Master of Manga: Exploring the Legacy of Akira Toriyama

by Nana Young

Manga and anime are consumed all over the world. But not many people outside of Japan know about the great minds that brought their fictional worlds to life. One of the brightest of these geniuses is the late Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball and other incredible franchises.

The Genius of Akira Toriyama: An Introduction

Dragon Ball Super manga books on isolated white background. Dragon Ball Z Akira Toriyama 

Akira Toriyama was a Japanese manga author, character designer, and writer. He is responsible for several manga and anime series, most notably Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump. Akira Toriyama first broke into the manga scene with the creation of Dr. Slump, which was largely successful and sold over 35 million copies domestically. His next creation, Dragon Ball, proved to be even more successful, selling an incredible 360 million copies worldwide.

The success of Dragon Ball brought Akira Toriyama’s comedic characters and colorful martial arts battles to a global audience. But it did more than that. The series played a vital role in the booming sales experienced by the manga industry in the 80s and 90s. Dragon Ball was later adapted into anime, leading to another round of success for the franchise. The animated versions were even more famous than many manga titles,and are attributed to the Japanese anime’s increased popularity in Western countries.

Besides working with manga, Toriyama Akira has also drawn short pieces, designed characters for video games, and created illustrations for books, logos, mascots, and album covers. Some of his other works include Go! Go! Ackman, Pink, Sand Land, and Dragon Quest (a video game). He wasn’t just one of the greatest manga artists, but also one of the best illustrators the world has ever seen.

Sadly, Akira Toriyama died on March 1, 2024. This was a huge blow to the creators and lovers of manga and anime all over the world, many of whom paid their tributes on social media and television. He is survived by his wife, Yoshimi Kato, and their two children. We may have lost a hero, but his legacy continues to live on in his beloved works of art.

The rest of this post explores the life and career of Akira Toriyama. Read on if you want to learn more about his brilliant mind and the iconic characters that were born from it.


The Early Years: Tracing Toriyama's Path to Fame

1rst version of the double-sided leaflets of all the animation movies of DragonBall Z or Super and Sandland released from 2013 to 2024 by Japanese mangaka Akira Toriyama.

Born on April 5, 1955, in Kiyosu, a town located in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan, Akira Toriyama grew up with one sister. Right from an early age, he showed signs of his talent, drawing pictures of animals and vehicles he loved.

Toriyama’s Early Interest in Manga

Toriyama's love for comical characters began when he saw 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatian for the first time. Blown away by the illustrations, he hoped to draw pictures of such quality in the future. Only after seeing Astro Boy, an Osamu Tezuka-illustrated manga series that ran from 1952 to 1968, did Toriyama develop an interest in manga, which he would later describe as his original inspiration. His elementary and high school days were mostly spent drawing pictures that imitated manga titles and anime. It was around this time that he also developed an interest in films and TV shows.

The Start of Toriyama’s Journey into Manga

Toriyama's initial forays into manga started when he sent his work to multiple manga magazines accepting submissions for contests and awards. Although Toriyama’s work was rejected, Kazuhiko Torishima, an editor at Weekly Shōnen Jump, liked what he saw and encouraged Toriyama to send him more manga. As a result, the young author was able to get his first manga published. It was titled Wonder Island and was published in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1978. However, readers didn't seem to like the manga.

Toriyama would go on to publish more “failures,” including Wonder Island 2 in 1978 and  Today's Highlight Island in 1979. Despite the disappointments, Toriyama was too determined and stubborn to quit drawing manga. His first taste of success came in 1979, when he followed Torishima’s suggestion and created his first manga with a female main character, Tomato the Cutesy Gumshoe. Spurred on by the reception, Toriyama got to work creating a second manga with a female main character. He published Dr. Slump in 1980.

Success with Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball

Dr. Slump was very successful, with the magazine releasing new chapters in the series from 1980 to 1984. The stories revolve around a super-strong girl robot named Arale Norimaki and her eccentric creator, Senbei Norimaki. Most of the humor in comic series is based on parodies of Japanese and Western cultures. The series would earn Toriyama several awards and was later adapted into anime, with Toriyama leading its creative team. Torishima suggested that Toriyama create a kung fu-style manga and the latter once again obliged, illustrating a two-part short series called Dragon Boy in 1983. This would later evolve into one of the best-selling manga series of all time, Dragon Ball. The reception of this series both at home and abroad would skyrocket Akira Toriyama into critical acclaim and global fame.

