For better or worse, the Dragon Ball franchise is centered on fights. Although the show tells stories that were often interesting and compelling, these stories were ultimately mere vehicles. They were designed only to carry audiences to the next major fight, ones which were often well worth the wait. The show knows how to choreograph its fights, and better yet, it knows how to up the stakes.
The world was almost always in danger when Goku and his compatriots rode into battle. In that respect, the stakes were always the same. The stakes viewers really cared about, though, were the internal ones. In the best fights, we had no idea if Goku would be able to defeat this newer, stronger foe.
For every legendary battle in the Dragon Ball canon, there’s at least one that falls flat. It could be that the choreography is uninspired. Occasionally, the show would also create situations where the combatants were so unevenly matched that audiences weren’t at all invested in the outcome. Many of the shows worst fights came during storylines that weren’t particularly interesting either.
The Dragon Ball franchise gave us plenty of great action, but every franchise makes mistakes, and Dragon Ball is certainly no exception. Here are the 10 Best (And 10 Lamest) Fights In Dragon Ball.
20 Lamest: Hercule vs. Cell
It’s designed to be a joke, but that doesn’t make the fight between Hercule and Cell any easier to swallow. Hercule is meant to be the strongest warrior on Earth, but when he goes up against Cell, he barely makes a scratch. Although Goku and the rest of the Z fighters step in before Cell can do too much damage to Hercule, Hercule remains pretty ungrateful for their interference.
He ultimately takes credit for defeating Cell, and claims that all of the abilities the other fighters have, such as flight and chi blasts, are mere special effects designed to trick the audiences watching at home. Hercule was meant to inject some comedy into a situation that was quite tense and high-stakes, and he succeeded to some extent. Even so, it was hard to ignore the nagging feeling that he simply existed to prolong the beginning of the climactic battle between Cell and Goku that was to come.
19 Best: Goku vs. Tien
Although Tien eventually became something of a punchline, there was a time during Dragon Ball where he seemed like a major threat. As is the case with most villains on this show, Tien failed to keep up with Goku as he rapidly became more and more powerful. When the two first fought, though, they were fairly well matched. Tien split into several copies of himself, but Goku’s use of the solar flare blinded him, damaging his biggest asset - his eyesight.
Although Goku was initially defeated by Tien, Goku managed to train toward his opponent’s weaknesses, and emerged victorious as a result. Goku and other characters ultimately incorporated many of Tien’s tactics into their own fighting styles, including the solar flare, which has gotten many of the show’s characters out of particularly hairy predicaments.
Although Tien may not have been hugely powerful, his influence over the world of Dragon Ball is great.
18 Lamest: Goten and Trunks vs. Android 18
This fight was something of a joke from the very beginning. Android 18 entered into the World Martial Arts Tournament, and would have won it if she hadn’t let Hercule win instead. Before she reaches the final, though, she has to get through Mighty Mask, a warrior who wears a mask over his face. Underneath that mask are actually Goten and Trunks, who enter the tournament, believing they can easily win it.
When they come up against Android 18, though, they realize that she may be more of a challenge than they initially anticipated, and are forced to go Super Saiyan in order to be evenly matched with her. Of course, the second they go Super Saiyan, 18 recognizes them, and uses a destructo disc to tear off the costume and reveal who they really are. It’s not really a fight at all, but for the short time that fighting occurs, it’s pretty underwhelming.
17 Best: Piccolo vs. Android 17
Piccolo was a consistently surprising presence on Dragon Ball Z, in part because he managed to keep up with the powers of his cohorts by merging, first with Nail and then with Kami. Piccolo had several memorable fights over the course of the show, including one with Frieza in which he surprised the supervillain with his power. Piccolo’s best fight comes after his fusion with Kami, when he takes on Android 17 and handles himself beautifully.
Although the two of them are interrupted by Cell, who knows that he must absorb Androids 17 and 18 in order to achieve his perfect form, their fight is both thrilling and a bit flashy. It’s as if both of them wanted to prove their own strength, and so they chose to display their brute force in all of its glory. B
oth of these fighters are proud warriors, and when they come to blows, it’s makes for an incredibly compelling fight.
16 Lamest: Gotenks vs. Super Buu
The fusion of Goten and Trunks was supposed to provide the answer for defeating Buu. While the idea to create this super warrior was a good one, the execution is lacking, in part because of the immaturity of the fight between Super Buu and Gotenks. The fight is supposed to be funny, with plenty of visual gags to keep viewers interested. Unfortunately, this image of hilarity was undercut by the viewer’s knowledge that Buu had just killed everyone on planet Earth.
