Even though Dragon Ball wasn’t always about huge upgrades in power levels, as the franchise has gone on over the years, new transformations have become some of the most prominent moments to look forward to. Whether it’s the villain finally unveiling their full power, or the hero finally putting in the hard work to rise to new and greater heights, character transformations are always a moment to behold.
There have been so many new forms throughout Dragon Ball’s history, with more still occurring seemingly every week thanks to new episodes of Dragon Ball Super. Obviously, not each one is going to be great though, so we want to weed out the forgettable moments to focus on the really incredible changes that the characters have gone through. And yes, even a few non-Saiyan characters have managed to impress us. We’re looking at the moments that have stood the test of time in Dragon Ball: 15 Best Transformations Ever.
15. GOKU TURNS SUPER SAIYAN 4
We’re kicking things off with what many fans consider Dragon Ball GT’s best contribution to the franchise. GT is the shortest series in the Dragon Ball franchise, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it also has the fewest transformations. But the one it did give Goku was pretty memorable, even for critics of the series. It also finally answered the question of what would happen if a Saiyan were to turn Super Saiyan while they were a great ape. And the answer we got was the Super Saiyan 4 transformation.
This transformation sequence was so intense that Goku’s English voice actor, Sean Schemmel, has even spoken about how it caused him to lose consciousness while performing the vocals of Goku’s scream. And visually, it was a cool look. Super Saiyan 2 barely looked different than a regular Super Saiyan, while Super Saiyan 3 had some cool yet unwieldy rock star hair combined with an eyebrow waxing. Super Saiyan 4 was a reflection of the ape-like side of Saiyans that gave them prominent red fur covering a large portion of their bodies. It was an intense change, and it was cool to see a transformation that didn’t rely on just training for hours and hours, but instead had tangible rules for how to achieve it.
14. FRIEZA TRANSFORMS FOR THE FIRST TIME
Even though Frieza’s first transformation isn’t as memorable as his final form, the fact that he was able to transform at all was very surprising. For the majority of the story on Namek, Frieza looked like this manipulative little leader who had to hide behind others to protect him. Even when he finally stepped up to fight and went against Vegeta, his power became obvious, but he was still a very diminutive villain. But when he transformed, it became apparent he was hiding a great deal more than fans might have thought.
Frieza’s new form quickly remedied the issues his normal form had, significantly increasing his size and making him look a lot more intimidating. Fans of the original Funimation dub for Dragon Ball Z also remember how Frieza was voiced by a woman, giving him an androgynous vibe. But his new form gave him a deeper, gruffer voice that nobody was going to be making any jokes about. This was the moment when Frieza demonstrated he really was going to be the greatest challenge the characters had ever faced.
13. GOTENKS TURNS SUPER SAIYAN 3
When Goku revealed his Super Saiyan 3 form, it almost seemed like a waste at first. He decided to call off his fight against Fat Buu to go and help Goten and Trunks instead, and since he was only getting to visit Earth from the afterlife, his borrowed time soon ran out. New fans would probably wonder why the new form was introduced if it wasn’t going to be utilized in the final battle. Then Goten and Trunks revealed the reasoning behind it all.
Goten and Trunks fusing into Gotenks was clearly a powerful transformation, but we had already seen their base form was no match for even Fat Buu. By the time Gotenks got another crack at Buu, the villain had gained his Super form, while Gotenks only unveiled his Super Saiyan form. It looked like a mismatch, and their fight in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber seemed to prove that. But even though Gotenks was a total idiot for doing so, he revealed he had been withholding his top power level for dramatic effect (something he made an unfortunate habit of), and he too could become a Super Saiyan 3. Not only was it impressive that the kids could attain such power at such a young age, but it was the first moment Super Buu finally looked like he could be defeated.
12. MASTER ROSHI BUFFS UP TO DO THE FIRST KAMEHAMEHA
And you thought only Saiyans and villains were going to be in this article, didn’t you? Yes, even though the original Dragon Ball was nowhere near as known for its transformation sequences as the sequel series would become, there were still a few. In a way they, were even more memorable because of how rare they were. And one of the first transformations of the entire franchise was no exception, even though it involved Master Roshi of all people.
The turtle hermit really doesn’t show up after Dragon Ball for much aside from jokes about what a pervert he is, but he’s actually quite a powerful warrior for a human. He would later demonstrate his ability as Jackie Chun, but his first impressive display came when he unveiled his signature technique: the Kamehameha wave. Summoning the strength to perform the move transformed the scrawny Master Roshi into a buff warrior that had everyone around him trembling with fear. Roshi used his new muscle-bound form to unleash the first Kamehameha of the franchise and destroy an entire mountain. It was definitely one of his coolest moments.
