What is dragon ball z ? Dragon Ball is a franchise that extends far beyond Super Saiyans, power levels, and villains whose ashes literally need to be obliterated from existence for them to actually die. Any series that’s run as long as Dragon Ball has gone through several phases. Although the original manga was simply titled Dragon Ball, Toei Animation chose to split their adaptations up.
In addition, the anime extended into an official sequel in the form of Dragon Ball GT. Even without Toriyama’s involvement, Dragon Ball has been continuously pumping out new content for years. The video games took the place of the anime as the “main” product for a time, but Dragon Ball Super and the newest film Super Hero have ensured that the series’ anime is here to stay. Overall, it’s tough to follow the Dragon Ball series in order, but it’s extremely rewarding for fans who do.
1. Dragon Ball (1986–1989)
153 Episodes, 9 Story Arcs
Simply titled Dragon Ball, the series’ original anime adaptation is arguably the best of the bunch. Not only does the anime adapt its story arcs far better than Dragon Ball Z, but Dragon Ball also doesn’t suffer from nearly as much inconsistent animation or awkward filler. Dragon Ball’s filler contributions tend to add depth to the main story, expanding on what was already present in the manga.
Interestingly, Dragon Ball’s shift into Dragon Ball Z can be traced back to the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai, when most of the staff that would eventually make up DBZ started working on the series. In terms of pacing, the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai is much slower than everything that came before, really getting the most out of every single moment. While this style of pacing would later become a massive problem for Dragon Ball Z, it gives DB’s last tournament some added gravitas. Dragon Ball is the first in the Dragon Ball chronological order, which makes it the perfect place to start.
2. Dragon Ball Movies (1986–1996)
Dragon Ball is not afraid to expand beyond mangas or animes. Recently, Dragon Ball anime viewers have had to wait for movies to hear their favorite Goku voice actor. Dragon Ball movies have been around for nearly 40 years, starting with 1986’s Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies.
Curse of the Blood Rubies, and each of the three films that followed, are alternate retellings of the Dragon Ball story. Curse of the Blood Rubies is a retelling of the Emperor Pilaf Saga. Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle focuses on Goku and Krillin’s training under Master Roshi. Mystical Adventure is a different take on the Tien Shinhan Saga. The fourth and final Dragon Ball era movie, The Path to Power, is a re-telling of the Red Ribbon Army Saga. These four Dragon Ball movies are a great way to watch an abridged version of the early Dragon Ball sagas and are different enough to engage viewers who have watched the original series numerous times before.
3. Dragon Ball Z (1989–1996)
291 Episodes, 19 Story Arcs
In many respects, Dragon Ball Z is just a continuation of Dragon Ball. The first episode aired one week after its predecessor’s last, and DBZ’s introductory episode was even scripted as a Dragon Ball episode rather than Dragon Ball Z Episode 1. The opportunity to rebrand helped pump lifeblood into the anime’s staff, budget, and popularity. For as messy as Dragon Ball Z gets, there’s a reason DBZ is overwhelmingly popular.
Beyond the occasionally excellent adaptations of Toriyama’s fight choreography (and the outstanding performances from the Japanese cast), Dragon Ball Z opens with Toei’s best effort as far as Dragon Ball goes: the Saiyan Saga. This is a near-perfect adaptation that reaches movie-quality animation during the fight between Goku and Vegeta. Dragon Ball Z made a statement early on that it was larger than life. Although only covering five major storylines and one filler arc, Dragon Ball Z can be divided into dozens of shorter sagas, and it went on to be the longest-running Dragon Ball anime.
4. Dragon Ball Z Movies (1989–2015)
Dragon Ball was at its height in popularity throughout DBZ’s airing. It’s no surprise that 15 total movies were made. Unlike the original Dragon Ball’s movies, DBZ’s movies aren’t retellings of established sagas. They tell unique stories set loosely during points throughout the DBZ story. DBZ movies have introduced fan-favorite villains such as Broly and Cooler, the former later became canon thanks to DBS.
Speaking of DBS, the final two DBZ movies served as the starting point for Dragon Ball’s return to anime after nearly two decades. Battle of the Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ reintroduced Goku and his friends with new and returning threats and transformations in what was originally a continuation of the DBZ anime. DBS later adapted Battle of the Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ for anime, expanding the story while sacrificing art and animation in the process.
5. Dragon Ball GT (1996–1997)
64 Episodes, 4 Story Arcs, 1 TV Special
In spite of the series’ waning popularity following the end of the manga, Toei went ahead with one last sequel series: Dragon Ball GT. Completely rooted in new material, GT would be an anime-only follow-up to Dragon Ball Z’s Buu Saga showing one way the question of “What comes after Dragon Ball Z?” could be answered. It’s worth noting that while GT is not canon to the main series, it is canon to the original anime’s continuity. Toei’s original animated canon for Dragon Ball consisted of the first Dragon Ball adaptation, Dragon Ball Z, and finally Dragon Ball GT.