Gotenks also proves to have a fairly frustrating personality. He doesn’t dispatch Super Buu when he has the chance, because he wants to make the reveal of his Super Saiyan 3 mode more dramatic. Piccolo attempts to trap all of them in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber for eternity, but Buu manages to make an escape. The fight continues elsewhere, but because of his flair for the dramatic, Gotenks runs out of time in his fused mode. On the whole, it’s fairly anticlimactic.
15 Best: Goku vs. Beerus
One of two Dragon Ball Super fights on this list, Goku’s fight with Beerus, the God of Destruction from Universe 7, is well worth remembering. In order to defeat this God, Goku must become a God himself, and so he asks Shenron to turn him into a Super Saiyan God. Goku doesn’t get much time to adjust to the power before fighting Beerus, but this newfound strength excites both Goku and his opponent.
The kind of palpable excitement that infuses this fight is characteristic of all of the best battles in the Dragon Ball franchise. Although the fight is between gods, it’s grounded in the two characters. The setting for this battle is also deeply compelling, as the two move further and further outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Beerus, like Vegeta and Piccolo before him, is changed by his encounter with Earth, and ultimately decides not to use his full power against Goku. Although Goku loses, he proves his resilience, as he so often does.
14 Lamest: Kid Goku vs. Cell and Frieza
Much of Dragon Ball GT is regrettable, but one of the more regrettable fights of that series comes when kid Goku takes on Cell and Frieza once more in Hell. Bringing back old villains never totally worked for the show, and this was one example of why. Cell and Frieza were incredibly interesting when they first arrived on Dragon Ball Z, but returning to them after Goku had grown much more powerful made them much less interesting as potential opponents.
Cell does absorb Goku for a moment, but Goku breaks out of Cell’s body pretty quickly, and Cell describes the power as almost overwhelming. Although this fight unites two of Dragon Ball Z’s biggest threats, it does so in order to undercut their power. Goku handles them pretty easily, and it becomes easy to wonder why we ever thought Cell and Frieza were such big problems in the first place.
13 Best: Goku vs. Hit
A newer match from Dragon Ball Super, Goku’s fight against Hit was one that reminded us just how much Goku likes a good challenge. Hit was the strongest member of the team from Universe 6 in the Tournament of Destroyers, and although he’s indifferent to most things, he took an interest in Goku. During the battle between the two, they seem mostly evenly matched, and plenty of mind games ensued.
Hit initially fails to take Goku seriously, but eventually realizes that that’s a huge mistake. Hit uses a time skip maneuver that Goku has trouble adapting to, and Goku is eventually forced to enhance his blue Super Saiyan state with Kaio Ken. Although his power fails and Hit launches a counterattack, the fight ends when Goku decides to step out of bounds in order to rebel against Beerus. Hit won the fight, but that win sure didn’t come easily for him.
12 Lamest: Vegito vs. Super Buu
Fusion was always a slightly strange idea. It suggested that, if you could combine the powers of two characters into a single entity, the power of these individual characters would be combined into something much more difficult to reckon with. This does ultimately prove to be true. When Goku and Vegeta fuse into Vegito, the power they share overwhelms Super Buu and forces him to go on the defensive for the first time.
This fight is so uninteresting in part because it is so one-sided. Vegito is stronger than Super Buu, and basically just pummels him. Buu seems to have the upper-hand when he eats Vegito, but he’s actually just playing into Vegito’s hands. Buu had already swallowed many of the other major Dragon Ball Z characters, so Vegito had to get swallowed in order to get them out.
Unfortunately, it made the fight pretty anti-climactic, and didn’t give viewers the satisfying victory they were craving.
11 Best: Goku vs. Piccolo (World Tournament)
Goku’s fight with Piccolo at the world tournament was one of the defining fights of Dragon Ball. Although the show had several major antagonists, Piccolo was one of the most powerful, and was also one of the only fighters who could challenge Goku in the ring. Of course, the character we know as Piccolo is actually Piccolo Jr., the son of the Demon King Piccolo, who Goku had defeated earlier.
Piccolo entered the World Tournament with the intention of killing Goku, and he came pretty close to doing so. He managed to disable one of Goku’s arm, and although he was hit by Goku’s Super Kamehameha and survived, he was narrowly defeated when Goku knocked him out of the ring.
