Where do you even start with a franchise like Dragon Ball? Created by Akira Toriyama way back in 1984, it’s gone on to become one of the most popular, influential, and longest-running series out there.
Dragon Ball has spawned several different anime series, a slew of animated movies (and the occasional shot at live-action ones), volumes upon volumes of manga, a fleet of video games (right up to the present day, with Dragon Ball FighterZ)… if there’s a type of media that Dragon Ball hasn’t at least taken a shot at, there isn’t.
What is it that gripped us and continues to grip us about the franchise? Why is it constantly cited as one of the biggest inspirations for artists in the field? There are so many factors here. The solid stories (with exceptions, of course), for one; deft blends of intensity and action with a healthy dose of humor.
The artwork is excellent, the characters are engaging… it’s got everything it needs to stand the test of time. Goku and Co. have certainly done that. Today, though, we’re honoring a specific group of Dragon Ball characters: the villains.
Whether they’re incredibly strong or more than a little goofy, they’re always memorable. From the ultimate big bad himself, Frieza, to Garlic Jr., Bacterian, and Android 19, let’s dive into the wild and wacky world of Dragon Ball bad guys.
Buckle up, friends, it’s going to be a bumpy, brilliant, and ridiculous ride. We wouldn’t have it any other way, either.
20 HURT THE SERIES: Garlic Jr.
Now, as we all know, the Dragon Ball franchise has a real thing for using cheap vegetable puns to name its characters. As motifs go, it’s more than a little weird, but we’ve got to roll with it. After all, the word Saiyan is an anagram of yasai, which means vegetable. Raditz, Vegeta, Paragus, and other Saiyans’ names were just inevitable.
None of which excuses the name Garlic Jr., however, which is just too hilarious to take seriously. As is the name of his villainous posse, the Spice Boys.
Granted, you might have a much stronger form that’s hecking scary and be the main villain of Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone, but you look like a pickle on legs in your regular form. And your henchmen sound like a 90s pop group.
19 SAVED THE SERIES: Turles
So many shows have characters just like Turles. You know, the ones who only make brief appearances, but seem to become fan favorites despite their lack of impact. That’s totally Turles. If there’s an award for breaking out like that, it should definitely be called the Turles.
Who’s going to win the first ever Turles Award, which we just invented? Turles is, that’s who. As we’ve reported before, this space-pirate Saiyan only really appears in Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might (and he looks practically identical to Goku), but fans have really gravitated to him of late.
He’s like one of those dark character skins in Super Smash Bros. Just infinitely cooler than the original, even if they are completely hackneyed. Turles has gone on to have a prominent role in the Dragon Ball Xenoverse video games, as a result of his inexplicable popularity.
18 HURT THE SERIES: Mercenary Tao
As fans will know, the Dragon Ball franchise revels in big, flashy fights, with superpowers and impossible shenanigans going off all over the darn place. That’s much of anime in a nutshell, really, and it’s the way that Dragon Ball tends to roll.
It’s a lot like the MCU in that way. After all, superheroes need supervillains to fight, don’t they? If a mere squishy mortal tried to fight the Avengers, the Hulk would crush them with his pinky and the movie would be over in an eighth of a second.
The villains need powers of their own, and that’s where Mercenary Tao was a huge disappointment. One of the earliest antagonists of the series, this highly-trained assassin is darn strong, but also just a human. Until he took a beating and was ‘upgraded’ to cyborg form, anyway.
17 SAVED THE SERIES: Frieza
Now we’re talking, friends. Forget feeble humans who need to have arm cannons and all kinds of other things grafted to their bodies in order to compete. Frieza’s here, and he is not kidding around.
This all-powerful, mutated being is pretty well the main Big Bad™ of the entire franchise. Through his destruction of Planet Vegeta, he took out almost the entire Saiyan race, and it’s only natural that our protagonists would tend to have kind of mixed feelings about his hospitality as a result.
