What Dragon Ball lacked sophistication in its narrative, it more than made up with its engaging storytelling and memorable conflicts. Contriving an epic story like Dragon Ball does require some skill, and I would argue there is an art into making Dragon Ball. However, we all know that the Dragon Ball franchise isn’t the most intelligent piece of media out there.
The franchise is known for its “making it up as we go” mentality, meaning the series would constantly come up with plot points out of thin air. Somehow, despite the odds, the series was able to construct a story that was able to grab the attention of viewers across the globe. I love it, and I know that there are millions of people in the world who feel the same.
But because we love something, doesn’t mean we have to be in love with every little detail. No matter how much I adore the original Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, there are some storylines I felt hurt the franchise, rather than help it. These storylines include Gohan’s whole story arc post the Cell Games, and most of Dragon Ball GT. Of course, there are storylines I do think end up saving the franchise, like both of Vegeta and Piccolo’s redemption arc. There are a lot of narrative arcs that have hurt, or saved, the franchise. For this list, I’ll only be going over 10 Storylines That Hurt Dragon Ball, And The 10 That Saved It.
20 Hurt – Black Star Dragon Balls In GT
I don’t hate Dragon Ball GT. At least, I don’t dislike it as much as most fans. There are definitely a lot of odd choices with the show, and I would argue that the first arc, the Black Star Dragon Balls saga, hurt GT the most. The second major arc, the Super 17 Saga, is probably worse than the first arc. However, it is in the first arc where lead protagonist Goku is turned back into a little kid.
Apparently, this was done so that they could tone down Goku’s power level, and not make him so overpowered. Of course, their solution was ridiculous, yet they stuck with Kid Goku throughout the entire show.
19 Saved – Introducing Saiyans
Since most US fans' first exposure to the series came from Dragon Ball Z, rather than the original Dragon Ball, a lot of western fans have a hard time believing the series was anything but a sci-fi epic. Though the franchise always had sci-fi elements, including flying cars and capsules, the original Dragon Ball was mostly a fantasy.
The introduction of Saiyans in the first arc of the Dragon Ball Z opened the gates for the series to have a more sci-fi heavy setting. From there, the series would dwell into space traveling and time manipulation. Gone were the simple tales of fighting demons and martial artists; Goku was now facing the strongest things in the universe.
18 Hurt – Wasting Uub’s Potential
Poor Dragon Ball GT, but the show really did suffer from very mediocre storytelling. There are parts I do love; however, Uub is not one of them. Introduced in the last few episodes of Dragon Ball Z, Uub is the good reincarnation of the villainous Kid Buu. Goku saw potential in the boy and decided to train him.
You would assume any sequel series would follow through on that plotline, and further explore Uub as a character. Unfortunately, GT does not do that. Instead, the show had Uub be nothing more than an afterthought. He never had any cool fight scenes, and he was mostly put in the background.
17 Saved – Introducing Krillin (And Filling Up The Cast)
The show initially began with Goku and Bulma being the sole leads. Their contrasting personalities and age difference was able to make them an enduring duo during those early Dragon Ball days. With that said, it is hard to imagine any Dragon Ball brand without the rest of the colorful cast of characters.
We all love Goku and Bulma, but it was really the introduction of Krillin that helped the series find its footing. Yamcha, Puar, and Oolong were part of the cast before Krillin showed up, however, Krillin had a lot more to offer to the series than any of those characters. He acted as an early rival to Goku and remained a consistent presence within the series all the way into Super.
16 Hurt – Super Buu Absorbs Everyone
Super Buu, the more sinister version of Majin Buu, started out as a very intimidating villain. Not only was he super powerful, but he also had a fairly creepy yet simple design. His impatient attitude made him one of the more intimidating villains in the franchise, as you never know when he’s going to blow.
Then his story took a turn for the worst when he suddenly begins absorbing everyone. Not only was it a cheap way to increase Super Buu’s power level, but it also made him less scary and more annoying. He cheated to win, and he ended up being less interesting as a result.
15 Saved – Frieza, Strongest In The Universe
Once it was established that Goku was the strongest warrior on Earth, the natural step was for him to fight against the strongest person in the galaxy. Enter Frieza, Emperor of the Universe and self-proclaimed strongest in the galaxy.
