Even though Our Dragons Are Different, they are still awesome in whatever form. Therefore works where dragons are not important to the story will often throw in a dragon anyway, just for the hell of it.
In order to count for this trope, the story cannot be about dragons, a dragon cannot be a major, or even secondary character. That includes being a MacGuffin, the Big Bad, or The Dragon (no relation). It has to be clear that a dragon isn't needed for the story, the writers just did it for Rule of Cool. Or if it's an adaptation of a work with no dragons at all, it counts no matter what role the dragons have now.
Sometimes it's justified by a Fantasy Kitchen Sink, but it's still this trope when it otherwise fits.
Compare Instant Awesome, Just Add Mecha, Rent-a-Zilla, Dragons Up the Yin Yang.
In Naruto, you can mold any element into an elemental dragon or dragon-shaped projectile. Examples include Kakashi and Zabuza using water dragons, Sarutobi's use of an earth/mud dragon, and Raiga using his swords to create a dragon of wind and lightning.
Sasuke has an attack in the manga that causes a small flame to travel a length of string. Apparently the anime adaptation took inspiration from this trope because the anime version of this attack sends a giant dragon made of fire along the length of string.
In fairness to the name, Dragon Flame Jutsu, when that small flame hits the target at the end of the string, they get lit up.
The fourth of the new main characters in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Caro Ru Lushe is a dragon summoner. She's accompanied by her silver baby dragon Friedrich. Now the awesome parts: Caro can summon an adult version of Friedrich, that makes her awesome. But the real awesome part: She has a second dragon, Voltaire, a Physical God, that makes her instantly more awesome.
When Ron Marz took over writing Witchblade, his introductory arc (which was meant as a compelling jumping on point for new readers) pitted the hero against an evil cult within the Catholic Church intent on summoning a "living god" from another dimension. Given Witchblade's typical milieu - it's far from high fantasy - one would expect something bipedal and vaguely demonic or angelic, or more rarely, a Cthuluesque eldritch abomination. Nope, not this time. Just a straight-up D&D-style bat-winged dragon.
Possibly an example of Shown Their Work, since most translations of the Bible refer to Satan as 'the Dragon' at certain points.
In The Uncanny X-Men during the early 80s, in the midst of a climactic battle between the X-Men and the Brood, Kitty Pryde's life is saved...by a small dragon who flies in out of nowhere, who later becomes Kitty's companion Lockheed and a popular fixture of the X-books.
Magic: The Gathering has regularly featured Dragons. Typically they are Red cards, almost always have Flying, and are generally Red's most powerful individual creatures. Blue occasionally has Drakes, but they're getting rarer in recent editions.
Particularly impressive in two blocks: Innistrad is a gothic horror setting... with exactly one dragon in each set, just to have them; and Ravnica's dragons are extinct, because most of the plane is one single city and there's almost no wilderness left... except for a few dragons that aren't, such as this one, which isn't even legendary.
Dragon Storm is an RPG collectable card game that features dragons as one of the playable character types.
In the Lord of the Rings fanfic Ancient Prophecy fullfilled, the author's OC's are something akin to Maiar (In-Universe Angelic Beings) who can shapeshift, and prefer to walk around as dragons. Que an Oh Crap moment when the father of those OC's decides to come back into the picture...
George becomes a red dragon twice in With Strings Attached. The others are very impressed. The first time, it's to help fight off square miles of undead. The second time, it's just to fly everyone up to the Twisted Temple.
In Crowns Of The Kingdom, Maleficent's dragon form is her final battle form. Elliot from Pete's Dragon shows up as well.
Film — Animated
When Maleficent turns into a dragon at the end of Sleeping Beauty. Even if the Disney version didn't originate that, it's likely an earlier version did it for this trope.
In another Disney animated feature, The Sword in the Stone, the wizard's duel culminates in Mad Madam Mim breaking her own rules, one being to not turn into anything make-believe, such as pink dragons, and turning into a purple dragon.
Mushu was added to Mulan simply to give the main character a Non-Human Sidekick. The original story had no dragons or other supernatural element whatsoever.
On Aladdin, Genie briefly turns into a dragon for no reason other than to show off his shapeshifting skills.
