Dragon Ball Z ended back in 1996, and in the years since, the franchise hasn’t put out anything to rival its most successful series. Dragon Ball GT and a pair of animated features did little to revive the Dragon Ball brand, and amazingly, it was a certain live-action movie that sparked the franchise back to life.
In 2013, creator Akira Toriyama made Dragon Ball’s first feature-length animation, Battle of Gods, as a response to 2009’s critical disaster Dragonball: Evolution. Just two years later, Dragon Ball Super aired its first episode, and another two years on, the newest addition to the Dragon Ball franchise is now in full swing.
It goes without saying that Dragon Ball Super has already far surpassed GT, but with the Tournament of Power well underway and the stakes higher than ever, the latest series is as ready as ever to stand on its own two feet rather than live in the shadow of its predecessor.
Super is still a long way off in some areas, but over its two-year run, it has matched Dragon Ball Z in just as many. All of our childhoods were impacted by DBZ, but if you can step back and look at both series objectively, you might even find that Super has made some improvements here and there.
Here are 8 Ways Dragon Ball Super is Actually Better Than Dragon Ball Z (And 7 Ways It’s Worse).
15 Better: Humor
Dragon Ball Z is hardly lacking in comedy, but Dragon Ball Super has definitely ramped the humor up a few notches.
The returning cast is just as reliable as ever (specifically Vegeta, who in unrelated scenes is forced to dance in front of the entire group and caught sucking on a pacifier), but Super rarely misses an opportunity to flesh out its new characters with comic relief. Beerus is the most blatant example, but names like Champa, Jaco, and Monaka also come to mind.
Super also seems more self-aware than its predecessor, as evidenced by arguably the greatest filler episode in Dragon Ball history, which ends with Yamcha lying passed out at the bottom of a hole in the ground, in exactly the same position as he was left by the Saibamen in DBZ.
14 Worse: Movie Retreads
Even if the filler can be tough to get through, Dragon Ball Z does at least offer original content in every episode. The first two sagas of the follow-up series are recaps of the two theatrically-released movies, Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’, and not until episode 28 does Super actually begin to tell its own story.
For the large majority of viewers who did see the films, there are some additions to the storylines in the anime retreads. One highlight is the reintroduction of Captain Ginyu, whose death gives his story a satisfying end and finally allows Vegeta the prestigious honor of killing off the entire Ginyu Force.
Overall, though, you’re better off watching the two 90-minute movies than subjecting yourself to nine hours of anime just to reach the new content, especially when the visuals are so much poorer than those in the films.
13 Better: Callbacks to Dragon Ball
Particularly towards the end, Dragon Ball Z is barely recognizable as a sequel to Dragon Ball. By the Buu Saga, Z takes itself just a little too seriously, and the characters that shone in the original series have already been abandoned.
The story struggles to find a place for Krillin beyond the Freeza Saga. Tien’s involvement stretches as far as one moment in the Semi-Perfect Cell arc, while Yamcha and Master Roshi spend the entire series as no more than comic relief.
It’s hard to believe now that the characters in Super are the same ones from Dragon Ball, but the latest addition to the franchise does at least remember its roots. Yamcha is beyond being taken seriously by now, but Krillin and Tien have made returns to the fighting stage. Even Master Roshi has returned to action, along with the Afterimage and Evil Containment Wave techniques he introduced in Dragon Ball.
Elsewhere, Dragon Ball villains have returned as ghosts, there have been numerous flashbacks to Goku and Krillin’s training under Roshi, and the humor is far more reminiscent of the original series than it ever was in Z.
12 Worse: Character Arcs
It’s a little premature to assume that Dragon Ball Super isn’t going anywhere with its characters, but Dragon Ball Z had accomplished so much more with its cast at the same point in the series. Piccolo had already completed his redemption arc, Vegeta was well on the way to his own, and Gohan had proven himself as a worthy opponent for final form Freeza as his path to Earth’s protector became ever clearer.
Z ended with its characters exactly where it wanted them, and as a result Super has a hard time adding to their development. Gohan’s arc seems to be on a permanent loop, while Goku and Vegeta may be on the path to becoming Gods (as so many theorize), but that is more a result of their growing power than their growth in character.
The only characters on clearly defined arcs, such as Beerus and Hit, are specific to Super, but the series seems to have hit a brick wall with its original cast members.
11 Better: Pacing
At time of writing, Dragon Ball Super is only 113 episodes old, and we have already explored the multiverse, returned to the future, begun a universal tournament, and seen Goku reach three new Saiyan forms.
