Let's see if you figure out which show I am talking about:
A trickster, a womanizer, a tough guy and a voice of reason travel great distances to collect X, be it for personal gain or to save the world. During their travels they stop at multiple towns to help the villagers out with their problems. They have a creature that they use for traveling and the trickster has a bo staff and can ride the clouds.
Give up? Obviously I was talking about Dragonball!
No wait! I just described Avatar: the Last Airbender!
Hold on! That kinda sounded like Pokemon!
What the hell is going on? Why are these shows similar to each other? Did they all just copy each other? Well kinda not really, to fully understand what is going on here we need to jump to 1590 in China.
Meet Sun Wukong...he is the inspiration for these show and many others that I did not mention. He is one of the main characters of the famous Chinese epic, Journey to the West. The basic summary of the story is a monk named Xuanzang must travel to India to recover Buddhist scriptures with the help of a monkey named Sun Wukong, a pig named Zhu Bajie, a water demon named Sha Wujing and a dragon king named Yulong that took the form of a horse. Along the way they encountered villages that required help or demons that are trying to steal Xuanzang and/or the scriptures.
Sound familiar? You can change certain key words like scriptures to dragon balls or Sun Wukong to Aang and you get the basic gist of each story. But why did these shows (and many others) use this story as a inspiration?
To give a really short answer to that question it is because Journey to the West is, at the basics, a pure adventure story. The story is about a group of people that go from point A to point B and dealing with challenges along the way; that is easy to use as a backbone for a story during any time, place or with any type of characters. The characters' personalities are simple tropes that can be molded into fleshed out characters with little effort. The story itself can be viewed as a basic skeleton of a adventure story that a writer can pick up and alter to fit the needs of the television show that they are creating.
I wanted to show the roots of shows that we have all seen as we were growing up.