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Who Can Beat Goku? The Monumental Legacy of Akira Toriyama

by Grant Jones,

On March 1, 2024, Akira Toriyama passed away. He was a husband, a father, and a friend to many. Those closest to him – including many of his industry peers – have shared fond memories of their interactions and deep sadness at his passing. To be loved in life and mourned in death by those nearest us is often the greatest legacy many can hope for, and Akira Toriyama achieved that without question.

Even beyond this, Akira Toriyama was known to many around the world for his expansive body of work. He was a mangaka of great renown, whose art and stories entertained millions worldwide for nearly half a century. Listing them is almost comically unnecessary – Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest to name just a few (!) – because you either intimately know them, know of them, or know a work inspired by them. The river of Toriyama's creativity has tributaries across continents and languages, flowing through our communities and hearts.

Like many others, I was formally introduced to his work via Dragon Ball on Cartoon Network's Toonami block in the '90s. I had already been an anime fan for a few years before this, thanks to Sci Fi Channel's Saturday Anime and local video rental stores, all of which had created an obsession with seeing as much anime as I possibly could. But when Dragon Ball hit, it was like being struck by lightning. I had seen glimpses of his work before when playing Chrono Trigger on the SNES, but this was something different. Anime had been my passion; Dragon Ball became my life. Toriyama's tales of cosmic warriors had me rushing home from school every day, desperate to see what happened next – even if Toonami had looped back to episode one again and I already knew (three times over).

This began a lifelong passion that continues to the present day. I theorized about new transformations and villains with friends. In my spare time, I drew the characters, wrote my own stories, and ran role-playing games in the universe. I collected figures and cards and taped the movies off TV. I played video games and wore the T-shirts, watched the AMVs, and memorized special attack names.

My story is not unique. If the outpouring of love and mourning from across the world has shown us anything, it is that Akira Toriyama's works have touched the lives of millions. People of all ages, languages, backgrounds, and countries love these stories. When we laugh at Arale's hijinks together, we share the same joy. When we set out as the Heroes of Dragon Quest, we look to the same horizon.


When we shout Kamehameha, we speak the same tongue.

Such a lasting impact is hard to process and harder still to quantify. The scale of his work and impact is truly massive. "Can they beat Goku?" is a perennial argument on playgrounds around the world. His loss has sparked times of mourning in national governments and been recognized by heads of state. It's hard to find one aspect of his work that hasn't become a lasting trope, inspired another creator, or permanently entered the popular lexicon. Akira Toriyama mentored entire generations of creatives who came after him, and his success challenged his peers to up their game and keep pace with his incredible work.

What's more, any one aspect of his craft is enough to build a successful career. Akira Toriyama created perhaps the most successful and iconic fighting comic in history, with animated adaptations galore. He made gag manga, spinoffs, and one-shots that show a honed sense of comic timing. He created the visual identity for one of the most influential video game series of all time. He was an incredible character designer who possessed an amazing sense of action flow and the language of sequential art. His mechanical designs and architectural work somehow evoke a believable, fantastical realism. His writing, pacing, and story beats were so successful that it's hard to find a similar work that hasn't borrowed from his bag of tricks in some shape or form.

In some sense, Akira Toriyama's passing can feel like an insurmountable sorrow. How can we come to terms with the person we have lost? A titan in the creative space who brought the world together in a shared love of action, art, and comedy. A man whose influence impacts so many people in so many visible and invisible ways. And what are we to do, as fellow creators who want to impact the world with our work? He changed the lives of tens of millions of people - how can we measure up to that kind of legacy, even a little bit? How can you compete with that? That kind of influence and creativity can seem nearly divine. You can't measure up to Akira Toriyamano one can beat Goku, it seems.

But that's not the point, is it?

Akira Toriyama's work was a river with many tributaries, but rivers have their source too. Akira Toriyama was inspired by the works of amazing mangaka like Osamu Tezuka. Dragon Ball, his most famous work, is a grand riff on Journey to the West and Chinese storytelling. He loved kung fu movies and 80s action flicks, pro-wrestling and comics. Akira Toriyama's work was unmistakably his own, yet it was also a grand mixture of his many loves in life. He was as human as you or I – an admitted procrastinator who turned in work right at the deadline, forgot about story beats and characters he had created, and came up with plenty of ideas out of necessity rather than some divine inspiration. Even the gods have feet of clay.

It doesn't matter who can beat who. That was never the point. Akira Toriyama was once just another artist trying his hand with a pen, telling stories where Sun Wukong ran around with Frankenstein's monster and the Terminator while spouting puns. Just as you are trying your hand at your craft and working to find your voice apart from your influences. Goku didn't care who could beat him, either. His response to challengers was, "Wow, you're strong – let's train together!" Iron sharpens iron. Drive matters more than dominance.


Thank you, Akira Toriyama. I will keep working on my craft, training myself to be better than yesterday. And I will never forget the impact your work had on my life or how it connected me to others. Rest in peace.

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