Akira Toriyama was born in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan. He has recalled that when he was in elementary school all of his classmates drew, imitating anime and manga, as a result of not having many forms of entertainment. He believes that he began to advance above everyone else when he started drawing pictures of his friends, and after winning a prize at the local art studio for a picture of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, began to think "art was fun".
Before becoming a manga artist, he worked at an advertising agency in Nagoya designing posters for three years. After quitting his previous job, Toriyama entered the manga industry by submitting a work to an amateur contest in a Jump magazine in order to win the prize money. While it did not win, Kazuhiko Torishima, who would later become his editor, contacted him and gave him encouragement. His debut came later in 1978 with the story Wonder Island, which was published in Weekly Shōnen Jump. However, he did not rise to popularity until the comedy series Dr. Slump, which was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1980 to 1984. It follows the adventures of a perverted professor and his small but super-strong robot Arale. He began the series at age 25 while living at home with his parents, but when the series ended in 1984 he was a "manga superstar". In 1981, Dr. Slump earned him the Shogakukan Manga Award for best shōnen or shōjo manga series of the year. A very successful anime adaptation aired on TV from 1981 to 1986, with a remake series airing from 1997 to 1999. By 2008, the manga had sold over 35 million copies in Japan.
In 1984, Weekly Shōnen Jump began serializing Toriyama's Dragon Ball, which became an instant hit. To date it has sold over 156 million copies in Japan alone, making it Shueisha's second best-selling manga of all time. It began as an adventure/gag manga but later turned into a martial arts fighting series, considered by many to be the "most influential shōnen manga". Dragon Ball was one of the main reasons for the magazine's circulation hitting a record high of 6.53 million copies (1995). The series' success encouraged Toriyama to continue working on it from 1984 to 1995. At the series' end, Toriyama said that he asked everyone involved to let him end the manga, so he could "take some new steps in life". During that 11-year period, he produced 519 chapters that were collected into 42 volumes. Moreover, the success of the manga led to five anime adaptations, several animated movies, numerous video games, and mega-merchandising. The third anime adaptation, Dragon Ball GT, was not based on his manga; however, Toriyama was still involved in coming up with the name and designing the main cast. Although the fifth, Dragon Ball Super, is also not based on the manga, Toriyama is credited with its story and character designs. Aside from its popularity in Japan, Dragon Ball was successful internationally as well, including in Europe and North America, with a total of 240 million copies of the manga sold worldwide.
Toriyama's design sense led to a position designing characters for the popular Dragon Quest series of role-playing video games (formerly called Dragon Warrior in North America). He has also served as the character designer for the Super Famicom RPG Chrono Trigger and for the fighting games Tobal No. 1 and Tobal 2 for the PlayStation.
Toriyama's own studio is called Bird Studio, which is a play on his name; "tori" (鳥) meaning "bird". Toriyama does nearly all of the work at Bird Studio himself, and even when he employed an assistant (until 1995, and only one at a time, which is itself rare for manga artists), the assistant did mostly backgrounds. The studio founded in 1983 has produced occasional one-shots, or stand-alone manga that are not serialized, and some other design work. Toriyama's manga after Dragon Ball tend to be short (100–200-page) stories, including Cowa!, Kajika, and Sand Land.
On December 6, 2002, Toriyama made his only promotional appearance in the United States at the launch of Weekly Shōnen Jump's North American counterpart, Shonen Jump, in New York City. Toriyama's Dragon Ball and Sand Land were published in the magazine in the first issue, which also included an in-depth interview with him.
On March 27, 2005, CQ Motors began selling an electric car designed by Toriyama. The one-person QVOLT is part of the company's Choro-Q series of small electric cars, with only 9 being produced. It costs 1,990,000 yen (about $19,000 US), has a top speed of 30 km/h (19 mph) and is available in 5 colors. Designed to look like an American street rod, the QVOLT has a top and a door that are both opened by pulling a cord. Toriyama stated that the car took over a year to design, "but due to my genius mini-model construction skills, I finally arrived at the end of what was a very emotional journey."
