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Dragon Ball: 15 Plot Twists That Hurt The Show (And 15 That Saved It)

The beloved Dragon Ball franchise has almost as many twists and turns as it does episodes and chapters. Starting as a mystical adventure, Dragon Ball then became a supernatural fighting story, then a sci-fi action series, before focusing in on the cosmic and divine combat that defines Dragon Ball Super. Of course, Dragon Ball has always been a hodgepodge of different genres and themes, as evident by a Terminator inspired android trying to stop Goku from collecting the dragon balls way back in the original series. Anything can happen in this story, which is why it’s so much fun to keep up with and see what unexpected and impossible thing happens next.

Not every big twist or reveal is as good as the last, however. For every big and game-changing shift, there’s one that undermines the tension in a scene or worsens a character. It’s clear that not a ton of forethought is put into exactly how the events of Dragon Ball are going to play out, and that can lead to quite a few plot points that miss their mark. Of course, this almost improvisational tone is a part of what makes Dragon Ball great as well and creates some of the most jaw-dropping moments in anime and manga.

Not every twist in Dragon Ball is as good as the others, but, at the very least, even the worst plot twists help the series get to someplace amazing. These are the 15 best and 15 worst plot twists in one of the most influential anime and manga in existence.

Here are 15 Plot Twists That Hurt Dragon Ball (And 15 That Saved It).

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30 Hurt: Grandpa Gohan Is A Ghost Fighter

Grandpa Gohan Dragon Ball

In the original Dragon Ball, Goku and friends take Fortuneteller Baba’s challenge so that they can locate the final dragon ball. Consisting of a series of fights against classic monster inspired characters, Goku eventually ends up fighting a mysterious masked fighter with a halo above his head.

This fighter is revealed to be Grandpa Gohan, who perished before the start of the series when Goku transformed into an Oozaru. Even if it is nice knowing that Grandpa Gohan is getting on well in Other World and ends up enjoying his time spent with the guardian deity Annin, it kind of takes away from Goku’s character growth and origins.

29 Saved: Jackie Chun Is Master Roshi

Admittedly, this twist is pretty telegraphed, but it’s still one of the most important and impactful in the series. Goku and Krillin's teacher, Master Roshi, disguises himself as a fighter named Jackie Chun so that he can defeat the two in the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament.

He goes to great lengths to hide his true identity from the other main characters, even if it’s clear to the audience shortly after his introduction that he’s, in fact, Master Roshi. In wearing this disguise and defeating his students, he teaches them the importance of continuing there training as there is always a stronger foe to face; which becomes a running theme in Dragon Ball.

28 Hurt: Chi Chi Is The Anonymous Fighter

In the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament, Chi Chi enters as an anonymous fighter because she’s upset that Goku’s forgotten about their childhood promise to marry each other. Even if it’s fun to see their engagement, after she reveals her identity, this twist doesn’t play out as well as it might seem on paper.

Even if this is the first time fans see Chi Chi as an adult, her identity is pretty obvious from her introduction and their engagement seemed pretty inevitable. It’s also a bummer that this is the last time Chi Chi plays any kind of significant role in the story.

27 Saved: Commander Red Wants The Dragon Balls To Grow Taller

During the Red Ribbon Saga, the audience is under the impression that the evil Commander Red wants to use the dragon balls to expand his power. However, shortly before the storyline’s conclusion, we learn that the stocky commander just wants to use the dragon balls to make himself taller.

Before every conflict in the series had world or universe ending consequences, Dragon Ball was a lot goofier in its early days and this plot twist is easily one of the funniest. Everyone thought this was an ongoing battle for the fate of the world, when instead it was just Goku stopping a bad guy who was insecure about his height.

26 Hurt: Goku Survived the Devilmite Beam Because He Has A Pure Heart

In another part of the Fortuneteller Baba Saga, Goku faces off against a demonic foe named Spike Devilman. His signature attack, the Devilmite Beam, turns a person's evil thoughts and desires against them, and transforms them into energy that destroys them from within. However, Goku is able to survive this attack without sustaining any damage because he, apparently, has a pure heart.

This twist not only worsens this part of the story, but Goku as a character. Even if things usually work out, he frequently puts people in danger just so he can fight stronger foes, and Dragon Ball would be more interesting if it examined his morally ambiguous attributes.  

