It’s not just anime fans who love Akira Toriyama’s signature Dragon Ball series. Anime creators love the series too, which is why so many shows wind up inspired by the legendary shonen series. So many shonen tropes come directly from Dragon Ball Z, while there are also a healthy amount of shonen anime protagonists clearly modeled after Goku.
Not every shonen series unapologetically copies Goku, but that doesn’t mean that other sneaky references to Toriyama’s action series can’t still make their way in. It’s been nearly four decades since Dragon Ball‘s debut and yet it’s more relevant than ever with plenty of new series, and pop culture in general, that pay service to the long-running series.
Updated on September 14, 2022 by Daniel Kurland: The shonen genre remains one of the most popular varieties of anime and it’s inherently difficult for these shows to not touch upon Akira Toriyama’s iconic creation in some shape or form. Many of the ideas, attacks, and character designs that Dragon Ball helped popularize are now just the norm in anime. Some sly nods to Dragon Ball are harmless and sometimes even unavoidable, but other series intentionally invoke Toriyama’s iconography to help enhance their own stories.
15 My Hero Academia Combines Shonen Storytelling Staples With Superhero Stereotypes
With more than 100 episodes and three feature films under its belt, My Hero Academia has emerged as one of the decade’s most popular shonen series. The ongoing adventures of Izuku “Deku” Midoriya and his fellow heroes-in-training tackle more dangerous heights with each new season.
The traditional hero’s journey that Deku finds himself on bears a lot in common with Goku’s own magical adventure in Dragon Ball. One could even argue that the friendly rivalry that exists between Deku and Bakugo owes a lot to the combative chemistry between Goku and Vegeta.
14 The God Of High School Focuses On Intense Tournament Battles With A Monkey King Protagonist
The God of High School focuses on tournament battles between the strongest teens from across the world. This competitive framework and the superpowered energy attacks quickly bring Dragon Ball‘s World Martial Arts Tournament to mind.
Another unavoidable similarity between Dragon Ball and The God of High School comes in the form of their main characters, Goku and Jin Mori, both of which draw inspiration from Journey to the West‘s Monkey King, Sun Wukong. At the end of the day, Jin Mori also carries the same precocious innocence and aggressive fighting spirit that brews inside of Goku.
13 Hunter X Hunter Is A Smart Shonen Series That Builds Upon Dragon Ball’s Solid Foundation
Many battle shonen series fall into similar patterns, but Hunter x Hunter actively strives to deliver fresh material and not repeat its past highlights. The plucky Gon Freecss bears quite a resemblance to Goku, especially when it comes to the powerful dichotomy of emotions that exists inside of him.
Hunter x Hunter utilizes nen energy to power its incredible attacks instead of ki, like in Dragon Ball, but these two sources essentially operate the same. Gon’s own transformations are also quite different from Dragon Ball‘s Super Saiyans, but their explosive auras and releases of energy look very similar to outsiders.
12 Yu Yu Hakusho’s Emphasis On Dark Tournaments Brings Dragon Ball’s Structure To Mind
Yu Yu Hakusho has earned the reputation of one of the strongest shonen series to come out of the 1990s and many audiences even consider it to be superior to Dragon Ball since it’s only a fraction of the length. Yu Yu Hakusho struggles through its earliest episodes, which focus on Yusuke Urameshi’s transition from juvenile delinquent into heroic spirit detective.
However, Yu Yu Hakusho comes into its own after it begins to focus on monstrous competitions. These constant tournaments are highly evocative of Dragon Ball’s structure, but the core cast of characters and their relationship with their martial arts mentors is also reflective of Toriyama’s series.
11 Slayers Follows A Special Team Of Sorceresses On Amazing Adventures
Slayers, admittedly, isn’t the first anime series that comes to mind when audiences think of Dragon Ball. One of the biggest differences between these two series is that Slayers has a cast primarily made up of crafty female magic users rather than burly male brawlers.
Aesthetically, Slayers and Dragon Ball are quite distinct, but the adventure and scope of these series are quite similar, at least at first. Slayers even has a shrewd sense of humor that’s not unlike the gags that come out of the original Dragon Ball. Lina Inverse wouldn’t stand a chance against Goku, but the two would without a doubt respect each other’s journeys.
10 Naruto’s Masashi Kishimoto Drew Inspiration From Dragon Ball And Goku
Masashi Kishimoto has admitted that he started working on manga because of Dragon Ball and Goku in particular. It’s not difficult to see the influence either — Naruto and Goku are both big eaters with a taste for battle.
Of course, while Naruto doesn’t want to fight “strong” people, he also has a hidden, monstrous version of himself that occasionally unleashes itself. Goku boasts plenty of powerful transformations himself, but Naruto might be one of the few anime characters that have more transformations than the special Saiyan. Naruto has nine distinct transformations to date, but more might be revealed in the future.
9 One-Punch Man’s Saitama Is Like If Goku Suddenly Ran Out Of Competition
Dragon Ball focuses on Goku, a character who wants to continuously face stronger foes. On the other hand, One-Punch Man‘s Saitama is actively bored over the minimal challenges that exist for him in the world. He’s so powerful that nobody even registers as a challenge.
Saitama and Goku wind up on very different paths in life, which becomes a striking reflection of nature versus nurture. Society in One-Punch Man is heavily insulated to protect the public from evil, but the anime still intentionally invites comparisons to Dragon Ball. For instance, Saitama’s first opponent, Vaccine Man, is practically identical to Piccolo, minus a color palette swap.
