Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball (1985 – 1989)

Confession time: as a kid, I was never into manga. Sure, I watched an the odd anime episode, from Tōshō Daimos to Captain Tsubasa (though the last was hard to endure, watching that football roll through the whole episode was sleep-inducing and I don’t think I ever watched a whole episode, really ;)), but I hadn’t taken to it at all. If all you had to judge Japanese art was Sailor Moon, well – I’m pretty sure you can understand my total lack of interest back then.

But fast forward to 2021, and voila! In April and May have devoured all 42 volumes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z and was so happy with it that now I’m looking for a nice edition to buy myself a treat 😀 And because I reviewed all the DB volumes on GR, I decided to take inspiration from Lashaan and post them here on the blog as well. What’s so cool about DB, I hear you ask? Well, a whole lot of stuff, really: the whimsy, the humour, the fantastical imagination of the author, the absolute mastery of simplicity in art (which, man, I have read some other mangas since DB, and none of them come close to Toriyama’s art), and, of course, the main protagonist Goku. While the whole idea for DB and its little hero is rooted in the Chinese legends of Monkey King (and you can check out my review of Liu’s take on this mischievous trickster here), Toriyama took it in such fantastic, unexpected directions, deftly mixing Western and Eastern popculture with mythology and martial arts ethos. And that last element was what surprised me the most, I must say: Toriyama’s depiction of martial arts, and martial artists’ ethos, is amazingly deep, even if delivered in an offhand, funny way. I actually think it’s the best that I had read. Hats off!

So here we go on a Dragon Ball journey, full of exclamation marks and groans and all that emotional stuff as I devoured one volume after another and wrote reviews right after I finished!

7.5/10 stars, 9/10 stars and 7/10 stars

The first three volumes have a lot going on in their favour – they are funny, whimsical, absolutely full to bursting with crazy ideas, one more preposterous than another. And of course they have Goku, the most adorable monkey kid ever!

I’d have happily given them all even 9 stars if not for the lechery. I know, I know, it’s a cultural thing and whatnot, some poor teenage girl treated like a sexual object is just a must in the genre, even in the new and theoretically ironic mangas like One Punch Man (btw, bleh!), but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It detracts from the reading experience, big time. (Fortunately, Toriyama scaled that down to almost nothing in the later volumes, yay!)

All stars!

I loved this one! Had such a laugh at both the wonderfully funny portrayal of the fights and Goku’s continued unabashed innocence and ingenuity in his improvement. My favorite volume to date.

9/10 stars

So inventive and funny! I loved the final fight of Tenka’ichi Budokai and the conclusion to this arc was absolutely spot on, very sweet and fun.

Sure, some jokes might not have aged that well, but even Master Roshi is less of a pervert in this one, and actually shows some outstanding cuddly bear qualities (blasting the Moon instead of Goku – that was perfect!) Goku is a wonderfully, enthusiastically destructive innocence incarnated, and his paper-scissors-rock fighting technique was just awesome.

I wasn’t that sold on another Dragon Ball quest, but the “Muscle Tower” pays inventive homage to the concept, and especially the meeting with ninja was cool.

I want Kinto’un back!

7/10 stars

I liked this one a lot – till Master Roshi showed up and dialed up his usual pervert behaviour all the way to 11. Before that, it was a solid 8/10 read, mostly due to ever-innocent Goku and Bulma, who gets a bit of a backstory here and shows exactly from whom she got her genius, the feeling of entitlement and some other questionable behaviors 😉 I’m getting really fed up with Kame-Senin, though – liked him much more hidden beneath his wonderfully ridiculous Jackie Chun persona.

Looking forward to the next one!

5/10 stars

Eh, could’ve been better. The crossover attempts seemed a bit lazy to me, a Deus ex Machina solution that is designed mainly to introduce old characters from other series. Fortunately, the crossover is short.

