At its core, Dragon Ball is the story of Son Goku. The original series began with him and the original series ended with him. He left home to see the world with Bulma only to ultimately leave his new home to train Uub and show him the world. It’s a story and an arc that comes full circle. For a time, it was a fairly understandable one too. Going through old fan forums from before the series gained notoriety here in the west shows a rather consistent analysis of Goku: he’s kind, selfish, and loves fighting above all else. He’s a good man with mixed priorities, but that’s what makes him compelling.
Unfortunately, Funimation either did not understand Goku or particularly care for his original characterization. Who was once a fairly nuanced protagonist became a Superman analog, going so far as to spare Vegeta because he saw “good” in him instead of selfishly wanting a rematch. As a result, several fans don’t have a sense of who Goku actually is. Funimation has done so much damage to his character, that the Western Goku completely clouds the actual Goku. For a character deemed so simple, far too many fans miss just how complex Goku really is.
25 Goku Has Never Defeated Vegeta
Even if you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s quite obvious that Vegeta’s disdain towards Goku stems from the fact that he has never beaten the lower class Saiyan in a fair fight. After all, Vegeta ends the Saiyan arc defeated and their bout in the Majin Buu arc is clouded by Super Saiyan 3 on the horizon.
Except that’s not true at all. Although Vegeta considers himself the loser in his fights against Goku, the truth is that Goku has never defeated Vegeta in a fight. During their first battle, Goku straight up lost. Even with Kaioken, he could not subdue Vegeta. The second time they fought, the fight came to a stalemate.
24 Goku Does Not Consider Vegeta A Rival
Goku’s losses against Vegeta don’t bother him, though, mainly because he doesn’t see Vegeta as a rival at all. For most of the original series, Goku actively hates Vegeta. On Namek. He explicitly states that he doesn’t care about Vegeta when he decides to finally accept his Saiyan heritage.
Now Piccolo? He was a real rival.
During the Cell arc, Goku generally knocks Vegeta down quite a bit by going so far to say that Vegeta doesn’t even compare to his own power. Going into the revival, although the two are equal, Goku sees Vegeta more as a friend than anything. Vegeta still carries their rivalry, but Goku is more interested in martial artists like Hit and Jiren.
23 Goku’s Not Dumb
Even though Goku basically codified the “dumb, but strong” Shonen protagonist archetype, he doesn’t actually fit the mold himself. While he’s certainly uneducated, Goku’s lack of intelligence stops there. By the second arc, he’s been properly schooled by Master Roshi and never really does or says anything to imply a severe lack of intelligence.
This goes double for when he’s an adult. As a kid, he was naive. As an adult, Goku’s really just a regular guy who happens to have a relatively lower level of education. He functions well and is able to get by through life just fine. Spin-offs and non-Toriyama written material tends to flanderize those traits, but the real Goku is not dumb.
22 Goku’s Not A Hero
Thanks to Funimation, much of the western fanbase has this idea of Goku where he is little more than a Superman analog. Both were sent to Earth as babies; both are pure of heart; and both fight for what’s right. That’s a bit wrong, though. As Toriyama intended, Goku was never much of a hero.
He's no Superman.
While he never went so far as to deny helping anyone or actively harm another life, Goku never went out of his way to do the right thing either. He’s not like Superman; he’s not a superhero. He’s a selfish, albeit kind, man who is driven by his own desires above all else. He feels no obligation to keep the world intact so he doesn’t bother.
21 Goku Is A Fine Father
Goku the bad father is a notion that transcends its series, persisting as one of the more popular anime memes of all time. After all, he barely spends any time with his sons. Piccolo is Gohan’s real dad! Well, not quite. Goku’s actually a fine father contrary to popular belief. The problem is that he isn’t alive all that often.
When he is alive, Goku spends A LOT of time with his sons. He raised Gohan for the first four years of his life; spent three years training him; another year in the Room of Spirit and Time with him; and has actively raised Goten since the end of the Buu arc. Goku is a fine dad. He’s not the best, but he’s not bad either.
