Where To Start Watching Dragon Ball

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Dragon Ball is a massive anime franchise comprised of over 800 episodes, 20 movies, and five different series, with a cast of hundreds of characters. Starting the iconic series now can be daunting, but it’s worth the effort to appreciate the impact that creator Akira Toriyama has had on not just anime, but pop culture.

Debuting in 1986, Dragon Ball aired until 1989, at which time the legendary Dragon Ball Z took over following an in-universe time jump of five years. One of the greatest anime shows of all time, the second series lasted from 1989 until 1996, followed briefly by Dragon Ball GT (which is non-canonical, it can and should be ignored). Dragon Ball Super is the most recent, airing from 2015 to 2018, but it quickly gets even more complicated.

Dragon Ball Is Only For Completionists

Dragon Ball

Dragon Ball introduces characters that last for the entire franchise, including Goku, Bulma, Chi-Chi, Yamcha, Piccolo, Krillin, Tien, and Master Rochi. Played as a comedy for the majority of its 153-episode run, it’s not until the final two sages, King Piccolo and Piccolo Junior (spanning episodes 102-153 together), that the show takes itself seriously. Despite introducing classic characters and the concept of summoning the wish-granting dragon Shenron by assembling the Dragon Balls, the first series can be skipped.

If you choose to start with the original Dragon Ball, don’t be shocked at some of the franchise’s most iconic parts being strangely absent. There’s no Vegeta, no Gohan, and most importantly, no Super Saiyans.

Dragon Ball Z Is A Great Starting Point But There’s A Catch

Dragon Ball Z

Picking up years after the end of Dragon Ball, the second series is arguably the greatest anime of all time. Not only did it add more dimensions to the existing characters, most notably in turning Piccolo into a staunch ally (mostly), but it added Goku’s son, Gohan, the fan-favorite Vegeta, it introduces the concept of Saiyans.

Dragon Ball Z is worth watching to enjoy great battles and the most iconic moment in anime history when Goku transforms into a Super Saiyan for the first time. The problem is that there’s one filler for every three amazing episodes, so while this is a great starting point, there’s a better option.

Dragon Ball Z Kai Is Nearly The Perfect Anime

Dragon Ball Z Kai

An abridged version of Dragon Ball Z, now animated in HD with digitally enhanced voice-acting, Dragon Ball Z Kai cuts out all of the filler episodes. The difference is 124 episodes cut out of the HD abridged version, making it significantly easier to binge-watch while still including everything that made the series an instant classic.

Both versions are incredible, but given the animation improvements and the removal of filler episodes, we give the edge to Dragon Ball Z Kai as the best place to start watching not just Dragon Ball but anime in general.

Dragon Ball Super Introduces A Multiverse

Dragon Ball Super

Though technically, Dragon Ball Super can be enjoyed by itself, much as with the current MCU Multiverse Saga, the callbacks and homages can be better appreciated after watching Dragon Ball Z (or Kai). The world of Dragon Ball increased exponentially during Super’s run, introducing the God of Destruction, a Super Saiyan God, and a tournament arc fought for the fate of entire universes.

With the highest stakes and most destructive battles yet, Dragon Ball Super brings the franchise’s constant escalation to a multiverse. The worst (or best) villains in the franchise’s history come back for revenge, but with no new episodes since 2018, the anime is now lagging behind the manga, though there’s hope that more episodes will arrive someday, nothing official has been announced.

The Dragon Ball Super Movies

Dragon Ball Super Broly

Though Dragon Ball Super is still off the air, the franchise is still going forward, with 2019’s Dragon Ball Super: Broly and 2022’s Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. Each expands from the current ending of the series, with the first film bringing Broly into the canon while the second shines a spotlight on Gohan and Piccolo.

Once you’re done with Dragon Ball Super, both moves are essential viewing that set the stage for whatever comes next for the franchise. The latest film brought with it a new animation style, and Toei Animation has hinted that new material is working through the pipeline, so it could be any day now when a new season is announced.

The Non-Canonical Dragon Ball Shows And Movies

Dragon Ball GT

Without the careful guidance of Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball GT suffered by regressing Goku back to being a kid, which is only the first of many sins committed by this misguided attempt at a sequel series. It’s not all horrible, but because it has no lasting impact on the franchise and in fact, created a fan backlash so strong that Dragon Ball Z Kai was developed, it’s easily skippable.

Similarly, Dragon Ball Z: Bardock and Dragon Ball Z; The History of Trunks, are fun movies that suffer by not being part of the canon. Bardock is an unofficial prologue about Goku’s father, while Trunks is a dark alternate-future story that was invalidated by time-travel shenanigans.

No matter where you start with Dragon Ball, it’s one of the greatest animes ever made for a reason, and it’s well worth your time. Akira Toriyama’s classic is the perfect gateway to the world of anime.

Just don’t watch Dragonball Evolution, the live-action movie that everyone wants to forget.