Goku turning Super Saiyan for the first time wasn’t just a game changer from Dragon Ball, it was a game changer for anime and manga in general. From that point on, Shōnen protagonists were granted the wonderful gift of transformation, an easy and (sometimes) narratively satisfying workaround to increasing one’s strength through training. For Dragon Ball, it was a sign of what was to come. Characters were getting stronger and Goku’s transformation marked the start of the overwhelming power so many characters in the series would go on to face.
As such a unique concept for the time in a series that strayed from what was considered the norm, the Super Saiyan transformation naturally ends up feeling quite elusive. Conceptually, it had been built up for an entire arc, but what caused Toriyama to write it in? Design wise, did it really make sense for Goku’s hair to change color? Why exactly did it feel totally normal that it did? In a series full of oddities, Super Saiyan is one of the oddest, but the fact it fits in so well is a testament to Akira Toriyama’s strength as a writer.
What is the key to turning Super Saiyan? If you answered “the Dragon Ball equivalent of midi-chlorians,” you're correct! In a rather recent interview, Toriyama revealed that the transformation is dictated by the number of “S-Cells” flowing through any given Saiyan’s body. Turning Super Saiyan requires a considerable amount of S-Cells and, while there are multiple ways of increasing one’s S-Cell count, it’s incredibly difficult for the average Saiyan to consistently push their S-Cell amount upwards.
Toriyama revealed that the transformation is dictated by the number of “S-Cells” flowing through any given Saiyan’s body.
Since Saiyans are naturally aggressive beings, it’s quite funny that S-Cells are associated with a gentle nature. This explains quite easily why exactly Goku was the first Super Saiyan in centuries. His upbringing on Earth allowed him to grow up with a gentle spirit, naturally increasing his S-Cells. Zenkais also help increase them, but the average Saiyan rarely got the chance to take advantage of their biological advantage due to the constant danger they put themselves in. There’s also another method of gaining S-Cells, on that explains a certain duo’s ability to transform…
24 The Ever Increasing Ease Of Transformation
As romanticized as Goku’s first foray into Super Saiyan is, it didn’t take long at all for Toriyama to write in Future Trunks, solidifying the attainability of a form that was previously described as appearing “only once every 1,000 years.” While most fans can overlook the diminished value of the original prophecy, Goten and Trunks tend to raise heads considering how stress free their off-screen transformations ended up being. The subject of why they’re able to transform so easily has been the subject of hot debate for years, but S-Cells have now given a satisfactory answer to the question.
Since S-Cells can be passed down from a father to his offsprings, it’s safe to assume Goten and Trunks inherited quite a bit from their fathers. Both of them have gentle hearts by the time they conceive their children in the main timeline, and they’ve both undergone multiple Zenkais over the course of the past two arcs. By the time Goten and Trunks are born, their fathers are leagues above any Saiyan in recorded history. Earth’s inherently gentle nature certainly doesn’t hurt either.
23 The Legendary False Super Saiyan
In their eagerness to show off the Super Saiyan transformation, Toei wrote their own version into the fourth Dragon Ball Z film, Lord Slug. The manga at that point hadn’t actually shown the form yet, only referencing it throughout the course of the Namek arc. Despite this, Toei made it one of the key aspects of the film nonetheless. During the climax, Goku’s aura turns into a reddish-gold, his pupils vanish, and he enters a pure state of rage where he attacks Slug. If you think about it, Toei actually did a good job in their interpretation of the transformation. They missed out on the purehearted angle, but they played up Goku’s inherent Saiyan tendencies, at least showing they understood the race’s violent culture. Of course, the false Super Saiyan ended up barely resembling the actual transformation, but it’s still an incredibly fascinating piece of SSJ history.
22 Super Saiyan White: The Blue That Could Have Been
After nearly an entire series of being the strongest possible Saiyan transformation, Super Saiyan Blue, previously known as the unfortunately named Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan, has managed to ground itself as one of the iconic forms in the franchise, only rivaled by the original golden locks. As synonymous with Dragon Ball as the divine blue spikes have become, they very nearly were white.
While writing Resurrection F, Toei suggested to Toriyama he make the next Super Saiyan transformation white. Considering the film was partially written in part by Toei requesting he write another script after the success of Battle of Gods, it’s likely Toriyama would have accepted the suggestion. Since he was actively working on the franchise again, however, Toriyama vetoed the idea since he felt the white hair would clash with a new villain he’d designed: presumably Zamasu.