Dragon Ball: The Phenomenon That Redefined Anime

Dragon Ball model (Goku). It is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Japanese manga artist Akira Toriyama

Beginning as a manga series, Dragon Ball has become one of Japan’s biggest media franchises. The story of Dragon Ball revolves around a fictional male and super-powered character, Son Goku. It depicts his life as a monkey-tailed being and his adventures from childhood all the way into adulthood and old age. It also follows his progression as a martial artist, one battle after another, and his quest to collect magical Dragon Balls. Goku makes friends and enemies along this path and learns vital life lessons.

The original inspiration for the Dragon Ball series came from a Chinese novel titled Journey to the West. Many of the characters also employ Hong Kong martial arts styles like karate and kung fu. Early chapters of the series (1 to 134) could be considered comedic fantasy stories with some sci-fi elements similar to Dr. Slump. The manga becomes much darker in the Piccolo arc (chapters 135–194) after the death of Krillin, Goku’s best friend. The Saiyan arc begins in chapter 195 and marks the full transformation of Dragon Ball into an action-packed shōnen manga.

The initial manga series ran for 11 years (1984–1995); several anime versions were created and are still ongoing today. They include Dragon Ball (1986–1989), Dragon Ball Z (1989–1996), and Super Dragon Ball Heroes (2018–present). The manga has also been adapted into 24 films, most of which are animated.

Manga and anime were already big deals in Japan, but not many people enjoyed them in countries outside of Asia. Dragon Ball is responsible for popularizing Japanese manga and anime in the West. It served as the gateway for a new generation of pop culture fans to discover these works of art.

The Art of Akira Toriyama: A Distinctive Style

Dragon Ball's Piccolo, Son Gokou, and Great Saiyaman in White Background

Much of Akira Toriyama’s enduring success can be attributed to his unique drawing style. But what many may not realize is that he was a very adaptable artist, constantly evolving his art style to blend with the times.

Let’s take the art style in Dragon Ball character designs as a case study. Toriyama’s art style remains fairly consistent throughout Volumes 1 to 19: simple hand-drawn lines with sharp character features common in the 80s. However, his drawings were more rounded than most of the manga produced in that era. The 1990s saw his depictions grow a bit stiffer and spiky, which was perfect for the action sequences required by the story line. By the start of the 21st century, Toriyama had switched to a more polished and contemporary art style that appealed to global fans of action comics. 

Beyond Dragon Ball: Toriyama's Diverse Portfolio

Huge inflatable balloons depicting Slime, the mascot of the Dragon Quest role-playing video game floating under the ceiling of the anime convention

Most people associate Akira Toiryama with Dragon Ball, and rightly so. After all, that was his most successful franchise. However, Toriyama has other notable works, including anime, manga, and video games. Here’s a list of the best of them:

  • Dr. Slump (1980–1984): This was Toriyama’s first successful manga illustration. Some of the characters from the series would play significant roles in the Dragon Ball crossover volumes.

  • Pink (1982): He wrote and illustrated the one-shot manga about a mysterious female bandit.

  • Dragon Quest (1986–2023): This is a video game series co-created by the Toriyama-founded Bird Studio. He was in charge of creating the spin-off, Dragon Quest Monsters.

  • Go! Go! Ackman (1993–1994): This is an 11-chapter manga series about a demon child.

  • Chrono Trigger (1995): Toriyama was one of the artists on the role-playing video game.

  •  Cowa! (1997–1998): Another manga series he illustrated and wrote.

  •  Kajika (1998): This is a 12-chapter manga series created by Toriyama.

  • Sand Land (2000): The manga series is set to receive a video game adaptation in 2024.

Akira Toriyama's Influence on Modern Manga and Anime

Akihabara district in Tokyo, JP. The district is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, games and otaku goods.

Toriyama is considered the most influential shonen manga creator in the last three decades. Subsequent generations of manga artists and animators have used his style in their works. His influence is evident in a variety of cases, from the manly hero designs of City Hunter to the exciting concepts of higher beings in Bleach. Toriyama’s shonen manga is created to appeal to a younger generation. Hence, we can expect the talented ones among them to carry on his legacy when they come of age.

Collaborations and Contributions: Toriyama's Impact Beyond Manga

Huge inflatable structure depicting the dragon Shenron from the anime and manga series of Dragon Ball floating under the ceiling of the anime convention

Toriyama’s greatness also stemmed from his ability to step out of his comfort zone when called upon. He actively collaborated with artists, illustrators, and companies, including the following:

  • Design of electric cars with CQ Motors in 2005.

  • One-shot manga Cross Epoch with Eiichiro Oda, the creator of One Piece.

  • One-shot manga Sachie-chan Good!! with Masakazu Katsura, the creator of Zetman

  • Consultation for Dragonball Evolution, an American live-action film by 20th Century Fox.