Dragon Ball Z, on the other hand, dedicates almost 100 episodes to the Buu arc, which drags its heels through Gohan’s adventures in high school and a World Tournament before we even meet the titular villain.
DBZ is well-known for its filler, and while some say that the slow build-up is worth it for the pay-off of the big moments, Super captures that build-up without ever feeling rushed.
Any filler in Super is swiftly dealt with, and even if it means seeing Goku battle a clone of Vegeta or Yamcha once again sprawled at the bottom of a crater, it’s even a welcome relief.
10 Worse: Animation
Dragon Ball Z was never perfectly animated, but it did at least have its own consistent style that Dragon Ball Super seems to have forgotten. Super flits from poor and often surreal animation one week to perfectly crisp animation the next, which is expected from a series that rolls out weekly episodes, but falls well short of modern anime standards.
Even when the animation is good, these characters have never looked quite so polished. The Dragon Ball Z animation was far grittier, which never allowed for particularly striking visuals, but lent itself to a certain realism that is sorely missing from Super.
When a character was hurt, you didn’t need it spelled out for you – it was right there on the screen, and there was a genuine sense of foreboding in their surroundings. As a result, the DBZ animation generally left us more concerned for its characters.
9 Better: Stakes
Dragon Ball Z ended with a battle between Goku, Vegeta and Buu that spanned several planets across the universe. Before Buu was even in the picture, Cell and the androids were infecting multiple timelines, and Freeza was set on conquering the entire galaxy. Super was initially faced with an uphill battle to raise the stakes, but it has gone above and beyond expectations.
If Dragon Ball was about defending the planet, and Z the universe, Super quickly moved onto the next logical step, and introduced the multiverse. With 12 universes now on the line, and characters we care about on more than one, the stakes have indeed never been higher. This has all culminated in the Tournament of Power, which results in the irreversible destruction of seven universes, leaving only one survivor.
8 Worse: Transformations
As Dragon Ball Super's Tournament of Power passes the halfway stage, it seems like we are getting a new transformation every week. Goku’s recent Ultra Instinct power-up is Super’s best, while Cabba and Caulifla have just ascended to Super Saiyan 2. Vegeta and Freeza were given new forms early in Super’s run, while Future Trunks and Goku Black get particularly memorable transformation scenes.
For sheer number of transformations, Super is hot on the tails of its predecessor, but not one of them has matched DBZ’s best moments. Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 power-up still tops that list, but Goku’s initial transformation on Namek and Future Trunks’ now-canon ascension to Super Saiyan run it close. Even Goku’s episode-long Super Saiyan 3 transformation, though it didn’t amount to a whole lot, outranks anything attempted by Super.
7 Better: Fight Choreography
In terms of length and pure drama, Super has yet to produce a fight that matches Goku’s original battles with Vegeta and Freeza, but the actual choreography is a different matter. If you can look past the subpar animation and the raw speed of the punches being thrown, Super does something fresh and innovative with each hand-to-hand confrontation.
The beginning of Goku’s Ultra Instinct showdown with Jiren, complete with slow-motion, is like nothing we’ve ever seen from a Dragon Ball fight. In a more recent episode still, Gohan and Piccolo laid down some exciting combination moves on a pair of Universe 6 Namekians.
Along the same lines, Super has been experimenting with team-ups from the start (a rarity in Z), such as in Goku and Vegeta’s training with Whis and the Saiyan trio of Goku, Vegeta and Trunks taking on Black and Zamasu. In each case, the characters’ unique combat styles are on full display as the choreography itself reaches new heights.
6 Worse: Consistency
Dragon Ball Z lost control of its power scale by the end of the Freeza Saga, even making a point to ensure that all remaining scouters were destroyed early in the Android arc. The Buu Saga opened a whole new can of worms when Super Saiyan 3 was introduced to the mix, but at least we had a decent idea as to how the other characters compared.
Fast-forward to Super, and Android 17 is suddenly a match for Goku at Super Saiyan Blue (bear in mind that Super Saiyan 2 was far beyond the androids in Z, and Blue is three steps up on the Saiyan transformation scale). Freeza, who was put to shame by the androids in the previous series, is now at God level after just four months of training. Gohan, the strongest unfused character at the end of Z, is humiliated not only by Freeza, but Krillin during a sparring match.
Dragon Ball Super has made no effort to make sense of the increasingly disproportionate power scale. If anything, it has gone out of its way to make as little sense as possible.
