One Piece won't be the same without rivalries attracting fans' attention and interest. However, the concept of "rivalry" has frequently been misunderstood, if not completely twisted from its original meaning.
According to some fans, if characters are frequently depicted quarreling and appearing together, that is enough to make them close in strength, regardless of them having different feats, statements and official power rankings.
Follow this thread to find out why this belief is wrong, and how One Piece encompasses distinguished kinds of rivalries with completely distinct characteristics.
Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers from the One Piece manga up to chapter 1070 and purely reflects the opinions of the writer.
What does it mean for characters to be rivals in One Piece?
One Piece features different kinds of rivalries
Rivalries are a core concept of most shonen series. Having a rival usually allows characters to progress, bringing out their best to prove their superiority. Through this competitive drive, rivals trigger each other to improve.
However, the fact that two characters compete for the same aim doesn't necessarily mean that they are equals. Moreover, characters quarreling is sometimes misinterpreted as a sort of strength-related comparison.
In One Piece, characters can be mentioned or grouped together, as well as compete for the same goal or share the same designation, and still be far apart in strength. If their feats and status are very different, some panels together don't make them equals.
This argument is used by a minority of fans, but it's still enough to create heated debates in the One Piece fandom. Usually, the characters who are mainly involved with this misunderstanding are King and Queen, Zoro and Sanji, as well as Luffy and Eustass Kid.
King and Queen aren't rivals, they just bicker humorously
King and Queen are often mentioned together, and while they don't get along and bicker quite frequently, when things become rough, Queen is the first one to obey King. He even worshipped him by hyping the power of his Lunarian race, calling them gods who could survive anything.
One Piece author Eiichiro Oda made a complete distinction between them. King is officially confirmed to be Kaido's right-hand man and his strongest and most loyal subordinate. As such, King is the leader of the All-Stars and the second most powerful individual in Beasts Pirates.
Kaido personally recruited King as his right-hand man after witnessing his power and being impressed by it. To emphasize his prominent strength, Kaido assigned him the name "King" in place of the latter's real name, Alber.
The hierarchy of All-Stars is based on poker, where the "king" card holds more value than the "queen" and the "jack" cards. This clearly implies that King has a far superior status compared to Queen's.
Being faster, physically stronger, and with more dangerous attacks as well as a much better defense, King is a better fighter than Queen overall. The latter appears to be a mad scientist rather than a warrior. Queen is often clumsy, losing focus during the fight and even hitting himself.
Despite all the bickering and shared screentime, King's strength is depicted on a level that is way higher than Queen's. Grouping them together doesn't make much sense.
In fact, the One Piece series frequently features characters getting mentioned together in a generic manner, as members of a certain group. Strawhats, Supernovas, All-Stars, Sweet Commanders, Titanic Captains, Warlords, and more.
For instance, Law and Hawkins are Supernovas, just like Shiryu and Catalina Devon are Titanic Captains, or Mihawk and Boa Hancock are Warlords. That doesn't mean they are equals, it's just that these characters have the minimum requirements to be part of their respective groups.
Zoro and Sanji are buddies with different personalities
The aforementioned grouping logic also applies to Strawhats' Monster Trio. It doesn't mean that Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji are equals, just that they are the three strongest Strawhats. They are usually depicted as Luffy-Zoro, the captain and his close right-hand man, and Zoro-Sanji, the Wings, the two most powerful members of the crew.
This is emphasized by Luffy and Zoro sharing so many aspects and parallels. Conversely, Zoro and Sanji, while having their connection, maintain completely different backgrounds, paths, powers, benchmarks, and goals.
At times this concept has been misunderstood by some fans, who have tried to argue that Zoro and Sanji being the Wings means that they are comparable in strength, if not equals. However, this appears to be a flawed idea.
First and foremost, it's not like wings recall the concept of equality: in fact, every bird has a dominant wing. The homonymous concept in the One Piece series likely takes inspiration from that, given that Zoro is put on a whole different level than Sanji, despite the author pairing them as Wings.
Zoro is constantly surrounded by greater hype, performs better feats, and has a higher portrayal as Luffy's right-hand man. Like Luffy, Zoro is one of the five èlite members of the Worst Generation Supernovas and is able to use the all-powerful Advanced Conqueror's Haki.
Zoro's actions against Kuma during the Thriller Bark Arc, or during the heated battle against Kaido and Big Mom in the Wano Arc, emphasized the special bond between him and Luffy. Unlike other Strawhats, Zoro's strength is comparable to Luffy's, and his attitude is very similar to him as well.
Sanji's status is completely different. He is not a Supernova. He doesn't even possess the basic Conqueror's Haki, let alone the upgraded version. Sanji doesn't have any ambition related to strength and always fights opponents who are weaker than Zoro's.
The end of the Thriller Bark Arc and the fierce battle on Onigashima's rooftop in the Wano Arc features Sanji getting sidelined while Zoro overshadows him, standing next to Luffy and getting the spotlight in major moments.
Unsurprisingly, it was never hinted, let alone stated, that Zoro and Sanji being Luffy's Wings means that they are close in strength. It simply means that they are the ones who cover the captain's back far more than the other crewmembers ever could. Anything else is headcanon.
