Although Dragon Ball Z is much beloved, it’s far from one of the better overall anime adaptations out there. It’s painfully slow compared to the manga, it uses its episode time poorly, and the animation isn’t nearly as consistent as everyone seems to remember. At the same time, when Dragon Ball Z is at its best, it manages to bring the manga to life in legendary ways.
There’s a reason Dragon Ball Z took off in spite of its faults: the core of the series is just that good. All that said, episode and animation quality don’t seem to matter as much when it comes to IMDb ratings. Rather, cultural perceptions of the character and franchise tend to play a much larger role in how the series is reviewed.
10 BEST: Transformed At Last (7.8)
The American Dragon Ball opening may have infamously showed Goku as a Super Saiyan during the opening credits prior to his transformation, but that didn’t make his ultimate turn into a Super Saiyan any less epic for western fans. After an entire arc’s worth of build up, Goku was finally turning the tables on Freeza.
It’s honestly surprising that this episode isn’t the single highest rated episode in the franchise. It does make sense though. The first half of the episode is alarmingly slow taking its sweet time building up to the transformation. While it might work well enough for the episode, it’s yet another slow patch in an already very slow climax to the Namek arc.
9 WORST: Cell Returns (5.2)
Goku’s sacrifice at the end of the Cell Games is arguably the emotional climax of the Cell arc. Gohan’s come into his own as a martial artist, Goku has passed on his legacy as a martial artist, and it really feels like Goku is saying as much goodbye to the audience as Dragon Ball itself is saying to Goku.
For Cell to come back, kill Trunks, and drag the final fight out even longer is a bit maddening to say the least. Worse yet, the Cell arc manages to be one of the better adapted story arcs right until the start of the Cell Games where the pacing taking a nosedive and never properly recovers.
8 BEST: Another Super Saiyan (7.8)
There’s really no getting around just how popular of a character Future Trunks is. It’s all justified too. Toriyama’s introduction for the character is downright genius, and the anime handles it masterfully, even giving Trunks his own unique insert song in the original Japanese version. Him turning Super Saiyan, in particular, opened an important door for Dragon Ball.
Goku turning Super Saiyan was his natural peak as a martial artist narratively, but Toriyama always wrote Dragon Ball through the frame of characters breaking past their limits. Trunks showing up as a Super Saiyan and one-shotting Freeza embodies that idea perfectly.
7 WORST: The Horror Won’t End (5.2)
Cell’s return and defeat could have realistically been dealt with in a single episode. If more time was necessary, one and a half with the next episode killing Cell off in the beam struggle before the act break. Tragically, the anime decides to stretch Cell’s return and demise over three episodes with “The Horror Won’t End” being sandwiched in-between.
It genuinely accomplishes nothing other than wasting time. It has nothing of the pathos of Goku’s sacrifice or none of the surprise of Trunks’ death. It’s just a boring slog of an episode that exists solely to allow the manga to get further.
6 BEST: The End Of Vegeta (7.8)
This is a rather interesting placement, not because of the episode’s quality itself, but because of how it was changed between reasons. In Japan, Vegeta’s death scene is far more raw. The script isn’t trying to justify his actions under Freeza, just contextualizing them. The US version, on the other hand, goes a more traditional redemption route.
While it deprives Vegeta of some much-needed nuance, both depictions of the scene still feature a fan-favorite character dying and begging the main character to avenge their lost race. Regardless of specific dialogue, the situation is ripe with dramatic flare. What’s not to love?
5 WORST: Mind Trap (5.2)
The Majin Buu arc has similar problems to the Cell arc. Both have great anime adaptations right up until the very end of their arcs. The moment Goku and Vegeta fuse into Vegito, it’s more or less over for the Buu= arc’s pacing for a while. The worst of it comes when the fusion breaks apart and Goku and Vegeta need to trek through Boo’s body.
It’s an awkwardly paced episode that fails to make use of its premise. Even then, the premise is so weak that it hardly matters. Toriyama knew to blitz through Boo’s body to move the plot along, but the anime drags its heels for an entire episode, dragging out the DBZ cash cow just a bit longer.
4 BEST: Goku… Super Saiyan? (7.8)
For anyone watching or reading the series for the first time, Goku’s fight with Recoome may very well stand out as a landmark moment in the Namek arc, but it’s not something that lingers in the mind when all is said and done. It’s exciting in the moment, but it’s Goku’s fight against Freeza that steals the show.
For fans growing up with Dragon Ball Z’s serialization, however, this was the end of season 2. This was the end of Dragon Ball Z for a while. It was as far as the series was dubbed before season 3, but at least the season went out on a relatively high note, featuring Goku’s return and some nice action.
3 WORST: Vegito… Downsized (5.1)
It’s a genuine shame just how badly the anime ends up handling Vegito as a character. He’s dragged out across multiple episodes likely because Toei had a feeling he’d wind up a popular character. Unfortunately, Vegito isn’t in much of the manga so the anime had to spread what little there was of him painfully thin.
This results in episodes like “Vegito… Downsized” where Majin Buu turns Vegito into a piece of candy while Chichi, Videl, and Dabra look for Gohan in Heaven— somewhere the audience knows he won’t be because he’s currently inside Majin Boo. It’s one of the most blatant uses of filler in the entire series.
2 BEST: Final Atonement (8.2)
Vegeta has always been the fan-favorite outside of Japan and the fact that this is the highest-rated episode on IMDb is proof of that fact. While the episode itself is genuinely well done— one of the Buu arc’s best, especially in Japanese— this episode also aired while the series was at its peak popularity-wise.
Dragon Ball Z would soon start to taper off a bit, but the franchise was arguably at its freshest during the early Buu arc. It wouldn’t be until the introduction of fusion that the series’ reputation would end up hurting a bit. Regardless, all this results in a perfect storm of an episode centered on Vegeta.
1 WORST: The Incredible Fighting Candy (5.0)
The Majin Buu arc really is home to the series’ best and worst as far as IDMb is concerned. Naturally, it’s a Vegito episode that’s stuck dead last, and the one where he’s a candy at that. The Majin Buu arc’s use of humor has always been polarizing, but the closer the series gets to the end, the worse it feels.
That’s mainly due to the Buu arc’s genuinely massive stakes. It’s not exactly thrilling watching the ultimate fused warrior fight someone who nearly brought Earth to extinction as a piece of candy. In fact, given how drawn out it is in the anime, it’s downright grueling.