It’s hard to overstate the impact, popularity and appeal of Dragon Ball Z. Across every manga chapter, every episode, every character trait, battle trope, etc., you’ll find something that has influenced the Shonen series that came after it, all the way up to modern day manga and anime. Dragon Ball Z is a cultural cornerstone, a masterwork that many have analysed before, finding its best episodes and why they stand among the others. I’m certainly not the first to narrow down the best episodes of Dragon Ball Z, but I hope to capture all of the aspects that make it great, from the battles, to the buildup and climax of drama and everything in between.
Episode 28 – Goku’s Arrival/Ferocity of the Saiyans! Kami-sama and Piccolo Both Die!
Before Vegeta, Piccolo was Goku’s rival, and before Vegeta turned into a good guy, Piccolo had a positive character arc that solidified him as a hero. Piccolo’s arc comes to a climax in the 28th episode of Dragon Ball, where he sacrifices himself to protect Gohan from Nappa’s attack (the sacrifice begins in the previous episode, but it is recapped and the following events ensue in this episode). It’s an impactful moment, not just for Piccolo’s selflessness, but also for what he tells Gohan after. With tears in his eyes, Piccolo explains that Gohan treated him like a person, not a monster, not an evil demon, and the time they spent training warmed his icy heart. It’s a heartbreaking moment that marks Piccolos turn to a good guy and solidifies Gohan and Piccolo’s relationship as mentor/student, and as friends.
For this moment, “Goku’s Arrival,” stands amongst the best of Dragon Ball Z, but this episode is also a triple threat. On top of Piccolo’s sacrifice, episode 28 also includes the infamous “Over 9,000! (8,000 in the original Japanese version)” line and it containes one of Goku’s most badass battle moments. Upon his arrival, Goku gets Gohan and Krillin to safety before completely dominating Nappa in battle — in this moment we see just how far Goku’s training with King Kai has brought him, and it kicks arse.
Episode 30 – Goku vs. Vegeta/A Hot, Unbounded Battle! Goku vs Vegeta
The next pick is an obvious, but very necessary choice to include: “Goku Vs. Vegeta,” the beginning of Goku and Vegeta’s first fight, the beginning of their rivalry and easily one of the greatest battles in Dragon Ball and all of anime. While the Piccolo Jr. Saga of Dragon Ball set the stage for what Dragon Ball Z would become, it’s this fight that would not just solidify the series’ battle style, but also greatly influence later shonen series at large.
This alone is enough to consider the episode amongst the best of DBZ, but it’s also just damn good. The iconic stand-off, the choreography of the fight, Goku pushing the limits of the Kaioken, Vegeta dominating Goku — it’s all just so well-crafted, an epic build-up to Goku underdogging his way to victory and the beginning of the iconic rivalry between the two Saiyan warriors. This is an episode that changed Dragon Ball, an episode that changed all of anime, and one of the best DBZ has to offer.
Episode 95 – Transformed at Last/Transformed At Last!! The Legendary Super Saiyan, Son Goku
Speaking of Dragon Ball Z episodes that changed anime, what best episodes list would be complete without “Transformed At Last,” the first appearance of the Super Saiyan transformation? How do you even begin to talk about this episode? It was the biggest thing ever, especially during the series’ American airing — ask any fan about their reaction when they first watched this episode, they’ll tell tales of freaking out in their childhood living room or hearing roaring screams of collective hype emanating from dorm room halls. It’s a universal experience for all Dragon Ball fans; this was the moment.
But it’s not just about the hype, nor is it just about the badass moment of Goku’s rage turning his hair gold and multiplying his power: it’s about the culmination of everything that came before. Akira Toriyama wanted to end Dragon Ball after the end of the Frieza saga, and as much as I love everything that comes after, it would have been a great way to end it. The concept of a Super Saiyan is teased throughout the entire arc, and before that, Goku’s stance as a “lower class” Saiyan is made clear by Vegeta in the Saiyan saga, an idea that is broken over and over again as he breaks through limits imposed on him by this ideology. It all comes to a climax when Goku goes Super Saiyan; his power comes from the kindness of mourning a friend, from his hard work as a martial artist and from being the opposite of Frieza, which is what makes it so poetic and powerful that Goku becomes the one thing Frieza feared. It’s goddamn brilliant.
