Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z are amongst the biggest anime to ever exist in the history of anime. Both series were the Shonen anime during their heyday, and for years after Dragon Ball Z ended, it remained king of its genre. Even Dragon Ball Super topped charts, so it can easily be said that Akira Toriyama's hit franchise is the shining example of popular action anime, a beacon for other series to follow. And follow they did, as Dragon Ball established countless tropes of the Shonen/action genre, tropes that are still used to this day. Suffice to say, if an anime is looking to make it big, Dragon Ball is the goal to strive towards, which begs the question, which Anime are on the level of the quintessential franchise?
Perhaps it's unfair to compare other anime, especially other Shonen anime, to Dragon Ball, since it's arguably the biggest franchise ever, but there has still been a ton of anime that have taken Japan and the rest of the world by storm, even if it was for a short time. Some of these anime are still running today, achieving levels of popularity comparable to or exceeding those of Dragon Ball Z. Maybe this is because anime is far more accessible these days, but a hit's a hit. This is why we wanted to gather up and list all the great anime that could have, at one point, been considered the "new Dragon Ball" of their time in some way, shape or form — be it because they were as popular as Dragon Ball, or because they had similar elements to it.
20 MY HERO ACADEMIA
Starting off, we have what is, without a doubt, the current most popular Shonen anime, My Hero Academia. The anime follows Izuku "Deku" Midoriya, a teenager born without superpowers in a world where having one is the norm. Luckily, his dream to become a hero is rekindled when his favorite hero, All Might, passes his power down to him so that he can attend an academy for superheroes.
With superhero films still dominating the box office, it's no wonder Koehei Horikoshi's My Hero Academia popularity skyrocketed both in Japan and in this US. My Hero Academia has a massive following, complete with tons of fan art and cosplayers that cement it as the Dragon Ball of modern day.
19 ONE-PUNCH MAN
Being a satire of action anime, One-Punch Man could be considered the peak Shonen anime, as it addresses all the tropes established by Dragon Ball and subverts them to form the ultimate deconstruction of the genre that still manages to entertain us and blow us away with epic battles.
While it might not have the popularity that Dragon Ball ever had, the series is a subversion of Shonen protagonists like Goku, and thus it is, in many ways, a modern Dragon Ball Z. Perhaps not literally of course, since that title probably goes to Dragon Ball Super, but One-Punch Man is the modernization of the many tropes that Dragon Ball created, reaching the same levels of epic action that Toriyama's series did.
18 GURREN LAGANN
Another anime steeped in both satire and awesome action is Gurren Lagann, a deconstruction of both the Shonen and mecha genres. Gurren Lagann might not have the same clout as some bigger, longer-running anime, but it reaches the same levels as anime like Dragon Ball in its approach to the usual Shonen themes of never giving up and fighting for your friends.
In the same way, Goku has always pushed through to the end, gaining strength from his friends to save them, Simone and his friends push their fighting spirit to the limit and show their enemies what real power is. They defeat the final villain with their stubborn humanity, giving us the same feels like the most epic parts of Dragon Ball Z.
17 KILL LA KILL
Next up is Kill La Kill, which, like Gurren Lagann (from the same creators), is a combination of Shonen tropes and satire of a specific genre. Instead of mecha, Kill La Kill subverts the Magical Girl genre, taking the magic outfit idea and cranking the craziness dial up to 11, turning this story of revenge into an awesome series of battles on the same level as Dragon Ball Z.
Kill La Kill didn't reach Dragon Ball levels of popularity, but it did reach the same levels of action, as some of the battles within the series top even the most noteworthy battles of Dragon Ball Z, and just like Gurren Lagann, this anime evokes those Dragon Ball Z-esque feelings of never giving up.
Gintama might be best described as one of the longest-running anime you've never heard of, since the series just ended its tenth season, but its name isn't quite as well-known as the likes of One Piece or Fairy Tail. The series takes place in an alternate-history in which Japan was taken over by aliens and follows Gintoki Sakata, a samurai who works for hire to pay his rent.
It's a bit of an odd setup that lends itself to some awesome and fun adventures, and while the series has not hit as hard as other Shonen anime, it's still going with over 350 episodes under its belt. That is longer than both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z individually, putting Gintama in the same tier.
