Seven magical balls, scattered across the world. When brought together, a great and powerful dragon appears that will grant a wish. So the legend goes in the world of Dragon Ball, but what are the origins of these dragons and just where does their power come from?
The Dragon Balls
The Dragon Balls of Earth
Dragon balls are sets of magical orbs that are capable of summoning wish-granting dragons when brought together. There are seven Dragon Balls per set, with each individual ball being marked with one to seven stars. After an Eternal Dragon is summoned and grants a wish, the Dragon Balls scatter themselves across the planet. Normally this would make the balls very difficult to track down but they can be located rather easily with the use of a Dragon Radar, a device made to track the unique energy emitted by Dragon Balls. Throughout the series, villains constantly seek the Dragon Balls for their own nefarious purposes as Goku and the other Z Warriors work to stop them.
Shenron, the Dragon of Earth
The Eternal Dragon, Shenron
Shenron is the first dragon seen in the series and has multiple appearances as the story progresses. Shenron and his Dragon Balls were created by Kami, the Guardian of Earth. Seeking to give humanity something to strive after, Kami made the Dragon Balls and scattered them around the world so that Earth’s people would have something to motivate themselves and push forward. Kami created Shenron using a small-scale model of the dragon while turning normal stones into the seven Dragon Balls. This was a lengthy process that took 100 days to complete.
Kami, the first Guardian of Earth
Prior to the events of the series, the Dragon Balls were used at least once by an unnamed man who wished to become a king, causing him to pass into legend as one of the few individuals who successfully collected and used the Dragon Balls. Even with Shenron’s great power and the use of the Dragon Radar, the Dragon Balls cannot be used indefinitely. Once a wish has been granted and the balls scatter across the world they turn into normal rocks for one year. In this state, not even the Dragon Radar is capable of finding them. Furthermore, there are limitations to Shenron’s power.
Like most wish-granting entities, Shenron is bound by certain rules. Shenron cannot use a wish to kill someone; although he can kill people directly as he is something of a hot-tempered dragon. He can restore the dead back to life under certain clauses. Deceased individuals cannot be revived if they died of natural causes or if Shenron has already revived them once before and they must be revived within one year of dying. Shenron also cannot force people to fall in love.
Despite being an “Eternal Dragon”, Shenron is not immortal. It is possible for Shenron to die, in which case the Dragon Balls turn into normal stones forever. If the model of Shenron used in his creation is destroyed, he is destroyed with it. Someone with enough power can also outright kill Shenron. This happened in the Dragon Ball series when King Piccolo murdered Shenron after wishing for his youth back so that no one could ever use the Dragon Balls against him. Shenron’s life is also linked to that of his creator; if Kami (or later, Dende) is killed, Shenron and the Dragon Balls will cease to exist. The balls can also become useless if their creator stops existing in their current form. When Kami refused with Piccolo the Dragon Balls became inert until Dende became the new Guardian of Earth and modified the balls.
Dende, Earth's second Guardian, revives Shenron
Dende’s modifications to the Dragon Balls did not simply restore Shenron either. With Dende as Guardian, Shenron gained the power to grant up to two wishes. In this state Shenron can still grant only one wish; in exchange, the Dragon Balls turn to stone for six months instead of a full year. Dende’s skill with Shenron is not much of a surprise as he did work with another dragon on his home planet of Namek.
Porunga, the Dragon of Namek
Porunga, Eternal Dragon of Namek
Porunga is the dragon used on the planet Namek, home world of Kami and Dende. While similar to Shenron, Porunga does follow a set of rules slightly different from Shenron. His Dragon Balls are also bigger, being the size of a person’s head while the Earth Dragon Balls are closer to the size of a fist. Created by Guru, the Grand Elder of Namek, Porunga can grant up to three wishes at once instead of one at a time. When it comes to reviving people, the most common use for Dragon Balls within the series, Porunga can revive people indefinitely instead of one-time-only like Shenron. However, Porunga can initially only bring people back to life one at a time. This is later remedied by Guru’s successor, Grand Elder Moori, who modifies Porunga to revive people en masse after the Namekians were almost rendered extinct by Frieza and his soldiers.
Like Earth’s Dragon Balls, the Namekian balls can only be used once per year. However, a year on Namek is equivalent to 130 days on Earth, making Porunga available for summoning much more frequently than Shenron. Porunga will also only grant wishes that are made in the Namekian language, his own name translating as “Dragon of Dreams” in the language. He does understand other languages, and in one case even allowed Dende to make a wish in another language when he did not understand the Namekian translation.
Guru, Grand Elder and creator of Namek's Dragon Balls
Major Spoiler warning!!!
Throughout the series, 10 wishes were granted by Shenron, and 12 were granted by Porunga. Wishes grouped together were granted during the same summoning.
1. Oolong wishes for a pair of panties, preventing Emperor Pilaf from wishing for world domination.
2. Goku’s friend Upa wishes for his murdered father, Bora, to be brought back to life.
3. King Piccolo wishes for his youth to be restored.
4. All of the people killed by King Piccolo and his children are revived.
5. Goku is brought back to life after being killed in the fight against Raditz.
6. Everyone killed by Frieza and his henchmen on Namek are brought back to life.
7 & 8. Everyone killed by Cell is revived and Androids 17 & 18 have bombs removed from their chests.
9. Everyone who died since the morning of the World Martial Arts tournament, mainly those killed by Majin Vegeta, is revived.
10. Everyone on Earth except the protagonists have their memories of Majin Buu erased.
1 & 2. Piccolo is revived and then transported to Namek.
3. Everyone on Namek expect Goku and Frieza is transported to Earth.
4, 5 & 6. Krillin’s soul is moved to Earth’s Check-In Station. Killin and Yamcha are each revived.
7, 8 & 9. Tien and Chiaotzu are revived. The Namekians are transported to New Namek.
10, 11 & 12. The destroyed Earth is brought back and all of the good people from Earth are brought back to life after the planet’s destruction by Super Buu/Kid Buu. Goku’s energy is restored, allowing him to defeat Kid Buu.
From the first episode of "Dragon Ball" to the end of "Dragon Ball Z", the Dragon Balls and their Dragons have played a key role in the series from being the objective of villains to reviving brave heroes who fell in battle and innocent people caught in the crossfire. The magic of the Eternal Dragons and their wishes is certain to continue in "Dragon Ball Super".