This week, someone who many consider as the father of Shounen, Akira Toriyama, turned 63.
In celebration, I decided to compile the 10 best moments from Toriyama’s most successful show, Dragon Ball Z.
…And I know some of you are wondering why this list isn’t on Dragon Ball Super, since it concluded about 2 weeks ago, but I have a pretty good reason for that:
Dragon Ball Super sucks.
That, and it doesn’t mean as much to me as Dragon Ball Z.
Like many of you, DBZ was my gateway into Anime. As such, it’ll always have a very special place in my heart.
It’s far from perfect, but nearly every popular Anime that has come since owns at least a small debt to DBZ’s influence.
So let’s kick off this celebration of Toriyama and his gift to the Anime world:
10.) Vegeta Annihilates Pui Pui
This scene isn’t really all that important to the overall plot, nor does it have the emotional weight of other entries on this list.
But I’m placing it here on the list for just how badass it is.
After the Namek Saga, we didn’t get to see that many henchmen-type characters for our heroes to feast on. And when we did, like in the case of Android 19, they were just there to slap around the side characters until Goku or Vegeta showed up and ended the fight instantly.
And while many will point to Vegeta’s obliteration of Android 19 as his most dominant moment, I’m going to deviate a bit here and pick his humiliation of Babadi’s henchman, Pui Pui.
This was one of the very few times during in the series when a character as strong as Vegeta took on a lesser villain right away.
And while it shouldn’t matter all that much, watching Vegeta toy with Pui Pui, a supposedly strong fighter, reminds the audience of just how powerful the Z Fighters are when compared to others.
While he technically killed a lot of the show’s villains by finishing them off (Nappa, Burter, Captain Ginyu), this was a rare occasion where Vegeta got a clean victory.
Considering how cool the scene is, it was almost as gratifying for us as it was for him.
9.) Vegeta’s Sacrifice
In retrospect, I still like the Majin Vegeta arc of the show, but for different reasons.
I used to like it because of how dramatic the fight between Goku and Vegeta was. However, this was eventually nerfed by Goku admitting he knew Super Saiyan 3 during that fight but chose not to use it in order to give Vegeta a chance.
So that whole sequence was basically nerfed by the fact that Goku could have ended it in seconds.
But as an adult, I find Vegeta’s reasoning for reverting to evil to be much more compelling. It was a lifelong warrior looking to get his fangs back after becoming domesticated.
In Vegeta’s mind, most of his strength came from anger and arrogance, which he started losing after starting a family. So he decided to shun his family and friends in order to regain his edge.
It isn’t until Vegeta realizes his own growth as a person that he understands how his source of inspiration has changed. He wasn’t strong in spite of his family and friends, but because of them.
So as a form of atonement, he gives his life protecting those people, by blowing himself the fuck up in an effort to kill Majin Buu (who he helped revive).
It’s not quite the end of his character development (more on this later), but a huge moment of maturity from the Saiyan Prince.
8.) Trunks Kills Frieza
Best. Character. Debut. Ever.
As badass as this moment was, most people today hold it in such high regard for how funny it was.
You have Frieza, this alien overlord that the Z Fighters took FOREVER to beat, make a sudden return with some technological enhancements and declare that the battle hasn’t been won yet.
…That is, until this random teen shows up outta nowhere, casually goes Super Saiyan, and proceeds to chop the fuck out of the galactic emperor.
While it didn’t do the show’s power scaling any favors, it was just…so…cool. The way the camera splits in two once Trunks slices Frieza in half is a memory that will be forever ingrained in our brains.
And to add insult to injury, Trunks also murders King Cold→ Frieza’s father.
When we’ve thought we’ve had enough, Trunks reveals that he’s actually Vegeta’s son..from the fucking FUTURE.
Trunk’s debut was fast, concise, and cool as hell.
So cool, in fact, that we forget how lame he actually was for the rest of the series.
Like when he got one-shotted by Cell for literally no reason. Lol.
7.) Goku & The Universe Finish Off Kid Buu
The last major event of the Dragon Ball manga.
But let’s not beat around the bush: the Buu Saga was a mess.
I have a theory for this, though. Akira Toriyama originally intended on ending the series after the Cell Saga. But, being the money-grubbing people that they are, the people at Shonen Jump wouldn’t allow him to stop drawing.
My theory is that Toriyama had already exhausted his creative reservoirs at that point, so he got snarky and started introducing the most ridiculous things he could think of.
A pink blog of a villain that turns people into candy? Sure, why not.
Characters fusing together through 2 different methods? Throw it in!
