Dragon Ball is a Japanese media franchise created by Akira Toriyama. It began as a manga that was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1984 to 1995, chronicling the adventures of a cheerful monkey boy named Son Goku, in a story that was originally based off the Chinese tale Journey to the West (the character Son Goku both was based on and literally named after Sun Wukong, in turn inspired by Hanuman). The manga was soon adapted into one of the most popular anime productions ever made, starting in 1986 and ending in 1997.
The story follows Goku and a huge cast of friends and enemies as they search for the magical Dragon Balls that can make any wish come true if one collects all seven. Of course, no sooner has someone gathered and used the Dragon Balls than they scatter and have to be sought out again. On top of all this, Goku is training up to fight in the periodic "Strongest Under the Heavens" tournament. The first third of the original series is generally broken down into six arcs, with Emperor Pilaf, the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament, the Red Ribbon Army, the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament, Demon King Piccolo, and the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament, plus a few filler mini-arcs, comprising the original Dragon Ball anime series, for a total of 153 episodes. After defeating these major threats to the world, Goku finally wins the tournament on his third attempt and goes off to get married. This portion of the story introduces and develop Goku's friends and enemies, as well as Goku himself as he discovers his love of fighting and adventure. Many tropes such as enemies becoming allies, facing off against progressively more powerful villains and having to train and power up to defeat them were introduced here, but would not become the regularly repeating tropes the franchise is known for until a bit later...
In 1989, the anime experienced a name change to Dragon Ball Z, while the manga continued under Dragon Ball (including all future translations, except English). The reason is that the anime changed showrunner and some of the animation team (and the author thought it would be ending soon, hence the Z). This part of the story continues by revealing that Goku is not simply a freakishly strong boy with a tail but one of the last of an alien race called Saiyans (and a runt of one at that). He was sent into space shortly before the Saiyan planet was destroyed (with shades of Superman, Golden Bat, and Prince of Gamma). Goku and his friends, reinforced by former enemies have to fight progressively more powerful villains with each new adventure, with the villains now becoming a more focal point of each story. Although Goku and his martial arts skills (which let him and his friends fly, throw ki blasts, and occasionally read minds) dominate the battles, the story is also about Goku's son Gohan and how he faces these challenges. Running seven years and nearly 300 episodes, Z can be broken down into the four primary big bads of the series: Vegeta, Freeza (Frieza in the dub), Cell, and Majin Boo (Majin Buu in the dub, or Djinn-Boo in the Viz manga). Both Dragon Ball the manga and Dragon Ball Z the anime comes to a triumphant conclusion after 519 manga chapters and 444 anime episodes (plus two TV specials) after Gohan is married and his own daughter Pan enters the "Strongest Under the Heavens" tournament, with Goku departing to train his new pupil, Oob.
Since the original Dragon Ball saga was a mega-hit, Dragon Ball GT was created as an anime-only continuation by Toei Animation, with some character designs and initial input by Toriyama. GT was not as well received, lasting 64 episodes before cancellation (although this was still much longer than originally intended), bringing the original era of Dragon Ball anime to an end at 508 episodes plus 3 TV specials and many movies along the way. The status of GT as part of the canon has been hotly debated since, with fans on the fence on where it lies and Toei not really acknowleging the subject at all. After the release of new material written by Toriyama himself starting in 2013, GT is now considered an Alternate Continuity. This is because 2013 is the year Battle of Gods was released, and it's the first film in the franchise to be Canon. Two years later, Resurrection 'F', the direct sequel to Battle of Gods, was released, followed by Dragon Ball Super, which is also canon (although whether this means the anime or the manga is another topic of debate).
And then of course came the dubs. While there have been many in all sorts of languages (and Z providing fertile ground for the fan-sub VHS market in the early 90s), the first English dub was in 1989 by Harmony Gold, who did at least the first five episodes and a combined version of the first and third movies in a few test markets. In 1995, Funimation would attempt to dub the first thirteen episodes using the Harmony Gold script as a starting point, which is where names such as Master Roshi, Power Pole, and the Flying Nimbus come from. This too did not take off (once again due to a poor timeslot), so in 1996 Funimation skipped ahead to the Z portion, which was seen as being more overtly action-focussed in its early episodes than its predecessor, and they hoped the audience would keep up with all the new characters and plot elements showing up with little-to-no introduction. They did, and the rest is history.