He worked on a 2006 one-shot called Cross Epoch, in cooperation with One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda. The story is a short crossover that presents characters from both Dragon Ball and One Piece. Toriyama was the character designer and artist for the 2006 Mistwalker Xbox 360 exclusive RPG Blue Dragon, working with Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu, both of whom he had previously worked with on Chrono Trigger. He announced that his help with the making of the Blue Dragon anime might very well be his final work in anime. In his own words, he said:
The offer to direct an animated version of Blue Dragon came in February of last year . Studio Pierrot approached me regarding it. I knew that Sakaguchi had been working on assembling staff to produce a game, although at the time Blue Dragon hadn't yet been formally announced. According to the materials, it was to be a fantasy world like Lord of the Rings, with a detailed world view and story. This may be my final anime, I'm a little worried (about it). There's incredible pressure, but at the same time, there's a sense of accomplishment – that it's worth doing. Blue Dragon will be a masterpiece, not simply because I'm working hard on it, but because the staff is expecting nothing less.
In 2008, he collaborated with Masakazu Katsura, his good friend and creator of I"s and Zetman, for the Jump SQ one-shot Sachie-chan Good!!. It was published in North America in the free SJ Alpha Yearbook 2013, which was mailed out to annual subscribers of the digital manga magazine Shonen Jump Alpha in December 2012. The two worked together again in 2009, for the three-chapter one-shot Jiya in Weekly Young Jump.
Avex Trax commissioned Toriyama to draw a portrait of pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki; it was printed on the CD of her 2009 single "Rule/Sparkle", which was used as the theme song to the American live-action Dragonball Evolution film. Also in 2009, Toriyama drew a manga titled Delicious Island's Mr. U for Anjō's Rural Society Project, a nonprofit environmental organization that teaches the importance of agriculture and nature to young children. They originally asked him to do the illustrations for a pamphlet, but Toriyama liked the project and decided to expand it into a story. It is included in a booklet about environmental awareness that is distributed by the Anjō city government.
He collaborated with Shōnen Jump to create a video to raise awareness and support for those affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, the series' first theatrical film in 17 years, opened on March 30, 2013 and marks the first time Toriyama has been deeply involved in an animation, in this case as early as the screenwriting stages. A special "dual ticket" that can be used to see both Battle of Gods and One Piece Film: Z was created with new art by both Toriyama and Eiichiro Oda, creator of One Piece.
His one-shot Kintoki, originally published in 2010, was released in North America's online manga anthology Weekly Shonen Jump on January 28, 2013. On March 27, the "Akira Toriyama: The World of Dragon Ball" exhibit opened at the Takashimaya department store in Nihonbashi, garnering 72,000 visitors in its first nineteen days. The exhibit is separated into seven areas. The first provides a look at the series' history, the second shows the 400-plus characters from the series, the third displays Toriyama's manga manuscripts from memorable scenes, the fourth shows special color illustrations, the fifth displays rare Dragon Ball-related materials, the sixth includes design sketches and animation cels from the anime, and the seventh screens Dragon Ball-related videos. It was there until April 15, when it moved to Osaka from April 17 to 23, and ended in Toriyama's native Nagoya from July 27 to September 1. To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Weekly Shōnen Jump, Toriyama launched a new series in its July 13 issue titled Jaco the Galactic Patrolman. Viz Media began serializing it in English in their digital Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, beginning just two days later.
The follow-up film to Battle of Gods, Resurrection 'F' released on April 18, 2015, features even more contributions from Toriyama. He currently contributes to the Dragon Ball Super anime and manga since June 2015.