Oh, and how about we have this sword thing that’s completely useless, but then a really old demigod comes out of it and unlocks Gohan’s potential? Why the hell not!
However, as ridiculous as the plot got, Toriyama was able to pull it all together with a climax that’s legitimately thrilling.
This moment had it all: Vegeta trying desperately to stall Buu, Good Buu getting spit back out and joining the heroes, Vegeta’s genius plan to use the Spirit Bomb, Mr. Satan coming in clutch to motivate the world, great cameos from Launch and Android 17, Kid Buu almost pushing the Spirit Bomb back, and a satisfying ending that felt like a real group effort
The Buu Saga was far from perfect, but this conclusion found a way to include nearly every character that had appeared in Dragon Ball and give them a role in saving the world.
6.) Goku Goes Super Saiyan
You knew this was going to come up eventually.
Honestly, this scene doesn’t really do much for me in terms of what actually happens.
The Super Saiyan myth was thrown around for the entirety of the Namek Saga, and the transformation was set up well, but unlike the other entries on this list, I don’t really get all that moved when I see it now.
That said, there’s no denying this scene’s impact on Anime as a whole.
This was one of the fist times that an Anime character temporarily powered up to beat a stronger foe.
It sounds pretty basic by today’s standards, but we should stop for a minute to think of how many shows have ripped off Super Saiyan since DBZ.
Of course, thanks to Dragon Ball Super (Shitty), we have about 800 variants of Super Saiyan, which kind of nerfs this scene.
But when it comes to iconic moments from Dragon Ball, none is more recognizable than Goku’s golden fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.
5.) Goku & Vegeta’s Beam Struggle
While SSJ3 Goku vs. Kid Buu is my personal favorite fight in the series, I’ve always said that Goku’s first faceoff with Vegeta is the show’s best.
My belief of this stems from how there’s constant tension during the sequence. While Goku is initially no match for Vegeta, he eventually powers up to Kaio Ken in order to level the playing field.
From then on, there’s no clear indicator of who is stronger, which makes for a really engaging back-and-forth. This might seem like a pretty obvious sign of a good fight, but try to remember how few fights in DBZ are ever evenly matched.
After the Goku/Vegeta fight, most battles consist of both fighters taking turns powering up and beating the shit out of the other until the other powers up and turns the tables.
Sometimes it works. Watching Vegeta obliterate Android 19 was pretty cool.
But most times we get things like Mystic Gohan vs. Super Buu, which consisted of Gohan beating the crap out of Buu, then Buu absorbing Gotenks and Piccolo, and then Buu beating the shit out of Gohan.
That format is pretty boring, which is why Goku vs. Vegeta was so great. Even though Goku had Kaio Ken and Vegeta had the Great Ape form, their transformations had limits that were both exploited during the battle.
There was a lot of uncertainty over who would actually prevail, which is why the beam struggle between Vegeta’s Galick Gun (Garlic Gun in Japan) and Goku’s Kamehameha was so teeth-clenching.
The Goku/Vegeta beam struggle elevated the entire show, in terms of the magnitude of its battles and the animation quality.
Such a landmark warrants mention on any list like this.
4.) Piccolo Saves Gohan
So, to really get a sense of why this moment was such a big deal, you would have to be familiar with at least the latter half of Dragon Ball.
Piccolo’s real name is actually Piccolo Jr, since he’s the offspring of King Piccolo.
…You know, the same guy who killed both Shenron and Krillin and would have killed the rest of the world if kid Goku didn’t literally punch a hole in his chest.
Great moment in Dragon Ball→ look it up.
Anyway, DBZ’s Piccolo spent the last arc of Dragon Ball trying relentlessly to kill Goku to avenge his father, and getting pretty close to doing so.
So when the Saiyans arrived on Earth, Piccolo and Goku teamed up not because they were suddenly friends, but because of a new common enemy.
Goku’s death after the fight with Raditz meant Piccolo would take up training Gohan, who flashed some untapped power during the battle.
Gohan’s training with Piccolo was brutal to the point that we wondered whether child abuse laws existed in this universe.
But the two formed a bond during this time, and Piccolo became more of a father figure to Gohan.
That’s why it’s such an emotional moment when Piccolo sacrifices himself to save the son of his mortal enemy. He had finally found a friend in the world, and his willingness to give his life for Gohan reflected a lot of personal growth for Piccolo.
He was pretty much cemented as a good guy from this point onward, so it’s easy to forget just how shocking this was when it first happened.
Easily one of the saddest moments of the series, and a huge reason why so many fans today love Piccolo.
