The Genius Of The Dragon Ball Manga

The Genius Of The Dragon Ball Manga

[Image via Anime]

It’s not just the characters who make Dragon Ball so great. It’s not just the stories that they tell. It’s also the way Akira Toriyama lays out the manga. It’s truly wonderful. Here’s why.

Website Nikaidorenji provided a look at how logical the Dragon Ball manga flows. (Dragon Ball is certainly not alone in this regard, as many wonderful manga — as well as Western comics and graphic novels — have a good visual flow to pull readers in.) This is nuts and bolts stuff, but it show Toriyama’s visual storytelling flair.

This article has been updated since it was originally published in May 2014.

Before looking at the example, it’s necessary to note that Japanese manga are read right to left, instead of left to right. Yes, some of you might know this. Some might not.

(Image via Nikaidorenji)

[Image via Nikaidorenji]

On this page, you can see Goku tripping King Chappa, with a loud smack (ぱしっ). Then, King Chappa falls to the ground with a thud (どでっ). Goku then puts his foot to ground with a thump (とん). One of the other characters then says, “You’ve left your legs wide open!”

(Image via Nikaidorenji)

[Image via Nikaidorenji]

Nikaidorenji breaks down the visual flow, pointing out that the action moves in a reverse Z-direction. It’s incredibly simple, and visually it makes sense. Be aware that Toriyama doesn’t always use this Z-pattern, but he is quite skilled at moving the eye around the page in a way that makes sense.

The brilliant simplicity is even more evident when the original manga is reorganized. Twitter Kakashiasa breaks the page down even further by flipping the direction of Goku and King Chappa as well as dividing the third panel into two. The text is unchanged, however.

The action certainly does not flow, because the added panel creates a separation of space and time. The text also feels jumbled, and the tempo is all mucked up.

But how important is the location of the text? Here, Kakashiasa removes the added panel, enabling the scene to once again play out in the same space. The text, however, is moved.

Yet, the flow of the sounds is all wrong. The eye first goes to the sound Goku makes when his foot hits the ground, then the dialogue box about leaving one’s legs wide open, and then the sound of King Chappa hitting the ground. The scene unfolds in an entirely different manner.

Below, once again you can see how Toriyama originally created the scene. This time, Kakashiasa notes that the manga artist created clear separations of space as not to create confusion and to ensure that the action flows as smoothly as possible.

See? Brilliant. Toriyama also clearly separates the foreground and the background to not confuse the reader.

Toriyama is able to focus the reader’s eyes in logical ways are a huge part of what makes him such a great manga artist.

(Image via Nikaidorenji)

[Image via Nikaidorenji]

(Image via Nikaidorenji)

[Image via Nikaidorenji]

This seems so obvious, but that’s because Toriyama does it so well and because Kakashiasa and Nikaidorenji give excellent explanations.

If you want to learn more about how Toriyama layouts out his manga, the best place to learn is the manga itself. Pick up a copy of Dragon Ball, if you’re interested.


  • Well duh…
    Toriyama grew up watching Bruce Lee as an inspiration!
    cool stuff!

    • It’s really just a rundown of how comics in general work, which is even more inane.

      • I think you both mean its a rundown of how manga SHOULD work.

        I’ve been put off by a few mangas with action that looks so messy that it just takes away any emotional investment you have on the fight.

        Dragonball fights consist mostly of straight up brawls and powering up, whereby a lot of newer manga fights are based around new movesets, or skills or strategy. I think creators are putting more thought into fights nowadays, which is a good thing…yet, sometimes they just fail to present it correctly, and I still view dragonball fights as more interesting to read than some others.

      • It’s also how art works in general, just with a few extra bits to make it work in a panel format.

  • Yeah, let’s float in the air and stare at each other menacingly for 10 episodes at a time. So awesome.

    • Reading the manga has no filler. I don’t think that happens in a book.
      They have also fixed the anime in the aspect of slow pace, it’s called “Dragon Ball Kai”.

    • That was just because the manga and anime were being run at the same time so they put in a bunch of filler when the manga was behind the anime. You can often pick up when the anime got behind the manga as well because the art quality went down and the pace moved faster. Also, I think you’re thinking of DragonBall Z the anime, not DragonBall the manga.

  • Remember 2014 guys?

    You might have been bopping along to GERONIMO by Sheppard or heading out to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. Good times.

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