15 ATTACK ON TITAN
The hype of Attack on Titan has definitely died down since the anime's first season, but there's no denying how big the series was in the first year it came out. Attack On Titan had a following to match The Walking Dead, and the merchandise was everywhere in America, two facts that are enough to place the series on the same level as Dragon Ball in terms of popularity, especially in America.
While the second and third seasons of Attack on Titan have not been as well-received as the first one, there was still a point in time when it was one of the biggest pieces of pop culture in the world, a status that was held by Dragon Ball Z for quite some time.
14 FAIRY TAIL
Fairy Tail is somewhere in between One Piece and Dragon Ball Z, since the world, story and characters have a lot of elements in common with them and because its episode count and popularity are right up there with the Shonen greats.
The series follows Natsu Dragneel, a fire-powered wizard from the Fairy Tail guild who has a strange origin like Goku, and is surrounded by powerful friends and foes like Luffy. This leads to wild adventures that usually end in some final villain with a number of different forms and levels to their magic. If that doesn't sound enough like Dragon Ball Z, then perhaps the series' almost 300 episode count will convince you that it's on the same level.
13 SAILOR MOON
Sailor Moon is the series that, like Dragon Ball needs no further praise or introduction. The anime's name alone is one of the most recognizable in all of pop culture, standing shoulder to shoulder with Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon as the biggest anime to hit American audiences.
While Sailor Moon is more of a Shojo/magical girl anime than a typical Shonen anime, but it still has a lot in common with the likes of Dragon Ball. They are both massive franchises that continue to be popular to this day and both are responsible for establishing a number of tropes within their respective genres.
12 JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE
It's very hard to categorize JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, since it is easily one of the most, well, bizarre anime series to ever come out. The best way to describe JoJo is that it's a multi-generational tale of family wars, punching, manliness, and friendship that spans across a few different genres with each season, and even that's just scratching the surface of this ridiculous series.
While JoJo might be an anime that's too weird for even Dragon Ball fans, it definitely has the same clout amongst its own fans. Perhaps a good way to describe JoJo is as the Dragon Ball of weird action anime, and like Dragon Ball, you kind of just have to watch to really get it.
For nearly a decade, Tite Kubo's Bleach was considered part of Shonen Jump's "Big Three," standing alongside mega-hits Naruto and One Piece as the magazine's most popular series. While the series' popularity died down due to dropping quality and repetitive plots, there was a time where the series was on the same tier as Dragon Ball and its successors.
Bleach ended a few years ago, but during its first three story arcs, the series reached Dragon Ball Z levels of popularity, both as a manga and an anime, and hit the same high points of storytelling and action as Akira Toriyama's hit franchise. Bleach's fall from grace was disappointing, but at its highest point, it was the king of manga and anime.
10 YU YU HAKUSHO
There are a lot of ways that Yu Yu Hakusho, both the manga and the anime, could be compared to Dragon Ball; both series combine folklore elements with action and adventure, both have major tournament arcs, and the protagonists of both series are known for their signature blue-energy-beam attacks. Beyond these similarities, both the anime shows and the mangas had their heyday and both are seen as classics of the Shonen genre.
Yu Yu Hakusho is perhaps one of the shorter Shonen anime series, but it was also one of the few anime shown in America around the same time as Dragon Ball Z, putting it in the same category as it, since it was many people's early exposure to the medium.
9 HUNTER X HUNTER
From the same creator of Yu Yu Hakusho, HunterXHunter captures the same fun adventure feel of the original Dragon Ball series while still having the awesome high-octane action energy as Dragon Ball Z. The series follows Gon, a young protagonist much like Goku, right down to the spiky hair and crazy power, as he aims to become a great Hunter like his father.
There are a lot of comparisons that put HunterXHunter in the same story category as Dragon Ball, and the series' massive popularity and long manga chapter count definitely put it up there with the Shonen greats, despite the anime lasting as long as the likes of Naruto or One Piece.
One thing that can rocket an anime or manga into the top tier of popularity is a tie-in product, specifically a product that exists within the world of the series, and not just normal merch with the characters faces slapped on. There are three specific anime with this kind of setup, and Yu-Gi-Oh! is one of them, since the card-game is still popular to this day, though perhaps not as much as it once was.