3.) Goku Goes Super Saiyan 3
If you ask anyone who has watched this what their first reaction was, their response will always include one word: “chills”
…Well, either that or “scream”, but just go with me.
As a relatively straightforward character, it’s safe to say that Goku’s development and overall importance to the story reached its peak during this transformation.
During the production of the Buu arc, Toriyama tried everything he could think of to give Goku a break and have other characters save the day.
He tried making Gohan the protagonist.
He tried having Majin Vegeta revert to being a hero.
He tried having Goten and Trunks take on a more important role.
But as the Buu Saga progressively got more out of hand, the alternatives weren’t going over well, and Toriyama had no choice but to give Kakarot a (then) exclusive transformation.
And holy shit, does this scene play up the magnitude. I wonder how Sean Schemmel was able to speak again after screaming his head off for nearly 3 straight minutes.
I’m placing this at #3 for how symbolic it is in regards to Goku’s legacy.The sequence showing him rapidly go from Great Ape, to adult, to child basically tells the audience “Okay, this is it. Here is the culmination of Goku”
By showing reaction shots of both amazed side characters and the earth literally crumbling, we’re reminded that Goku will always be the savior in this tale.
And nothing will ever beat the Funimation dub’s song during this sequence. It just adds to the ambiance of Goku becoming a transcendent figure in Dragon Ball lore.
Fun fact: Goku was actually strong enough to kill Majin Buu while in this form, but decided not to since he wanted to give the Earth’s living fighters the opportunity to be heroes. What a guy.
2.) Gohan Kills Cell & Saves The World
If you think that Dragon Ball Z’s entire story wasn’t a build-up to this exact moment, then you’re fooling yourself.
From the show’s very first battle against Radtiz, Toriyama would continue to drop subtle hints about Gohan’s hidden potential.
It wasn’t until the Cell Games, when all hope seemed lost, that this story of untapped power reached its crescendo.
What lands this moment at number 2 is just how absolutely climactic it was.
Having Gohan, a child who previously watched from the sidelines, take on the strongest villain the world had seen with one fucking arm was about as inspirational to our generation as it gets.
I think a lot of us saw ourselves in Gohan during DBZ’s original run. He was shy, unsure of himself, and relatively weak considering who his father is. But when the stakes were at an all-time high, he swallowed his fear and rose to the occasion.
You try telling a 10 year-old kid that seeing this on screen wasn’t incredibly inspiring.
My favorite part of this moment, however, has to do with Vegeta. After being paralyzed with fear upon Cell’s return, the Saiyan Prince comes in clutch by distracting Cell long enough for Gohan to deliver the final blow.
Just think about that. Someone who started the series off with the intention to destroy Earth ends up playing a vital role in saving it.
So essentially, this moment brought the two main character arcs of the series.
The show could have ended here, and DBZ would have been an all-time great.
It obviously didn’t, but that’s okay, because the Buu Saga gave us the #1 moment on this list…
1.) Vegeta (Finally) Admits Goku Is Better
I’ve considered this the best DBZ moment since I was 11 years old.
Even at that age, amidst all the wacky transformations and plot turns of the Buu saga, I could feel how much weight this monologue carried.
Understanding how monumental this speech was would require someone to have seen the show from the beginning, so you could see just how far Vegeta had come as a person.
But even if you haven’t seen it all, the monologue does a great job communicating how tumultuous Vegeta’s personal journey was.
We get to feel the anguish he went through with witnessing Goku’s continuous feats of strength, and we see the lengths he pushed himself to in order to keep pace.
What I love about this moment is just how natural it feels. We get to hear Vegeta, in the privacy of his mind, work through the feelings of inadequacy he’s experienced for years.
It’s not during a major transformation, and nobody else even gets to hear it. It’s just a character who we’ve seen slowly develop for years finally realizing how admirable his greatest rival truly is.
When he reaches the conclusion of his personal journey, we understand exactly why he’s finally changing his mind about Goku.
It’s entirely for himself.
It’s the self-proclaimed Prince of Saiyans finally admitting what he has denied for so long.
That’s what makes it so satisfying when we finally hear those words: “You’re better than me, Kakarot. You are the best.”
Make no mistake→ Vegeta is the best character in all of Dragon Ball, and this moment might be the emotional peak of the entire series.
Many Shounen artists have tried to copy Vegeta’s blueprint. But no matter how many Sasukes, Kaibas, Bakugos, Kuwabaras, Black Stars, or Wolfwood’s come along, we’ll never see a character as believably dynamic as Vegeta.
Which is why, at last, I’m declaring this the greatest moment in Dragon Ball Z.