Before Dragon BallEdit
Just prior to ending a successful six-year run on his humor manga, Dr. Slump, in the Weekly Shonen Jump anthology magazine, Akira Toriyama started toying with the ideas that he would later apply into the Dragon Ball manga. In 1983, he wrote two issues of Dragon Boy manga for the Fresh Jump anthology magazine. This story, left unfinished, merged in the comic style of Dr. Slump with an action-oriented plot. It includes many elements which would be reused in the later series, including a very different kind of Dragon Ball. Also in 1983, he published (but also did not finish) The Adventures of Tongpoo, a science fiction manga also featuring a Goku-like character and plot elements (such as Hoi Poi Capsules) which he would reuse later.
Dragon Ball mangaEdit
In late 1984, the first issue of "Dragon Ball" appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump, the same anthology magazine where Dr. Slump had previously been published. The series was then published weekly and on a very tight schedule (14 pages per week, plus title page) for nearly eleven years, ending in May 1995. In total, 519 regular chapters and one bonus chapter were published. Unlike American-style comic books, Dragon Ball was largely produced in black and white. Some small number of pages in a subset of issues were colorized for emphasis. During the run of the manga in Japan, it was reprinted in (an eventual total of 42) tankôbon (Japanese graphic novels). Unlike the original print run of the manga, the previously colorized pages were reprinted only in grayscale.
A year and a half into the story of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama included an extended (three issue) cameo by some of the characters and locations from his previous popular manga, Dr. Slump. This is perceived by many fans as tying the two fictional universes together, although the Slump characters never make any further appearances in the manga.
Dragon Ball animeEdit
Within a short time after the first publication of the manga, it had reached a level of popularity in Japan that convinced the people of Toei Animation to produce both an anime series and a feature film based on the characters. The anime series premiered in February 1986 on Fuji Television, running weekly and in prime time with new episodes every Wednesday night.
The anime series that was produced closely matched the manga that it was based on (as opposed to Sailor Moon, for example, which the manga and anime diverged significantly), but this had the major drawback that the anime would often catch up to the current point in the manga and the animators were left to create additional episodes and situations to allow them time for more source material to be written. Such material in the series (known by fans as filler) was often of a lower quality than the original manga and occasionally would directly contradict information that would be provided in the source material later. This is perhaps unsurprising due to the difficulty of producing 20 minutes of animation each week, with only 14 pages of manga to work from. Dragon Ball logoAdded by Finish BusterIn December of 1986, the first theatrical film version of the anime was produced. Called simply "Dragon Ball" (in Japan, the movie's eventual English title is "Curse of the Blood Rubies"), it retold the events of the first several episodes of the anime series. That was followed by additional movies in July 1987 ("The Sleeping Princess in the Devil's Castle") and July 1988 ("Mystical Great Adventure"). (The first two films were directed by Daisuke Nishio, the third by Kazuhisa Takenouchi.)
Because of the popularity of the title in Japan, three video games (all for the Nintendo Family Computer) were produced. The first, released in 1986 as "The Mystery of Shenlong", was the only action game of the three. The other two (1988 and 1989) were card game / board game hybrids.
The anime series ended in April 1989 after 153 episodes (and Goku's marriage and transition to adulthood). Although the animated series ended, fans did not have to wait long for the continuation of the story. The sequel anime, "Dragon Ball Z" debuted the following week.
First U.S. ReleaseEdit
In the first years after the Dragon Ball manga and anime became successful in Japan, an initial attempt was made to export the show to an American audience. These initial attempts to gain a foothold in the large American market were unsuccessful and short lived.
In 1986, right as the Dragon Ball anime was kicking off in Japan, a Dragon Ball video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was produced by Bandai and exported to the U.S. Titled "Dragon Power" (or "Mystery of Shenlong" in Japan), it was a martial arts action game which loosely followed the plot of the first thirteen issues of the manga. Sales figures for the game are not available, but no further Dragon Ball video games were released in the U.S. for another seven years.
In 1989, a first attempt was made to release the Dragon Ball anime in the U.S. in the form of a limited number of episodes (and an edited form of the first and third movies) produced and dubbed by Harmony Gold. After being test marketed in several cities (with some resulting controversy over the subject matter of the early episodes-- something that would strike again in later attempts), it was withdrawn from the marketplace without a full season produced. Because it was never broadcast to the general public, it is referred to as the "Lost Dub" by fans.
Dragon Ball ZEdit
Picking up exactly where the previous series left off, Dragon Ball Z began airing in Japan a week after the Dragon Ball anime ended, and in the same timeslot. A new series name was chosen by the producers to differentiate the current series, with its reduced emphasis on comedy and its new science fiction themes, from the previous one -- even though both were still based on the same Dragon Ball manga. The new show also featured improved production values and animation quality. This transition point was attractive because not only did it follow a several year gap in the plot (one of several such gaps in the series), but it also featured revised origin stories for several lead characters and the introduction of several new characters. This made it a good jumping on Dragon Ball Z logoAdded by Finish Busterpoint for new fans of the series.
Three months after the premier of the Z anime, in July 1989, the first Dragon Ball Z movie (entitled "Return my Gohan" in Japanese) premiered in theaters. This was followed by two additional theatrical movies released per year (one in March and one in July) until 1995. In total, thirteen Dragon Ball Z movies were produced. In addition to the feature films, two movie-length television specials were also produced for the series. (These initially aired in 1990 and 1993.)
Like the original "Dragon Ball" anime, "Dragon Ball Z" suffered from the same manga-to-anime pacing problems which resulted in the excess of filler material in the previous anime. In some ways, the problem was more pronounced during the production of the "Z" series as the increased focus on action resulted in many issues of the manga devoted entirely to action sequences. These combat-oriented issues were more difficult to "stretch" into episodes than more diverse action and this resulted in pacing problems throughout some sections of the series.
In May 1995, the long running "Dragon Ball" manga finally ended its run in Shonen Jump. Without additional issues of the manga to translate onto the small screen, the "Dragon Ball Z" series ended in January 1996 after 291 episodes. Once again however, Japanese fans would not have to wait more than a week for the continuation of the story, in "Dragon Ball GT".
During the production of Dragon Ball Z in Japan, popularity for the franchise was at its peak. Production of video games--first for the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom), then later for Super Famicom, PlayStation, Game Boy, and Sega Saturn-- reached its peak during this period. Ironically, despite tremendous success in Japan and tons of marketable goods, the series had yet to take off in the U.S.