I don’t find Blue funny or compelling as a villain – again, some weird skills with ropes and mind control seem just lazy, especially considering Toriyama’s earlier ideas.

Glad to have snatched an omnibus version, I can already start vol. 8! 😀

All stars!

This one was just soo good! My favorite part was obviously the Karin Sen’nin training, the whimsy of the immortal cat/martial arts master making cat-themed jokes and delivering incredibly creative and effective training for Goku. But the whole manga was absolutely delightful, from deadly assassins to little Upa!

7/10 stars

This one was quite enjoyable, mostly due to the surprise at the end – it was an absolutely lovely moment, which made up for the repetitiveness of increasingly unexciting fights with the plethora of old horror characters – a vampire, an invisible man, a mummy and a devil. I do love Goku’s unbeatable innocence and Kame Sen’nin’s suspicions that it’s just a lack of brains, and not a willingly assumed stance on life – Toriyama delivers here a surprisingly subtle message, and kudos for this.

I did like the reveal about the crone’s familial relations and her gangsta attitude, it was pretty funny, but all in all this volume seemed to try recapturing the quirky magic of the Strongest under the Heavens tournament – and not entirely succeeding.

7/10 stars

This one was nice, if slightly predictable. The sudden “three years after” trick was surprising, but in the hindsight quite cool, as it allowed us to see what each of the protagonists has learned in this time during their fights – which ultimately resulted in more suspense, more surprise, and more delight. It was nice to revisit the Tournament, but I wouldn’t like to see it becoming a routine: already my enjoyment of this was somewhat diminished. Still, with the introduction of Crane Master and his pupils Toriyama infused this volume with some much needed mood of rivalry, and not only friendly chivalry.

9/10 stars

Kuririn’s and Chaozu’s fight is just amazing! Starting off as a martial arts duel with the spicy addition of psychic powers, it morphs into a maths duel! Just perfect!

…and to top it off with Jackie Chun vs Tenshinhan was a masterstroke: that duel and what came afterwards was as much an ethical contest as a martial arts one, and Kame Sen’nin’s happiness as he discovers the new generation is stronger than his own is genuine and touching.

Goku and Kuririn’s friendship/brotherhood is sweet and very realistic in terms of rivalry and loyalty and support. And the surprises Toriyama hides in these pages are just too fun!

How can this end on such a cliffhanger??!

All stars!!!

…Aargh I need the next volume THIS SECOND!
Fantastic fights, a villain I love to hate, stakes upped so high they seem to fly… What’s not to love? I can’t wait to see what happens next!

9/10 stars

While this one was maybe a tad less amazing than some other All stars!!! volumes, I loved many things about it – especially the quiet and deeply hidden heroism of Kame Sen’nin, who turned out to be not just some old pervert – and a thoughtful martial arts teacher, which was a facet of him we were able to glimpse only at later stages – but also a selfless hero, willing to give his life and save the lives of others. Pity about that aim, though 😉

Toriyama continues to surprise me with plot twists and crazy imagination. It’s just so good!

All stars!!! (again)

This series is just amazing. The imagination, the scope, the humor – I’m reading it reveling in the fact that I’ve no idea what’s going to happen next. My favorite martial arts master Karin Sen’nin is back, but now I’ve got another favorite, Mr Popo!

The concept of a Heaven and a God is brilliant here, the ideas getting a very physical manifestation (e.g. Heaven is so high that the air is thinner, and an evil shard of one’s soul, expelled, can grow to become another entity entirely).

Goku continues to be his amazing, optimistic, humble self, and I simply love everything about that volume!

Ahh you already know what it’s going to be. All stars!!!

I really thought another Tenka’ichi Budokai tournament will not be that interesting… Boy, was I wrong.

I love how Toriyama shows us precisely the extent to which the characters have changed and grown through their tournament battles. It’s so well done! Seeing Goku grown is at once highly entertaining and a bit sad – that little kid was just too cute! Also, almost no pervy behaviour from Kame Sen’nin, which is always a huge relief :D.