The last episode of DBZ even transitions directly into the first episode of GT with a next episode preview at the end of the former, just like the transition from Dragon Ball into Z. Dragon Ball GT was fairly unpopular at release and remains disliked within the fandom, even if its reputation has improved slightly within recent years. Uninspired, derivative, and generally filled with lackluster fight choreography, Dragon Ball GT was a lousy note to end the series’ anime continuity. At the same time, Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy is one of the best pieces of Dragon Ball material that few Dragon Ball fans have actually watched. A Hero’s Legacy is a TV special that serves as an epilogue starring Goku, Jr. It tells an incredibly grounded and emotional story that’s unlike anything in Dragon Ball, making it an easy recommendation.
6. Dragon Ball Z Kai (2009–2011)
98 Episodes, 10 Story Arcs
Coinciding with Dragon Ball Z’s 20th anniversary, Toei decided to recut DBZ to be more in line with Akira Toriyama’s original manga. Kai sports re-edited scenes, a lower episode count, a brand-new score by Kenji Yamamoto, and some decent performances from the cast. Some of this is really hit or miss depending on the arc, but Kai makes for a much brisker digestion of Dragon Ball Z.
Fans will miss out on a lot of what made Dragon Ball Z the anime such a great experience, but Kai offers a nice reinterpretation of Z’s first three major story arcs, notably making the Frieza arc actually bearable in animated form. The Saiyan Saga isn’t quite as good, but the rescore arguably suits this portion of the story better, and Kai ending at the Cell Saga is a fine resolution.
7. Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters (2014–2015)
69 Episodes, 7 Story Arcs
On the whole, Kai: The Final Chapters is a disappointing follow-up to the original Dragon Ball Kai. While Kai was by no means perfect, including filler that very easily could have been cut at times, it at least had a clear vision and didn’t have a green tint adulterating the entire screen. With Kenji Yamamoto fired, The Final Chapters also suffers from a painfully generic score.
The Final Chapters does not trim enough fat to justify its existence. The animated Buu Saga still feels quite bloated, and the Japanese version features worse performances in general. If nothing else, the English dub is actually quite good and follows in Kai’s footsteps, so there’s plenty of merit in watching both Kai and The Final Chapters in English.
8. Dragon Ball Super (2015–2018)
131 Episodes, 6 Story Arcs
No one could have possibly expected DBS to suddenly end with the Tournament of Power. While there’s been more canon animated content in the form of Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Super Hero, the manga has essentially taken over the reins as the main property, covering three whole story arcs since the ToP. Still, DBS is quite an interesting series in its own right. Plagued by scheduling problems, DBS’ early run was generally terrible and a disappointment to many fans.
Starting with the “Future” Trunks Saga, however, DBS brought in a good bit of DBZ’s tension. By the time the Tournament of Power hit, DBS seemed to be in legitimately good shape production-wise. While the anime suffers narratively, DBS manages to ground itself better within the context of the series. Even when DBS drops the ball with plot and character development, there’s almost always a slice-of-life episode around the corner to remind fans why they love Dragon Ball—the characters.
9. Dragon Ball Super Manga (2015–Present)
96 Chapters (Ongoing), 7 Story Arcs
When one door closes, another opens. Fans of DBS were distraught when DBS ended its run after the ToP. Eager for a continuation of DBS, many turned to reading the Dragon Ball Super manga for the first time. The DBS manga, which is released monthly on V-Jump in Japan and Viz Media in English, is a different take on the DBS story. This is because Toriyama develops ideas and designs for stories and provides them to the anime and manga teams, separately. This has led to both versions of DBS being similar in some areas, but widely different in others. It does skip over Resurrection ‘F’ as well as Broly with only a passing mention that those events still happened.
What comes after Dragon Ball Super is answered through this manga, which is now on its third post-ToP arc. This third arc is simply an expanded re-telling of Super Hero, which also tells a prologue story centered around Trunks and Goten. Its other two arcs, the Galactic Patrol Prisoner Saga and the Granolah the Survivor Saga are fantastic in their own ways and have Dragon Ball fans begging for an anime adaptation.
10. Dragon Ball Super Movies (2018–2022)
DBS fans who choose not to read the manga still aren’t completely abandoned. DBS has continued through two movies in Broly and Super Hero. Both movies are set after the ToP and are considered two of the best Dragon Ball movies to date. As of now, both Broly and Super Hero are canon to the DBS anime. While Super Hero is set after arcs unique to the manga, it makes no references to them.
Both Broly and Super Hero also experimented with different art styles with Broly’s art style, spectacularly done by Naohiro Shintani, being a big favorite among the Dragon Ball fandom. However, Super Hero’s 3D models and animations are still the subject of debate with a majority of fans hoping it was a one-off art style.
11. Super Dragon Ball Heroes (2018–Present)
50 Episodes (Ongoing), 7 Story Arcs
DBS may be over, but Super Dragon Ball Heroes has been keeping the animated side of the franchise busy since 2018. Super Dragon Ball Heroes is the newest Dragon Ball series, though told in a bite-sized format. At only around six minutes long, it’s important to recognize that Super Dragon Ball Heroes’ episodes are a different breed—they tell a story, but really only for promotional purposes.
That said, Super Dragon Ball Heroes manages to bust out some good animation on rare occasions, and the sheer frenzy of the plot is honestly kind of fun to indulge in. This is an anime that goes all-out and understands that it can do pretty much whatever it wants, whenever it wants. There’s merit in that for a series like Dragon Ball.
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