As much as we all enjoy Dragon Ball Z for its story, characters, and fights, the power of a soundtrack can’t be understated either. With any show the music has the power to enhance a scene or detract from it. Ever been in a movie theater and someone’s cell phone goes off playing something like “Call Me Maybe” during a really emotional part? It totally ruins the moment and takes you out of the scene. Even though a soundtrack might not leap out to you as one of the most important things about a story, you definitely notice it when it’s bad.
Many of us got into the series through the American dub of Dragon Ball Z, particularly the Funimation dub. Maybe you’ve found other versions of the show that you enjoy better now, like Dragon Ball Z Kai, where the voice acting is more refined, or the Japanese dub that is more true to the manga. Whichever version you prefer is fine, but many people at least agree Funimation’s spin on DBZ did have a strong soundtrack thanks to Bruce Faulconer’s composition team.
Let's look back at some of the best pieces that fans still fondly remember. This is Dragon Ball Z: 15 Best Themes From The American Soundtrack.
15 GINYU FORCE THEME
When you think of the Ginyu Force theme, you no doubt think of the group’s over the top introduction from when they first come to Namek, and how some versions of the show gave them a deliberately silly song like DBZ Kai’s “Ginyu Force Rules.” The Ginyu Force theme we’re referring to is actually a pretty serious piece that plays when the group faces off against the Z Fighters, and Recoome winds up going on to nearly kill all of them singlehandedly.
This song might not spring to mind as one of the classics of the soundtrack, but it is a great underrated theme that we’re kind of disappointed only gets to be used for a small chunk of episodes. It has a bit of an Old West vibe to it, building up the tense quiet before a big battle. It paints the standoff between the Z Fighters and the Ginyu Force really clearly through music and has such a personality to it like a fight is about to go down. Yeah, the Ginyu Force are quite silly, but this theme is a great reminder that they have a deadly side to them as well.
14 PICCOLO VS 17 THEME
This is the kind of theme that a lot of people associate with the work of Bruce Faulconer's team; high energy, thrashing guitars, and an atmosphere that just seems to push the action to go faster. Unlike other songs on this list, we can't say there's any nuance about this track that makes it such a tailored fit for this scene. This is just a good, frenzied rock song that would probably go well with any fast-paced fight scene in the series. And that's fine. Not every song has to have some deep meaning, some just sound good.
This song really got featured during a crazy time in the series too. Vegeta and Trunks were in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber trying to become stronger, but during this brief time frame, Piccolo was actually the strongest Z Fighter. Having just fused with Kami, Piccolo was the only hero capable of going toe to toe with the androids. What made this fight even more high stakes was Piccolo was trying to dispatch the androids as quickly as possible before Cell showed up to absorb them. This piece of music is a good one for encapsulating all that chaos, and it shows up again during other action-packed points in the series.
13 IMPERFECT CELL THEME
Imperfect Cell was one of the most unique villains in the franchise, so it works out really well that he would have a distinctive theme too. This is a track that is unlike anything else from the American soundtrack, so you really can’t mistake it for anything but Imperfect Cell’s song. It has a more industrial sound to it in comparison to the heavy rock influences that are present in many of the other soundtrack’s songs. It almost sounds like an incomplete beat, but that definitely goes well with how Cell himself is incomplete.
Imperfect Cell was the first overtly non-humanoid android. Even Android 19 just looked like a mime, but Imperfect Cell looked like a giant insect that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near. Many people call this form of Cell the creepiest villain the franchise has seen, and his theme does a good job showing that nature. The track is ominous and predatory, which is a pretty good reflection of Cell’s personality at this time as he hunted for Androids 17 and 18.
12 PIKKON'S THEME
We mentioned how the Ginyu Force theme is so enjoyable that it's a shame that it became so attached to them since it went away after they were dispatched. A similar thing could have very easily happened in the case of Pikkon's theme since Pikkon has no major role in the series. That would have been a shame since Pikkon actually has a pretty good theme song. It makes you take notice of him immediately, starting out quiet and ethereal, reflecting how Pikkon is this quiet warrior from another world. After about a minute into the theme, it kicks into another drive and becomes a lot more intense.
While the beginning portion of the song pretty much goes away when Pikkon does, the more fast-paced portion does stick around to get used again throughout the Buu saga. We see it during such notable moments like when Goku and Vegeta are having their long-awaited rematch after Vegeta allowed Babidi to infuse him with power. That segment of the song is definitely nice, but the theme as a whole has a really nice vibe to it when you listen to it in its entirety.
11 SUPER BUU’S THEME
The different personas of Buu were well showcased by the varying themes each of his incarnations had. Fat Buu's theme sounded playful and simple, which was a pretty accurate summation of his character. Then Evil Buu emerged and his theme was definitely more foreboding, indicating this wasn't someone who did bad things simply out of naivety like Fat Buu, but simply had evil intentions. When Evil Buu ate Fat Buu and gained his power to become Super Buu, we were introduced to Dragon Ball Z's most wild and unpredictable villain yet.
