As Dragon Ball Super continues, we’ve seen some pretty intense fights in the series. But for any anime fan from the ‘90s, it’s the fights of Dragon Ball Z that come to mind when thinking about big confrontations. During its nearly 300 episodes, DBZ just kept upping the ante with more and more powerful villains who went from blowing craters in the ground to blowing up planets.
The main appeal of Dragon Ball Z was always the fights, so the show had a ton of them. It seemed like the heroes scarcely did anything other than eat, train, and scream as they gained yet another power boost. It’s made for lots of interesting encounters, and many people probably compare the new battles in Super to their favorite fights in DBZ. There’re plenty of fights to choose from, so we selected the best from the bunch. Not just from the TV series, but from the movies that take place during the timespan of DBZ as well. Super has a lot to live up to if the creators want it to compare to the 15 Best Fights of Dragon Ball Z.
16 VEGETA, KRILLIN, AND GOHAN VS RECOOME
While Recoome obviously was going to be nothing more than a mook in the grand scheme of things, he was the first big threat to any of the Z Fighters on Namek. Sure, Zarbon had been able to defeat Vegeta earlier, but it hadn’t made Vegeta so desperate as to seek out allies. But, once he sensed the Ginyu Force was coming, he forgot his animosity towards Gohan and Krillin and took a rare moment to form an alliance. Just seeing Vegeta fight alongside his former enemies for the first time made this fight feel special.
Then the fight began, and we saw Vegeta’s ruthless power wasn’t enough to stop Recoome. Recoome was seemingly just playing with his opponents, even letting the three of them fight him at the same time. The last time we’d seen the Z Fighters have to triple team someone was against Nappa, and that encounter ended with several of them dying. Even Gohan tapping into his rage like he did against Raditz wasn’t enough to make a difference. This was the first moment on Namek when it looked like Frieza’s forces might win, and if not for Goku’s arrival, there’s little doubt Recoome would have ended a few lives.
15 FUTURE TRUNKS VS MECHA FRIEZA
Some fights are great because they are wars between two incredibly powerful forces, while others are great just to sit back and watch an elite warrior dominate their opponent. When Future Trunks arrived to confront Mecha Frieza and King Cold, it was very much the latter situation. And what it took Goku hours of screen time to accomplish, Trunks did in mere minutes.
Part of the fun of the fight was the mystery of who Trunks was, how he was able to become a Super Saiyan like Goku, and where this left the series going forward. Frieza was the most power villain viewers, as well as the characters, knew at the time. With him finally destroyed beyond a doubt, it kicked off an exciting start to the newest saga of the series. Plus, if you’re going to debut a new character, introducing him with an awesome kill is a good way to do it. This was one of the shortest fights of the series, but the image of Trunks cutting Frieza in half with a sword was one of the coolest moments of the show.
14 VEGETA VS ANDROID 19
Phillip K. Dick’s famous book once asked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Saiyan Prince Vegeta was interested in a different question concerning androids: “Does a machine like yourself ever experience fear?” By the end of this confrontation between Vegeta and Android 19, we learned the answer to that question. After having both of his hands ripped off by Vegeta, 19 went running for the hills. And it turns out androids are right to feel fear around Vegeta, because he took no mercy in ending 19’s robotic life.
Of course, this fight was special for more reasons than just witnessing Vegeta kill off a villain - we saw plenty of that on Namek. What sets this fight apart is this is the moment Vegeta became a Super Saiyan, something we’d heard only Saiyans who were pure of heart could accomplish. Obviously that doesn’t describe Vegeta, so this was a big surprise, especially after his failed attempts at transforming on Namek.
The icing on the cake was a Super Saiyan Goku had just tried and failed to defeat 19. This was one of the only times where Goku couldn’t beat an opponent, but Vegeta managed to do so. And sure, it was only because Goku’s heart disease that Future Trunks warned of had kicked in, but Vegeta no doubt savored the victory nonetheless.
13 GOHAN, VEGETA, PICCOLO, AND FUTURE TRUNKS VS BOJACK, BIDO, BUJIN, AND ZANGYA
It’s not often anime has villains smart enough to take on the hero all at once. In fact, Dragon Ball Z is infamous for its characters standing idly by while someone powers up, charges up an attack, or is maiming their allies. So Bojack automatically gets big points for not being stupid. He brought friends, and he utilizes them to gain the advantage. And it’s not as if he even needs his allies since this fight takes place after Gohan has become a Super Saiyan 2, and yet Bojack is still holding his own. That means Bojack might have actually been more powerful than Perfect Cell was.