All stars!!!

Ahh can’t believe this is where it ends!

It’s a bitter-sweet conclusion, marking the end of Goku’s childhood/adolescence. It’s also a really cool finale, battle- and plot-wise, and I loved both the action and the humor here. Also, Goku finally wins Tenka’ichi Budokai!

Not sure if Dragon Ball Z can actually live up to this manga – will have to check! 😀


Here it is, then, my journey with Dragon Ball. There are some weaker volumes here, and at the beginning DB was a bit of everything, with the supposedly-funny-but-really-just-pervy behaviour that marks so many Japanese mangas/animes on display, but this all disappeared nearly without a trace three volumes in, and from then on was just pure delight. Big-hearted, laugh-out-loud funny, stunningly drawn, silly and serious at times, and generally absolutely fantastic, Dragon Ball became my favorite pick-me-up!

…Of course, there is a second part to it, Dragon Ball Z, which originally was just a continuation of DB and was divided into parts for the Western market – but I’ll bring it here at some later time ;). For now, that’s probably as much manga as y’all can take!

27 thoughts on “Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball (1985 – 1989)

  1. It’s good to read your thoughts on the series as a whole. I had no idea it became such an engaging story filled with cool ideas. I like the sound of this quote from your review: “Toriyama’s depiction of martial arts, and martial artists’ ethos, is amazingly deep, even if delivered in an offhand, funny way.” This is one of the things that got me interested in Japan as a young teenager.

    Like you, I didn’t really get into manga or anime when I was growing up. I was aware of “Akira” the manga, but I couldn’t afford the translated comic at the time. With anime, UK TV had a censored version of “Gattcha Man” called “Battle of the Planets”; remember “G-Force”?.. I also loved the bizarrely dubbed “Monkey” (Saiyuki) live action TV show from the 70s. It was dubbed into English with supposed Japanese accents, if you get what I mean. It would be burned at the stake today! Cool martial arts action, though, and that bonkers Japanese humour which I loved as a kid.

    I’ve only recently started getting more into manga and anime, mainly due to the deterioration of the American comic book industry. I grew up reading Marvel and DC Comics, and kept dipping back into them over the years. Nowadays, manga is appealing more and appears to be selling very well in Western countries. Anime is such a huge genre that it’s easy to get lost in it. Do you have any recommendations for other manga or anime series? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I was really, really surprised at how DB just changed my view on manga! Plus, it’s really a masterpiece in terms of art – it’s so emotional, clean, energetic; and I’ve read some of the new DB Super volumes, with established characters drawn by someone else, and it’s just painful to see how much worse they are, even though they are meticulously detailed and based on the existing Toriyama art… Really surprising, because when you look at this art it looks so deceptively simple!
      Plus, that message of becoming ever better through hard work and dedication and yes, sacrifice, is just so spot on – especially paired with this Epicureian view of life as something to be cherished and enjoyed (oh, the food ;))

      OMG, Monkey is available on Netflix! Even the mere trailer makes me shudder! 🤣🤣🤣

      I’ve actually gone the same way as you did – Western comics just seem to be in a kind of rut: I feel like DC and Marvel just stopped having any kind of new ideas and keep regurgitating the old stuff ad nauseam. There are only few names I keep reading, because I know they can deliver thoughtful, mature content, and also only a handful of artists who have their own style and whose art I still enjoy.

      Have you tried Yotsuba&! ? It’s fluffy and sweet, and not bad. I’m waiting for the first volumes of Naruto, and I’ve heard Fullmetal Alchemist is pretty good – on my list. I don’t recommend One Punch Man and Seven Deadly Sins.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeroen!

