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ICONS: Akira Toriyama

Besides inspiring countless television, film and video game adaptations, Akira Toriyama’s popular manga have built a huge fanbase far beyond Japan’s borders and defined the teenage years of generations around the world. The comic book writer, who enjoyed huge success with the Dragon Ball manga franchise, has died aged 68.

Born on April 5, 1955 in Kiyosu, Akira Toriyama studied design at a high school for technology and engineering. After graduating, he worked as a designer for an advertising company in Nagoya, and a few years later quit his job and started drawing manga at the age of 23. His first manga, an action-adventure novel called Wonder Island, was published in 1978. He gained popularity with his science fiction series Dr. Slump between 1980 and 1984, about an android girl known for her childlike personality and superhuman strength. The work was adapted for television as an anime series shortly afterwards.

When Dragon Ball was released in 1984, it was an instant hit and immediately became one of the best-selling manga series of all time. Dragon Ball was inspired by the Chinese novel Journey to the West and drew on Chinese and Hong Kong action films as well as Japanese folklore. Initially more akin to a comedy, it was only later that the project became the action-packed, fighting series we know today. As Dragon Ball’s readership grew, so did the magazine to reflect their changing interests. The story follows Son Goku’s adventures from childhood to adulthood as he trains in martial arts and explores the world in search of the Dragon Balls, seven magical orbs that, when collected, summon a wish-granting dragon. Along his journey, Goku makes many friends and battles villains, many of whom are also seeking the Dragon Balls. Since its creation in the 1980s, the story has gone through 42 volumes, sold more than 260 million copies worldwide and become one of the most famous manga, inspiring television, film and video game adaptations.

Critics were quick to embrace the manga… not just for its comedy, but also for its fight scenes and innovative pacing, and of course, they loved the important themes such as coming of age and other cultural references from Chinese mythology and Japanese folktales.

Toriyama has worked on several film adaptations since 2000, including as a consultant on 2012’s Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, and as a screenwriter on 2018’s Dragon Ball Super: Broly and 2022’s Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.

Dragon Ball is also considered one of the most influential manga series, having inspired many manga artists, including Eiichiro Oda (One Piece), Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) and Tite Kubo (Bleach). Toriyama also made his mark on the video game front: most fans will know him from the legendary Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995), and perhaps few know that he was also the character designer for the Dragon Quest series, which launched in 1986.