11. SEMI-PERFECT CELL BECOMES PERFECT CELL
Even though Frieza was the first major villain to utilize transformations, Cell was the first one to attain them in such a brutal manner. His perfect form was intriguing as soon as he mentioned it, but even more so after his first transformation. Semi-Perfect Cell honestly was far less intimidating than Imperfect Cell was, so fans could only hope that when he inevitably transformed again that he’d restore some of his menace.
Once Cell finally absorbed both the androids, he still wasn’t quite as creepy as Imperfect Cell, but he did have a far more serious looking appearance. He was suddenly much more confident, and was able to brush off attacks from both Vegeta and Krillin like he didn’t even feel them. The form itself instantly conveyed why Cell was so desperate to attain it, and what a mistake it had been for Vegeta to prevent Trunks from destroying Android 18.
10. GOKU BECOMES A SUPER SAIYAN GOD
When Battle of Gods was unveiled and it was announced the franchise would be continuing on in a new series, we knew Goku would be getting a new transformation. It was going to be a big moment no matter what, since this was the first new transformation the franchise had seen in years, but it was even more significant because this was the first time a new form required the power of numerous Saiyans to achieve.
Beerus quickly showed why he should be taken seriously when he easily overpowered Goku’s Super Saiyan 3 form, the most powerful non-fused character up until this point. Rather than relying on training to improve, Goku instead utilized a legendary transformation explained to him by Shenron that required five Saiyans. It gave Goku some spiffy red anime hair, as well as the power of a god. It still wasn’t enough to defeat Beerus, but it was a great reminder for fans why they loved the franchise.
9. BROLY BECOMES A SUPER SAIYAN
Even though we had seen evil Saiyans in the franchise like Turles, Raditz, and Nappa, we had never seen an evil Super Saiyan before. Vegeta was an antagonist for a while, but by the time he finally became a Super Saiyan, he had definitely become more of an antihero. So for a long time, we were only left to imagine what that kind of power would be like in the hands of an evil character. And then Broly came along and put those fantasies to rest.
Broly was pretty scarce on personality, but he made up for it in intimidation. He’s the only character in the franchise who transformed by actually exploding. And when the light and the dust faded, Broly’s hulking new form was revealed. It was enough to cause even Vegeta to become terrified and willing to give up. The transformation cemented Broly’s place as one of the franchise’s very best villains, and made him popular enough to get the white-eyed warrior two more movies devoted to him.
8. FAT BUU BECOMES SUPER BUU
It was always going to be tough to top the incredibly satisfying ending the Cell saga had. And for a while, it seemed like the Buu saga wasn’t even trying to top the evil of the former villains, instead going with Fat Buu, who was a destructive yet innocent force. It was a unique take on a villain, but it also felt juvenile and hard to take seriously. Fat Buu had so little evil intent in him that Hercule eventually had him on the verge of becoming a good guy. But that evil couldn’t just vanish, so instead we got Evil Buu, who was able to absorb Fat Buu and take on a new form.
Even though Super Buu still had a body that looked like a bubblegum sculpture, he immediately demonstrated that he was not the gentle monster that his previous form had been. Buu commemorated his transformation by liquefying himself and funneling his body down a man’s throat until the guy burst. It was one of the franchise’s most brutal deaths, and a memorable topper to an awesome new form.
7. VEGETA BECOMES A GREAT APE
Most of the transformations are ones that the characters are able to access whenever they want, but there are a few rare ones that have been cool as well. The Great Ape transformation was always a spectacle just because of how huge it made the character, and it also usually made them enraged and dangerous. At this point in the franchise, we had not seen a Great Ape since the last time Goku became one in the original Dragon Ball, so to see it again in DBZ was a great moment. Especially since this was the first time Goku wasn’t the one turning into King Kong on steroids.
Vegeta’s transformation was also distinct from Goku’s in a lot of ways. Vegeta willingly chose to become a Great Ape, setting up the circumstances for him to become one and use that power to his advantage. And unlike Goku, Vegeta retained his intelligence while in the form; he was even able to speak to people. This great moment no doubt played a significant role in making Vegeta into a fan favorite.
6. FRIEZA CHANGES INTO HIS FINAL FORM
Once Frieza revealed he had three transformations to go through, all the anticipation was on his final form. We knew there was no way he was going to be killed before we saw it, and it immediately built a lot of hype over what he would look like and how much more powerful it would make him. So when Frieza finally unveiled his final form, it was something fans were looking forward to even more than some of new forms from the heroes.
Frieza’s final form stood out right away from all his other looks. His second and third forms had him becoming bigger and more grotesque each time, and sprouting more horns across his body. But his final form was surprisingly sleek and slim, with his horns disappearing completely. And as the franchise continued, Frieza would almost always appear in his final form from this point on, despite saying that it was more of a strain on his body. Frieza’s first form became a rare sight, and this became the definitive appearance of the franchise’s greatest villain going forward.