The concept was first introduced in volume 73 SBS, which stated that Zoro and Sanji, despite not getting along with each other, are trustworthy men who cover Luffy's back. The SBS used the same exact words Nico Robin used in chapter 1020.
The concept of Wings needs proper context. Zoro and Sanji are both powerful fighters, but there is a difference in strength and role between them, which was objectively emphasized throughout the One Piece series.
Zoro and Sanji are often bickering simply because they have completely different personalities. As such, they friendly compete, resulting in funny gags. Despite their very distinguished behavior, they are Luffy's biggest pillars within the Strawhat crew.
Luffy and Kid compete in strength, but their rivalry is rather onesided
Another frequently twisted connection is the one between Luffy and Kid. There's no doubt that Kid is an incredibly strong pirate, but he just can't compare with Luffy, who outclasses him in strength and achievement.
Kid, just like Law, received the same bounty of three billion berries that Luffy was awarded. However, more than strength, bounties equate to the threat the criminal poses to the World Government. Also, having the three share the same bounty doesn't make much sense.
Luffy's previous bounty was far higher than Kid and Law's - three times higher. With his much superior feats during the Wano Arc, he should have earned a greater increase. Admittedly, Luffy's individual strength is far above Kid's, thereby outclassing him.
Substantially, Luffy equates to Kid and Law summed together. Luffy was able to defeat a stronger opponent, Kaido, in a fair and square 1v1 battle, while Kid and Law needed numerical advantage as well as further external involvement to somehow beat Big Mom, who is weaker than Kaido.
Luffy's status as a Yonko, his achievements, and his crew completely eclipse Law and Kid's. He leads a far stronger crew than theirs, with members such as Zoro, who are more than a match for Kid and Law themselves. Luffy also has other powerful subordinates like Sanji and Jinbe on his side.
Luffy unlocked both the Awakening of Nika-Nika Fruit and the tremendous Advanced Conqueror's Haki. He was also declared a Yonko, while Kid and Law weren't. Luffy's achievements far surpass theirs, and his bounty should have exceeded the four billion digits.
Despite possessing the Conqueror's Haki, Kid wasn't strong enough to evolve at its advanced level. Law doesn't even own the basic stage of this ability. Even in a 2v1 fight, they weren't able to beat Big Mom as Luffy did with Kaido. They only managed to make her fall into the void. She was put down for good because of some bombs dropping on her.
Kid is very competitive towards Luffy, but the latter is objectively on a whole different level. Unlike King and Queen, as well as Zoro and Sanji, Luffy and Kid are rivals. However, their rivalry is completely unbalanced and onesided.
Other characters exhibiting different kinds of rivalries
Being a rival doesn't mean anything in itself. Two characters being rivals doesn't necessarily make them equals. It depends on the dynamic, which varies from case to case, encompassing three main categories.
There are gag rivalries, where people humorously compete because they don't get along as a result of their different and conflictual personalities. This is the dynamic of Lucci with Jabra, Kaku with Jabra, King with Queen, Shanks with Buggy, Mr 1 vs Mr 2, and more.
One Piece also features rivalries that are not humorous and not based on gags. However, the rivalry involved in this kind of connection is still far from making the two rivals close or equal, as they are separated by a massive gap in strength.
This is the dynamic of Kid with Apoo, Luffy with Kid, Zoro with Killer, Luffy with Koby, and Luffy with Smoker. Despite the serious and concrete basis for these characters to compete, their individual strength is very different, making those kind of rivalries rather unbalanced.
The relationship between Zoro and Sanji is a mix of the two aforementioned situations. They humorously compete because of their opposing personalities. They have very different feats and portrayals, showing that Zoro is a fair amount stronger than Sanji.
Finally, there are the properly said strength rivalries. These connections feature characters who compete for the greatest achievement in the One Piece world. This is the case of Mihawk with Shanks, Whitebeard with Roger, and Roger with Garp. They are characters who would battle each other as equals.
In the future, the same kind of rivalry will connect Zoro with Mihawk, as well as Luffy with Marshall D. Teach. These rivalries involve a connection between true nemeses who would fight to death.
Several One Piece characters are often shown bickering and not getting along well. Admittedly, that doesn't mean those characters are rivals. Furthermore, being rivals isn't absolutely the same thing as being equals. It's just a competition between people with similar goals but very different strengths.
Are Killer and Zoro rivals? It could be said that they are, with both them being Supernovas as well as having the same role as the right-hand men and partners of their respective captains. Despite this being objectively true, it's also indisputable that Zoro is much stronger than Killer.
The same could be said for Kid and Luffy, and more. In fact, all Eleven Supernovas, even the weakest ones such as Capone and Bonney, are stated to be rivals for Luffy.
But, again, in One Piece, being rivals isn't the same thing as being peers. A rivalry can easily be unbalanced, or based on humorous foundations. Proper strength rivalries, such as the one between Mihawk and Shanks, are completely different from humorous ones or unbalanced ones.
The rivalry between Mihawk and Shanks is based on legendary duels between equals. It was even directly paralleled with the rivalry between Roger and Whitebeard, the two strongest pirates. Regardless of one of them being slightly stronger than the other, this hints at them truly being peers to each other.
Poll : Do you prefer comic rivalries or serious strength rivalries?
Serious strength rivalries