Dragon Ball Super has made many changes to the canon and lore established years previously in Dragon Ball Z. Compared to many long-running anime and manga franchises, Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball isn't especially complicated. Each arc is relatively self-contained, with story elements building steadily towards the next major showdown, and each main character follows a straight-forward progression. This isn't to say that Dragon Ball lacks depth, of course. Toriyama's fictional world is rich and colorful, full of unique alien races and formidable villains.
The original Dragon Ball Z anime series finished airing in 1996 but Goku's popularity endured and, almost two decades later, a brand new series began. Dragon Ball Super picked up more or less where its predecessor left off, running for three years and spawning the highly successful Dragon Ball Super: Broly theatrical movie. While it might be unrealistic to expect a story spanning several decades to remain watertight in terms of continuity, Akira Toriyama has been deliberately flexible with certain details of the original anime and manga series.
As a result, Dragon Ball Super has completely rewritten things that fans have spent years believing to be true. Some of these incidences are trivial, but others completely reframe sections of the classic Dragon Ball story. Here are the biggest retcons made by Dragon Ball Super.
In Dragon Ball Z, there are two ways for characters to fuse. They can either perform the Fusion Dance and join together for a 30-minute period, or put on opposing Potara earrings and merge permanently. The inherent risk of the latter method creates an interesting dilemma in the Buu saga - are Goku and Vegeta desperate enough to pay the price of becoming one being for the rest of their lives? Fortunately, the fused warrior Vegito is separated after being absorbed into Buu's body, and Vegeta vows never to put the earrings on again.
Looking to somehow introduce Vegito in Dragon Ball Super, this piece of lore was scrapped. Now, the Fusion was only permanent if one of the participants was a Supreme Kai. For the likes of Goku and Vegeta, it would only last an hour. While Dragon Ball fans were delighted to see Vegito again, this was a particularly cynical change and one that made very little sense, since it was the supposedly wise Old Kai who introduced the earring method in the first place.
Saiyan Hair Growth
During the early stages of Dragon Ball Z's Cell Saga, Vegeta emerges from the Hyperbolic Time Chamber unchanged in appearance after an entire year, revealing that a pure-blooded Saiyan's hair does not change. This fact remains in place for the rest of the story and explains why Goku's hair has remained in the same style since infancy. After spending 3 years inside the chamber in Dragon Ball Super, however, Goku and Vegeta emerged with full beards.
While Saiyans with facial hair are nothing new (little baby Nappa was presumably born with his handlebar mustache), this is the first instance of a Saiyan growing some face fuzz from scratch and several inconsistencies arise. If Vegeta grows a full beard after 3 years, why didn't he have at least a little stubble after one year of training? Additionally, if Saiyan facial hair grows really slowly, Goku and Vegeta must be shaving at least a couple of times a year, like a teenage boy entering the first stage of puberty. Since the Saiyans were originally said to never change their hair at all, it's hard to not feel like the continuity was sacrificed just for a cheap visual gag.
All Of Dragon Ball GT
Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball story may have finished in 1996 but, sensing there was still money to be made, a third anime series was put into development. The resulting Dragon Ball GT was widely panned by fans and also played fast and loose with established canon. Technically, Dragon Ball Super sits between the Z and GT series, but has been sure to include several pieces of continuity from the widely-derided anime, such as Bulla and a cameo from Uub. Subsequently, it has been suggested that Dragon Ball Super could flow directly into Dragon Ball GT.
This notion makes very little sense. While Dragon Ball Super may steer clear of directly contradicting or overwriting Dragon Ball GT, it's ridiculous to think that new additions such as Beerus, other universes and God mode wouldn't have been mentioned throughout the entire GT series.
Super Saiyan Tingles
The Super Saiyan transformation sequence is one the most beloved parts of Dragon Ball Z and the process is well known throughout the fandom. Once a Saiyan reaches a certain level of power, a deeply emotional event (such as the death of a bald best friend) will trigger a change into a golden-haired warrior of legend. In one of Dragon Ball Super's best moments, Vegeta teaches Cabba, a fellow Saiyan from Universe 6, how to make the jump to Super Saiyan, becoming a mentor to the youngster and displaying a new side to his gradually softening character.
When Cabba later taught the technique to Caulifla, however, the transformation took a very odd turn. Trying to rile up his fellow Saiyan wasn't working, so Cabba instead described a tingling sensation that supposedly occurs on the back when changing forms and, upon receiving this advice, Caulifla is immediately able to turn Super Saiyan for the first time. Not only does this explanation come out of nowhere, it also turns the once intimidating and primal Super Saiyan transformation into some sort of ASMR experience.
While Dragon Ball Super: Broly was an undoubted highlight of the franchise's modern incarnation, it did make several alterations to key parts of Goku's origin story. Firstly, Goku isn't send to Earth to clear it of humans, he's sent there by his parents to escape the destruction of his home planet, just like Superman. Goku also arrives at his new home planet as a slightly older tot, rather than a baby.
Perhaps more importantly, the story of Bardock is rejigged, with Goku's biological father acting in a far more caring way towards his son than the brutish, ruthless Saiyans usually would. This retcon suggests that Goku's goodness and morality are at least partially inherited from his parents, rather than the result of a bump on the head and living with Grandpa Gohan.
Famous for giving rise to the "It's over 9000!" meme, scouters are the futuristic devices fitted over one eye and used by Saiyans to read the power levels of others and spot nearby enemies. More focused on smashing skulls and conquering planets, it's clear that the Saiyans themselves could never develop this sort of technology of their own accord, and this issue was addressed by Akira Toriyama himself, who revealed that the Scouters came from the Tuffles, the native inhabitants of the planet Vegrta.
This side story was completely abandoned thanks to Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which included a scene where a young Frieza presents a shipment of scouters to the Saiyans as a gift. It's made clear that this is the first time Saiyans have come into contact with such devices, essentially retconning the entire Tuffle explanation from before.
Some canon changes are frustrating, as they rewrite a story viewers are already invested in. Others are annoying because they're made purely to convenience the plot. Some changes, however, are disappointing on a deeply personal level. For many Dragon Ball Z fans, the Cell saga was pivotal in developing a love of anime, and watching Goku's son, Gohan, hulk-up and become the first character to hit Super Saiyan 2 felt epic. By the end of the story, Gohan is confirmed to be the strongest non-fused fighter, with his Ultimate/Mystic final form superior to Goku's Super Saiyan 3, as well as easier to sustain over long periods.
In stark contrast, Dragon Ball Super's Gohan is a family man and academic who has become physically weak and barely fights, once again requiring Piccolo to step in and protect him. During Frieza's return, Gohan is even unsure whether or not he can still transform into his regular Super Saiyan state. This is a sorry end for a character who was once the future of the franchise. Some may argue that Gohan never enjoyed fighting, and that Dragon Ball Super puts a happy ending on his story, but Dragon Ball is a fighting series, not a studying series, and Gohan's reluctance to fight unless it was truly necessary made him far more relatable than the battle-hungry Goku and Vegeta.