Part of what made this fight special was it was one of the few Dragon Ball Z movies that didn’t resolve with Goku saving the day. Despite being dead, Goku did have to appear to get in one shot against Bojack when Gohan was in trouble, but it was still Gohan who delivered the finishing blow. Plus, since Gohan stopped training after this, this was really the last time we saw him as a fully powered Super Saiyan 2. By the Buu Saga he was busy fighting local crime and being a student, and then he attained his Mystic form that made Saiyan transformations superfluous. This was our last look at a super-powered Gohan getting to stop a threat to Earth.
12 VEGETA AND GOKU VS. KID BUU
Buu was never the most articulate villain in the series, and only become less erudite when he reverted into his Kid Buu form. While Fat Buu was capable of communicating like a child, and Super Buu had no problem speaking up when it was about candy or killing people, Kid Buu let his actions speak for him. He was unchained chaos, going through the universe and destroying planets by the minute just for fun. We had seen villains threaten to destroy the Earth before, but Kid Buu was the first to go through with it.
Because of Kid Buu’s lack of social skills, there wasn’t much animosity behind this fight. It wasn’t about a personal grudge like with Frieza, or about hubris like with Cell. Buu was just a living embodiment of destruction that needed to be stopped. This fight was so desperate, Vegeta put aside his grudge with Goku to work alongside him while the latter prepared a Spirit Bomb. And this marked one of the only successful Spirit Bombs in the franchise, which is a relief given it took using the wishes from the dragon balls, having every single person on Earth give their energy to Goku, as well as wishing for Goku’s energy to be restored to full just to hit Buu with the thing.
11 ANDROID 16 VS IMPERFECT CELL
Once Super Saiyans became a part of the series, it was pretty rare to see a non-Saiyan get to be a hero. For fans of the original Dragon Ball, it could be frustrating to watch so many of the other characters become useless or reduced to jokes for filler scenes. So part of what made the Cell Saga enjoyable is that characters like Piccolo, Tien, and even Krillin got to have one last big moment. But the biggest surprise was that newcomer Android 16 was not only given a chance to be a hero, but also nearly killed Cell all on his own.
It was hard to imagine we’d ever feel sympathy for the androids since they were created to kill Goku, but Cell’s arrival quickly eclipsed their potential for destruction. So seeing the apathetic Android 16 of all people step up to challenge Cell was a shock. Even more shocking was that 16 outmatched Cell and literally began ripping him limb from limb starting with his tail. The combination of the unlikely hero and this being the first fight where we saw Cell get dominated made this a memorable encounter. It’s just a shame Androids 17 and 18 repeatedly ignored 16’s warnings to run, and made his efforts go to waste.
10 SUPER SAIYAN 3 GOKU VS FAT BUU
In a lot of ways, the Buu Saga was about a new generation trying to step up to protect Earth. Goku had realized his presence on Earth was a magnet for people who wanted to hurt him, and by extension, his home. So he wanted to stay away and allow his descendants to handle things. So because of how focused the story arc had been on Gohan’s teenage years, and the advancing power of Trunks and Goten, we hadn’t seen just how powerful Goku had become. This fight was the big unveil of how much Goku had advanced in his training.
Admittedly, the five minute transformation sequence into a Super Saiyan 3 was the most memorable part of the fight, but this was also the first time Buu met his match. If not for Goku’s time limit on how long he could remain on Earth, this likely could have been the moment Buu was defeated. But it also showed Buu’s power that even with Goku’s new transformation, Buu was enjoying the fight and wanted to do it again. However, the biggest impact this confrontation had was Goku nudging Buu into no longer obeying Babidi, leading to Buu killing the wizard and becoming his own master.
9 PICCOLO, KRILLIN, TIEN, CHIAOTZU, AND GOHAN VS NAPPA
Dragon Ball Z had already kicked off in a big way by having Goku die in the first fight of the series, but it wasn’t yet clear just how different this series would be from the original Dragon Ball. Then Nappa and Vegeta appeared and changed everything. The odds looked good for the Z Fighters at first, standing with a six against two advantage to their opponents. This included the likes of Yamcha and Tien, who had repeatedly proven to be some of the strongest fighters at the World Martial Arts Tournament each year. Plus they had Piccolo, who had become the strongest antagonist of the original Dragon Ball. Surely they had this handled.
Then, Yamcha was killed before the Z Fighters even got a crack against the Saiyan invaders thanks to the Saibamen. Nappa arrogantly elected to take on the remaining Z Fighters all on his own, so that had to mean things were looking up - until Nappa showed just how brutal the tone of the new series would be. He killed Chiaotzu, Tien, and even Piccolo in quick succession. The fight set a shocking pace for what to expect from DBZ, and signaled the changing of the guard from the characters of Dragon Ball, to the power of the Saiyans.
