Anime is well-known for its transformation scenes, and they don’t come much bigger or better than in Dragon Ball. Arguably, Dragon Ball set the standard for anime power-ups way back in the original series, and it’s a standard that the franchise continues to uphold, as Dragon Ball Super enters the back end of its Tournament of Power.
Goku and Vegeta are breaking their limits on a weekly basis, as the Saiyan pair do battle with Jiren and Universe 11, but for every time a new transformation lands, another just misses the mark. The same is true of Dragon Ball Z, which changed the game with its very first Super Saiyan transformation, and tried over and over to recreate its most iconic moment – with mixed results.
We are only considering canon as we count down the very best and worst Dragon Ball transformations, though the original series is relatively light on power-up scenes that reach the extremes on either end. Dragon Ball Super, then, will feature heavily, so those of you following the English dub should be warned for potential spoilers. The spin-off movies, non-canon specials, and Dragon Ball GT are off the table.
Here are the 10 Best (And 5 Worst) Transformations In Dragon Ball, Ranked
15 Worst - Golden Freeza
Heading into Resurrection ‘F’, all the focus was on Freeza’s new Golden form, but Dragon Ball fans are almost unanimous in their agreement the transformation fails to live up to the hype. It’s not so much the transformation itself - though it doesn’t really offer anything that Freeza’s previous power-ups didn’t - it’s the unnecessary design.
From the moment that Freeza one-punches Gohan, Resurrection ‘F’ makes a point to show that he is far beyond Super Saiyan in his first form. We don’t need a lazy recoloring to know how much stronger he has become, especially when a transformation beyond Freeza’s fourth already exists.
In Revenge of Cooler, Freeza’s conveniently never-mentioned-before brother displays a fifth, masked form, that may be non-canon, but is far more in line with Freeza’s other transformations.
14 Best - Super Saiyan 3 Goku
In hindsight, Super Saiyan 3 is a little over the top. The distinct lack of eyebrows is an unnecessary addition, and where does all that extra hair come from? The form also wastes enough energy that it’s relatively useless in the long run, especially now that Goku has far more powerful forms in his arsenal.
All that said, the very first time we see the flowing golden locks is a sight to behold. For scale, suspense, and for the poor voice actors who fried their tonsils to make this scene a reality – the transformation itself is right up there with the best of them.
The Buu Saga didn’t hold back in introducing various new forms and fusions, so, if nothing else, for Super Saiyan 3 to be the most memorable of the lot earns it a place on this list.
13 Best - Super Saiyan Vegeta
When Goku reached Super Saiyan in the Freeza Saga, it seemed as though Vegeta, who did not have the pure heart necessary to reach the form, might be left behind for good. But the moment that he returns to face Android 19, and surpasses Goku for the first time since the Saiyan Saga, cemented his place as a recurring character within the franchise.
Vegeta finally realizes that he’d rather die than submit to a low-class warrior, and it’s that moment of purity that allows him to achieve the goal he had worked for his entire life. As always, Vegeta is desperate to show off his new form, and goes right ahead in dismantling his opponent. It’s a transformation that showcases the best of Vegeta as a character, and one that reignites the rivalry that holds the story together.
12 Worst - Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks
Goku gets away with Super Saiyan 3, for all of his training in Other World, and just the fact that he’s Goku. But as soon as Gotenks reaches Super Saiyan 3, and with absolutely no build up, the fused form of Goten and Trunks lands another blow on the increasingly unstable power scale.
The transformation lacks the scale and suspense of Goku’s ascension to Super Saiyan 3, and it’s too soon after seeing Goku’s original transformation to play the new form for comic effect. Even worse is that Gotenks can’t sustain the fusion long enough for Super Saiyan 3 to make any difference in the battle against Super Buu, and so it’s a power-up without any real upsides in the context of the story arc.
11 Best - Super Saiyan God Goku
The transformations in Dragon Ball Z grew bigger in scale and louder in volume, eventually peaking at Super Saiyan 3. Since its return, Dragon Ball has made an effort to be more creative with its power-ups, and Battle of Gods set the standard for the series moving forward with comfortably the quietest transformation on this list.
Super Saiyan God is only achieved when five pure-hearted Saiyans transfer their energy into a sixth. Goku emerges from the ritual with red hair and eyes, and a smaller physique, which has divided some fans, but is actually more consistent with what we have seen from the Gods of the Dragon Ball universe.
It’s a new and unique transformation in itself, but it also injects some interesting character development into the franchise, as Goku deals with the fact that he might never reach the level on his own.
10 Best - Final Form Freeza
It’s easy to forget in the long history of Saiyan power-ups, that Freeza was actually the first character to darken the skies with a transformation. Up until this point, each of Freeza’s forms had been more outlandish than the last, but this was all building up to a surprise final transformation.
Freeza drops a size for his final form, which is instantly more disconcerting than his previous forms combined. We had known for a while that Freeza was building up to a fourth form, and its first appearance went against all our best guesses as to how it might turn out.
Even more unsettling is the transformation itself: Freeza literally breaks through the shell of his third form as a grim shadow is cast over the entire planet.
9 Worst - Kid Buu
When Majin Buu arrived on the scene, the high voice and chubby pink design made for the most unsettling reveal in Dragon Ball history. Buu was unlike any villain in Dragon Ball, but as soon as he begins transforming, we saw a familiar pattern begin to develop.
At this point, Dragon Ball Z had followed a similar formula with both of its main villains. Freeza and Cell’s initial forms are grotesque, and they only get more disturbing with each level up, until you’re taken out of your comfort zone by a smoother, sleek final form.
If Freeza’s final form is one of the best Dragon Ball Z transformations, Buu’s is one of the worst for exactly the same reasons. For a villain whose potential was limitless, and whose future was completely unpredictable, to wind down to another, smaller final form shows a real lack of imagination.
