The Dragon Ball spinoff manga “That One Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha” offers a crazy retelling of some of Dragon Ball Z’s biggest events.
Big franchises can end up gathering some really bizarre little spinoffs, and for Dragon Ball Z, the weirdest spinoff of all is its take on the isekai “trapped in another world” genre, That Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha. Created and illustrated by Dragon Garow Lee, the brief, three-chapter manga follows Yamcha as he goes down a very different version of the familiar Dragon Ball plot.
As one of Goku’s oldest allies, Yamcha was helpful early on, dealing with incidents like Goku’s transformation into the Great Ape form or fighting with Piccolo. But by the time the anime transitioned from Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Z, Yamcha began to fall behind, even compared to other characters like Krillin. In the series, Yamcha dies during Nappa and Vegeta’s invasion of Earth, and despite the time he spends training with King Kai while dead, he never manages to recapture relevance. Yamcha’s uselessness in fights became a running joke amongst fans, as he would often be taken down quickly by a new opponent to establish how difficult the latest villain would be. As the story continued into Dragon Ball Super, even the writers got in on the joke, making it a point not to invite Yamcha to the Universal Survival tournament, despite showing him expecting and anticipating an invitation. Even in-universe, the characters have realized that Yamcha just really doesn’t have anything to contribute in combat anymore–his one highlight in Super is a baseball game.
To make it up to the character for becoming the butt of jokes for decades, a tongue-in-cheek spinoff was created. That Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha opens with an ordinary high school boy and Dragon Ball fan, seemingly on our Earth, tripping down some stairs and dying. Instead of finding himself in some afterlife, he awakens in the world of Dragon Ball as Yamcha, right after Goku’s tail was removed and he resolves to train with Master Roshi. Initially tempted by the prospects of a relationship with Bulma, the new Yamcha realizes that a lot of death and suffering awaits him if he goes along with the story as it unfolded normally. Yamcha opts to go off with Goku and train instead, sending the story off the rails into an alternate timeline.
As a super fan of the series, the reincarnated Yamcha uses his knowledge of what’s coming to give himself every possible advantage. He breaks the sequence of events by doing things like climbing Korin Tower for Senzu beans and traveling to Namek early to have his hidden potential unlocked like Gohan. This puts him in an excellent position for dealing with upcoming threats and might even keep him from dying like Yamcha normally would. Still, there are limits to Yamcha’s potential, even at peak efficiency.
The manga is essentially a love letter to Dragon Ball fans, full of continuity references and answers to long-standing fan debates about power-ups and matches that never appear in the main series. There’s also far more going on than initially meets the eye, and while the story may feel a bit rushed at times, it’s only because the kind of fans reading this manga can fill in the blanks with what they already know. All three chapters are easily available in English through Viz’s Shonen Jump app, so fans looking for a little fun while waiting for news on next year’s Dragon Ball Super movie should give it a chance.