Film — Live Action
The film Godzilla Final Wars features a battle between the high-tech submarine, the Gotengo, and the Chinese dragon Kaiju, Manda. Manda is only there as yet another random monster to be featured in the movie and is quickly killed off at the beginning. And then there's Godzilla's final battle against Monster X Keizer Ghidorah, which is also an homage to the classic "Godzilla VS King Ghidorah" battles. In addition, King Ghidorah's appearances in Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla VS Gigan count since the three-headed dragon is NOT the main focus in either film. Manda also appears in the former.
Star Wars: Remember the krayt dragon skeleton from A New Hope? Purely there to add a little awesome. So was Boga, the feathered lizard-mount Obi-Wan rode in Revenge of the Sith. The Star Wars Expanded Universe, while usually trying to stay clear of obvious references to Earth animals and myths, has various species of dragon, many of them said to be the nonsentient offspring of Duinuogwuin, which are a strange people like ten-to-a-hundred meter long centipedes with wings, hands, organic cold fusion reactors, and the ability to live in deep space. They're also called Star Dragons, and although they almost never actually appear, they get mentioned as Noodle Incidents with some regularity.
As the page quote shows, this is subverted and lampshaded in The 13th Warrior. It turned out the "fire wyrm" is just a cavalry with torches, and Herger said he would have preferred an actual dragon. Of course, given that the size of the fire wyrm in question meant it was comprised of literally hundreds of warriors, all mounted on horseback and moving independently, his preference for a straight-up lizard is understandable.
Although they've been integrated to the point that the story would end up very different without them, the dedications page of A Game of Thrones says something like: "To my wife, who made me put the dragons in". So this thinking may have prompted their inclusion.
In the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels, a battle during the Romulan War takes place on Berengaria VII. Dragons show up to eat Romulans. There's no particular reason for it, but, hey, we're on Berengaria, previously established in throwaway lines of Star Trek: The Original Series as home of the dragons, so let’s have them eat people. Also in the Star Trek Novel Verse, Elias Vaughn's childhood history on Berengaria VII probably counts; he was apparently mauled by a dragon at one point. Vaughn had previously been said to originate there; eventually, this bit of trivia made an inevitable linkage to the dragons. Since Vaughn is the sort of character with a highly adventurous background, it's no surprise he apparently had dragon bites where other children had bruised knees. See: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch.
In the Shadowrun novels and associated table-top RPG, dragons are rare, but enough people found Dunkelzahn awesome to get him elected President by popular vote.
There's also the plotline behind Night's Dawn, where Alamais the dragon is the main antagonist, but just shows up out of nowhere to be killed by laser bombardment, having previously been seen only in the prologue as part of an ambush.
And then there's Lofwyr, the dragon in charge of a megacorp who pretty much coined the phrase "never, ever cut a deal with a dragon."
The Eyes of The Dragon has no real dragon in it. The dragon of the title comes from a stuffed and mounted dragon head that has peep-hole eyes. Any peep-hole would have done just as well, but it's more awesome with dragons.
There is a real dragon! It dies in the backstory, but it was there.
Deltora Quest consists of three series. In Australia, they're numbered. Everywhere else, the third is titled Dragons of Deltora... and is filled with both awesome and dragons. And especially awesome due to dragons. Previously the series had been somewhat unique in its lack of the things, despite the High Fantasy Meets JRPG setting....
Dragons are only important to one or two Discworld books, but they're mentioned quite frequently (especially in the Night Watch books, since Sam Vimes happens to be married to a dragon breeder). Of course, on Discworld, Our Dragons Are Different...
Dragon Slippers. Yeah, no such thing as dragons. You just keep thinking that, Creel...granted, the dragons have been in hiding for the past 300+ years.
Plus, in book two, no one's worried about the war with Citatie until they discover the army is mounted on DRAGONS.
For most of the Harry Potter series, dragons are added primarily for the awesome (they appear only as plot devices). Rowling introduces them as if she knows that her readership expects them and is rewarding them for holding out for three books.
This is the entire premise of The Crown Colonies series: colonial New England with Dragons. And zombies. And muskets are fired by magic.
The creature on most of the Vlad Taltos cover arts is supposed to be a jhereg — a two-legged, two-winged flying reptile — but is invariably given an extra pair of forearms and dragon-like appearance for the artwork. There are dragons in Dragaera, but they do notlook like your average western dragon. So the cover art depicts an animal that doesn't actually exist in Dragaera, simply because the publishers wanted to invoke this trope. One supposes that "Instant Awesome, Just Add Jheregs" wouldn't have the same ring to it.
