Who are the best Dragon Ball Z characters? Dragon Ball Z has its fair share of incredible heroes and dastardly villains. You’ve got martial arts experts, space fascists, Superman analogs, a few robots, and a deity, all dedicated to knocking chunks out of each other. But who are the best of the bunch?
Through the multiple seasons of Dragon Ball Z (aka one of the best anime series of all time), many anime characters put forward a solid case for being among your favorites. But only some can achieve that S-rank and be declared the best of the best in the anime world. While we can’t host a World Tournament, we do have some comprehensive metrics for checking people’s power levels. So, through our methods of deliberation, we’ve crafted what we believe to be the definitive ranking of the top players in the wacky world of Dragon Ball.
The literal God of Destruction, introduced in the anime movie Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, was always going to find its way to our list. All-powerful and imbued with intensely chaotic energy, the only thing that stops this movie villain from being a megalomaniac is that he’s a cat who likes his playthings.
A Super Saiyan God becomes the desired toy, and Beerus sets out to find one, interrupting Goku, Vegeta, and the others. Ambivalent to the point of cruelty, his overall strength makes him a potential terror to anyone around him. But that unpredictability makes him the perfect shot in the arm for the latest series.
10. Android 16
“Protect the life I love” – the beautiful, stirring phrase that caps off Android 16’s final speech to Gohan. Cast aside as a failed experiment, this hunk of metal has Dragon Ball Z flirt with ideas of manufactured emotion, destiny, and what it means to be alive. Over the course of a single saga, he influences the course of history in ways Dr Gero could only dream of.
His stoic yet soft manner evokes Frankenstein’s monster from James Whale’s 1931 horror movie, something that’s further highlighted by his more emotive siblings. Right when it seems like he’ll be inconsequential, his words on the occasional necessity for violence to protect what’s good ring true to save the day. Powerful, in every sense.
Few anime villains are as ruthless, cruel, and dangerous as Frieza. When the galactic tyrant was introduced, they were by far the most powerful enemy Goku had ever fought. In fact, Frieza was so powerful he pushed the warrior into transforming into a Super Saiyan in one of the most iconic scenes in all of anime.
Unfortunately for Frieza, he was easily defeated by Goku’s new power, and his threat was diminished as stronger and stronger enemies kept crawling out of the woodwork. That was until Dragon Ball Super revived him, and Frieza got his own golden transformation, reclaiming his position as the most powerful villain ever to battle the Z Fighters along the way.
Remember when Frieza comes to Earth, full of cyber-implants and ready to wage war, then Future Trunks shows up out of the blue and just slices him up? That’s because he’s from a future where Frieza doesn’t matter because a worse threat is looming. Top-tier entrance for a top-tier character.
Future Trunks sets a high standard, being cool, a Super Saiyan, and having a sword. Kid Trunks lives up to it by being just as radical, achieving Super Saiyan form at a young age and partaking in fusions with Goten. The lovechild of Vegeta and Bulma was always going to be excellent – it’s almost unfair he got to prove it with that awesome blade.
7. Android 18
Less a robot and more a profoundly enhanced superhuman, Android 18 is rebellious from the off in her and Android 17’s bloody coup against Dr Gero after they’re activated. Never short of a one-liner or quip, she maintains a constantly cool exterior, lest anybody thinks she actually cares about something.
Her eventual marriage to Krillin, reaction to Cell, and preference for heroism would suggest otherwise. As a fighter, her style is quick and unpredictable, making her tournament appearances some of the most exciting to watch. She claims it’s all for the money, but strangely, there’s always an excuse to stick around.
Nobody’s worn a pink shirt better. Vegeta’s great arc from destroyer to protector is something that continually warms the heart through the many sagas of Dragon Ball Z. A henchman of Frieza’s, the Prince of all Saiyans was just biding his time in order to kill the genocidal murderer of his people, making him out to be a shrewd, long-term thinker.
Much of the rest of the time, he’s far less of a bluff, meeting challenges head-on out of arrogance and aggression. But beneath that ego-driven veneer is someone who watched his whole race be wiped out, with a deathly fear of it happening again. Bulma saw it, and in his unyielding fights against Cell and Kid Buu, we see it too.
A villain so foreboding, we got a metatextual countdown to them being at full power. Cell is inevitability incarnate, a perfect machine designed to defeat Earth’s finest warriors. He comes disastrously close as well, only outdone by the emotional weight of his own callousness.
He’s just such a creepy anime villain. The multiple stages, absorbing people and robots through his tail, the fact he’s what comes out when you mix the genetics of all our favorite heroes. Body horror and impending doom fused in a lab to make something deeply unnerving indeed.
Oh, Krillin. You’re just there to die, and that’s why we love you. Goku’s best friend has little business trying to stand up to the cosmic forces of Dragon Ball Z; however, if there’s a bully to be challenged, you’d better believe he’ll be the one to do it.
Of course, his optimism, upbeat nature, unassuming personality, and wit all contribute as well. Not to mention the Destructo Disc. When there’s a problem, Krillin’s there to pitch in and do his part, however small that may be, an admirable trait in any cartoon character.
No child should ever face the turbulence of Gohan’s upbringing, and yet he grows up to be a literal superhero. From the moment he headbutts Raditz, it’s clear Goku’s son is a force to be reckoned with, and as Cell finds out all too well, being the catalyst for just how strong a force that is is bad for your health.
Fastidious and motivated toward active good, Gohan inherits many of his father’s better qualities, serving his community as the Great Saiyaman. Donning a cape even gets him in some hot water, a sequence of events Goku is all too proud of. In the rare instance that he falters, it means the stakes are truly over 9000.
Y’know what they say: behind every former Saiyan prince is a woman worried sick about him. A wily adventurer, Bulma occasionally opts for some quiet time when not hunting the Dragon Balls. Besides inventing the Dragon Radar, her technological skills are a constant resource to our headstrong, occasionally quite silly heroes.
More than just a great inventor, she’s steadfast, cunning, and forever willing to assist the Dragon Team by whatever means available to her. The longest-running character in the Dragon Ball franchise besides her bestie Goku, her growth adds a sense of poignancy, aging as we do through the series. Who says you can’t help save the world at 40?
The Namekian warrior is the backbone of Dragon Ball Z. He’s instrumental in killing Raditz at the start, then continues to assist Goku and the Z Fighters through cunning insight and high-level fighting prowess, gruff attitude notwithstanding.
Standoffish though he may be, beneath that harsh exterior is a dedicated ally and guardian who will protect those around him with his life. Rarely the most powerful in any given situation, he is usually among the smartest, and he’s never met an opponent that could really unnerve him. Earning his respect is low-key the greatest victory.
Those are our picks for the best Dragon Ball Z characters. And before you ask, No, Goku isn’t here because this list has no room for bad fathers.
If you’d like more from the wonderful world of anime, check out our guides to the best My Hero Academia characters, the best Naruto characters, and the best One Piece characters. We also have articles on how you can watch all of Dragon Ball in order and all the new anime heading our way.