declaration of wanting to live, Water 7 arguably has the most powerful moments and some of the best fights in all of One Piece. We’re at a point where each character doesn’t feel too overpowered or weak. They’re on equal footing with their foes, leading to entertaining fights that could result in victory or defeat. There’s very little to criticize about this arc, making it an easy choice so close to the top.

Ranking the story arcs on One Piece from worst to best

1) Summit War Saga

The very best arc of One Piece should come as no surprise to longtime fans. The Summit War Saga serves as the climax of the first half of the series, beginning with a hopeless struggle against the Marines that ends in catastrophic defeat for Luffy and his crew, forcing them to separate. We then learn that Luffy’s brother, Ace, is going to be executed and Luffy has to save him, resulting in Luffy trying to infiltrate the prison where Ace is being held and then escaping that prison to head to the public execution where Ace is set to die, only to get involved with a massive war between the Marines and Ace’s crew. It’s chaos and is an absolute delight to witness.

This was the arc that rocked the boat. Our heroes were completely defeated here. Some of the most impossible feats within the series are accomplished by the antagonists, and we’re left with carnage and a looming sense that the world will never be the same after this. This arc changed the goal of One Piece and completely redefined the world, for better or worse. It’s an arc that deserves all of the praise that it gets for how much it obliterates the status quo and takes major risks. And for that, it’s easy to call the Summit War Saga the very best arc in all of One Piece. 

And that was our ranking of all of the major One Piece arcs!

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