This is quite the contrast when compared to other territories, particularly continental Europe (specially France, Spain and Italy) and all of Spanish-speaking Latin America, where the franchise found its footing way earlier than in the English-speaking world. While the original Dragon Ball part of the story was unable to find an audience at first in the US, Goku as a child took those two territories by storm as early as 1989, becoming an instant hit among its target audience. And of course, when the series reached the Z portion of the story a couple of years later, the franchise's popularity exploded even further. By the time Dragon Ball Z finally got to conquer the United States, Dragon Ball as a whole had been a popular culture juggernaut in Europe and Latin America for almost a decade.
Initially covering the first 67 episodes, cut down into 53, plus the third movie, aired as a 3-part special, Z was at first dubbed using voice actors from The Ocean Group and distributed by Saban Entertainment in syndication, at first to early timeslots, but by the time the second season was underway, it was a huge hit. After Saban parted ways to focus on programming that they produced themselves, Cartoon Network picked the show up for their Toonami block in 1998 just after school at 5pm, exposing Z to hundreds of thousands of American kids. Problem was, Funimation had only dubbed those 53 episodes, which ran on repeat for a year. To save money, Funimation fired the Ocean cast and hired local Texas voice actors (some practically off the street) alongside newly-composed music for their first ever in-house dub, which began airing in late 1999. And let's be honest, if you're American, this dub is probably why most of you are even here. The in-house cast would become the de-facto English cast for the franchise, with a partial cast shake-up in 2009 for the dub of Dragon Ball Z Kai. The 1999 dub is infamous among those in the know for heavy alterations, including replacement music, voice actor choices, erasing mystical and Wuxia elements, changing names, "punching up" the dialogue in general, and mis-characterization. Regardless, Z continued to be a massive success in North America; the first anime would eventually be fully dubbed in English in 2001 while the Z dub was in the Cell arc. Meanwhile, the UK, Canada, and various English-speaking territories were treated to an alternate dub using much the same scripts as Funimation's dub, but with the Ocean cast, and using a score initially comprised of library tracks Ocean had built up from other productions, but became more and more its own original score as it went on. The alternate dub would then go on to dub the original series and GT, for which it would have its own cast replacement (moving voicework from Vancouver to Calgary), but they also switched to using scripts more faithfully translated from the original Japanese than Funimation's, and used the original Japanese score. They also did a really damn catchy version of the Japanese opening to GT. Though Funimation hit back hard against that with their own version from their "Remastered" DVDs in 2008.
The success of Dragon Ball, and its overwhelming influence on not just Japanese but global popular culture, is impossible to dispute. It became one of the biggest hits ever in Japan, and while it was hardly the first anime to be shown and become moderately popular in the west, it was the one that caused an exposure explosion in Europe and America. Americans and Europeans always have an idea of what it is when they hear its title, most Latinos and Americans who grew up during the 1990s have watched it, it's still running on TV internationally, and merchandising is alive and well. It is sometimes derided for being simplistic and for drawn-out multi-episode fights with little story progression (thanks to Filler); however, one must keep in mind that the show is primarily aimed at kids and teens aged 10 to 18, with older adults not really in the picture.
There are many non serial movies (only a few could be wedged into the series' timeline) that were released at least once a year, four set in the Dragon Ball era and thirteen for Dragon Ball Z. Two TV specials were made for Dragon Ball Z as well, with a third being produced for GT (two of which don't fit comfortably in a post-Super world). Toei returned to this well in 2008 when they did a special OVA to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Shonen Jump, the first Dragon Ball feature to be entirely digital. It was exhibited at the Jump Super Anime Tour alongside six other specially-produced OVAs. There have also been several other OVAs within the franchise, mostly based on the Dragon Ball Z portion of the story (one was made alongside an NES game in 1993, one was a remake of that in 2010, one was a sequel to one of the original TV specials, released in 2011, one was an interactive quiz in 1992, and there were a couple of safety PSAs — one for traffic, one for fire — released to schools in the '80s).
In the early 2000-aughts, the manga was re-released in Japan as the "Kanzenban" or "Perfect Edition," with brand-new covers drawn by Toriyama. This split the 519 chapters across 34 volumes instead of the original release's 42. The Kanzenban also included all of the original color pages, and every other issue included a booklet with a drawing by current, popular Shueisha artists, talking about how much Dragon Ball had influenced them. There were also some other adjustments in the Kanzenban edition.note
To date, there has been only one live-action adaptation: The American-made Dragonball Evolution, which came out in 2009. At one point Dragon Ball was turned into an MMORPG by Netmarble, simply titled Dragon Ball Online. It was only released in South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The game had three playable races: Saiyan Hybrids (called "Humans" in-game), Namekian, and Majin. The servers and website for the game were closed in 2013.