We first hear Super Buu's theme when he liquefies his body and pours himself down the throat of a bystander who witnessed the birth of Buu's new form. Super Buu's theme is really just Evil Buu's theme except expanded upon, given more instrumentation, and louder. It's perfect for the chaos created by Super Buu, highlighting that this is someone far beyond being reasoned with, unlike Fat Buu. Super Buu's theme usually kicks in during his most gleefully destructive moments. It's perhaps best remembered for when it plays as Buu unleashes his Human Extinction Attack that literally kills almost every single person on Earth at the same time.
10 VEGETA'S SACRIFICE THEME
A lot of songs that Bruce Faulconer's team made for Dragon Ball Z were intense, high-energy rock themes. Critics of the soundtrack say that sometimes the background music is too much and overshadows the emotion of a scene. Faulconer's team does know how to put out some quieter pieces, though, and the music made for "Vegeta's Sacrifice" is a great demonstration of that. This is after Vegeta had his evil side tapped into by Babidi and he had just knocked out Goku and went on to face Majin Buu.
Vegeta quickly realized his power was not enough to stop Buu and decided that preserving the world for everyone he cared about was more important than being the strongest warrior. The music here reflects how Vegeta has resigned himself to his fate, playing a theme that is quiet, sad, and ominous. Part of why this piece is remembered is definitely because of the emotion of the scene itself, but this is also a powerful song that conveys a lot with a more minimal sound. It's not a song we'd hear over and over in the series like many other greats from the soundtrack, but the rarity of a theme can also make it that much more impactful when you do finally hear it
9 GOHAN VS FRIEZA THEME
This is a theme that got a lot more use than just Gohan fighting back against Frieza, but that was the biggest moment for this song. It was an especially great fit for Gohan as a child because he had often been the weak link among the Z Fighters. Whenever he was depended upon in a fight, he would frequently be too scared to act. This theme represented the point where Gohan overcame his fear, was done hiding, and was finally going to fight back to protect his friends.
It’s a frantic theme with some pretty simple repetition, but that also reflects Gohan’s fighting style against Frieza. Gohan doesn’t go for finesse in the fight, but rather gains the edge with attacks that are wild, erratic, and incessant. Gohan gives it his all, and this song captures that well, with it just building higher and higher in intensity. It’s still a great piece when it’s used for Gohan as an adult, but it suited Gohan as a child so well during this moment.
8 HYPERBOLIC TIME CHAMBER THEME
One of the more popular themes among fans is one that some people might not expect. Sure, a lot of the characters have awesome songs tied to them, but sometimes even the locations in the world of Dragon Ball do as well. So a lot of fans will be happy to tell you how great they think the “Hyperbolic Time Chamber” track is. It’s one of the more varied pieces in the soundtrack, encompassing a lot of different emotions in the nearly four minutes that it runs.
The early portion has a piano section that gets used for some of the more thoughtful lulls during battles, while past the ninety second mark comes the meat of this song that gets utilized for stand-offs between opponents. The varied instrumentation is not only cool to hear, but it’s impressive that one song can take the listener on such a journey of emotions.
7 GOKU’S SUPER SAIYAN THEME
The build to the reveal of the first Super Saiyan was quite a slow burn, and that journey is reflected in the song for Goku turning into a Super Saiyan. It starts off quiet and with some lighter instruments, evoking kind of a mystical feeling. It fits with the disbelief Frieza and Gohan were feeling as they saw Goku's transformation process, knowing that something incredible was happening but not quite sure what.
Then, once Goku is fully transformed and standing there as the first Super Saiyan we've seen, the guitars kick in to bring some attitude and aggression to the song. It shows how this is a much different side of Goku than we're used to seeing, since he's long been the peaceful warrior.
The theme shows up again throughout the series, but it's hard to associate it with anything other than Goku. Goku's transformation is the peak of the series for many people, so of course the theme playing at that point would become an inseparable part of that scene. This was the beginning of the end for the long battle against Frieza, setting us on the road to an explosive conclusion to this arc.
6 VEGETA'S THEME
Vegeta's theme in the American soundtrack is one that a lot of fans have affectionately taken to referring to as the "hell's bells" theme. It's not that it reminds anyone of the AC/DC song, but rather that this track has a distinctive church bell that rings out throughout the song alongside its electric guitars. The guitars on their own would likely be forgettable since a lot of the Bruce Faulconer composition team's tracks have that kind of sound. But the bells really do stand out and lend this song something special.
The unusual mixture of instruments gives this track a distinct attitude that goes along with Vegeta's personality. The guitars sound aggressive and intense, which is pretty much Vegeta's default mood for much of DBZ. Then the bells give the song a bit of a regal feel, which matches well with the Prince of all Saiyans. You could also interpret the bells as sad and mournful, almost like a funeral for whoever is about to face off against Vegeta in the next big fight.
