bulma dragonballs what makes them special

What Actually Are Dragon Balls and Why Are They Special?

Of all the McGuffins in anime, the Dragon Balls are probably one the most iconic. Seven magical spheres that when brought together summon the Eternal Dragon and can grant one wish. Most of the time. But, if you aren’t familiar with all of the nearly 40-years of lore, you might know much about where they come from.

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Here are the secrets of the Dragon Balls.

Why are there 7 Dragon Balls?

One of the reasons there are so many “collect all these severed pieces of something” stories in manga, is partly due to the Japanese epic novel Nansō Satomi Hakkenden. The epic tells the story of eight fictional warriors who are born into different families in the Kantō region but share a spiritual connection. The eight characters all have a special bead that brings them together and pushes them into the adventure.

When asked why there were seven Dragon Balls, creator Akira Toriyama said, “It’s simply because there are those eight balls in Hakken-Den, and I’d hate for it to be exactly the same, so I had there be seven.”

What are the Dragon Balls?

Throughout the series, there are many different kinds of Dragon Balls, but for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the three most important variants: the Earth and Namekian Dragon Balls, and the Black Star Dragon Balls.

The Earth Dragon Balls

These are the main Dragon Balls we see in the series. They were created by Kami and can summon the dragon Shenron.

Shenron can grant most wishes, but can not create love, repeat a wish he granted, surpass its creator’s power, and a few more limited restrictions that have more to do with Shenron’s power. Unlike a traditional monkey’s paw, Shenron doesn’t attempt to manipulate your wishes.

Kami was the former Guardian of the Earth and an alien from the planet Namek (and the good counterpart of King Piccolo, a villain from the Dragonball series). Kami created the Dragon Balls to give the people of Earth hope and encourage acts of bravery. The balls are scattered across the world and Bulma created a radar able to detect them because she initially wants to wish for a boyfriend.

In her defense, she has everything else.

Bulma from DragonBall
(Image: Toei Animation)

Namekian Dragon Balls

Besides the Earth Dragon Balls, the other most important ones are the ones from the planet Namek which summon the dragon, Porunga. We first get introduced to the Namekian Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball Z. Unlike Shenron, Porunga can grant three wishes during one summoning. And the balls don’t scatter the way they do on Earth after use.

On the flip side, they can only be used once every Namekian year, which is approximately 130 Earth days. Sheron can do a mass resurrection, whereas Porunga can only do one revival per wish, but Porunga can bring people back to life multiple times. The Namekian Dragon Balls also require the summoner to say a keyword before the dragon can be summoned in Namekian, so thankfully they have Dende to do that for them.

Black Star Dragon Balls

Dragon Ball GT delivered unto us the mysterious Black Star Dragon Balls. They were created by the Nameless Namekian before he had split into Kami and King Piccolo. The Black Star Dragon Balls can summon Ultimate Shenron, which by his name, you can tell is really damn powerful.

UltShenron can do more than his other self, but in exchange, there are two huge downsides to making a wish on his balls.

1. When Ultimate Shenron grants your wish, the Black Star Dragon Balls scatter across the galaxy/universe, rather than on Earth. Which, wouldn’t be so bad except that …

2. The planet where Ultimate Shenron grants a wish will be destroyed in exactly one year unless the Black Star Dragon Balls are returned to the said planet. So … not great.

The Dragon Balls have remained a strangely engaging plot device in the world of Dragon Ball. They keep finding a new way to make them a little trickier and considering we already know they can be used to cheat death we have long embraced their silliness.

Just make sure that the ones you wish on have orange stars instead of black.

(featured image: Toei Animation)


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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.