Toriyama married his wife Yoshimi Katō (加藤由美) on May 2, 1982. She is a former manga artist from Nagoya under the pen name "Nachi Mikami" (みかみなち), and occasionally helped Toriyama and his assistant on Dr. Slump when they were short on time. They have two children; a son named Sasuke (佐助) born on March 23, 1987, and a daughter born in October 1990. Toriyama lives in his home studio in Kiyosu.
Toriyama has a love of cars and motorcycles, something he inherited from his father who used to race motorbikes and operated an auto repair business for a brief time. Although he does not understand the mechanics himself. The author is an animal lover, having kept many different species of birds, dogs, cats, fish, lizards and bugs as pets since childhood. Some were used as models for characters he created such as Karin and Beerus. Toriyama has had a lifelong passion for plastic models, and has designed several for the Fine Molds brand. He also collected autographs of famous manga artists, having over 30 including Yudetamago and Hisashi Eguchi, a hobby he gave to Peasuke Soramame.
Toriyama admires Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy and was impressed by Walt Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which he remembers for its high-quality animation. Jackie Chan's early movies also had a noticeable influence on his stories, particularly Chan's martial arts comedy film Drunken Master. Toriyama stated he was influenced by animator Toyoo Ashida and the anime television series adaptation of his own Dragon Ball; from which he learned that separating colors instead of blending them makes the art cleaner and coloring illustrations easier. It was Toriyama's sound effects in Mysterious Rain Jack that caught the eye of Kazuhiko Torishima, who explained that usually they are written in katakana, but Toriyama used the Roman alphabet which he found refreshing. In his opinion, Torishima stated that Toriyama excels in black and white, utilizing black areas, as a result of not having had the money to buy screentone when he started drawing manga.
Dr. Slump is mainly a comedy series, filled with puns, toilet humor and sexual innuendos. But it also contained many science fiction elements; aliens, anthropomorphic characters, time travel, and parodies of works such as Godzilla, Star Wars and Star Trek. Toriyama also included many real-life people in the series, such as his assistants, wife and colleagues (such as Masakazu Katsura), but most notably his editor Kazuhiko Torishima as the series' main antagonist, Dr. Mashirito.
When Dragon Ball began, it was loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, with Goku being Sun Wukong and Bulma as Xuanzang. Toriyama continued to use his characteristic comedic style in the beginning, but over the course of time this slowly changed, with him turning the series into a "nearly-pure fighting manga" later on. He did not plan out in advance what would happen in the series, instead choosing to draw as he went. This, coupled with him simply forgetting things he had already drawn, caused him to find himself in situations that he had to write himself out of. In a rare 2013 interview, commenting on Dragon Ball's global success, Toriyama admitted, "Frankly, I don't quite understand why it happened. While the manga was being serialized, the only thing I wanted as I kept drawing was to make Japanese boys happy." Speaking of his manga in general, he said, "The role of my manga is to be a work of entertainment through and through. I dare say I don't care even if [my works] have left nothing behind, as long as they have entertained their readers."
Toriyama was commissioned to illustrate the characters and monsters for the first Dragon Quest video game (1986) in order to separate it from other role-playing games of the time. He has since worked on every title in the series. For each game Yuji Horii first sends rough sketches of the characters with their background information to Toriyama, who then re-draws them. Lastly, Horii approves the finished work. Toriyama explained in 1995 that for video games, because the sprites are so small, as long as they have a distinguishing feature so people can tell which character it is, he can make complex designs without concern of having to reproduce it like he usually would in manga. Besides the character and monster designs, Toriyama also does the games' packaging art and, for Dragon Quest VIII, the boats and ships. The series' Slime character, which has become a sort of mascot for the franchise, is considered to be one of the most recognizable figures in gaming.
