Is there any anime more influential than Dragon Ball Z? With almost 300 episodes under its belt, DBZ has captivated audiences for years with its brutal action sequences and eclectic roster of characters. During that time, the franchise has its fair share of highs and lows, with jaw-dropping storylines and... less good storylines.
With the recent release of Dragon Ball Super, we thought it would be appropriate to look back at some of DBZ’s strongest and weakest moments. Though most series are split into respective seasons, Dragon Ball Z is usually divided into shorter story arcs known as Sagas, which is what we’ll be using to rank this list. It doesn’t matter if some Sagas are shorter or longer than others. They will each be based on the same grade as everything else which includes writing, animation, storylines, and of course, how epic the fights are.
From Goku’s reveal as a Saiyan to the climactic showdown with Kid Buu, here is Every Dragon Ball Z Saga And Season, Ranked Worst To Best.
16 Garlic Jr. Saga
The first entry on our list deals with a newly escaped Garlic Jr. from the Dead Zone who seeks revenge by capturing Kami, the guardian of the Earth, and starts wreaking all sorts of havoc. With Goku lost somewhere out in space, it’s up to Krillin and Gohan to put an end to Garlic’s heinous plan.
The weakest Saga in DBZ, the Garlic Jr. Saga was created solely for the anime, because at this time it had already caught up to the events in the manga. The creators scrambled and came up with this storyline, though it probably would have been better had the anime just taken a short hiatus. There are little redeeming factors here, with most of the narrative just dragging along. While there are enjoyable segments, like Kami’s character building, most of it is rather pointless. Especially the new addition of Krillin’s shallow girlfriend, Maron, who gets a shout out for being the most annoying character on the show.
15 Great Saiyaman Saga
Most consider the Great Saiyaman Saga the low point of the Dragon Ball Z franchise, and it’s not hard to see why. All the wonderful and rich character building previously from Gohan, who was originally supposed to become the series' new primary protagonist, is completely thrown out of the window. Instead, Gohan focuses more on his academic studies, and adopts the persona of the Great Saiyaman, a bumbling superhero who would have fit right in with Adam West’s rendition of Batman.
Besides being completely different in tone that the rest of the series, this chapter is frequently lambasted because, in the end, nothing really happens. It chronicles Gohan’s high school years, but they never really amount to anything. It all seems like filler until the next big bad guy shows up. The only plus in this Saga gets is because it introduces Videl, Gohan’s soon to be martial artist wife, who is simply awesome.
14 Namek Saga
If fans thought it was torture waiting around for Goku to show up in the first season, then they must have been pulling their hair out by the time the Namek Saga rolled around. Taking place directly after Vegeta and Goku’s epic battle on Earth, Bulma, Gohan and Krillin journey to the planet Namek to search for the Dragon Balls. During this time the audience patiently waits for some action as Goku recovers in the hospital, waits while Goku finds a spaceship, waits around while Goku continuously trains on the spaceship . . . you can see where this is going.
Honestly, most of the Namek Saga is a lot of searching around for the Dragon Balls, which just isn’t as interesting as seeing characters throw punches at each other. The main hero roles fall on the shoulders of Gohan and Krillin, who continuously get their butts kicked in almost every fight they get into. Thankfully this Saga is not a complete misfire thanks to some increase in Vegeta screen time, and the introduction of main baddie, Frieza.
13 World Tournament Saga
Taking place several years after the events of the Cell Games, the World Tournament Saga has the entire gang of Z Fighters reassemble to compete in the 25th Tenka-ichi Bukokai. Even Goku, who had died previously, is allowed to return to Earth for a day to compete. On paper, this should have made a highly enjoyable Saga, with all the main characters making a comeback to take part in a friendly martial arts tournament, which made the earlier seasons of Dragon Ball such a hit.
Unfortunately, it’s a concept that isn’t fully developed and comes across as rather flat. The tournaments of seasons past worked because they were either more intense or more comedic, and this Saga is lacking in both departments. Though some of it is fun, like the Z fighters mopping the floor with the early competition or watching the blossoming relationship between Gohan and Videl, the World Tournament Saga just doesn’t stack up to some of the other seasons.
