One Piece is one of the most popular, long-running anime and manga franchises ever established. It has tons of great story arcs with relatively low filler, a diverse, exciting, dangerous world for fans to invest in, and perhaps one of the best, most loveable ensemble casts created for a shonen series. While it’s easy to root for the show’s protagonist or latch onto a particularly iconic villain, it’s important to note just how much creator Eiichiro Oda has accomplished and to recognize the best characters he has created for One Piece.
The Best One Piece Characters, Ranked
While it’s incredibly intimidating to get into a series with over 1000 episodes, getting into these characters makes it less of a tedious affair. Whether they’re characters who stick around for the long haul or leave a lasting impression over the various arcs of the series, One Piece has some of the best characters of any long-running anime. Due to the nature of this article and discussing why these characters are great, some spoilers will appear, so be warned. Here they are, ranked from bottom to top:
10. Kaido of the Beasts
Kaido is a particularly powerful antagonist to start this list, one of the Four Emperors of the New World, and has consumed the Mythical Zoan Devil Fruit to allow him to transform into an Azure Dragon. He was the opponent who fully pushed Monkey D. Luffy to his limits, awakening Luffy’s own Zoan abilities in an epic clash that was beautifully animated in its recent anime adaptation. In typical Shonen fashion, Kaido functions as a villain who, among other achievements, is fondly remembered for bringing out an amazing transformation for the protagonist while putting up an incredible fight.
Nami’s existence in One Piece and enduring significance speaks to the paradoxical nature of its heroes as well as Oda’s dedication to evolving his supporting cast. Nami began the series hating all pirates, and despite this, joined Luffy’s crew as their navigator, remaining an integral member ever since and a prominent officer among the Straw Hat Grand Fleet. It wasn’t until the Arlong Park arc where we saw her, left vulnerable by her wish to free her home village from the villainous pirate Arlong, that Nami found herself fully committing to Luffy’s crew. Ever since then though, she’s been a key, iconic member.
Formerly Vinsmoke Sanji, this character serves as the primary cook for the Straw Hat Pirates. Along with being one of the most powerful fighters of the crew, he has had an interesting backstory as a member of the Vinsmoke family.
Despite having no Devil Fruit powers, Sanji initially was able to contend with other powered characters until he got the Raid Suit, and later awakened his dormant genetic modifications. This makes him one of the most powerful members of the Straw Hat Pirates as well as the entire world of One Piece. Sanji’s weakness for women and decision not to fight with his hands hold him back but also set him apart from other characters.
7. Trafalgar D. Water Law
Belonging to “The Worst Generation” of pirates with hundreds of millions in bounties on their heads who emerged before the Summit War of Marineford, Trafalgar Law is an interesting character. He is the physician of the Heart Pirates and a powerful combatant himself, thanks to the Op-Op fruit, but it was not a journey without suffering to reach this point. He is the only survivor from Flevance, which was destroyed by neighboring communities out of fear for the illness plaguing its inhabitants, Amber Lead syndrome, thriving and becoming incredibly powerful through his Devil Fruit abilities.
Trafalgar Law has seen Monkey D. Luffy as his rival on numerous occasions and shares the mysterious letter ‘D’ as his middle initial, part of an ongoing mystery of the series. Despite running a different crew, his and Luffy’s causes typically align well and have led to fruitful cooperation in the past, most recently in One Piece Film: Red. His greatest achievement yet to date is helping defeat Big Mom of the Four Emperors during the Wano Country Arc, so be sure to find out how far along you are.
6. Nefertari Vivi
Vivi is the princess of the Arabasta Kingdom, and an honorary member of the Straw Hat Pirates. Her character seemed initially minor but evolved over time as a heroic, secretive defender of her kingdom. Despite her identity as a princess, Vivi has seemingly always put the needs of her people ahead of herself and is a courageous and selfless character in One Piece. She develops a trusting bond with Luffy, much like most of the crew, and even when he decided to bring on crew members like Nico Robin, she chose to believe it is for the best.
She bonds well with the rest of the crew as well, having interactions and relationships of varying levels of depth with each of them. Her complicated interactions included an initial adversarial bond with Zoro, a complementary friendship with Nami, and naturally, undying affection from Sanji, among others. While she is not always present with the pirates, she is looked upon fondly and has featured across numerous arcs.
5. Nico Robin
Originally the secondary villain of the Arabasta Saga and known as ‘Miss All Sunday,’ Nico Robin’s place among the heroes of One Piece is a fascinating one. Among other things, Robin is regarded as among the most intelligent members of the crew, the team’s archaeologist and historian, and has a dark, morbid sense of humor. She is commonly fearless, a calculating and collected character, yet highly compassionate and, like Vivi, does not question Luffy’s judgment.
