Toriyama Akira

The Super Saiyan-Mangaka

20 June, 2010 by

Toriyama Akira (鳥山 明) is easily the most well known name in the manga industry. For the benefit of the clueless on who he might be, Toriyama Akira is best known for being the creator of Dragon Ball. In this guide, I do hope to do justice to this artist of the highest caliber. As a vivid manga reader, there was no way that I would not write a piece on this famous, talented mangaka who (it could be said) shaped the industry during the peak of his career and brought forth the golden age of manga in Japan and perhaps worldwide.

Toripo. Toriyama Akira's mascot and a character that he uses to depict himself.

Photo of Toriyama Akira.

Toriyama Akira was born on April 5th 1955 in Kiyosu, Aichi, Japan. From young, he was gifted with an exceptional design sense. This is most apparent in the characters he draws with his unique clean line style, a style that can’t be mimicked easily by any other artist.

Toriyama’s artworks are a sight to behold. His line art speaks so much for itself that with just one look, you could tell if a particular drawing was done by Toriyama Akira.

Though he has not mentored any mangaka under his wing, his works have inspired many many mangakas whom are now huge names in the industry. Two great examples are Oda Eiichiro of One Piece and Kishimoto Masashi of Naruto fame, the two leading mangakas in the current golden age of manga in Japan.

In this guide, I will be covering Toriyama’s 2 major works, Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. Besides that, I’ll also dab upon several short series and one shots that he has drawn over the years.

From top, Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball, Kajika, Neko Majin. Sandland.

First on the list is Dr. Slump. Dr. Slump might not be Toriyama’s debuting manga but its was his first series to see popularity. It was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1980 to 1984 and Dr. Slump had a total of 18 volumes published under the Jump Comics imprint. Over the years Dr. Slump has been reprinted again and again, as a 9-volume Aizoban edition in 1990, a 9-volume Bunkokan edition in 1995 and a 15-volume Kanzenban edition in 2006. Other than the obvious milking of the title, you could also say that the popularity of Dr. Slump did not wane over the years.

Set in a little town named Penguin village, Dr. Slump plays on the concept of a mediocre inventor who creates a little robot girl named Arale. In general, the manga focuses on Arale’s misunderstandings of humanity, Dr. Slump’s inventions, rivalries, and romantic misadventures in a very funny way (yes it’s a gag manga). Dr. Slump is filled with puns, bathroom jokes as well as parodies of both Japanese and American culture. For example, one of my favorite character in Dr. Slump is “Suppaman”, a short, fat, pompous buffoon who changes into a Superman-like costume by eating a sour-tasting (“suppai” in Japanese) umeboshi.

For those who love gag mangas, this is the one manga that you definitely must pick up and read. For the rest who can’t get enough Toriyama Akira’s works after finishing the Dragon Ball series, this is the only other fairly long series he has written. The rest of his manga contribution are mostly one shots and short serials that stretch for 4 tankobon volumes max.

Volume 1 tankobon of Dr. Slump.

The main character of Dr. Slump, Arale.

A page of how Dr. Slump's comic is like, featuring Suppaman and Arale.

Possibly the single greatest manga series Toriyama Akira has contributed to the society is the legendary Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball had been serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1984 through 1995, and the 519 individual chapters were published into 42 tankobon volumes by Shueisha. Due to its popularity, the manga was re-released in a collection of 34 kanzenban volumes in 2004. It included a slightly rewritten ending, new covers specially drawn by Toriyama for the version and colored artwork of its Weekly Shonen Jump run.

Dragon Ball became an instant accomplishment, initially selling over 35,000,000 copies in Japan. It eventually became a record-breaking best seller with over 120,000,000 copies sold. Aside from the Japanese fame, the series was equally successful internationally in Asia, Europe, Canada and Latin America.

Besides the manga itself, countless anime, games, movies and every other imaginable merchandise were created during the fad. While I’ll stick strictly to the manga when writing for this article, it is good to know that even right now there’s still new stuff being made for Dragon Ball. Quite a feat, considering that the manga is over a decade old.

Dragon Ball follows the adventures of Son Goku from childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts and explores the world in search of mystical objects known as Dragon Balls, which can summon a wish-granting dragon. The concept was inspired by the Chinese folk novel Journey to the West and the name of the main character Son Goku was derived from the Monkey God. Do not mistake Dragon Ball as a manga rendition to the Chinese folk novel though, for other than using the same name and featuring martial arts in the manga, the other aspects of the manga is totally Toriyama.

There is no point in questioning whether one should give this manga a read. If you like reading manga, you should never give the Dragon Ball series a miss. If you are a fledgling newcomer to the world of manga, this is THE book to start reading.

Dragon Ball Complete Edition cover. A reprint of the original book made bigger, with new original illustrations by Toriyama Akira.

Dragon Ball tankobon cover. That is Sun Goku (young ver) featured on the front.

Dragon Ball encyclopedia. A full cast of the characters is shown on the cover.

With his main two series covered, I will now introduce a few of the other short series and one shots that Toriyama Akira has written.

First up is Kajika, which was written during the stretch of 1998 (Kajika was written after Toriyama finished Dragon Ball). Kajika is a short series that spans 12 chapters. It talks about a boy (whose name is Kajika) that gets possessed by a fox spirit and the only way for him to revert back to normal is to save 1000 lives. The short story follows his little adventure of completing the deeds.

Kajika. Yes the series was compiled into 1 volume.