5. GOKU TURNS SUPER SAIYAN 3
The transformations came hard and fast in the Buu saga of Dragon Ball Z, with Buu himself going through a number of different forms on top of all the fusions that occurred throughout this storyline. Those new forms offered some fun moments, but nothing really topped yet another new Goku transformation. Even though he was already dead, Goku revealed his power hadn’t stopped growing when he unveiled what would become the strongest canonical state a Saiyan could reach for years.
Goku becoming a Super Saiyan 3 had no build-up to it, unlike the first time we saw a regular Super Saiyan or the first time we saw a Super Saiyan 2. That lack of any anticipation diminished this moment a bit, but it didn’t take away from the excitement of the change. Fans were just as dubious as Goku’s friends over whether there really was a new form. But after five minutes of some pretty intense screaming, we knew for sure. Goku unveiled hair that looked like his brother Raditz’s, as well as the strength to finally take on Majin Buu.
4. GOKU BECOMES A GREAT APE FOR THE FIRST TIME
We talked about Vegeta’s Great Ape transformation earlier, but it’s hard to beat an original moment. This was the first time we even saw the form, so the whole experience was new to fans at the time. Here we had perceived Goku as this gentle, silly character, and suddenly he became wild, vicious, and deadly. Even his own friends became terrified of him in this state.
Goku was not trained to control his Great Ape form like Vegeta, so he lost all control in this form. The most he could do is recognize a friendly face and maybe know that he didn’t want to hurt that person. For a long time, these were the traits we assumed applied to all Great Apes, but eventually we learned Goku and Gohan were the only ones who lacked the training to control this state. It was a good way to distinguish the characters’ personalities, even while in this wild form.
3. VEGETA TURNS SUPER SAIYAN
The character development of Vegeta was one of the best things about Dragon Ball Z. Over the course of the series, we got to watch his slow evolution from a villain into a hero. Throughout the Frieza saga, Vegeta was obsessed with becoming a Super Saiyan and believed he had done it when it mattered most, but then he died before even getting to see the real thing. But when he was revived and realized his rival Goku had attained the legendary form, Vegeta refused to let that stand.
It seemed like only characters who were pure of heart could reach the form, but Vegeta proved otherwise when he took on Android 19. He revealed the extreme conditions he put his body and mind through to match Goku, as well as his willingness to die if he couldn’t surpass his rival. That sacrifice proved to be enough, and in this moment, Vegeta really was stronger than Goku. It cemented Vegeta as someone who could take on the protagonist role, even if he’d go on to make a few more-than-questionable decisions in the future.
2. GOHAN TURNS SUPER SAIYAN 2
Of all the transformations that we’ve seen, none were as much of a slow burn than this one. Gohan’s immense power was apparent even from the first fight in Dragon Ball Z against Raditz. With Goku and Piccolo struggling to defeat the evil Saiyan, Gohan finally couldn’t contain his anger at watching his dad suffer, and he charged into Raditz with extraordinary strength. But just as quickly as it came, Gohan’s power vanished. That’s how it went each time Gohan became angry.
Goku realized what was going on and finally decided to help his son tap into that power when Cell threatened the Earth. Chi-Chi’s efforts to push Gohan into being a scholar had suppressed his power, but, finally free to indulge in his fury, he unveiled strength unseen in the franchise by becoming the first Super Saiyan 2. It was Gohan’s shining moment in the franchise, and a payoff to years of build-up. The series arguably even could have ended after Gohan killed Cell, because it positioned him to be the hero of the franchise going forward and wrapped up all the major storylines. But good ole’ Goku proved to be too damn popular.
1. GOKU TURNS SUPER SAIYAN
There really could be no other transformation fit for the top spot on our list. This was the moment that was built up for so many episodes, the thing Vegeta craved, and the thing Frieza feared more than anything. This wasn’t just a cool new transformation, but a moment that felt like the climax to the series. Goku had seen several of his friends getting killed by Frieza, his entire home planet had been destroyed by this tyrant, and now, Namek was on the verge of destruction as well. You couldn’t ask for more emotion to be packed into a fight.
Even though Goku’s father Bardock was technically the first Saiyan of the franchise, Goku was the first one we actually saw. Goku’s ascent to this form was the measuring stick by which all other transformations would be compared going forth. And as awesome as those other new forms were, none of them quite measured up. Goku’s Super Saiyan form looked awesome, made him into a more serious warrior than we had ever seen, and marked the shift in momentum where we finally got to see payback against Frieza.
Which transformation stands out the most in your memory from the franchise? There are plenty we haven’t even mentioned, so make your case for Dragon Ball’s best transformation in the comments!