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Beginner's Guide to Dragon Ball Z

Nostalgia for any anime fan

Dragon Ball Z. Just uttering those words to just about any anime or manga fan will bring about nostalgia. Hated and loved for over 20 years, the DBZ anime was the first juggernaut of its kind. The series is known around the world and would easily be one of the first 5 titles mentioned if someone was asked to name an anime off the top of their head. In addition, this anime was the primary gateway for the previous generation of anime fans. The original Dragon Ball manga and anime have even greatly influenced current sh ōnen anime and manga ( One Piece, Naruto, Bleach). The man behind it all, Akira Toriyama, has been influenced by Walt Disney, Osamu Tezuka, and Jackie Chan. His most notable anime/manga work besides Dragon Ball is Dr. Slump. Toriyama stays active to this day working on video games, doing one-shots for Shueisha, and running his studio (Bird Studio).

The Dragon Ball Z anime takes place in the Dragon Ball manga from volumes 17-42. In Japan, that section of the manga ran in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump from May 1989 to August 1995. Viz Media licenses the manga in the US and released the aforementioned volumes from March 2003 to June 2006 under the title Dragon Ball Z to prevent confusion for the English audience. Viz is now re-releasing the manga in VIZBIG editions (3 volumes in 1). The anime, done by Toei Animation, aired in Japan from April 1989 to January 1996. FUNimation licensed the anime for dubbing in the US and the series aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami from September 1996 to April 2003. In addition to the anime there are 2 specials, 13 movies, an anime-only continuation ( Dragon Ball GT), and a currently airing reboot ( Dragon Ball Z Kai). As if all the anime wasn’t enough, there have also been art books, collectible cards, numerous video games, and a US live-action adaptation ( Dragonball Evolution).

The Story

Goku has settled down and started a family with his wife Chi Chi. Trouble is never too far off in his life, though. A mysterious and powerful alien named Raditz comes to tell Goku that he will give him time to start killing humans so the Earth can be sold. On top of that, Raditz states he is Goku’s older brother and they are Saiyans, a nearly extinct superpowered alien race! Raditz then kidnaps Goku’s son, Gohan, which leads Goku to team up with his nemesis Piccolo in a 2-on-1 fight against Raditz. But even as the three fight there are 2 more powerful Saiyans heading to Earth so they can get their hands on the Dragon Balls. Can Goku save the day as always or has his strength and luck reached their limit?! (Guide covers the Saiyan Saga which is episodes 1-36 (approximately))


The Characters

Goku is the main character and hero. As a kid he trained with Master Roshi along with Krillin but eventually comes under the instruction of King Kai. He had no idea he was from outer space and thought it was natural that after every battle he got stronger. He is an expert martial artist and has competed numerous times in Earth’s World Martial Arts Tournament. While Goku isn’t the brightest person-he’s actually quite silly-he does not hesitate to fight in order to protect the Earth and his friends. He also has a MASSIVE appetite.
Krillin is, well, short and bald. He trained under the tutelage of Master Roshi with Goku. By Earth’s standards he is pretty strong and he also competed in the World Martial Arts Tournament with Goku. Luck isn’t always on his side in a fight but he will continue if he can muster the strength. Besides Goku, Krillin provides the most comic relief.  
Piccolo is…green-with antennae! He was formerly named King Piccolo during the World Martial Arts Tournament. He is the other half of Kami. He used to want to rule the world but now he is a member of the Z Fighters. To prepare for the arrival of the Saiyans he trains Gohan and becomes friends with him.
Gohan is the son of Goku and Chi Chi. Since Goku is a full Saiyan, he is only half. He is a big crybaby who cannot control his power. Therefore, he trains under Piccolo. Gohan is always full of surprises though, especially since he has a tail! Like father like son. 
Tien is a former rival of Goku’s in the World Martial Arts Tournament. He has 3 eyes and is a master of some unusual techniques. He trains under Kami to prepare for the Saiyans. His companion is Chiaotzu. 
Chiaotzu may be tiny but he has some interesting powers of his own. He also trains under Kami and is best friends with Tien. 
Yamcha is a bandit turned good. He also competed in the World Martial Arts Tournament. Though his hair and clothes change a lot he loves using his Wolf Fang Fist. To prepare for the Saiyans he joins the others to train with Kami. 
Yajirobe is a fat man with a samurai sword. He’s not a fighter and his method of training is eating everything in sight. He has some helpful shining moments of his own though. 
Master Roshi aka the Turtle Hermit, trained Goku and Krillin. He has won multiple World Martial Arts Tournaments and even created the Kamehameha Wave. Despite his accomplishments and being wise, he is a dirty old man who lives on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. 
Bulma Briefs is a technical genius who used to go on wild adventures with Goku and Krillin. While she isn’t helpful in a fight she created the Dragon Radar, which is able to locate the Dragon Balls. 
Kami is the Guardian of the Earth and creator of the Dragon Balls. Long ago he dispelled the evil in him, which became Piccolo. He has helped the Z Fighters over the years and trains them to prepare for the Saiyan threat. He is aided by Mr. Popo and Korin
King Kai lives on a tiny planet at the end of Snake Way in Other World. With the help of his companions, Bubbles (a monkey) and Gregory (a grasshopper), he trains Goku to the extreme in preparation for the Saiyans. He is very wise and powerful and finds himself hilarious. 
Vegeta is the Saiyan Prince. He is very powerful and ruthless and has grown tired of taking over planets inhabited by weaklings. When he hears about the Dragon Balls he decides that he and his partner Nappa will go to Earth to gather them for a wish. 
Nappa is Vegeta’s partner and fellow Saiyan. On top of being really big and bald, he is quite powerful as well. He’s also not very bright and likes destroying stuff. 
 Raditz is Goku's older brother and another full-blood Saiyan. He, like Vegeta, will say whatever he needs to in order to get the upper hand in battle. Not much is really know about him though since he is the first villain of the series.

