You know what we’re about here at Dragon University. What do you mean you don’t know what we’re about? Well we’re about living up to our claims to being the ultimate dragon resource. And as part of that remit, we knew we’d better be putting together a post on the biggest, best, scariest, cutest most epic anime dragons.
And here it is!
Now we’re guessing that you’re here because you love dragons, and you love anime? Great, that’s why we’re here too. You’re probably also here to see if your favourite has made the list, right? Yeah, thought so.
The good news is, if you’ve got good taste, then your favourite is on the list! If your favourite isn’t on the list, then maybe you’ve not got good taste in dragon anime, bro. Or maybe we’ve missed something. To be honest, that’s most likely it. So if your favourite hasn’t made the list, jump over to Facebook and let us know.
The really cool thing is that page is a constant work in progress. Like everything on Dragon University, we’re not going to leave it alone. No. We’re going to keep on revising, keep on working on it until it’s perfect. Then we’re going to work on it some more.
Dragon Anime: The Early Days
Taro the Dragon Boy (1979)
We start 40 or more years ago with an adaptation of an old Japanese folk tale. In fact, this story has been around for so long, that in the 1960s they even produced a puppet version of it for TV!
This version is the fully animated one, and it has to be said that the animation stands up well. It’s also comparable to other animation of the time, such as that seen in the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.
The story revolves around Taro, a boy who is given the strength of 100 men by a Tengu. There’s a catch, however. He can only use this strength to help others.
Meanwhile, Taro learns that his mother had been transformed into a dragon and sets off in search of her. His search leads him to a lake where he finds Tatsu, an ancient dragon who embodies his mother.
We won’t give the ending away, but Taro and Tatsu soon find that they must team up to save a nearby village. Can they rescue the village and return Tatsu to human form?
Dragon Ball (1984)
What can we say about Dragon Ball that:
- hasn’t been said
- you don’t already know?
That’s the challenge here. What can Dragon University say about a franchise that’s so popular it’s spawned a Monopoly game, earrings, cupcake toppers and shot glasses?
And a herb grinder. Yup.
Well, how about telling you that the manga series that started in 1984 is officially the second most successful manga of all time? Wait, you knew that one?
OK, how about that the original inspiration behind the series was Hong Kong martial arts movies? Ah, you knew that too.
Right, well, for those who don’t know, Dragon Ball is a $20 billion franchise that has produced 20 movies (and host to some of the great dragon quotes) and tonnes of episdoes of anime magic with Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and more all the way through to the great comeback, Dragon Ball Super, in 2015 with the legendary Masako Nozawa reprising her roles as Goku, Gohan and Goten.
Then you have the video games. Did you know that they’ve been producing Dragon Ball games since 1986? That’s right, all the way through to Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission in 2019.
We’re breathless. And that’s even before we’ve talked about the plot which follows Goku from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood as he masters martial arts and searches the world for the seven Dragon Balls.
Right, we need a coffee.
Dragon Anime in the 1990s
Record of Lodoss War (1990)
If you’re not familiar with the concept of Replays, then you won’t know the origin of Record of Lodoss War. See, Replays are transcripts of Role Playing Games bundled together into books, and in the 1980s, one of the most popular set of Replays in Japan were the Record of Lodoss War.
So popular was the story of Parn, alongside his buddies Etoh and Ghim, and his quest to find out the truth about his disgraced father and restore his honour, that the Replays were soon turned into seven volumes of novels, The Grey Witch manga series, a number of anime series and a three part movie.
In fact, so enduring is the franchise that another anime series, Record of Lodoss War: Is That Delicious arrived in 2014, followed by the online game, Record of Lodoss War Online. It’s also worth checking out the soundtrack.
This is one of the lesser known entries on our list, but is worth checking out nonetheless. In fact, if you want to check it out, your only option may be VHS!
The story takes place on Slaffleaze, and Capricorn, a planet that you may know as Earth. Slaffleaze is ruled by a decadent and villainous king, Zolba, who oversees a super intelligent race of creatures, including a human-like young woman named Mona.
The action picks up when Taku Shimamura and his sister Tamaki appear on Slaffleaze and uncover Zolba’s plot to invade and conquer their home planet. To stop this, Taku must team up with the oppressed people of Slaffleaze and earn the trust of the Yappie, a young female dragon.
Dragon Half (1993)
Dragon Half tells us the story of Mink, a half human / half dragon who falls in love with Dick Saucer, a singer in a band. But Saucer has another role, he’s also a dragon slayer. Mink can only follow her heart so begins a quest to get the potion that will turn her full human. But first, she must defeat Azetodeth, the greatest demon in the land.