5 Better: Unpredictability
Goku has lost most of his major fights in Dragon Ball Super. He was wounded by Golden Freeza, knocked out of the ring by Hit in the Universe 6 Saga, and left helpless against Fusion Zamasu. Each time, someone new was forced to step up in Goku’s place, be it Vegeta, Monaka (though Hit threw that particular fight) or Future Trunks. By contrast, the two biggest battles in Dragon Ball Z are almost exactly the same.
Versus Freeza, Goku is outmatched, until the loss of a friend triggers an unforeseen transformation. Freeza returns from the brink of death stronger than ever, but Goku’s new power is still too much for him. Now, replace Goku with Gohan and Freeza with Cell, and you have the exact plot of the Cell Games. Give or take a few minor details, the Buu Saga also follows a similar pattern.
Part of the enjoyment of Dragon Ball Z is trying to work out how Goku (or Gohan in one case) is going to overcome his much stronger opponent, but Super asks the question of whether Goku will actually defeat his enemies at all.
4 Worse: Goku
Super has a mixed record in its writing of the long-standing cast members, but at least the characters who are poorly written this time around are recognizable. Goku, however, is the exception.
Dragon Ball Super's Goku is an outright psychopath. He is explicitly warned that fighting Beerus will destroy the universe and powers up anyway. He challenges an apprentice Supreme Kai to a fight that completely ruins what was left of Trunks’ future. He instigates a multiversal tournament that will end in the destruction of seven universes (granted, Zen-Oh was going to destroy those universes anyway, but he wasn’t to know that). The list is endless.
Through the entirety of Super, Goku has shown no desire to protect his friends and family. He always made stupid mistakes, but even when he put the planet on the line by, say, throwing Cell a senzu bean or lending Freeza his energy, he was redeemed for his compassion. Now that compassion is gone, his mistakes are less forgivable, and the character instantly less likable.
3 Better: The Tournament of Power
Dragon Ball Z is surprisingly short on World Tournaments, with just two, and that’s only if you include the short-lived tournament featured in the epilogue. The tournaments were a major factor in the success of Dragon Ball, with most of its sagas coming to a close at the martial arts event.
Super has made a real effort to return to the tournament setting, but now that its characters have outgrown Earth’s World Tournament, the latest series has upped the scale in a big way.
The Tournament of Power, a battle royal of 80 fighters spread across eight universes, is unlike anything in modern anime. With so many previously unseen character designs, the new techniques are infinite, as are the theories on how it will all end, especially as Universe 7’s line-up includes classic villains Freeza and Android 17.
We still don’t know which universe will be left standing when the tournament ends, but if we do lose some fan-favorite characters, they couldn’t have gone out on a grander stage.
2 Worse: Impact
You don’t have to have seen Dragon Ball Z to recognize its influence. The “over 9000!” memes speak for themselves. Leave YouTube on autoplay long enough, you’ll eventually land on a video of someone trying to turn Super Saiyan.
Son Goku set the benchmark on which the powers of other pop culture icons are judged. The Goku vs. Superman debate rages on, and a major factor in the success of One-Punch Man is the obvious comparisons between the main characters. Come 2020, we’ll be seeing even more of Goku on the world stage, as the character is an official ambassador for the Tokyo Olympics.
We shouldn’t forget that Dragon Ball Z wouldn’t exist without Dragon Ball, but it’s the sequel that most of us grew up with. It’s the sequel that is widely regarded as one of the best anime of all time, and that set in motion a major upswing in anime audiences.
Dragon Ball Super has potentially a long way still to go, but it’s not too much of a leap to suggest that it will never match the worldwide impact of Dragon Ball Z.
1 Better: Villains
The Dragon Ball Z villains are some of the best known faces in anime, but they’re memorable more as the catalysts for Saiyan transformations and epic fight scenes than characters in their own right. From Vegeta to Buu, the DBZ villains are all chasing a variation of the same goal: power and destruction.
Beerus breaks the mould from his first appearance in Battle of Gods. Unlike the Z villains, who obsess over playing God, Beerus is an actual God, who destroys not because he wants to, but because it’s literally in his job description.
The Goku Black arc intricately explores the possibilities of what happens when a Supreme Kai loses control. To add an extra twist, Zamasu just so happens to be trapped in the body of an alternate-reality Goku, and so benefits from Saiyan physiology as well as God ki. Interestingly, Zamasu genuinely believes he’s fighting for justice, but through detailed flashbacks, we learn that his sense of justice has been warped.
Besides simply resurrecting Freeza, Super has more creative with its villains’ designs and motives, and we enter the backend of the Tournament of Power knowing that the overarching villain could come from anywhere.
Which is your favorite Dragon Ball series? Let us know in the comments!