Dragon Ball: Why is it Still Endearing to People Everywhere?

The concept of manga, also known as Japanese comics was founded by Osamu Tezuka, creator of iconic manga stories such as Astro Boy, Jungle Emperor and Princess Knight, whose work have inspired many artists and writers for years in popular culture. Tezuka is credited as the father of manga, however, around the 1980’s, Akira Toriyama became the father of Shonen manga.

Much like the comics in the Western Hemisphere of Marvel and DC, Shonen is to appeal to pre-teen and teenage boys, but their stories have also appealed to different demographics than their original intentions. Shonen stories often consists of fighting, taking either the competitive route or the classic good vs. evil route, often having the character go through a development or enlightenment during the fight. Either way the story would give the reader a sense of idealism, something to strive for, whether it be working towards over coming limits, or to cherish those that care for oneself and others. And the one story Toriyama himself created that is often universally considered the quintessential shonen of all time, Dragon Ball (1984-1995).

Despite being finished in the mid 1990s, Dragon Ball’s popularity is still going on to this day, often considered the best by many as other shonen authors admitted that Dragon Ball was one of their major influences for their own stories. So how can Dragon Ball’s influence and legacy continue to this day? That is what this article will analyze when exploring the story, characters, and mythology of Dragon Ball.

How the story of Son Goku began.
How the story of Son Goku began.

Dragon Ball is the story about a cheerful young monkey boy Son Goku, who was inspired by Sun Wukong from “Journey to the West“, one of the major inspirations for Dragon Ball. The story is about Goku and his friends going on adventures to seek out seven mystical orbs, also known as dragon balls. His journey for the balls begins when a girl named Bulma Briefs accidentally bumps into him, when Bulma learned that Goku had the four star ball, she convinced Goku to help her by promising to let him keep his treasured heirloom. Goku learned that once all seven are gathered together, one can summon the eternal dragon Shenron to grant the summoner a single wish. While Goku had no desire for a wish, he agreed to help Bulma on her quest because his late grandfather Gohan taught Goku to help anyone in need. Aside the hunt for the mystical orbs, Goku also has the desire to become the greatest martial artist. On that same quest, Goku trained under the wise and perverted Master Roshi while also meeting different fighters who at first would be his rivals, then eventually became the closest of his friends and family. After winning the 23rd Martial Arts Tournament near the story’s end, it would seem that the adventures of Goku and his friends would end…until Dragon Ball Z began.

From mystical adventure to saving the world
From mystical adventure to saving the world

Dragon Ball Z continues off where the original story ended years later, now married to his wife Chi-Chi, Goku has a son named Gohan who he named after his grandfather. All seemed right until a new threat arrived on the planet, a Saiyan warrior named Radtiz. The visitor explained that Goku all this time was a Saiyan himself named Kakarot. But if that wasn’t enough, “Kakarot” was originally destined to destroy all human life. However, since “Kakarot” hit his head on a rock as an infant, Goku became the innocent and sweet character everyone has followed since, though Radtiz came to finish the job and kill Goku if he refused to join his alien brother. Even with Raditz’s defeat at the cost of Goku’s life, two more Saiyans were arriving and were twice as strong, Nappa and the Saiyan prince Vegeta. As it became a race against time to prepare for the threat, many were lives were lost as Goku hurried as fast as he could from bringing brought back to life to stop the Saiyans from destroying Earth.

As the adventure continued, more powerful threats started to rise, taking what was once a fun mystical adventure, and giving the tale a dark turn with the mission to save the world and universe from powerful foes who can destroy planets with their finger tips. Pushing the protagonists to their limits as they learn more fighting tactics, train efficiently, and presenting strength and power that could have never been conceived in Shonen manga and anime if it was not for the work of Toriyama.

To many who are not familiar with Dragon Ball, this would sound like an awful lot to take in at once as so many years of details and continuity would be daunting to many. And for those who are slightly familiar with the series from references and jokes in other media stories, Dragon Ball would seem as just a heavy testosterone fantasy with men yelling, fighting, and taking episodes to power up, as shonen is often known for. But like other stories that seem silly at first glance such as Star Wars and any Superhero tale, there is much more heart and creativity behind the imagery. And like those examples, one of the strongest aspects that made the series so popular and influential are the characters.

Son Goku

From young monkey boy to powerful saiyan warrior.
From young monkey boy to powerful saiyan warrior.

Dragon Ball is ripe with heroes and supporting characters that are well-known, the most noticeable is Son Goku. Goku is a sweet and kind person who also has incredible strength…and enormous appetite for food. Due to living in the mountains during his childhood, Goku has a strong naïvety about the outside world. After his first journey, Goku began to learn more about his surroundings while also training to become stronger. While not be the sharpest tool in the shed due to lack of formal education, his knowledge of combat however is not to be underestimated. As Goku learned many powerful moves such as the iconic Kamehameha Wave, and has taken his power to new heights that conquers every limit set in his way.

Goku’s strength is as strong as his morality and honour, he never likes to take advantage of his opponents even if they are evil, preferring to fight them at their very best, to do so otherwise would be a dishonour to all that he has strived for as a fighter. However, when pushed too far by such evil that cannot be reasoned with, Goku will not hold back. Despite the power he has achieved that is enough to destroy planets and rival Gods, Goku remains the sweet innocent hero ever since the first chapter. Continuing training to keep getting stronger, always there to defend his friends and family, Goku’s simplicity and sheer determination is what made the Saiyan warrior a legend among heroes.