Manga critic Jason Thompson declared Toriyama's art influential, saying that his "extremely personal and recognizable style" was a reason for Dragon Ball's popularity. He points out that the popular shōnen manga of the late 1980s and early 1990s had "manly" heroes, such as City Hunter and Fist of the North Star, whereas Dragon Ball starred the cartoonish and small Goku, thus starting a trend that Thompson says continues to this day. Toriyama himself said he went against the normal convention that the strongest characters should be the largest in terms of physical size, designing many of the series' most powerful characters with small statures. Thompson concluded his analysis by saying that only Akira Toriyama drew like this at the time and that Dragon Ball is "an action manga drawn by a gag manga artist." However, James S. Yadao, author of The Rough Guide to Manga, points out that an art shift does occur in the series, as the characters gradually "lose the rounded, innocent look that [Toriyama] established in Dr. Slump and gain sharper angles that leap off the page with their energy and intensity."
Thompson stated in 2011 that "Dragon Ball is by far the most influential shonen manga of the last 30 years, and today, almost every Shōnen Jump artist lists it as one of their favorites and lifts from it in various ways." Many manga artists have named Toriyama and Dragon Ball as influences, including One Piece author Eiichiro Oda, Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto, Fairy Tail and Rave author Hiro Mashima, Venus Versus Virus author Atsushi Suzumi, Bleach creator Tite Kubo, Black Cat author Kentaro Yabuki, and Mr. Fullswing author Shinya Suzuki. Ian Jones-Quartey, a producer of the American animated series Steven Universe, is a fan of both Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump, and uses Toriyama's vehicle designs as reference for his own. He also stated that "We're all big Toriyama fans on [Steven Universe], which kind of shows a bit." In 2008, Oricon conducted a poll of people's favorite manga artists, with Toriyama coming in second, only behind Nana author Ai Yazawa. However, he was number one among male respondents and among those over 30 years of age. They held a poll on the Mangaka that Changed the History of Manga in 2010, mangaka being the Japanese word for a manga artist. Toriyama came in second, after only Osamu Tezuka, due to his works being highly influential and popular worldwide. Toriyama won the Special 40th Anniversary Festival Award at the 2013 Angoulême International Comics Festival, honoring his years in cartooning. He actually received the most votes for the festival's Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême award that year; however, the selection committee chose Willem as the recipient. Due to his video game design work, IGN named Toriyama number 74 on their list of the Top 100 Game Creators of All Time.Akira Toriyama: The World (鳥山明 the world, January 10, 1990)Akira Toriyama: The World Special (鳥山明 THE WORLD SPECIAL, September 19, 1990)The World of Akira Toriyama: Akira Toriyama Exhibition (鳥山明の世界 AKIRA TORIYAMA EXHIBITION, 1993)Dragon Ball Daizenshū 1: The Complete Illustrations (ドラゴンボール大全集１ COMPLETE ILLUSTRATIONS, Japan: June 20, 1995; North America: October 21, 2008)Dragon Quest Monsters: Akira Toriyama Illustrations (ドラゴンクエストモンスターズ 鳥山明イラストレーションズ, December 18, 1996)Dragon Quest 25th Anniversary Monster Encyclopedia (ドラゴンクエスト25thアニバーサリー モンスター大図鑑, May 31, 2012)Dragon Ball Chōgashū (ドラゴンボール超画集, May 9, 2013)Akira Toriyama: Dragon Quest Illustrations (鳥山明 ドラゴンクエスト イラストレーションズ, May 27, 2016)Dr. Slump – Arale-chan (Anime television series, 1981–1986) – original concept, based on his manga Dr. SlumpCrusher Joe (1983 film) – space station designDragon Ball (Anime television series, 1986–1989) – original concept, based on the first half of his manga Dragon BallKosuke & Rikimaru: The Dragon of Konpei Island (小助さま力丸さま -コンペイ島の竜-, original video animation, 1988) – direction, script and