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One does not often get the opportunity to compare two fictional characters, one of which is a direct reinterpretation of the other. But, we are happy to state that we have the opportunity to do exactly that in today’s article. Namely, we are going to compare a classic literary character with his modern, manga version. The latter has been featured on our site on several occasions, while the former is completely new. Who are they? They are Dragon Ball’s Son Goku and Sun Wukong, the Monkey King and the protagonist of the novel Journey to the West. Goku was directly inspired by the Monkey King, but who would win in a direct clash between these two fighters? Keep reading to find out!
After a very thorough and detailed analysis of their powers and abilities, we can undoubtedly conclude that Sun Wukong is much stronger than Son Goku. Son Goku is actually a reinterpretation of the Monkey King character and a deep, insightful analysis was necessary to provide you with a firm answer to the question of who would win in a direct, epic fight between Son Goku and Sun Wukong.
Today’s article is going to be all about Dragon Ball… in a way. You’re going to find out who Son Goku and Sun Wukong, the character that inspired him, are, as well as what their exact powers and abilities are. In the end, based on what we have presented earlier, we’re going to give our final verdict on who is stronger. It’s promising to be a fun story so keep reading until the end!
Son Goku is the protagonist and main hero of the whole Dragon Ball franchise. He is based on Sun Wukong, the main character in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, but his whole origin story can be compared to Superman’s origin story as presented in DC Comics issues.
Goku first made his debut in Dragon Ball chapter #1, titled Bulma and Son Goku in 1984, as an eccentric, monkey-tailed boy who practices martial arts and possesses superhuman strength. He meets Bulma and joins her on a journey to find the wish-granting Dragon Balls, which are used to summon the legendary dragon Shenlong.
Along the way, he finds new friends who follow him on his journey. Initially believed to have been born on Earth, Goku later learns that he is a member of an extra-terrestrial warrior race called the Saiyans, which is also the reason for his superhuman strength, and his birth name is Kakarot. As he grows up, he becomes the Earth’s mightiest warrior and protects his adopted home planet from those who seek to destroy it (there is a similarity with Superman).
Goku is depicted as carefree and cheerful when at ease, but quickly serious and strategic-minded when in battle and also enthusiastic to fight. He is able to concentrate his Ki and use it for devastatingly powerful energy-based attacks; the most prominent being his signature Kamehameha, in which Goku launches a blue energy blast from his palms.
Also pure of heart, Goku has frequently granted mercy to his enemies, which has often earned him additional allies in the process (though has also resulted in others taking advantage of his kindness), and he is one of the few who can ride the magic cloud called Kinto’un (“Somersault Cloud”); this is also an element adapted from the Chinese novel Journey to the West.
As the protagonist, Goku appears in most of the episodes, films, television specials and OVAs of the manga’s anime adaptations (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, Dragon Ball Super and Dragon Ball Heroes) as well as many of the franchise’s video games. Due to the series’ international popularity, Goku has become one of the most recognizable and iconic characters in the world.
Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is a fictional character from the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, as well as a lot of later stories and adaptations. Sun Wukong was inspired by the Monkey-God Hanuman from the Hindu epic, Ramayana, as well as stories from the Song dynasty. He is an anthropomorphic monkey with magical abilities and is a martial arts who protects people from evil monsters while on his pilgrimage. He was created by the novel’s author, Wu Cheng’en.
The legend of the Monkey King is an ancient tale. In the 7th century, a monk named Tang Sanzang set out from China to India to get the Buddha’s holy writings for his Emperor. The journey lasted sixteen years, and on his return, the monk wrote a detailed travel report. This work, called Journey to the West, is still one of the most important historical testimonies of life in those early times. Over the centuries, legends and fairy tales have grown up around the pilgrimage of Tang Sanzang – and one of them is the story of the Monkey King.
Thanks to teaching from various Taoist masters, Sun Wukong not only learns how to fight, but also the ability to jump very high and transform in 72 different ways. The Monkey King obtains a staff that can change its size at will and a cloud on which to fly. As the novel states: “Immediately he becomes king, finds a blessed corner of the earth for his people and holds his daily banquet with pleasure. But he wants more – he wants immortality and the throne of the Jade Emperor.” He abuses the learned arts for all sorts of pranks.