From 2009 to 2011, Toei aired Dragon Ball Kai (or Dragon Ball Z Kai outside Japan), a "refreshing" of Dragon Ball Z initially only covering the material from the Saiyan arc to the Cell Games arc with a lot of filler and padding removed.note This initial run would be the prelude to Dragon Ball's return to producing new media in 2013. In 2014, Kai resumed but on a much lower budget, with different music, worse picture (notably, it was cropped to widescreen, had a persistent green tint, and had an even softer, less detailed picture than the already-rather-notoriously-blurry first run of Kai), and including a lot more filler than the previous run (to the point that a few fully-filler episodes were left in, exactly as they were in Z).
Dragon Ball also has a Spin-Off manga called Dragon Ball SD in Saikyo Jump by Naho Ooishi which began on December 3, 2010, some 26 years after the first chapter of the original series was first published in Shonen Jump. As of June 21, 2011, there was another spin-off, this time a one-shot, called Episode of Bardock, also by Ooishi; later in the same year the Bardock short received an animated adaptation, and Shueshia started to reprint brand new copies of the original manga, in its original 42-volume glory, although with a differently stylized logo.
In 2012, Toei Animation started reworking on their classic animated adaptations, with brand new productions. Dragon Ball wouldn't be left out of the party, and it was announced that Toei was working on a new movie named Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. Toriyama was directly involved with the writing and it was to be set not long after the defeat of Kid Buu. The movie hit Japanese theaters on March 30, 2013 to wild critical acclaim. Two years later, Toriyama worked with Toei again to bring about a direct sequel to Battle of Gods, titled Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F', to a little less acclaim.
Later in 2015, 18 years after the end of GT, Toei announced that the franchise was going to get a new TV anime called Dragon Ball Super. Premiering on Fuji TV on July 5, 2015, the series at first simply retold the events of Battle of Gods and Resurrection 'F' before moving on to its own new material, including some new canon movies.
The franchise's impact on shōnen manga is unparalleled, to say the very least. Although not the first to employ the vast number of tropes that it is most associated with, it became the de facto face of the Shōnen Fighting Series, due to its brighter and less quirky premise more approachable to wider audience (compare the series to something like Fist of the North Star and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure). It is especially true outside its home country where, for many, it was the first dubbed anime anyone ever saw and a Gateway Series to both the shōnen battle genre and anime in general. To this day, the shōnen demographic, and various anime in general that use elements from it, pay homage to, or parody, this series and continue its legacy. For proof, one need only look as far as three series of the Aughts which are often considered the most direct of its spiritual successors: Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach.
- Dragon Ball (manga; 198495)
- Dragon Ball GT (199697)
- Dragon Ball Super (201518)
- Dragon Ball Super (manga) (2015)
- Dragon Ball DAIMA (2024TBA)
- Neko Majin (19992005) A parody of the main series set in the same universe.
- Dragon Ball SD (2010) A Super-Deformed parody of the main series.
- Dragon Ball: That Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha! (20162017) A series about a Dragon Ball fan who dies and finds himself reincarnated as Yamcha.
- Super Dragon Ball Heroes (2018) An animated adaptation of the Prison Planet saga from Dragon Ball Heroes onwards, released for promotional purposes only in Japan.
- Doctor Slump (198084) Crossed over in the original series during the Red Ribbon Army arc. The '90s Dr. Slump anime also had its own crossover episode. And Dragon Ball Super had both a cameo by Arale in one episode and a full-episode crossover.
- Dragon Boy (1983) Two-chapter series that served as a prototype for the series.
- The Adventures of Tongpoo (1983) One-shot that also inspired parts of the series.
- Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (201314) Stealth Prequel set before the first series. The title character would later return for Super. Also part of the Galactic Patrol Series are:
- Sachie-chan Guu!!
- Dragon Ball Minus: The Departure of the Fated Child One-shot featured in the collected volume covering the time period before Goku was sent to Earth.
- Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies (1986)
- Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle (1987)
- Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure (1988)
- Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone (1989)
- Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest (1990)
- Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might (1990)
- Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug (1991)
- Dragon Ball Z: Cooler's Revenge (1991)
- Dragon Ball Z: The Return of Cooler (1992)
- Dragon Ball Z: Super Android 13! (1992)
- Dragon Ball Z: Broly The Legendary Super Saiyan (1993)
- Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound (1993)
- Dragon Ball Z: Broly Second Coming (1994)
- Dragon Ball Z: Bio-Broly (1994)
- Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn (1995)
- Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon (1995)
- Dragon Ball: The Path to Power (1996)
- Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013)
- Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' (2015)
- Dragon Ball Super: Broly (2018)
- Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero (2022)
- Cross Epoch: A crossover with One Piece.
- Dream 9: Super Collaboration Special!!: A one hour animated three way crossover with One Piece and Toriko.
- Dragonball Evolution (USA, 2009)
- Dragon Ball: Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans (1993; original / 2010; remake)
- The World of Dragon Ball Z (2000)
- Dragon Ball: Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! (2008)
- Dragon Ball Episode of Bardock (2011)
- Dragon Ball: Alla ricerca delle Sette Sfere (1998)
- Dragon Ball Z: Il Torneo (1998)
- Dragonball + Dragonball Z: Il gioco di ruolo (1999)
- Dragon Ball Z The Anime Adventure Game (19992002) A Tabletop RPG published by R. Talsorian Games using the Fuzion D6 system.
- Yahtzee: Dragon Ball Z (2000)
- Dragon Ball Z: Final Tournament Strategy Game (2000)
- Dragon Ball Z CCG (2000)
- The Heroic Dragon Ball Z Adventure Game (2001)
- Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Saga Battle Boardgame (2002)
- Dragon Ball Z: Majin Buu Saga (2003)
- Dragon Ball Card Game (2003)
- Dragon Ball GT TCG (2004)
- Dragon Ball Z TCG (2005)
- Dragon Ball Collectible Card Game (2008)
- Dragon Ball Super Card Game (2018) A relaunch of the original Collectible Card game, adding Super-era elements and characters.
- Dragon Ball Kai: Fight Battle the Dragonball World (2009)
- Metal Shogi (2010) A variant of Shōgi using dice-driven combat with card based modifiers.
- Monopoly: Dragon Ball Z (2017)
- Dragon Ball Z: The Miniatures Game (2017)
- Dragon Ball Z: Road Trip (2017)
- Dragon Ball Z: Perfect Cell (2018)
- Dragon Ball Z: Over 9000 (2018)
- Dragon Ball Super: Universe Survival (2019)
- Dragon Ball Z - Smash Battle: The Miniatures Game (2020)
- Lots of games mainly on Famicom and Super Famicom (plus a few European countries, mainly France and Spain).
- Dragon Ball Shenron no Nazo (Dragon Power in the US)
- Dragon Ball Z: Super Butōden Series
- Dragon Ball Z: Super Butōden
- Dragon Ball Z: Super Butōden 2
- Dragon Ball Z: Super Butōden 3
- Dragon Ball Z: Shin Butōden
- Dragon Ball Kai: Ultimate Butōden
- Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butōden
- Dragon Ball Z Hyper Dimension
- Dragon Ball Z Arcade (19931995)
- Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22
- Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (1997; second Dragon Ball game to be released in the North American market, though the first game, Dragon Power, was changed considerably).
- Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure
- Dragon Ball: Fusions
- Dragon Ball Heroes
- Dragon Ball Online
- Dragon Ball: Origins Series
- Dragon Ball: Origins
- Dragon Ball: Origins 2
- Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo
- Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
- Dragon Ball Xenoverse
- Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans
- Super Dragon Ball Z
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Series
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3
- Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World
- Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai Series
- Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai
- Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi Series
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
- Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team
- Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi
- Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit
- Dragon Ball: Raging Blast Series
- Dragon Ball: Raging Blast
- Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2
- Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku Series
- Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku
- Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II
- Dragon Ball Z: Buu's Fury
- Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors Series
- Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors
- Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors 2
- Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warriors
- Dragon Ball: Space & Time Legend
- Dragon Ball FighterZ
- Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle
- Dragon Ball Z: Sagas
- Dragon Ball Legends
- Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
- Dragon Ball: The Breakers
Provides examples of:
- Pictorial Letter Substitution: A lot of (but not all) logos used in the franchise use a one-star Dragon Ball in the place of the letter O.