Next is Neko Maijin which was originally a one-shot bearing some relation to Akira Toriyama’s other series. The first chapter of Neko Majin appeared in Weekly Shōnen Jump in April 1999 as a series of one-shots of the character on his misadventures. It later became a self-parody of the Dragon Ball manga when he Toriyama started to introduce Neko Majin Z, which featured cameos of Dragon Ball characters. As of 2005, the series was completed in a total of eight chapters (five of which are Dragon Ball parodies). These chapters were compiled into a “Kanzenban” style package for release in Japan on April 4, 2005.

Neko Maijin Z.

Following up, Sandland. Written by Toriyama Akira for Weekly Shonen Jump during the summer of 2000, Sandland features the adventures of two demons and a human on their quest to find water to save both of their races. Interestingly, the main character featured for Sandland is the Demon Prince Beelzebub and the human Sheriff Rao serves as a storyteller in the series. After Sandland completed its run, all fourteen chapters were collected into a single tankobon that was released on November 11, 2000.

PS: Other than his talent in creating great character designs, Toriyama Akira also excels in creating unique vehicles. Some of the more interesting vehicles are featured in Dragon Ball, but right here I’ll show you the page where you can see a nice full view of a tank he has drawn from the Sandland series.

Sandland. Single tankobon volume.

Vehicle artwork in full view. Click to enlarge.

My final introduction on Toriyama Akira’s one-shot/short series will be on Cross Epoch. A cooperation of artworks between Toriyama Akira and One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda. This one-shot is a crossover that presents characters from both One Piece and Dragon Ball. Sad to say, despite having the 2 greatest mangaka’s of Weekly Shonen Jump history art in a one-shot, the are zero story elements.

cross epoch.

Actually there are a lot more other one-shots and the Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater Vol. series to be introduced, but for the benefit of readers I’ve summarized only the main ones that I consider to be a must read.

To sum everything up, both Kajika and Sandland focus on more serious concepts and bear the similarity of featuring a main character on a journey to save oneself. Neko Maijin would be the gag relief one-shot to be read for fun. Do choose your favorite genre to start reading on. As for Cross Epoch…If you do like the works of both mangakas, you will still enjoy flipping through the pages to admire the character drawings that they have done for it.

After finishing the Dragon Ball series, Toriyama Akira has mainly come up with only rather measly short stories and one-shots that has left everyone yearning for more. Even while he was writing Dragon Ball, he had been planning to end it for a long time. His editors agreed to let him end the manga so he could “take some new steps in life,” as he put it. With that said, the chances are slim that Toriyama would write another long series ever again.

So is this the end of his career? Definitely not.

Fortunately, there have been a lot of other works by Toriyama Akira in places outside the manga world. One area that he often contributes to is the games industry. His unique character design and artworks has lead has translated well into jobs creating the characters and monsters for some of the hugely popular game franchise. Here’s a list of the games he’s involved in for reference.

Dragon Quest series
Dragon Quest Monsters
Chrono Trigger
Tobal No. 1 , Tobal No. 2
Blue Dragon
Dragon Ball Online

Here are some pictures from the games, there is no way to mistake Toriyama Akiya’s character designs.

Dragon Quest Series.

Various Dragon Quest characters.

Chrono Trigger cover artwork.

Crono, the main character of Chrono Trigger.

Tobal No. 1

Blue Dragon.

Blue Dragon's Various character art.

His knack for character design is so impressive that you can also find his works in the most unlikely places. One great example is Ayumi Hamasaki’s rendition of Sun Goku on her single Rule/Sparkle. I also happened to find his artworks on the Finemolds brand of plastic model kits. Their boxes feature Toriyama’s take on the many different soldiers.

Toriyama Akira's rendition of Ayumi Hamasaki, with Sun Goku's outfit.

Artwork on the CDs too.

Toriyama rendition of a WW2 Japanese soldier artwork.

Toriyama rendition of a Gulf War infantry woman artwork.

There have been many occasions where Toriyama was invited to draw famous people and celebrities in caricature format, or renditions of their outfits. There are of course also countless occasions where he has to draw signboards for his fans as a memorial. Examples below.

Caricature drawing of a Japanese celebrity in a Dragon Ball outfit.

Signboard signature and artwork of Sun Goku.

Toriyama Akira's rendition of the Naruto character for Naruto's 10 anniversary.

As I have mentioned before, Toriyama Akira is not actively working on any manga series or even short stories as of now. Fortunately for Dragon Ball fans though, Toriyama and his studio (Toriyama’s studio is called Bird Studio, which is a play on his name, “tori” meaning bird) have begun work on Dragon Ball Online. It’s a video game follow-up to the Dragon Ball manga that is being developed by Bandai Namco Games and NTL for release in Japan and South Korea. The game will act as a direct sequel to the manga and Toriyama has been supervising all aspects of the game, from the storyline and setting to the character and location designs for the last 5-6 years.

Already though Toriyama Akira’s past contributions to the manga industry have been huge. He brought forth what was widely accepted as the golden age of Jump (Oda Eiichiro of One Piece can be said to be the 2nd era of Jump’s golden age, but more of that next time). Personally, I would really love to see more manga series by Toriyama. I’m not expecting another series that could take the world by storm like Dragon Ball. But will be glad for any enjoyable title that I can rely on each week for my manga relief. I hope you enjoy this rather long article on Toriyama’s manga biography. Do pick up a volume of his manga to support him.

Addicted to film, Yan shoots with a black Nikon Fm3a. For special occasions, Yan shoots with a Mamiya Sekor TLR.