Skip to main content

Akira Toriyama is one of the most influential people to have ever lived

The legendary creator of Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball has passed away at age 68, but he'll live on as one of the most influential artists of all time

When I woke this morning and couldn’t immediately get back to sleep, I picked up my phone to check the time – 5am – and had a quick scroll of Twitter. Immediately, I saw the news that legendary artist and creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama, had passed earlier this month. I couldn’t quite process it at first. It wasn’t until later, when people were sharing in tweets and group chats about how they’d rush home from school to watch the latest episode, and it influenced how they’d playfight with their siblings and friends, that I understood fully what this meant, and what it means for me personally.

Dragon Ball Z was the first show I’d watched where it felt distinctly adult, but digestible, with high stakes, violence, but a throughline of innocence and perseverance. I, too, rushed home every day to watch the latest episode, eyes glued to the TV, jumping around the room performing high-kicks for an hour after. It was a show from my childhood that I loved.

It wasn’t until years later, in a blissful malaise of unemployed adulthood, that I went back to entirely watch the original Dragon Ball series, Dragon Ball Z Kai, and later GT. Yes, this was absolutely the show I adored when I was younger, but something was different now. I dove in, looking up details from the making of the manga, details from Toriyama’s life, and suddenly I saw everything with new eyes.

Two Anime characters flying through the air.

Dragon Ball is still one of Fortnite's biggest collaborations.

Goku’s departure after the Perfect Cell arc was Toriyama’s attempt to step away and put Dragon Ball behind him after years of effort, but he kept getting pulled back. The twists and turns of the story, and the characters he introduces, are directly influenced by the point in his life he’s at, his editor’s whims, and his own frustrations. An ongoing manga delivered on a weekly schedule is a story, sure, but over the course of years, it becomes a visual diary, a tapestry of emotions and points in time, immortalized. I cannot help but look at Dragon Ball and the life of Akira Toriyama as inextricably linked.

I remember the disappointment I felt when watching the live-action Dragon Ball Evolution, and Toriyama felt it too, immediately setting to work on a true Dragon Ball movie: Battle of Gods. Even after writing the brief he wanted to step back from production, but couldn’t help “correcting” the proposed designs from the movie staff. Every time Toriyama tried to keep his distance, he couldn’t help but get drawn back in.

It’s the same for me. Ever since that adulthood rewatch of the series I’ve felt the characters resonate with me more than ever, and the DNA of Dragon Ball is so clear to see in every shonen manga since. Anime and manga have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years, and Dragon Ball has a huge part to play in that, along with the impact of the internet. So it’s no surprise that I haven’t been able to pull myself away: I had to watch Battle of Gods, and Resurrection of F, and I was in throughout the Super anime – yes, I’m even up to date with Toyotarou’s Dragon Ball Super manga.

Dragon Quest Your Story

Toriyama's art style was even rendered with high quality CGI for the Dragon Quest movie.

Part of me wants to step back and say a bunch of dudes screaming to power up with increasingly large hair is silly. But another, far more powerful, part of me screamed with delight when Beast Gohan unleashed the Makankosappo at Cell Max’s head.

Toriyama is almost singlehandedly the reason I was such a little weeb during my school days – with Dragon Ball being the reason I picked up Yu-Gi-Oh, Gundam, Bleach, and many more – but more importantly, that impact has carried over to who I am today, whether that’s the taste I have in games, animation, and manga, or the articles I write, or the friends I’ve made who were sharing their own love and admiration today. Akira Toriyama did more than just create Dragon Ball, or a genre – he indirectly changed the trajectory of lives.

Akira Toriyama really did create more than just Dragon Ball, though. After his first manga – Dr. Slump and its star Arale – was a huge success, Toriyama was enlisted as the character designer for the Dragon Quest series (with the full story available on Forbes). Despite Toriyama’s hugely successful legacy of Dragon Ball video games, Dragon Quest’s critical acclaim might be the crown jewel of Toriyama’s influence in the gaming world. Every Dragon Quest game since has continued to evoke Toriyama’s original designs, and he also led the visual design of games like Chrono Trigger, Tobal, and Blue Dragon.

Dragon Ball's influence is immeasurable.

Dragon Ball's influence is immeasurable.

Toriyama influenced my life and millions of others through the Dragon Ball anime series, allowing me to chat and debate with people I might’ve never spoken to otherwise, but he influenced countless more through art in video games, manga, movies, and more – yes, I’m saying Dragon Ball Evolution influenced someone out there, somehow.

This is just a small part of my history with Dragon Ball, but artists and fellow mangaka are already paying tribute, including One Piece’s Eiichiro Oda (as translated by Twitter’s AitaiKimochi). Toriyama didn’t just influence a generation of people, he influenced a generation of art and artists to create, and his influence seeps into more stories and artworks than you could comprehend. Imagine my small story, multiplied across millions of people around the globe from all countries and cultures, and it still doesn’t do enough to explain the influence of Akira Toriyama.

Bird Studio announced that Akira Toriyama passed away on March 1, 2023, of acute subdural hematoma. He was age 68. There will probably never be another artist as influential as him.