Adding Frieza in the series was one of the best moves that the franchise could’ve made. Frieza was not only a worthy adversary for the protagonists, but he was also heavily tied with the backstory of the Saiyan race. If the franchise has one main villain, without a doubt it would be Frieza. The series continues to bring him back, and while he may soon run into diminishing returns, he isn’t at that point yet.
14 Hurt – All Those Gosh Darn Fillers
Remember when Frieza said that Namek would blow up in five minutes, and it ended up lasting around ten episodes? That is a consequence of when an anime series catches up with the manga. Oftentimes an anime and manga would run concurrently, with the anime covering the things that have already appeared in the manga.
When the anime suddenly finds itself already adapting every material presented in the manga, then they come up with filler. Filler is an episode that is not important to the main plot, which is used to help the manga make new material for the anime to adapt. Unfortunately for Dragon Ball Z, they caught up to the manga during the middle of a five-minute duel.
13 Saved – Trunks
When Goku established himself the strongest in the universe, the series was left in this uncomfortable position. With Goku now indisputably the most powerful in the galaxy, who is left capable to match his power?
The answer was simple and effective. Taking inspiration from Terminator, the series decided to introduce time travel to the narrative. This lead to the creation of Trunks, and what would end up being the coolest introduction of a character ever. Trunks’ first appearance involves him putting a revived Frieza in half. The fact he was a time traveler just made him even cooler. Trunks and the time travel angle really breathed new life into series, especially considering how stagnant the series felt at the end of the Namek arc.
12 Hurt – Androids 20 And 19 Were Supposed To Be The Main Villains
There were many twists and turns in the Android saga. From Trunks putting mecha-Frieza in half to the introduction of Cell, the saga has some of the best twists in the entire franchise. Probably the most clever twist is that the first set of Androids, Android 20 and 19, weren’t the Androids that Trunks warned the protagonists about.
Apparently, that was not the case when 20 and 19 first appeared. They were initially supposed to be the main antagonists of the arc. Some editors vetoed that idea, and the manga author decided to create Androids 17 and 18. It ended up working out in the end; I can’t imagine an Android Saga where Androids 20 and 19 were the big bads.
11 Saved – Cell Becoming The Main Villain
When it was decided that Androids 20 and 19 weren’t up to snuff to be leading villains, Androids 18, 17, and 16 were made to fill that void. However, it was also decided that they too weren’t up to snuff to be the main antagonists.
So that is where Cell comes in. An Android from the future who needs to absorb 17 and 18 to reach its perfect form, Cell became the main antagonist of the Android Saga. From his atmospheric and sinister introduction to his final battle with Gohan at the Cell Games, Cell has become one of the most iconic characters in the franchise. And to think, he wasn’t even part of the original plan for the Android Saga.
10 Hurt – Kid Buu
After Vegeta detached the good Majin Buu from Super Buu, the latter transformed into a smaller version of himself. Referred to as Kid Buu, this version of Buu is meant to be the purest and most villainous version of Buu.
Not only does Kid Buu come out of nowhere, but it also doesn’t make sense for Super Buu to turn into him. Super Buu was created when Majin Buu expelled all the bad from his body. Super Buu was initially a frail-looking thing until he ate the original Buu and became what he ended up being. Detaching the good Majin Buu should have simply turned Super Buu back into his frail form, not into Kid Buu.
9 Saved – Introduction Of Beerus And The Multiverse
The release of the Battle of Gods movie was exciting times for Dragon Ball fans. Not only was it the first movie in the franchise in almost twenty years, but it also introduced Beerus. The God of Destruction, Beerus proved to be an effective antagonist. He was both likable, and intimidating.
Beerus and his angel master Whis proved to be a hit with fans. Not only did Beerus’ introduction become popular with fans, but his character also opened the door for more possibilities. Beerus eventually lead into the discovery that there are twelve universes, each with their own God of Destruction.
8 Hurt – Zeno Erasing Zamasu
The Goku Black arc in Dragon Ball Super grew to be a very controversial arc. What started out with a lot of promise ended up lasting way past its necessary conclusion. It became repetitive, and Zamasu was growing more grating as a villain. There were shining moments towards the end of the arc, with Vegito versus Fused Zamasu being one of the best fights in the franchise. Whatever good the arc had was completely squashed at the end when Goku summoned Zeno, the god of everything. In order to fully erase Zamasu, Zeno decided to erase everything in Future Trunks’ timeline. This made the arc end on a really sour note.