Why Watch?

The Dragon Ball Z series is very long (291 episodes) and contains a considerable amount of filler. The plot is simplistic as it follows a typical shōnen formula but the story overall is fun. The fight scenes are really cool and fast-paced since everyone is superpowered. There are a variety of characters to enjoy and a reasonable amount of comedy. The animation very much suites the series and while it’s not really detailed it has its better moments. Dragon Ball Z includes blood, violence, some language, and some nudity for a TV-PG/TV-14 rating. The boxsets and movies are released uncut and can be found on DVD and Blu-ray. The sub version has a number of well-known VAs and they do a wonderful job. The dub has been hated and loved along with the series itself and contains a few noticeable voices as well with VAs such as Sean Schemmel as Goku and Chris Sabat ( Alex Louis Armstrong and Roronoa Zoro) as Piccolo, Vegeta, and Yamcha.


Dragon Ball Z wastes no time getting into the action and that’s great. There is a big cast to enjoy and while the series takes quite a bit of time to watch and is deemed somewhat childish, just sit back and enjoy. You can watch the no-filler Kia but for the extended fights and more comedy, watch the original.
-Will McQuigg ( sotyfan16) is your everyday anime/manga enthusiast. You can also find him on Twitter ( bildo_88)

Nightwolfon March 15, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.
Good article.
ShadowKnight508 moderator on March 15, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.
Great article, Sotyfan16. I have tried on multiple occasions to get into Dragon Ball or DBZ, but I just can't seem to get hooked on it enough to warrant my attention.
SSJjanembaon March 15, 2011 at 1 p.m.