Yes, the later appearance of Golden Frieza was a little cheesy (the guy had been revived just a couple too many times by that point), but it’s his vanilla form that really shines. He’s the iconic Dragon Ball villain, really, and you’ve got to respect that.
16 HURT THE SERIES: Nappa
Much like Mercenary Tao, Nappa is a villain who’s quite tough to place, in the grand scheme of things. If we’re being superficial and judging him based on his appearance alone (which we’re not, but just for the snark’s sake), you might well conclude that Nappa would be one of the strongest villains in the show’s history.
Just look at him. In a franchise all about impeccably-trained and physically-formidable warriors performing impossible feats of strength, Nappa is huge.
During the invasion of Earth, he was able to destroy whole cities with his powerful abilities, and more than hold his own against the Z Fighters. Having said that, Goku and his Kaio-ken took him down in a single hit. For his failure, Vegeta takes out his subordinate himself.
In short, a lot of things about Nappa just don’t quite add up.
15 SAVED THE SERIES: Broly
Here’s another villain who tends to be a bit of grey area, power-wise. We’ve touched on Frieza and his Golden Frieza form (which he adopts after actively working to train his abilities, which he hadn’t been doing prior to this point), but here’s the thing about that: Golden Frieza is a straight –if hilariously garish—upgrade.
Broly’s Bio-Broly form, on the other hand, is more complicated. Is he stronger than regular Broly or not? It’s tough to really tell. One thing we do know is that Broly is a beast of an opponent.
One of the Legendary Super Saiyans of… legend, he wields Ki stronger than that of Super Saiyan Goku and Gohan, shrugged off Goku’s Super Kamehameha in this form, and even Piccolo and Goku’s combined assault merely tickled him. What a powerhouse.
14 HURT THE SERIES: Goku Black
Now, nobody’s snarking on Goku Black here. Don’t go running away with that false impression. After all, as a deity himself, he’s one of very, very few Saiyans (well, not strictly Saiyan) able to achieve the Super Saiyan Rosé form. It may sound like he becomes a bottle of pink, swanky drink, but it’s much more intimidating than that. Trust us.
The trouble is, as we mentioned with Turles, the whole dark doppelganger of the hero thing is one tired trope. When done well, it’s darn effective, but the idea does get just a little samey.
Nevertheless, Goku Black is a very popular Dragon Ball character and has a megalomaniacal nature that only the most classic of villains can pull off.
Like a lot of the character’s traits, it’s nothing too creative, but he pulls it off with such charisma that you’ve just got to admire him.
13 SAVED THE SERIES: Ginyu Force
Whether we’re talking about a group of heroes or a group of villains, there’s something humbling about safety in numbers. When the Avengers assemble, they’re sending out a clear message: yes, we have all manner of hecking ridiculous superpowers, but we can’t do everything by ourselves.
Solidarity, that’s the key here. It’s an important message, particularly in today’s mixed up world. Let’s all stop and appreciate the Ginyu Squad, then, for reminding us (and Frieza) of that. Even the ultimate villain himself needs a little help every now and then.
Sadly, the Ginyu Squad are only a little help. They give it a darn good try, though, and have a fascinating range of special abilities between them. They’re a fearsome fighting force, but for plot reasons, they still have to be quite easy to dispatch in the end.
12 HURT THE SERIES: Cooler
So, yes. We’ve established the fact that, in many fans’ view, Frieza is among the most formidable villains in the series. In terms of power level and the atrocities he has under his belt, he’s up there with the best.
Is he the most outright powerful of all, though? Without bringing Golden Frieza into the mix, that’s a firm no. In that department, he’s overshadowed by his elder brother, Cooler, who took the whole cold-related pun thing much too far.
Cooler is the main villain of the movie Dragon Ball Z: Cooler’s Revenge. His strength exceeds his brother’s, yes, but it’s clear that the series was trying far too hard to show it. As he howled in the movie:
"Yes! It is I who decides who lives and who [perishes]! All living things are mere playthings to me! No one can comprehend my power and cunning!"