This story was serialized in the fantastically titled Monthly Dragon Magazine in Japan between 1988 and 1994, before being adapted into a two part anime feature in 1993. Dragon Half regularly appears on top anime lists, so should defintely be on your ‘to see’ list.
Everybody has seen, read, or at least heard of Slayers. It’s huge. HUGE! From 1991 to 2008 30 light novels were released, with 20 million sold. Like Dragon Half, it too was serialized (in Dragon Magazine) and gained an incredible following.
Slayers, which centers on Lina Inverse, a teenage sorceress and her friends, battling their way across the world using swords and magic, spawned three anime series in the 1990s – Slayers, Slayers Next and Slayers Try – and a further two series years later – Slayers Revolution and Slayers Evolution-R. It is widely seen as the most popular anime series of the 90s.
If that isn’t enough for you to feast on, Slayers has also been adapted into five movies.
The Vision of Escaflowne (1996)
If you’ve seen the anime series named The Vision of Escaflowne, and you’ve seen the movie of the same name, you have seen two very different offerings.
Let’s talk about the series first. It’s typical 1990s anime fayre, starring a young girl named Hitomi who is blessed with psychic powers that she doesn’t yet know how to harness. On a normal schoolday her world is rocked when a boy named Van appears on the school running track battling, and ultimately slaying, a dragon. Van is from Gaea, a war-torn world, but also a world where Hitomi’s powers become stronger. Can Hitomi and Van defeat the Zaibach Empire and save Gaea?
As we said, the movie is very different, despite having an almost idential plot. Released four years after the series had ended, the movie is much darker, with the characters carrying a lot more angst. A more realistic interpretation of teenage life, or needlessly emo? You decide.
Panzer Dragoon (1996)
Right, before you get in touch and cry “What in all that is holy is Panzer Dragoon doing on your list?” we get it, it’s not good. But there are a couple of interesting points you might like to know.
First, did you know that ‘Panzer Dragoon’ is German for ‘Armoured Dragon’? You see, it’s interesting already, right? And did you know that the movie was based on a moderately successful Sega Saturn game?
And did you know that both the game and the anime include a made up language?
OK, so it’s not that interesting. But to help you make up your own mind, check out the clip below.
So what’s it doing on our list? Well, because we love Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox, and love how it scales on Xbox One X. So shoot us!
Still have a PlayStation 2 knocking about? We recommend stopping what you’re doing and grabbing the Orphen game if you can!
Now you’ve done that, let’s talk about Orphen. We start the story in the Tower of Fang, a school of sorcery, where we join a young boy named Krylancelo Finrandi and a girl named Azalie. Both are orphans so have an almost instantaneous bond, a bond that only strengthens when Azalie mistakenly transfigures herself into a dragon and is renounced by the school.
So enraged is Krylancelo that he leaves the school, and calls himself Orphen, to begin a quest to retrieve the three magic artefacts that will enable Azalie to return to her human form.
Dragon Anime in the 2000s
Spirited Away (2001)
We’ve moved into the 21st century and all of a sudden we’ve stumbled right into possibly the greatest, certainly the best known, and without doubt the most critically revered anime of all time.
And we’re not going to waste your time telling you to see it, because you already have. We’re not going to waste any of your time telling you what it’s about, because you already know. Let’s just marvel at some facts:
- Spirited Away, from Studio Ghibli, made $331.4 million worldwide box office (if you save hard enough, you might end up with that much money!)
- It’s the highest grossing film in Japanese history.
- It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2002 Academy Awards.
- The New York Times rated it as the second best movie of the 21st century in 2017.
Dragon Drive (2001)
It’s nice when dragon anime has the word ‘dragon’ in the title – it makes it so much easier for dragon fans to find it! And this is a joy throughout. We like this!
And why do we like it so much? Well when the main character is a lazy student, the king of tardy, only interested in hanging around, not doing any work…well, need we go on? Reiji is that lazy student. He’s so lazy in fact that when his friend, Maiko, turns him onto a Virtual Reality game (the Dragon Drive of the title), his dragon inherits all of those same characteristics!
However, it turns out that our lazy dragon, Chibi, is one of the rarest in the game, so the friends are able to quickly progress through the game into a world called Rikyu, where they must compete in the Dragonic Heaven tournament to win the Jinryuuseki to ward off a real and credible threat not only to the world of Rikyu, but to Earth too.
The series DVD is quite expensive, but if you’re into your manga, start here.
Fairy Tail (2006)
A hugely prolific manga series – 63 volumes were released between 2006 and 2017 – became an industry powerhouse with an anime series that is still going on today (328 episodes and counting) and has so far spawned two movies, the Phoenix Priestess and Dragon Cry.