12 Babidi Saga
Not quite as comedic as the Great Saiyaman Saga, but not as serious as the Frieza or upcoming Buu storylines, the Babidi Saga is basically a setup of better things to come. Taking place after the World Tournament, the Z Fighters come across the evil wizard Babidi, who is attempting to resurrect the powerful entity known as Buu.
The first half has our heroes easily fight and wipe out every pathetic excuse for a threat in a blink of an eye, which is entertaining to watch but doesn’t exactly hold that much weight. The best part is looking over the very creative monster designs, like Pui Pui or the Demon King Dabura. Eventually the story gets more interesting once Vegeta is taken over by mind control and made to fight his old rival Goku, which is the highlight of the story. The pure spectacle of the fight alone is impressive, even if it is a bit undercut later on when it is revealed that Goku had been hiding his ability to turn Super Saiyan 3 the whole time.
11 Fusion Saga
After the horrific transformation of Buu into the eviler Super Buu, the Z Fighters are forced to resort to extreme measures to combat the new threat. If they have any chance to defeat him, our heroes must combine their powers together with the newly introduced technique of fusion, which merges two fighters into a far stronger single warrior.
It’s the new technique of fusion that breathes new life into Dragon Ball Z’s fifteenth Saga. First we have the cocky and childish fusion of Gotenks, who can be rather annoying at times but has a wide arrange of some of the most creative attacks in DBZ history. Not to mention that at the tail end of this Saga, we have the long awaited fusion of Goku and Vegeta, Vegito, who is crazy strong. The writing here isn’t as tight as it is in earlier seasons, but the scope and length of battles are certainly worth giving this Saga a repeated watch.
10 Perfect Cell Saga
Kicking off our top ten is the storyline in which the dastardly Cell continues his quest to reach his Perfect Form. After absorbing Android 17, Cell begins looking far and wide for Android 18. Little does Cell know that he’ll have to go against a newly powered up Vegeta and Trunks who are standing in his way, and have just ascended to the next Super Saiyan level.
Of course due to Vegeta’s monstrous ego, Cell is able to easily achieve his Perfect Form, leaving the world in dire straits. When the Saiyan Prince finds that the Semi-Perfect Form of Cell is not challenging enough, he allows the villain to absorb Android 18 in hopes it will provide a more suitable fighter. He gets more than he bargained for when Perfect Cell makes short work of both Vegeta and his son.
This short Saga may be a solid addition, but it lacks the unpredictability of the Imperfect Cell Saga or the intensity of the upcoming Cell Games. Still, it’s rather fun to watch Vegeta eat his words after he foolishly underestimates Perfect Cell.
9 Captain Ginyu Saga
With the painfully slow events of the Namaek Saga finally coming to a close, the series picks up again with the introduction of the Ginyu Force, Frieza’s elite fighting team (and occasional dance squad). It kicks off with Goku finally making his way to planet Namek to battle Burter and Jeice, two of Ginyu’s strongest fighters. They’re no match for a newly powered up Goku however, who soon takes on their leader Captain Ginyu. Realizing that he’s no match for the Saiyan, Ginyu performs his body switching technique (“Ginyu is Goku? Goku is Ginyu? What?!”).
This saga has a ton of highlights, most notably the addition of Captain Ginyu who, even though he isn’t the main antagonist of the season, is one of the most entertaining. His body change power and love for dance make him a formidable foe, especially when the Z Fighters are concerned with trying to preserve Goku’s body while still attempting to defeat Ginyu. It’s a battle of wits that unfortunately ends bad with Ginyu’s soul being trapped inside a frog.
8 Kid Buu Saga
The sixteenth and final Saga in the Dragon Ball Z series, the Kid Buu story arc is one with the highest stakes in the entire franchise. It’s hard to believe after Cell and Frieza that the creators of the program could still find ways for new villains to appear threatening, but Kid Buu takes the cake when he successfully destroys planet Earth in a psychotic meltdown. As most of our heroes are obliterated in the blast, it’s up to survivors Goku and Vegeta to defeat the little pink monster once and for all.
