For as plot relevant as Gohan ultimately is to Dragon Ball, he doesn’t have a lot of major fights. He participates in major fights, but really only as a member of a larger group. Which makes sense as Gohan is a child for the majority of the series. It isn’t until the Cell Games where he really comes into his own as a mature, fully developed character.
Not that he isn’t developed prior, however. While Gohan may not have a lot of big one-on-one fights, most of his battles are entertaining nonetheless thanks to how he grows as a character. As Gohan exists in a part of the series that’s very action oriented, most of his development happens in the action.
10 Versus Evil Buu
Fun fact: Gohan barely even has ten full fights in the manga. He attacks multiple different enemies, but full on fights? He’s surprisingly lacking in that department. His penultimate fight in the original series is against Evil Buu— otherwise known as Super Buu— and… it’s okay. Mostly in a vacuum.
The build up to the fight is great and what little choreography there is ends up being both smooth and cathartic. Gohan has the advantage on Buu in every sense. Which ends up being the problem as Buu almost immediately ends the fight in the manga. Toriyama hopes you enjoyed Ultimate Gohan’s one chapter of dominance.
9 Versus Dabra
Gohan’s first real fight in the Buu arc isn’t too impressive either, but it’s not bad by any means. It’s a perfectly acceptable fight that takes place in a cool setting, features cool choreography, and has Gohan fighting a cool antagonist. It’s main flaws, like most fights from the Buu arc, end up stemming from its short length and inconclusive nature.
This fight never ends and Gohan never gets a rematch. Not just that, he’s struggling to keep up with Dabra. The story so clearly sets up a rematch, but it never comes as Dabra is killed by Buu. For as good as the fight is in the moment— and it genuinely is— hindsight makes it difficult to appreciate.
8 Versus Buutenks (Manga)
Toriyama doesn’t even try to pretend that Gohan is the main character at this point. He’s just looking for a way to get Goku back into the story, and… to his credit, this was the right call. The Buu arc wasn’t working with Gohan in the lead. Gohan works best as a character who supports the story, and that’s what he does here.
Even after having his full potential unlocked and going into the fight against Buu with the intent of killing him asap, Gohan ends up failing due to unforeseen circumstances. Goku is forced to watch as Gohan struggles to stay alive. It’s one of the few moments in the series that feels genuinely frightening. It’s also not as short as other Buu arc fights.
7 Versus Recoome
Although Vegeta gets the meat of the fight against Recoome, Gohan does contribute to an extent. More than anything, his role in this fight is to demonstrate the fruits of his character development. Recoome is very clearly meant to parallel Nappa, but Gohan isn’t backing down this time.
At the cusp of death, he stands up to Recoome, declares himself the son of Son Goku, and lunges into a fruitless strike. It’s a visceral moment and one of Dragon Ball’s most brutal. In spite of Gohan coming into his own, this moment is another minor reversal of the Nappa fight. Goku does arrive in time, but not until right before it’s too late.
6 Versus Cell
While Gohan’s fight against Cell does have a brief interlude where he massacres a bunch of Cell Juniors, splitting the fight in two isn’t doing it any favors. It’s better to just leave as a complete fight with two acts that happens to have a minor break in between. Otherwise, there’s not much meat to chew on.
Choreography wise, this is a fairly bland battle, especially when compared to Goku’s fight with Cell. That said, it’s very emotionally driven and does a great job giving Gohan some meaty last-minute character development. Toriyama manages to sell his arc well even if the build-up isn’t there, and both Gohan’s transformation and the Father-Son Kamehameha are two of the most iconic moments in Dragon Ball.
5 Versus Cell Juniors
All this fight amounts to is Gohan going to town on a bunch of Cell Juniors and killing them in increasingly brutal ways, but it’s a nice pace break from all the Perfect Cell action. Not just that, it’s incredibly cathartic. Cell has just killed 16 and the supporting cast is struggling to keep up. Suddenly, Gohan rushes in as a Super Saiyan 2 and takes complete control of the situation.
The Cell Juniors look on in fear as Gohan takes them out with ease. Everyone struggles as Gohan asserts himself the strongest character in Dragon Ball. It’s an impressive moment loaded with a lot of visceral action and high emotion.
4 Versus Buutenks (Anime)
The anime actually does try to pretend that Gohan is the main character during this fight. It’s given far more weight and the fight is framed like the genuine final battle. Gohan and Buutenks even take up Goku’s and Vegeta’s classic poses from the Saiyan arc respectively. With a longer fight, it feels as though Gohan goes on a higher high.
Granted, the anime version of the fight is fundamentally different by the mere fact that Gohan manages to fight back. In the manga, he’s trying to survive. In the anime, he is trying to win at times. It’s a minor difference, but it’s one that does at least better contextualize Gohan’s final fight.
3 Versus Freeza
Believe it or not, Gohan is the character who fights Freeza the most after Goku. He’s the one who actively fights Freeza in his second form before Piccolo appears. While Gohan does ultimately find himself at Freeza’s mercy, he puts up an incredible fight. Gohan takes complete control of the situation, buying time for both Piccolo and Goku.
All the while, Vegeta is cowering and crying, unsure of how to proceed. Gohan even manages to get into a rage boost that deals significant damage to Freeza. Not enough to kill him or bring the fight anywhere near to a close, but enough to certainly anger the galactic tyrant.
2 Versus Nappa
Alongside Piccolo and Krillin, Gohan participates in arguably the best group battle in Dragon Ball. The three of them work together as they desperately try to defeat Nappa— or, work as best they can. Piccolo and Krillin bounce off each other rather well in this fight, but Gohan can’t quite muster the courage to fight Nappa until it’s too late.
With Piccolo dead, Gohan is left to fend for himself as Goku rushes to save the two of his friends still left alive. The Saiyans all did a great job at feeling like genuine threats the main characters might not be able to overcome.
1 Versus Vegeta
Gohan versus Recoome is Gohan asserting his growth since the Saiyan arc. Gohan versus Vegeta is Gohan growing. This is the fight where Gohan finally manages to display true courage in the face of the Saiyans. He doesn’t back down whatsoever, charging head first into his fight against Vegeta.
A good chunk of the fight is framed through Goku giving Krillin the Genki Dama as well, giving the battle incredibly high stakes. Krillin missing only for Gohan to push the Genki Dama into Vegeta is a nice twist that ends up transitioning into even grander combat as Gohan turns into an Oozaru, severely weakening Vegeta.