If there’s one universal truth Dragon Ball holds firm, it’s that every arc is bound to end with the heroes (typically just Goku) squaring off against the main antagonist. While there have been exceptions here and there, this is one part of the Dragon Ball formula that Akira Toriyama never saw fit to meddle with.
A final fight in Dragon Ball isn’t just the very last fight, either. It’s the emotional climax of the arc, the battle the story has been building up to. Occasionally, said fights serve to close out the arc, but Toriyama has been known to write in miniature epilogues, those of which won’t be looked at.
10 Everyone Versus Goku
The first final fight in the series is far from the best. While it’s nice to see Yamcha, Pu’er, and Oolong team up together to try and subdue Goku, there’s not much in the way of actual fight choreography, chiefly because the series had yet to fully adopt its martial arts aesthetic.
While there’s something to be said of Goku’s first transformation into an Oozaru, it’s hard to feel much for a battle that’s over and done with in no time flat, with little tension to boot. The charm of the first arc has always been its world-building, never its action.
9 Gohan Versus Cell
Gohan’s fight with Cell has a great emotional center and manages to develop Gohan’s character nicely, but it stumbles hard when it comes to the actual action. Worse yet, the fight is overshadowed by Goku’s fight against Cell, which stands out as one of the best battles in the entire franchise.
Not helping matters is the pesky nature of hindsight. This battle was meant to be the moment Goku passes the torch to Gohan. If nothing else, its lacking choreography could have been made up for had Gohan remained the series’ protagonist. In retrospect, the fight comes off as wasted potential all around, even if is successfully emotional.
8 Goku Versus Grandpa Gohan
Goku’s fight against his grandfather at the end of Uranai Baba’s tournament displays some of the best martial arts choreography in the entire series. The two go at it hard, but logically. Gohan even manages to impart some wisdom on his grandson, giving him the advice that’ll define his run during the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai.
Unfortunately, the fight doesn’t last nearly as long as it should, as Gohan forfeits before the battle can be concluded. In turn, the battle plays out like the first half of an even better fight than never comes, which is a shame considering just how much pathos there is to the action.
7 Goku Versus Demon King Piccolo
Dragon Ball’s first real supervillain, Demon King Piccolo gives Goku a run for his money all the way to his death. Even after getting a massive power-up from Karin, Goku only manages to find himself on even footing against Piccolo, even nearly losing once Tenshinhan enters the ring. Goku wins not due to his own strength, but because of Piccolo’s hubris.
The biggest flaw in the fight between Goku and Demon King Piccolo is simply the fact that it never strives for more. It’s a competently written fight with good choreography and a few good twists. It has an incredibly memorable ending, but not much else.
6 Goku Versus Freeza
Everything before Goku turns Super Saiyan genuinely stands out as some of the best action Toriyama has written. Goku gets creative, is forced to use Kaioken to its very limits, fails while using the Genki Dama, and is ultimately forced to watch Kuririn die. It’s an intense endurance match against a villain with amazing build-up.
The fight doesn’t get bad after Goku turns Super Saiyan, but it noticeably does get worse. While there is a catharsis to watching Goku trounce Freeza, the fact they aren’t on an even playing field certainly sours the battle. It’s an important shift for both the narrative and its themes, but one that comes off underwhelming in the context of the incredible first half.
5 Everyone Versus Majin Boo
Goku’s fight with Oob might mark the end of the original series, but it’s the grand battle against Pure Boo that actually closes out the story arc. Mr. Satan rallies the people of Earth, Goku uses all his energy to create the universe’s largest Genki Dama, Fat Boo comes back into the fold to help out, and Vegeta orchestrates the entire gambit.
This is to say nothing of just how well-choreographed Goku’s initial fight with Boo is in an arc where fights were sorely lacking in Toriyama’s usual finesse. It’s disappointing that Gohan is sidelined after so much buildup, but it’s a finale fitting for Dragon Ball.
4 Goku Versus Jackie Chun
Goku’s fight against Jackie Chun may not have the excitement factor that later battles in the franchise do, but it has something even better: an actual message. Master Roshi is actively trying to teach Goku that not only will there always be someone better than him, but said fact should be a motivator.
Goku ultimately loses the fight, but not in spirit. He leaves the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai as a martial artist ready to see the world and test his abilities. Backdropped against a setting sun and full of genuine martial arts action, Goku’s fight with Jackie Chun is one every fan should do well to remember.
3 Goku Versus Tenshinhan
Despite an anticlimactic finish (albeit an intentional one), Goku’s fight against Tenshinhan lays the foundation that all major battles would adopt moving forward. The main antagonist saves his best tricks, Goku holds back in order to test his opponent, and Ki attacks are used as major set-pieces to change the tide.
More importantly, this battle ties into all of the series’ core themes: Goku and Tenshinhan both see each other as the better warrior and grow from it; both vow to keep improving themselves for their own sakes with Ten even reforming; and the two embody the next generation, rising up to take the torch.
2 Goku Versus Majunior
Goku’s fight against Majunior, otherwise known as Piccolo, at the end of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai is easily the best tournament battle in the entire franchise, putting anything from Super to shame. Goku and Piccolo give and take from one another, actively pushing the tide in their favor from chapter to chapter.
The fact Piccolo learns from Demon King Piccolo’s mistakes, only for Goku to bust out a technique he kept secret to steal the win, makes for a triumphant finale. The series could have very well ended here and it would have gone out on the highest of highs.
1 Everyone Versus Vegeta
Group battles in Dragon Ball are surprisingly rare, but they’re always interesting when they happen. In the case of the Saiyan arc, the saga closes out with Goku, Gohan, Kuririn, and Yajirobe all teaming up to try and subdue an incredibly overpowered Vegeta. They don’t even manage to kill him and simply push him aside for another day.
It’s a frantic battle that makes its audiences understand just how formidable the Saiyan race is. When all is said and done, the heroes are left battered, beaten, and broken despite their “victory.” Few fights in the franchise are as downright brutal or enthralling as the final fight against Vegeta.