Dragon Ball – A Global Phenomenon


by Lagosian

It was only a few days back whilst perusing the web, that I stumbled upon an article stating that the latest Dragon Ball movie would be shown in U.S. movie theaters in the fall. This is no easy feat, especially for a show that stems from Japan. To have such a draw in the United States to warrant theater showings, one year after its original premiere date is definitely worthy of applause.

It got me to thinking, why has this show stayed relevant for so long and why does it have such a broad appeal?

For those who might be unfamiliar with Dragon Ball. Its a Japanese animation created by Akira Toriyama. It first started off as a manga, which is pretty much a Japanese term for serialized comics. Unlike American comics, Mangas are predominantly printed in black and white, and are mostly written by Japanese Authors. In Japan, Manga and Anime are very popular. According to this article, Manga accounts for roughly 25 percent of all printed materials in Japan. This one, written by the Guardian, goes further stating that as of 2007, Manga’s market value in Japan was about 400 Billion Yen (About 4 billion dollars).

Manga and Anime (Japanese form of animation) have a unique relationship. Whilst its not unheard of to see many stand alone animated stories, a lot of them usually begin as manga, and through a strong following, pave the way for more life on screen as anime. Which leads me back to my original point about Dragon Ball.

Dragon ball started off as a manga in 1984, and ran in that format until 1995. Because of the popularity it enjoyed in manga format, the animated property followed suit and ran originally from 1986 to 1996. Whilst Dragon Ball Z episodes stopped in 1996, the show has successfully remained in syndication till this present moment. A truly incredible feat if I have ever seen one. Off the top of my head, the only other show with that much staying power that I can think of is Seinfeld, which is still going strong in syndication, despite the show ending in 1998.

There have been numerous dragon ball iterations over time. Its not just a manga, its a business empire. Everything from video games to movies are taken care of with this franchise. It is definitely one of the biggest names in entertainment, especially in Asia.

So why has this show stayed so relevant, and why does it still remain viable in a world where there are so many options and choices particularly on television? Well perhaps it has something to do with the story.

Dragon ball is centered on Goku, who is somewhat of Japan’s Superman/Clark Kent. He is an alien from a planet that was destroyed and has been raised as a human on earth. Unlike Superman though, dragon ball doesn’t take itself seriously. Its more of a comedy with action elements, that boils down to the dragon balls, magical orbs that when collected and put together, grant the users one wish. Because of said power of the dragon balls, many factions all over the universe come looking for this, some with very nasty intentions. Goku’s rise from lovable kid to Galactic champion is chronicled through the manga and anime, and its what has led to and spawned so many different iterations of this property.

As an aspiring story teller, Dragon ball is fascinating to me. I believe it has stayed so relevant, because the story is one many people can relate to. Its a formula that has become so popular in Japanese Anime and Manga, and can be found in current hits like Naruto and One Piece.

Its the story of an underdog constantly facing insurmountable odds, but through sheer will and determination, and through the aid of others, he rises up to the occasion and saves the day. Its a story that makes you believe in others, and the humanity that defines us.

In a country like Japan where Manga and Anime means so much to their economy, Dragon Ball has done what a lot of properties before and after it have not been able to, and that’s create a legacy. One which will keep it going on for many more years to come.



Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods Gets Limited Release in US and Canada – IGN. (n.d.). IGN. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/06/02/dragon-ball-z-battle-of-gods-gets-limited-release-in-us-and-canada

McCurry, J. (2009, April 10). Japan looks to manga comics to rescue ailing economy. theguardian.com. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/10/japan-manga-anime-recession

World Intellectual Property Organization. (n.d.). The Manga phenomenon. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2011/05/article_0003.html

Funimation to release a potential Ocean redub of Dragon Ball Z on DVD?. (n.d.). I Miss Bionix. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://imissbionix.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/funimation-to-release-a-potential-ocean-redub-of-dragon-ball-z-on-dvd/


5 thoughts on “Dragon Ball – A Global Phenomenon

  1. The Dragon Ball was created based on the Journey to the West, one of the Chinese Four Great Classical Novels.
    · The pronunciation of name of the main character, Goku, is similar to the original figure’s name, Wukong(悟空), as well as the monkey appearance.
    · The basic story is Goku to look for the Dragon Balls for Bulma, which compares to Wukong helping Xuanzhuang retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.
    · Goku’s super power, Kinto-un(筋斗雲), is exact the same to Wukong’s Jindou-Yun(筋斗云), which both of them learned from an immortal in an island.
    … …
    There are also many other similarity and identity of both stories. Even though the Dragon Ball was inspired by the Journey to the West, it seems like the former is more famous worldwide than the latter.
    The potential copyright issues in the Dragon Ball also could not be ignored, clearly it does not fit any of the fair use factors,

    1.the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    2.the nature of the copyrighted work;
    3.the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    4.the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    First, it is definitely a commercial animation series.
    Second, both of them are fiction works. The Dragon Ball was created by Akira Toriyama in 1984. But nearly 400 years prior to it, the Journey to The West first copy was printed out in 1592.
    Third, we could say that there is not a large amount of the original work was being used, except for the main story map and protagonist.
    Last, how many of you guys have heard about the Journey to The West? Or the Dragon Ball?


  2. Except for a broad knowledge of Manga, I already had, it was really stimulating read your post and the first comment to it. Learn and explore new worlds that do not strictly belong to mine is always a stimulating exercise that helps me to open my mind to new horizons. In addition, I have always been attracted by Dragon Ball as character since his image is used by several friends of mine as profile picture on social accounts…at least thanks to you, I now know a little bit more about this Manga!


  3. Thanks for your responses guys. Glad you took time to read the post.

    Mr. Li, I have learned a lot from that post of yours. I didn’t know Dragon Ball got inspiration from journey to the west. You are right, Journey to the west seems to be in the shadow of Dragon ball, and I doubt there’s anything that can be done litigation wise.


  4. I love mangas! I am reading the ‘Fruits Basket’ series now and enjoying it very much! My all time favorite series is “City Hunter”. Mangas are very popular in Morocco, they are the main reason why a vast majority of Moroccans wants to visit Japan. In the past couple of years, some universities in Morocco started teaching Japanese classes due to the high demand, and we also have many manga cafe in different cities, where you can buy manga and hang out with other fans. It is really amazing how these comics became a worldwide phenomenon and an everyday inspiration to their fans who took it over and created so many derivative products out of it.


  5. I have always been a fan of Dragon Ball Z. Yet, I never took into consideration of how significant it was to the economy. I think this post really brings to light the legacy that Dragon Ball Z leaves on our generation and how future animated series will have to live up to the same legacy.


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