Episode 120 – Another Super Saiyan?/Freeza Halved By a Single Blow!! Another Super Saiyan
Future Trunks is cool as hell, it’s an undeniable fact — a mysterious teen from the future with a cool jacket, a cool sword and he’s a Super Saiyan? Hell yeah. This was the episode that blasted every DBZ fan with all the coolest things you can imagine in the form of Future Trunks, solidifying him as one of the coolest characters and an all-time fan favourite. Additionally, this was the second time a Super Saiyan appeared in Dragon Ball Z, which was not only a cool moment, but also a point of intrigue — who was this mysterious young Super Saiyan?
Plus, we get to see Trunks — with a somehow both goofy but cool middle-hair-part Super Saiyan hairdo — chop Frieza up into little bits, a moment that serves as both an awesome spectacle and to show that Frieza is nothing to Trunks’ level, helping to feed into just how powerful the Androids he warns of are. Every single part of this episode works insanely well, which is why it makes the top 10.
Episode 125 – Goku’s Ordeal/Licence Mastery? Goku’s Newest Trial
Everyone saw this coming, the driving episode. How could I not include everyone’s favourite filler? “Goku’s Ordeal” lives on in fame for a number of reasons — the biggest being that it’s just so much fun that many claim it as their favourite, which says a lot when compared to other episodes on this list. It’s also noteworthy for being one of the few filler episodes that everyone agrees on, no matter if you like DBZ or prefer your DBZ filler-free, everyone loves seeing Goku and Piccolo try and get their driver’s licenses. Heck, it’s so beloved it was added as a quest in Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot!
What works so well about this episode is that it highlights and hones in on the comedic angle of the Dragon Ball world — the idea that these powerful heroes know how to fight, get stronger, fly, etc., but have very little experience functioning in normal society. The fish-out-of-water setup is done beautifully in this classic DBZ episode, and it’s a style of humour that would get a bigger spotlight in Dragon Ball Super.
Episode 148 – The Monster Is Coming/The Gekiretsu Kodan that Split the Heavens!! Piccolo vs Artificial Human No. 17
One of the greatest, but also overlooked fights in all of Dragon Ball Z is the clash between Piccolo and Android 17. This episode marks another major point in Piccolo’s character arc — he’s now not only a good guy, but he’s also actively protecting Goku from being hunted by the Androids. He used to want nothing but to kill Goku and here he is protecting him. Progress.
As for the fight, the duel between 17 and Piccolo is one of the most raw, brutal and well choreographed fights in the series. Some of the best battles in DBZ are ones where the characters are evenly matched and not so powerful that every blow sends one of them through a mountain. It’s better when the fight is a great balance of skill and power, and this fight is one of those, perhaps the best of the saga.
Episode 184 – Cell Juniors Attack!/The Tragedy of No. 16!! Super Gohan’s Anger Explodes
It was a tough call between this episode and episode 191: “Save The World,” but I think Gohan’s (and the series’) first Super Saiyan 2 transformation has more weight to it than the end of the battle with Cell, especially considering how the episode builds to the transformation. After watching his friends and father get beaten mercilessly by Cell’s Cell Juniors, Gohan’s rage began to rise up, and with the encouragement of Android 16, he understood that, even when he doesn’t want to fight, even when he doesn’t want to give in to his rage, sometimes it is necessary — he has a power and he should unleash it.