8 Best - Super Trunks
Future Trunks’ transformations rarely disappoint, but his latest in Dragon Ball Super is one of his best ever. Super Saiyan Rage Trunks, otherwise known as Super Trunks, combines the look of Super Saiyan 2, the clear eyes of the Saiyan Berserker, and the aura of Super Saiyan Blue for an altogether new design.
Rage boosts have been around since Dragon Ball, but considering his backstory, a Future Trunks rage boost was always going to make for the most powerful rage transformation yet. Trunks lost almost everyone to the androids, and in creating an alternate timeline was first responsible for Cell’s reign in the present and then for the rise of Goku Black in his future.
To be told directly that it’s all his fault, when he only wanted to help, was only ever going to end one way.
7 Best - Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta
Resurrection ‘F’ promised new forms for both Goku and Freeza, but it’s Vegeta who steals the movie with his best transformation yet. The surprise element, given that Blue Goku and Golden Freeza were plastered all over the posters and trailers before the film even released, is a factor. But it’s more the fact that reaching God-level in front of the villain who destroyed the planet he was destined to rule means that much more to Vegeta.
Where Goku and Freeza’s transformations are rushed, anticipation builds as Vegeta considers Freeza’s offer to rejoin the Freeza Force. But Vegeta turns on his former master, and confirms his redemption once and for all, first by saving Krillin and then with a few typical one-liners. As much as the transformation, it’s Freeza’s terrified reaction, having instilled the same fear in Vegeta back on Namek, that makes this moment so powerful.
6 Worst - Third Form Freeza
If Golden Freeza was an uninspired fifth transformation, it’s hard to think of a word to describe how little effort went into the character’s third form. Freeza’s second transformation literally turns him into a white and purple xenomorph, for no reason other than to fill in a gap between his second and fourth forms.
There’s not even anything particularly unique about the transformation. It brings nothing new to the table, and the resulting form is effectively pointless. You know there’s no way Freeza is going to lose in this form, or that Goku is going to show up before the final transformation. It’s simply a placeholder for a much better power-up which could easily have led off from Freeza’s second form, rather than introduce a lazy rip-off that we would never see in canon again.
5 Best - Super Saiyan Goku
The single most memorable moment in the franchise, and the transformation by which all others are measured - Goku’s very first ascension to Super Saiyan launches Dragon Ball into whole new territory.
This wasn’t just another transformation; this was a conclusion to the entire Freeza Saga. Freeza destroyed Planet Vegeta out of fear that a Super Saiyan might end his reign. With Vegeta dead, the last remaining Saiyan was Goku, the low-class warrior, who achieved a power that hadn’t been seen in a thousand years.
As well as being a powerful moment, it sends a powerful message, and that above all is why it stands the test of time. There have been so many transformations since this one, but in comparison, they all have a little something missing.
4 Best - Super Saiyan Trunks
The first time we see Future Trunks turn Super Saiyan is a game-changer, but chronologically, the first time he ever turned Super Saiyan is a better transformation in itself. We’re not counting movies and specials, but Dragon Ball Super was quick to play back this scene from The History of Trunks upon Future Trunks’ return, and officially canonize the most underrated transformation in the entire series.
It follows one of its most heartbreaking deaths, as Future Gohan falls to the Androids, leaving the fate of the future timeline to his pupil. When Trunks discovers his teacher’s body lying undignified on the ground, he unleashes the Super Saiyan we meet in the present, against a rainy city backdrop and one of the best scores in Dragon Ball history.
3 Worst - Super Ribrianne
The Tournament of Power has introduced plenty of exciting characters to the world of Dragon Ball, and Brianne de Chateau is by far the most divisive. Brianne leads the warriors of Universe 2, the so-called universe of love. Unfortunately, the cringy monologues soon wear off, especially to fans who aren’t aware of the manga series’ they’re parodying – the likes of Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure! – and she is out of place as the Tournament loses its first universes.
Her initial transformation is made better by her reaction to Android 17 using the opening to try and eliminate her, but she has long outstayed her welcome by the time of her second. Even as Super Ribrianne, she presents absolutely zero physical threat to Goku and Universe 7, and it’s at this point that the character becomes less comic relief and more of a distraction.
2 Best - Ultra Instinct Goku
Introduced way back in Resurrection ‘F’, as Whis explains the technique to Goku and Vegeta on Beerus’ planet, Ultra Instinct has finally made its debut in Dragon Ball Super. The highlight of the Tournament of Power so far, Jiren forces Goku’s Spirit Bomb right back where it came from. Goku disappears beneath the fighting stage, but returns a few minutes later in a flash of light, surrounded by a blinding white aura.
Ultra Instinct follows the natural progression of Super power-ups. First, Goku reaches God-level with a form completely separate from the golden-haired Super Saiyan. Next, he harnesses that power for himself. And finally, Goku has learned a technique that even the Gods struggle to master, as Super pays off its longest-standing story thread with a transformation well worth the wait.
1 Best - Super Saiyan 2 Gohan
From his fights with Raditz, right the way through to Final Form Freeza, Dragon Ball Z offered us a glimpse into Gohan’s future from the very beginning. When Trunks arrives, declares Future Gohan as his mentor, and cleverly opens the door to half-breed Super Saiyans, it’s clear, in hindsight, that Gohan’s arc was only leading in one direction.
But nobody was prepared for the full extent of Gohan’s power, nor the raw emotion is its delivery: from the dove imagery in tribute to Android 16 to the anticipation as Gohan watches his friends and family beaten to near death, and the desperate scream when he finally breaks. Everything comes together for a character moment 190 episodes in the making, and nothing that happens to Gohan thereafter makes this moment any less special.
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