25 Saved: Goku Is An Alien

At the very start of Dragon Ball Z, when the series starts to take on a more sci-fi tone, we learn that Goku is an alien. At this point in the series, Goku hadn't had his tail for a while, and his origin as a strange monkey-boy hadn't been addressed.

Not only does this twist give Goku a more fleshed out and interesting backstory, but it also opens up an entire galaxy to explore. At this point in the story, Goku is undoubtedly the strongest person on Earth and defeated numerous mystical creatures from other planes of existence. Introducing galactic-level threats raised the stakes perfectly.  

24 Hurt: Raditz Is Goku’s Brother

Immediately after the audience learns that Goku is a part of an alien warrior race, it also comes out that the alien invader, Raditz, is Goku’s brother. Not does this twist feel undercut by the much larger reveal, but Raditz doesn’t really affect the story all that much.

Goku’s long-lost brother isn’t even in the show for more than half a dozen episodes and then no one ever mentions him again. Maybe if he ended up being a bigger part of Dragon Ball this twist would carry more weight, but as such it’s one of the biggest misses in the series.

23 Saved: Vegeta Betrays Nappa

In the first major twist involving the character, and one that perfectly established his personality and values, Vegeta is the one to land the finishing blow to his comrade Nappa after Goku renders him unable to fight. Even though Nappa is one of three remaining Saiyans, Vegeta attacks him anyway because he values strength far more than his species.

A massive part of Vegeta’s character is his pride as a Saiyan, and this twist establishes that he considers any sign of weakness or failure as a betrayal of that pride.

22 Hurt: Gohan’s Has More Potential Than Anyone Else

Gohan’s latent strength is hinted at numerous times in the series. Moreover, at numerous points in the story he or another character is able to bring out his full potential, but it never really amounts to much. Sure, the twist that Gohan can grow even stronger is usually a fun one, but the only time his newfound strength ends up mattering is during his fight with Cell.

When Guru unlocks his potential on Namek he doesn’t best a single enemy by himself, and even after awakening his ultimate form he isn’t able to beat Buu. The reveal that Gohan can be stronger than anyone else never really goes anywhere.

21 Saved: Vegeta Betrays Frieza

The majority of the Namek Saga is essentially one terrific game of cat and mouse that starts when Vegeta unexpectedly decides to betray the space tyrant Frieza. After his defeat on Earth and healing at one of the Frieza Force’s facilities, Vegeta decides that he’s going to use the Namekian dragon balls to wish for immortality and become even stronger than Frieza.

Not only is the this the beginning of Vegeta becoming a main character in Dragon Ball, but it also helps establish the strength of Frieza and his army. Vegeta knows he has no chance of beating Frieza without the dragon balls, which means any one of our heroes has absolutely no chance against him.    

20 Hurt: Guru Can Unlock Someone’s Potential

On Namek, the sage Guru unlocks the latent potential of both Krillin and Gohan. This sudden development makes it seem like the two are going to become major fighters again, but they don’t and are still weaker than just about everyone they come across.

An unexpected power-up like this should have made the two at least a bit more influential in this part of the story, but instead they still just get beaten up by the Ginyu Force. There’s never any payoff to this twist and Krillin and Gohan are still much weaker than anyone they fight.

19 Saved: The Ginyu Force 

Prior to their introduction, the Ginyu Force is made out to be this elite squadron that are second only to Frieza in strength. However, in one of the most hilarious twists in the series, they introduce themselves to the sound of their own theme music while striking coordinated poses.

They are incredibly powerful, so much so that even Vegeta is afraid of them, but they are also a bunch of goofs who play rock-paper-scissors to decide what order they fight people and constantly make jokes at their teammates' expense. No one thought this team would be as silly as they are, but it’s now impossible to imagine them any other way.

18 Hurt: Frieza's Many Forms

Frieza having many forms is a good twist on paper that ends up missing the mark in practice. The reveal he has these transformations is a shock to both the characters and readers, as it means they suddenly have no chance against him despite their many efforts.

However, his shifting between his various forms ends up just making the battle dragon on until Goku arrives. It also feels like a bit of a waste, as Frieza never ends up using anything besides his first and final form in his various other appearances.   

17 Saved: Frieza Falls To His Own Attack

In a bit of irony, the full of himself space tyrant Frieza is cut apart by his own attack during his battle with Goku. His judgment clouded with anger and tieing into his inability to sense energy, Frieza accidentally cuts himself in half when he forgets about one of his own remotely controlled energy disks.

