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Dragon Ball: Super Saiyan explained

It's time for another anime deep dive! Here's everything you need to know about the history and powers of the Super Saiyan transformation in Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball: Super Saiyan's explained

What is the Super Saiyan transformation? Whether you watch anime or not, chances are that you’ve seen the image of a blonde, glowing Goku flying about somewhere. When it comes to pop culture influences, few figures are as iconic or as far-reaching as Super Saiyans.

The Dragon Ball franchise has given us some of the best anime series around, and part of that is due to all of its epic battles and alien lore. Over the years, we’ve seen planets explode, power levels break through the roof, and even some time-traveling antics. But all the best Dragon Ball characters have one thing in common: they have unlocked mind-boggling abilities thanks to some fancy transformations. So here is our guide breaking down everything you need to know about the most impressive Dragon Ball power-up there is – Super Saiyan.

What is a Super Saiyan?

A Super Saiyan is a powerful transformation introduced during Dragon Ball Z that can be used by members of the Saiyan race who have enough S-Cells. It is a form that massively increases its user’s speed, strength, and power – meaning that it is a significant advantage during every battle.

Since this is Dragon Ball we are talking about, we also have to clarify that this transformation isn’t the same as the other Saiyan forms. The Super Saiyan transformation is separate from the Great Monkey Transformation (aka that giant angry monkey werewolf) and the Super Saiyan God transformation. Basically, it is another Saiyan ability in its own right and also serves as a base – leading into the Legendary Super Saiyan line of transformations.

Still with us? Good. While that all may sound complicated, throughout the Dragon Ball anime, the Super Saiyan transformation has become pretty standard. In fact, the glowing and spiked-up platinum hair of your typical Super Saiyan is one of the most common signifiers that you are watching a Dragon Ball series.

This is thanks to the fact that following on from Dragon Ball Z, all of the Earth-bound Saiyans can now achieve the transformation and have even managed to unlock higher power-leveled variants of it, too.

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How do you become a Super Saiyan?

Any Saiyan or Saiyan descendant with enough S-Cells can become a Super Saiyan. S-Cells can be increased by having a gentle spirit or through increasing battle power. Once you have enough of these S-Cells, surpassed the limitations of the Saiyan species, and have experienced a strong emotion (e.g., sadness or anger), you can trigger the Super Saiyan transformation.

That is right; basically, Super Saiyans happen thanks to hard work and getting in touch with your feelings. But to clear things up, emotional outbursts don’t always lead to this alien power-up. In order to awaken the Super Saiyan transformation, you need to have extreme emotion along with a ‘calm heart.’

Biologically, we also know that Super Saiyans build up the ki at the center of their back, which folks have replicated to trigger the first step of the process (e.g., Cabba), so there are ways of unlocking the transformation without embracing rage or pure sadness too. The blueprint for the Super Saiyan transformation seems pretty simple, right?

However, previously in Dragon Ball’s canon, this transformation was a lot more mysterious. Before Goku officially unlocked the original Super Saiyan form during his battle with the anime villain Frieza in Dragon Ball Z, Super Saiyans were more of a legend than a reality. Vegeta explained to us that the Super Saiyan transformation was originally tied to the myth about the ultimate fighter, and it was believed that such a powerful ability would only appear once every 1000 years.

Obviously, this legend has been shattered now. After Goku achieved Super Saiyan, he was shortly followed by Gohan and Vegeta, unlocking the ability as well. Not really 1,000 years of a time difference there, but we think Dragon Ball proving its own history wrong is what makes it such an exciting series, and who doesn’t love a bit of anime lore?

Super Saiyans: Goku as a Super Saiyan during his fight with Frieza in Dragon Ball Z

Super Saiyan powers and weaknesses

The Super Saiyan transformation increases the user’s speed, strength, and power massively. In fact, in terms of strength alone, the transformation multiplies the user’s base level by 50 – meaning there is a massive boost during any big showdown. However, it also uses up a ton of energy.

Along with bumping up all the great powers Saiyans already hold, the Super Saiyan transformation also increases durability. This is a major perk since if you’ve watched all of Dragon Ball in order (anime movies, shows, and all), you know that sometimes single fights can destroy entire planets and last for tens of episodes in this franchise.

But as we mentioned above, this transformation isn’t perfect, and its main weakness is that it consumes a mass amount of energy and puts incredible stress on its user’s body. It can shorten a Saiyan’s lifespan and also change personalities — sometimes resulting in extremely arrogant speeches and some stupidly rash battle choices (we are looking at you in the Android Saga, Vegeta).

With training, it is possible to fix these personality issues, but you can’t fix the strain on your body after pushing it past its natural limits. So, yeah, Super Saiyans aren’t perfect battle machines; they do carry a hefty price for using the transformation.

However, considering how Goku has saved the world time and time again, we are pretty happy that he chose to throw caution out the window and keep pushing past his limits.

For more 2D action, here are our lists of the best shounen anime of all time, all the new anime heading our way this year, and the best anime characters ever made. We also have guides on everything you need to know about Demon Salyer season 4 and the Dragon Ball Super season 2 release date.

And if you need an anime break, why not check in with our guides to the best TV series and the best movies of all time?