Bulma Briefs

Bulma Briefs, technical genius with a fiery temper.
Bulma Briefs, the technical genius of Dragon Ball

While Goku is the main character, it is the supporting characters that helps to move the story along. Starting with Bulma, the intelligent girl with a feisty temper was Goku’s connection to civilization. Trying to teach Goku how things work but only either finding Goku’s naïvety cute or extremely frustrating. In a sense, Bulma can be compared to April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since both help the main leads to learn more about civilization and society around them. She started as the sole female character for the audience to follow until more were introduced a few chapters in, each providing their own contribution to the story and character growth. Bulma originally planned to use Goku’s four star ball to wish for the perfect boyfriend, but after their first adventure and beginning a relationship with Yamcha, she contributed as the technical expert for the story.

Bulma was the one who invented the Dragon Radar that helped them to find the seven balls, to which that kind of technology was duplicated by the villains seeking the Dragon Balls for their own diabolical purposes. It was later revealed that Bulma is the daughter of the founder of Capsule Corp., the company that produces the technology to contain anything in a small capsule from vehicles, to houses, weapons, and even to supplying large tanks water to help a village suffering from a drought. This kind of science fiction element introduced so many possibilities for the story to get creative, as Bulma invented devices of her own, such as a watch that can shrink and grow a person who wears the invention, to a time machine from an alternate timeline which was a major contribution to a later story arc in Dragon Ball Z. Despite Bulma herself taking a backseat as the threats got bigger, her continuing contributions to the story helped to make her an endearing character for Dragon Ball, for if it was not for her quest for the Dragon Balls, there would be no story for us to enjoy.

Krillin

Krillin after training.
Krillin: Goku’s best friend and hero to the end.

Rivalry plays a key role to become a stronger fighter, and when Goku is not the focus of the story at the moment, his friends and/or rivals are the ones moving the story along. The first of Goku’s many rival turned friends is the Orin Monk Krillin. Krillin was introduction during Goku’s training as a scheming trickster who cheated his way to train under Master Roshi, and would sabotage certain training exercises if it benefited himself. Krillin was tough in his own right, but it was this earlier personality that held him back to become stronger in comparison to Goku’s honest and straight forward approach. But as time moved on, not only did Krillin become stronger as a fighter, but he also became stronger as a character. Becoming much more humble and sympathetic as the audience learns one of his reasons for his earlier behaviour was due to being bullied and harassed by other monks for his age and height. Krillin’s training would pay off as he faced off his old bullies at the Martial Arts Tournament and defeated them easily with little effort. Giving Krillin’s sympathetic past a satisfying conclusion not with revenge, but with honour and dedication.

Since then, Krillin would become Goku’s best friend and a strong character in his own right, even creating his own iconic attack the Kienzan, also known as the Destructo Disc for the American translation. However, one thing that people on the internet and many fans love to joke about is how they consider Krillin a useless character. Just there to get beaten up by other villains before Goku comes in to defeat them. Even the online parody series Dragon Ball Z Abridged made a joke about that by having a “Krillin Owned” counting gag that would pop up every time Krillin is hurt or gets shot down by someone’s retort, as of this article, Abridged Krillin has been owned 32 times. Despite the gags outside the main story, it cannot be ignored that Krillin became a long-lasting supporting character, helping the Z fighters defend Earth, aiding Goku’s son Gohan during their space travels, and played a key role to reforming former Android #18 by making her one of the Z fighters, and marrying her and raising their daughter Marron. Earning his spot to become one of the strongest human fighters of the entire franchise.

Piccolo

Former King of Demons to Namekian Hero.
Former King of Demons to Namekian Hero.

During the early days of Dragon Ball, many of Goku’s rivals were mainly human, and the villains ranged from the comedic incompetent Emperor Pilaf, to the massive Red Ribbon Army. But the one that changed the tone of the rest of the first story was Piccolo. But before he became the Piccolo that is well-known today, he was originally known as Demon King Piccolo.

Demon King Piccolo (The symbol on his gi means "Devil")
Demon King Piccolo (The symbol on his gi means “Devil”)

The original Piccolo was an ancient evil half of the guardian of earth, Kami, who was sealed away in a rice cooker until he was set free by Emperor Pilaf. During King Piccolo’s reign of terror, he had his son Tambourine kill all the martial artists who could be a threat to him, gathered the Dragon Balls to wish for eternal youth, and with that, King Piccolo killed the dragon Shenron so no one could use a wish against him. And during his reign, he took the lives of Krillin, Chiaotzu, and even Master Roshi. His entire arc became about death as he pushed Goku too far to the point he wanted revenge for the death of his friends. Goku managed to successfully do so, but with his dying breath he created one more offspring that would seek revenge, Piccolo Jr.

The Piccolo we know now was the last villain in the original story as he fought Goku at the 23rd Martial Arts Tournament to kill him, and after doing so, would continue his father’s legacy to spread the world into eternal darkness. But was defeated in the end, however, rather than killing him, Goku spared Piccolo’s life and even restored his energy. Goku’s reason is that he’s not the one to kill, but also that he wants a good rival and Piccolo suited that role since the two were the strongest on the planet at the time. While Piccolo still trained to fight Goku again to kill him, his character would go through an unpredictable development during the Saiyan saga in Dragon Ball Z. During Goku’s training in heaven, Piccolo abducted Goku’s son Gohan and trained him cause he saw power untapped in the young boy and wanted to use it to fight against the Saiyans. Piccolo was very strict and cold with the boy who was no doubt terrified, but overtime Piccolo himself didn’t expect to care for the child as much, reaching its climax as Piccolo sacrificed his life to protect Gohan from Nappa’s energy blast.