The Wheel of Time - thus far, no Dragon of any sort has materialized except the "Dragon Reborn", a human male Channeler meant to fight the Dark One. His emblem is a lizardlike dragon, but no-one has any idea what it is, only that it's his emblem. The male half of the Aes Sedai symbol has become negatively associated with the Dragon Reborn, and conflated with the Dark One. There's no real reason for either of them to be in, except this trope.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have been known to throw dragons in for the hell of it. A dragon flew out of the portal created by Glory in the season 5 finale of Buffy, and Angel fights a dragon (offscreen) in its series finale (also its season 5 finale, interestingly enough).
In Stargate SG-1, they have to deduce a dragon's name as part of a test. Vala suggests they start guessing and names it "Darrell", while Cam throws in "Smokey".
Tic-Tac-Dough: Literally, as part of the gane show's Luck-Based MissionBonus Round. The objective was for the winning contestant to find, on a 3-by-3 game board, dollar amounts adding up to at least $1,000, or the words "TIC" and "TAC" before uncovering a space with a computer-animated dragon to win the cash and a prize package; finding the dragon ended the game immediately with nothing won.
Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and Megaforce Season 2 give the Rangers powerups based on previous seasons, and one of the first ones they get is a dragon mecha based on the one from Magiranger/Mystic Force.
In Eureka season 5, the appearance of a dragon was the result of a glitch in the AI program in which the crew of the Astraeus was unwittingly stuck.
At the start of series 4 of Merlin the writers throw in a baby dragon for no readily apparent reason. It becomes clear that they're not entirely sure what to do with it, as it spends the rest of the series largely off-screen and ultimately becomes a case of What Happened to the Mouse?
The name of the band DragonForce. They have a couple songs about dragons, but their name could have been anything, as the variety of Heavy Mithril bands show. And most of their songs are about glorious battles to the end. Dragons are hardly ever mentioned. But again, it's a cool name.
Summoning put a dragon on the cover of their album Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame.
The music video for "Shine On Me" by Chris Dane Owens. Along with every other fantasy stereotype or image known to man.
For no apparent reason, Chris Squire, bassist of Music/ Yes, sometimes wears a robe with a dragon on at shows.
Imagine Dragons ...cool name, even though none of their songs have anything to do with dragons.
The playfield in Black Knight is decorated with dragon designs and dragon heads, even though there aren't any dragons in the game itself.
The "Dragon Showdown" table of Last Gladiators gratuitously uses a number of dragon motifs throughout its Samurai theme.
Tabletop RP Gs
In Exalted, Elementals gain draconic forms when they breach a certain threshold of power, regardless of what their original form was. There's no real reason for this; Word of God says that they are emulating the ideal of the Five Elemental Dragons, who, while not elementals themselves, were the basic template that elementals were designed off of. But we all know the real reason.
The Kardas Dragon, Kanohi Dragon, and Makuta Miserix in BIONICLE.
Since so many Video GameRPGs have dragons included as monsters for this trope, it would be easier to list exceptions.
Played with in Dragon Quest I; a dragon kidnaps a princess. Turns out that the Big Bad is known to not be a dragon right off the bat, but the Dragonlord, who can command dragons. Rescuing the princess isn't even required.
The Breath of Fire series is another exception, as the main character is always a human-dragon hybrid of some sort.
Final Fantasy VI has a sidequest based on, yeah, dragons (some of which look like dinosaurs). There isn't any background lore on them nor are any of them directly related to the story (some of them are found in the last dungeon, but they can easily be skipped).
The paper-thin background lore is that Crusader, the strongest of the Espers, was sealed during the ancient War of the Magi using the power of eight dragons. These "Crusader" dragons are vicious, but defeating them will get you the Crusader magicite, the only Esper that can teach Merton/Meltdown. Which really isn't much of a reward, but hey.
The Bahamut summon that appears in almost every FF game.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the game that features Bahamut because of being an Eidolon to Caius. Andyou fight off against three Bahamuts in the Final Boss fight. Also, the faeryl is a dragon that's somewhat a Reality Warper because of it's "Black Hole" power.
Then there are the Dragoons, lance-using warriors with a dragon theme and one of the most popular jobs/classes.
Altered Beast allows players to become a dragon in level 2. Also, two of the bosses are dragons.
