When one thinks of Dragon Ball Z and its villains, the ones who come to mind first and foremost are Frieza, Cell, and Buu. Or, perhaps if you're an old-school fan, Piccolo. Maybe Hit? Goku Black? Jiren? Broly? A lot of these villains are iconic anime baddies and rank among the best of those characters you love to hate. But it would be misleading to argue that these Dragon Ball villains are the best in their world.
For every main-arc bad guy, there are small villains. Not necessarily small in stature, but small in relevance. They appear and have their time in the spotlight before being forgotten in favor of the arc's big villains, which is a shame. Several overlooked villains have come and gone in the franchise, but among them are some small villains in Dragon Ball canon who rank among the best of them.
10. Dr. Wheelo
Dr. Wheelo is a movie-exclusive character. While many of the villains of the Dragon Ball films are iconic in their own right (Broly and Cooler, for example), Dr. Wheelo has always been a fairly obscure character, despite being arguably one of the best. This doctor is a brilliant scientist who sought to augment the human body. However, he was frozen in ice along with his creations, which led to the doctor becoming forgotten. Fifty years down the line, he is in search of the World's Strongest Warrior, hoping to put his brain in the body of the most powerful entity around.
What makes Dr. Wheelo so fascinating is how unique he is among Dragon Ball villains. He doesn't want to destroy the world. He seems intent on using his knowledge to improve it. But, in order to do so, he needs to murder—first Roshi, but, upon learning of Roshi's superior student, Goku—decides to get him instead. He's a fascinating character who gets tragically overlooked by fans.
9. Garlic Jr.
Often the butt-end of jokes among fans, Garlic Jr. is actually a fascinating character who adds a lot to Dragon Ball's lore by virtue of his existence. When Kami became the Guardian of Earth, he had competition: Garlic. Kami beat Garlic, but his son, Garlic Jr., has come to reclaim the throne of earth for himself.
Garlic Jr.'s biggest accomplishment, however, is achieving something that both Frieza and Vegeta only dreamed of doing: achieving immortality. It is only thanks to his greatest weapon, the Dead Zone, that Garlic Jr. is beaten at all, being cast in an eternal wasteland from which he cannot escape...
Until the filler arc, years before Broly joined the Dragon Ball canon proper, Garlic Jr. was the only movie character to make the jump from film to canon. That's pretty big for such a small villain.
Tambourine is King Piccolo's enforcer and child in the Dragon Ball King Piccolo arc. While many remember the main villain's greatest moments, few can forget how it starts: Tambourine goes around the world, hunting and slaying the world's strongest warriors.
And that includes Krillin.
While it's easy to joke about Krillin dying all the time now, at the time, the death of Krillin had huge implications for the series. While Dragon Ball officially transitions into Dragon Ball Z with the arrival of Raditz, it is Tambourine who helps transition Dragon Ball from the light-hearted adventure saga into something darker. It just set the stage for Dragon Ball, since if this was what Piccolo's minion could do, how fearsome was Piccolo himself?
7. Babidi (And Bibidi)
Babidi for awhile was the main villain of Dragon Ball Z's Buu arc. While it may seem bizarre that such a small villain could direct the entire flow of a series, it is only thanks to Babidi that everything that unfolded in the last third of the anime did.
While many people remember Babidi solely as the wizard who restored Majin Buu to full power, it is easy to forget that, on his own, Babidi conquered the will of the Demon King Dabura, used slaves to brutally beat down Videl, and, eventually, sway Vegeta to his own side. This is all before he restores Majin Buu. The only problem was that Babidi was too power-hungry to see he couldn't control Buu, but, in many respects, that arrogance gives Babidi an almost tragic element. Pride cometh before the fall.
But Bididi, Babidi's ancestor, is almost equally as wretched. He created Majin Buu and used Buu to destroy the Supreme Kais. And, unlike Babidi, the Supreme Kai himself had to slay him. Bibidi managed to control Buu at his most fearsome and leave a mark on the universe that has never been undone.
The Ginyu Force remains one of the most fondly remembered small villains of Dragon Ball, but make no mistake: they are all pretty impressive. From Guildo's time-stopping abilities to Ginyu's body switch abilities, all of them challenged the heroes in ways few villains before or since have.
But of all of them, Recoome remains the stand-out. It wasn't because he took on Vegeta, Krillin, and Gohan. It's not simply because he snapped Gohan's neck. But rather because he didn't seem to mind any of the pain dealt to him. That fight gets brutal, yet, despite blowing his own teeth out, he just shrugs it off and laughs. He is an unstoppable force that just laughs and shrugs no matter how much pain is dealt his way. For that alone, he is a terrifying force.
5. Omega Shenron
It is debatable if Omega Shenron counts as a small villain. Dragon Ball GT often feels smaller and less important compared to the rest of Dragon Ball, but many argue it features two villains quite prominently: Baby and the Shadow Dragons. While it may seem like bad form to place the final Shadow Dragon here, it's hard to consider any one member of them the "main villain" of the arc when, in reality, Goku was fighting a collective of assorted characters.