As he often does with his enemies, Goku showed Piccolo mercy, and offered him a Senzu Bean to restore him to full health. Piccolo ultimately joined with Goku, but like Vegeta, their alliance took quite a bit of time.
10 Lamest: Goku and Vegeta vs. Omega Shenron
The issue with much of Dragon Ball GT comes from a rapid escalation of stakes. Goku kept attaining higher and higher levels of power, and it seemed like they really had no boundaries. Of course, because Goku’s power kept growing, the power of the villains that he took on had to increase as well, which is how we ended up with Omega Shenron.
Omega Shenron is supposed to be a consequence for Goku’s actions and his overuse of the dragon balls, which sounds interesting, but Goku and Vegeta’s fight with Omega Shenron is anything but. By this point, the fighting had become far too theoretical. Goku and Vegeta had both achieved Super Saiyan 4, and still they were incapable of defeating Omega Shenron until they fused together.
With power levels this high, it can begin to feel like the stakes aren’t really there at all. After all, everyone involved is basically a god.
9 Best: Earth Fighters vs. Nappa
Although Goku’s fight with Vegeta provided a template for the kind of single combat fights that would become part of the show’s DNA, the fight that immediately preceded it is also worthy of some consideration. The Z fighters know that Goku is headed back to Earth, and they know that when he arrives, he’ll be their best chance to take on Vegeta and Nappa. The only problem is, Nappa and Vegeta aren’t exactly willing to wait for Goku.
So, while Goku travels back to Earth, Nappa takes on the Z fighters, with some pretty devastating results. Although it initially seems as though they may be able to defeat Nappa, the Z fighters quickly find themselves outmatched, and lose a number of fighters in the process.
This was the first fight in the world of Dragon Ball that showed us how high the stakes could get. We’d never lost this many major characters at once, and it made the fighting even more fierce when Goku finally arrived back on Earth.
8 Lamest: Gohan, Goku, and Piccolo vs. Garlic Jr.
Garlic Jr. was one of the least interesting villains in the history of Dragon Ball, and his defeat was as uninspired as his characterization. In The Dead Zone, the film that introduces Garlic Jr. as a villain, we come to understand that Kami imprisoned his father. Garlic Jr. returns in The Dead Zone to take his revenge, and he almost succeeds.
Like Frieza, Garlic Jr. is capable of transforming into a much bigger, much more terrible version of himself; one that commands a great deal more power. The confrontation between Goku and Piccolo and Garlic Jr. is fairly evenly matched, until Garlic Jr. opens up a portal into the Dead Zone that threatens to destroy everything.
Garlic Jr. is ultimately defeated by an incredibly young Gohan, which foreshadows the power he would eventually have, even if it does little else. The fight with Garlic Jr. is not particularly compelling, and it’s over so quickly you’d be forgiven for wondering if it ever happened at all.
7 Goku vs. Kid Buu
The last major fight in Dragon Ball Z, Goku’s battle with Kid Buu didn’t disappoint. This fight did manage to raise the stakes, in that it made it clear that the entire known universe hung in the balance. Kid Buu’s power was such that, if he wasn’t stopped, he would destroy everything in existence.
Goku goes Super Saiyan 3 for the fight, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough to take down Buu for good. The two are evenly matched, but Buu has perpetual endurance, which means he doesn’t get tired as Goku does.
In the end, Goku is forced to create a massive spirit bomb - one that requires energy from all of the people of Earth. Earthlings are initially reluctant to donate their energy, but with the help of Hercule, they manage to convince all of mankind to donate their energy to the spirit bomb. The choreography in this fight is wonderful, but what makes it truly memorable is the way every human, big and small, does their part in defeating this monster.
6 Lamest: The Great Saiyaman vs. Frieza
Frieza is one of the great villains of the Dragon Ball franchise. His only problem is his inability to know when to quit. Long after his climactic fight with Goku on Namek, he continues to pop up in a variety of odd locations. When Gohan takes up the mantle of The Great Saiyaman, which was already a bad idea, he runs into Frieza, and manages to take him out with a single punch.
Gohan isn’t even powered up when he goes after Frieza, and one would think that it would take more than a single blow to destroy him. After all, Frieza’s fight with Gohan’s father lasted for over four hours, and involved the destruction of an entire planet.
