Dragon Ball is a fantasy manga series serialized within the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump from 1984 to 1995 and is written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama. Licensed by Viz Media in the United States, its popularity has led to its expansion into a multimedia franchise including several anime adaptations and continuations, 19 animated films, 3 television specials, 2 unofficial live action adaptations, an officially licensed American film adaptation, and several video games.

Inspired initially by the classical Chinese novel, Journey Into The West, Dragon Ball tells the story of Son Goku, a child with superhuman strength adopted and raised by a hermit in the woods, chronicling his life from childhood to adulthood as he finds himself on numerous adventures while tracking 7 mystical artifacts known as Dragon Balls, capable of summoning a dragon capable of granting wishes to the person that summons it upon being gathered together.

Along his journey, Goku is joined by numerous allies that would become his lifelong friends, such as young scientifically knowledgeable Bulma, whose creation of a special radar assists in the search for the Dragon Balls, Martial Arts master and island hermit Muten-Rōshi, who eventually takes Goku on as his student, Kuririn, his childhood rival and fellow martial artist, and many other characters capable of super human feats through years of intense physical and spiritual training.

Goku’s adventures see him seeking ways to constantly push his own physical limitations as a fighter in order to protect the world from various malevolent forces aiming to utilize the Dragon Balls to harm the innocent, including conquering armies, mythical demons and even alien invaders.

The story of Dragon Ball is split up between the titles Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, with the separation beginning in May 10, 1989, covering Goku’s life as an adult and father upon learning that the source of his naturally superhuman strength and abilities stem from his heritage as a member of an endangered race of alien warriors known as Saiyans.

Dragon Ball Z comprises of over 60 percent of the manga’s length and is notable for shifting the tone of the story from that of a light hearted adventure to a darker and more dramatic action series, with the focus gradually moving from the journeys in between conflicts to the actual fights themselves, which become comparatively longer and larger in scope, reliant on the combatants using their immense power to achieve alternate physical forms with the threat of annihilation more prevalent than world domination.

The series has enjoyed a substantial amount of acclaim in Japan, becoming one of the highest selling manga of all time and influencing the tone of many future popular Shonen (young male focused) manga highlighting a particular focus on intense and frenetic martial arts action punctuated by dramatic undertones, such as Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach; all popular and well selling manga published 12 to 15 years after Dragon Ball’s initial publication. Internationally, its anime adaptations Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z are often credited with making anime mainstream to a new generation of viewers and consumers of Japanese media.

— Jordan Wright

Further Reading

  • Won, Kang-Sik. “A Study of Anime’s Success Factors in USA and Its Suggestions.”  International Journal of Contents 3, no. 1 (2007): 29-33.