it pains me to see there are still ppl who havent seen dbz
Supreme Marvelon March 15, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.
I got into Dragonball Z during the Namek Saga. And I still think that was the best saga. I enjoyed the Cell Saga for Gohan's awesomness. And I only liked small parts of Buu Saga: Mystic Gohan and Vegito.
Morita_Shunsukeon March 15, 2011 at 1:16 p.m.
 I heard that the creator meant to kill Goku so that Gohan would take over the series in DBZ but he then decided to keep it as it is..
Not sure if is true
ninjadude853on March 15, 2011 at 3 p.m.
Ah DBZ, so much nostalgia. I used to watch this show every day after school on Toonami, they would show the Buu saga over and over at that point, it was awesome for an elementary kid. Then I noticed they had "backwards comics" of DBZ at Barnes and Noble... 
It is true, Toriyama really wanted Goku to stay dead so he could have the next generation take out Buu, like how Gohan beat Cell. But the executives made him go back to Goku.
The executives also made him continue it far longer than he had originally intended, he wanted it to end with Frieza, then Cell, and finally Buu. This may be one of the only times executive meddling has been a good thing. 
Halberdierv2on March 15, 2011 at 3:55 p.m.
Ah yes, this was needed, and thoroughly welcomed. this may seem wierd, but I only got into DBZ seriously around the start of the Buu saga, which was pretty much the end, and when I started to watch it occasionally, it was in the sayian saga with Raditz crew. so now its a perfect time to go watch that saga properly!
Destinyheroknighton March 15, 2011 at 4:16 p.m.
Why you did DBZ first?  
Why not Dragon Ball :)
gla55jAwon March 15, 2011 at 4:40 p.m.
Piccolo is technically "Piccolo Jr." and not King Piccolo. He is the son/reincarnation of King Piccolo since King Piccolo gave "birth" to him before he died in at the tournament. 
Great article though Sotyfan.
Godoton March 15, 2011 at 4:49 p.m.
@SSJjanemba said:
" it pains me to see there are still ppl who havent seen dbz "
291 episodes is a fairly large commitment. This, coupled with the sheer amount of filler, is more than enough reason for people that didn't grow up with DBZ to not see it. As gripping as it was when I was a wee lad, the 8 episodes/5 minutes for Namek to explode was slightly ridiculous :)
The one thing I got out of this guide is the (now somewhat obvious) realisation that Toriyama did manga other than Dragon Ball. I'll have to get checking out some of his one-shots.
Kyleon March 15, 2011 at 5:40 p.m.
Kai and the manga are far superior; The original anime has criminal amounts of filler.
zaldaron March 15, 2011 at 7:17 p.m.
nostalgia of the bad sort maybe.  Everything that is wrong with shonen anime (fights that last waay to many episodes, shows that are the same and interchangeable, stupid pointless plots) is present in this show.  If you want good nostalgia try mentioning ghost in the shell, eva, or vampire hunter D.  Those are good anime shows...not this piece of crap.  Anime is serious business.
vergiliuson March 15, 2011 at 8:16 p.m.
I would say newcomers should probably just watch Kai--it is basically just the old show with all the filler cut out and re-edited to be faster paced.
sharingan_eyeson March 15, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.
@zaldar: well that's kinda your oppinion, i mean at the basic level Dragonball z is a fighting anime, like Naruto, like Bleach, their plots, at time can be silly yes, but it's more about character development than anything, watching Goku grow up and assend to higher levels from dragonball, watching Gohan's achievements, seeing even villains like piccolo, vegeta and Android 18 put aside their pasts and become true heroes, are the fights drawn out? yes, some, but some are awesome (im currently rewatching the Android sega and those fights were amazing) i mean im not trying to put you down, and the anime you listed are all great (besides Death Note, Evangelion is my favorite anime period) but you have to look past just the fights in Dragonball z to see what makes it great and WHY people love it so much
ninjadude853on March 15, 2011 at 8:30 p.m.
@zaldar: You say DBZ represents everything that is wrong with shonen, others will say it represents everything that is AWESOME in shonen. (personally i see it as both). others are going to have different opinions... and yet here i am shooting down yours... that's pretty hypocritical of me... i probably shouldn't post this... it's only going to piss you off and start a long and ultimately pointless argument that I'll regret getting into... but I've come too far.... mine as well keep going!
Anyway, nostalgia cannot be good or bad, it is a neutral beast dependent only on the past experiances of those it shows itself to.
And despite what i just said about opinions, Anime is far too large a medium to be called serious business, most seinen are serious business, but FAR more shonen and shojo are just for fun.  Saying the whole medium is entirely serious is like saying that all shows produced in America, which includes everything from Sesame Street to Spongebob Squarepants to Lost to House to 24 are serious business, some are some aren't 
Of coures, my exposure to TvTropes forces me to wonder if that serious business line is a joke or if it's actually serious.... i really shouldn't have made this message. Oh well. XD
super2jon March 15, 2011 at 8:43 p.m.
My story is kinda weird. When i was 8 i was channel surfing and i came across dragon ball z, when they fought raditz. I had no idea what that was but i watched it. I enjoyed it and forgot about it. A while later i remembered the show but couldnt find it again. 2 years later some older kids were talking about this crazy awesome show. So i asked when it was on and i proceeded to watch.  The scene i saw was goku vs vegeta. when they are having there energy beam show down. After goku  amazingly blasts vegeta away, i was HOOKED. Up until recently, i maintained that no cartoon or  anime matched dragon ball z for visual impact and making it look like ppl were fighting. Its only been beaten quiet recently by the likes of avatar:last airbender, fairy tail, or young justice. 
  best saga of the series. Vegeta was actually hardcore, piccolo was still relevant and was awesome, goku was a bad ass. I loved the ginyu force whistle theme. After watching the series again last year. I realized that vegeta is seriously hardcore there. I didnt enjoy any other saga as much (second time around). And of course thats when goku went super saiyan. I was freaking out bc i had never seen anything like that before.  OH and how can i forget the damn planet exploding. That shit was exciting
@Morita_Shunsuke: Actually, i heard that he was gunna kill goku for sure and have gohan as the main hero. But the fans were freaking out about losing goku so he was forced to bring him back. To be honest, i like goku but story wise, it would have been better if he didnt listen. 
Afroman269on March 15, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.
DBZ should have ended at the Cell Saga.
UsbCableon March 15, 2011 at 9 p.m.
I started watching DBZ way back as a kid when it came on channel 5 (I think) after Sailer Moon lol. The show was awesome and even pushed me to make a website about it in 6th grade with nothing but pictures. I didn't even know it was anime back then I just thought it was another cartoon but it's the reason I'm into anime now and I'll always wove it. :p
sotyfan16on March 15, 2011 at 9:12 p.m.
Well, I didn't know that. I'm happy with how it went though.
lol True but DBZ was part of the voting. I have the first 2 seasons of DB but I'd have to rewatch them before I wrote anything as DBZ is much more ingrained in my brain.
True true. The thought had slipped my mind.
Young_Scotton March 16, 2011 at 12:35 a.m.
 Hey guys,
I don't normally post on Anime Vice (I followed the Giant Bomb guys from back in the HotSpot days), but I've seen a number of DragonBall articles on the site, mostly well-informed but not all written with the perspective that the author has actually seen the show in its original form. ;)

