DRAGON BALL is one of Japan’s biggest hits, spawning the gigantic sequel series DRAGON BALL Z. Both are influential manga and anime that have inspired millions, but DRAGON BALL Z feels different in many ways when compared to its predecessor. Enter GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL, a webcomic that pays homage and retains the elements and themes DRAGON BALL created. That leaves us wondering, is GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL a better spiritual sequel than DRAGON BALL Z?

Spoiler Warning: I will be going into spoiler territory for DRAGON BALL/DRAGON BALL Z and GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL.

What is DRAGON BALL?

Firstly, let’s start off by getting to know DRAGON BALL. DRAGON BALL started as a manga created by the big boss of Shonen Manga, Akira Toriyama, in 1984. The manga went under the name DRAGON BALL throughout its run, well into what we consider DRAGON BALL Z. It wasn’t until the creation of the anime where we saw a divide between DRAGON BALL and DRAGON BALL Z. This is due to the stylistic shift the show and manga take. Like DRAGON BALL Z, DRAGON BALL is about the ecstatic, fight-loving Goku. The series follows him throughout his childhood and during his hunt for the dragon balls. The two stories have many of the same characters; Bulma, Krillin, Yamcha, the list goes on. This is a globe-trotting adventure, with Goku’s growth and training as the main focus.

When Z started, the story shifted from witches, large militias, and demon kings to galactic emperors and perfect future androids. Even the fights take a spike. They change from the powerful martial artist who could destroy mountains to aliens who can annihilate a planet with a beam from their pinky finger.

The tone in DRAGON BALL is more light-hearted. The characters are zany and exaggerated. Nothing sums that thought up more than the first wish the eternal dragon grants in the series. It comes from a talking pig wanting a pair of panties. The two are similar but vastly different.

What is GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL?

God Of High School
God Of High School’s main character Mori Jin ready to fight/ Image: Line Webtoon

GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL is a webcomic created by YongJe Park and published initially on Naver Webtoon, with the English translation on Line Webtoon. The story follows Jin Mori and his friends, Han Dae-Wi, the kind but stoic martial artist, and Yoo Mi-Ra, the master swordsman. The three enter a martial arts tournament where participants acquire mystical superpowers called “Borrowed Power.” This is an ability where humans can channel the powers of mythical, fictional, and historical figures. The story then turns into a battle for humanity against gods like Zeus, Odin, and Satan.

The series is packed with glorious fight scenes that find a balance between traditional martial arts fighting and mystical earth shattering abilities on par with JOJO’S BIZZARE ADVENTURE. Each character is thought out and diverse, and the lore draws you in from chapter one.

Is it More Faithful Than DRAGON BALL Z?

Dragon Ball Z
The Z Family/ Image: Funimation

Now I know this is a big claim, but hear me out. DRAGON BALL Z was a part of many peoples childhoods, and I’m no different. We know the steps to the fusion dance and have thrown a Kamehameha in our backyard when no one was looking. What gives me the gall to say that GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL, a series that wasn’t created by Akira and doesn’t even have Goku in it, is a more faithful spiritual sequel? Well, quite a bit when you start peeling each series’ layers.

Mori Jin is Like Goku

Mori and Goku’s characteristic are eerily similar. For example, both love fighting to the degree that it becomes harmful to those around them. Likewise, each character studied martial arts initially from their grandfather, a legend in the martial arts field. Goku learned from Grandpa Gohan, a World Martial Arts Champion. Mori Jin learned from his grandfather Jin Tae-Jin, a man considered the strongest human.

Goku and Mori are master martial artists who win the tournament in their respective worlds. Each story reveals its main characters to be non-human. Goku is a Saiyan, an alien race that grows monkey tails and can turn in to a giant ape. Conversely, Mori turns out to be the Monkey God and one of the Sage Kings of the realms. Its clear Mori was created with Goku in mind. The two have enough differences that they stand as their own unique characters, but we can’t ignore what they have in common. Which leads to the most crucial detail they share. They are based on the Monkey God character from Journey to the West.

