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Eiichiro Oda’s long-running contemporary manga “One Piece” is the undisputed king of Japanese pop culture today.

One Piece Vol.1, by Eiichiro Oda.
216 pages
VIZ MEDIA, Manga.

With over 400 million volumes in circulation worldwide, it’s the most popular manga of all time, and its ever-growing legion of fans is holding strong 20 years after its debut. Add its popular anime series, films, abundant merchandise and even its own kabuki version, and there’s really no question — in Japan, the Pirate King reigns supreme.

The story’s appeal lies in its contradictions: cartoon-like, exaggerated art depicts a complex pirate world with its own myths, rules and multifaceted characters.

Veering from comedy to high-stakes drama, the story centers around an idealistic dreamer, Monkey D. Luffy, who leads the search for a legendary treasure, the One Piece, in order to become the Pirate King.

Alongside the deeply developed characters and faux-historical plot complications complete with political intrigue, the story blends in fantastical elements: Luffy owes his success in piracy to his accidental consumption of the magical Devil Fruits, which gave him the unexpected power of being able to stretch his body like rubber.

“One Piece” is an improbable clash of multiple genres and styles that merge into something that is engaging, enthralling and much more than the sum of its parts. Grab a copy and herald Luffy, Japan’s pirate king of pop culture.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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