Dragon Ball was born in 1984, when the manga was first published by Akira Toriyama. The first episode of the Dragon Ball anime premiered two years later, and it’s been going strong ever since. Not only has the story continued, but the characters have also aged as well, unlike many series where the protagonist stays the same age despite the franchise having been out for decades (looking at you Pokémon). While Dragon Ball Super is nothing like the original Dragon Ball, or even Dragon Ball Z, loyal fans have stuck by the franchise for years now, never hesitating to point out what’s changed in the anime as time has gone on.
Changes are natural for any series that’s existed as long as Dragon Ball has, and fans have remained extra critical of every single one. A list detailing them all would take too long to write, so here are 10 big changes that the anime has undergone from its start to now.
10 Fights Have Become Less Technical / Martial-Arts Focused
When Dragon Ball first began, characters fought very differently than they do now. Most notably, energy attacks weren’t used as much, and specific techniques and styles of fighting were emphasized. Characters belonged to different schools, like the Turtle School, Crane School, Panther-Fang School, or the Chin-Star School, with each school having their own unique fighting styles and techniques.
As the series progressed, battles became flurries of physical blows and giant energy attacks that decimated the battlefield. There isn’t as much emphasis on individual fighting styles; instead, there’s more focus on how much raw power a warrior possesses. This usually becomes the major factor in determining who is more likely to emerge victorious from a fight.
9 The Dragon Balls Lost Their Mysticism
At the start of Dragon Ball, the seven wish-granting orbs that the show is named after maintained an aura of mystery and reverence to them that got lost as the series progressed. At first, characters were only able to make one wish, and after that wish, they’d be unable to use the Dragon Balls for an entire year. When fans found out that there was a stronger set of balls on Namek, Earth’s Dragon Balls didn’t feel so special anymore.
Dende eventually recreated them, allowing Shenron to grant more than one wish at a time while eliminating the one-year cooldown period of the Dragon Balls, essentially making Earth’s wish-granting orbs one big cheat code that the Z-Fighters relied on way too often. In Dragon Ball Super, the Dragon Balls were even reduced to a game prize at Bulma’s birthday party, showing just how minuscule summoning Shenron has become over the years.
8 Fewer Filler Episodes
While Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z have many amazing filler episodes, Dragon Ball Super is the complete opposite. Sure, some episodes might feel like filler, but the fact that Super‘s anime and manga follow different storylines only means that the anime is a separate product from the manga all together, and anything in the anime is canon by default.
The battle against Copy-Vegeta, for example, feels very much like filler, but it’s referenced during the next arc with Goku Black, and even sets it up nicely, giving fans an evil duplicate of Vegeta before they meet a villainous version of Goku.
7 Less Red
In recent years, older episodes of Dragon Ball Z have been censored to appeal to a more mainstream audience. It’s no surprise that a fighting anime like Dragon Ball Z would be filled with a lot of blood, but over the years, the color of this blood has been changed, or even taken away completely!
Dragon Ball Super features a very minimal amount of blood, and while this doesn’t affect our understanding of the narrative, many fans miss this gruesome touch that added to the severity of the Z-Fighters’ plights.
6 A Bigger Focus On Transformations
Transformations are a huge part of Dragon Ball, but fans who’ve watched the original series will recall that this wasn’t always the case. The only transformation that was worth discussing back in those days was Goku’s Great Ape transformation. Over time, transformations became a staple of the show; Frieza debuted multiple on Namek, and after Goku discovered Super Saiyan, fans soon learned that Super Saiyan had a variety of transformations in and of itself.
Most of the franchise’s most memorable villains (Frieza, Cell, Buu, Goku Black) have undergone power-boosting physical changes that make them all the more terrifying and formidable. At this point, fans just expect a new transformation with each new saga.
5 Villains Aren’t Earthlings
In the beginning, Goku’s foes were mostly human. His biggest adversaries (Tien, Mercenary Tao, the Red Ribbon Army) were all normal Earthlings. King Piccolo marked the end of this trend. Sure, Androids 17 and 18 used to be human, but they’d been turned into cybernetic agents of destruction with unique biologics, like their unlimited energy, that differentiates them from warriors like Krillin and Yamcha.
This is only a testament to how strong Goku has become. In order to give him a real challenge, Toriyama was forced to create some otherworldly opponents for him to fight.
4 More Sci-Fi Elements Have Added To The Plot
Dragon Ball started as a martial arts anime, inspired by the Chinese novel Journey to the West. There weren’t too many sci-fi elements that were relevant to the plot besides many of Bulma’s gadgets. In Dragon Ball Z, spaceships, aliens, androids, time travel, and other gadgets like Scouters and battle armor became all the more common, completely shifting the tone of the show.
3 The Universe Has Expanded
When Dragon Ball started, as far as fans were concerned, this fictional universe mirrored reality. The only other planet that had been mentioned was the moon, but right when Dragon Ball Z began, fans learned that the universe was home to many other planets, which is why aliens became more common in the series.
Dragon Ball Super brought with it the revelation that there were multiple universes, all containing their own deities and residents, further expanding the Dragon Ball universe.
2 The Galactic Hierarchy Grew In Complexity
As fans learned that there were more planets and universes in the Dragon Ball world, they slowly found themselves meeting members of an ever-expanding galactic hierarchy. In Dragon Ball, Kami was introduced as Earth’s guardian, and was considered the supreme ruler of Earth, but as Dragon Ball Z got underway, the introduction of powerful characters in Other World like King Kai and King Yemma showed that Kami was at the bottom of a pecking order that fans didn’t yet know much about.
Slowly but surely, higher-ranking deities like Shin and Beerus were introduced, and finally, fans met Zeno and the Grand Priest as the two most ultimate authorities in the franchise. If it turns out that there are others who rank above Zeno, the brains of many fans will undoubtedly explode.
1 Many Characters Have Become Useless
Perhaps the biggest way the series has changed over the years has been the fact that many characters who once played a pivotal role in the action have now been relegated to the sidelines. Though Goku was powerful as a young boy in Dragon Ball, he couldn’t do things all on his own, and frequently relied on the help of Bulma, Krillin, and Yamcha to get through whatever challenge he faced.
By the end of Dragon Ball, it was clear that Goku had far surpassed his friends, but as the series progressed, only anyone with Saiyan blood coursing through their veins had a chance at providing the villains with a major challenge. In Dragon Ball Super, only Goku and Vegeta truly made a difference in battles. While the newest arc in the manga (as well as the Tournament of Power) has given other characters a chance to shine once again, the anime has definitely given some preferential treatment to Goku and Vegeta.
Dragon Ball has been around for decades. With a series that old, there are bound to be some changes.