Until three weeks ago, I knew very little about Dragonball and my knowledge was simply the fighters' hair could turn $gold$ and they could sometimes transform into giant apes due to the moon and there were these magical dragonballs used to grant wishes. Being an avid reader of the manga One Piece and finding out that Eiichiro Oda is a big fan of Akira Toriyama's Dragonball, I was interested to see how much Akira's masterpiece has influenced One Piece. Thanks to this site I just finished reading all 42 volumes of Dragonball.
Dragonball ( Dragonball and Dragonball Z )review:
To be fair, the only manga I have read and am following these days are One Piece, Naruto and Full Metal Alchemist. Dragonball's universe and storyline is very simple compared to these comics and that is interesting. Storytelling has either improved or became more complicated in manga these days as their creators like to focus on back stories and Akira never did bother with all that hassle. For e.g. it is mentioned via speech bubbles later on in Dragonball Z, how Goku (our hero and a Saiyan) was sent to Earth and how Vegeta and his men ( Saiyans) came under Frieza's control, but do not expect to see whole chapters dedicated to showing the history behind the mighty Saiyan race (though that would have been nice). The story is always progressing forward except when the characters are training.
The art in Dragonball is simple and can be said to be 'Disney' like compared to say JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Despite the simplicity in character design, anatomy and action poses are all very well drawn. Akira's characters also occasionally change their looks. They tend to spot different hairstyles and yes, they do change their clothes from time to time. This makes the characters more 'realistic' and interesting to look at ( It may not be impressive compared to Archie and Marvel/DC comics where the characters do change their looks often. However in Manga, the characters usually spot the same look to make it easier for the creator and his assistant(s) to quickly work and release the comics on a weekly basis). This touch of 'realism' can also be seen in One Piece where characters change their clothing depending on the climate of the Islands they visit. The extent of Akira's imagination and to what he can draw and wanted to draw is also impressive. Dinosaurs. Androids. Anthropomorphic animals. Aliens. They are all represented well including the vehicles and environments.
Plot wise, the story arcs in Dragonball are more humourous and adventurous while those in Dragonball Z have a more sinister atmosphere. To better sum it up, Dragonball is like a RPG which has many mini side quests until the final big boss Piccolo arrives to lay waste to Earth. The manga starts off with Goku as a naive child who does not even know about women until he meets Bulma, a brilliant inventor who wants to use the Dragonballs to wish for the perfect boyfriend. The story just keeps getting more interesting to read as each new character introduced is always quirky. A shape shifting pig, a thief who is afraid to talk to women, an old skinny perverted martial arts master, a commander of the Red Ribbon army who wants to use the dragonballs to become tall.... the list just goes on. Besides the quest for the dragonballs, there are also these tournaments which showcase how strong our heroes have become and instead of some mindless brawl, they display some strategic fighting. These tournaments also give a reason for the fighters to train and learn some new moves and that helps to push the story forward. Overall the story in Dragonball is very well balanced.
If Dragonball felt like a RPG, Dragonball Z is more of a King of Fighters game. The series starts off well giving some insight to character origins as well as introducing new rivals for the main hero. The Frieza arc also exhibited many alien like elements which was different from the previous arcs in Dragonball which had a mystical underlying tone. Super Siayans ( Powered up Goku with golden hair) were also introduced as well as other races of fighters being able to change forms to increase their power. I am not sure if this was groundbreaking back then in the 80s but it certainly pushed the series to a whole new level.
The next arc talks about time travelling and the main villains are androids which further shows that in every arc Akira tried to do something different. Unfortunately the plot remained the same. Super strong bad guy comes. People die. Good guys fight bad guy. Goku/Gohan defeats bad guy. Dragonballs used to resurrect people who died. It should have ended there but the plot in the Buu arc followed the same formula. In fact a groan escaped me when Buu was fearfully introduced in the manga to be very powerful. Overall in 'Z' , dragonballs are so often used to resurrect people who were killed, Goku and friends cannot really be called heroes and fights are often just suicide missions. The flaws are very obvious since I did take a few days to finish reading 'Z' .
Despite the Dragonball series not being a true masterpiece, it is still a very innovative piece of work that has definitely inspired current popular selling manga. So yeah, read it and do not watch the anime because I heard it is crap and even worse, it is fucking censored.