During the time the heroes were trying to resurrect their fallen friends, the audience learned that both Piccolo and Kami were not ancient deities, but rather a race known as Namekians, originally hailing from the planet Namek. Namekians are peaceful beings who are wise and rarely use fighting as a resort, Demon King Piccolo was the first to break that trait since he was evil incarnate. They are also the only species capable of creating dragon balls, which makes sense since Kami was the one responsible for the dragon balls on earth. This trait once again not only expands Piccolo’s character growth when he was revived, but also the mythology of the story as well too. And Piccolo became stronger when he fused with the Namekian warrior Nail, and eventually fusing with Kami to become the original being they once were. Not only making him a strong fighter, but also the mental powerhouse of the Z fighters as he’s the most strategic, knowing what moves to make and to detect the energy levels of his opponents. Through this entire series, we see how much Piccolo has grown, not only separating himself from his evil legacy, but also ensuring him a spot as one of the noblest fighters in all manga and anime. Even Toriyama himself admitted that Piccolo is his favourite character, that’s how important Piccolo’s contribution is to Dragon Ball.

Son Gohan

Gohan throughout the years.
Gohan throughout the years.

If reading the article this far, you will recall the constant references to the character Gohan, well that is because the son of Goku is not just one of the most important characters of the franchise, but is actually the second main character of Dragon Ball Z. Audiences who followed Goku since his early days could still follow him, and while Gohan is a different take in the story, in a brilliant way Gohan is the character for new viewers to follow if they start with the second story first. Being raised as a polar opposite to his father who craved combat and wants to get stronger, Gohan starts as a sweet innocent boy who hates fighting. Instead, Gohan preferred to read books and study so he could become a scholar, but after the encounter with Raditz, it was shown that Gohan has hidden power whenever his loved ones are hurt or in any form of peril. But because Gohan was still an understandably frightened child, it was too much for him. However, after loosing his teacher Piccolo to the saiyans, he felt a strong responsibility to bring them back, not out of guilt but realizing that his friends needs him despite his mother’s strong disapproval.

Gohan became stronger but still had his hidden power untapped, while still keeping to his studies, often by choice, though most of the time it’s comically forced by his mother Chi Chi. However, during the Cell Games against the villain Cell, this is where Gohan’s shining moment comes forth. While Goku admitted he would not be strong enough to defeat the evil bio-android, he knew Gohan would, much to everyone’s disagreement, including Gohan’s. Throughout the battle, we see Gohan’s conflict comes to life, he knows he HAS to fight, but he doesn’t want to because he is afraid of what would happen if he let his powers loose, but that only tempted Cell to push Gohan into a rage to see how strong the boy would be. Then after Cell destroyed Android #16 who told Gohan not to feel bad about letting his power go, Gohan’s hidden power was finally unleashed. Then after Goku’s sacrifice to save everyone then getting the chance to avenge his fallen father, Gohan took the mantle and became the strongest fighter on earth.

During seven years of peace, Gohan was able to focus on his studies more, even creating a superhero persona to deal with crime in the city known as The Great Saiyaman, who also serves as a parody of Super Sentai heroes of Japan, better known as Power Rangers in North America. During this time he met and trained a girl named Videl who wanted to know more about his power when she instantly figured out he was the superhero, surprisingly forming a relationship with her and eventually got married as they have a young daughter named Pan.

There is a downside however, even with his full power unleashed, his fighting skills diminished as he has not kept up with his training. Cause again, Gohan is not as combat driven as his father, so when Goku was brought back to life to fight against Majin Buu, Goku took the spotlight of being the main character again away from Gohan. Though it should be said that Goku was NEVER disappointed with Gohan for not being a fighter like him. Goku happily accepted Gohan’s life decisions and confirmed he will always be proud of his son. Showing no matter how different the Son family is in terms of character and personalities, they really do love each other. Giving the strength of family as they accept differences and still support each other even when little is shown in favour of the action. In a sense, that is what Gohan’s character contributes, offering peace and kindness without having to resort to violence, but is not afraid to fight for those one cares for. An attribute that any fan can relate to.

Vegeta

Prince of all Saiyans, Goku's ultimate rival, and Renegade for Life.
Prince of all Saiyans, Goku’s greatest rival, and Renegade for Life.

Each character contributes to the story in different ways that makes them either sympathetic or fascinating to see them overcome their personal obstacle. Yet the one character who stands out the most since his introduction in Dragon Ball Z would prove not only to be an iconic character in shonen stories, but is arguably one of the major contributors to the success of Dragon Ball’s popularity, Vegeta. Most times though once Goku beats them, his strength grows so fast that not even his old rivals could keep up with him. Vegeta is that exception since like Goku, he is a Saiyan and each battle makes them stronger than before. But what makes Vegeta stand out from the others is that he also serves as Goku’s opposite. Goku is kind and silly, while Vegeta is serious and arrogant, with pride being Vegeta’s greatest strength and weakness.

