There are few anime series out there that have the lasting power Dragon Ball Z holds onto. The iconic shonen debuted in April 1989 shortly after the original Dragon Ball series ended, and the new show was nothing like its predecessor. Sure, Son Goku was every bit as oblivious as he was when he was a kid, but the character had become too old for his juvneile martial arts tournaments.
No, Goku was ready for the big leagues.
In Dragon Ball Z, Goku and his slew of comrades find themselves taking on impossibly powerful villains like Freeza and Majin Buu to start. The squadron of so-called Z-Fighters put their lives on the line every episode to ensure that not only the world but the whole cosmos stayed safe from maniacal despots.
These battles resulted in some truly epic fight sequences, and Akira Toriyama’s beloved characters were constantly working to one-up their previous power levels. While the entire Dragon Ball franchise hosts dozens of Z-Fighters, but the squad was truly put to the test when Dragon Ball Z made its debut. Here at ComicBook.com, we’re sorting through the lengthy list of Z-Fighters to count down the 15 strongest warriors who helped Goku protect the 12 Universes.
So, yeah - you might want to get your Dragon Ball scouter right about now.
Fans first meet Yajirobe during the King Piccolo Saga of Dragon Ball. The rotund ronin is wholly human and meets Goku while the latter is searching for Tambourine, a son of King Piccolo. Despite his antisocial nature, Yajirobe and Goku become friendly after they fight with one another. Though Yajirobe does not look like it, the character is swift and skilled at swordsmanship. While he may impress Goku and the Z-Fighters during Dragon Ball, the character does start to lag behind when Dragon Ball Z rolls around. The boy only appears briefly in the sequel anime, but he does cheer on the team in what ways he can.
Oh, Yamcha. You may be the butt of so many jokes, but don’t let them get to you. Dragon Ball may not have treated you kindly, but there are fans who have Yamcha’s back. The character was a main protagonist in Dragon Ball who started off as Goku’s enemy. However, the talented martial artist soon became the Saiyan’s ally after he proved his reputation as being one of Earth’s most powerful humans was spot-on. The character was a great help to Goku and Krillin during Dragon Ball, but that began to change in Dragon Ball Z. Yamcha’s human status kept him and his powers from reaching the level of his comrades, but he still stuck around for battles - even if they might kill him.
Krillin may be short and stocky, but don’t let his appearance fool you. The human is said to be the strongest human alive thanks to all his training with Goku, and the Z-Fighter doesn’t know when to say no. When fans first met Krillin, he was a jealous boy who wanted to feud with Goku, but their animosity faded as they became best friends. As a gifted martial artist, Krillin became a prominent Z-Fighter and even participated in battles against Nappa, Vegeta, Freeza, and Cell.
According to Dragon Ball lore, hybrid Saiyans are immensely powerful and have untold potential. So, really, it’s not surprising to know that Pan is a rather gifted Z-Fighter. The young girl is 1/4 Saiyan as she is the daughter of Goku’s son Gohan and a human named Videl. The heroine has a powerful Saiyan bloodline running through her, and her human half isn’t so bad either considering her gtandfather is Mr. Satan. The character is only briefly shown as a child during Dragon Ball Z and never appears in any death-matches, but she does demonstrate her innate power in other ways. At only 4, Pan already trains with Goku and can fly. And, at the series’ end, fans are left wondering whether Pan was able to actually beat Goten in an unofficial match as Trunks is seen declaring her the winner.
If you think Tenshinhan looks intimidating, then you have a good sense of self-preservation. The three-eyed human is not one to be trifled with. The human is devoted to all styles of martial arts and refuses to let his race prevent him from battling with higher tier Z-Fighters when villains come to their planet. Though the character is not very social, he is loyal to his friends and refuses to back down from a challenge. In Dragon Ball Z, Tenshinhan hopes to one day surpass Goku as a warrior and flings himself headlong into battle knowing he may very well die. When Semi-Perfect Cell and Super Buu threaten to destroy the Earth, it is Tenshinhan who helps his comrades survive by either sacrificing himself or intervening the baddies’ assaults.
When Dr. Gero first awakened Android 18, many fans thought the character was a pretty, petite face. However, they were soon proved wrong. The unassuming woman is cool in the face of danger, and she will do what it takes to protect her fellow Androids. In Dragon Ball Z, Android 18 starts out as an adversary to the Z-Fighters as she breaks Vegeta’s arm, but she is eventually overtaken by Cell when he absorbs her for power. When she is recovered following the Cell Saga, Android 18 finds herself married to Krillin and fights to protect her family when Majin Buu rears his terrifying pink head.
Piccolo Jr. was born to be a powerful warrior. The Namekian is the final son and reincarnation of the Demon King Piccolo from Dragon Ball, and his mature powers as said to be baseline with Semi-Perfect Cell. The expert strategist and rounded fighter didn’t start his life as a friend to the Z-Fighters. Piccolo wanted Goku dead for having killed his father, but the Namekian has a change of heart after partnering with the Saiyan to defeat Raditz. As Dragon Ball Z goes forward, Piccolo only becomes more powerful as he trains with Saiyans like Gohan and even gains more power by fusing with Kami.
