It isn’t brought up often, but outside of the Saiyans, Dragon Ball has some of the most eclectic characters in action anime series. An immortal old martial arts teacher. An asexual, giant green alien. A bald, diminutive monk who’s forehead looks like one of the Dragon Balls they’re always chasing and a young psychic who looks like a mime. Comparatively, a three-eyed martial artist who’s a former assassin doesn’t feel that weird.
But how much do we really know about the other Z Fighters? After Dragon Ball became Dragon Ball Z, the series spent so much time on the Saiyans that we never got to delve into who everyone else is. So for this list, we’re looking at one of the lesser-seen characters of the show: Tien Shinhan, a disciple of the Crane School.
10 IS DATING LAUNCH...SORT OF
Tien has been stated to canonically care more about training and martial arts than he does about romance. However, that hasn’t stopped him from dating Launch, the blonde-haired woman with a split personality who’s just as likely to help as she is to rob you as she is to help you.
It’s a bit weird that someone so focused on physical improvement would bother to date someone, but then again...it’s Dragon Ball. This is the same world where no one’s actually sure if Goku knows where babies come from, but he’s still married to Chi-Chi and the two of them have two kids now. And that’s not even getting into how Vegeta and Bulma worked.
9 WAS ORIGINALLY AN ENEMY
Despite spending years working alongside Goku to battle against threats from outer space, Tien initially began as a villain. He was initially a member of Master Shen’s Crane School, thus being part of the rivalry between the Crane School and Master Roshi’s Turtle School.
Additionally, he sought to be an assassin as well, making him extra ruthless in his battles in the World Tournament. Still, he didn’t even make it through his battle with Goku before he changed his mind, starting to work with the young Saiyan and his friends later on when they faced King Piccolo.
8 ISN'T COMPLETELY HUMAN
One of the first things that stands out about Tien is him having three eyes. While the character is listed as a human in most books about Dragon Ball Z, it’s also noted that he’s a descendant of the Three-Eyed Clan.
It’s a distant connection, but it’s still more than enough to grant him certain techniques he otherwise wouldn’t have had. Specifically, his ability to split himself into four identical versions of himself is something he can only do because of his lineage. Granted, in the anime both Piccolo and Krillin show this ability as well.
7 ONE OF THE FIRST CHARACTERS TO FLY
Though flight would later become so standard that literally anyone remotely relevant was capable of it, this wasn’t always the case. Goku’s flying Nimbus was special because it allowed him to traverse the skies while the rest of them would often have to fly with Bulma or find other ways to travel.
But as a member of the Crane School, Tien learned how to fly thanks to his sensei Master Shen. This is something that nearly every Turtle School student would learn eventually as well. However, Master Roshi would opt out of using this ability, claiming it didn’t seem much like a turtle to fly.
6 WAS LESS SERIOUS EARLIER ON
When Tien first appeared, he was nothing like the stoic, martial arts-focused warrior he became in Dragon Ball Z and Super. During his earlier appearances while he was a part of the Crane School, he carries himself in a far more cocky and self-assured way, mocking the Turtle School for even appearing, and gloating over his victory over Yamcha.
It isn’t until the character finds himself humbled multiple times in his subsequent battles with some of the villains that would arrive later that he started to become dourer. It makes sense, as Tien is really the last time a Dragon Ball villain wasn’t aiming for either world domination or destruction.
5 HAS DEFEATED MANY OF THE Z FIGHTERS
Tien has a pretty good record against most of the Z Fighters aside from Piccolo and Vegeta. After he was introduced during 22nd World Tournament, the character would go on to battle against Yamcha and handily defeat him during their match. Later, he would also give Master Roshi the work in a 1v1, putting him above two of the most relevant fighters from the 21st World Tournament.
But the biggest thing Tien’s done involved facing off against Goku during the finals of the tournament and eking out a win, even if by the end of it he wasn’t able to move at all.
4 MASTERED A TECHNIQUE THAT CAN KILL HIM
Early on in Dragon Ball Z, they play with the idea that certain ki-based attacks are capable of raising someone’s power level and making their overall offensive abilities greater. This is what happens both with Goku’s Kamehameha and with Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon. But potentially one of the most powerful attacks in Dragon Ball Z is Tien’s Neo Tri-Beam.
It’s a unique power which raises his offensive capabilities several times over...but does so at the cost of his life force. After exhausting himself fighting Nappa, he tries to do a one-handed Tri-Beam attack, but while he succeeds it happens at the cost of his life.
3 ONE OF AKIRA TORIYAMA'S FAVORITE
Akira Toriyama once said that Tien was actually one of his favorite characters. That might seem a tad weird considering the character hasn’t really been relevant since the end of Dragon Ball, as generally author favorites tend to get special treatment. However, this actually explains why Tien is treated as well as he is.
The character is one of the most powerful ones during Dragon Ball, and he makes relevant appearances in every arc other than the Frieza Saga during Dragon Ball Z. Compare that to someone like Yamcha, who bows out pretty much immediately after nearly dying against the Androids, and there's an obvious difference.
2 IS STRONGER IN THE ANIME
This is a painful truth for fans of the character. Tien is far more impressive in the anime than he ever was during the manga. In the Dragon Ball anime, the character dominates Goku during their match in the finals of the World Tournament. In the manga, this only happens because Chiaotzu froze Goku in place.
The same can be said for his battles in Z, where the need to extend fight scenes to not catch up with the manga had him looking much cooler. It looked like he fought Nappa for hours in the original anime, and he spent an entire episode blasting Cell with his Tri-Beam, but neither of these fights lasted long in the manga.
1 LOST MUCH OF HIS POWER FOR BEING EVIL
The humans of the Dragon Ball Z world were the first characters to fall off in the power level arms race. While the Saiyans and Namekians would find new power-ups and fusions, the humans would have nothing more than training to rely on, and their bodies simply don’t respond to it as fast as other races.
However, in Tien’s case he actually limited the power he could have attained on his own. The character was meant to possess some divine, god-like power...but his initial nature as an assassin and disreputable character closed off that power to him. Whoops. Maybe they can unlock it for him one day in Super?