It’s not often that Dragon Ball stops to linger on its sadder, more poignant moments. Of course, when the series does take its time to slow down and zone in on the inherent drama at the center of the story, Dragon Ball tends to shine. Some of the most impacting moments in the franchise stem from the series’ diving headfirst into its own pathos.
It’s also worth noting that despite characters comfortably coming back to life, death scenes in Dragon Ball are always treated with a considerable amount of weight. Kuririn dies three times over the course of the original series, but two of those deaths are emotionally charged and unforgettable. Dragon Ball often is.
10 Goku Reuniting With Grandpa Gohan
The only time Goku ever cries during the course of the original series is near the end of the Red Ribbon Army arc where he squares off against Grandpa Gohan during the Baba tournament. After living alone for so long, Goku finally gets to reunite with his grandfather one last time. It’s a tender moment that breaks the arc’s emotional thread to a close.
It more importantly serves as an opportunity for Goku and Gohan to say goodbye to one another. Gohan expresses extreme pride in his adoptive grandson, even teaching him a martial arts lesson that’ll go on to directly impact the outcome of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai.
9 Kuririn’s First Death
Arguably the most shocking moment in Dragon Ball comes from Goku finding Kuririn’s lifeless body after the end of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai. Following a tournament arc that ended on an emotional high, Goku’s best friend is killed in cold blood, his Dragon Ball is stolen, and he’s left to fight a Demon King who is undeniably stronger than him.
The anime makes this moment all the more heartbreaking by having Goku recognize that something is wrong. He feels Kuririn’s absence and rushes to him the moment he senses something off. Kuririn’s death has weight in the manga, but it’s all the more foreboding in the anime adaptation.
8 Piccolo Daimao Wins
Kuririn’s death also kicks off a chain reaction that ultimately allows Piccolo Daimao to win. Without any context from the rest of the series, the arc proceeds with Kuririn’s death, Goku nearly dying fighting Piccolo, Chaozu being eviscerated, Muten Roshi failing to use the Mafuba, and Piccolo killing Shenlong.
While Goku does defeat Piccolo Daimao in the end, it’s not without countless sacrifices and losses. The Demon King Piccolo arc is one of the few story arcs in the series that makes an effort to show the heroes actively struggling to keep up. There’s a reason fans still consider the Demon King one of the series’ best villains.
7 The Earthlings Die
Of course, while Piccolo Daimao certainly leaves his mark on the franchise, the deaths of Kuririn, Chaozu, and Roshi barely even compare with the onslaught that happens when Nappa and Vegeta first land on Earth. In a span of just a few chapters, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, and Chaozu all lose their lives.
Chaozu seemingly dies for good this time around, whereas Tenshinhan lets himself die to be with him. Yamcha, on the other hand, manages to defeat a Saibaiman with ease but gets killed shortly after by surprise. It’s a shocking, disheartening moment that puts into perspective just how outclassed the Earthlings are.
6 Piccolo’s Sacrifice
Salt is rubbed into the wound even further with Piccolo’s sacrifice just a few chapters later. Despite losing half their fighting force, Kuririn, Piccolo, and Gohan are able to actively fight back against Nappa. They do well enough, in fact, that Kuririn and Piccolo very nearly manage to kill Nappa on a few occasions.
Tragically, Gohan’s cowardice gets Piccolo killed in the process. Instead of being angry, however, he laments how Gohan was the only person who saw him as an equal—a friend. Piccolo dies weeping, not because his time on Earth is gone, but because he felt genuine compassion for the first time.
5 Vegeta’s Death On Namek
Vegeta’s a rather interesting character before the Boo arc, in large part due to the fact that he doesn’t exactly redeem himself until said story arc. Beforehand, while he may be technically fighting for the heroes, he’s very much villainous in terms of his own agenda. On Namek, in particular, he has his own goals.
That doesn’t make it any less sad when he dies, though. Sobbing for Goku to avenge the Saiyan race, Vegeta dies a quiet, understated death on Namek. He comes back, of course, but this moment would have served to wrap up his character arc wonderfully. The last man raised in Saiyan culture is left to rot in an unmarked grave on a dying planet. Poetic.
4 The Legendary Super Saiyan
Naturally, while Vegeta’s death is a big moment that sticks out prominently, it’s not the emotional moment of the Namek arc. Rather, that title belongs to the legendary Super Saiyan, Son Goku. After seemingly defeating Freeza once and for all, the galactic tyrant comes back to incapacitate Piccolo and kill Kuririn.
Believing that this is the end for Kuririn, Goku enters into a frenzy, transforming into a Super Saiyan before Freeza’s eyes. While it’s tragic to lose Kuririn for the seemingly last time, Goku lamenting on him as his best friend while also coming to terms with his Saiyan heritage makes for an incredibly powerful moment.
3 Spirit vs Spirit
While Goku turning Super Saiyan for the first time is the iconic Super Saiyan moment, it’s hard to deny the sheer impact Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 transformation had on the fandom. It’s far and away one of the most iconic moments in the series, in large part due to the song that players during the Japanese version.
A beautiful melody underscores one of Dragon Ball’s most intense moments. Gohan finally triggers his full potential, all because No. 16 finally pushed him to fight. Along with that, 16’s death sticks out as a surprising moment of permanency in the series. It makes for a moment where audiences really feel Gohan’s anger.
2 Goku’s Sacrifice
Anger never solved anything, and Gohan very quickly learns that toying with Cell has extreme consequences. With the Earth at critical danger, Goku has no choice but to transport Cell away, sacrificing himself in the process. This marks the last time Goku dies in the original series, and it actually feels like it’s going to stick contextually.
It doesn’t, of course, but that doesn’t change how this affects the series. Goku’s death fundamentally molds the stage for the start of the Boo arc. Whether this was for the series’ ultimate benefit is up for debate, but it’s hard to deny the emotion behind Goku’s sacrifice.
1 Vegeta’s Final Atonement
All that being said, Dragon Ball’s most emotional moment is also one of its last. Upon becoming Main, Vegeta realizes that he’s still nothing in the eyes of Goku. Not only had Goku been holding back, Vegeta needed a boost just to keep up. He knocks out Goku, goes to fight Boo, and readies himself for what he believes to be his final death.
In his last moments, Vegeta thinks back to his wife, his son, and even Son Goku himself. It’s an intensely powerful moment that more or less brings Vegeta’s arc to its close. He’ll still come to recognize Goku as his better at the end of the Boo arc, but this is the crux of Vegeta’s emotional development.