At this point, Akira Toriyama needs no introduction. The man behind the legendary Dragon Ball franchise, Toriyama is one of the most famous and well-known people in the manga and anime industry. However, Dragon Ball is far from the only series he has created. In the late 1990s, he made a fantastic manga for children and families -- and it still holds up really well today.

Akira Toriyama was in an unusual place in the mid- to late-1990s. Dragon Ball had just finished, and the author didn't plan to return to the franchise. In 1997, Toriyama wrote Bubul of Demon Village, a one-shot published in Weekly Shonen Jump that was loved by readers. It was so popular that it won the Jump Readers' Cup, a fan vote to decide the year's best non-serialized comic. After it won, Toriyama said he would like to do an expanded version of the story. Shonen Jump accepted, and Toriyama set about rewriting it from the ground up and renamed it Cowa!

The Plot of Akira Toriyama's Cowa!

Cowa!: Akira Toriyama's First Big Project After Dragon Ball Is an Adorable Must-Read_0

Cowa! launched in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump later in 1997 and ran into 1998 before being collected into a single volume. Viz Media eventually brought an English version of the manga to North America in 2008.

Written and illustrated by Toriyama, Cowa! follows three young monsters. Paifu is a vampire who turns into a werekoala, José is a small ghost, and Arpon is a hot-headed monster boy who wants to best Paifu. While on an adventure, Paifu and José spot a strange raft out at sea. When they go to investigate, they find the scary sumo wrestler Maruyama is aboard. However, it turns out that Maruyama isn't as terrifying as he first looks, and he soon befriends Paifu and José.

When the trio returns to Paifu and José's home village, they learn that monster flu is quickly spreading through the population. True to its name, this flu only affects monsters and has deadly outcomes if not cured. The cure is only made by one person -- a witch who lives atop Horned-Owl Mountain. And to get there, they'd need to pass through a dangerous forest that is home to a terrible monster known for eating those who trespass in its domain. As all the adult monsters are ill with the flu, Paifu and José are sent on a quest to find the witch and get the cure. They're joined by Maruyama and Arpon, who is keen to become the village's hero.

Fans of Dragon Ball and Any Other Series Can Enjoy Cowa!

Cowa!: Akira Toriyama's First Big Project After Dragon Ball Is an Adorable Must-Read_1

As this unlikely group embark on their journey, they encounter many obstacles that force them to quickly think on their feet. Despite their own issues and anxieties, they all grow as people and start to trust each other more as they travel -- especially as they're often forced to save each other when the going gets rough.

The Cowa! manga has Toriyama's signature sense of humor, featuring lots of wordplay and silly over-the-top situations. The adorable, rounded, almost chibi-like art style makes these jokes funnier as all the characters are cute but also very expressive, allowing them to convey a lot of emotion and personality. However, this doesn't mean the story lacks stakes or drama; some chapters will keep readers on the edge of their seat, desperate to know how the group will get out of their current situation, meaning Cowa! really does offer something for every taste.

Cowa! is an excellent manga for both children and longtime Akira Toriyama fans. While it has all of his hallmarks, it also shows how talented and versatile he is as a creator. Newcomers will struggle to not fall in love with the core cast while reading Cowa!. And despite its short length, the manga tells a complete story with a satisfying beginning, middle and end, making it perfect for younger readers dipping their toes into the medium or for people who want a story they can finish in an evening.