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Dragon Ball (Japanese: ドラゴンボール, Hepburn: Doragon Bōru) is a Japanese media franchise created by Akira Toriyama in 1984. The initial manga, written and illustrated by Toriyama, was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1984 to 1995, with the 519 individual chapters collected into 42 tankōbon volumes by its publisher Shueisha. Dragon Ball was initially inspired by the classical 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, as well as Hong Kong martial arts films. The series follows the adventures of the protagonist, Son Goku, from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts. He spends his childhood far from civilization until he meets a teen girl named Bulma, who encourages him to join her quest in exploring the world in search of the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which summon a wish-granting dragon when gathered. Along his journey, Goku makes several other friends, becomes a family man, discovers his alien heritage, and battles a wide variety of villains, many of whom also seek the Dragon Balls.
Toriyama’s manga was adapted and divided into two anime series produced by Toei Animation: Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, which together were broadcast in Japan from 1986 to 1996. Additionally, the studio has developed 20 animated feature films and three television specials, as well as two anime sequel series titled Dragon Ball GT (1996–1997) and Dragon Ball Super (2015–2018). From 2009 to 2015, a revised version of Dragon Ball Z aired in Japan under the title Dragon Ball Kai, as a recut that follows the manga’s story more faithfully by removing most of the material featured exclusively in the anime. Several companies have developed various types of merchandising based on the series leading to a large media franchise that includes films, both animated and live-action, collectible trading card games, numerous action figures, along with several collections of soundtracks and numerous video games. Dragon Ball has become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
Since its release, Dragon Ball has become one of the most successful manga and anime series of all time, with the manga sold in over 40 countries and the anime broadcast in more than 80 countries. The manga’s 42 collected tankōbon volumes have sold over 160 million copies in Japan, and are estimated to have sold more than 250–300 million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling manga series in history, behind only One Piece. Reviewers have praised the art, characterization, and humour of the story. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential manga series ever made, with many manga artists citing Dragon Ball as a source of inspiration for their own now popular works. The anime, particularly Dragon Ball Z, is also highly popular across the world and is considered one of the most influential in boosting the popularity of Japanese animation in Western culture. It has had a considerable impact on global popular culture, referenced by and inspiring numerous artists, athletes, celebrities, filmmakers, musicians and writers across the world.
I grew up on Dragon Ball, and as such, I always thought the watch order was pretty straight forward. However, recently it has occurred to me that…Well, if you know nothing about Dragon Ball, it is not straight forward at all. Do you watch original Z or should you choose Kai? Do you need to watch ten tons of movies or no? GT before Super or at all?
Yeah, okay, so it has gotten unexpectedly complex and there are newer anime fans that are just now getting into it. So, the question is, how do you watch the Dragon Ball series in order?
Much of Dragon Ball can be separated into canon or not canon. By canon, fans mean that the particular series or movie primarily followed the original manga series and was made with input from the creator – Akira Toriyama. For the most part, the Dragon Ball anime series is of a canon nature. There are some important exceptions, however.
First, Dragon Ball GT is considered non-canon. Akira Toriyama had little to no input on the series and was not happy with how it turned out. There are moments in the more current and canon Dragon Ball Super in which it seems they are trying to connect it to the canon, but for the most part, almost every fan will suggest to skip GT entirely.
Other non-canon entries include some of the movies which will conflict with things that occur in the canon story line. Generally, most people don’t bother to watch ALL the movies, as there are many, but there are some canon movies that fill in important details (and have awesome fights).
As you may (or may not) know, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Z Kai are the same thing. Kai is essentially a remastering of the events in the original DBZ series. It features less filler, much better pacing, and additional dialog that was present in the manga. As it is also newer animation, it looks better in some spots.
As in the original DBZ some fights could take literally ten episodes to conclude, it is probably better to just watch Kai. The filler in DBZ was fun sometimes, but it is a lengthy watch overall. So, in essence, it is really up to you. You won’t miss any crucial details by choosing Kai.
If you want to get the best possible viewing order from the Dragon Ball series, but you don’t need it to be chronological. Here’s what we suggest:
You may also want to watch Battle of the Gods and the Resurrection: F movies purely because they are pretty cool, but they also have arcs in Super. So you won’t really miss out, but the movies do have more detail.
On the topic of movies, there are a lot we didn’t include because they are not canon. However, many of the DBZ movies are very fun to watch, the Broly movie in particular. Broly did technically become canon, but there’s not really a good place to wedge that into the watch order.
Why you would want to try and watch Dragon Ball in chronological order, I don’t even know. Do you hate yourself? Are you okay? Do you need someone to talk to? Anyway, this tosses canon out the window and includes all the movies, GT, and Super in the closes possible timeline, even though the timeline of some movies conflicts with that, thus why they are not canon. I’ve also included episode number for the original Dragon Ball Z, not Kai, because if you want to watch everything, damn you gonna watch everything.
And another confusing and chaotic anime is about to get taken care of; Dragon Ball is without a doubt among the most popular anime of the 80s and 90s and is well known even for the older population and of course for almost all kids born around 1990 because they were bound to watch it airing in TV shows (including me), I was 8 at the time.
The time required to watch this anime is horrid though (~150 hours if you watch Dragon Ball Z Kai; if you watch Dragon Ball Z instead of the newer re-make called Dragon Ball Z Kai, you are going to spend over ~191 hours in order to complete it).
With this guide, you can manage to save some time and watch it within ~132 hours (~5.5 days).
Total episodes: 153 + 167 + 131 = 451
Episodes without filler: 396
For obvious reasons, I’m including in this guide only the original Dragon Ball (1986-1989), Dragon Ball Z Kai (2009-2011) and Dragon Ball Super (2015-2018) whilst skipping the movies and Dragon Ball GT series, because movies are essentially alternate universe versions of the manga’s story and Dragon Ball GT are non-canon (containing 100% filler).
I also chose Dragon Ball Z Kai instead of Dragon Ball Z because it has fewer episode and fewer fillers and the animation is newer.
How to Watch Dragon Ball Without fillers
Watch episodes 1-28
Skip episode 29-33
Watch episodes 34-41
Skip episode 42
Watch episodes 43-44
Skip episode 45
Watch episodes 46-78
Skip episodes 79-83
Watch episodes 84-126
Skip episodes 127-132
Watch episodes 133-148
Skip episodes 149-153
Total time saved in %: ~15%, ~7.6 hours
How to Watch Dragon Ball Z Kai Without Fillers
Skip episodes 7, 58, 73, 101, 129, 159, 165
Total time saved in %: ~4%, ~2.3 hours
How to Watch Dragon Ball Super Without Fillers
Watch episodes 1-2
Skip episode 3-4
Watch episodes 5-9
Skip episode 10-11
Watch episodes 12-14
Skip episode 15-17
Watch episodes 18-29
Skip episode 30
Watch episodes 31-41
Skip episodes 42-46
Watch episodes 47-51
Skip episode 52
Watch episodes 53-67
Skip episode 68-76
Watch episodes 77-89
Skip episode 90-91
Watch episodes 92-131
Total time saved in %: ~19%, ~8.3 hours