Robin also has numerous valuable abilities to help her stand out. She consumed the Flower-Flower fruit, giving her the ability to replicate her limbs as an extension of herself, but also things like sprouting legs from the bodies of her allies to help them escape, or create entire clones of herself. Her abilities make her a potent support for the team, and excellent at defeating crowds, especially when combined with her natural tactical talents.
Red-Haired Shanks was introduced in the first chapter of One Piece but his design, concept, and valuable influence on Luffy made it obvious he would come into play later on. Formerly of the Roger Pirates (as in the crew led by Gol D. Roger) Shanks now runs his own crew, the Red Hair Pirates, and has garnered respect from his crew. In his earlier years, he served alongside Buggy the Star Clown, and both characters would eventually take on roles as 2 of the Four Emperors of the New World. His role in the series is key, with his latest appearance featured alongside his adopted daughter in One Piece Film: Red.
Shanks’ relationship with Luffy is an influential one: despite restricting him from his crew as a child, he protected Luffy’s life, even losing an arm in the process. He is carefree and charismatic as a leader but will drop this demeanor when his friends or crewmates are threatened. He also wore the straw hat he gave to Luffy, originally a possession of Gol D. Roger, and asked for it back when Luffy proved himself a great pirate. Despite incredible achievements including Luffy defeating Kaido and becoming another of the Four Emperors, Shanks still does not wish to meet with him just yet.
3. Portgas D. Ace
Ace is one of the most interesting characters in One Piece lore. The biological son of Gol D. Roger, his family history made him a target of the World Government in the first half of the series. Despite not being a Straw Hat Pirate, he supported Luffy’s crew on numerous occasions and even became his sworn brother. Ace was highly protective of Luffy and would become highly influential on him even after the unthinkable happens.
One of Ace’s biggest shortcomings is his temper, which proved to be his downfall when facing Blackbeard (now one of the Four Emperors) and Admiral Akainu. He believed Blackbeard to betray the Whitebeard Pirates and pursued him, which resulted in his capture, and when Akainu insulted the honor of his captain, the ensuing battle ended in Ace’s tragic death. Ace demonstrated remarkable fire-based powers given by the Flame-Flame fruit, carving a fearsome reputation as an increasingly strong fighter. He was noted to have the potential to be the next Pirate King, if not for his sad demise, which strengthened Luffy’s resolve.
2. Monkey D. Luffy
Luffy is the protagonist of the series and among the most lovable in all Shonen manga or anime. One of the most interesting characters in the series, and easily among the most charismatic, Luffy wins over many of the sympathetic characters, turning them into allies, friends, or family. His ambitions to be the Pirate King are simple and motivated by the unbridled freedom that accompanies such a role. The strength of his resolve and his combat ingenuity have led him to victory every time, and, by virtue of him being the protagonist with plot armor, he misses the top spot, but only barely.
Luffy’s combat abilities come from the Gum-Gum fruit that enables him to manipulate his body like rubber, which he has leveraged into incredible feats of battle while also giving him superhuman endurance. He is also one of the few people capable of using all 3 forms of Haki, a powerful discipline using spiritual energy. On top of that, Luffy’s Devil Fruit abilities are greater than those of his allies, enabling transformation into the Sun God, Nika, upon being awakened. This came at the cost of Luffy’s ability to swim, making him the unlikeliest of contenders for status as Pirate King at first.
1. Roronoa Zoro
Zoro is one of the greatest contributions by One Piece to anime and manga culture. He is a compelling figure and yet another paradoxical character to line up with the main cast, this time being initially a pirate hunter. Despite this former title which would serve as a red flag to any other recruiter, Luffy trusted him and their relationship can be seen as captain and first mate. Zoro’s serious nature and poor temper make for him to be a ferocious combatant, although his strong sense of honor prevents him from being a more ruthless type.
Considering a scar on someone’s back to be “the swordsman’s greatest shame” Zoro only fights fair. In addition to his bizarre Three-Sword Style, he has been able to learn all 3 forms of Haki like Luffy, applying them to his swordsmanship. It has resulted in some amazing anime fights worthy of a typical swordsman character. But you might ask fans, “what happened to make Zoro the best among the One Piece characters?” to which you’ll get a likely unanimous response, “Nothing. Nothing happened.” They’ll know what it means, too.
The best among the One Piece characters are not always the strongest, although that certainly will factor into the placement for some since it is a Shonen series. But you’ll find that, while flipping through the manga pages or enjoying the latest episodes of the anime, you’ll find your personal favorites might be wildly different. The show’s enduring popularity and recent hit status in the North American box office with One Piece Film: Red tell us that the best has yet to come for the series and its characters.
- This article was updated on November 6th, 2022