11 SAVED THE SERIES: Jiren
As we’ve seen, then, it’s almost impossible to make a judgment about the franchise’s most powerful villain of all. As is so often the case in these shows, the goal posts keep moving. A previously weak opponent will suddenly unleash a new transformation out of nowhere, or a new ability will be shown that just edges out another.
All we can really do is just admire the fact that new powerhouses have been rising throughout the show’s run, just to counterbalance Goku and his friends’ own steady increase in strength. Jiren is certainly up there with the best.
There’s an answer to every problem, but some problems are much bigger than others.
10 HURT THE SERIES: Android 19 And 20
Here’s another common trope from franchises like Dragon Ball. Sometimes, as our protagonists grow stronger, it’s difficult to find other living beings to challenge them. What do we do, as a neat little stopgap of an answer? We have an evil scientist whip up some robotic enemies, that’s what we do.
In Dragon Ball, that scientist is Dr. Gero, and his constructions are the Androids. Android 19 and 20 are first to take on Goku and friends and are taken out by Piccolo and Vegeta is short order. It was all a bit of an anti-climax, especially considering the fact that Goku himself was not up to the fight.
While this first encounter was a bit of a disappointment, far more interesting battles with the androids were to come.
9 SAVED THE SERIES: Android 17 And 18
So, yes. The Androids of Dragon Ball didn’t really seem to be up to much at first. They certainly didn’t look like they’d trouble our heroes very much. Androids 19 and 20 were dealt with easily enough (even though Goku was out of commission at the time), but there was much worse to come. As the name suggests, there were a whole lot more of these things to deal with.
If Androids 19 and 20 were the equivalent of one of those early prototype Terminators, the Androids 17 and 18 were the nigh-unstoppable T-1000 (you know, the liquid metal one from Terminator 2 who rode that motorcycle up several flights of stairs because he was just that cool).
Not only did these two Androids defeat their own maker, Dr. Gero, they also took down the Z fighters (for a time).
8 HURT THE SERIES: Dodoria
Ah, yes. Dodoria, another of Frieza’s subordinates. Probably the one that was the most expendable and achieved the least, if we’re going to be brutally honest about it.
As we’ve seen, Frieza is capable of destroying entire planets with a simple motion of his hand (of his finger, in fact). He could probably handle everything without the aid of his elites and Frieza force, but still. Being an intergalactically feared maniac is all about showing you’ve got vast numbers at your command.
When it comes to that, you’ve really got to look at Dodoria’s places as the clichéd muscular right-hand man/ right-hand pink blob-thing. He was supposedly one of Frieza’s highest-ranked advisors and generals, but didn’t really manage to achieve much and was defeated by Prince Vegeta on Namek.
Not before revealing the whole secret of Frieza’s destruction of Planet Vegeta, though, which is about the biggest faux pas in Dragon Ball history.
7 SAVED THE SERIES: Cell
Now we’re really talking, friends. We’ve already taken a look at the Androids and the vast discrepancy in their effectiveness (to recap: Androids 19 and 20 were a bit rubbish and Androids 17 and 18 definitely weren’t), but some would say that Cell was the culmination of all of that.
This being was also created by Dr. Gero. As we reported over on CBR, Cell also possesses the DNA of legendary warriors such as Goku and Frieza, and imbibed the strength of Androids 17 and 18 on top of that. In short, it was quite a yikes whenever this guy was tearing things up.
Like all the best villains, it had an enhanced form (Perfect Cell) which was really something to behold. Our heroes just barely scraped a victory, and it came at quite a cost.
6 HURT THE SERIES: Bacterian
When the Dragon Ball franchise really puts its mind to it, it’s brought us some of the most fearsome and respected villains in all of anime/manga/every other medium. When the creators are just having a bit of a laugh, on the other hand, they’ve brought us bad guys like Bacterian.
What kind of superpowers are we talking, here? Energy beams, flight, that sort of thing? Well, not quite.