The Yu-Gi-Oh! card game is undoubtedly more popular than any table-top Dragon Ball game and the franchise has resulted in seven different spin-off anime, which we think is enough to put the entire Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise on the same level of the Dragon Ball franchise.
Another anime in the category that has major merchandise lines is Pokémon, which itself is based on the game series. As a whole, the Pokémon franchise could easily be considered bigger than Dragon Ball. In fact, it's probably the only franchise on this list that is bigger than Dragon Ball, since it's the most accessible, most iconic piece of Japanese pop culture to spread to the whole world.
However, the Pokémon anime on its own is not quite as popular as the games of the franchise, though that could be up for debate. That said since it's tied to a massive franchise, Pokémon is right up there with Dragon Ball as one of the most popular pieces of Japanese pop culture.
Though it was never quite as successful as Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Digimon franchise is nothing to scoff at. Spanning eight different anime series and a number of video games and toy lines, Digimon is one of the most noteworthy franchises to come out of Japan.
While Digimon is far from the powerhouse that Dragon Ball is, there's no denying its success, especially considering its many anime series, the first of which was a smash hit during its time. All things considered, the entire Digimon franchise has had some series high points that put it close to the level of the biggest anime out there.
5 GUNDAM FRANCHISE
Though it wasn't the first Mecha series to come out, the Gundam franchise quickly became synonymous with the mecha genre, spanning 20 TV shows, almost as many films and OVAs and spawning hundreds of model kits and figures. If Dragon Ball is the pinnacle of the Shonen genre, then Gundam is the pinnacle of the mecha genre, standing as the biggest franchise in the category.
In other words, Gundam is the Dragon Ball of mecha, since it's the most popular and most successful anime in its genre and one of the biggest anime franchises overall. Even if you're not a mecha anime fan, you still know the name Gundam, that's how huge it is.
Inuyasha has a lot of Shonen elements similar to Dragon Ball, and while the series has nowhere near the same popularity as Dragon Ball, it has achieved Dragon Ball levels in other ways. Specifically, Inuyasha has a lot of journey/adventure aspects that make it comparable to the original Dragon Ball.
Inuyasha also had some of the coolest villains and fights that, while not on the same excitement and action scale as Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, definitely get a ton of points for creativity. Another way in which Inuyasha stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Dragon Ball was in its broadcast, since both series gained popularity in America through Cartoon Network broadcasts.
3 SEVEN DEADLY SINS
This is one of the most recent anime on our list, but in the short time since it first premiered, The Seven Deadly Sins has become one of the most popular Shonen anime around, standing as a popular manga series even before its anime adaptation. Thanks to being broadcast on Netflix, The Seven Deadly Sins blew up, and despite the long wait between seasons, it is shaping up to be one of the biggest modern Shonen anime series.
Who's to say where the series' popularity is headed, but while it might not surpass the height of Dragon Ball, The Seven Deadly Sins stands on the same tier of Shonen greats when it comes to its amazing action, strange protagonists and awesome fantasy worldbuilding.
It goes without saying that Naruto is one of the biggest anime of all time, and it's no stretch to claim that it was the Dragon Ball of the 2000s. Naruto took America by storm in much the same way that Dragon Ball Z did, and the series continued to be a smash hit during its final seasons.
Naruto was one of Shonen Jump's big three, possibly the biggest of the big three, and though its popularity dropped a bit during the second half of the anime, there's no doubt it reigned supreme for a time. On top of seeing the same amount of success and popularity as Dragon Ball, Naruto's fights, themes and pacing all hit as hard and sometimes harder than Toriyama's series.
1 ONE PIECE
Last but not least, there's One Piece, the only one of Shonen Jump's "big three" still going strong today. One Piece's chapter count is now in the 900s and the anime has surpassed 850 episodes, two milestones that are far beyond anything Dragon Ball ever reached, even with the inclusion of Dragon Ball Super. Now that's impressive.
One Piece's popularity has gone up and down over the years, but it remains steady, which paints it as the current king of Shonen manga and anime, a pirate version of Dragon Ball that continues to this day. That's a forced way of putting it, obviously, but it's not a stretch to say that One Piece has reached, and has even surpassed Dragon Ball levels of popularity and success.