We’d be surprised if you haven’t come across the Fairy Tail series before – heck, you’re probably already a member of the Guild – but for those who are looking for their next obesession, do check out the story of Natsu Dragneel, the dragon slaying wizard and his search for Igneel, his missing adoptive dragon father.
Tales from Earthsea (2006)
This movie, from Studio Ghibli, is based on the popular Earthsea series from author Ursula K Le Guin, with the title coming from her 2001 selection of short stories. Le Guin has released a couple of statements over the years with contradicting viewpoints on what she thinks of the movie, but given that her most recent comments were in support of the movie, shows she’s on board with popular opinion.
The story iteself is extremely powerful and atmospheric, throwing us straight into a battle between two dragons during a storm. We join a ship’s crew as they watch through the clouds to see one dragon slay another. In Earthsea, this is seen as a terrible omen, foretelling drought and famine, as the world exists in a delicate balance since the split between humans and dragons.
Amongst all of this turmoil, the King of Elad is brutally murdered by his own son, who then embarks on a journey of repentence and self discovery, eventually finding himself in a position to restore the balance of the world and bring peace.
Is the movie better, or did Le Guin have a point? We think both have a lot of value, and think they should exist peacefully and balanced, just as in Earthsea itself.
Dragonaut: The Resonance (2007)
An asteroid is on a collision course with the Earth until it smashes into Pluto, completely obliterating the planet in the process. Worried that the asteroid is still a threat to Earth, the International Solarsystem Development Agency (ISDA) use dragon eggs they discovered beneath the ocean to create weaponised dragons to send into space and protect the planet.
Unbeknown to the ISDA, the asteroid was inhabited by dragons, which suddenly start appearing on Earth, sparking an almighty war in which our heroes, Jin and Toa, join the ISDA to fight the infiltrators.
If you’re not exhausted by all of that, why not help yourself to the entire series?
Blue Dragon (2007)
Back in Christmas 2006, the hottest gift in Japan was Blue Dragon on Xbox 360, which was eventually released around the world the following August. The game was always destined for greatness, having been designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, better known for the Final Fantasy series.
The game itself follows five friends, Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Zola, and Marumaro, who travel to find and confront Nene, the evil ruler of the Grand Kingdom.
As in the game, the 51 episode anime series sees the five friends granted powers that turn their shadows into powerful monsters, with Shu receiving a blue dragon. Given the length of the series, you won’t be surprised to hear that the plot does veer away from the original game.
The show was dubbed into English and shown on the Cartoon Network across America. The good news is that if you want to watch it now, you can catch it on Hulu.
Demon King Daimo (2010)
Sometimes, titles that contain a foreign language translate into really cool English (we don’t care what you say, we like Panzer Dragoon!), and sometimes they translate into “The Demon King in the Back Row”. Nope, us neither. But whatever it’s called, the light novel series had enduring appeal, with 13 volumes being published between 2008 and 2014.
The anime series, 12 episodes in total, covers the first five volumes of novels in which Akuto Sai, a student at the famous Constant Magical Academy, sets about his dream to become part of the highest order of magicians. On his first day at the Academy, however, an aptitude test predicts that he will become a Demon King, a result that causes him no end of troubles at school.
Dragon Anime in the 2010s
Dragonar Academy (2010)
On Arc Strada, breeders train their dragons (known as Pals) with the aim of progressing them to the level of Holy Dragon. This is a task that proves problematic for Ash Blake, a supposed Future Dragon Master, who struggles to tame and ride dragons.
Everything changes for Ash on the day of a dragon race where he receives his Pal. Ash’s Pal is different to the rest, as his dragon takes the form of a human girl, with attitude to spare.
Like Demon King Daimo, the anime series only ran to one season of 12 episodes, and is based on the first four volumes of the light novel series. If you enjoy Dragonar Academy, there have been 20 volumes of light novels, so there’s plenty to get your teeth into.
Perhaps better known to Americans as The Legend of the Millenium Dragon, this movie, based on a novel by Takafumi Takada was released as a Blu-ray & DVD combo pack to muted critical reception in 2011.
The plot itself follows several anime tropes, something picked out in many of the reviews, and concerns Jun, a shy schoolboy who is thrust into a mysterious past full of monsters, dragons, and strange hidden powers. Jun has to encounter many spectacular battles on his way to heroism.
So, you’re not inspired so far are you? But the reason this made our list is due to the beautiful hand-drawn animation and beyond epic battle scenes. Probably worth a look if you have a spare 98 minutes.