Not only does this loss feel ironic considering how snide and composed the tyrant was during his introduction and the majority of the fight, but it also plays into Frieza's only major weakness. Everyone knew that Goku was going to somehow beat Frieza, but nobody saw the fight ending like this.  

16 Hurt: Goku Survived The Namek Explosion

The twist of Goku surviving the destruction of planet Namek is pretty forced and creates artificial tension more than anything else. Even if he was engulfed in the destruction of the planet, his friends on Earth could easily use the dragon balls to revive him.

Moreover, this fake out is completely spoiled during the next episode preview, which shows that the name of the next episode is, “Goku’s Alive!!” This twist just does not work in either concept or execution and feels like a weak attempt at creating some artificial tension to follow up Goku and Frieza's dramatic battle.    

15 Saved: Super Saiyan Future Trunks Appears

At the very beginning of the Android Saga, a mechanized Frieza and his father, King Cold, invade Earth. With Goku still off in space and every fighter on the planet horribly outclassed, things look pretty bleak for the entire cast and the planet.

However, a mysterious young man with a sword suddenly appears, transforms into a Super Saiyan, and easily defeats Mecha Frieza, King Cold, and their entire army. Future Trunks’ introduction is by far one of the best and most unexpected twists in the entirety of the Dragon Ball.

14 Hurt: Goku Forgot To Take His Heart Virus Medicine

Shortly after Future Trunks’ introduction, he gives heart medicine to Goku to prevent the illness from putting him out of commision during the rise of the androids. However, three years later Goku unexpectedly suffers from the affliction while battling Android 19. The extremely unsatisfactory explanation for this development is that Goku simply forgot to take the medicine given to him.

This frustrated every viewer, and it’s bizarre that Goku’s own forgetfulness is the reason he isn’t involved in large parts of this Saga. This twist might be nothing short of the worst bit of writing in the entire series.

13 Saved: Android Fake Outs

Shortly after Android 19 and Dr. Gero appear, Earth’s strongest warriors have them on the ropes. Vegeta defeats 19 and Dr. Gero is down an arm as he tries to escape to one of his hidden labs. Once there, though, the audience learns that he has three more androids on reserve and they are far more powerful than him and 19.

The reckless Android 17 and 18 along with the peaceful but even more powerful Android 16, are some of the most interesting and memorable characters in Dragon Ball. They aren’t really evil, so much as they are self-motivated and strong enough to break whatever rules they like, and their introduction is wholly welcome.

12 Hurt: Android 16 Was Dr. Gero’s Son

The twist that Android 16 is a mechanical recreation of Dr. Gero’s deceased son is a really good idea with terrible execution. Only through ancillary Dragon Ball text is this information brought to light and it goes a long way into making Dr. Gero a much more sympathetic character and 16 even more likable.

However, this twist never appears in the series proper and is barely even hinted at. This would have been a really cool idea to appear in the anime or manga, but as it stands this twist just feels like a waste of potential.

11 Saved: Cell Is The Biggest Threat Of The Android Saga

Cell’s sudden appearance in the Android Saga is as unexpected as it is terrific. 16, 17, and 18 were wholly made out to be the final villains of this story arc before Cell suddenly arrived and changed the entire direction of the plot.

Now our heroes are faced with two major threats, the androids they can’t defeat until the Saiyans become strong enough, and Cell, who only grows stronger as time passes. It’s a terrific set up to some of the best moments in the series and is further helped by Cell being one of the best villains in the franchise.   

10 Hurt: Cell’s Back And Stronger Than Ever

During Cell and Gohan’s battle, the biological weapon manages to regenerate from his own self-destruction and is even stronger than ever. While this twist is certainly unexpected, we don’t really see enough of Cell’s new strength to understand exactly how he’s more of a threat.

Essentially, he just comes back, breaks Gohan’s arm, gets into a beam struggle with Gohan, and all of the remaining heroes have to help Gohan defeat this stronger version of Cell. Sure, it’s a climactic moment, but it just feels like Cell is back and gone again before he can make much of an impression.  

9 Saved: Gohan Defeats Cell

Gohan being the person to defeat Cell is one of the best twists in the series. Not only is Gohan transforming into a Super Saiyan 2 and confronting his insecurities about fighting a terrific moment for his character growth, but it’s also the first time someone besides Goku beat the big villain of an arc.

Previously, Goku or some combination of Goku and the other fighters always defeated the major antagonists. Gohan is the first person in the series to defeat a major villain without Goku doing the lion share of the work, and it’s nothing short of an incredible moment for the series and character.  

