The influence, popularity, and allure of Dragon Ball Z cannot be overstated. Everything from individual chapters and episodes to character traits and fight tropes can be traced all the way up to modern manga and anime from the Shonen series that came before it. Dragon Ball Z is a masterpiece that has been dissected by numerous fans in order to determine which episodes are the finest and why.
I won’t be the first to compile a list of the top Dragon Ball Z episodes, but I’ll do my best to include everything that makes the show so fantastic, from the fight scenes to the rising tension at the conclusion.
Episode 28 – Goku’sArrival/Ferocity of the Saiyans! Kami-sama and Piccolo Both Die!
Piccolo was Goku’s enemy before Vegeta, and while Vegeta eventually became good, Piccolo’s heroic arc came first. The 28th episode of Dragon Ball is the culmination of Piccolo’s arc since he gives his life to save Gohan from Nappa’s onslaught (this sacrifice actually begins in the 27th episode, but it is recapped and the subsequent events occur in this episode).
It’s a significant scene not only because of Piccolo’s generosity but also because of what he tells Gohan afterward. Piccolo, eyes moist, sobs that the time he and Gohan spent training softened Gohan’s ice heart because he was treated like a person rather than a monster or bad demon. It’s a tragic turning point that cements the friendship and mentor/disciple dynamic between Gohan and Piccolo.
At the present day, “Goku’s Arrival” is not only one of the best episodes of Dragon Ball Z but also a triple threat. In addition to Piccolo’s sacrifice, one of Goku’s most badass battle situations can be found in episode 28, which also features the classic “Over 9,000!” remark (or 8,000 in the original Japanese version).
When Goku finally arrives, he rescues Gohan and Krillin and then easily dispatches Nappa in battle, proving once and for all that his training with King Kai was well worth it.
Episode 30 – Goku vs. Vegeta/A Hot, Unbounded Battle! Goku vs Vegeta
Next, “Goku Vs. Vegeta,” the initial combat between Goku and Vegeta, the origin of their rivalry, and indisputably one of the best confrontations in Dragon Ball and all of anime, is a no-brainer inclusion. This conflict not only cemented the series’ battle style but also heavily influenced succeeding Shonen series. The Piccolo Jr. Saga of Dragon Ball laid the groundwork for what Dragon Ball Z would become.
This fact alone would place the episode among DBZ’s best, but it’s also really, really fantastic. The legendary face-off, the fight’s choreography, Goku’s use of the Kaioken, Vegeta’s dominance, and the eventual underdog win of Goku set the stage for the legendary rivalry between the two Saiyan warriors. This is one of the best episodes in the entire series and it forever altered the course of Dragon Ball.
Episode 95 – Transformed at Last/Transformed At Last!! The Legendary Super Saiyan, Son Goku
To continue our discussion of groundbreaking episodes of Dragon Ball Z, no best-of list would be complete without “Transformed At Last,” which featured the first appearance of the Super Saiyan transformation. Where do you even start explaining what happened here?
Ask any fan about their reaction when they first watched this episode, and you’ll hear stories of people flipping out in their childhood living rooms or hearing loud cries of collective enthusiasm emanating from college room hallways. This episode was the biggest thing ever, especially during the series’ American airing. All Dragon Ball fans have been here, and now is the time.
It’s not just about the buildup, and it isn’t just about the epic moment when Goku’s anger turns his hair gold and increases his power, but rather it’s about the culmination of everything that has come before. I would have loved it if Akira Toriyama had ended Dragon Ball with the conclusion of the Frieza tale, even though I enjoy the series through its conclusion.
Goku’s position as a “lower class” Saiyan is made apparent by Vegeta in the Saiyan saga, an idea that is violated again and over again when he breaks through restrictions placed by this ideology, and the thought of a Super Saiyan is teased throughout the entire arc.
The turning point is when Goku transforms into Super Saiyan; his strength is earned via the compassion he showed while grieving for a comrade, through his dedication as a martial artist, and through becoming the antithesis of Frieza. Simply put, it’s great.
Episode 120 – Another Super Saiyan?/Freeza Halved By a Single Blow!! Another Super Saiyan
The fact that Future Trunks is a mysterious adolescent from the future who sports cool clothing, a cool sword, and is a Super Saiyan is indisputable. Yes, sir! Future Trunks’ introduction in this episode cemented his status as one of the show’s most beloved characters and made him an instant classic.
This was also interesting because it was the second time a Super Saiyan had appeared in Dragon Ball Z, raising the question: who was this unknown young Super Saiyan?
In addition, we get to witness the awesome spectacle of Trunks chopping Frieza into little bits, with his goofy yet cool middle-hair-part Super Saiyan hairdo, which serves to both demonstrate that Frieza is no match for Trunks and emphasize the incredible strength of the Androids against which he warns. This episode is among the top 10 because it is flawless in every way.