Omega Shenron, formerly Syn Shenron, is the last of the Shadow Dragons to materialize. Each Shadow Dragon is a corrupted Dragon Ball charged with the negative energy of wishes, which makes Omega Shenron a manifestation of the Z Fighters' over-reliance on the balls. He exists as the ultimate consequence for their over-reliance on wishes. While his absorption and eventual beat-down is nothing special, Omega Shenron is a fascinating small villain for what he represents: consequence. Many argue that Dragon Ball feels consequence-free due to how everything—even the destruction of universes—can just be undone with a wish.
Omega Shenron represents the consequences of those actions, coming back to bite the heroes in the butt.
Nappa is nowadays more fondly remembered for the hilarious reinterpretation via Team Four Star's Dragon Ball Z Abridged, but even ignoring that, Nappa is a force to be reckoned with. Already the second strongest Saiyan in Frieza's army, Nappa is a bloodthirsty, hardened warrior who has been fighting since before Planet Vegeta's destruction.
But let's not forget that Nappa wasn't just Vegeta's henchman. He fought the majority of the Z Fighters in an all-out brawl, and until Goku came to end the fight, basically won. Tien? Chiaotzu? Piccolo? All down. (Yamcha doesn't count here.) He almost killed Gohan and Krillin, if not for a timely intervention.
Given how many people tend to remember the Goku and Vegeta fight that followed, it's easy to forget just how big a deal this was. To draw this in comparison, imagine if one character took on the Avengers, and the team was dropping like flies until someone like Thor arrived. Nappa killed more heroes in one fight than Frieza did during his long fight. Just consider that.
Frost may not be the main antagonist in Dragon Ball Super. He might, in the vast scheme of things, be an overall minor player in Dragon Ball Super's plot, but despite being a small villain, he is a fascinating one.
Dragon Ball Super is a fairly recent entry in the Dragon Ball franchise, so it is a bad idea to be as cavalier about spoilers as in prior and later entries. However, it is a spoiler to even say that Frost is a villain, since he first demonstrates a charismatic side, presenting himself as a hero...only for it to be revealed in due time just how vile of a character he is.
Frost ends up getting up to more no-good later on after his initial appearance, but rest assured his actions result in untold horror and pain (all hidden behind a mask of "good intentions," of course). For a series full of planet destroyers and universal threats, there is something so vile about Frost that makes him immediately one of the best of Dragon Ball's villains.
2. Dr. Gero
Dr. Gero committed evil across three of the four Dragon Ball series, yet always remained just off-focus throughout it all. Except for perhaps Frieza, no character has caused Goku more personal devastation than Gero.
Dr. Gero started as a scientist for the Red Ribbon Army, helping construct their arsenal and weaponry. While he did not take part directly in the Red Ribbon Army's actions, every horrible action the Army took can be credited to Gero. After Goku defeated the army, he vowed revenge, which led to the creation of the Androids and, later, Cell. While Gero did little directly due to his human cyborg subjects, 17 and 18, everything in the Android and Cell saga is Gero' fault.
Even in Dragon Ball GT, Gero literally opens up a vortex to Hell just to get revenge on Goku. Everything in GT to follow is Gero's fault. The Dragon Balls being overburdened by too many wishes? Piccolo being trapped in Hell? 17 actually dying for good? All Gero's fault.
Beyond being simply omnipresent in the series, however, Gero is vile for just his pure obsession and pride. He consistently gets destroyed by his own inventions, but those creations live on beyond him to cause a rippling impact on the saga. No villain has caused more of an impact on Dragon Ball history than this small villain.
...or, perhaps, he would've, if not for...
1. Emperor Pilaf
Emperor Pilaf is the first villain Goku ever fought in Dragon Ball. This small villain is also Goku's greatest enemy and unintentional ally, aiding and harming Goku in countless ways throughout the franchise.
Pilaf was the main villain in Dragon Ball's first arc, but his first intense impact on franchise history happened when he let King Piccolo out. Tambourine killing Krillin? Piccolo conquering the world and killing a ton of characters along the way? Pilaf's fault. Piccolo's eventual return to the series, and later training Gohan? Pilaf's fault. Any positive or negative impact Piccolo had on the series? Again, Pilaf's fault.
Even in Super, Pilaf still has a huge impact on the series, since now super young, Pilaf helps aid Frieza's soldiers in restoring the alien to life.
But let's take a step back for a second. After all, Pilaf committed one so egregious that few other villains can compare in Dragon Ball. In Dragon Ball GT, Pilaf gathers the Black Star Dragon Balls, and uses them to turn Goku into a kid again, thus triggering every event to follow in GT.
Pilaf gave us Dragon Ball GT. Is there anything more evil than that?