21 The Genius Of Super Saiyan Trunks
Future Trunks, as popular as he is, tends to get a bit of ire from fans for signifying the end of Super Saiyan’s “uniqueness.” The moment Trunks is introduced, the transformation stops being special and Toriyama paves the way for every Saiyan to reliably attain the form. Here’s the thing, though, Super Saiyan was only as special as the fans romanticized it to be. Goku got it, Goku beat Freeza with it, and Trunks was introduced a few weeks later with it. In the context of the Namek arc, it’s a big deal, but it realistically couldn’t have stayed a big deal.
The moment Trunks is introduced, the transformation stops being special and Toriyama paves the way for every Saiyan to reliably attain the form.
In taking away the form’s Goku-centric novelty, Toriyama wrote himself out of a corner. As it was, the form was conceptually too powerful and needed to be scaled back. Trunks brought the transformation back to earth by one-shotting the previous antagonist with it and then revealing he couldn’t defeat the next set of villains even as a Super Saiyan. In one movement, Toriyama set up the next arc and made audiences understand that this isn’t an invincible power-up.
20 The Grading System
While Toriyama abandoned scouters at the start of the Cell saga, he didn’t abandon ranking systems altogether. Instead of finding a way to tier every character, Toriyama went with a grading system exclusive to the Super Saiyan transformation. With so many interpretations of the form in the story arc, it made sense to categorize them in some way. The standard transformation became Grade I; Vegeta’s bulky form against Cell was Grade II; Trunks’ speed comprising behemoth of a transformation was Grade III; Goku and Gohan’s Full Powered state was Grade IV; and before it was ever known as Super Saiyan 2, the arc’s standout transformation was actually Grade V. In a way, that kind of makes Super Saiyan 3 “Grade VI,” but Goku spared us from endless debates regarding six Super Saiyan transformations.
19 Non-Canon Super Saiyans And Where To Find Them
Has this ever happened to you? You like Super Saiyans, but you’re tired of the same old Goku, Vegeta, and Gohan affair. You want something new. Maybe Super Saiyan 3 Nappa or Full Power Legendary Super Saiyan 4 Broly. If you thought I made up either of those, you’re in for a real treat.
The Japan exclusive Dragon Ball Heroes is the answer to all your Super Saiyan needs. Filled with absurd what-if transformations and ridiculous scenarios, Heroes is basically every Dragon Ball fanfic rolled into a single card-based arcade game. You won’t be playing it outside of Japan, unfortunately, but the commercials and trailers are animated exactly like the series so you can follow some semblance of a story. Along with that, there are manga adaptations following the two main characters, Beat and Note, two new characters who can also turn Super Saiyan. What are you waiting for? Nappa’s glorious, golden mustache awaits.
18 Awkward Origins: Super Saiyan Bardock
Bardock is an incredibly fascinating character. Despite being Goku’s father, he holds zero relevance in the overall narrative and dies a pathetic, forgotten death along with the rest of Planet Vegeta. His dark story resonated with Toriyama so much, he referenced Bardock in the manga thereby canonizing him. As a lowly grunt, he was a dose of reality in an otherwise fantastical series. And then Episode of Bardock came out.
No longer is he a nameless soldier. Now he’s the Super Saiyan of legend
Even though it’s a “what-if” story, it should still be scorned for how badly it misunderstands Bardock. No longer is he hardened and gruff, but just a misunderstood tough guy. He stands up for the bullied and does what’s right. No longer is he a nameless soldier. Now he’s the Super Saiyan of legend, the actual original. It’s a maddening story that strips away everything interesting about the character just to pave the way for SSJ Bardock merchandise.
17 There Are More Off-screen Transformations Than On
Think back and try to count how many character transform into a Super Saiyan onscreen for the first time. Ready? Here’s the answer: Goku for Super Saiyan and Gohan for Super Saiyan 2. If you count GT and Super, toss in Goku for both Super Saiyan God and SSJ4. That’s four onscreen initial transformations. Every other transformation has first occurred off-screen. Isn’t that crazy?
Just because most characters transform for the first time off-screen, however, doesn’t mean their first appearances are any less memorable.
“What about Trunks?” you ask. Well, the Future Trunks special is actually adapted from a manga chapter where he’s already a Super Saiyan by the time Future Gohan dies. Just because most characters transform for the first time off-screen, however, doesn’t mean their first appearances are any less memorable. Vegeta showing up as a Super Saiyan is a major highlight of the Android arc, and Goku turning Super Saiyan 3 is one of the Buu saga’s best surprises.
