When people ask what are the core Dragon Ball anime series out there, most people would answer "Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and Dragon Ball Super." That's the typical answer, and they leave it at that. However, this response leaves out one very bizarre entry in the Dragon Ball franchise: Super Dragon Ball Heroes.
This original net animation (or ONA) is an animated web-series based on the Japanese arcade game of the same name. Super Dragon Ball Heroes features a great deal of time travel shenanigans and inter-dimensional reality hopping. With currently two seasons and seventeen episodes, it isn't exactly a long-runner like its counter-parts but remains one of the strangest entries in the Dragon Ball canon. So what is it? Is it canon? All these questions and more explained!
What is Super Dragon Ball Heroes?
If you live outside Japan, you probably never saw the arcade game Dragon Ball Heroes, a fairly popular card-based fighting game. The game first launched in 2010, and would later be re-christened as Super Dragon Ball Heroes in 2016. Players create an avatar, drawing from one of the eight races core races in the Dragon Ball franchise: Humans, Saiyans, Namekians, Friezas, Androids, Majins, Demons, and Kais. Then, you collect a team of fighters and abilities, drawing from throughout Dragon Ball history, and you play.
While the game has very little presence in the West, it drew attention online due to its multiple fan-fic styled animated trailers and in-game cinematic sequences for the game in Japan, featuring crossovers and references to fan-favorite characters in stunning animation. In the pre-Super era, for many fans, this was the newest content we'd receive!
The game has been ported to the Nintendo 3DS and Switch multiple times since its release. Its adaptations have also included multiple mangas over the years, mostly short runs, and the ONA Super Dragon Ball Heroes.
How the First Arc of Super Dragon Ball Heroes Overlaps With Dragon Ball Xenoverse
To understand Super Dragon Ball Heroes, however, you need to understand the world of Dragon Ball Online, a Japan-only MMORPG for Dragon Ball, as well as Dragon Ball Xenoverse. Or, at least, the idea of the Time Patrol and Future Trunks. While in Dragon Ball Super, we learn that time travel is a taboo, in Xenoverse, there's the Supreme Kai of Time, Chronoa, who governs the laws of time travel, organizing a group of warriors to travel throughout the multiverse and time to right wrongs as they occur in the flow of space-time. While the most notable of these members is Future Trunks, the team consists of various custom characters.
Super Dragon Ball Heroes features multiple arcs in-game that bring in the Time Patrol as core features to the plot -- including the first arc: the Prison Planet Arc. In it, Trunks is captured by Frieza's brother, Cooler, and brought to a prison planet. Goku and Vegeta, who in our timeline are training on Beerus's world when the future counter-part of Mai (who in the Goku Black arc we learn is in a relationship with Trunks) reveals Trunks has been captured. It's soon after that Goku and Vegeta meet Fu, an enigmatic Kai-esque time criminal, Cunber, a Saiyan criminal, and the two Time Patrol officers: Xeno Goku and Xeno Vegeta.
These alternate versions of Goku and Vegeta differ in two core respects: they matured and calmed down considerably as time officers and can both transform into a Super Saiyan 4 -- the first appearance of Super Saiyan 4 in animation since Dragon Ball GT.
The Prison Planet Arc and Universal Conflict Arc
The Prison Planet Arc, lasting a short six episodes, starts off the plot of Super Dragon Ball Super, but it is far from its end. The arc leads into the Universal Conflict Arc, which incorporates the other universes from Dragon Ball Super into this fan-fiction fuel. It turns out that Cunber, the evil Saiyan criminal responsible for most of what happens in the Prison Planet Arc, is actually just one member of a cabal of villains assembled by a villain named Hearts, who plans on eradicating Zeno, the God Above All, and his counterpart from reality.
Some of Hearts' personal henchmen include a cybernetic fused Zamasu. The conflict pits him against the vast majority of the Universes assembled throughout the Universal Survival Arc, including Super's Hit and Jiren. Due to the presence of Jiren, it's safe to assume that all of Super Dragon Ball Heroes takes place after Dragon Ball Super.
The Appeal (and Problems) with Super Dragon Ball Heroes
Despite starting in 2018, there are only seventeen episodes of the series out. This is because the short episodes release on a sporadic basis, with sometimes weeks or even months between new releases. The entire series up until this point can be watched within two hours. This isn't a particularly long series, and, when watched in short succession, can be a fun experience for Dragon Ball fans looking for a wild fanfiction fueled saga.
But for those who intend on watching the series as each episode comes out, there is little motivation to watch. Each episode is incredibly superficial and silly. They consist primarily of featuring characters punching one another in a silly, intense fashion. And due to the sluggish release schedules, you're often left waiting weeks -- even months -- for a new episode that will ultimately feature little plot or character growth.
Needless to say, none of it is canon. While it takes place post-Super, it probably won't affect whenever anything new comes out in Super, much in the same way that Xenoverse didn't affect Super's plot. Everything feels as if there are no lasting consequences on either the characters or world, despite the high-stakes of "Slaying Gods themselves" coming up. On top of that, the fanfiction-fueled, nostalgic elements of the early series -- Cooler returning, Super Saiyan 4 returning -- fizzles out in the second arc, which focuses primarily on Super characters.
But What About the Manga?
However, if you can read the Dragon Ball Heroes manga, this is far, far more the sort of insane content that might capture your imaginations. The manga, which consists of multiple spin-off series, each focuses on different story-arcs correlating to Dragon Ball Heroes. The events of the ONA are covered in Dragon Ball Heroes: Universe Mission, but the real fun comes in some of the earlier volumes. Dragon Ball Heroes: Dark Demon Realm Mission features the Time Patrol meeting Xeno Goku and Xeno Vegeta for the first time against the enigmatic demonic villain Mechikabura. It reads as a direct prequel to the events of Universe Mission and the ONA.
If you want to see, however, the silly potential that Dragon Ball Heroes can offer, read Dragon Ball Heroes: Victory Mission. This is the first manga in the series published -- and the least connected to the ONA. The manga starts out with original characters fighting a baby-Janemba, and it just gets zanier and more illogical from there. Nothing makes sense, but it never tries to make sense, either.