The villains of Dragon Ball are some of the most iconic villains in and out of manga and anime. As mangaka Akira Toriyama crafted a host of memorable characters with striking designs, his villains stand out amongst the cast as some of the most fun elements of his long-running series.
They may not be the deepest of characters or possess Shakespearean levels of thought, but they fit in perfectly with the comedic action and emotional drama Dragon Ball is known for. But which one of these gleefully evil monsters is the best?
Raditz, the long-lost biological brother of Goku, arrives as the first villain of the Dragon Ball Z era, kidnapping Goku’s son Gohan and forcing Goku to team up with his old enemy Piccolo to take Raditz down. Oh, and also he comes with the revelation that this whole time, Goku was actually an alien!
Raditz’s time in the series was short-lived, but his impact can’t be understated. His reveal that Goku was an alien changed everything and led to the iconic run of arcs from the Saiyan saga until the Frieza saga. While his lost potential sends him to the bottom spot (Raditz is one of a few Saiyans never to reach a higher form), his legacy is enough to land him here.
9 Majin Buu
This could be interpreted in a variety of ways, given that Majin Buu had so many different forms, each one possessing so much of a personality as to be considered separate characters entirely. The ancient destroyer created by Bibidi even goes as far as to eradicate all of Earth and almost succeeds in ending the whole universe!
With Buu’s resume, he should be higher, but due to how his many many transformations stretched out the final arc of Z, he wears out his welcome long before his defeat at Goku’s hands. Still, Buu’s design and chaos are respectable enough to be recognized here.
8 The Ginyu Force
What if the Power Rangers or the Sailor Scouts were evil? Enter the Ginyu Force! This fearsome fivesome comes smack dab in the middle of the Namek arc, at Frieza’s request, to destroy these mysterious off-worlders who are interfering with his plans.
Granted, the Ginyu Force seemed to have been created last minute to buy Toriyama some time before Goku arrived on Namek to save Gohan, Krillin, and Bulma, but each one of them are so goofy and fun that it’s impossible not to love them, even if they are knocking the heroes around.
7 Dr. Gero
Once a brilliant scientist for the Red Ribbon Army, Dr. Gero creates a host of powerful androids to get revenge on Goku for ending the army’s reign. Eventually, he even turns himself into an android (somehow) and goes on to create a deliciously evil villain even better than himself.
Originally meant to be the main villain of the Android arc, Dr. Gero was relegated more to the mastermind behind the scenes whose end came at the hands of his own creations. That said, for all the death and destruction birthed from his creations, Gero is certainly not one to underestimate.
The most powerful God of Destruction himself! Debuting in Dragon Ball’s reboot movie, Battle of Gods, Beerus awakens after a long slumber to investigate a mysterious legend called the Super Saiyan God. Supposedly, this figure would be strong enough to finally provide a suitable challenge to this impossibly strong deity.
Granted, Beerus does become a sort of ambiguous ally to Goku, both in the movie and Battle of Gods’ retelling in Super and beyond. But being the first villain in the almost two decades of Dragon Ball’s dormancy required Beerus to make quite a splash and he delivers in spades.
Arriving in Dragon Ball’s early days, during the second Tournament arc, Tien is a rowdy, arrogant student of the Crane Martial Arts school, seeking revenge against Goku and Master Roshi for what Goku did to one of Tien’s mentors, Mercenary Tao.
Given Tien’s long-standing friendship with Goku, beginning as soon as this arc is over, it’s hard to remember Tien was ever a villain at all. But a villain he was. Tien strikes an intimidating presence, adding far more dramatic stakes compared to the previous Tournament arc before following the time-honored trope of switching to Goku’s side. Here’s hoping Tien’s power level is raised in Super Hero.
4 King Piccolo
King Piccolo is far and away the best villain of Dragon Ball’s pre-Z days. Entering the scene as one of his underlings kills Krillin, Piccolo Sr. goes on to kill Master Roshi and Chiaotzu and even destroy Shenron and the dragon balls.
King Piccolo and his arc feels like Dragon Ball finally coming into its own, establishing many tropes and traditions that would be revisited in future arcs in the original Dragon Ball and beyond, beginning with the first truly terrifying villain the series had to offer.
Frieza’s build-up begins in the Saiyan saga, and Dragon Ball’s audience receives hints of the evil space tyrant’s power until Frieza finally reveals himself in the Namek arc. As soon as Gohan and Krillin see even a small amount of what Frieza is capable of, it’s clear this gleefully mad daddy’s boy is stronger than anything the Z-Warriors have faced before. Even after his eventual death, Frieza would be resurrected in an in-canon Dragon Ball movie.
In many ways, Frieza’s arc feels like the culmination and even the ending to everything that had come before it. It tied up the storylines of Goku, Piccolo, and Vegeta, and did it all with perhaps the most iconic villain in the franchise. Indeed, his placement being lower than number one might prove controversial, but just because he’s the most iconic doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best.
The result of biological engineering, combining the cells of the best fighters in the universe, Cell begins as a terrifying bug-man, hunting for Androids 17 and 18 so he can achieve his perfect form. And once he does, he becomes the most fabulous, showy, and powerful villain the franchise had offered up until that moment.
Following Frieza proved to be a difficult task for Toriyama, beginning with two androids, eventually swapping for another set, and then trying and erring different forms for Cell himself. But once Toriyama landed on his final form, Cell, as the true villainous successor to Frieza, it proved to be, well, perfect.
The Prince of all Saiyans reigns supreme! Beginning as the big bad of the Saiyan saga, Vegeta becomes an uneasy ally to the Z-Fighters, at least until all other obstacles are gone and he can finally challenge Goku to a rematch. When the waiting finally becomes too much, he makes a deal with the devil to get stronger and take his revenge on Goku.
Yes, Vegeta does eventually become a true hero, but throughout Z he leaves a trail of innocent bodies in his wake as he selfishly tries to grow stronger so when the time comes, he can take Goku down. His character arc is among the most fascinating and complex in all of Dragon Ball, and for that, Vegeta is the best villain.
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