As the youngest son of Goku, Goten was born with expectations upon. The hybrid Saiyan spent his youth training with his father and friend Trunks, and others saw that he had limitless potential. As a child, his base power was stronger than what Goku or Gohan had, and he becomes one of the youngest characters to ever go Super Saiyan. In Dragon Ball Z, the character is still too young to reach his full potential, but he does give fans a taste of what he can do. With the aid of Trunks, the two are able to do a Fusion Dance which creates the character Gotenks. The unbelievably powerful fusion goes head-to-head with Majin Buu twice and nearly defeats the villain before Gotenks his absorb by the pink alien.
If Good Buu can’t quite beat Kid Buu, it’s easy to see how the latter is a bit stronger than his more innocent counterpart. So, when Kid Buu winds up being reincarnated a boy named Uub, fans were not surprised to learn how powerful the boy was. In Dragon Ball Z, Uub doesn’t take on any direct fights with the Z-Fighters, but he does become part of the squad after Goku encounters Uub. Having wished for Buu to become a good person after being reincarnated, Goku encountered Uub during the 18th World Martial Arts Tournament. It is there that the two fight, and Uub taps into Buu’s latent powers when he manages to hurt Goku. The boy isn’t able to display his full strength in the series, but Uub has an insane amount of potential thanks to his past life.
Like father, like son. When fans meet Trunks in Dragon Ball Z, the young boy is very much like Vegeta. The hybrid Saiyan has learned his father’s cocky ways, and Trunks only respects those who deems strong enough. At age 8, Trunks could go Super Saiyan and even participates in the 25th World Martial Arts Tournament where he fights his best friend Goten. Trunks beats Goku’s youngest son. Throughout Dragon Ball Z, Trunks continues to level up his power as he successfully manages to fuse with Goten and become Gotenks when the Z-Fighters need ammunition against Super Buu. And, when the warriors meet Trunk’s future self later in the anime, fans learn how powerful the boy could become.
Future Trunks is not the same boy which fans first meet in Dragon Ball Z. The older, serious character hails from an alternate future where Android 17 and 18 murdered the Z-Fighters. Their deaths created a post-apocalyptic world where Future Gohan trained Future Trunks to reach Super Saiyan. And, when his master is murdered in cold blood, Future Trunks uses a time machine to travel back and save his future. When Future Trunks enters the Dragon Ball Z timeline, he does so by absolutely crushing Frieza once he turns Super Saiyan, but he does struggle to best Super Perfect Cell when the villain makes his entrance.
Mr. Buu / Good Buu
When fans meet Majin Buu, the character is not one who audiences wanted to fight alongside. The villain was a terrifying adversary who enjoyed wreaking havoc for the fun of it, but the character was tamed after its first form, Innocent Buu, split in half. The end result left fans with Good and Evil Buu, and viewers fell for the former adorable creature. In Dragon Ball Z, Good Buu becomes a member of the Z-Fighters and lives with Mr. Satan. His cheerful disposition belays just how strong Good Buu is, and fans are shown the character’s power later in the anime. Not only does Good Buu successfully take on his evil counterpart, but he is also instrumental in helping the Z-Fighters defeat Kid Buu when the psychotic character makes his manic return.
There are few characters in Dragon Ball’s canon who train as ferociously as Vegeta. The man is the prince of the fallen Saiyan race, and his prideful nature gifts him with endless amounts of confidence. When the character starts off as a ruthless killer, Vegeta later abandons his work for Freiza and opts to join the Z-Fighters in protecting the Earth. Dragon Ball Z shows Vegeta and his transformation from villain to anti-hero as he challenges Goku to battle again and again. However, their relationship turns after Vegeta is defeated at the hands of Frieza. From that point on, Dragon Ball Z follows Vegeta as he trains to beat Goku, and he even manages to go Super Saiyan 2 in the process.
In Dragon Ball Z, there is no one who can consistently take on Goku and come out a winner. The Saiyan has spent his life training in martial arts to protect his home, and Goku lives up to the reputation of being the strongest warrior in his universe. In terms of power, it can be difficult to differentiate Goku from Vegeta given their insanely high classes, but the former hero consistently edges out Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z. After the Cell Saga wrapped, Goku went to train in Other World to stretch his ki consumption to a whole new level. In the end, Goku is finally able to reach the Super Saiyan 3 state, a powerful transformation that imbues Goku with the ability to extract strength from every drop of his Saiyan blood - but it really, really takes a toll.
Gohan is the eldest son of Goku and Chi-Chi, so you can only imagine how powerful the boy must be. The hybrid Saiyan was said to have had the most potential amongst all the hybrid children introduced in Dragon Ball Z, and the rumors were not wrong. While Gohan may not be as powerful as Goku on a consistent level, the boy did manage to one-up his father when no one else could. As child, Gohan trained with powerful masters like Piccolo and the other Z-Fighters. He participates in battles during the Cell Saga and reaches Super Saiyan 2 before he undergoes a rather special transformation with the help of Old Kai.
After meeting with Old Kai, Gohan is able to unlock all of his latent power, and the mystic transformation lets the hybrid Saiyan pummel Super Buu. The transformation doesn’t last long enough for the Saiyan to defeat the baddie, but the display showed fans that Gohan’s fullest extent of power makes him stronger than even Goku. In fact, when it comes to Dragon Ball Z, Gohan's mystic form is said to the most powerful character aside from fusion like Gogeta and Vegito.