character designsDragon Quest (Anime television series, 1989–1991) – original character designsDragon Ball Z (Anime television series, 1989–1996) – original concept, based on the second half of Dragon Ball, titlePink: Water Bandit, Rain Bandit (ＰＩＮＫ みずドロボウ あめドロボウ, Pinku Mizu Dorobō Ame Dorobō, 1990 film) – original concept, based on his manga PinkKennosuke-sama (剣之介さま, 1990 film) – original concept, based on his manga of the same nameGo! Go! Ackman (1994 film) – original concept, based on his manga of the same nameImagination Science World Gulliver Boy (Anime television series, 1995) – mechanical designsDragon Ball GT (Anime television series, 1996–1997) – character designs, title and logoDoctor Slump (Anime television series, 1997–1999) – original concept, based on his manga Dr. SlumpDr. Slump: Dr. Mashirito – Abale-chan (Dr.SLUMP Dr.マシリト アバレちゃん, Dokutā Suranpu: Doctor Mashirito Abare-chan, 2007 short film) – based on his manga of the same nameBlue Dragon (Anime television series, 2007–2008) – character designsDragon Ball Kai (Anime television series, 2009–2011, 2014–2015) – original concept, based on the second half of Dragon Ball.Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013 film) – original concept, story and character designsDragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' (2015 film) – original concept, screenplay, character designs and titleDragon Ball Super (Anime television series, 2015–present) – original concept, story concepts, character designs and titleDragon Ball: Shenlong no Nazo (1986) – designed the Kuririan (クリリアン) characterFamicom Jump II: Saikyō no Shichinin (1991) – boss monster designDragon Quest series – character designsDragon Quest Monsters series – character designsChrono Trigger (1995) – character and setting designs. Toriyama also appears in an alternate ending to the game along with the other developers. He and his Bird Studio created anime cut scenes alongside Toei Animation for the 1999 PlayStation remake.Tobal No. 1 (1996) – character designsBlue Dragon (2006) – character designsBlue Dragon: Awakened Shadow (2009) – character designs. Toriyama also voices the character Toripo, which is modeled after his "Toribot" self-insert.Gaist Crusher (2013) – designed the Victory V Dragon (ビクトリー・V龍) character.Chō Soku Henkei Gyrozetter (2013) – designed the Beeman character.Dragon Ball FighterZ (2018) – designed the Android 21 character.Fuel Album (George Tokoro album, 1981) – insert illustration"Fire! Staff Tripper" (燃えよ!フトリッパー, Akira Sakuma single, 1982) – album coverPolkadot Magic (Mami Koyama album, 1984) – album coverHigashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens (1984) – designed the logo for the zoo's koala exhibitApple Pop (アップルポップ, short film shown on Hirake Ponkikki TV show, 1988) – character designsFine Molds (1991) – designed the model maker's mascotSuper Sense Story (Honda road safety brochure, 1991) – character designsV Jump (1994) – designed the magazine's V Dragon (V龍) characterFine Molds (1994) – designed several of their World Fighter Collection line of modelsBitch's Life (art book, 2001) – 1 illustrationShueisha (2002) – designed the Rīdon (リードン) character for the 25th anniversary of Shueisha BunkoToccio the Angel (てんしのトッチオ, Tenshi no Totchio, children's book, 2003) – wrote and illustrated the bookQVOLT (electric car, 2005) – designed the automobileJump Shop (2005) – designed Weekly Shōnen Jump's online shop's Janta (ジャンタ) character"Rule/Sparkle" (Ayumi Hamasaki single, 2006) – an illustration of Ayumi Hamasaki as Son Goku printed on the single's CD and DVDIchigo Dōmei (苺同盟, Chiaki book, 2007) – an illustration of Chiaki for the coverWeekly Shōnen Jump (2009) – designed the magazine's website's Kaizo-kun (KAIZOくん) characterInvade (Jealkb album, 2011) – album coverJourney to the West: Conquering the Demons (2014) – an illustration of Sun Wukong for a poster for the film's Japanese releaseMy Jump (2016) – designed the mobile app's Mai (マイ) and Honbot (ホンボット) characters