In The Elder Scrolls, the only games in which dragons of some sort appear without playing a major part in the story is Daggerfall, with the small and actually-not-dragons dragonlings (an actual dragon is in the game files, but it does not seem to have been implemented). The other three games with dragons - Redguard (the super-weapon that set-up the situation and Tiber Septim's loyal servant), Oblivion (an avatar of a God that shows up to rescue the day after desperate measures are taken) and Skyrim (the Big Bad) - all have them as important parts of the story, and so does not quite fit this trope. That the God of Time near-universally amongst Tamriel's peoples is a Dragon God of Time may have something to do with this trope, though...
Maybe Akatosh, the dragon god of time, is a nudge at the ouroboros symbol of a snake -or dragon- eating it's tail, which stands for renewal, especially of the "in cycles" kind. It can also symbolize something that exists from before, or since, the beginning of everything with a force or qualities that make it eternal. (like -for instance- time.)
Peryite, the Taskmaster, the Daedric Prince of Order and Pestilence. He can choose to appear as a dragon whenever he wants.
In E.V.O., if you eat a red crystal you temporarily get a powerful form depending on your current animal type. Naturally, if you're a bird, that temporary form is a Dragon.
The red crystal forms are fixed, you just have to be a bird to reach the dragon one (and the gargoyle one). Temporarily turning into one via green crystal works too, since the effect doesn't wear off inside the cloud maze for some reason.
In the infamous MMORPG MapleStory, there's a 3rd job class that is pretty much dedicated to this trope. The Dragon Knight. Said class's skills ALL INVOLVE DRAGONS in some way or another. Dragon Crusher, Dragon Fury, Dragon Roar, Dragon Blood, etc.
The Dragon-type in Pokémon (At least outside of the fourth and fifth generation, which feature legendary Pokemon of the type as a part of the plot). A lot of people think they are the handiest Pokemon to own since they resist Fire, Water, Grass, and Electric attacks, which are common in almost every party. Not only that, but they have some high base stats as well. Also, Dragon type trainers are known for being very badass. Iris, Clair, Lance, Drake, Drayden, etc.
The Heroes of Might and Magic series routinely has all sorts of dragons among the most powerful (and expensive) creatures available. The 5th entry even turned all gods (including the evil one) into dragons, with the units being the offspring of the gods. And not to forget the Dragon Utopia, a treasure hoard guarded by, yes, dragons. The spinoff Warriors Of Might And Magic features a powerful dragon named Thalin Thraxxus as a boss in the PS2 version.
Ridley in Metroid: Fusion. While he is a major character in the series, Fusion is one of the few games in the series that doesn't involve the Space Pirates in plot-related role, so he seems a little out of place.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker features Valoo, an ancient sky spirit/dragon. One of the game's first dungeons is all about figuring out what's wrong with him, the first boss you fight is torturing him, and farther into the game he repays the favor by roasting Ganon in his own tower, which is a memorable moment for him. Other examples in the series include Volvagia and Argorok in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, respectively.
The Shining Series is chock-full of dragons, playable or otherwise, and they're almost always among the strongest characters.
Shining Soul introduced an entire new species, Dragonutes, to the canon.
Shining Force III features many Dragon enemies but if you avoided killing the baby in Scenario 1 you could recruit one in a later Scenario...not that anybody outside Japan could, not that people are still bitter about that or anything.
In Touhou, the God of Gensokyo is simply referred to as The Dragon. Theory goes that Hong Meiling is a Chinese dragon in girl form; she's one of the very few youkai whose exact species isn't identified by ZUN, and thematically she references Chinese dragons in a number of ways.
Mega Man X4 had Magma Dragoon, a Maverick Hunter-turned-traitor who destroyed an entire city and got an entire army organization blamed...just so that he could fight the heroes. For extra coolness, his moveset was based off Akuma, complete with Shoryuken and Hadouken attacks.
Bug! had the titular character's ride, a dragon-fly. As in, a dragonfly with a dragon's head and fire breath! Unfortunately, you only got to use said dragon-fly in the ringBonus Level.
Yoshi from Super Mario Bros., contrary to popular belief, is not a dinosaur, but actually a dragon.