Finally, he conquers the sky alone against the armies of the Jade Emperor and forces them to make him a heavenly god. Even as a god, he continues to play jokes until he is caught by Buddha and imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years. For purification, he is finally allowed to accompany the monk Tang Sanzang on his trip to India, where he is supposed to ask the Buddha for sacred writings for China. Even in the further course of their journey to the West, Sun remains the main character of the novel, although he is the servant of the monk Tang Sanzang. Almost all problems that the group gets into while on the journey, Sun either solves himself through his intelligence, martial arts and magic powers, or he finds a deity who can help him through his good relationships in heaven.
The Journey to the West can also be read on a philosophical level. On this level, Sun Wukong symbolizes the human heart, which the novel is about to perfect. In the beginning, when Sun conquers the sky, he is selfish and addicted to pleasure, and is very much like the demons he later fights and who stand for difficulties in developing insight and compassion. In the end, however, he becomes like Buddha himself.
Is Son Goku based on Sun Wukong?
This is a very simple question to answer – yes, Son Goku is based on Sun Wukong. Namely, despite Goku being a human (or a humanoid, but that’s a completely different issue) and Sun being a monkey, the two share enough common elements for there to be no doubt as to the fact that the latter inspired the creation of the former. This is evidence by Goku’s monkey tail, staff, and name. Toriyama himself has confirmed this fact and author Mark West states the following:
“In fact, Goku is based on a character from a classic Chinese novel, The Journey to the West (Hsi Yu Chi). This character is a monkey who protects a Buddhist monk from evil monsters in the pilgrimage to India. Monkey, or Sun Wukong, is a favorite character […]”– West, Mark I. (2009). The Japanification of children’s popular culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki, p. 203
Comparing their powers and abilities
As we move forward, per our tradition, we are going to compare the powers and abilities of our two protagonists before we give our final verdict. These two guys are quite interesting so comparing their powers is certainly going to be a fun thing to do.
Son Goku’s powers
We’ll start off our analysis with Goku. In terms of pure powers, we can state that Son Goku has become a true Saiyan god as the series progressed. He doesn’t have any superpowers like some other superheroes, but he can utilize his physique and his fighting skills in such a way that he truly does seem superhuman. He is a constantly evolving character that upgrades his skills and potential after each big challenge, becoming more powerful after every fight. In that aspect, his potential is practically unlimited and it is safe to assume – although, we have to reiterate that, there is no hard evidence for this – that his potential is night infinite.
When it comes to speed, well, we don’t actually know how fast Goku is. We know he’s fast. His reflexes are brilliant and he can, indeed, move really fast. But how fast is he, exactly? We haven’t a clue. If we consult Dragon Ball Super, where Goku’s powers have become almost absurdly big, and compare his speed to the general speed of the Dragon Ball Z characters, we could assume that he’s become the fastest character in the series. The sad thing is – we have absolutely no proof of this and this brings us to the verifiability issue mentioned above. This is one of such unverified (or even unverifiable) assumptions that you can freely interpret.
In terms of endurance, Son Goku is an exceptional fighter who doesn’t get tired and gets better after every fight. Son Goku is a trained martial artist so he is automatically exceptional in hand-to-hand combat; he doesn’t actually rely on his strength and on his powers, but rather on his skills and complex fighting techniques. His Saiyan physique also enables him to last very long in a fight, so long that it is questionable whether he can get tired at all, but this is also one of the unproven assumptions open to interpretation. He also grows after each battle and becomes stronger, which also makes him more durable after each fight. He is not immortal, though, which is something we thought was worth mentioning at this point.
Finally, we’d like to confirm that Goku doesn’t really have any known weaknesses in the classical sense. Sure, he can be beaten, but there is no secret weapon you could use in a fight against him. If you’re a better fighter, you’ll win; if not, there’s really no “cheat code” you could use.
Sun Wukong’s powers
Sun Wukong is an exceptionally powerful character and is depicted as having achieved godly status during his pilgrimage. He was already immensely powerful as a mortal monkey and became even more so after achieving immortality and the status of a god. The Journey to the West, as well as other stories featuring the Monkey King, give a pretty good insight into his powers and abilities, so we have enough evidence to precisely determine just how powerful he was.
As far as his strength goes, the Monkey King was depicted as being one of the strongest living beings in the world. As the Journey to the West clearly depicts, the Monkey King was able to support the pressing weight of two celestial mountains on his shoulders while running “with the speed of a meteor.” This is a Titanic feat, similar to Atlas’ carrying the world on its back, but even Atlas was burdened by the weight and was not able to run like a meteor with the planet on his back. In addition to that, he is depicted as being an excellent martial artist and one of the best fighters ever; he was certainly the most skilled earthly fighter, but he was also able to fight and win against some of the strongest fighters and warriors in heaven, where he eventually descended.