You see, Bacterian is an ordinary (is super tall and super strong) human, whose claim to fame is that he’s never bathed or brushed his teeth in his life.
This gives him the ultimate edge in battle: his opponents need to fight with one hand, because they’re holding their noses with the other.
As superpowers go, it’s a little on the lackluster side, but it’s nice to see that you can compete with characters who can fly and launch kamehamehas by simply… not showering. It gives us mere mortals something to strive for.
5 SAVED THE SERIES: Buu
Buu’s various villainous transformations showed that there’s more to the process. More than just getting stronger and having a glowing aura that’s a different color than before.
This is what it means to be a truly multi-faceted character, friends. Kid Buu was a ‘cute’ little ball of malevolence that howled for candy and giggled at his destruction of worlds. Over his time in Dragon Ball, however, he adopted several new forms, each of them even more eager to giggle at the destruction of worlds.
The later stages of Buu-ness also got a little taller, though, which was a huge deal. This is some character progression to the max, right here. Snark aside, though, Buu also grew ever more imposing each time he changed, and the Z fighters struggled to keep up with him.
4 HURT THE SERIES: Abo And Kado
In even the most dramatic of shows and movies, it always pays to have a little comic relief. A light-hearted moment or two. The movies of the MCU have hit upon a perfect blend of intense action and silly visuals jokes and one-liners, which has gone a long way towards making them as popular as they are.
In Dragon Ball, Abo and Kado could be seen as one example of this. They’re siblings who served in the Frieza Force, and were supposedly as strong a team as the Ginyu Force. We certainly never saw this might in action, though, as they were swiftly defeated by Goku and his buddies after a little light drama.
Still, they learned a little humility in defeat, and that’s not something you can say of every villain. Kudos for that.
3 SAVED THE SERIES: Vegeta
Unlike many of the characters we’ve met over the course of this rundown, Vegeta is certainly no one-dimensional villain. He’s one of very few survivors of the Saiyan race, after the destruction of their home planet, and began life as a villain. He was vengeful, bitter and arrogant.
When he takes his place among the Z Fighters, he’s… well, he’s still all these things. He is largely motivated by his desire to surpass and out-perform Goku, making him one of the most dedicated warriors even among a race like the Saiyans (who live for their training at the best of times).
As a result of his change of allegiance, Vegeta’s overarching story is one of the most interesting in the series. There’s more to this guy than meets the eye, that’s for sure.
2 HURT THE SERIES: Raditz
Raditz is also a tough one to judge. He’s actually Goku’s brother, and another of the very few Saiyans who survived the destruction of Planet Vegeta. He fights for Frieza, and becomes an enemy of his brother’s on trying to recruit him to the world-conquering cause.
Raditz and his attack on Earth marks the beginning of Dragon Ball Z proper, and, as we’ve said, was an introduction to the new direction the series was taking. A fantastic villain to kick things off, at the time, he has since faded into obscurity a little. The villains who came after him completely outclass him in a lot of respects, after all.
Nevertheless, you’ve got to be fair to the guy. Raditz is an icon of a super important time in Dragon Ball’s history, and he’ll always hold a place in the hearts of fans around the world as a result.
1 SAVED THE SERIES: Beerus
So, here we are at the final entry on this list. We’ve met some incredible, legendary villains along the way, as well as some that are… well, less than incredible and legendary. You really can’t appreciate one without the other, though. Balance is super important in the Dragon Ball world, so let’s embrace both.
Do you know what else is super important in the Dragon Ball world? Having a villainous God of Destruction lurking around in the guise of a purple kitty cat.
You know, just to keep everybody on their toes. This is exactly what Beerus brings to the table in Universe 7 (his twin, Champa, is the God of Destruction of Universe 6).
As an opponent, Beerus has proven able to defeat Super Saiyans with a single light hit, using just a small percentage of his power. There are beings in the Dragon Ball universe more powerful than Beerus (as he admits himself), but he’s quite enough to be getting on with, thanks very much.