16 The Making Of Super Saiyan 4
For all of Dragon Ball GT’s faults, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who actually dislikes Super Saiyan 4. While it certainly falls on the overdesigned side of things, its unique appearance and incredibly realized concept elevate to levels above the rest of GT. The design itself was conceived rather quickly, but not without a major edit along the way. Goku’s jet black hair is one of the form’s major features, but it was actually originally black. Interestingly, the fur did not follow suit, always intended as pinkish-red. Realizing how poorly the gold and pink clashed, Goku was allowed to keep his black hair and the rest is history.
15 Super Saiyan God’s Over The Top Origin
Not only did Toriyama rewrite Battle of Gods when he read the original script, he also went over the Super Saiyan God transformation and radically changed it. As we know it, it’s a slender, red-haired form that barely changed Goku’s base appearance. It’s a simple approach that contrasts nicely with the overdesigned elements of Super Saiyan 3 and Super Saiyan 4. Originally, however, Super Saiyan God was depicted by Toei as a muscular form that gave Goku the trademark golden spikes while also manifesting a cape for him. Unfortunately, no concept art of the form exists, but it would have been interesting to see even if it followed in its predecessor’s extreme footsteps.
14 Why Didn’t Pan Go Super Saiyan In GT?
Even though Pan’s introduced as a ridiculously powerful fighter at the end of Dragon Ball Z, GT does absolutely nothing with this premise, going so far to avoid giving her access to even the most basic of Super Saiyan forms. This may seem like a simple case of missed opportunity, but the GT staff had an actual reason for keeping Pan powerless. Albeit, it’s an incredibly bigoted and dumb reason.
This may seem like a simple case of missed opportunity, but the GT staff had an actual reason for keeping Pan powerless.
According to the staff, keeping Pan weak was vital in making sure Goku came across as a hero. Their logic was that if Goku did not have somebody to save, audiences wouldn’t be able to see his heroic tendencies. Completing ignoring the fact Goku isn’t an inherently heroic character, this is a conscience bastardization of a character who was introduced with a considerable amount of agency and spunk. It’s not only disappointing to see Toei misunderstand the main character, it’s disappointing to see them drop the ball with a compelling female character.
13 The Full Potential Of The Full Power Super Saiyan
Mastered Super Saiyan, also known as Full Power Super Saiyan, is the way to go when it comes to transformations. Goku spends quite a long time in the Cell saga trying to pull it off and, when he succeeds, he and Gohan go on to eclipse everyone else in the cast. In a 2014 interview with Saikyō Jump, Toriyama even added some new lore to the form, making it all the more impressive. Not only does it reduce any stress put on the body as a Super Saiyan, it can actually be trained to a point where it surpasses Super Saiyan 2 and 3 without draining any additional energy whatsoever. In that respect alone, it’s easily the most broken form in the entire franchise.
12 The Cell Saga’s Race To Super Saiyan 2
One of the best parts of the Cell saga, and the series as a whole, is the race to see who’s going to perfect Super Saiyan first. In the second half, after Goku is cured of his heart virus, he propositions to Vegeta that he, Trunks, Gohan, and himself all train in the Room of the Spirit and Time in order to surpass their limits and defeat Cell. Each character ends up forging their own path, creating an individuality with each step of the Super Saiyan line.
Each character ends up forging their own path
Vegeta gives up some speed in order to increase his raw power, Trunks ends up sacrificing all his speed for strength that rivals the Super Saiyan 2 transformation, Goku refines what he has and develops a form that gets rid of any stress and instability out on the body, and Gohan awakens to a form with no drawbacks in a moment of desperation. Each iteration reflects the character they’re associated with. Vegeta values raw strength, Trunks is desperate enough to make big sacrifices, Goku understands his body and how to train, and Gohan is overflowing with natural talent and potential.
11 The Lazy Brilliance Of Super Saiyan
Toriyama is a lazy writer. He loves to cut corners and hates wasting time if he can avoid it. That’s not a bad thing, though, far from it. It’s thanks to his laziness that we got the legendary Super Saiyan in the first place. Wanting to make his assistant’s life easier, and by extension his, Toriyama conceptualized a way he’d rarely have to ink Goku’s hair again. By using a light color for the hair, a Super Saiyan Goku would theoretically never have to be inked outside of his belt, armbands, boots, and undershirt.
Wanting to make his assistant’s life easier, and by extension his, Toriyama conceptualized a way he’d rarely have to ink Goku’s hair again.