20 Goku Clearly Loves Chichi
On that note, Goku isn’t a bad husband either. He isn’t as debatably good as husband as he is a father, but he’s not bad. He really does love Chichi even if newer material in the series pushes this idea that they’ve never kissed (one of Super’s weirder gags, honestly.) Goku brings up Chichi with the frequency of a man who genuinely loves and cares about his wife. She’s even the last person he thinks of when he believes he’s lost against Beerus. Goku loves Chichi in a way only Goku could.
19 Goku Loses More Than He Wins
For more casual fans of the series, it’s easy to see Goku as a rather formulaic protagonist. He isn’t around often, but he always shows up to steal the win against the arc villain. Sounds right, doesn’t it? It happens often enough in other Shonen. This isn’t any other Shonen, though. This is the father of modern Shonen and it has a bit more tact.
Vegeta's win rate is better by this point.
So much tact, in fact, that Goku loses way more than he wins. By the end of the Buu arc, Goku has lost roughly half of all his fights. He doesn’t even win a single battle in the Cell arc. In the Saiyan saga, he only beats Nappa! Come Super, Goku’s win-loss rate has honestly never been worse.
18 Goku Is Rarely The Strongest Character In Dragon Ball
In the same vein that casual fans believe Goku to be a character who never loses, they also believe him to be one of the strongest characters in all of fiction when he’s rarely the strongest character in his own series. Time and time again, Goku finds himself outclassed by other characters. Even Vegeta was stronger when they first met. The idea of Goku as the strongest character mainly comes from the anime embellishing his power during the Buu arc to make the final battle a bit more traditional.
17 Goku Is Only The Strongest Character In Two Arcs
On that note, there are only two arcs in the entire series where Goku is actually the strongest character: the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai and the Namek arc. In the former, there’s no one left to contest Goku but Piccolo, an opponent he has defeated fair and square. In the latter, Goku is the legendary Super Saiyan.
They're two of the best arcs if nothing else.
As for the other arcs? Master Roshi is stronger in the first two arcs while Grandpa Gohan is stronger in the Red Ribbon Army arc; Tien Shinhan is stronger in the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai while Kami and Mr. Popo are stronger in the King Piccolo arc; Vegeta is stronger in the Saiyan arc while Gohan ends up stronger in both the Cell and Buu arcs.
16 Goku Is Not A Prodigy
Part of what makes Goku so compelling as a character is the frequency at which he improves. No one can deny that he works himself hard, but some fans do see this as a natural penchant for martial arts to the point where all of Goku’s accomplishment can be undermined by his role as a “prodigy.”
Pictured: Goku's much stronger son.
He isn’t a prodigy, though. Vegeta is a prodigy. Gohan is a prodigy. Freeza is a prodigy. Goku is a lower class Saiyan who barely registered to his father (in the original canon) and ultimately worked himself up from nothing. His talents were built through brutal training, not his innate abilities.
15 Goku Does Not “Steal” Techniques
Goku easily has the largest roster of techniques in the series and most fans attest that this is because Goku “steals” techniques. The Kamehameha was Master Roshi’s the Genki Dama was Kaio’s, and the Taiyoken was Tien Shinhan’s. With that said, though, why is it stealing for Goku to pick up a new move?
This is just how martial arts works. This is how life works, honestly. You learn from others and you adapt. Goku has developed his own style of fighting based of the dozens of martial artists he’s met through the years. That’s not stealing, that’s aptitude. Goku’s signature ability is his ability to adapt and learn.
14 Goku Does Not Care About Bardock
For years, fans have wanted Goku to meet Bardock in the afterlife. With the recent retconning of Bardock’s characterization, this idea has never been pushed so hard. Bardock is finally someone Goku could be proud of. This was never the problem, though. Rather, the issue is that Goku has never cared about Bardock.
Or Gine for that matter.
Even in light of a Saiyan background where Bardock wasn’t an evil mercenary, why would Goku care? He was raised by Grandpa Gohan and Master Roshi. Bardock means nothing to him. To Goku, Bardock is a concept- the father he could have had if he was raised by the barbaric Saiyans. No amount of retcons can fix that.
