Let's admit it: any traditional anime worth their salt will at some point feature a dragon. Traditionally in anime, dragons are almost omniscient beings that exist higher than others in their environment. While dragons offer the fantastical element and are fairly cool, they actually hold strong in Japanese culture as beacons of prosperity closely connected to water. They are seen as water gods and were traditional symbols of good luck when it came to rainfall and calm seas. Putting older traditions of being water gods aside, dragons are still representations of power – possibly based on the power that came with a good crop yield after a healthy rainfall.
The Dragon as All Powerful
Shenron – Shénlóng in Japanese pronunciation, as the video below explains - is one of the earliest representations of a powerful dragon in anime, introduced in the 1986 Dragon Ball anime, and indeed is the originator of the famous dragon balls from Dragon Ball Z. Shenron is based on the weather entity and storm-bringer of Chinese mythology. In the show, collecting all 7 dragon balls will summon Shenron and allow the summoner to make a wish. The fact that the dragon can be summoned and grant wishes may hark back to the mythology that dragons are symbols of good luck to bring a good harvest. One of the key facets of Shenron’s power is the ability to bring people back from the dead – which is used frequently in the anime.
Pokemon often utilises dragons or dragon-like creatures as key characters. Charizard, the dragon-like fire Pokemon, was depicted as the strongest in Ash’s arsenal in the 1997-1999 seasons, and the storyline focused on the fact Charizard wouldn’t listen to Ash – reinforcing the idea that dragons are a power unto themselves. The 3rd generation of anime (seasons 6-9) set in the Hoenn region featured Rayquaza, a keeper of the balance of power between legendary Pokemon Groudon and Kyogre. Many of the Elite Four focus on dragon types, which aren’t available until later in the games, as a testament to being some of the strongest kinds of Pokemon.
Dragons in Pop Culture
However, anime isn’t the only place you’d find dragons soaring through the sky. They are a key feature of Game of Thrones (2011-2018), especially as the seasons wear on. Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, is poised to take over the Iron Throne with her army and her three dragon "children". In gaming, dragons are also present: for example, 2011's Skyrim by Bethesda Studios features the intelligent kind of dragons that can reportedly write and speak in many languages. Dragons feature in online casino games, such as Dragonz slots. The game features bright, bold content and an ethereal soundtrack complete with jarring sound effects to transport players to the land of the dragons.
The Dragon as the Protector
The Blue Dragon anime (2007-2008) featured the dragon as the protector. The series featured characters receiving powers to transform into powerful monsters in order to defend their village. Protagonist Shu was able to transform into the Blue Dragon – one of the most powerful monsters. By featuring the dragon as the protector against those who wish harm to the village, the show further adds to the theory that the dragon is a symbol of prosperity and can help bring about a better life.
The Dragon as the Destroyer
Moving away from dragons as creators, we move towards dragons as destroyers. One key example is Acnologia from Fairy Tail (2009 – 2013, 2014 - 2016). Acnologia – or The Black Dragon of the Apocalypse – is feared by the powerful mages present in the Fairy Tail anime. While he wouldn’t be granting any wishes or bringing any rainfall, Acnologia may represent the ancient fear of dragons – and that they were responsible for bringing good weather so people could eat. The fear of the dragon, and the dragon as destroyer, could symbolise the fact that without the good luck the dragon is said to bring, people would go without food.
Dragons – or elements of draconian features - also appear in other formats throughout anime. Yu-Gi-Oh (2000-2004), while not as fantastical as the others, also features a dragon – in the form of Blue Eyes White Dragon, a card owned by Yugi’s rival, Kaiba. The card is generally considered one of the more powerful cards available on a standard deck. Moreover, in Digimon (1999-present), there are a series of digimon with the suffix –dramon, which possess draconic features e.g. powerful Digimon Birdramon and Seadramon – based on dragon-like dinosaurs. Digimon is yet another dragon-related franchise that spawned video games and beyond, with Digimon Heroes available on Google Play and the App Store. The Beyblade series (2001) - based on Beyblade, the popular game of battling using spinning discs in an arena - also uses draconic imagery to showcase powerful beyblades, such as Dragoon.
Dragons are abundant in anime, and usually take one of three forms: omniscient knowledge-wielder, destroyer, or protector. All forms of dragons in anime can be traced back to the godlike status of the dragon and the ability for it to both be a defender yet also bring about the ruin itself. Metaphors aside, dragons add a touch of the fantastical to anime and establish the fantasy elements of a series early on.