Saotome Ranma, son of Saotome Genma, is dragged off by his father on a martial arts training expedition to China, where they both become the unfortunate victims of a certain set of magical hot springs (Jyusenkyo). There are over a hundred springs at this site, each of which is cursed. The curse is that anyone that falls into a spring takes on the body of the first creature to drown in that spring, but only whenever s/he is splashed with cold water.

Thus, Ranma, who fell into the Spring of the Young Girl (where a young girl drowned long ago), turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. His father turns into a panda. The only way to undo the transformation is to get splashed with hot water. Of course, Ranma and his father aren't the only victims of these cursed springs...

his father Genma had promised Ranma in marriage to one of the three daughters of his best friend, Tendou Soun. This had happened many years ago, and in the intervening time, the two families had separated. Now, after those many years, Soun gathers up his daughters Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane to inform them that now, the Saotomes were returning, and that one of them was to marry Ranma.

So, the day comes, the Saotomes arrive, and a girl.

Shortly before going to the Tendou Dojo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, Genma brought Ranma to Jusenkyo, a martial arts training ground in China with these very interesting springs. Ranma had knocked his father into a pool, and instead of Genma emerging, an angry panda bear charged out and knocked Ranma into another spring.

He didn't emerge, either. Rather, she did--a very well-built, female version of Ranma. These springs were cursed--hundreds of years ago, various creatures and people had drowned in them, and anyone who fell into a spring would be cursed. Genma fell into the Spring of the Drowned Panda, and Ranma fell into the Spring of the Drowned Young Girl. Whee.... In the course of the series, others get cursed here as well....

The series takes place mostly in the Nerima district of Tokyo, but often goes to China and other assorted locations.

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