13 Goku Is Out Of Character In Super
There are two major fighting points regarding Goku at the moment: he’s either out of character in Super or in character for the first time for the western audience. In many ways, these are both true. In the case of the latter, fans are finally getting a dub that portrays Goku accurately. Unfortunately, the show itself doesn’t.
Super likes to push this idea that Goku has been a mean spirited and selfish idiot all along. While he is certainly selfish and uneducated, the series- especially in the Goku Black arc and first half of the Tournament of Power- really pushes an exaggerated depiction of Son Goku for really no real reason.
12 Goku Hid The Fact He Knew How To Fly
For as amazing as Goku’s final fight with Piccolo Junior at the end of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai is, many fans don’t take kindly to Goku learning to fly at the very last minute in order to defeat Piccolo. This is a surface level reading, though. Goku doesn’t learn to fly. He knew the entire time.
He clearly didn't want to hurt Kinto'un's feelings.
The fight’s subtext, along with the rest of the arc, strongly implies that Goku was hiding his best techniques all along. He didn’t suddenly learn to fly- he saved it for a moment that would come in handy. At the very end of the fight, with his limbs broken, Goku uses his ability to fly in order to sneak attack Piccolo and secure his victory.
11 Goku Never Beats A Main Villain In Super
Goku’s win-loss ratio has gotten so bad in recent years that he doesn’t so much as defeat a single arc villain in Dragon Ball Super. Although Goku puts up decent fights, every arc villain ends up either winning against him or reaching a stalemate. Beerus straight up defeats him; Freeza uses a sneak attack to end his fight with Goku; Goku forfeits his fight with Hit; Goku needs to fuse to beat Zamasu (and doesn’t even win;) and Goku’s Ultra Instinct runs out before he can deal the finishing blow on Jiren, needing to team up with Freeza and 17 to secure a victory.
10 Goku’s First Rival Was Krillin, Not Yamcha
Yamcha is widely considered to be Goku’s first real rival. Of all the supporting cast members, Yamcha is the first who gets to fight Goku in a proper martial arts match. While the two stalemate initially, Goku does defeat Yamcha in their rematch. Which does kind of undermine Yamcha’s role as a rival.
Krillin, on the other hand, manages to go two full arcs ostensibly equal with Goku before they have their rivalry defining match. Even though Goku is clearly stronger, Krillin is able to catch up and put up a far better fight than Yamcha ever did. As a result- and by virtue of being another of Roshi’s initial students- Krillin is Goku’s first rival, not Yamcha.
9 Goku Is Naturally Weaker Than Most Of The Main Cast
Considering just how overwhelmingly powerful Goku is, it’s funny to look back and realize that he’s naturally weaker than most of the main cast. Goku was equal with both Yamcha and Krillin when they first met; weaker than Roshi, Tien Shinhan, Piccolo, and Vegeta; and didn’t have nearly as much potential as Trunks, Goten, or Gohan.
The fact Goku is so strong is a testament to his ability to train his body and actively seek greater heights. As is, he’s genuinely the low class warrior Raditz said he was. Even then, though, class means nothing and Goku proves that. All one needs is a genuine passion for martial arts to be strong.
8 Most Of Goku’s Character Development Happens In Z
“Goku develops in the original Dragon Ball” is a sentiment you hear quite a lot within the fandom. For whatever reason, fans have accepted this idea that Goku’s arc is complete by the start of the Saiyan arc, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Goku develops way more in Z.
Almost all, honestly.
In the Saiyan arc, Goku struggles with the revelation that he was a Saiyan all along, rejecting the notion until he finally has to accept it before fighting Freeza. In the Cell arc, Goku realizes that he keeps attracting danger so he raises a successor in Gohan. In the Buu arc, Goku realizes he won’t be around forever and actively struggles with the concept of responsibility.
7 Goku Doesn’t Get A Real Motivation Until The 21st Budokai
While kid Goku is incredibly charming in his own right, he’s a bit flat as a character starting out. For the entire first arc, he’s basically being guided on a leash by Bulma as there’s really no unifying thread between his character and his motivation. He’s the only member of the main cast along with Pu’er to not develop during that first arc.
