Dragon Ball's Goku is a Literal Dragon in the Series' Prototype

When it comes to wildly popular manga and its equally as popular anime adaptations, the Dragon Ball series, featuring the ultimate Super Saiyan warrior named Goku, knows no bounds, but in creator Akira Toriyama’s previous series, Goku’s prototype character, Tangtong, has literal dragon elements that Goku could never lay claim to. Goku might’ve had a monkey tail when he was young, but he’s got nothing on Tangtong’s actual dragon wings!

Related: Dragon Ball's Wildest Spin-Off Introduced Frieza's Twisted Son

Premiering in 1983, one year before the first chapter of Dragon Ball was released, Dragon Boy is considered to be the prototype series for most of what creator Akira Toriyama’s eventual Dragon Ball characters (and stories) would look and feel like. Similar to Dragon BallDragon Boy was loosely based in part on the highly regarded 16th-century tale, Journey to the West, as it incorporated its similar martial arts themes, general esthetics, atmosphere, and select fantastical elements into a story that only ran for two short chapters before more or less morphing into the beginnings of what would become Dragon Ball.

Centering around a young, non-human boy named Tangtong (basically Goku in all but look and name), Dragon Boy sees Tangtong tasked with bringing the Princess of the Flower Country (Bulma’s prototype that looks a bit like Chi-Chi) back to her homeland following a war that has long since ceased. During their travels, Tangtong and his companion are met with various hurdles that force Tangtong to reveal the biggest thing that sets him apart from Goku: his dragon wings.

Hesitant to use his wings consistently, Tangtong only brings them out twice in this short-lived series, but is clearly much better off when using them. Utilized in short bursts for flying (and for carrying the Princess aloft when she won’t walk), Tangtong’s wings also give him a tactical advantage on the battlefield that imbues his punches with some extra “oomph,” as accelerating forward with his wings is shown to easily grant him enough power to knock down a robotic guard in one fell swoop.

Similar to Goku’s iconic monkey tail that's seen throughout Dragon Ball and at the start of its sequel series, Dragon Ball Z, Tangtong’s dragon wings are an element of Dragon Boy’s that Toriyama further explores with Goku, as Toriyama went on to replace Tangtong's unusual dragon wings with Goku's equally as confounding monkey tail. And while it’s unclear if Tangtong is a dragon in human form or a human with dragon parts (it’s mentioned more than once in the series that he isn’t human at the very least), Tangtong's journey of self-realization lives on in the adventures of his spiritual successor, Goku, and the young saiyan's own attempts at figuring out exactly who he is and where he came from.

So while the “dragon” in Dragon Ball might only pertain to the iconic artifacts of the series that summon a wish-granting dragon to the world, Dragon Boy is a manga that took its name literally and ran (flew?) with it. Goku might have been a breakout success right off the bat, but if it wasn't for Tangtong and his dragon wings, fans might never have gotten a manga series that continues to inspire creators to this very day.

Next: Dragon Ball: What's The Deal With Goku's 'Power Pole'?

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