And number one isn’t who you’d think…
We love Dragon Ball. We love the fights, the stories, and especially, the characters. Yes, character(s). We’re not just talking about a certain spiky haired alien boy with a monkey tail. The reason why this series has stood the test of time is because of its ensemble cast of colourful characters, and today, we’re ranking the top 10 best.
We’re an opinionated bunch, especially where Dragon Ball is concerned, so we’ve banded together to form our first ever team list. Scattered below are thoughts from myself and Jake, who, between us, ranked our characters, as well as entries from Andrew and Rob.
For this list, we decided to exclusively look at the characters in the anime and manga of Dragon Ball Z (sorry GT fans). So grab a Senzu, gather some ki, and let’s do this.
Andrew: The best friend everyone wishes they had. For what he lacks in power, he makes up for in heart and is always there to help. His death ultimately defeated Frieza, since seeing his best friend die was the only way Goku could go Super Saiyan.
Rob: Krillin only exists to die so Goku goes Super Saiyan.
Andrew: Bulma has been around since the beginning and has stayed an integral character throughout the entire series. She’s basically the mechanic and tech person of the Z Fighters.
Jack: The Z Fighters owe so much to Bulma. One of the only Dragon Ball exports to remain important, she’s smarter than Piccolo, as brave as Goku and even sassier than Vegeta.
Jake: Frieza is the most memorable DBZ villain, and for good reasons. The evil space Emperor is confident, arrogant, and above all, a menacing threat. Sure, he looks like a little devil Napoleon with a weird voice, but slowly through the Namek Saga, he reveals himself to be the most dangerous opponent Goku and company have ever faced. After all, he brutally murders Vegeta, Krillin, and numerous Namekians in personal and horrific ways. We don’t have to be told Frieza is evil, his actions and demeanor show that he is.
Andrew: The original super villain, Frieza wants nothing more in the world than to be immortal and destroy planets. Frieza represents the first true villain in Dragon Ball Z and brings out the best in all of the characters.
7) Android 16
Andrew: My favorite android of the series, Android 16 is a big lovable robot programmed to kill Goku. He is a peaceful guy who ends up helping the Z Fighters in their fight against Cell and his death ultimately sends Gohan in a rage that helps him achieve SS2.
Jake: Android 16 is the most interesting character in all of Dragon Ball. He is an artificial being, yet he has the most profound understanding of what it means to be alive. He is gentle, and he loves the beauty of the world, but also knows that to protect what he loves, he must use any means necessary.
Before his (permanent) death, he teaches Gohan that actions can speak louder than words, and that you should not be afraid to let go of anger; two valuable, poignant, and important lessons we should all embrace. Despite being an android, 16 is the most human character in the entire series.
Jack: Frieza, Vegeta, Kid Buu – they all want destruction and immortality. Cell wants perfection and a challenge. To me, he represents a different villain, one who doesn’t necessarily know he’s a villain, who came out of nowhere and surprised us all in a seriously underrated time-travel arc.
Jake: Is Cell another villain who is a transforming evil monster? Yes, but there’s much more to him. As he changes from Imperfect to Perfect, we see his character evolve from single-minded to multi-faceted and interesting. In his Perfect form, he exhibits traits of all those that exist in his DNA. Little instances of him being prideful like Vegeta, or easy-going like Goku, make Cell more than just a one-dimensional brute who wants to kill everything.
Andrew: The golden boy of the series. Everyone loves Goku and it’s hard not to, unless you’re Vegeta of course. Goku has always stepped up to the plate for whatever challenge is in front of him. His only downfall is his somewhat weak character development over the series; he does not really change in many ways.
Jack: What he said. We’ve all wanted to be Goku at some point in our lives – he’s super powerful and eats as much as he wants, but when you take those things away from him, what do you have left? A terrible husband and father who just makes terrible decisions over and over. And over.