8 MAJIN VEGETA VS FAT BUU
When Buu first emerged from his ball, he wasn’t what anyone was expecting. He almost didn’t look like a true threat. He quickly fought off Gohan and killed Dabura, but we knew from Vegeta’s earlier remarks that neither of them were great fighters anymore. Vegeta, meanwhile, had just ascended to a Super Saiyan 2 thanks to the powers of Babidi. He had proved he was at his peak by just taking on Goku in a fight and rendering him unconscious. So Vegeta was the first true test for Buu.
It was quickly obvious that Vegeta was outmatched despite everything, and that Buu was too resilient to be defeated. What makes this fight stand out isn’t that it was an evenly contested bout, but rather the way Vegeta chose to end it. Knowing the threat Buu posed, Vegeta incapacitated Trunks and Goten and instructed Piccolo to take them away. He made no secret about his intention to sacrifice himself, and that’s what makes this fight so memorable. This was the first time Vegeta put others before himself, and he let his power unleash in a self-destructive blast to eliminate Buu. His last thoughts weren’t about gaining more strength, or his pride as a Saiyan Prince, but simply about saving his family, and even Goku.
7 GOKU VS FRIEZA
When this fight first happened, it looked like it could very well be the end of the series. It seemed to be what everything had been building to. And honestly, this fight not being as climactic in retrospect is why it isn’t higher on the list. This was one of the longest fights not just in the series, but in all of anime, and it didn’t even resolve the confrontation since all the characters who were killed or appeared to die returned soon afterwards.
Yet even with those disappointing aspects, there are still incredible moments contained in this battle. This was the moment that the legend of the Super Saiyan became reality and became a hallmark of the series. Plus, this was the first time we saw someone overpower Frieza, before he wound up becoming one of the most killed characters in the series.
The fight could have used a more fast-paced ending, and maybe skipped planet Namek exploding in “five minutes” for several episodes, but this is still one of the biggest confrontations in anime.
6 GOKU VS BEERUS
When a new Dragon Ball Z movie arrived in 2013, a lot of fans probably expected the typical harmless romp the previous few movies had been. It was like the Z Fighters had finally become so powerful that any enemy they encountered was just an excuse to have a fun fight. And at first, Goku believed exactly that. He was begging for a fight against Beerus, and confidently turned Super Saiyan 3 when he got his wish. Goku was being so cocky that it was honestly kind of refreshing when Beerus smacked him down with barely any effort.
Come round two, there was no doubt Goku would have to take things more seriously. It was no surprise that he was the one who transformed into the Super Saiyan God Beerus had mentioned, but what was a shock was the outcome. Even giving it his all, Goku still lost. And it wasn’t even close - Beerus commented after winning that he hadn’t even been using his full power. He easily could have destroyed the planet as he had repeatedly threatened to, and no one would have been able to stop him.
After the Z Fighters had grown so complacent, it was a nice change of pace for them to be reminded that they couldn’t coast through every battle. Beerus was the kind of layered antagonist the series needed, and he immediately stood out by being the first villain to be triumphant at the end of one of the movies.
5 GOKU VS MAJIN VEGETA
The Buu Saga is where people frequently point to for when the series started getting out of hand with the sky rocketing power levels and the limitless transformations, but it did still have some excellent moments. Probably the best one was a fight that didn’t even involve Buu, but instead featured Goku going up against his old rival.
Vegeta lives to surpass Goku. He’s made no secret of that, and uses his envy of Goku’s strength to better himself. After Goku sacrificed himself against Cell, Vegeta seriously stood in the aftermath of the fight and lamented he’d never have another chance to prove himself against his former enemy. So it was natural for them to fight again, and once Vegeta ascended to a Super Saiyan 2 due to Babidi’s magic, they were on equal footing. Vegeta left Goku no choice but to fight after he callously killed a crowd of people at the World Martial Arts Tournament. So the two strongest characters in the franchise went at it once again.
There have been cooler looking fights in the series, but just based on the amount of emotion involved, this one is near the top. Each punch Vegeta delivered to “Kakarot” had years of pent up anger and frustration behind it. Sure, Vegeta only won because of a cheap shot when Goku let his guard down, but seeing the return of Vegeta’s dark side was an incredible moment. Though it was undermined a bit when it was revealed Goku actually had the Super Saiyan 3 transformation at his disposal, and had in fact been holding back.
4 GOKU, VEGETA, PICCOLO, GOHAN, AND FUTURE TRUNKS VS BROLY
As far as the characters involved, there’re few fights bigger than the one against Broly in The Legendary Super Saiyan. It featured the most powerful heroes at that point against one of the most dominating forces they would ever encounter. Even villains like Cell and Buu could be hurt by their opponents, but simply regenerated from any damage they took. Broly seemed outright impervious to all attacks, even a point blank Kamehameha from Goku that was just laughed off.
