Transformations are an important part of Dragon Ball’s identity. There are few moments as iconic as Goku turning Super Saiyan for the first time on Namek. From there, the franchise embraced the idea of increasingly-powerful forms, refusing to let go even to this day. They aren’t just reserved for heroes, either. In fact, villains are the ones who typically transform.
While Frieza popularized the concept alongside Goku on Namek, Dragon Ball has been transforming characters for ages, and the best villain transformations are the ones that really change the tide of battle. When a villain transforms, it should be equal parts tense and darn frightening. That's certainly the case with these powerful villain forms.
10 Semi-Perfect Cell
Although Semi-Perfect Cell may not be a fan favorite thanks to his ugly design, Cell’s transformation into the beast is an iconic one that’s hard to forget. After a hard-fought battle between Piccolo and No. 17, Imperfect Cell shows up on the scene, threatening 17’s life. 16 jumps into the fray and actually manages to hold Cell off.
Unfortunately, after absorbing a good chunk of the Earth’s population, Cell is considerably stronger. He’s able to sneak his way over to 17, consuming him whole in a sequence that hammers home just how downright horrifying Cell can be when underestimated.
9 Kid Buu
One of the weaker incarnations of Buu, Goku and Vegeta take Buu’s final transformation in their stride, believing that they’ll be more than enough to handle the smaller, kid-like Djinn. Unfortunately for them, Pure Boo’s first act after his transformation is to blow up the Earth, taking Gohan and company with it.
Goku and Vegeta are left with no choice but to face off against an incredibly dangerous enemy who they let transform. While Kid Buu might be on the weaker side, he doesn’t tire, he doesn’t think, and he doesn’t make sense. He’s a monster to the core.
8 Perfect Cell
While Perfect Cell falls on the bland side in terms of personality, he does make up for it to an extent with his fantastic transformation. After an entire arc of playing cat and mouse with the Artificial Humans, Cell finally catches up with 18 only to be confronted by Vegeta, who he ends up playing like a fiddle.
Cell manipulates Vegeta into allowing him to absorb 18, inadvertently dooming Goku, Trunks, and No. 16 in the long run. When Cell transforms, it’s a morbidly triumphant moment. He’s outsmarted the heroes at every turn and finally achieves what he’s been looking for: perfection.
The second half of the Majin Buu arc has an almost overwhelming quality to it. Time and time again, the heroes fail in stopping Buu. Vegeta sacrifices himself, Goku runs out of time, and Gotenks is too inexperienced to finish the job. Then comes Gohan, the Earth’s last hope. Not only does he manage to overpower Buu, he does so effortlessly.
Tragically, it’s this situation that allows Boo to gain the upper hand. In believing he can handle anything Buu throws at him, Gohan allows Goten and Trunks to fuse, only for Boo to immediately absorb them. It’s a fast, shocking moment that places Buu as the clear-cut victor.
6 Second-Form Frieza
It’s a shame that the anime doesn’t foreshadow Frieza’s transformation properly, because it makes for one of the most tense moments in the Namek arc, when he finally decides to bust out the big guns. Frieza’s second form is monstrous in every respect.
In this form, Frieza manages to: gore Krillin, push Vegeta to wanting to blast a hole in his own chest, and terrify the Z-Fighters to their very core. Worse yet is the reveal that Frieza has more transformations. After such a bombastic change, the fact that Frieza wasn't even fighting at full power makes his second form transformation downright horrifying.
5 Evil Buu
There’s something profoundly sad about watching Fat Buu completely lose himself to his demons. After bonding with Mr. Satan and genuinely developing as a character, the near death of both Bee and Satan forces all of Boo’s anxieties to manifest in a grey, skinny version of himself.
Eaten by his other half, Boo transforms into Evil Buu, an agent of pure chaos. One of Boo’s first act as his “Evil” self sees him wiping out 90% of the Earth’s population in no time flat. Dragon Ball was never against getting dark, but Evil Buu brings an incredibly twisted turn to an otherwise light-hearted arc.
4 Super Saiyan Broly
Broly was always a popular character, but he was never a particularly deep one until Akira Toriyama tried his hand at writing the Legendary Super Saiyan for Dragon Ball Super: Broly. Mistakenly believing he killed his own father, Broly is brought to the breaking point. He snaps in a surprisingly emotional scene where he gives in to his Saiyan urges.
A more sensitive villain, Broly’s transformation places a considerable amount of emphasis on his mental state. He simply cannot keep up emotionally with what’s happening around him, resulting in a beautifully-animated, but poignant, transformation sequence on par with Trunks’ from his TV special.
3 Final Form Frieza
Between Piccolo's fusion and Vegeta forcing Krillin to give him a Zenkai, Frieza finds himself surprisingly overwhelmed by the Z-Fighters. Finding himself trapped, he has no choice but to revert to his truest state: his final form. The sequence is quick, but Toriyama masks Frieza’s final form with dust, building tension for the reveal.
Slender, slick, and dead-eyed, Frieza’s appearance gives the heroes a false sense of confidence… that he immediately beats it out of them. Vegeta suffers the worst beating of his life once Freeza gets his hands on him. It’s only when Goku arrives that the tide turns, but, even then, Frieza was still just toying with the heroes all along.
2 Oozaru Vegeta
Kaioken should have been Goku’s ticket for defeating Vegeta and, in many respects, it was. In their one-on-one fight, Goku actually manages to push Vegeta back, winning their beam struggle and nearly defeating the Prince of All Saiyans. Battered, beaten, and broken, Vegeta creates his own personal moon to turn into a familiar beast: the Oozaru.
Directly contrasting with Goku’s first transformation into the great ape, Vegeta mangles Goku. Audiences are forced to watch as Vegeta crushes every bone in Goku’s body, nearly killing Goku in the process. It’s an overwhelming turn of events that drives home just how dangerous the Saiyans are.
1 Young King Piccolo
A more personal transformation, Demon King Piccolo wishing for his youth may as well be the moment where Dragon Ball looks directly at its audience and says, we aren’t playing around any more. Immediately after having his wish granted, Piccolo kills Shenlong, destroying the Dragon Balls in the process.
Lying in the wake of this moment are also Chiaotzu’s and Master Roshi’s bodies, both of whom died failing to stop the Demon King. It’s one of the darkest moments in the entire franchise, and easily the best transformation a villain undergoes. This is the moment that changed Dragon Ball forever. For all intents and purposes, Piccolo won.