8 Bleach’s Tite Kubo Took Note From Dragon Ball’s Bold Villains
Many Bleach fans are aware that Akira Toriyama wrote a letter to Tite Kubo that encouraged him to keep writing after his initial Bleach submission was turned down. Kubo elaborates upon this anecdote in Dragon Ball Landmark, in which he highlights how Toriyama inspired him beyond his initial kind words.
The work that Akira Toriyama has done with the intense villains in Dragon Ball became a direct influence on Kubo’s constuction of Bleach‘s Big Bads. Superior strength is important, but Toriyama helped Kubo understand that villains also need to be striking, scary, and persuasive. A single look at Bleach’s villains highlights their similarities with the Dragon Ball crew. Unsurprisingly, Ichigo Kurosaki also has a number of transformations that grant him increasingly greater abilities.
7 Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo Embraces Dragon Ball To Compliment Its Comedy
The name of the anime Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo should be a clear indication to most audiences that it isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Bobobo is technically a shonen series, but its priority is absurdist gags and it’s an anime that truly relishes surreal humor and unexpected pop culture parodies. There are clear allusions to Fist of the North Star with the lead character’s nose hair-based fighting style, but Dragon Ball nods are also quite common.
Much of the fighting in Bobobo pulls directly from Dragon Ball Z, including the fact that characters are known to fuse together to create more powerful combined fighters. That’s to say nothing of Don Patch, whose transformation, Professional Patch, is absolutely a shout-out to Dragon Ball‘s famous Super Saiyans.
6 Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece Lead, Luffy, Is Inspired By Goku
At this point, One Piece has usurped Dragon Ball as Japan’s top shonen manga series. One Piece‘s popularity only grows more intense over time and it’s even set to have a live-action Netflix series. It’s no easy feat to keep a series going for as long as One Piece, yet Eiichiro Oda’s consistency with his storytelling owes a lot to Akira Toriyama’s storytelling staples.
The pacing and adventures in One Piece pay respect to Dragon Ball in various ways, but the most obvious lies in how Luffy of the Straw Hat Pirates doesn’t feel very far removed from the plucky protagonist, Goku. Goku and Luffy are both tirelessly devoted to their goals and pursuits for greater strength, but they also contain massive appetites that are at times more impressive than their brute strength and transformations.
5 School Rumble Turns Harima Into A Genuine Super Saiyan
One can always count on a good comedy for references to more popular pop culture. In one of the later episodes of School Rumble, lead character Harima transforms into an actual Super Saiyan for a fight with his opponent, Ouji Karasuma.
Harima happens to be a manga writer, so it’s not exactly surprising that he has a healthy knowledge of other manga archetypes. It actually makes a lot of sense that Harima would be inspired by Toriyama and aspire towards comparable levels of power. Harima gets into a fight with Karasuma that reaches such heights that the characters develop intense energy auras.
4 Gintama’s Characters Frequently Engage In Elaborate Dragon Ball Parodies
Gintama succeeds as a suspenseful action shonen series, but it’s also quite possibly the funniest anime of all-time. Nothing is off limits in Gintama and it has poked fun at all of the biggest series and trends to come out of Japan. Unsurprisingly, Gintama has riffed on Dragon Ball many times over, whether it’s through easy Super Saiyan puns or entire episodes that parody the series’ Namek Saga or feud with Vegeta. Gintama even callously refers to characters as “Yamcha” as an easy way to mock their worth.
Gintoki has tried to perform Goku’s signature Kamehameha and the whole cast as put on their best Dragon Ball cosplay in the past. The introduction for the final Gintama feature film even models itself entirely after Dragon Ball‘s iconic recaps, right down to the use of the same background music and revised character models that mimic Toriyama’s art style.
3 Assassination Classroom Features A Direct Reference To Dragon Ball’s Saiyan Saga
Assassination Classroom is a compelling shonen series where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a class full of delinquent mercenaries. These stakes are undeniably high, but that doesn’t keep the series from indulging in playful parodies that are right out of a gag manga series. Koro-Sensei is a loose cannon of sorts who’s frequently as silly as he is scary.
Koro-Sensei’s class is rocked by the revelation that Itona is Koro-Sensei’s estranged brother. These students begin to think of the only real reference point that they have for such tumultuous showdowns–classic anime series. Koro-Sensei and Itona’s reunion visually references Goku’s discovery of his distant alien brother, Raditz.
2 My Bride Is A Mermaid Sneaks In Goku, Vegeta, And Trunks Into The Background
My Bride is a Mermaid operates with the same level of bombastic comedy as One-Punch Man, but it’s a decidedly more niche vehicle due to how it doesn’t hide behind popular superhero stereotypes. Instead, My Bride is a Mermaid looks at a story of star-crossed lovers after a young boy gets saved from drowning courtesy of a mermaid.
Comedy is more of a concern than groundbreaking storytelling in My Bride is a Mermaid, but there’s a passionate love for Dragon Ball that expresses itself at odd moments. There are some really cute background gags that fit in chibi versions of Goku, Future Trunks, and even Vegeta among the student body. Characters also explicitly refer to the Dragon Balls and Shenron, which opens the series up to some interesting implications.
1 Good Luck Girl! Features Goku And Vegeta In Its Playful Intro
Good Luck Girl! is a ridiculous 13-episode parody gag series with supernatural elements, but it has its roots in shonen publications and often uses series like Dragon Ball as joke fodder. 16 year-old Sakura’s extremely good fortune throws the world off balance and requires the intervention of Momiji, a God of Misfortune, to sap Sakura’s luck and reset the karmic scales.
The series’ emphasis on comedy over action may not make it seem like a natural successor to Dragon Ball. However, the characters will engage in heightened Super Saiyan-esque spectacles to emphasize their points.
NEXT: The 20 Strongest Dragon Ball Super Characters At The End Of The Series