4) Future Trunks
Rob: He works too hard for Vegeta’s blessing, and just like his father he can lose concentration in fights.
Jack: Trunks’s introduction into the series is the best thing in anything ever, but the novelty of the sword-wielding, time-travelling Super Saiyan begins to wear off as he finds himself more and more out of his depth. That sword though.
Andrew: The angsty Saiyan prince is personally one of my favorite characters of the series. Starting out as the main antagonist of the Saiyan Saga, Vegeta goes on to become one of the strongest members of the Z Fighters. He normally cares about himself and only wants to get stronger than Goku, but we saw Vegeta’s loving side in the Buu Saga when he sacrificed himself for his family.
Jake: Akira Toriyama has a tendency to reform villainous characters into heroes. While Vegeta is no doubt the poster boy for this, the proud prince of Saiyans manages to break the mold. Plain and simple: he’s a dick. Throughout the entire series, Vegeta is shown to care little for anyone else except himself. His giant ego and competitive relationship with Goku often blinds him to his wife, child, and friends; but this is all OK. His flaws are what make his evolution from a cold killer to a hero all the more interesting.
The moments when he does expose himself as a caring person, whether it be apologizing for his pride when facing Perfect Cell, or trying to keep Beerus calm by dancing, are what define Vegeta as a complex character, and one of Dragon Ball Z’s best.
Jack: The original anti-hero, Piccolo’s path to redemption is a lot more satisfying and concise than Vegeta’s. We watch Piccolo struggle with the idea that there is no merit in being a dick, and his transformation aligns perfectly with his feelings about Gohan.
Ultimately, his redemption is so complete that Piccolo is the one character you can rely on to always do the right thing, whether it be fusing with Kami, sacrificing himself for Gohan, taking on Android 17 with little to no chance of winning (by far my favourite fight of the series) or doing a ridiculous fusion dance. On the other hand, wherever Vegeta is in his redemption arc, you can guarantee he is still being a dick to someone.
Also, there is nothing quite like when Piccolo throws aside his weighted armour and prepares to do battle.
Rob: The closest thing Gohan has to a father figure and one of the most underrated characters on the show.
Jake: Yes, Son Gohan is the best Dragon Ball Z character. Why? Well, to start, there are few characters in all of Dragon Ball that are really fleshed out and interesting. Most characters are one-dimensional and do not exhibit much in the way of depth or change. Goku, for better or for worse, is this.
So why is Gohan so special? Because he’s the exact opposite of his father. He begins the series as a timid child who would rather grow up to be a great scholar than a great warrior. He’s gentle, caring, and is basically forced to fight due to his hidden potential and latent strength. If it was up to him, he wouldn’t fight, but as the series progresses, Gohan learns that he must use his strength when necessary to end conflicts that cannot be solved otherwise.
Throughout DBZ, we see Gohan grow, not only from a boy to the great scholar he wanted to become, but as a person who learns from his experiences. This growth and depth is what makes Gohan relatable, interesting, and the best character in Dragon Ball Z.
Jack: No question. Gohan’s transition from frightened child to the ultimate warrior (Mystic Gohan) is everything that is right with Dragon Ball Z.
By far the best moment in the series is Gohan’s awakening versus Cell, where the hidden power hinted at throughout comes out in one burst of emotion, and you realise that every second spent with Gohan so far has led to this. Gohan ends the Cell arc as the protector of the Earth. Goku is dead, but Gohan has his father’s power and more. The only reason to have carried on the series after that was to have Gohan fully replace his father, to have him harness Goku’s skill and love of fighting.
And he arrives to face Buu with both. “Fight you? No, I wanna kill you.” Gohan is wearing Goku’s robes, and he’s confident, he wants to be there. Gohan succeeds Goku as Earth’s true protector with that one line. What happens after that is an insult to a character we watched develop more than any other, but nothing can take away those moments.
Agree with our picks? Disagree? Let us know; and keep loving DBZ.