Hitting time-saving gold, Toriyama introduced Trunks, a character with light hair, and quickly made Vegeta a Super Saiyan. It’s honestly genius if you think about it, and it shows his restraint as a writer. He could have easily made it so the form was permanent, but he respected his story enough to understand that would be a poor decision. Whoever said being lazy was a bad thing?
10 Red-Eyed Super Saiyan
Blonde hair, green eyes– those are the defining features of the Super Saiyan transformation. They’re so iconic, Sega had to change Super Sonic’s eyes from green to red to avoid getting in trouble for their homage. What’s funny, though, is that Toriyama originally envisioned the form with red eyes, not green. In a piece of concept art for the fifth Dragon Ball Z film, Cooler’s Revenge, Toriyama provided Toei with a color illustration of Super Saiyan Goku. Instead of his now trademark green eyes, he sported blood red eyes.
In between Toei getting the sketch and the film’s release, however, Toriyama released a full-color chapter where Goku’s eyes were green instead of red, and that change ended up making its way to the film proper. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of seeing the form with different eyes, but the yellow and red make for a much more aesthetically pleasing pairing.
9 Ultimate Gohan And The Super Saiyan Transformation
When Gohan has all of his latent potential unlocked at the end of the Buu saga, he’s told that while he can still go Super Saiyan, there’d be no point considering his new Ultimate state draws out everything he needs with no drawbacks. Come GT, he’s seemingly back to using Super Saiyan, his Ultimate form completely forgotten. Fans called this a plot hole for years, but then Resurrection F came out and did the exact same thing.
Here, however, it’s explained that Gohan is so out of shape, he’s lost all the benefits of his Ultimate power-up. Before the film came around with his plot point, most fans assumed Gohan would just keep the form without needing to train. Most interestingly, it shows the bias fans have against GT. A non-canon series showed Gohan using SSJ again and fans assumed plot hole. A canon movie made it a plot point and, while not universally loved, it was more or less accepted.
8 Super Saiyan 3: Am Homage To The Oozaru
No matter which way you look at it, it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Super Saiyan 3 is the logical next step from Super Saiyan 2. The original transformation and SSJ2 clearly compliment one another well, but SSJ3’s hulking behemoth of a haircut, intense musculature, and almost villainous brow feel totally out of place in the transformation’s line. Until you remember what the original Saiyan transformation is.
SSJ3’s hulking behemoth of a haircut, intense musculature and almost villainous brow feel totally out of place
If you look at Super Saiyan 3 as a relative to the Oozaru transformation, it actually works quite well. It looks as violent as the great ape does, and its brow is incredibly primal in nature. If you take a look at Toriyama’s concept art for the form, you can actually see he intended to give Goku a tail again, implying the Oozaru connection. He ended up relenting, likely due to his dislike of drawing tails, but the connection is still clearly there, if not as overt as it would have been.
7 Why Can’t Future Gohan Turn Super Saiyan 2?
Despite living 19 years in the future in a timeline where everyone he’s ever loved has been utterly destroyed by two homicidal Androids, Future Gohan never managed to surpass the Super Saiyan barrier, let alone his father. It may seem like an inconsistency Toriyama never thought about, but it’s actually one of the more tragic elements in the entire narrative.
The reason Gohan never turned Super Saiyan 2 isn’t because his future self is a poor fighter, it’s because he’s an uneducated one. To Future Gohan, his father as a Super Saiyan was the presumable peak of power. He never got a chance to see anyone who was stronger except for the Androids. On top of that, anyone who could train him was dead. In the main timeline, Gohan trains with Piccolo and Goku during the three year gap, and then later with Goku in the Room of Spirit of Time. Future Gohan had nobody but Trunks, a young boy he was desperately trying to keep alive in case he died.
6 Super Saiyan Cell
Given that Cell has access to Saiyan cells, he is biologically part Saiyan. He even gets a Zenkai at the end of the arc, powering him up to around SSJ2 Gohan’s equal. What’s especially interesting about this Zenkai are the sparks that surround Cell when he returns. Dubbed as Super Perfect Cell, it’s quite possible this is his version of the Super Saiyan transformation. The sparks that surround him are quite similar to Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 sparks. On top of that, Cell’s aura is strikingly similar to the Super Saiyan aura. Cell might actually be the only non-Saiyan in the franchise to pull off the Super Saiyan transformation.
5 The Buu Saga’s Strange Handling Of Super Saiyan 2
Given that Super Saiyan 2 is the strongest form by the time the Buu saga starts up, it’s only natural most character would be using it for their battles. In his fight against fan expectation, however, Toriyama took a different approach. Instead of SSJ2 being the default offensive form, it’s stuck in an awkward in-between where it’s actually difficult to tell who has access to the transformation and when it’s being used.
