Life has calmed down for Son Goku since the events of Dragon Ball Z. “Goku managed to defeat Boo and save the Earth! Time has passed since then…” the opening narration explains, before revealing a painfully bored Goku driving a tractor over some farmland. He’d rather be training to fight a new opponent, and envisions battling old foes Freeza, Cell, and Boo. Fortunately for Goku, he meets a god of destruction, Beerus, who pushes him to unlock a new and powerful form. From there, he meets Beerus’s own rival and agrees to compete in a martial arts tournament to determine whose universe has the strongest fighters.

Explaining the plot any further would require a primer of sorts. Dragon Ball Super is the result of the franchise’s continued popularity having led to a new series, but it feels far from a cash grab. The franchise, which started with Dragon Ball and continued with Dragon Ball Z (complete with several in-continuity and separate movies), now continues with Dragon Ball Super. At one point, an editor’s note advises the reader to watch the Battle of Gods movie in order to see the full version of an abridged scene. A different sequel anime from 1996-97, Dragon Ball GT, was brushed aside from the canon entirely. Cameos, references, and loose ends from the previous series crop up in Super (including the scene-stealing Jaco from Jaco the Galactic Patrolman), but its basic “gather allies and fight the good fight” plot is easy to understand. More importantly, the explosive, super-powered fight scenes are exciting to the point of being compulsively re-readable.

Not only are the action sequences half the book’s appeal, they also repeatedly demonstrate “anime physics” as only a landmark manga series can. Characters trade blows across fields, islands, planets, and stretches of outer space. Speed lines, blurred movement, glowing auras, and massive shockwaves are the punctuation of Dragon Ball’s violent language. There’s hardly any blood, though, giving the impression of rubber action figures bouncing each other around. At this point in the series, Goku and his friends possess sufficient power to obliterate the solar system several times over, and yet they still pursue more power for its own sake. Conversely, the cat-like Beerus and his parallel-universe rival are in an upper echelon of power but prefer to fight via (and over) delicious foods.

Toriyama’s dual masterstrokes with this series are that characters’ power levels only matter as much as they need to per individual scenes, and a sense of humor permeates everything. For example, a written exam required to qualify for an inter-universe tournament threatens to debar supremely powerful yet endearingly simple-minded characters. Some of the jokes require knowledge of the characters’ personalities and history: former villain Vegeta doesn’t like anyone mentioning how he once threatened to destroy the Earth. Characters meet a lookalike of a major villain and quietly feel uncomfortable remembering being beaten and/or killed, inviting readers to remember, too.

Series creator Akira Toriyama is behind the story, while Toyotarou, a newcomer to the franchise, is the artist under his supervision.The back matter of this volume includes a two-page interview to get their take on Toriyama’s influence and working together to revisit the series. There is also a three-page bonus comic in the back, in addition to several one-page gags between chapters.

This volume is rated T for Teen, and anyone familiar with the prior Dragon Ball series or other shonen anime/manga will be right at home here. Language goes as far as an individual “dammit” and “bastard,” while the violence wavers between high-flying pugilism, planet-threatening fireballs, and lighthearted slapstick. A perverted old man uses the word “panties” in a word game, and an alien being offers information in return for kisses on the cheek (he can also accurately guess a woman’s dimensions on sight). Dragon Ball has been a gateway into anime/manga since 1984, and with Super, the franchise is likely to keep its seat of influence at the table of canon (see also: the anime available on CrunchyRoll).

Dragon Ball Super, vol. 1
by Akira Toriyama
Art by Toyotarou
ISBN: 9781421592541
Viz, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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