Starting as a villain, Vegeta eventually joined the Z Fighters and became an unpredictable character. While he would defend the planet from threats, most of the time Vegeta would take any opportunity he could to make himself stronger to beat Goku and for the thrill of a fight, even willingly put the earth in danger many times just so he could fight a strong opponent. Vegeta would eventually overcome those past sins and accept that Goku is better, but that still doesn’t stop his desire to become stronger, as it is their rivalry that keeps pushing their limits. A perfect alternative for the cast of Dragon Ball, sympathetic characters for audiences to like and care for, and the rivalry making fans rooting for their favourite character to win the fight.

Name Meanings

It should be noted that given how the characters are named, Bulma in Japanese actually means bloomers, so her real name would be “Bloomers Briefs”. And Vegeta’s name is the most obvious by the way his name sounds, which is pretty much vegetable in Japanese. Even the Saiyan names are vegetable names, Raditz is radish and Kakarot is carrot. The reason for this is because Toriyama is known for loving puns. Specifically choosing to name his character as such not only makes it hilarious for the audience when they realize the meaning, but also makes the characters easier to remember if any newcomers are still learning about them.

Only one can win Under the Heavens!
The iconic “Strongest Under the Heavens” Martial Arts Tournament.

Story

Characters help to move the story, but what is it about Dragon Ball’s story that makes it compelling? Dragon Ball presents itself as an adventure that also serves as a parody of kung fu movies, giving the series a light-hearted tone. Even the universe they live in takes advantage of that, where there are elements of science fiction, fantasy, Chinese culture, even dinosaurs still roam the earth and other planets. Giving the setting of Dragon Ball a timeless feel where anyone can enjoy the story without the risqué of being dated through time.

While teaching the basic concepts of making one stronger to overcome any limit that they set their mind to. But more importantly, never letting pride get the best of them, as there will always be someone stronger out there. Even Master Roshi said it best himself after training Goku and Krillin that the greatest teacher of all is life, they have to train themselves and find new ways to push their skills to the next level to keep getting stronger. According to the Dao of Dragon Ball, “Goku does not fight to defeat others, he fights to defeat himself.” Basically with every fight Goku learns to better himself as a fighter, that is his major strive to be a great fighter. One can learn more from their flaws and mistakes rather than from winning a match, losing gives someone a motivation to work for to become better, where as winning just gives the person bragging rights. And and Goku never cares about winning to brag, but how he can become stronger with each fight.

While some elements are exaggerated for the purpose of storytelling, the basic moral is present that any fan can take from that doesn’t have to aspire to physical training alone. As life can teach people new ways to better oneself that can make themselves better people. That all changed when the villains became much more menacing and powerful that soon the entire universe was in peril in Dragon Ball Z.

While the main characters still push themselves to the best of their ability to get stronger, the constant threats they deal with gives the series a stronger emphasis of good versus evil. Villains such as Vegeta originally, and Freeza were after the Dragon Balls for immortality and killed anyone who got in their way. Others such as Cell and Majin Buu cause much death and destruction because they can and enjoy doing so. As the heroes struggle to survive as they attempt to stop the threats from doing anymore harm, even Goku himself, often the strongest character in the series has been pushed to his limit so many times that he had to give it his all when the villain seems unstoppable. Giving heart-pounding moments of action and tense, making the end of each conflict very satisfying.

Legacy and Criticism

The one thing that both stories have in common is that despite how the story and action is told is that the pacing is kept simple. A common criticism of most manga and anime is that a story can either get too convoluted to understand, or slows the action down with constant exposition that only frustrates the audience. While the original Dragon Ball Z anime has been guilty of the exposition trope combined with filler episodes, there was a reason for that. When some mangas become successful, they are turned into an anime adaptation for the tv viewing audience months after the manga started. However, Dragon Ball Z was put into a unique situation where the anime started the same time the manga did. And because of that, the anime had to prevent itself from surpassing its original source material. Some episodes were dragged out to give the manga time to get ahead in its story. Once it does, then the anime can catch up with its story. The criticism about Dragon Ball Z being slow at times is unfair because many people don’t take into the consideration for what goes on behind the anime production scene. For the ones who complain about the anime’s pacing the most are the ones who read the original manga first. Understandable that they want a better paced show, but given the production decision at the time, the anime had no choice.

However, compared to most modern anime that really drags its heels with filler even when the original manga is long over like Naruto Shippuden, Dragon Ball keeps its story and action consistent. It helps too that a later adaptation entitled Dragon Ball Kai, adapts the anime for today’s audience by updating the effects and cutting out all filler episodes. So any new comer who starts with Dragon Ball Z before the original can easily follow the main story without worrying about losing its pace. And in a time when most stories have too much attention to detail that can make it either confusing or frustrating, the simple story-telling of Dragon Ball helps with its simple premise can be easily accessible for any new comer to manga and anime.

Another criticism comes from people who, as mentioned earlier, would see the series as just heavy testosterone fan service. Carlos Ross of the website Themanime, gave a negative review of Dragon Ball Z, saying “it’s repetitive, low-quality animation, with a middle-of-the-road storyline and wasted characters, and it’s ultimately pointless. Why it’s popular is beyond me.” Ultimately describing the entire series as mediocre and a wasted potential. One of the problems of Ross’s review is that he gives a very one-sided view of Dragon Ball Z for not living up to his expectations. What Ross sees to him as repetitive, the series keeps a steady pace for fans to follow that does not drag its story like most animes of today. Whereas another shonen anime Naruto Shippuden is extremely guilty of slowing its story down with constant filler episodes. Where the original Naruto story ended on November 10th, 2014, one would think the anime could focus on the main story…they did not. By contrast in episode count that includes filler, Dragon Ball Z ended with an episode count of 291. Whereas Naruto Shippuden is still going with roughly 440 episodes, even after its original story ended! So the complaints about how infamous Dragon Ball Z was with its filler has been rendered null and void when the Naruto Shippuden has no idea when to stop even when its manga is finished.

