The Spawn of Dragon Ball

If this weekend's release of Dragonball: Evolution has left you in the mood to look up some similar manga and anime, we've rounded up some of the stories that followed in Dragon Ball's footsteps.

The Spawn of Dragon Ball


Shônen manga, aka boys' manga (the #1 category in the unapologetically gender-targeted world of Japanese comics), has always involved action and fighting. But after the success of Dragon Ball (which itself arose in the testosterone-heavy climate of early '80s manga like City Hunter and Fist of the North Star), a new generation of manga started to mix fantasy, comedy and a light attitude with the classic martial arts formula of training and maiming. Forget about the big megahit Dragon Ball-influenced manga like Bleach, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Naruto-those ones are okay, but these are the ones you've got to read.

One Piece (Eiichiro Oda). Wacky super-powered pirates travel the globe of a fantasy world in search of "One Piece," a legendary lost treasure. The illustration for the article comes from this. Running since 1997 in Japan, this series combines the high spirits and humor of Dragon Ball with its own particular brand of gory (yet usually nonfatal) swordfights and punchups. It's Pirates of the Caribbean meets Dragon Quest meets Yellow Submarine, with blood; plus the world of One Piece is much more fleshed out and internally consistent than Dragon Ball ever was Oda says Toriyama is his favorite artist, and the two of them have even collaborated on a one-shot Dragon Ball/One Piece crossover, Cross Epoch. (It's not officially translated, but unlicensed scanlations can be found online.)

Jing: King of Bandits (Yuichi Kumakura). The fantastical adventures of a young bandit in a Looney Tunes world of surrealism, wild scenery and strange monsters. This 1995-1998 manga (and its more Gothic sequel, Jing: King of Bandits: Twilight Tales) is episodic, without any real ongoing story, but it's a children's fantasy adventure with style.

Ranma 1/2 (Rumiko Takahashi). Another must-read kung fu manga, which ran in a competing magazine, Weekly Shônen Sunday, from 1987 to 1996. Ranma 1/2 (from the creator of the rather blah Inuyasha) is very different from Dragon Ball; it's a pure action-comedy, with not much story to speak of, and it's about a group of high school martial artists cursed to transform into various animals and things when they're splashed with cold water. The hero transforms from a guy into a girl, often when naked, leading to much speculative fanfiction. But if you read only two manga about Chinese-style martial arts, let this be number two.

Eyeshield 21 (Riichiro Inagaki, Yusuke Murata). Action manga. Spiky hair. American football. 'Nuff said. This (intentionally) hilarious, melodramatic sports manga has been running since 2002.

Shaman King (Hiroyuki Takei). Had enough fighting manga in faraway lands, with silly characters? How about a fighting manga set in the modern world, where the heroes are shamans and wizards fighting a tournament ON THE BEHALF OF VARIOUS THINLY-DISGUISED WORLD MYTHOLOGIES TO DETERMINE WHICH WILL BE THE DOMINANT RELIGION FOR THE NEXT 500 YEARS? This bizarre 1998-2005 manga is full of subversive humor, pot leaves (mostly censored in the English edition), American superhero references and crazy fight scenes. Unfortunately it kind of peters out before the conclusion.

Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya (Masami Kurumada). Running from 1986 to 1990, this series technically isn't influenced by Dragon Ball; the veteran artist, Kurumada, had been drawing boxing comics and boys' action stories long before Toriyama got started. But the cartoony, nonstop violence and machismo of Saint Seiya is a manga classic, the Green Arrow to Dragon Ball's Green Lantern. The plot theoretically involves martial artists who derive their powers from the Greek gods (they're holy warriors, aka "saints"-an element obscured in the unsuccessful English translation of the anime), but basically it's just one fight scene after another. Its over-the-top insanity and complete lack of logic makes Dragon Ball look like a work of heavy intellectualism.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure (Hirohiko Araki). Like Saint Seiya, this one's another parallel evolution of action manga. From 1987 to the present day, with breaks of no more than a few months, this horror-superhero-mystery adventure has delivered its own brand of craziness to readers throughout Japan. It starts out as the story of two feuding brothers in Britain in the 1890s, turns into a story about martial artists versus vampires, then about globetrotting psychic-powered heroes who can materialize spirits outside their bodies. The current storyline, Steel Ball Run, is about a transcontinental horse race in the Wild West. With superpowers. Imagine a glam fusion of Burne Hogarth's Tarzan, Bill Sienkiewicz's run on New Mutants, '80s splatter films, and Knights of the Zodiac, and you have an inkling of the idea.

Dr. Slump (Akira Toriyama). This one isn't the "spawn" of Dragon Ball, it's the older brother. Toriyama's 1980-1984 Dr. Slump, a slapstick comedy about the adventures of a mad scientist and his android "daughter," is full of sci-fi movie references, robots, aliens and poop jokes. Some Japanese culture commentators consider it the last "grassroots" manga megahit, before later shows (including Dragon Ball) became more commercial and calculated. It's Toriyama's personal favorite of his own manga. And he drew it while living with his parents!