It’s not until Goku begins training with Master Roshi where Goku finally gets a motivation: the desire to meet strong opponents. From there, this motivation drives Goku for the rest of the series. From fighting the Red Ribbon Army to flying off with Uub, all Goku wants is a life full of excitement through combat.
6 Toriyama Wanted Goku As The Main Character In The Buu Arc
Right up there with “Toriyama wanted to end the series with Piccolo/Freeza/Cell,” one of the series’ more persistent rumors is the idea that Toriyama was forced to bring back Goku as the main character because fans didn’t like Gohan. Considering popularity polls at the time showed Gohan as the most popular character, this just isn’t true.
You can only do so much with Great Saiyaman.
In fact, we have Toriyama on record stating that Goku was simply a better fit for the style of story he was trying to tell. On his own, Gohan is quite passive. He lets the action happen to him whereas Goku seeks it out. Gohan just doesn’t match the tone of the series necessitating a more proactive character like Goku to maintain the lead.
5 Goku Hates Fusion
Although Goku is one of four characters in the series who fuses more than once, (the others being Vegeta, Goten, and Trunks,) he isn’t a fan of it like his son is. Rather, Goku has an active disdain for fusion. He understands when it’s necessary, such as in the conflict against both Buuhan and Merged Zamasu, but he always follows it up by letting Vegeta know that he doesn’t want to rely on fusion again- a sentiment his other half shares in full.
4 Goku Trains Smart, Not Hard
Vegeta trains incredibly hard. So hard, in fact, many fans believe that he’s entitled to a stronger or higher status than Goku. After all, Vegeta is always shown training whereas Goku generally takes a more relaxed approach. Anyone familiar with martial arts, though, will understand why Goku is stronger.
Goku trains smart, not hard. He doesn’t push his body any further than he needs to. This isn’t to say he doesn’t train hard- he constantly does- but that Goku knows himself well enough to understand that pushing himself too far is torture. Goku even says this to Vegeta outright during the Cell arc.
3 Dragon Ball Z Is Goku’s Story, Not Gohan’s
In the same way fans like to say that all of Goku’s character development happens in the original Dragon Ball, those same fans push the idea that Dragon Ball Z is Gohan’s story and not Goku’s. This one is a bit more grounded in reality though as Toei actively pushed Gohan as the sequel’s protagonist.
Dragon Ball just doesn't work without Goku.
In reality, it’s not until the very end of the Cell arc where Toriyama decided to pass the torch from Goku to Gohan. Even then, Goku is very much the main character of the series up until the Cell Games, actively driving the plot. Come the Majin Buu arc, Goku is back in view before we ever get to the halfway point.
2 Goku Has A Very Lengthy Character Arc
Not only does Goku have a character arc that spans the entire series, it’s utterly massive in length. Piccolo, Gohan, and Vegeta might have better arcs in terms of emotional impact, but Goku’s development starts with him meeting Bulma and doesn’t end until he flies off with Uub, encompassing the entire original series.
Where GT keeps Goku fairly static, Super extends the idea of a growing Goku even further. Every arc sees Goku finding new heights and overcoming his flaws. So long as the series continues, so will Goku’s character arc. It’s constantly changing, too. This is a man who learned the value of life, accepted his heritage, and ultimately found a martial artist nirvana.
1 Goku Isn’t That Special
If there’s one thing we hope you’ve taken away from all this, it’s that Son Goku is really not special in the slightest. Time and time again, he has been proven to be the underdog. He is a man who came from nothing and rose to the strongest mortal in all of universe 7. Isn’t that special in its own right, though?
He's just your average Son Goku.
Well, not really. Kind of. What makes Goku special is that he worked hard to be special. Characters like Piccolo and Vegeta were born with power. Jiren has always had an incredible advantage. Freeza is a literal prodigy. Goku, though? Goku’s just some lower class Saiyan who was sent to destroy Earth and ended up saving the world in the process.