Akira Toriyama, creator of the Dragon Ball, Sand Land, and Dr. Slump manga and the character designer for Dragon Quest and other video games, died on March 1 at the age of 69. The news was announced in a letter from his design and production studio, Bird Studio. The cause of death was given as “acute subdural hematoma,” and his family held a private funeral and requested that no gifts or flowers be sent.

“It’s our deep regret that he still had several works in the middle of creation with great enthusiasm,” the letter said. “Also, he would have many more things to achieve.”

As the creator of two best-selling series, Toriyama was hugely influential in Japan, and many manga-ka cite him as a significant influence on their work. In North America, Dragon Ball was an early hit and helped expand the audience for manga and anime to include teens.

Toriyama was born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1955 and studied graphic design in high school, eschewing college for a job with a local ad agency. His first published manga was Wonder Island, which appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1978, and over the next two years several more of his stories appeared in the magazine (these were later collected and published in English by VIZ Media under the title Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater).

In 1980, Toriyama came up with a goofy comedy manga about an inventor who creates a super-strong robot girl. The series ran for five years in Weekly Shonen Jump, and both the manga and the anime adaptation were massive hits. In Manga! Manga!, scholar Frederick Schodt writes that Toriyama’s income in 1981, when he was 27, was over $2.4 million, and in 1982, the series won the Shogakukan Manga Award.

Dr Slump made Toriyama a star, but Dragon Ball made him a superstar. As his editor, Kazuhiko Torishima, told the story in a 2016 interview with Forbes, Toriyama decided he wanted to move on from Dr Slumpabout six months after it launched, but it was the most popular manga in Shonen Jump and his editors didn’t want him to quit unless he came up with something even better. Torishima suggested a kung fu series, since Toriyama liked to watch kung fu movies while he worked, and this eventually evolved into Dragon Ball, which Torishima described as a “road movie” based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West. The series ran in Shonen Jump from 1984 to 1995 and was collected into 42 volumes. It is one of the top selling manga of all time, with over 260 million volumes sold throughout the world. It was also adapted into two very successful anime series, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. The different titles reflect a change in tone, as the manga started out with a lot of gags and slapstick humor but eventually evolved into a more action-focused story.

Toriyama also drew several one-shot manga over the years, including Cowa, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman(a prequel of sorts to Dragon Ball), and Sand Land, which has just been adapted into a new anime (see “Manga Week: A Look at Spring 2024 Anime”). He provided story ideas for the Dragon Ball Super manga, which was drawn by Toyotarou (see “Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super’ Vol. 1”).

In addition to manga, Toriyama was a character designer for several video games, including Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, Blue Dragon, and Jump Force.

VIZ began publishing Dragon Ball in English in 1998, and from the beginning it was left unflipped because Toriyama preferred it that way (see “Manga Right to Left—Will It Fly?”). That same year, the anime, which was licensed by Funimation, began running on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, and it became one of their top series (see “Dragonball Z: Still on Top”).

Dragon Ball was one of the first teen-oriented manga and anime series to be licensed in North America, and it helped usher in the manga boom of the early 2000s; when VIZ launched its weekly Shonen Jump magazine, Dragon Ball was the headline title. Over two decades later, Dragon Ball and its spinoffs continue to be one of the most popular manga properties in English (see "ICv2 Top Graphic Novel Franchises, Summer 2023").