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Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, has died at the age of 68

Few creators have had the influence on the world that Toriyama has.

Goku as an Angel
Image credit: Toei Animation

The entire anime industry is currently reeling from the news that Akira Toriyama, the iconic creator of Dragon Ball, Dr. Slump, and Sand Land, has passed away at the age of 68, according to a statement from the official Dragon Ball website. His passing on March 1, 2024 was made public one week later.

It is no exaggeration that Akira Toriyama was one of the most influential writers and artists in comic book history. Few people, if any, can say that their characters have had the lasting impact or cultural penetration that his has. In large parts of the world, particularly Asia and Latin America, Son Goku is more recognizable than Superman, Bugs Bunny, or Mickey Mouse. Toriyama’s ability to blend high-intensity fight scenes with laugh-out-loud visual gags and puns made his work unique across his 45 years in the manga industry and inspired countless artists around the world.

Akira Toriyama first gained fame in Japan at the age of 25 when his Dr. Slump manga became a certified hit for Weekly Shonen Jump. The series, which followed the robotic and super-strong Arale in madcap and often bizarre adventures across the world, went on to sell more than 35 million copies and was turned into two anime series. However, it was his next hit series that would make him one of the most influential mangaka of all time.

Dragon Ball didn’t create all the tropes it is known for, such as the training arc, transformations, or a protagonist always seeking a new level of power, but it showed that they could be used effectively and dramatically. It followed Son Goku as he sought to become stronger and defend the Earth from enemies ranging from space aliens to cyborgs to giant pink goofballs. It was silly and tongue-in-cheek yet tense and inspiring. More than 260 million copies of the Dragon Ball volumes have been sold worldwide and its franchise of anime, films, and video games has become an industry of its own.

Dragon Ball became the standard against which all Shonen anime would be judged for the next 40 years while its popularity pushed anime far beyond Japanese shores in a way no other show had done before. For many people growing up in the 90s and 00s, Dragon Ball was the first – and sometimes the only – anime that we had access to. Before streaming and before DVDs, you were lucky to make it home in time to catch the next episode of Dragon Ball Z on TV. The anime industry almost certainly wouldn’t have the widespread popularity that it does today without Akira Toriyama.

No matter where you’re from, chances are good that you or someone you know tried to emulate Goku’s signature Kamehameha in front of the bathroom mirror. Go to the gym and you’ll find at least one person who was inspired to start their fitness journey by watching the Saiyan train himself for the next challenge. On a personal note, I carry two characters he designed on me at all times in the form of my first tattoo. The man’s impact on people and pop culture is too big to describe and the shock of his death has left us all reflecting on how much richer we are for his work, including the work that he was still working on when he died.

Without Akira Toriyama, the anime industry is a far different, smaller place and we’re thankful for the time we had with him. As Eiichrio Oda, the creator of One Piece, said in his statement upon learning of Toriyama's death, "May the Heaven he envisioned be a most joyous place for him."

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About the Author
Trent Cannon avatar

Trent Cannon

Contributor

Trent is a freelance writer who has been covering anime, video games, and pop culture for a decade. (He/Him)
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