Dragon Ball started out in Japan in 1984 as a manga created by Akira Toriyama. The franchise now includes three different anime series, 17 animated feature films, a collectible trading card game, video games, and a live-action film. Dragon Ball's protagonist is Son Goku, who is based off the Monkey King from a folk legend called Sun Wukong. Dragon Ball follows Son Goku from childhood into old age.
The first Dragon Ball anime series debuted in Japan in February 1986 on Fuji Television. The series closely followed the manga that it is based on, but there is also some filler included. The filler was added when the anime started catching up too closely to the manga, and this gave the manga enough time to progress before the anime continued to follow it again. The original Dragon Ball anime had a strong emphasis on comedy.
December 1986 saw the first animated film, Dragon Ball: The Legend of Shenlong, being released to Japanese theaters. This film basically retold the events from the first several episodes of the series. Two more Dragon Ball films were also released: The Sleeping Princess in the Devil's Castle in July 1987 and Mystical Great Adventure in July 1988.
The Dragon Ball anime series ended in Japan in April 1989 after 153 episodes. However, a week later, the sequel series Dragon Ball Z made its debut in Japan. A new series name was given to this series to help emphasize the fact that this series had reduced its emphasis on comedy and its increase in science fiction themes. The first Dragon Ball Z film, Dead Zone, was released in Japanese theaters in July 1989. There ended up being a total of 13 animated films produced and released for Dragon Ball Z. Akira Toriyama brought the Dragon Ball manga to an end in May 1995, and the Dragon Ball Z anime ended its run with 291 episodes in January 1996.
February 1996 saw the premiere of Dragon Ball GT, the final sequel anime in the Dragon Ball series. Unlike the earlier anime, however, this series consisted solely of original storylines written exclusively for the series.
Unfortunately, interest in Dragon Ball was waning in Japan, so the producers felt they had to tweak with the show to regenerate interest. It was decided to return to the original comedy style of Dragon Ball, reintroduce some villains that had not been seen since the original series, a return to a "Dragon Ball quest" storyline, and even a mysterious de-aging of Son Goku. These creative changes did not improve ratings, so the focus of Dragon Ball GT was changed after 16 episodes; the remaining episodes returned to the more action-oriented style of Dragon Ball Z.
In the end, only 64 episodes of Dragon Ball GT were produced. With the continued decline in interest, Dragon Ball GT was canceled; the final first-run episode aired in November 1997.
To commemorate the series' 20th anniversary, a re-working of the first 194 episodes of Dragon Ball Z, known as Dragon Ball Kai in Japan, was produced. This re-worked version removed much of the content in the original Dragon Ball Z anime that wasn't in the original manga, as well as a remastered high definition picture, sound, special effects, and a re-recorded voice track with most of the original voice actors.