Then BOOM, a moment as epic and impactful as Goku’s first Super Saiyan transformation, the impact now given to his son as the new centre of the series (something Toriyama would reel back on, but a big moment nonetheless). It’s raw, it hits hard, and the original Japanese insert song, “Unmei no Hi: Tamashi tai Tamashi,” perfectly captures the somber, solemn mood of Gohan’s dilemma as a young warrior. It’s both beautiful and badass, earning it an undeniable spot in the top 10 list.
Episode 207 – Take flight, Videl/Ah, I Flew!! Videl’s Introduction to Flight
On a much lighter note, we have “Take flight, Videl,” one of my personal favourites for how it showcases Toriyama’s strength at writing relationships — something I’ve written about how much I love before. In this episode, Gohan teaches Videl, the daughter of Mr. Satan, how to fly. It’s just a damn cute episode, showing Videl enter into the world of superhuman martial arts with the kind, earnest, naive and patient guide that is Gohan, their dynamic clearly blossoming into a romance throughout the episode. The scene where she thinks he likes short-haired girls and wants to cut it for him, only for him to reveal it’s a good hairstyle for fighting? Perfection. This episode is better than most rom-coms and one of my favourite non-action-focused in the series.
On top of all the cute Videl/Gohan moments, this episode is also one of the rare lore drops of the series, and a great one at that. Flying had never been fully explained since it was first introduced in Dragon Ball’s Tien Shinhan arc, we only knew it was a ki-based technique. Not everything needs to be explained, obviously, but it’s really neat that this episode takes the time to give a fascinating, if minor, look into how ki and flight works through the lens of Videl, a beginner to the world of ki.
Episode 230 – The Long Awaited Fight/Just You Wait, Babidi!! Your Aspirations Will Not be Allowed
Ever since his first defeat at the hands of Goku, Krillin and Gohan, Vegeta has had a chip on his shoulder — or rather, a massive wound in his pride. For years, he stewed in this, watching Goku get better and better, even watching Goku’s half-blood son surpass him. Though we believe Vegeta to have moved on after the events of the Cell Saga, settling down with Bulma and accepting Trunks as his son, his transformation into Majin Vegeta showed he still had some shit to work through, and it all comes to a peak in this episode.
Though it was a tough call between this episode and Vegeta’s later sacrifice, this one wins out because of the raw emotion it puts on display. Vegeta wanted to go back to the way he was before, to be his merciless self so he could face Kakarot again as what he believes to have been his best self. The two clash in one of the most raw, powerful and heartbreaking fights of the entire series. Goku doesn’t want Vegeta to be like this, and Vegeta doesn’t want to accept that he’s changed, and all of that is on display as they headbutt each other, fight dirty and throw everything they have at each other.
Episode 280 – Vegeta’s Respect/Vegeta Takes Off His Hat!! Goku, You are No. 1
Contrasting the previous episode is “Vegeta’s Respect,” which mostly focuses on Vegeta as he watches Goku fight Buu. This is where Vegeta thinks back on his path, the internal monologue closing the chapter on Vegeta’s character arc. In his monologue, Vegeta realises that he only wanted to be powerful to beat down others, and the reason that Goku beat him and surpassed him time and time again was because he fought for himself — he fought to be better than he was before, not to be better than others. Vegeta realises it’s this that made Goku better than him, not his power, not his skill, but his desire to always be better for himself and no one else.
The monologue also sees Vegeta reflect on his family, on calling Earth his home and how Goku changed him for the better. The speech ends with Vegeta admitting that Goku is the best, admitting he is no longer bitter about it and having confidence that Goku is going to defeat Buu. Vegeta’s character arc is one of the greatest in all of anime, and this episode is what brings it all home.
There you have it, the best 10 episodes that Dragon Ball Z has to offer, taking into the series’ best aspects. I dare not put them in a ranked order, because these are all great for different reasons, different combinations of DBZ’s greatest traits, from the greatest fights to the most impactful character moments and the highest highs of its storytelling.
The Cheapest NBN 1000 Plans
Looking to bump up your internet connection and save a few bucks? Here are the cheapest plans available.