Ever since Vegeta switched to the good side, fans had been left wanting for another evil Saiyan to liven things up. Broly’s uncompromising force did the trick, and a made a lot of fans disappointed he’d be a one-off character while most of the villains in the TV series got dozens of episodes devoted to them. So Broly’s popularity led to him getting two more sequel movies, the good but inferior Second Coming, and the terribly underwhelming Bio-Broly. But at least his debut was still awesome, and he made a huge impact among fans with the way he tossed around the Z Fighters. Broly might even have been higher on this list of not for the anticlimactic finish to the fight.
3 GOHAN VS PERFECT CELL
With this fight, the moment that had been building for the entire series had finally arrived: Gohan’s untapped power was unleashed. Goku had been showing confidence in his son’s ability to defeat Cell ever since leaving the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, but Gohan and everyone else felt sure Goku was just trying to boost Gohan’s confidence. Then the destruction of the innocent Android 16 finally became more than Gohan could take, and we saw our first Super Saiyan 2.
The surge of power was as much a shock for Gohan as the viewers, and he let his newfound strength go to his head by fighting to torture the weaker Cell instead of outright killing him. That mistake eventually allowed Cell to regenerate stronger than ever, stronger than Gohan even, and mortally wound Future Trunks. The brief window where Cell could finally be killed nearly slipped away, but the support of his friends gave Gohan the edge he needed to prevail. With the voice of the now deceased Goku urging him on, and Vegeta providing one final distraction to Cell, Gohan won a battle of Kamehamehas in one of the most striking scene from the series.
2 HONORABLE MENTION: GOKU AND VEGETA VS GOLDEN FRIEZA
Okay, this one’s kind of a cheat, but it’s too good not to mention. Sure, you could say this is part of Dragon Ball Z since the movie’s title is Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F,’ but this movie was really more of the kick off for Dragon Ball Super. Regardless, this gives us our third Frieza entry on the list, and his best one yet. He had finally powered up enough to match the strength of Super Saiyans, and even got a new transformation out of the deal: Golden Frieza.
It was an intense, fast-paced fight that really delivered the kind of action we were hoping from Goku and Frieza’s first encounter on Namek. And this time, Frieza actually defeated Goku and had him ready to be killed. If not for the surprise of Vegeta being a Super Saiyan God as well, Frieza might have won. Unfortunately, Frieza hadn’t yet adjusted to his new form and that left him weaker the longer he fought. But it was great strategy for him to win the fight anyway by blowing up the Earth, especially without delaying for “five minutes.” It also showed just how stupidly competitive Goku and Vegeta are that they seriously allowed the Earth to be destroyed rather than work together to beat Frieza. It’s fortunate they had friends like Beerus and Whis around to reverse time for them.
1 GOKU VS VEGETA
The later years of Dragon Ball Z changed the fights a lot, so characters treated even the toughest battles like a fun sparring session. And even when death and destruction were imminent, those moments were undermined by all the safety nets the Z Fighters had acquired to save them or boost their power, like senzu beans, wishes from the dragon balls, the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, and the fusion ritual. When Nappa and Vegeta arrived, the Z Fighters didn’t have most of those options. Death meant a lot more, and was a real possibility for the characters.
Most of Goku’s friends had already been killed off, and he had gotten as much of a power boost as he was going to get thanks to King Kai’s training. He was on his own for this one, and if he lost, there was no one else. This was a desperate fight, and Goku’s first true test since coming back to life. It was filled with new moves, and even a few send offs from the Dragon Ball series. For instance, this was the first and last time the Saiyan’s Great Ape transformation was seen in DBZ, which really adds a unique element to this fight. Plus, this was probably the last time Yajirobe does anything remotely useful, having a near chance at killing Vegeta before Goku asks for Vegeta to be allowed to leave in peace.
This fight ranks at the top because it was just perfect on so many different levels. After teasing us with Vegeta standing on the sidelines for all of Nappa’s fight, we finally got to see what this guy could do. And then it was Goku’s first real fight back after all his training, and it was against what we thought was the last remaining member of his Saiyan race. Add in all the different techniques showcased, and the pacing of the fight being satisfying without dragging on, and this is just a great fight to come back to even after all the others that were to come.
With nearly 300 episodes and over a dozen movies, there’s been a lot of screaming and fighting throughout Dragon Ball Z. There are plenty of battles we didn’t mention, so if you have a favorite you think is worth mentioning, let us know in the comments!