The low-quality animation to Ross that he did not mention was the technology used in 1989 to make anime shows. In a sense he is correct but failed to point out that despite the popularity with the anime, Dragon Ball Z, like most anime under Toei Animation’s production had little budget and worked with different animation teams. This problem even applies to other anime productions from Toei that still goes on to this day as known with the infamous designs with Sailor Moon Crystal. Where the designs for television airing are quite a mess, but given a clean up later on for home video production. This was also shown with Dragon Ball Kai as the animation was cleaned up and fixed up some mistakes from the original anime. As well as the two recent theatrical movies, Battle of Gods and Resurrection “F” presented the anime in glorious details and flowing animation. When compared to today’s high definition programming would make the original Dragon Ball Z anime out dated, but its style and action was still a heavy influence to other shows that cannot be denied.

Finally, Ross’s definition of the series as a “middle-of-the-road” storyline is not well explained, as it is clearly a battle of good versus evil. Ross neglects that even evil has a choice as many characters, including Vegeta, were able to make their own decisions and not take a predictable path, giving the characters more depth. Also with the wasted characters comment, while many unfortunately do take a side seat later on as Toriyama himself admitted he is quite forgetful. (This was known when the character Launch from Dragon Ball was absent in the sequel because Toriyama honestly forgot about her) Their influence still contributed to the story’s progression and many fans and casual viewers still remember them when others don’t. If the characters were completely pointless as Ross suggested, then they would have been removed permanently a long time ago by Toriyama himself. It is important to remember that not everyone will like the same popular manga and anime that everyone else does, the same way that not everyone will enjoy the other iconic anime Sailor Moon. But the few people like Ross does not represent the entire voice of Dragon Ball’s valid criticism, while just doing his job, critics like Ross is not the one to follow when describing the series.

Team Four Star

Creators of Dragon Ball Z Abridged
Creators of Dragon Ball Z Abridged

While negative criticisms from non fans are a dime a dozen, at times, it is the fans of the series who are the bigger critics. This is most noticeable with the popular online creative team entitled Team Four Star, creators of the online popular series’ Dragon Ball Z Abriged, Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, and Final Fantasy 7 Machinabriged. Founded by Scott “KaiserNeko” Frerichs, Nick “Lanipator” Landis, and Curtis “Takahata101″ Arnott, the team takes episodes from Dragon Ball Z and turns it into a self-aware parody that mocks certain tropes and errors that the series is known for. While staying true to the spirit of Dragon Ball, not out of biased mockery, but out passion for a series they love. A good example of this is with how they turned Nappa (performed by Takahata101 in the parody) from a minor antagonist who was never seen again in the anime, into one of the most hilarious and arguably one of the most popular characters of the Abriged series. Team Four Star was even aware of this when they made “DBZ Kai Abriged”, where they told the entire Abriged Saiyan Saga in two minutes and ten seconds, with one of Nappa’s most memorable lines being, “I am hilarious and you will quote everything I say!” referring directly to the audience themselves and how they quote Abriged Nappa’s jokes and one liners. Showing how influential their humour with the popular anime has become.

Starting off with ten episodes as a side project, the parody series blew up with popularity that is not only bringing in more fans of the series, but also introducing them to the original work that they advertise in the beginning of every episode to support the original release. Even to actually gain support and appreciation from the people who produces Dragon Ball in North America, Funimation. The team has made themselves legendary on the internet for their wit and humour, but are also one of the major contributors to Dragon Ball’s on-going legacy. Taking advantage of today’s online generation with Youtube streaming and Let’s Play videos, while having fun at the same time and showing what Dragon Ball meant to them not just as fans, but how influential its story and characters are. While people like Carlos Ross may not understand why the series is so beloved, people like the ones involved in Team Four Star knows its not just about the action and fighting alone, but about character growth, the mythology, and how one person can over come any limit with determination and hard work.

Dragon Ball for the new millennium

Dragon Ball for the new millennium
Find out what happens as the adventure continues on Dragon Ball Super!

It was said that Dragon Ball wasn’t supposed to last as long as Toriyama originally planned, and given how far his story’s popularity and legacy is going strong is awe-inspiring. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Ball inspired many manga artists for their own work, these works include Black Cat, Fairy Tail, Rave Master, Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. Each of these mangas gives their own references to their source of inspiration while staying true to their own tale. From character traits, to narrative arcs, right down to iconic attacks, it all screams of Dragon Ball’s influence. And while Dragon Ball was long finished, because of the success of the Dragon Ball Z film Battle of Gods, Toriyama was convinced to come back to his work and make a brand new series entitled Dragon Ball Super. Bringing back the fans that grew up with the series, while also making its mark for a new generation of anime fans. While it is understandable to question why Dragon Ball is so popular among shonen fans, its influence cannot be denied for how monumental it was, and will continue to be influential in future generations. For as long as Toriyama’s work is remembered and loved, the adventures of Dragon Ball will never truly end.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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67 Comments

  1. Sterling
    0

    It’s good to know I’m not the only DB fanatic here!