Episode 125 – Goku’s Ordeal/License Mastery? Goku’s Newest Trial
The incident while driving was predictable. Everyone’s favorite filler, how could I leave it out? Many people consider “Goku’s Ordeal” to be their favorite episode, which is high praise considering the quality of the other entries on this list.
It’s also notable for being one of the rare filler episodes that fans of both filler and non-filler DBZ agree on: watching Goku and Piccolo attempt to obtain their driver’s licenses is hilarious. It’s so well-liked that a quest for it was included in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot!
It’s the premise that these super-powered heroes know how to fight, get stronger, fly, etc., but have little experience functioning in a normal society that this episode focuses on and plays to greatly hilarious effect. This classic DBZ episode does the fish-out-of-water scenario brilliantly, and it’s a comedic device that would be given more screen time in Dragon Ball Super.
Episode 148 – The Monster Is Coming/The Gekiretsu Kodan that Split the Heavens!! Piccolo vs Artificial Human No. 17
The battle between Piccolo and Android 17 is one of the best in Dragon Ball Z, yet it is often forgotten. Piccolo’s character arc takes a significant turn in this episode, as he becomes not only a good guy but also an active protector of Goku from being hunted by the Androids. He recently changed his tune and is now trying to defend Goku instead of killing him. Progress.
One of the most visceral, intense, and well-choreographed fights in the series is the one between 17 and Piccolo. In Dragon Ball Z, some of the most exciting fights occur when the two sides are roughly on par in terms of power. This fight, maybe the best in the story, is one of the best because of the excellent combination of skill and power displayed by both sides.
Episode 184 – Cell Juniors Attack!/The Tragedy of No. 16!! Super Gohan’s Anger Explodes
It was a close call between this episode and episode 191: “Save The World,” but I ultimately decided that the show’s focus on Gohan’s (and the series’) first Super Saiyan 2 transformation was more important than the conclusion of the struggle with Cell.
As Gohan watched Cell’s Cell Juniors brutally beat his friends and father, rage began to rise within him. With Android 16’s encouragement, Gohan realized that even though he didn’t want to fight, he should sometimes give in to his rage because it gives him power.
Then, BAM, a turning point in the series as monumental as Goku’s first Super Saiyan transformation (something Toriyama would later reflect on, but nonetheless a major event): the introduction of his son as the series’ new protagonist.
The original Japanese insert music, “Unmei no Hi: Tamashi tai Tamashi,” catches the heavy, dismal mood of Gohan’s predicament as a young fighter beautifully; it’s raw and it hits hard. Its stunning good looks and impressive badassery guarantee it a place in the top 10.
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Episode 207 – Take Flight, Videl/Ah, I Flew!! Videl’s Introduction to Flight
To lighten things up, there’s “Take Flight, Videl,” which is one of my favorites since it exemplifies Toriyama’s skill at writing relationships, which I’ve praised in the past. Gohan demonstrates flight to Mr. Satan’s daughter Videl in this episode.
This episode is especially adorable because it shows Videl’s first steps into the world of superhuman martial arts with the kind, earnest, naive, and patient Gohan as her teacher and mentor. Remember when she thought he liked girls with short hair and offered to cut it for him, only for him to reveal that it was because it was easier to pull out hair when fighting? Perfection.
This is my favorite non-action-focused episode in the series, and it’s better than most rom-com.
In addition to the many endearing Videl/Gohan exchanges, this episode features a fantastic lore dump, which is unusual for the series. Since the introduction of flight in the Tien Shinhan arc of Dragon Ball, we have only known that it is a ki-based skill. Though not everything can or should be explained, it’s cool that this episode gives a newcomer to the world of ki, Videl, an intriguing, if brief, look at how ki and flying function.
Episode 230 – The Long Awaited Fight/Just You Wait, Babidi!! Your Aspirations Will Not be Allowed
Vegeta’s pride has been severely wounded ever since his first defeat at the hands of Goku, Krillin, and Gohan. He harbored this bitterness for a long time, long enough to see Goku and even Goku’s half-blood son eventually surpass him.
Vegeta’s metamorphosis into Majin Vegeta indicated he still had some shit to sort through, and it all comes to a head in this episode, despite our belief that he had moved on after the Cell Saga, settling down with Bulma and accepting Trunks as his son.
It was a close race between this episode and Vegeta’s later sacrifice, but the episode with the more honest expression of human feeling won out. Vegeta yearned to revert to his ruthless past self so that he could confront Kakarot as the person he considers to be his best. One of the most visceral, dramatic, and emotionally wrenching battles of the entire series ensues between the two.
They headbutt, fight dirty, and hurl everything they have at one other, all because Goku doesn’t want Vegeta to be like this and Vegeta doesn’t want to accept that he’s changed.
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