Dragon Ball Z is the most popular anime on the planet, and we think we know why. It’s not because of those 98 episodes it took for Goku to get to the end of Snake Way, and it’s not because of Gohan’s high school adventures.
Dragon Ball Z is loved across the globe because of those moments that make all those hours of filler worthwhile. The moments that, to this day, make adult human beings cry tears of joy.
Picking our favourite Dragon Ball Z moment was like picking our favourite child. Maybe harder, because everyone secretly has a favourite child. But we got there in the end, and let’s kame-hame-haaaaaave a look at the results.
See what I did there?
10) Super Saiyan 3
The whole idea of a Super Saiyan 3 is flawed (and don’t even get us started on Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan). Where before the highest form a Saiyan could reach was Ascended Saiyan, Super Saiyan 3 put numbers to the transformations, asking questions like:
Where did his eyebrows go?
Where did that extra hair come from?
Is this the same Goku that Bulma shot in the face?
But even its harshest critics sat up straight when Goku revealed a Saiyan level beyond Ascended, and that was before the episode-long, Earth-moving transformation that is Dragon Ball Z at its best. We’re not fans of the end product, but those 10 minutes were some of the most exciting and unexpected 10 minutes of our sad little lives.
9) Piccolo vs. Android 17
Remember when Piccolo was actually the strongest Z-Fighter for, like, half an episode? Good times.
Now a glorified babysitter, Piccolo was once the ultimate badass. When Piccolo ripped off his weighted cloak, you knew something, or someone, was about to go down.
Piccolo’s greatest moment comes in the Imperfect Cell arc, where he fights Android 17 to protect Goku, knowing he has little to no chance of winning while the Z-Fighters wait for Vegeta and Trunks to show.
Amazingly, Piccolo actually matches the Android blow-for-blow, using his full and extensive set of moves in the process. The fight only ends when Cell arrives to absorb the Androids, leaving the fate of the most evenly-matched battle in all of Dragon Ball Z up in the air.
8) Goten Meets Goku
Imagine you never met your alien father. You hear stories, that he was the greatest fighter to ever have lived, but now imagine your best friend also has an alien father, and your best friend claims that his alien father is the greatest fighter to ever have lived. Who do you believe?
When Goku returns to Earth for one day, and a six-year-old Goten gets a chance to meet his older doppelganger, he’s not thinking about how strong he is, or how many bad guys he beat up – all he cares about is that he has a father. It’s as deep as Dragon Ball Z has ever gone, and it puts things into perspective for the young Saiyan.
7) Father/Son Kamehameha
In his final round with Cell, a one-armed Gohan channels the spirit of his dead father (notice that Goku is dead in a lot of these moments) in a mighty Kamehameha showdown.
Short on confidence following Cell’s return and his subsequent lack of an arm, Gohan is ready to give up, but Goku talks him through it step-by-step, and as Gohan releases one final blast of energy, Goku appears in spirit form, as the Ghost of Protecting the Earth Past.
Because this is the defining passing-of-the-torch moment (if Gohan hadn’t gone all Yamcha in the Buu arc, that is). Gohan has all of Goku’s power, but he had always stumbled when it came to finishing off his foes. With Goku’s help, he finally overwhelms Cell, and (temporarily) succeeds his father as Earth’s hero.
6) Vegeta Transforms
With Goku out of action, the Z-Fighters’ battle against Android 19 was Vegeta’s moment to shine.
Arriving just in the nick of time to save his sworn enemy/Saiyan rival/actual best friend, Vegeta utters the immortal line, ‘does a machine like yourself ever experience fear?’, and Bruce Falconer’s epic soundtrack opens the door to a new chapter in Goku and Vegeta’s rivalry/love affair.
5) Vegeta’s Sacrifice
The Buu Saga includes a lot of the best DBZ moments, but where it fails is in its inability to follow through with them.
Vegeta and Goku’s rematch is tarnished by the fact that it wasn’t a real fight – Goku could have gone Super Saiyan 3 any time; Mystic Gohan’s arrival on Earth is knocked down a peg by his complete humiliation at Buu’s hands; and the worst offender: Vegeta sacrifices himself for the fate of the Earth, but then he comes back a few episodes later.
You have to credit Vegeta though. It wasn’t his fault he came back to life. Vegeta finally becomes a Z-Fighter and redeems himself almost entirely when he powers up to max, destroying his own body, all to defeat Majin Buu and keep Bulma, Trunks, and even Goku, safe.
4) A Whole New Gohan
At the end of the Cell Saga, Gohan was an Ascended Saiyan. Goku was dead. The Earth was safe. The only reason to keep making Dragon Ball Z was surely to have Gohan harness his Saiyan side – to shake off all the doubt he has in his own ability and learn to love a good scrap.
When he arrives on Earth as Mystic Gohan, the strongest a single person had ever been on Dragon Ball Z, he is wearing his father’s gi and a smile. He walks right up to Buu, delivers the greatest line in DBZ history – ‘Fight you? No, I wanna kill you’ – and punches the pink bastard so hard in the face that we feel it through the screen.
We just have to try really, really hard to forget what comes next, because this really is Ultimate Gohan.
3) Vegeta’s Respect
Not long after Vegeta pointlessly sacrifices himself, and then pointlessly comes back to life, the Prince of all Saiyans delivers a poignant DBZ moment that almost makes us forgive the writers for being so pointless.
On the brink of death and completely outmatched, Vegeta watches Goku stand up to Kid Buu, and he admits that he is not on his level. Of course, he says none of this out loud, and he never would, but at least we know. It took almost 300 episodes, but Vegeta had finally come to respect the lower class Saiyan.
2) Transformed at Last
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about the very first Super Saiyan transformation?
Through the entire Namek Saga, Vegeta goes on and on about the Super Saiyan, the legendary Saiyan warrior that Frieza fears above all else, that it would have been disappointing had we not seen one.
But Goku’s iconic transformation lives up to expectations. Everyone remembers where they were when Goku became a Super Saiyan for the first time, and the moment opened the door to Dragon Ball Z as we know it. It’s a good job they didn’t have everyone become a Super Saiyan, and then have a hundred more transformations that rendered Super Saiyan entirely useless. No, wait.
Dragon Ball Z fans are split into two groups: those who think Dragon Ball Z is Goku’s series, and those who are right.
From the very beginning, we watch as Gohan beats up Raditz with his face, stands up to Frieza and the Saiyans, trains with Goku in the time chamber, and you don’t realise that it’s all leading to one emotional, and completely brutal, transformation.
Gohan’s transformation, where he finally perfects the Ascended Saiyan form, rounds off a beautifully developed character arc, and of all the horrible things that happen to Gohan post-Dragon Ball Z, nothing can take away this moment.
Which moments did we leave out? Let us know in the comments!