“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.” – The Bible, Book of Psalms 107:23-24.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda is the last of the four shonen 3-in-1 mangas that I have been examining, and it is by far in a way the most successful commercially.
This manga has been running since 1997 and has published 65 printed volumes, the last eight of which sold three million copies each, the 65th achieving this in just two months. It is currently the best selling manga of all time.
For those like me that only have just started reading it, the “One Piece” in the title is the world’s greatest treasure, which is being searched for by pirates all over the world. One of those is the straw hat-wearing Monkey D. Luffy, a young pirate who as a boy accidentally ate the Devil Fruit known as the Gum-Gum Fruit. As a result, he can stretch his body like rubber, but cannot swim, which is a big problem for a pirate.
Over the course of these first three volumes, Luffy begins to assemble his first crew members, including Roronoa Zoro, a swordsman who fights with three blades (one in each hand and the third in his mouth), and navigator and thief Nami.
The first thing of note is the art style compared to the other big three shonen manga. Compared to Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto, One Piece is more, for want of a better word, cartoonish. While it lacks some of the artistry of Naruto, it makes up for it in terms of silliness and expressionism, especially whenever one of the characters flies off into a rage.
Then we get to the story. In these three volumes, much of the story is taken up by Luffy and his crew going into battle with a rival pirate called Buggy the Clown. In it there is drama, slapstick and furious passion on both sides. In terms of humour, much of it comes from Luffy’s physical abilities, which are normally displayed with a cry of “Gum-Gum…” followed by the action name. See the “Gum-Gum Gavel” (twisting of the arms and turning them like a drill) on p. 316 or the “Gum-Gum Rocket” (stretching the arms over a long distance to grab or punch foes a long way away) on p. 54-55. With all these “Gum-Gum” cries I can’t help but conjure up some image of a kind of rubber pirate Inspector Gadget.
The other thing that it trumps the other three works in is the amount of extras this manga comes up with. There are practice sketches, historical information, information about the making of the series, things to make and things to colour (if you do not mind colouring in your book or cutting bits out of it). Translation notes are not included.
One Piece is outlandish and fun. It is not the greatest manga ever made (the most popular things in any field are rarely the greatest) but it is entertaining nonetheless.
So, in conclusion, out of the four shonen manga that I have read recently, I would say personally that Fullmetal Alchemist is the best, followed by Bleach, One Piece and Naruto. Yes, pirates beat ninjas on this one. All four however do have their merits and are enjoyable to read.