5 GINYU’S TRANSFORMATION THEME
This might be one of the shorter themes in Dragon Ball Z’s American soundtrack, but it just goes to show a song doesn’t have to be that long to make a strong impression. It first got used when Captain Ginyu demonstrated his body-swapping technique against Goku. Ginyu injured his own body and then initiated the technique that switched their minds into each other's body. The theme accompanying this moment highlighted what a huge turning point in the fight this was, seemingly leaving Ginyu as the strongest fighter around while Goku would be left to die.
We’re glad this piece didn’t become exclusive to Ginyu and was brought back down the line. It’s an intense theme that accentuates some of the most drastic action in the show, like when Future Trunks blew up Dr. Gero’s lab to try and destroy the androids, or when Kid Buu blew up the Earth. Its best usage, though, was during Gohan’s Kamehameha battle against Cell, when Gohan finally overpowered Cell’s wave and killed the android for good.
4 GOHAN’S ANGER THEME
Whether you know this as Mystic Gohan’s theme or as “Gohan’s Anger,” you know this is the piece that plays when Gohan’s power is finally unleashed. It’s such a different theme compared to most of the other songs that play when a character powers up because of the constant piano in the background, lending the track a melancholy sound. This also fits with Gohan’s personality since he’s not like Goku or Vegeta, who both love fighting. Gohan is a reluctant fighter so this song reflects how he’s finally been pushed into doing something he didn’t want to do.
We first hear the song during the episodes when Gohan has been pushed by Cell into becoming the first Super Saiyan 2. Gohan begged Cell not to keep provoking him, but Cell was too curious to see the depths of Gohan’s power and it was ultimately Cell’s undoing.
This theme also returns after the Old Kai unlocks Gohan’s power and he goes to face off against Super Buu. Gohan had been sidelined for so much of Buu’s warpath, but when he finally returned to Earth he had all the power he needed to end Buu’s life. The moment is summed up when Buu chuckles at Gohan’s arrival and says, “So, hotshot, you want to fight Majin Buu?” and Gohan just smirks and says, “Fight you? No. I want to kill you.”
3 PERFECT CELL’S THEME
Whereas Imperfect Cell’s theme sounded rough and industrial, Perfect Cell’s theme has a techno vibe to it. It shows the evolution of how far Cell has come, starting out as this totally alien looking android, and finally advancing to this state where he is nearly human in some ways. It’s a good audio cue to indicate the progression of Cell’s character, and it also doesn’t hurt that it’s an easy to remember piece.
While this song doesn’t carry the same menace that Imperfect Cell’s does, it does still feel foreboding in a different way. This version of Cell’s theme sounds a lot like a siren, like a warning that danger is coming. That’s something that would definitely fit right in with Cell’s attitude and his desire for the world to realize he is the perfect lifeform. It’s a simple piece, but very effective, which is the kind of elegance Perfect Cell would appreciate.
2 GOKU’S SUPER SAIYAN 3 THEME
Bruce Faulconer’s composition team is known for injecting a lot of electric guitars into their music, giving the soundtrack as a whole a pretty significant rock music vibe. Some critics point to that aspect as one of the things they find off-putting about the soundtrack, feeling the music can call too much attention to itself and drown out the natural emotion of the scenes. Rock isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, so that’s fair enough, but the theme for Super Saiyan 3 Goku is one of those songs where we feel like the guitars fit quite well with the emotion of the scene.
When Goku first unveils this transformation even his friends are skeptical that it’s real and suspect he may be bluffing. The song starts off quietly, reflecting that uncertainty, but then as Goku’s power rises, so does the intensity of the song. The electric guitars kick in to pick up the pace, threatening to become overpowering the same way Goku’s new transformation feels like it might be too much for the world. It’s a great theme that captures the feeling of something incredible and awe-inspiring going down, leaving us with our first Super Saiyan 3.
1 VEGETA’S SUPER SAIYAN THEME
With how subjective music is we’re sure a lot of you will have a different top choice, but since there are so many great themes, we can’t blame you. For us, Vegeta’s Super Saiyan theme is at the top because it brings so many different elements into the song. It starts off as a quieter piano piece, but quickly builds from there and becomes faster and adds in more instruments. By the song’s peak it almost sound frantic in its intensity, which is a perfect feeling for when Vegeta is unleashing his Super Saiyan power.
The theme is first used when Vegeta is preparing to take on Android 19 and reveals that he has more power than any of them know of. After Vegeta’s desperation to become a Super Saiyan on Namek, this theme is energetic enough to show what a big deal this is.
That storytelling is further cemented when Vegeta reveals the backstory of how he finally attained the form and how he nearly had to destroy his body to reach that point. It’s an iconic theme of the soundtrack that is no doubt going to be high on anyone’s ranking, with awesome moments like when it plays as Vegeta attacks Perfect Cell after Future Trunks was mortally wounded.
Which song is your favorite from the American Dragon Ball Z soundtrack? Feel free to share any great ones we missed in the comments!