  2. Read the manga and loved the anime… The bright colours, the simple plot, the fun and evil characters, the cool settings, the morals, the hair, transformation, laser beams, the feeling of crisis when our very planet was in danger, the comedy, the fact that time passes and characters got older, it aired often, it was the only show my mom liked to watch with me, and of course the over the top action.

  3. Maan, back in the days I thought this was the greatest anime ever made. Of course I only watched like 4 other animes. Great childhood memories.. But now after I seen like over 200 titles its not even on my top 30. I guess it was accessible, easy to get into..

    • Ryan Walsh

      Yeah that’s fair, it may not be the best overall, as it depends on who you ask. But you hit the nail on the head with its accessibility. Dragon Ball like others are often the perfect gateways for people to get into manga and anime, hence its strong influence.

  4. I was not born when the Dragonball manga began printing and only started to read recently. So hooked.

  5. It was popular in Japan because the entire show was a joke on the Shoenen genre. The Saiyans were all vegetables, Nameks were musical instruments, women were named after body parts, a wrestler named Mr. Satan complete with a chanting mob screaming SATAN SATAN..and the main character Goku spoke like a little girl. For those of us who imported it bootleg with the original Japanese we found the whole damn thing funny as hell because it had fight scenes that lasted for 14 episodes only for them to declare they were going to fight with their true power. It was meant as a JOKE because of how long these shoenen episodes really are. I never understood how when they changed to the English they made it look like it was actually “real”.. killed the fun for me. It’s hilarious in Japanese.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Yeah I made the reference to the name meanings if you noticed the link within the text. Also, I did mention it was a parody on the kung fu stories, particularly with Dragon Ball. The reason for the change more than likely is because of cultural differences, for a mainstream television audience, if they don’t understand the references and jokes that the original target audience would get, then Dragon Ball would’ve failed here. But to each is their own, some people prefer the dub, others subs, no big whoop.

  6. “It’s over 9000”

    • Ruining peoples day. The original Japanese dubbing of the infamous episode where the “over 9000!!!” meme actually said 8000.

      I killed the souls of a thousand kittens.

  7. It was something new, ahead of its time. It has a very strong sense of adventure and the heroism theme probably reminded people of Marvel’s comics.

  8. Thanks for writing this. DBZ has always been a big part of my life, even though I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original Dragonball and never read the manga. A lot of the story does drag on and doesn’t hold up today, but the characters are so interesting and dynamic it’s easy to forgive a generally weak and predictable plot.

    DBZ is like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. They aren’t the best foods in the world, but there’s nothing more comfortable and familiar to make you feel better. I’m lucky enough to have a girlfriend who likes the show even more than I do, so sometimes we just relax at the end of a stressful week and watch a random episode or binge on DBZ Abridged. There’s nothing else like it.

  9. Planets blew up. That’s how to do it.

  10. It was such an imaginative story. Collect seven balls and a badass looking dragon appears to grant you a wish!? Awesome. Flying and shooting balls of energy. Awesome. Fighting. Awesome. Too many factors. GT was horsesh*t though, but everybody knows that. It had no charm or anything. It was as if DBZ got ****** and GT was it’s evil off-spring.

    • Ryan Walsh

      I didn’t mention GT cause there was no point to that one. After Toriyama finished Z, Toei animation wanted to milk its popularity more so that’s what we got. But I’d still take GT over the live action movie from FOX.

  11. I enjoyed this article.

  12. I used to love it as a kid, now not so much. It’s really repetitive.

    • Ryan Walsh

      It can at times, but compared to others, Dragon Ball is much more merciful. But to each is their own, no biggie.

  13. Holguin
    0

    There are popular animes that will have anime fans (Clannad, Full Metal Alchemist, etc.) But then there are popular animes that will have all kinds of fans. (One Piece, Naruto, DBZ, SAO) One Piece is like the biggest thing in Japan even though Americans may not like it all that much.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Really? That’s weird cause I know many Americans who LOVE One Piece, but I guess it just depends on who you ask. Plus out of all the mangas and animes inspired by Dragon Ball, One Piece actually feels the closest to capturing the spirit of adventure with endearing characters as the original. Even made 2 crossover specials with DBZ and OP.

  14. Camaril
    0

    It’s fun to shout with the characters when they use their abilities.

  15. From the historical side, I remember 3 main things about Dragonball from back then.

    1: A lot of discussions in rec.arts.anime,rec.arts.manga (before www-times, heh) dealing with all the details in the manga (which was of course just as stretched out as the anime) and wondering why so much about it… (and trying to fully explain the timeline schemes…)

    2: Going to a first con or 2 where nearly a whole room got to singing fully the theme “Cha La-Head Cha La”… and me not knowing any of it other than seeing it in a bunch of translated lyrics previously…(Still have the Theresa Martin translations from back then)

    3: Realizing that this was the same guy that did the Dr. Slump~Arale-chan manga/show that I loved… and boggling at the differences from pure comedy title to this. I knew the first books and in general was comedy-based. And a lot of misc crossover things showed across Slump’s world to the Dragonball manga. Then all of a sudden later reading the discussions trying to explain things out…pretty wild.

    • Newsome
      0

      High five for remembering the anime / manga newsgroups. Speaking as a former denizen of alt.fan.sailor-moon.