Fate/stay night sure references dragons a lot for an expansive continuity that continues absolutely 0 actual dragons in any story. Dragon killing swords, dragon slayers, ranks of phantasmal beasts, the difficulty in summoning dragons, inability to ride them, dragon tooth soldiers, Caster's Golden Fleece that she can't use and has absolutely 0 use in the story. And apparently awhile back a bored dragon sat around the temple and taught the monks stuff. There are none in the sequel either and the current projects they're working on are Tsukihime 2 (vampires) and a completely new visual novel about demons. Still no dragons. The dragon is also symbolic of the house of Pendragon - the background mentions that Arturia would be weak against "anti-dragon" weapons, as Pendragon means "child of the dragon".
The Xtended mods for the X-Universe series adds the "Shivan Dragon", a large (it's about 100 meters in wingspan) black dragons that flies around in space, shoots lasers from its mouth, and attacks everything in sight. The dragons have no real impact on the player or the rest of the universe except for chance encounters in border sectors, or if the player owns stations in Unknown Sectors, where the dragons set up nests.
The ending of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny has Levi describing Eltria as a planet like something straight out of an RPG series, with dungeons to crawl and monsters to fight. For the monster part of the description, a classic fire-breathing red dragon is shown, which Levi later gets to beat up during the opening narration of the Playable Epilogue.
Guilty Gear has a grand total of one dragon in the entire series, and you won't even know who it is unless you've paid attention to the series' lore. It's the main character himself, Sol Badguy. It's the form he takes when he transforms into a Gear, hence the name of his Super Mode: Dragon Install.
Dragons are the rarest type of enemy in Xenoblade, with only three of them existing in the game and only one of them even being a mandatory fight (Which comes out of nowhere on top of that).
Homestar Runner didn't have a dragon until someone asked Strong Bad if he could draw one. Thus, Trogdor was born.
And the "S Is For Sucks" Dragon.
In The King of Town's Very Own Quite Popular Cartoon Show The Knight tries to use a dragon as one of many methods to deodorize the Poopsmith
"We are going to need to turn Wexter into a dragon so that he can fly us to Zombie World."
"But he is already a giant lizard that can fly."
"To get to Zombie World we need a dragon with rocket wings. Plus, dragons are awesome."
Bot from Fairy Dust has a pet dragon hatchling. Aside from breathing small puffs of flame when frightened, the thing looks exactly like a regular lizard, and albeit tame, behaves much like one. There are mentions of more dragon-like species, with wings, and spikes but none is actually seen.
A Free Spirit comic has a scene in which Winnie blatantly hints that she might give Gene a dragon for his birthday. He becomes excited, but Jessie tries to warn Winnie that it might prove too dangerous.
Dragons are the original fire benders, and the ones who taught firebending to humans. Although most of them have been hunted down by the fire nation, two of the ones left end up teaching Aang and Zuko the true nature of fire bending. Also in the Avatar's last previous life, Roku, had a pet dragon.
And in one of Zuko's dreams, Azula and Iroh both take on the forms of dragons.
In the Teen Titans episode "Spellbound", villain Malchior could have easily been a human Evil Sorcerer whose spirit was trapped in one of Raven's spellbooks without substantially altering the plot- but he turns out to have been a dragon, just for that special dose of awesome. (What makes Malchior unique is that, unlike most dragons, he's very subtle, using deception and seduction to coerce Raven into trusting him. The most awesome part? This was a rare time when the character that would normally be the Distressed Damsel was the one who defeated him.)
Spike, a baby dragon, has been in the My Little Pony cartoons, in their various incarnations.
The Looney Tunes short "The Bashful Buzzard" featured a dragon near the end. Since there is no other fantasy element to the cartoon - it wasn't set in a Standard Fantasy Setting - there is no excuse for its appearance other than the director wanted to have a dragon on the picture.
Granamyr from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983). Well, just Granamyr, really. Larry DiTillio, who designed the character, stated that Granamyr was created to present a foe that even He-Man could not defeat physically, and that he considered "The Dragon's Gift", the episode where the character first appeared, the best episode written. And yeah, as any fan of the show will tell you, Granamyr is downright awesome.
How else do you think Figment became the mascot of Epcot? Heck, his origins can actually be traced to an attraction for the shelved Disneyland concept Discovery Bay, a Steampunk land, that had an attraction hosted by a Dreamfinder-like character who, among other cool things, bred dragons as a hobby.
Speaking of theme parks, "Dueling Dragons" at Universal Studios Orlando, anyone?
This trope is probably why many species of lizard have a common name with "dragon" in it, especially those that are popular pets. What sounds more awesome, a bearded lizard or a bearded dragon?