So often, when DragonBall is discussed, people are talking about the Z part of the franchise. I should clarify: I do love this part of the story (volume 17 of the manga and onwards, for those following), but ignoring the first part of the story and the growth of Son Goku and friends not only sucks away some of the impact of particular moments far into Z, but you'll be missing some of the best examples of comedy and characterisation in the series, not to mention some cool battles!

I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but some of you can guess what I'm going to say: stay away from the dub versions of the shows. I respect that some people like the version of Z that aired on Toonami because that's what they grew up with, but the dubs are so far from their original source that they are practically different shows; character personalities and important plot details are changed on a whim, dialogue is often made up, and censorship is all over the place. Finally, in Z at least, Shunsuke Kikuchi and Hironobu Kageyama's wonderfully epic/cheesy/whimsical mix of orchastria and 80's J-rock is traded for some soul-less, generic trance/rock (sorry, Bruce Faulconer), killing a lot of tension and fun of the BGM. It's pretty heavy.

Also, the production staff for DragonBall and Z remain consistent across the original Japanese production, which means that the style and tone of the music and VA is the same, making the transition between the two minimal (they follow on from each other immediately, just like the manga).

If you must watch a dubbed version, stick to Kai, which is far more faithful to the intentions of the Japanese script. On Kai in general: While it's a valiant effort to curb the filler present in the original production, it often goes way too far in the other direction, cutting out plot material that was actually present in the manga, and rushing important moments of build-up and tension. The BGM, while a step-up from the old dubs, isn't really a patch on the score of the original shows, although it does have some great "one-shot" songs.

Yes, I know the DragonBall franchise does have flaws (some crazy pacing issues, major filler, etc), but you've got to remember that this is a franchise from the 1980's. The charming characters, contrasting moments of end-of-the-world-battles against silly pun-based jokes, and overall theme of redemption make it one of the most influential pieces of "classic" shonen out there, being a major inspiration for current mangaka big-names, such as Eiichiro Oda and Masashi Kishimoto. If you have the time, give it a shot! I'd recommend picking up the manga, the uncut DVD sets for DragonBall, or the awesome Dragon Boxes for Z.

(I have too much time on my hands).


Dig Deeper into Goku

Goku is one of the last members of the Saiyan race, sent to Earth as a baby and raised among humans. As a powerful martial artist, he defends Earth against the aliens who come to destroy it.

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