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The Legacy of Akira Toriyama: Dragon Ball and Beyond

While Akira Toriyama’s passing was sudden, his legacy is eternal. Join us for a look back at the history of Akira Toriyama.

By 6 min read

On March 8, 2024, Bird Studio announced that Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball and other acclaimed titles, had passed away from an acute subdural hematoma. The famed manga artist was in the middle of several projects when he died, leaving the work to his close friend and protege Toyotaro.

Toriyama’s legacy spanned 45 years of work and was loved by people worldwide. For many of us, our histories with Toriyama began much earlier. While some discovered his trademark style through Dragon Ball, others might know him better for his character designs in classic Japanese role-playing games like Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest.

As we reflect on his enduring contributions, let’s celebrate the artistry, imagination and inspiration he brought to countless individuals.

Toriyama’s Early Career

Dr. Slump Volume 1

Born in Nagoya in 1955, Akira Toriyama was deeply influenced by the vibrant pop culture of his time. Growing up, he found inspiration in iconic works like Astro Boy, the Ultraman TV series and the Gamera films. However, it was not until he needed money as a young adult that he ventured into the manga world.

In the late 1970s, Toriyama debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump, a renowned manga magazine. Despite initial setbacks with early works, his breakthrough came with Dr. Slump. This whimsical tale featured inventor Norimaki Senbei and his robot creation Arale.

Dr. Slump quickly became a sensation in Japan, blending clever wordplay and cultural satire to win the prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award in 1981. The series enjoyed a successful run in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1980 to 1984, later spawning a popular anime adaptation with over 250 episodes.

While Japanese fans embraced Dr. Slump’s humor, international readers had to wait decades for official English translations and anime releases with subtitles, making it a beloved classic that captivated audiences worldwide.

Dragon Ball and The World

The childhood anime for millions.

Akira Toriyama created Dragon Ball in 1984. It was inspired by the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West and its protagonist, Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King. Toriyama infused martial arts, adventure, sci-fi, and fantasy elements into the storyline, crafting a captivating narrative that resonated with global audiences. He aimed to create a unique and engaging manga series to entertain readers and explore themes of friendship, perseverance, and the struggle between good and evil in a fantastical setting.

Dragon Ball’s global reach is evident, with official translations of the anime and manga available in over 80 and 40 countries, respectively. For many, the anime adaptation of Dragon Ball and its follow-up series, Dragon Ball Z, is the greatest anime of all time. Toriyama’s creative vision captivated audiences and played a pivotal role in expanding the appeal of anime worldwide.

With its captivating storyline and fun, compelling characters, Dragon Ball emerged as a catalyst, propelling anime into mainstream consciousness and serving as a gateway to Japanese pop culture for many.

The World Remembers Toriyama

After his passing, the impact of Toriyama’s legacy was shared all over the world:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron shared an original artwork by Toriyama, acknowledging the artist’s profound influence on millions of fans.
  • Actor Jackie Chan thanked Toriyama for creating timeless works that resonate across generations.
  • In a touching display of fandom, thousands gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to celebrate Dragon Ball through song and iconic poses.

I believe the author is not dead as long as the work exists

Tite Kubo, creator of Bleach, also shared his heartfelt reaction to Toriyama’s passing, saying:

“It’s the death of someone I’ve read since I was a child…and someone I’m deeply influenced by…but that’s why I feel like it doesn’t exist. I’ve never really talked about this to anyone, but I’ve always believed that creating things means expanding your sensibilities and life.

I believe the author is not dead as long as the work exists. [Getting] used to this feeling properly is proof of the magnitude of the work’s existence that remains in my heart.”

Toriyama’s Video Game Legacy

It all started here.

While riding his explosive success in the 1980s, Toriyama was approached as a character designer for a new video game. Despite not knowing much about the genre of role-playing games, he accepted anyway.

Dragon Quest was released in 1986 and became one of Japan’s most popular RPG franchises. It is so popular that productivity in Japan often decreases when a new installment is released. Thus, publisher Square Enix only releases new Dragon Quest games on weekends.

Toriyama lent his talents to nearly every iteration of the game through to 2023’s Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. For evidence of Toriyama’s mark on the series and Japan’s broader pop culture landscape, look no further than the iconic blue slime adopted as the franchise mascot.

Chrono Trigger

A game considered the best of all time.

Growing up in the ’90s and ’00s, gamers in the West likely recognize Toriyama’s work in Chrono Trigger. Here, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy developers collaborated for the time-traveling adventure Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo. Toriyama’s trademark style is evident from Chrono’s spiky hair and attention to detail. His universes feel lived-in. Thanks in part to his beautiful art, Chrono Trigger was a critical and financial success.

Thank you for inspiring us with your creativity.

Following his passing, many tributes poured in from the gaming world:

  • Yuji Hori, the creator of Dragon Quest, said, “For over 37 years, Toriyama’s character and monster designs have been captivating. They’re inseparable from the history of Dragon Quest.”
  • Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, shared, “Toriyama-san taught me what professionalism truly means. I have deep respect for him.”
  • The Official Street Fighter X account thanked Toriyama, saying, “Thank you for inspiring us with your creativity, strength and legacy.”

The Future of Dragon Ball

Thanks for the childhood.

In 2024, Toriyama initially planned to have a minor role in an upcoming Dragon Ball series, Dragon Ball Daima. However, he fully committed to the project. Fans can look forward to Dragon Ball Daima in Fall 2024, marking Toriyama’s final project.

The Dragon Ball manga, which is still going strong with Dragon Ball Super, continues. However, the team and Toyotaro are taking a hiatus. Toriyama personally selected Toyotaro to carry on Dragon Ball’s artistic legacy. Toyotaro has impressively upheld this tradition by skillfully merging his unique artistic flair with Toriyama’s iconic visual style.

Akira Toriyama’s legacy will resonate with hearts across generations. He painted intricate worlds that entertained, inspired and challenged us to dream beyond the ordinary. Let us honor his enduring spirit by immersing ourselves in the timeless tales he left behind.

This article was written in collaboration with Aaron Baggett.

What are some of your favorite works by Akira Toriyama? What memories do you have of Dragon Ball or Toriyama’s other works? Share your thoughts and tributes in the comments below!

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