  16. It’s not a pansy manga, but it could still appeal to adults as well as kids at the same time.

  17. Clawson
    0

    GOKU taught us many life lessons.

  18. Not so happy with the direction DZ Super is headed, but it seems like the formula is strong with the new movies (Battle of the Gods and Resurrection of F)

    • Ryan Walsh

      It does seem more like a retread but with added plot points here and there. Though give em credit that they did make the battle in the Beerus Saga more epic as it almost resulted in the destruction of the universe whereas the original movie did not. But at least we still have the Champa plotline to look forward to. Plus I think its Toriyama’s own way to blend the plot of the movies into a narrative sense meant for television. But to each is their own as I do get the criticisms.

  19. It was just fighting. The love stories and even the Dragon Balls themselves mostly took a backseat. It was just bad ass fighting all the time and the angrier they got the stronger they got, like ADHD kids.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Nah, people with short attention spans like that would want shows that are always non stop like Panty and Stocking to North American cartoons like Breadwinners. Though it was said that Toriyama admitted he was never good at writing romantic stories, that’s why it felt like that took a back seat, but I say we leave that to the fandom…as long as its clean.

  20. Man Piper
    0

    Dragon Ball left a mark on me because this was my childhood reading material.

  21. I respect the manga because it got me into anime.

  22. I seem to remember an anecdote I read in an old manga magazine about DBZ. Toriyama was at the end of Dragonball, during the Budoukai Tournament. All he heard from the fans were that they loved the tournaments where the main characters would battle each other with their super-moves. They didn’t seem to care about his take on the Monkey King story, which was the focus of Dragonball. They just wanted the tournament fights. So, when he continued the series, he decided to just make it one long tournament/fight scene, and we got Dragonball Z.

    • Ryan Walsh

      That I can picture as most audiences would prefer action over story (that’s what got us Michael Bay unfortunately…) But even then tournaments are very common for most shonen stories, I think its just how Dragon Ball’s tournaments were executed that made it stand out more. Though I disagree with the last one you said there. There are definitely moments that doesn’t involve fighting, its just the fighting that most people think about all the time and ignore the rest.

  23. Dee Freund
    0

    The power ups are awesome.

  24. YsabelGo

    Unfortunately, I only watched DBZ and Dragon Ball GT. I never saw or read the original, so I should check it out when I have the chance. Thanks!

    • Ryan Walsh

      Compared to DBZ, it might feel slow, but in contrast, it feels more like a laid back adventure where you see the main heroes go through some training. If anything, it helps to show just how determined Goku was back then as a kid. And while science fiction is no stranger to DB, you’ll get more of a mystical feel than you would sci-fi as Goku was not known to be a saiyan back then but just a boy with a monkey tail lol. Hope I made it interesting for ya at least ^^

  25. I just remember it being the most epic show I’d ever seen as a kid and it was like nothing else and totally different from my usual Scooby Doo.

  26. Cary Anglin
    0

    Now a days I doubt any anime will get that popular again as there is virtually no anime promotion on TV in my country (US) so anime only tends to become popular now around those who look for it. I doubt even popular shows now like Attack On Titan will ever be able to become that popular among non anime viewers like DBZ did.

  27. Mi Ratcliff
    0

    Not sure what made it so popular. right time and place

  28. Enoch Do
    0

    I watched DBZ as a kid and started watching it again with friends in college. Love it. Most interesting to me is that Goku, the “ideal man”, is a Chinese creation, and (according to Wikipedia) is based on an older Chinese character. So it’s safe to say he’s the culmination of the ideal man of Chinese culture.

  29. DBZ was a new genre being introduced to the west..

  30. Large scale battles. What else do you want?!

  31. felneymike
    0

    LOL, do you even Katsudi Matsumoto?

  32. Tatijana

    Hah! A friend of mine had a crush on my DBZ loving cousin and to try to strike up conversation she asked him: “So, what’s going on with Veggie *slight pause* tah.” We of course made fun of her, but who knew that his name was actually referencing veggies!!

  33. DB is popular for two reasons. 1) The cultural ties to the strong national myth. Journey to the West. A very famous Chinese story iirc. and 2) in the West it’s famous because it was first. Dragonball was one of the first big Anime tv releases in the west. It was unlike any other cartoon show being made over here. It and Sailor Moon are classics and nothing else can compare. it was SM for girls and DB for guys. Nowadays there’s too much noise. Nothing could possibly get big like Dragonball again because while Naruto is popular it had to compete with Bleach and One Piece. There was nothing competing with Dragonball when it was on over here and for that it was unifying like nothing else and for that it was endearing. Dragonball is like a shared experience. We all know what it was like to watch five episodes of the a fight before the first punch landed. We remember fondly the characters but the show itself.. very few people would watch it now. Which is why the Kai.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Funny thing, Dragon Ball DID air in North America before DBZ, but from what I remember, they only did the first 13 episodes which was the Emperor Pilaf saga. Though even more ironic that it was supposed to be the ONLY story Toriyama started with intentionally before it got really popular. The problem was that it didn’t capture the attention of the western audiences of the 90’s because they wanted more action. Same thing happened with the Mega Man cartoon, originally capturing the spirit and feel of the games, but then gave it a completely rehaul to make it more “MANLY!”. But basically years later, DBZ aired and that’s what happened then. DBZ did make become popular here, but it TECHNICALLY did not air here first. The first 13 episodes of Dragon Ball did.