But this is not the end as far as his powers and skills are concerned. The meteor-fast running while carrying two celestial mountains is just one example of his speed, but the novel states that he was able to travel 108,000 li (54,000 km, 34,000 mi) in one somersault. Just imagine how fast you could travel with that leaping ability?
On top of all that, the Monkey King also has magical and – as it seems – psionic abilities. He knows the 72 Earthly transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects; he can also use this skill when fighting. He is also capable of summoning clones of himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He has demonstrated partial weather manipulation abilities as well, and can stop people in place with fixing magic. All of this is explicitly confirmed in the Journey to the West.
As far as his immortality is concerned, Sun Wukong has managed to achieve it through seven different methods, each of which prolonged his life exponentially. This made him practically immortal, but – interestingly enough – not unkillable. In one chapter of the novel, he almost dies from his own fire, but manages to survive. As far as it is known, he has no inherent weakness that could be used against him in direct combat, which makes him almost invulnerable, at least on a theoretical basis.
Son Goku vs Sun Wukong: Who would win?
Now that our thorough analysis is complete, we can finally approach the question that we have been asking ourselves since the beginning of this article. Since Son Goku is practically a reinterpretation of Sun Wukong, an analysis was especially necessary in this case so that we can properly distinguish these two characters and determine which one would win in a direct clash. So, yes, there is a winner, and we are now going to compare them to see which one it is.
In terms of power, we have seen that both are ridiculously powerful when sheer might is concerned. Still, as far as we can tell, Son Goku was never able to run while carrying two celestial mountains on his back. If you remember correctly, the Monkey King was able to do exactly that. Most of Goku’s strength comes from his endurance and his ability to become stronger as a fight progresses, but in terms of sheer power he doesn’t seem to be a real match for the Monkey King, despite looking way more menacing than the anthropomorphic primate. Despite Goku’s Saiyan powers, we have Sun Wokung taking this one on account of him being an actual god and being able to carry not one, but two mountains on his back.
As far as the techniques are concerned, both Goku and Sun have gone through an evolutionary pilgrimage of sorts, starting off with basics to become the best warriors in their respective universes. Son Goku has, eventually, managed to defeat everyone he fought against, while Sun Wukong became one of the best fighters on Earth and in heaven. And while Son Goku was able to become the best fighter in Dragon Ball, Sun Wukong has become stronger than most heavenly warriors and all earthly warriors. In that aspect, we have Sun winning this one as well.
Goku’s technique is good, but besides the specific energy-based techniques and classical martial arts, he doesn’t have much to offer (this sounds as if his powers were insignificant, but that was not our intention, not really). Sun Wukong is, on the other hand, a god and alongside his knowledge of martial arts, he has magical abilities, psionic abilities, he can clone himself and transform himself into 72 different shapes; Goku doesn’t have these skills, which is why we think that Sun wins this category as well.
As we’ve said in each comparison featuring Son Goku, his speed remains a mystery. He is fast. He is incredibly fast, in fact, and probably the fastest character in Dragon Ball, but we have no clue about any exact number in this case. We don’t even have anything we could compare it to, so even after all of the research, we can only reiterate that Son Goku is very, very fast.
On the other hand, we have some exact numbers for Sun Wukong (see above), based on which we can deduce that the guy is unfathomably fast. He can do one somersault and travel 34,000 miles, which is around 10,000 miles more than the Earth’s circumference; we have no clue how big heaven is, but the Monkey King is just to fast for our world. This is why we deduce that he is much faster than Goku, however fast Goku might actually be.
Finally, endurance is something that these two seem to share, but only because we have not found out much about the Monkey King’s exact endurance; he is immortal and long-living, but he is not unkillable. Neither is Son Goku. Still, we can certainly say that Goku would not give up against the Monkey King and that the fight would be, at the same time, both long and very epic.
The conclusion, though, remains undeniable – based on all the evidence and a thorough analysis of both their powers, we conclude that Sun Wukong would be able to defeat Son Goku, as he is much more powerful than him. There really is no issue here, since a more detailed comparison of their powers and abilities demonstrates that Sun Wukong is far superior in almost all important aspects. Toriyama, obviously, wanted Son Goku to go through a journey during which his powers are going to evolve, but whether he’ll be able to reach the Monkey King’s level at one point remains to be seen. For now, he doesn’t really stand much chance in a direct clash.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!
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