  • Drawing of a portrait of Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, which was used on the CD cover for her song Rule.

Toriyama's Creative Process: From Concept to Page

Close up of an adult person hands open and holding a Japanese comic book with bokeh background.

Before becoming an established manga artist, Toriyama faced many challenges trying to find a unique creative process. He studied several manga genres, taking note of their good and bad sides. To tell more original stories, he wasn’t afraid to break conventions in pursuit of unique art.

Toriyama maintained a good relationship with fans, gathering feedback and requests, which he used as research to aid in his creative storytelling. He liked to give each character unique backgrounds, attributes, and story arcs. To convey character uniqueness on the pages, he paid great attention to shapes, colors, and clothing.

A master world-builder, Toriyoma’s art works were set in humorous fantasy worlds with bright and optimistic atmospheres. When faced with a choice between realism and fun storytelling, he tended to choose storytelling. The battle scenes in Akira Toriyama's unique world were almost always epic, using motion lines to convey tremendous power and speed. All of these traits culminated in his outstanding success, earning him multiple accolades.

Awards and Accolades: Recognizing Toriyama's Achievements

Arale Figures, Japan Cartoon Figures,

Here’s a list of the major awards and honors Akira Toriyama has received throughout his career

  • Shogakukan Manga Award (1981): One of the most prestigious awards in the manga industry. Dr. Slump won the best shonen manga. 

  • Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (2019): Toriyama was honored by the French government for his contribution to global art.

  • The Tokyo Anime Awards Festival - Achievement Award (2024): On December 14, TAAF announced that Akira Toriyama was scheduled to win a lifetime achievement award on March 8, 2024. Sadly, he passed away before he could accept the award.

  • IGN’s 74th Top Game Creators of All Time (2015): Thanks to his work with video games, Toriyama ranked 74 on the top 100 list.

Akira Toriyama Most Recent Works

Close up on a statue of Beelzebub from the Japanese anime Sand Land

Although Toriyama stopped drawing manga several years ago, he recently worked alongside Toyotarou, a Japanese artist, on a number of projects. The most recent were his story and character designs for two of his latest anime adaptation projects, Dragon Ball Daima and Sand Land. In January 2024, Toriyama designed a logo for the 20th anniversary of Kiyosu City, an amalgamation of his birth town and two others.

The Global Fandom: Dragon Ball's Enduring Popularity

Dragonball Z Funko Figures With Major Of Goku Transformations

A global fan community has grown around Dragon Ball and other Toriyama works. People of all ages meet on social media platforms, forums, and comic conventions to celebrate the manga series. Visit any anime convention and you’ll find dozens of cosplayers dressed as iconic characters from the anime. The Dragon Ball franchise also includes theme parks, video games, card games, table-top role-playing games, and merchandise. 

Inspiring Future Artists: Toriyama's Educational Impact

Son Goku character at green land. Blurred view of grass at land. Background is blurred

In 2015, a Japanese website asked a thousand people in the country who their favorite manga artists were. After ranking, Akira Toriyama was named the third most loved artist. This was massive, considering there are hundreds of talented artists from Japan. This is a testament to his influence on the next generation of artists.

Personal Insights: Interviews and Anecdotes from Toriyama

Closeup a set of seven crystal dragon balls yellow with stars from one to seven stars on a white background.

One of the reasons fans love him so much is that Toriyama always has their best interests at heart. He dedicated his life to bringing thrills and excitement to youths, no matter the cost to him. A perfect example is what transpired while he was working with the American film studio, 20th Century Fox, on Dragonball Evolution. He tried to tell the producers that the film wasn’t true to the world and characters of the original manga but they allegedly ignored his suggestions. In 2013, Toriyama gave an interview where he said, “And just as I thought, the result was a movie I cannot call Dragon Ball.”

Preserving a Legacy: The Future of Toriyama's Work

Word of thanks on the occasion of the death of the world famous mangaka Akira Toriyama, author of the manga, anime and video game series Dragon Ball and its hero Son Goku

The legacy of Akira Toriyama's work continues to be relevant in the manga and anime industries, even after he left us. He didn’t just create these anime and manga pieces; he ensured they had a foundation strong enough for other artists to carry on the task of bringing joy to millions worldwide.

We highly recommend that you get a hold of as many Akira Toriyama manga and anime as possible. There are countless options available. While you watch or read, you can enhance the experience with traditional Japanese treats from Bokksu Snack Box.

Subscribe to get a  mystery box of these snacks every month, straight from Japan, the home of manga and anime.

Author Bio