The scope and pure spectacle of the final fight in the series is not only one of the best in DBZ, but in all of anime. In one of the few times in the series, Goku and Vegeta actually work together to defeat their opponent, which is maybe something they should have considered from the start. Still, even though Kid Buu is psychotic, he doesn’t quite stack up to more sophisticated villains in the past like Frieza and Cell. That lack of nuance is more than made up for however with Vegeta’s character arc, which is both emotional and thought-provoking.
7 Android Saga
Fans seem to love the Androids Saga for the fact that it’s a crazy mishmash of DBZ and Terminator. All hell breaks loose when the evil Dr. Gero unleashes his deadly Androids to wreak havoc on the world. The Z fighters are forced to initially fight off Androids 19 and 20, but are then taken aback when they realize that they’re just mere warm-ups for Androids 17 and 18, who are complete psychopaths. Things get worse when the Android siblings decide to hunt down and kill Goku in his weakened state, forcing the other Z Fighters into a no-win scenario.
The Androids Saga is a thoroughly enjoyable season that is chalk full of great fights. Unfortunately, Goku, in typical Goku fashion, is absent from most of it due to a heart condition. That’s okay though, because it finally gives room for some of the other Z Fighters to shine. The animation in this Saga starts to noticeably get more crisp and fluent, and the writing also carries far more depth and nuance. Not to mention this Saga features the best filler episode with both Goku and Piccolo learning how to drive. Classic Dragon Ball.
6 Majin Buu Saga
Taking place directly after the Babidi Saga, the evil entity known as Majin Buu is finally awakened from his slumber to exact his evil plan upon the world. And by “evil plan,” we mean turning everyone into candy to eat.
While most DBZ antagonists follow a pattern of being thin muscular men, Majin Buu breaks the cycle by being a gigantic pink blob. Of course Buu later changes into thick, muscular guy later on in the Saga, but fans were still taken aback when it was revealed that the main villain looked like a bubblegum Pillsbury Doughboy with a cape. It's a risk that pays off, with Buu's character standing out from the rest of the pack.
Besides Buu’s unique design, this is also the first time in DBZ that we are introduced to Super Saiyan 3 when Goku reveals he’s been hiding in under his sleeve for most of the season. The initial fight between the Saiyan and Buu, while at times campy, is as action packed as any other DBZ brawl. This Saga also gives Hercule, aka Mr. Satan, his very first story arc by befriending Buu, turning him from an annoying character to a somewhat bearable one.
5 Imperfect Cell Saga
What do you get when you cross The Blob, Alien, Terminator and Dragon Ball? You get Cell, a bio-android designed to be the perfect warrior. Dr. Gero’s ultimate creation, the Saga kicks off when Cell hijacks Trunks’ time machine and journeys back to the present timeline. Once there he starts annihilating humans left and right, and begins a quest to hunt down and absorb the remaining Androids so he can transform into the perfect being.
There’s a certain unpredictability that comes along with the Imperfect Cell Saga that keeps the viewer on their toes. The introduction to Cell isn’t just entertaining, but a bit creepy to boot. For the first time, DBZ enters into the realm of horror as Imperfect Cell travels from place to place, ruthlessly killing humans and then absorbing their remains. Though one of the shorter Sagas and a little slower in pace, it’s unique, well-written, and certainly differentiates itself from the other Sagas.
4 Trunks Saga
One of the shortest Sagas, but featuring one of the coolest characters, the Trunks Saga is a brisk seven episodes that sets off the entire chain of events of the Cell storyline. With Frieza newly resurrected after his bout with Goku, he journeys to Earth to seek some revenge. Upon arrival the tyrant runs into a mysterious fighter named Trunks, who, surprisingly, turns Super Saiyan and quickly cuts Frieza into a million pieces with his sword.
When Goku finally returns to Earth, Trunks reveals that he is actually from the future, and that he has come back to the past to warn the Z Fighters about the upcoming threat of Dr. Gero’s Androids. The remainder of the Saga just has our heroes train, but those first few episodes are enough to make this Saga a fan favorite.