Dragon Crisis! (2011)
Ryūji and Eriko steal a large relic box from a shady organisation. When they open it, they discover a girl like dragon who they name Rose. The bad news for our heroes is that the organisation that was holding her wants her back.
On their mission to evade capture, they meet many other dragons, all of whom can take human form apart from Rose. They also meet Onyx, a black dragon who claims to be Rose’s fiancé, and who becomes a major part of the story.
Dragon Nest: Warrior’s Dawn (2014)
You’ve played this, we’ve played this, everyone’s played this. OK, so not everyone, but with 200 million players across the world, it’s a good shout that most of you reading this will have either played it, or at least heard of it.
The movie though? Well going on box office alone, the original movie could be viewed as a bit of a flop given that it had a $22 million budget, but raked only $9 million in ticket sales. But that’s just in China. And the movie evidently did well enough to earn a sequel, with Throne of Elves being released in 2016.
With the legendary Black Dragon awakening from his slumber, a group of humans and elves, who’ve existed side by side in an uneasy truce for many years, find a secret hidden road to the dragon’s cave and hope to destroy it. All goes well until the Black Dragon uncovers the plot and everything rests in the hands of Lambert, a young warrior who must face the dragon alone.
Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul (2014)
Until everything went awry, the Rage of Bahamut digital card trading game was a cult smash hit, with over 10 million players on Android and iOS in 2012. Obviously the game’s security could have been better, but in its pomp, it was successful enough to inspire an anime series.
Black and silver winged beast Bahamut threatened to destroy Mistarcia but the humans, gods and demons of the world united to detain Bahamut, with the key to the seal split in two. Thousands of years later there is an almighty battle between those who want to release Bahamut and others.
Chaos Dragon (2015)
This series is based on Japan’s extremely popular series of Red Dragon games which encompasses an RPG, a board game and a mobile game. It’s a lot of fun, and someone at DU is currently addicted. So we couldn’t leave it off the list!
The story takes place a thousand years in the future (well, 3015, so a thousand years give or take) where two countries, D’natia and Kōran, are at war and are destroying the world. In the middle of this is the island of Nil Kamui whose guardian god, Red Dragon has lost control.
Gate is pretty special. Such a simple but cool idea, and one that you’ll enjoy.
Imagine working for the CIA and when on your way to work one day a portal opens and a bunch of Taliban emerge. Well, that’s what happens to Youji, an employee of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) who is on his way to Tokyo for a conference when a portal appears and he’s confronted by supernatural creatures and warriors clad in medieval armor.
So, what would the US do with the aforementioned Taliban gate? Well we’d put together a task force, go through the gate and investigate the heck out of the other side. And that’s just what the JSDF do (just replace Taliban with dragons and elves).
I know, right? This sounds freaking amazing! Well, you can watch the whole thing on Crunchyroll.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (2017)
We’ve got all the way to 2017 in our list and still haven’t had a single hungover character. Until now.
And that hungover character? Miss Kobayashi herself, who wakes up after a particularly epic night is reluctantly getting ready for work (we’ve all been there!) when there’s a knock on the door. Who’s at the door? A large dragon who transforms into a lady named Tohru, complete with maid outfit.
So playing the role of Bradley Cooper, Miss Kobayashi has to piece together what happened. On a drunken venture the night before, Miss Kobayashi came across a dragon and saved her life by pulling a sword from her back, earning her eternal gratitude. The classic thorn in the paw. The eternal gratitdue earns Miss Kobayashi a dragon maid, but this turns out to be a mixed blessing when Tohru’s, shall we say, unique methods cause uproar in the household, and her very presence brings more dragons to the doorstep.
The Dragon Dentist (2017)
So popular was the short that they expanded it into a full length, two part anime special that follows Nonoko, a dentist in Dragon Country. She has to protect the dragon, who guards the country, from plaque and tooth decay. One day Nonoko finds a boy inside the dragon’s tooth, called Bell. This is an omen that tells of an upcoming disaster.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan (2018)
You might not have heard of this one yet…
Premiering on Netflix in 2018, the story centers on Hisone, a rookie in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (not to be confused with the JSDF) where she is stationed at Gifu. Life is quite normal for Hisone until the Organic Transformed Flyer – a dragon – chooses her to be the OTF pilot.
This series is still ongoing, but we’re enchanted by Hisone’s missions so far and can’t wait to see what she gets up to in the future.
So there you have it, there’s our list. Did we forget anything? Make sure you head over to Facebook to let us know. We want this to be the ultimate, no contenders, number one resource on this planet for dragon anime, so don’t hold back in your views.
Until then, you’ve got lots to be getting on with for now, so check out the undiscovered diamonds on our list and be sure to get involved with our other epic guides.