For as much as Raditz’s introduction in the Saiyan arc changed things, it wouldn’t be until Gohan, Kuririn, and Bulma blasted off into space that Dragon Ball would undergo a serious shift. Leaving for Namek arguably changes the series more than Raditz’s introduction did. From here on out, the action is more violent and transformations are in play.
Not just that, story arcs are much longer. The Namek arc was epic, spanning multiple years and building up to a clear final conclusion between Goku and Freeza. Considering just how powerful the latter is, it’s quite a ride actually getting to a point where Goku can challenge the galactic tyrant.
Butta, Burter in the English dub, is a rather interesting character. He’s estimated to be around the same Battle Power as Reacoom (and possible Jheice,) but he’s specifically referred to as the fastest member of the Ginyu Force. In an arc that had already established that strength and speed were tied together.
In that sense, Butta’s role is a bit awkward. He can’t be the fastest person alive because logic dictates that everyone stronger than him is faster. Regardless, none of this changes the fact that Butta is clearly quite strong even if Goku does end up manhandling him completely.
Butta’s other, better half, Jheice— otherwise known as Jeice— is Captain Ginyu’s second in command and, by proxy, the second strongest member of the Ginyu Force. Like Butta, he doesn’t actually get to show off why he’s so dangerous since Goku ends up arriving on Namek so freakishly strong.
He briefly fights Vegeta, but the Prince of all Saiyans ends up obliterating him into dust. Jheece, like most of the Ginyu Force, mainly exists to give Namek a bit of levity. This is an intensely serious arc and Freeza’s right on the horizon, it only makes sense to slow things down with some lighter, but still engaging, action.
Nail is actually one of the few characters in the Freeza arc who has a canon Battle Power. Sitting at a very comfortable 42,000, Nail is far and away the strongest heroic character on Namek before Vegeta gets his Ginyu related Zenkai. Nail is even strong enough to stall Freeza for quite some time.
Of course, he isn’t strong enough to actually defeat Freeza and Nail doesn’t end up inflicting any major damage whatsoever. Despite his insane amount of strength, Nail exists mainly to give Piccolo a narratively and thematically appropriate power-up before he goes to fight Freeza after being revived.
It’s very debatable just how strong Kuririn ends up becoming by the end of the Namek arc. Saichoro— Grand Elder Guru— ends up unlocking Kuririn’s potential and Vegeta mentions in passing how both Kuririn and Gohan have progressively been getting stronger since getting their potential untapped.
Considering Kuririn is able to engage with Freeza in his second form, it goes without saying that Kuririn’s power kept increasing during the fight. Not to a point where he could do anything past Freeza’s second form, but enough where he certainly wasn’t weak when all was said and done. If nothing else, he must be stronger than Nail.
6 Captain Ginyu
With the ability to change forms with whoever he chooses, taking his opponent’s body the moment they display a deeper level of power, Captain Ginyu is theoretically one of the most dangerous characters in Dragon Ball. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to use his strength all too often.
Changing bodies with Goku also shows just how thoughtlessly he uses his Change technique. He ends up taking Goku’s body, but he has no clue how to use any of Goku’s techniques, allowing both Kuririn and Gohan to beat on Ginyu. If nothing else, he’s insanely strong as is in his purple, horned body.
5 Son Gohan
One offhand comment from Vegeta ends up allowing Gohan and Kuririn to keep powering up during the fight against Freeza. Not just that, Gohan’s half-Saiyan biology allows him to take advantage of the Zenkai just like Goku and Vegeta. It’s Gohan of all people who ends up doing the most damage to second form Freeza.
Knowing where Gohan ends up, it only makes sense why he’d be able to hold his own so comfortably against Freeza. Vegeta’s often misremembered at the characters who ends up fighting Freeza most before Goku, but that credit actually belongs to Gohan. While Vegeta cowered, Gohan fought.
It’s implied well enough that Piccolo is coming to Namek already a stronger warrior thanks to training with Kaio, but there was no realistic way that the training Goku did with Kaio was going to be enough to help Piccolo compete against Freeza. Nail ends up being Toriyama’s way around this, allowing Piccolo to get a massive power up at the last minute.
This boost in power not only allows Piccolo to connect to his roots, it givers readers a sensible reason as to why Piccolo would be able to give second form Freeza a serious fight. Piccolo even manages to fight third form Freeza for a little bit before the tyrant ends up transforming into his final form.
It’s not exactly clear whether or not Vegeta is stronger than Piccolo after his final Zenkai in the Namek arc, but the fact that he could see final form Freeza’s attack and Piccolo couldn’t does seem to suggest that Vegeta was a bit stronger. It ultimately doesn’t matter, though, as final form Freeza eviscerates Vegeta.
The Prince of all Saiyans gets the beating of a lifetime and dies in the process, but at least he dies in the top three— the last time in the original manga he’ll be strong enough to make it into an arc’s top three strongest ranking.
It goes without saying that Freeza is one of the strongest characters in the Freeza arc. The entire last quarter is dedicated to the main characters desperately trying to push back against Freeza. Each new transformation adds a layer to the fight, showcasing just how intimidating Freeza can be.
It takes a literal prophetic transformation for Goku to take Freeza out. Even at full power, Goku was struggling against a Freeza who was only using 50% of his own energy. For all intents and purposes, Goku lost his actual fight against Freeza. Turning Super Saiyan is the only thing that saves the day.
1 Son Goku
None other than the legendary Super Saiyan himself. Goku spends half of this arc pushing himself to near-death just so he can stand up against Freeza. While this training session is mainly in the background, it’s one of Goku’s best. He’s finally coming into his own as an independent martial art— as evidenced by his new kanji.
The fight against Freeza does prove too much for Goku in the end, but Kuririn’s death sparks Goku to transform into a Super Saiyan for the first time— changing Dragon Ball forever. As a Super Saiyan, Goku effortlessly toys with Freeza (in the manga) before deeming him unworthy. Now that’s true strength.