      Oh, I’ll get to it, definitely! I’ve got only the last volume to review, and kinda put it off because it’s the last volume… 😉 The short version is that I loved it, too! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you have been having fun with this. I never caught n to DBZ. My interest in anime/manga started with a series called Giant Robo. It was a lot shorter and dealt with quite the adult issues in the way of nuclear fallout and the deteriorating human condition. So when DBZ hit our shores I was not interested in childish antics and battle scenes that took 7 episodes to get anywhere…. Great review though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I cannot say anything about the anime, I haven’t watched it 😉 As for the manga, though, I just love its imagination, the moments of silliness and the moments of seriousness so artfully mixed together!

      Thanks for reading, Dawie! I might check out that Giant Robo… 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you could get this onto your blog. Since you already have them individually on devilreads it’s not a big deal to put them all into one post on WP.

    Will you be doing the same for DBZ? Because 20+ volumes in one post seems rather long, even for you 😀

    I’ve decided to go with One Piece for my future manga reads. At over 90 volumes, it should keep me busy for years to come.

    This was a very fun way to get the reaction about the series as a whole from you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, for DBZ I’ll divide the review into two parts; 26 volumes is a bit too much to review at once, even for me 😉

      Hadn’t heard of One Piece before, I’ll check out what it is and whether I think I’ll enjoy it. Yotsuba&! after two volumes is a maybe, there is some weird stuff going on under that cuddly exterior that I’m not sure I’ll want to continue.

      Thanks! It’s a bit different than my usual thought-through reviews, more like a set of emotional vignettes – and so many exclamation marks everywhere! 🤣🤣🤣

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is good. I was not looking forward to trying to digest 26 volumes in one post.

        One Piece has been around a while and is quite possibly the most popular manga/anime ever. I started it years ago but then stopped when the US releases fell behind the japanese output. Now that things are caught up I thought I’d try again 😀

        Are you being serious about Yotsuba? If so, I’m definitely looking forward to your reviews to get an expanded explanation.

        yes, there were a lot of exclamation marks. It was nice to see you write something emotional and from the heart, as it were.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I imagine that would be a very long post 😅

          I’ll definitely take a look at One Piece then, you’ve got me intrigued.

          Well, I’ve been harping about the lechery of the early DB volumes, but Yotsuba has it too, and not in what was supposed to be a funny take on the topic. The teenage neighbor who feels she must show her boobs in a swimsuit to be treated seriously by the two adult guys was quite unexpected and not in a good way, coming out from all the cuteness like an exhibitionist from bushes 😜.

          Heh, there is a very enthusiastic and emotional side to me, I just rarely show it on the blog 😎

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I was absolutely delighted to see you dive into Dragon Ball on Goodreads and even happier when I saw how much you enjoyed them. The franchise was such a must back when I was a kid and so many iconic moments made so many of us want to be like Goku and co. As for a lot of manga series, I think it’s safe to say that the weak volumes are sometimes quite inevitable, especially in longer series. As you saw, DB Super is weak at first since the first volumes just adapt the anime to manga and then almost forces you to go watch the anime if you want more but I did appreciate later arcs (not the last one so far though). I won’t be the one telling you to keep going though. Plenty of other great manga (which you’ve already got queued up) to check out! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was an absolutely amazing experience, all the more so for being completely unexpected 😀

      Oh, I totally get what you’re saying about the weaker volumes in manga – nobody human can deliver something of a surpassing and equal value for 10 years running – even Toriyama, though he was pretty damn close! 😀
      Hmm, later arcs, you say? Hopefully it gets better after that dumb Zamasu storyline, that was really bad. I still have a bit of a wait until I get Naruto, so I’ll try to get my hands on Fullmetal Alchemist instead. Have you seen the live-action series, by any chance?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t seen the live-action movie. I’m keeping that for after I finish the manga at least hahah I don’t have high hopes for fantasy/scifi manga live-action adaptations though. For example, you should absolutely stay clear of the Dragon Ball adaptation. It is considered THE worse movie of all time for pretty much… everyone. 😛

        Liked by 2 people

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