      • when I speak of Dragonball I refer to the franchise including both Dragonball and Dragonball Z. When I said it was the first big Anime release in the west. I meant primarily that DBZ is hundreds of episodes long and it was released in the west. It wasn’t literally the first show and but it was the first BIG show.

        While I do believe that DB was very influential to getting DBZ (Heck it was my intro to the series when I was a kid. I recognized the characters in DBZ from this awesome show I watched and only found out the name afterwards). Dragonball itself wasn’t a BIG anime show, not like Dragonball Z. DB only got 13 episodes. DBZ was big in part because it was more action oriented and I think because the market for Anime was slightly more mature and ready to consume by the time DBZ came over here. We were primed with DB, primed with Akira and some of the other movies.

  34. It had a high power level of awesomeness, that of which the world had never seen before. First time I saw Goku go Super Saiyan, I went berserk in my living room. Dragon Ball was also awesome! It was all just awesome.

  35. It was shown on many mainstream channels where it got exposed to lots of different viewers who were not necessarily anime fans.

    • Ryan Walsh

      Well that was one of the many ways how it got exposed to people, but I was talking about how it lasted for so long even to today, being exposed on north american channels is a tiny reason for its success.

  36. Kevin Mohammed

    I always found how the transition from Dragon Ball to DBZ had a great shift in the storyline from a mythological focus to something larger and displaying the author’s originality. People always argue about what is the best part of the series but honestly I think both are amazing because it includes such a diversity of storytelling in the series.

  37. Heavy92

    Dragonball Z was my first foray into the world of Anime, and honestly still holds a place in my heart. It may not exactly have the most in-depth story out there, and some of the more recent inclusions in the series may not be the highest of quality (though the specials are great), but it has heart to it, and is great fun to just sit and watch.

  38. Dragon Ball Z was one of the first anime I ever watched as a child, at the time I didn’t know what anime was and I just considered it a cartoon. Even then I could see it was repetitive, but I enjoyed it anyway. Looking back now I don’t think I could watch the entire show, but I actually really like the abridged version and I don’t mind watching clips from the original.

  39. I never grew up watching DBZ, but I think because it was on at a time where kids watched it, the show became popular here. Even in Japan it is popular, several big series, although some ended, the mangaka’s were inspired by Dragon Ball.
    There is no doubt the series has impact. It probably will still be popular another 20 years from now too. This is a series that the hype for it just never died and only continued to grow.

  40. This was a complete reflection of what i have to say to Dragon Ball haters. Seriously I am astonished by the fact that this page had almost 90% of my thoughts. You have truly understood Dragon Ball. But Naruto Shippuden is also good leaving the fillers but is always one nanometre below the Masterpiece of all manga and anime DRAGON BALL. I have not completed watching Naruto Shippuden but i am surprised how great it is. Coming close to a nanometre to Dragon Ball was something i never expected and is not something to be taken lightly. Still I am happy that atleast someone understands Dragon Ball this much.

  41. Dragon Ball is a fabulous legend.

  42. Jutor

    I have always found it interesting how many series are inspired by Journey to the west. Even Japanese creators have been inspired by this chinese tale and I have seen other signs of its influence across other books and tv shows as well. I have to say though, Dragon Ball is probably the most well known and obvious work inspired by Journey to the West.

  43. RitoGaming
    0

    I love to read and watch this manga

  44. Anime nerd

  45. Dragon Ball series is a legend. I’ve watched it before even though I don’t watch the newest series of whatever season. That also applies to pokemon as well. I mainly watch the movies but not the series.

  46. Brilliant article!!! Still don’t believe I read it all . I think you should have given more references on One Piece being inspired by DBZ coz most die hardOne Piece fans deny that it was inspired from DBZ

  47. I’m a big fan of Dragon Ball. I enjoy the show and manga greatly, love some of the movies and video games, and interact with many other fans in person and online. The art style for characters is one I find to be my style of drawing and it’s one I practice. This show, alongside Muhammad Ali, is the reason I train in martial arts now. The show inspires a lot of my writing and growth in what I want to move into for a profession. While at times the animation may be bad, it is never something I find appalling, and I never mind the filler because I do care for (most of) the characters. The manga is great with its visuals and story, and the games allow me to see and play as the characters I love most.

  48. Dragon ball is great with its changing story from a action, adventure to a science fiction story is great.

  49. Glad to see such a classic is getting the love it deserves

  50. Primus
    0

    This is a great article that I enjoyed reading as a Dragonball fan, however there is a major problem.

    The title and the introduction of the article suggests that this article will explain to the layman what dragonball(z) is about and why people love it.

    However, only a dragonball(z) fan would be able to understand the body of this article. This is just one of many examples, but from out of nowhere you introduce Z-fighters like you’d expect a layman to know what that means.

    You go too deep into the story details, but the writing style still suggests you’re trying to explain the plot to a layman. Problem is, you already lose the layman with details like “The original Piccolo was an ancient evil half of the guardian of earth, Kami, who was sealed away in a rice cooker until he was set free by Emperor Pilaf.”, because they’d have no clue what a “guardian of earth” entails and who the hell Kami is and how the hell can someone be an evil half of something else. Furthermore, they would barely know anything about Emperor Pilaf except that he is “comedic” and “incompetent”. These extra details detract from the purpose of your article.

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