Comparing Dragon Ball GT to Dragon Ball Z should be a recipe for disaster. After all, the former is the reviled sequel to one of the most influential and important franchises of all time. Even as an anime, Dragon Ball Z was as much a game changer as its manga counterpart. Here’s the thing, though: Dragon Ball Z was always just an adaptation with flaws.
With that in mind, how different was it really when compared to the series that followed it up? Dragon Ball GT may not have had a manga to base its story off of, but it was the direct continuation of Dragon Ball Z, sharing many of its strengths and flaws. When it comes down to it, it even outshone Dragon Ball Z in some areas.
10 GT: Pacing
It doesn’t matter how bland or uninteresting Dragon Ball GT is when it actually manages to tell a cohesive story with next to no padding. No, not every episode is good (most aren't) and the series does love wasting time, but only ever one episode at a time. Rarely does GT drag itself out the way Z did.
To be fair, Dragon Ball Z was following a manga and ended up needing to pad out of necessity, but that doesn’t excuse its faults. When it comes to pacing, Dragon Ball Z does a pretty bad job that comes off even worse when taking into account the manga’s naturally fast pace.
9 Z: Character Development
GT might have an edge when it comes to pacing, but it has nothing on Dragon Ball Z when it comes to character development. Akira Toriyama is a master when it comes to character writing. With a single moment, he can naturally pivot a character down a new path or revelation. Since his writing wasn’t used for GT, it only makes sense that the series suffers as a result.
Worse yet, GT has two characters prime for development: Oob and Pan. Unfortunately, while they both have character arcs, they don’t develop naturally, consistently, or satisfyingly. Pan especially is a bit of a disappointment considering how much of the series she’s in and how little she meaningfully develops.
8 GT: Completing Character Arcs
With that said, however, Dragon Ball GT does do something Dragon Ball Z doesn’t: it definitely ends character arcs. Not just that, it respects character arcs that are over. It doesn’t bother bringing back fully developed characters, even refusing to leave them in the background. If someone is developed, they simply won’t participate much.
Piccolo’s arc comes to a definitive close, ending with him dying while reflecting on his relationship with Gohan; Vegeta’s arc is already over by the time the series starts and he acts far more mature and less egotistical as a result; and characters like Yamcha and Tenshinhan exist in the background as their arcs are long over. Fans may not like it, but it allows GT to breathe as its own show.
7 Z: Resolving Character Arcs
That said, Dragon Ball Z may not complete most arcs, but it does resolve them. Every single character in the series’ run either started DBZ with a resolved arc or reaches a natural resolution. This isn’t hyperbole, either, this is true for every character in Dragon Ball Z. The heroic ones at least.
GT doesn’t have that luxury. Goku doesn’t even have an arc to resolve in GT after the Baby arc (and even then his character arc is very weak.) Dragon Ball Z, on the other hand, is constantly pushing Goku forward, resolving his current arc with each passing saga. As a result, characters may linger in the background, but always with the promise that they might be developed further. If not, they’re in a good spot.
6 GT: The Music
Dragon Ball Z’s music is legendary. Anyone who grew up with the real soundtrack will never forget Cha-La Head Cha-La or Zenkai Power. That said, this doesn’t mean that Dragon Ball GT’s music isn’t great as well. Specifically, its opening and ending themes. Everyone knows Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku, but those endings are equally fantastic.
With four different ending themes, most of which are actually sampled in the show’s score, Dragon Ball GT ends up creating a very cohesive sound that doesn’t rely on Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z’s scores. The fact that Kikuchi didn’t work on the soundtrack is a minus, but the fact it doesn’t sound derivative is a huge plus.
5 Z: The Score
Speaking of Kikuchi, Dragon Ball GT really cannot compete when it comes to pure score. The music that plays during Dragon Ball Z’s moment to moment action is incredible. Well, so long as it’s not the Faulconer soundtrack. Kikuchi’s original score is downright legendary, solidifying a tone for Dragon Ball that perfectly matches Toriyama’s manga.
It isn't as if GT’s score is bad, far from it, but it lacks Kikuchi’s signature style while also just lacking his general quality. He understood Dragon Ball on a level that no other composer for the series has other than Kenji Yamamoto.
4 GT: Gohan’s Character
Gohan has an incredible character arc in Dragon Ball Z… that doesn’t really reach a logical conclusion. After coming to terms with the fact that he needs to take responsibility for the world and train himself even during times of peace (both in the Cell arc and even more prominently in the Boo arc,) he ends the series a retired martial artist.
Which Dragon Ball GT completely ignores. Yes, he’s a scholar now, but he’s a scholar who understands the importance of his own power, going so far as to keep his Gi around in the event that he needs to suit up and fight. He may not be the Great Saiyaman anymore, but he’s a scholar who also happens to be a martial artist instead of one over the other.
3 Z: Fight Choreography
There really is no competition when it comes to Akira Toriyama’s fight choreography. Although the Boo arc’s fights are noticeably shorter, Toriyama never loses his luster, providing amazing moment-to-moment action in a clean, refreshing way. Something the Dragon Ball Z anime adaptation translates rather well.
Goku’s first fight with Vegeta is a standpoint example. It’s a movie quality fight in a weekly anime, and it’s easily the best bit of animated action the series has ever seen (sorry Dragon Ball Super: Broly.) Dragon Ball GT doesn’t have anything that even compares to Akira Toriyama’s choreography at its absolute worst.
2 GT: The Final Battle
The final fight against Pure Boo is incredibly cool. Goku, Vegeta, Mr. Satan, and Fat Boo all work together to take him down. But it’s not Dragon Ball Z’s final battle, that honor belongs to Oob. And, while it’s an interesting fight, it doesn’t last long and it isn’t too exciting. By proxy, Dragon Ball GT has something of an edge.
Of course, choreography wise, it doesn’t compare, but the final fight against Omega Shenron is surprisingly emotional and somber. Dragon Ball GT takes on a completely different vibe in its final episodes and it leads to a sentimental finale that transitions rather well from the final battle. Many would argue that GT’s ending is better as a result, but many would be wrong.
1 Z: The Ending
Yes, the seemingly reviled ending to Dragon Ball Z is better than GT’s. Why? Because it actually feels Dragon Ball. GT goes too sentimental, contextualizing Dragon Ball as an epic scope story that begins and ends with Goku. DBZ takes a more mature approach, keeping things grounded and focusing on the series’ core themes.To someone who only watches Dragon Ball Z for the action, the ending is underwhelming. For those who cares about the arcs and themes (while also understanding Goku’s character,) it’s a poignant finale that lingers on threads that link back all the way back to the beginning of the franchise. What’s not to love?