7 Saved – Tournament Of Power
As a big fan of the Tournament of Power arc in Dragon Ball Super, even I have to admit that the arc was uneven. There were certain episodes in the arc that were pure awesomeness; however, there was also a lot of mediocrity.
Despite that, the Tournament of Power drew in the most hype for Super. Fans around the world would literally crash streaming sites to watch the arc. I know there are a lot of fans who loathe Super, especially the Tournament of Power arc. But when you have fans in Latin America gathering in the middle of the streets to watch an episode from that arc projected on a big screen, cheering at the most intense scenes, then the show must have done something right.
6 Hurt – Goten
Many fans complain about Gohan’s lack of relevance within the series, especially after his climactic fight with Cell at the end of the Cell Games. With that said, no matter what happens with Gohan, at least he was more important to the plot than Goten ever was. Goten is Gohan’s kid brother and Goku’s youngest son. Goten mostly serves as a foil for Kid Trunks, and he really hasn’t done much in the story. He is just there. Honestly, his presence oftentimes is more of a hindrance to the story, as his one defining trait is being a naïve little kid.
5 Saved – Piccolo’s Redemption
A good chunk of the cast is actually made up of former villains. People forget that characters like Yamcha and Tien were introduced originally as antagonists. Piccolo, though, was the first true villain to become a hero in the Dragon Ball Z era, and he arguably may be the best example of a redemptive character in the whole franchise.
Piccolo was initially led to believe he was a demon, and he desired to rule the Earth. He was forced to team up with the Z Warriors to protect the Earth from the Saiyans, and he took Goku’s son Gohan to train him. Through his relationship with Gohan, Piccolo became a hero who would be forever remembered by the fans.
4 Hurt – Jiren’s Backstory
Jiren, the most powerful warrior from Universe 11 during the Tournament of Power, was an enigma when he was first introduced. He was a man (or alien) with few words. He didn’t have the most exciting personality, yet his mysterious past and tremendous power piqued viewers’ interest.
Later in Dragon Ball Super, it is revealed that Jiren lost his home and friends to an unbeatable supervillain. Since then, he has only believed in ultimate strength. Jiren was a character who would have benefited more if he stayed a mystery, rather than having a fairly generic anime backstory. Jiren was just cooler when we didn’t know his motivation.
3 Saved – Vegeta’s Redemption
It’s crazy to think how much Vegeta has changed since his first introduction. Originally a Saiyan who came to Earth to destroy it, Vegeta would have one of the most fascinating character arcs in the franchise.
For a series that is known for its lack of strong themes, Vegeta’s road to redemption was filled with a lot of pathos and character development. Though he remained an anti-hero with a rotten personality for most of Dragon Ball Z, by the time Super rolled around Vegeta became fully domesticated. Some of Dragon Ball’s best moments come from Vegeta’s arc, including his tear-inducing sacrifice in the Majin Buu Saga.
2 Hurt – Gohan’s Story Arc (Post-Buu Saga)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Gohan, Goku’s firstborn son, was introduced at the start of Dragon Ball Z. He was a little boy who would grow up over the course of the show, and his character arc had a lot of ups and downs. After his amazing fight with Cell, Gohan would mellow out by the time the Majin Buu Saga happened.
Though Gohan still played a vital role in the Majin Buu Saga, afterward he wouldn’t amount to much. He had several shining moments within the Tournament of Power arc in Super; however, he remains a side character. This is frustrating for fans, especially since there was a lot build-up of Gohan in Dragon Ball Z.
1 Saved – Gohan’s Story Arc (Saiyan Saga – Cell Saga)
Despite Gohan’s character arc faltering during the Majin Buu Saga and Dragon Ball Super, it had a very beautiful payoff at the climax of the Cell Games. After building up Gohan’s hidden strength since the beginning of Dragon Ball Z, it finally came out when Cell destroyed Android 16 right in front of him. Gohan’s anger was finally unleashed, and he transformed into Super Saiyan 2 for the first time.
The fight between Gohan and Cell would arguably be considered the franchise’s high point, often being praised by fans as the best part in Dragon Ball Z. It was filled with emotion and has several great action moments. It is a shame that the series chose to continue after the Cell Games.