Instead of SSJ2 being the default offensive form, it’s stuck in an awkward in-between
Gohan’s fight against Dabra is still hotly debated since it’s hard to tell which form he’s in. It’s mentioned that Gohan struggles to turn SSJ2 since he’s out of shape, but he did it moments earlier against Kibito. There’s also the question of Vegeta’s status. Did he already have access to the transformation, or did he need the Majin boost to trigger it? The only character who can definitely use it and definitely does is Goku. Both Gohan and Vegeta are stuck in a Super Saiyan 2 limbo.
4 The Subversive Super Saiyan 3
What separates Super Saiyan 3 from 1 and 2? It never wins. Out of the three major transformations in the original series, only SSJ3 manages not to be the end of arc trump card the first two forms ended up being. In that regard, it’s actually quite clever. By the Buu saga, you’d almost be expecting a new form to come out and save the day. It happened against Freeza and the entire second half of the Cell saga was dedicated to making it happen against Cell. When Goku busts it out against Buu for the first time, it feels like business as usual. Until he stops fighting.
When Gotenks finally get his turn to fight Buu like Goku wanted, he also unlocks Super Saiyan 3 but still fails. When Goku uses it for the last time against Kid Buu in the finale, he still doesn’t manage to defeat him with the transformation, realizing how much of a massive stamina sink it really is. The Buu saga is often criticized how useless SSJ3 ends up being, but its subversive nature is one of its best elements.
3 Training The Transformation
While Dragon Ball Super focuses quite heavy on the new God forms, the Goku Black arc did give us an interesting tidbit regarding the original Super Saiyan transformation. In DBZ, Goku and Gohan only ever mastered the original Super Saiyan. Goku focused on attaining SSJ3 while dead and Gohan stopped training altogether. For all intents and purposes, it can be assumed SSJ is the only form stable enough to be mastered. Enter Trunks in Super. Thanks to his sole status as hero in his future, he’s actually managed to master Super Saiyan 2.
As a Super Saiyan 2, Trunks in Super is able to rival Goku at SSJ3. Believing SSJ2 to be the peak of a Saiyan’s abilities, he made it his go to transformation, presumably getting rid of the instability much in the same way Goku did for the standard SSJ. Since Goku and Vegeta have God ki now, they’re unlikely to ever try to master their old forms, but it’s worth noting how much stronger they could have been in the Boo arc had they thought to master SSJ2 as part of their off-screen training.
2 The Multiplication Myth
Fans love to the debate power levels. You can go onto just about any forum that caters to Dragon Ball and find people arguing with one another about numbers that were never so much as alluded to in the source material. Specifically, how strong a character is in any given level of Super Saiyan tends to be a common favorite. These topics usually bring them mentions of “multipliers,” with the implication being that turning Super Saiyan multiplies one’s power. This seems harmless enough, but it’s important to remember that multipliers are never actually mentioned in-series.
The manga never makes any claim that turning Super Saiyan doubles or triples Goku’s power level
With the exception of Kaioken, multipliers aren’t really an aspect of transformation in general. The manga never makes any claim that turning Super Saiyan doubles or triples Goku’s power level, or that Gohan is fifty times stronger as a Super Saiyan 2. The Super Exciting Guide does offer some multipliers (SSJ2 is 100x base and SSJ3 is 400x base,) but Toriyama never actually wrote anything in the manga to imply he was writing the Super Saiyan forms with multipliers in mind.
1 Super Saiyan 4: A Transformation Based Around The Individual
While hairstyles do affect how Super Saiyan looks for whoever’s triggering it, it’s easy to tell when a character is in their SSJ state. There’s a solidarity in the golden hair, aura, and aesthetic. Further differentiating itself from the iconic transformation, Super Saiyan 4 takes quite a unique approach to how the transformation affects the individual. Instead of a uniform look, each character who turns SSJ4 ends up having their own iconic design.
Of the “canon” Super Saiyan 4 characters we see throughout the course of GT, there’s very little outside of the core design that ties Goku, Vegeta, and Gogeta together. Upon undergoing the transformation, Goku adopts black hair with pink fur; Vegeta’s hair turns brown and he grows red fur; and Gogeta takes on Super Saiyan God levels of red hair with brown fur. Along with their unique hair and fur colors, each character’s hair has its own defined shape independent of what their actual hair was like before transforming. Of all the Super Saiyan forms, SSJ4 has the most individuality.