Focus on Journey to the West

DRAGON BALL is based on the novel Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng’en and published in 1592. Journey to the West is a one-hundred-chapter book that follows the adventures of the Monkey King, who is sent on a quest to collect Buddhist scriptures. DRAGON BALL mirrors this theme with Goku’s epic quest around the world, and his journey to collect the dragon balls. The Monkey King has two prominent weapons he uses; a flying cloud and a boa staff. Goku uses weapons similar to the Monkey King, like Nimbus, a flying cloud he rides, and his extending boa staff.

In GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL, these same ideas exist. Mori is based on the same Monkey King from the text, his weapon choice is the same with their size shifting boa staff that can grow to the size of a mountain. Instead of transportation, Mori’s cloud is a traveling thunderstorm under his command.

When we get to DBZ, the story loses all of this as it starts to depart from these ideas and into a more Sci-Fi setting. Goku doesn’t need the flying Nimbus, he can fly. He doesn’t need the Extender pole, he can now punch a hole through the mountain. Goku stops being a symbol of the Monkey God as the last physical representation of their connection is lost. Goku’s tail is cut off permanently and he never turns into a great ape again. The ties between both stories matter as DRAGON BALL shifted from an adventure/battle manga to a more strictly battle manga. This loses the crucial element of the journey that connected both stories. However, Mori never loses these elements as they are essential to his character.

Stays with Magic

DRAGON BALL is a story of martial arts and mysticism. It is a world where dinosaurs and witches coexist. GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL keeps true to this feeling all throughout its 400+ chapter run. Magic never leaves and is emphasized throughout the story. Park adds sci-fi elements, like the Mujin Park’s “Wi-Fi” mechanical arm, but is a technology used to replicate peoples borrowed power. As a result, the focus is still on magic. Sci-fi is in the story but never lets it overtake its identity.

Meanwhile, DRAGON BALL Z starts altering the vision of this mystical world. Goku isn’t a magical being or a symbol of the Monkey God. Instead, he is an alien called a Sayian from another planet. Piccolo isn’t a demon, he is a space slug. The dragon balls aren’t divine creations, they are a product of said space slugs. See where I’m getting at? The shift in storytelling isn’t bad, I would argue it is excellent and opens Toriyama to new and endless possibilities. However, it loses a bit of its original identity.

DRAGON BALL Sticks with Technique

Dragon Ball
Goku mid-fight/ Image: Funimation

Certainly one of the strengths of DRAGON BALL is its commitment to martial arts found in the detailed fight sequences throughout the series. The character’s use traditional martial arts, with some mystical skills, they learn in the series and find unique ways to utilize them in their fights. This is a feeling that slowly disappears in DRAGON BALL Z. There are unique powers in the series, like the spirit bomb and instant transmission. The anime has beautifully choreographed fights, like Vegeta’s first fight with Goku. There are glimmers of DRAGON BALL in Z, but they are few and far between. The series focus is on beam attacks that can destroy the earth and the latest power-up that will beat the enemy. It was less about martial art technique and more about punching harder.

GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL emphasis technique throughout the story, even when our three main characters go through their own power spikes. Nothing makes this point ring as true then the current arc of GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL. Mori Jin’s body can’t handle the weight of his full power after an incident with Mujin. To regain his strength, Jin doesn’t just train his body, he focusses on his fighting style. He runs drills where the goal isn’t only to obtain more power but to also sharpen his skills so that he wouldn’t even need his power. He practices strikes and movements in Renewal Taekwondo. Even though everyone around him elevates to god status in power, he stands above the rest because of his diligence in technique. 

Carrying the Legacy!

Is DRAGON BALL Z less impactful or a worse sequel? Absolutely not! It will always stand as one of the pillars of Shonen anime, and it deserves this spot. GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL stands on its own independently of DRAGON BALL, but it still pays homage to the series and carries on the torch Toriyama originally created. Do you agree? Know any other comics or anime that feel like Dragon Ball? Comment and let me know!

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