When the Great Saiyaman dispatches with Frieza with a single punch, it hugely undercuts the character, and the dominating presence he once was. He’s a punchline now, and that not only makes no sense, but it makes his entire saga feel less important than it did at the time.
5 Best: Goku vs. Vegeta
Goku’s fight with Vegeta was the first truly major fight in Dragon Ball Z.
Goku had already battled with his brother Raditz, but that was just a precursor to his fight with Vegeta, who would become his biggest rival over the remainder of the show. In a way, Goku’s fight with Vegeta provided a template for every other fight the show would ever have. It initially seems like Goku isn’t going to stand a chance, until we discover how powerful his Kaio Ken will be in turning the tide.
As with all good villain fights, this one goes through several stages, climaxing when Vegeta turns into an ape and completely overwhelms Goku, who no longer has his tail. With some luck (and some help), Goku is able to revert Vegeta back to his normal form, but that doesn’t keep Vegeta from escaping to live another day.
The story of Vegeta’s rehabilitation is one of the most moving parts of Dragon Ball Z, and that all begins with this very first fight.
4 Lamest: Goten and Trunks vs. Broly
Broly is supposed to be one of the most powerful Saiyans in the world. When we first meet him, his power is undeniable, and he proves to be almost unstoppable. Although Goku defeats him narrowly, he returns years later to finish the battle he started against Dragon Ball Z’s protagonist. Unfortunately for Broly, Goku was dead by the time he arrived on Earth.
Instead, Broly, who’s lost his mind completely, goes after Goten, because of his resemblance to his father.
While the idea behind this sequel might have been sound, the execution of it is hugely underwhelming. The choreography is pretty stale, and what’s more, the action is incredibly hard to follow. During its best sequences, Dragon Ball Z was able to show viewers what was going on, even when things were really chaotic. But during this scene, when Goten and Trunks take on Broly with some help from Gohan, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on.
3 Best: Goku vs. Frieza
Frieza was such a fascinating villain, in part because it seemed like his power had no end. In his initial form, Frieza was a slight but terrifying force, and by the time he reaches his final form, it’s clear that only Goku has any hope of bringing an end to his tyranny.
After a spirit bomb fails to destroy Frieza, and Frieza kills Krillin, Goku becomes so emotionally distraught that he goes Super Saiyan for the very first time. This is the first time that Frieza feels truly threatened, and he begins to realize that his power won’t be enough to overwhelm Goku. As a result, he decides that self-destruction is the only path to victory.
Although Goku is unwilling to kill, even if his victim is a mass murderer, Frieza ultimately brings his own end upon himself by mounting a sneak attack on Goku. Frieza loses because of his own arrogance, which is a perfectly fitting end for one of the Dragon Ball franchise’s most diabolical figures.
2 Lamest: Tien, Chiaotzu, and Yamcha vs. The Ginyu Force
Tien, Chiaotzu, and Yamcha were never the most exciting figures in the Dragon Ball universe, and the decision to have them battle against The Ginyu Force remains baffling.
All of this happens because the deceased members of the Ginyu Force - which is all of them except Captain Ginyu - arrive on King Kai’s planet. Since Tien, Yamcha, and Chiaotzu have been training with King Kai, they’re all much stronger than they were when they were on Earth, and are able to handle these members of the Ginyu force pretty easily.
Guldo fights Chiaotzu, Recoome fights Yamcha, and Burter and Jeice fight Tien. This fight is a classic example of filler. The anime invented this fight in order to fill time so they didn’t get ahead of the manga, and it shows. The fight has virtually no stakes, because all of these characters are dead already, and we weren’t particularly interested in the other members of the Ginyu Force to begin with.
1 Best: Teen Gohan vs. Cell
This may be the defining fight of the entire series. It’s the moment when Gohan surpasses his father, and proves his own power. The brilliance of the fight with Cell, and the episodes leading up to it, are the ways in which the show makes it clear that, although Goku is powerful, he’s no match for Cell. Goku knows that going into the fight, but he also knows that his son stands a decent chance of taking down Cell once and for all, if the power inside of him can be unleashed.
One of the larger themes of Dragon Ball Z is the idea that humanity is a strength, instead of a weakness. Goku and Vegeta are strong, but their sons are even stronger because they have Saiyan and human DNA. Gohan is the embodiment of that idea, and it’s his emotions that allow him to defeat Cell, even though he loses his father in the process.
Which Dragon Ball fights are your favorites and least favorites? Let us know in the comments!