8 Hurt: Majin Buu Is A Silly, Pink, Magic Guy

During the Majin Buu Saga, the villain was built up as an unstoppable and borderline all-powerful evil force. That’s it was such a surprise when the character finally appeared as a round, childlike, pink, creature. Even if he was different from any other villain prior and was a lot of fun, his appearance and demeanor were kind of a letdown.

He just didn’t feel like a major Dragon Ball villain, and this sentiment was only reinforced by his numerous transformations and personality changes. Thankfully Buu settled in as a supporting character in Dragon Ball Super because he just isn’t great as a bad guy.

7 Saved: Super Vegito Appears

When Goku and Gohan failed to fuse with the Potara, it really did seem like all was lost against Super Buu’s overwhelming power. However, Vegeta’s temporarily revival and his and Goku’s fusion lead to one of the surprise introduction of one of most fan-favorite characters in the series, Vegito.

Posing Goku’s and Vegeta’s combine strength, the effortless beating he gives Super Buu is nothing short of cathartic, as the villain had easily bested every other hero thus far. The surprise introduction of the most iconic fusion in Dragon Ball is without a doubt one of the series’ best twists.

6 Hurt: Goku Is A Farmer Now

At the beginning of Dragon Ball Super, Goku is forced by Chi Chi to work as a farmer to finally bring in some income for their family. While it is a lot of fun to see Earth’s mightiest warrior in this context, this surprise development drags on for a bit longer than it should and stops the series from depiction some of its best aspects.

Goku can’t fight people, interact with the incredibly varied cast, or explore the imaginative universe of Dragon Ball because he has to tend to his crops. It was a fun idea that grew less and less enjoyable as time went on.

5 Saved: Beerus And Whis Aren’t Evil

Beerus and Whis, the God of Destruction and his attendant respectfully, are the first foes to appear in Dragon Ball Super. However, they aren’t really evil and care far more about eating a good meal or entertaining themselves.

Surprisingly, Beerus and Whis are unlike any other characters in Dragon Ball. They’re immensely powerful, but don’t actually care all that much about becoming stronger or taking on new challenges. They just do their jobs, laze around, and share a hobby of trying new and interesting foods. They were the perfect changeup to begin the latest iteration of the decades-spanning franchise.

4 Hurt: frieza's Back, Again And Again

Frieza returns after his defeat three different times over the course of Dragon Ball. The first is as Mecha Frieza, the second is when his underlings wish him back to live, and the third is so that he can fight in the Tournament of Power. Not surprisingly, this twist is less and less impactful as time goes on.

There are a wealth of terrific villains that could come back to mess with Goku and company, like Cell. Hopefully, the newly introduced Moro in the manga proves to be a terrific villain and the series stops returning to Frieza every couple of story arcs.  

3 Saved: There Are Multiple Universes

Dragon Ball Super reveals that the universe the protagonists call home is only one of twelve, and that theirs is, in fact, one of the least developed in the omniverse. This twist is is exactly what the series needed and opens up loads of possible storylines to explore.

At this point in the series, Goku and friends are pretty much the strongest beings in their universe, and this reveal presents new challenges for them to surpass. Some of those challenges appeared in the Tournament of Power Saga, but the other universes are sure to play a role in the series as it goes on.  

2 Hurt: Zamasu Was Goku Black All Along

The appearance of Goku Black in Dragon Ball Super was as surprising as it was intriguing. Sure, we’d seen people who look like Goku before, but this was the first time one appeared in a canonical part of the series. Why was he from the future and why was he bent on destroying everything and everyone?

Sadly, the answer to this reveal was unsatisfactory and convoluted. It was an evil god from a different timeline who wished to inhabit Goku’s body and destroy humanity along with a different version of himself. This twist was as disappointing as Zamasu was needlessly edgy.

1 Saved: Android 17 Wins The Tournament of Power

The reintroduction of Android 17 so he could compete in the Tournament of Power was already a surprise, but him winning the tournament defied just about everyone’s expectations. The former villain turned family man ended up having some of the best fights in the arc and it was a genuine delight to see his confident and playful character on screen once again.

At the start of the tournament, most assumed he’d play a supporting role and then fall to the sidelines so that Goku could defeat Jiren. Surprisingly, he played a pivotal role in the competition and won the battle royale, restoring all universes in the process.

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