The Anime That Tried (And Failed) to Piggyback off the Success of Dragon Ball Z

Though Dragon Ball has inspired many imitators, there was one show that tried (and failed) to piggyback off its success. What went wrong?


  • Dragon Ball Z is one of the most popular and recognizable anime series in the world, with a blend of comedy and action that made it a household name.
  • The series draws inspiration from the Chinese folktale Journey to the West, specifically the legendary figure Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King.
  • “Monkey Magic” was an anime adaptation of Journey to the West that aimed to capitalize on Dragon Ball Z’s popularity, but it failed to gain mainstream success and was canceled after airing 13 episodes.



Although it is stating the obvious to the point of sounding like a broken record, Dragon Ball Z is simply one of the most popular anime in the world. So popular is this series that there is a chance that even your grandparents have heard of the franchise and can name a couple of the characters. The blend of comedy high-octane action sequences helped make the franchise into a household name over the past few decades, and with Dragon Ball: Super there are few signs of it slowing down.

With the series being as successful as it has been, it isn’t too surprising that there have been several shows that have sought inspiration (or imitation) in the years since. There was one series, however, that not only tried to mold itself as a new Dragon Ball Z but did so using the very inspiration that would inspire Dragon Ball itself. What is this show, how did it attempt to piggyback off Dragon Ball Z, and what went wrong?

The Legend of Son Goku

Sun Wukong

Though many may be familiar with Dragon Ball, it is less known because it is based on a Chinese folktale known as Journey to the West. In this story The Monkey King – also known as Sun Wukong – is a legendary figure best known for his exploits. He first distinguishes himself by declaring himself the Monkey King, earning the respect of the other monkeys and apes after he went through a waterfall and discovered the “Water Curtain Cave” (Shuilian Dong). After learning Taoist practices, combat, and the secret of immortality from a sage, Sun Wukong becomes incredibly powerful to the point where he catches the attention of the gods. His mischievous pranks eventually annoyed the celestial authorities, who manage to trick him into being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha.

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Sun Wukong remains there for five hundred years until he is freed by the Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang. Once freed, the Monkey King accompanied Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. Sun Wukong used his abilities to protect Xuanzang from various monsters and demons who sought to capture and eat the monk, believing his flesh would grant them immortality. When the story was told to Japanese audiences, Sun Wukong would normally be referred to as Son Goku, and it is here where a young boy would take inspiration for what is arguably his greatest creation.

What is Dragon Ball?

Goku from Dragon Ball as a kid

Though it hardly needs an introduction, for the purpose of this story let’s discuss the history of Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball is a highly popular Japanese anime and manga series created by Akira Toriyama. It was first published as a manga series in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine between 1984 and 1995. The story follows the life and adventures of Son Goku from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts and explores the world in search of the seven orbs known as Dragon Balls. These balls summon a wish-granting dragon when gathered. Along his journey, Goku makes many friends and battles a wide variety of villains, many of whom also seek the Dragon Balls. The Dragon Ball series is divided into two parts.

The first is simply named Dragon Ball, where Goku is a child, and the story is more focused on adventure and humor. The second (and in many ways far more popular) part, named Dragon Ball Z, focuses more on Goku’s adult life. It introduces many new characters (including Goku’s son, Gohan), and shifts towards more serious and dramatic storylines involving threats to the universe. Toriyama based his manga on the aforementioned Journey to the West story, with Sun Wukong being the primary inspiration for Son Goku. Though Dragon Ball started out as a loose interpretation of the famous Chinese story, it would eventually go in a different direction to carve out its own identity. Ironically, once Dragon Ball Z became a worldwide juggernaut and brought more inspiration to Journey to the West, another company saw this as a golden opportunity to make an anime based on the original Journey to the West text while adding elements of what made Dragon Ball Z so popular; Monkey Magic.

What is Monkey Magic?

“Monkey Magic” is an anime adaptation of the aforementioned Journey to the West, and it focuses on the mischievous and powerful character Sun Wukong (renamed ‘Kongo’ for the American dub), also known as the Monkey King. As with the original story, the plot kicks off with the birth of Sun Wukong from a stone, followed by his adventures and feats which include gaining his magical staff (Ruyi Jingu Bang), his impressive combat skills, and his rebellious nature that leads him to challenge and upset the gods.

This series, like many other adaptations, also includes Sun Wukong’s eventual punishment by Buddha (renamed ‘The Guardian’ in America). Unlike most anime at the time, the series is notable for its modern, stylized animation and its humorous, action-packed interpretation of the classic tale. It is also noteworthy that the animation style had a more Western-influenced aesthetic than some other anime series, most likely because this was one of the first anime to be put into production with an international audience in mind.

The decision to use computer animation was chosen because of the success of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation movies (which were causing movie studios to start to abandon their 2D departments), and international music artists like Kintaro were chosen to perform the themes so that there would be little need to change the music for international markets. Select merchandise and a PlayStation game were comissionioned before a single episode aired in anticipation of the eventual worldwide success of the show.

What Went Wrong?

Monkey Magic

Despite noble efforts by everyone involved, attempts to sell the show weren’t extremely successful. Major networks didn’t appear interested, and so the show was sold to syndication networks where it would air at odd times on Saturdays and Sundays (most of the time on local channels that had no established kids programming block). Faced with competition from Fox Kids and Kids WB, Monkey Magic never got the ratings it needed to continue.

The series aired 13 episodes before being canceled. Sadly, it ended just as the actual journey in Journey to the West was getting started, making this single season more of a stretched out prologue rather than a telling of the actual story itself. With the show failing in the ratings and the few bits of merchandise not exactly selling though, the show was canceled and only aired between 1998-1999 (a little bit in 2000 if you count North America). Ultimately, the attempt to piggyback off of Dragon Ball Z failed. The series isn’t available to stream, however, a DVD set containing all 13 episodes (both English and Japanese) have been released by Discotek, so if any anime fans want to see this oddity of a series you have the ability to go to your online site and buy a copy.

Categorías: Anime

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