The Trunks Saga is entertaining, and best of all, fast paced. There is little to no filler here, with the animation looking as good as ever and the plot moving right along. This was also before everyone could turn Super Saiyan, so to see someone other than Goku do it absolutely floored fans. Can we just pause for a second and appreciate how cool Trunks’ first transformation into Super Saiyan is?
3 Frieza Saga
The Frieza Saga might be the most popular of the series, featuring the longest fight in not just Dragon Ball Z history, but in all of anime. It finally made good on its promise of a “Super Saiyan,” with Goku reaching the legendary status after seeing his best friend Krillin die at the hands of Frieza. It was clear from the beginning of this showdown that the bout between Goku and Frieza would undoubtedly be a highlight of the series.
Besides the final battle, a surprising amount of characters are all given their time to shine, including a newly powered up Piccolo, and Vegeta, who was just beginning his transformation from villain to antihero. His death, in which he has tears in his eyes as he tells Goku that Frieza was responsible for the destruction of their home planet, is heart-wrenching moment to say the least.
There are tiny faults within the Saga however, like the amount of anime filler which does seem to drag at times. Frieza claims that the planet Namek will blow up in five minutes, when in actuality it’s closer to an hour and a half. Either Frieza is really bad at math, or that blast he sunk into the planet wasn’t as powerful as he thought. Still, Frieza’s math skills aside, the final bout with Goku is indeed legendary, and remains as one of the most influential in the franchise.
2 Saiyan Saga
This first Saga of the DBZ franchise is what catapulted this action-packed anime into the eyes of mainstream audiences. The Saiyan Saga, also referred to as the Vegeta Saga, is heavily based in science fiction and in stark contrast with its predecessor Dragon Ball, which was comedic in tone, was far more violent and brutal from the get-go. Goku’s identity as an alien is revealed for the first time, and we get our first introductions to the tyrannical Saiyan Prince, Vegeta.
Though the animation might not be as beautiful to look at as in later seasons, the Saiyan Saga still has some of the best writing in the entire series. Piccolo’s character arc is an especially interesting one to see evolve when he’s tasked with protecting and training Goku’s infant son, Gohan. The two’s relationship comes to be a defining moment within the series.
The final fight between Goku and Vegeta in a deserted wasteland is the blueprint that set up all others in future seasons. The violent conflict has everything that DBZ fans have come to expect from a fight, including punches, kicks, ki blasts, and giant monkeys. This was also before power levels started to get out of hand, allowing each member of the Z Fighters to play a part in defending Earth. Though Dragon Ball Z has had its fair share of weak moments, this first Saga is still one of its strongest.
1 Cell Games Saga
It’s a tall order to top the final fight of the Frieza Saga, or the influential stylings of the Saiyan Saga, but the Cell Games storyline manages to do all of that, and then some. This season is set during a life or death tournament set up by the villain Cell, who demands a challenge after attaining his new found powers. Knowing that the fate of Earth is on the line, the Z Fighters train like never before, leading to a stunning confrontation between savior of Earth, Goku, and the maniacal Cell. To everyone’s surprise however, Goku admits defeat, acknowledging that Cell’s power greatly surpasses his own. His son Gohan then steps up to the plate, and with his newfound powers unlocked, enters a climatic showdown that will decide the fate of the world.
The Cell Games Saga, while it has some stiff competition, holds the most weight out of any Dragon Ball Z storyline. After many seasons leading up to it, Gohan finally unlocks his hidden potential by reaching the status of Super Saiyan 2. It’s an incredible sight to see when Cell realizes that he’s awoken a sleeping giant, with Gohan easily trumping his opponent in the realm of speed, endurance and strength. It brings everything full circle by providing the end of Gohan’s coming of age story, with a finale that would have been a satisfying enough conclusion on its own if the story had decided to end there. The Cell Games captures everything that makes Dragon Ball Z the influential anime that it is, and takes our pick for the series’ most emotional and action-packed Saga of all time.