Even though the Super Saiyan transformation is introduced more than halfway through the original manga’s run, Dragon Ball has in many ways become defined by its transformations. Goku undergoing a ritualistic transformation on Namek and becoming the legendary Super Saiyan opened a can of worms that the series would never recover from.
As frustrating as the emphasis on transformations can be at times, there’s a reason why the Super Saiyan form is so popular: it’s insanely cool. Not just that, Toriyama featured multiple designs for the form over the course of the series, either just by giving the transformation to a new character or by outright evolving the Super Saiyan state. Between the Freeza, Cell, and Buu arcs, there’s plenty of Super Saiyan to go around.
10 Super Vegeta (Grade 2)
The first Super Saiyan variant Toriyama shows off, Grade 2 is the bulkier form Vegeta comes out of the Room of Spirit and Time with during the events of the Cell arc. With this transformation, Vegeta’s body is stockier, his hair is spikier, and he looks comically shorter. If nothing else, the form does lead to two pretty solid fights.
It’s also leagues better than Trunks’ Grade 3. Grade 2 looks silly, but it’s completely practical and makes sense. Of course, Vegeta would want to prefer raw power above all else — he just didn’t take into account the fact that he might need a more refined transformation in the long run.
9 Super Saiyan 3 Goku
Goku’s Super Saiyan 3 is paradoxically one of the best and worst forms in the series. On one hand, it’s completely useless, doesn’t end up contributing to the Buu arc, and is impractical compared to SSJ2. At the same time, it being useless is a nice subversion of the Dragon Ball formula, it not making an impact ends up giving the final fight more tension, and its impracticality makes it interesting.
Should Goku want to use SSJ3 — at least in the original series — he needs to do so with the understanding that he’ll have to finish his fight fast. Its stamina issues alone make it more compelling than 80% of transformations introduced in DBS. It’s just too bad Goku had to lose his eyebrows.
8 Super Saiyan 2 Gohan (Cell Arc)
Although Gohan’s transformation into a Super Saiyan 2 is emotional and well handled in the context of the Cell Games, the actual form isn’t that awe-inspiring — especially coming off of Gohan’s rather slick Super Saiyan 1 design. Super Saiyan 2’s sharper hair certainly gives Gohan an edge and it looks great in action, but it doesn’t make for good stills.
Both the anime and promotional art also have a very bad habit of making Gohan’s hair incredibly stiff. Granted, it’s stiff in the manga, but there’s always a fluidity to how Toriyama draws hair that’s often missing from other Dragon Ball artists — modern DB in general would never be able to make SSJ2 Gohan look as good as he can.
7 SSJ & SSJ 2 Gohan (Buu Arc)
Due to the shape of his hair in the Buu arc, Gohan’s design doesn’t change much at all when he transforms into either a Super Saiyan or Super Saiyan 2. In general, he doesn’t actually use SSJ all that often in the Buu arc, missing the entire second act in terms of plot and then re-entering the last act as Ultimate Gohan.
That said, Gohan’s base design for the Buu arc is good enough where he looks great in either form. He’s at his visual best in his Saiyaman tunic. While he only ends up fighting Dabra in this outfit, it’s a solid fight and Gohan looks incredible in action. It’s a shame Toriyama didn’t give Gohan at least one more Super Saiyan fight in the Buu arc.
6 SSJ Vegeta
Simple, sleek, and to the point, there’s really no change when Vegeta turns Super Saiyan, but that’s not a bad thing whatsoever. Vegeta’s main outfit color, blue, pairs spectacularly with Super Saiyan’s gold hair and aura. Both his Cell arc and Buu arc outfits look fantastic when paired with a Super Saiyan Vegeta.
At the time, it was also the most unique approach to Vegeta’s Super Saiyan design. Both Goku and Trunks’ hair changed so Vegeta stays the same — almost indicating he already has the violent nature befitting a Super Saiyan. It’s some nice visually storytelling that really only applies to the start of the Cell arc.
5 SSJ Trunks
Everything about Future Trunks is cool so it perhaps goes without saying that his Super Saiyan form is one of the better ones. Regardless of hairstyle, Trunks’ Super Saiyan looks great. His longer hair perhaps makes the hair too big, but either way, it’s a unique look for Trunks that helps him stand out from Goku and Vegeta.
Trunks’ Super Saiyan design is also intimately tied with his introduction, and a lame design would have undercut the impact of him showing up, transforming, and killing Freeza on the spot. Trunks was a game-changing character and such an important narrative moment necessitates a conventionally cool design.
4 Super Saiyan 2 Majin Vegeta
Super Saiyan 2 might not look as nice as it could on Gohan, but looks great on Vegeta — specifically when he’s a Majin. Vegeta’s body is stressed, his eyes are full of hate, and the lightning circling his body makes him the most imposing he’s been since he was first introduced in the Saiyan arc.
Whether or not Vegeta can trigger Super Saiyan 2 in DBZ without his Majin boost is up for debate, but either way, Super Saiyan 2 Majin Vegeta looks downright vicious. The manga doesn’t do the fight justice, but the anime features plenty of in-fight filler that puts this form in the spotlight.
3 SSJ Goku
There’s just no beating a classic, is there? Goku’s first Super Saiyan transformation is incredibly special, in particular when it’s closer to its introduction. Early on, Toriyama draws Super Saiyan with a lot of passion and fullness. Goku’s hair moves with the wind, fluidly following the action alongside him. It makes the final fight against Freeza all the more visually impressive.
Not just that, it’s clear that Toriyama is taking a considerable amount of effort in drawing the hair — something that’ll lessen over time (albeit not necessarily for the worse). Even up to the end of the Buu arc, Goku’s Super Saiyan 1 just looks so clean and stylish, it’s hard not to love.
2 SSJ Gohan (Cell Arc)
Goku and Gohan exiting the Room of Spirit and Time is a big moment for both characters. For Goku, it’s the revelation that he managed to develop a mastered version of Super Saiyan that reduces the stress and restlessness that comes with transforming. For Gohan, it’s the first time he’s the undisputed strongest character in the series.
Not only that, Gohan’s hair as a Super Saiyan (revealed to just be his base hair, as well) seems especially styled after Goku’s base hair. If nothing else, Gohan’s hair is meant to resemble Goku’s. This likely isn’t a coincidence as Toriyama would transition Gohan into the main character in just a few chapters.
1 Super Saiyan 2 Goku
Super Saiyan 2 Goku barely appears in the original series, both the anime and the manga. Goku only uses the form a total of three times in the manga: briefly against Yakon, during the fight with Majin Vegeta, and before transforming SSJ3 to fight Buu. It’s an amazing looking form, though, and it’s a shame Toriyama effectively got rid of such a great design by introducing SSJ3 so soon.Thankfully, the anime adds an incredible filler fight between Super Saiyan 2 and Pure Buu at the end of the series. To call it filler is a bit unfair as it does actually adapt some of the real manga fight, but Goku turns Super Saiyan 3 immediately to fight Buu there. Thank Dende that Toei saw some serious potential in Super Saiyan 2 Goku.